Starting a Movement with Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy
April 6, 2021

We know our educational system is deeply broken. With an increasing number of students falling behind, the time to help education evolve and support our youth’s holistic well-being is here! But why are people attached to the obsolete school model, and what does the future of education look like?

Through my conversations with educational innovators, I’ve noticed similarities in our experiences. Listen in as I unpack educational reform barriers and offer some big ideas and future solutions for our schools. 

I’m also thrilled to announce our EdActive Collective Summit. Our collective is filled with educational innovators focused on transforming education to a more human-centered, student-driven, real-world learning environment designed with learners at the center of every decision. Join us!

Jump Through the Conversation:

  • [2:34] Observations of the beginning of a movement
  • [4:37] Barriers to learning
  • [9:10] Big ideas and future solutions for our schools
  • [11:12] Increased focus on student-driven learning
  • [14:32] Maureen’s Magic Wand: Breaking the paradigm of massive memorization and production of work that goes no further than the teachers’ desk as the gold standard
  • [14:55] EdActive: A collective shifting the learning paradigm

Links and Resources:

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at education evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education, evolution and the micro school coalition, where we are fiercely Committed to changing the narrative to reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children, and prepares them to thrive.

If you are new, welcome to the podcast, please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?How many of you have created something from a place of frustration? I’d like to think I’m calm and noble. But that’s how I started my micro school in 2013. After being incredibly frustrated with the high school experiences my girls had had, I was exasperated, and I determined there had to be a better way. Fast forward to 2020. I had checked out a ton of schools to make my micro school progressively more student driven. I was super impressed by the educational innovations and trailblazing school models. But I was also surprised how few people knew of these great options available, and how hard these programs had to fight to stay alive. And I knew parents were looking for these amazing places. So I was frustrated again. And I started this podcast does shine the light on others who are helping education evolve and supporting holistic wellbeing for our youth. And it continues to be fun and a source of inspiration for me over 50 episodes later. Another way I want to nudge the conversation on dismantling our broken school system is by creating a TED talk. And this is in the works.

My research leads me to see so many others saying the same thing. And it’s brought me to two observations, and the beginning of a movement. My first observation, many of us get the problem. And we’ve been talking about it for years. But our culture and institutions have not been ready or willing to change the way we do the institution of education. So we get the problem. Second, there are amazing examples of students who design their own learning, drive their own work. And in these schools, the kids are being prepared, they are becoming future ready and ready to thrive. So one, a lot of us see the problem. And two, there are tons of examples out there of solutions. So why are we doing things differently and preparing kids to thrive in this rapidly changing world. I want to unpack some of the barriers to truly offering students the chance to drive their learning. And then I want to look at ways that youth parents, educators, school leaders, and communities can move past these barriers. I’m also pleased to share examples of how some schools defy the often mind numbing, content driven instruction and how they’re creating student driven context learning. And finally, I have an exciting announcement about a wonderful group of educational activists and their June plans. And I know you won’t want to miss this. I want to highlight their individual work and share how we are pulling together to see if we can use synergy. Those of us in the trenches working to transform schools to start a movement and grow our message of this needed and doable change. So barriers let’s start there. Why don’t we have more creative schools like Montessori, where students explore passions and teachers become coaches on the journey. three big reasons that come to mind our one,

status quo and good enough thinking to false nostalgia blinders. And three Courage. Change takes courage, vision, hard work. So let’s look at status quo or what I call good enough thinking. As adults, we’re guilty of thinking that high schools as they are was good enough for us. So why shouldn’t they be going too far kids. And since we all went to high school, we all consider ourselves experts. The crazy thing is the basic assembly line High School model, and required courses have not changed dramatically in over 100 years. I can’t think of any other area of our life that we would say, was good enough. If it was doing the same thing from 100 years ago, even back less than 50 years to when I was in high school, I can’t think of many fixtures that I would want to stay the same. I definitely would not be satisfied with the rotary phone that was stuck to the wall in our hallway as my landline only telephone service. nor would I be satisfied with the Selectric typewriter I learned on remember that backspace. autocorrect key that was so revolutionary. And I sure wouldn’t want to have to find a fax machine to share written information as the only method faster than the US post office. So I can on today’s smartphone laptop and being able to shoot written documents via email and phone apps almost instantaneously to be able to function. So why would I think that a school model from over 100 years ago is good enough to educate today’s precious children, we are all going to have to be willing to push past the status quo and inertia to give our children the benefits of today’s resources in their school experience. second barrier, false nostalgia and those blinders we create.

Trace Pickering of Iowa Big and I have had this conversation. It’s as if many adults go into this happy days or grease nostalgia of school being about friends and activities and clubs. We lovingly look back on our time on the basketball team, or competing in debate. or playing in the pep band at sporting events or going to prom. I hear adults reminisce about how much they enjoy those experiences. They lump it all together. And they call it their high school experience. And then parents because we want the best for our kids want to make sure their children have the same opportunity. But come on. Now. If we unpack those gilded memories, rarely do we find adults who share that they loved sitting through hours of lectures on US history, or that they enjoy doing pages of math calculations that seem to have nothing to do with the real world. How to lessons is about social connection and exploring identity. It’s the extracurriculars and social opportunities that most of us look back on and remember fondly these could still exist in a school that would be dramatically changed and evolved for today’s learners. In fact, interest driven learning would mean that more hours of the day could be engaging and enjoyable, not just the after school activities and social events. So we really need to get past this happy days, false memory of how wonderful our high school experience was. And of course, the third obstacle is lack of passion and drive. Any change takes courage. Change takes being willing to admit there’s something better out there and wanting it enough for our youth that we will create the vision and do the hard work necessary. Even something as simple as changing the length of the school year. Imagine what could be if we use the whole year for education. There’s no reason to take off two and a half months every summer, and then have to spend the first month or two back re teaching and getting kids re set into the school system. What if we took two week breaks throughout the calendar year. Our teachers could use one of those two weeks to be evolving and staying current in the field of education. And one week for a break. No momentum would be lost and many gains would result. We could talk future solutions all day long. In fact,

that’s what I’ve heard a lot of as I’ve done my TED Talk research aspirations for schools, schools that foster creativity schools where every child has a champion. There are lots of great ideas. Instead, let me share some examples of schools that have moved beyond ideas and are already walking their talk. Big Picture learning schools focus heavily on students leaving the classroom to pursue interests and internships. In fact, I saw in the newspaper yesterday, one student had done a local project on filming how teachers are getting vaccinated and how schools are being able to reopen. He’s taking his passion for getting students back in schools, and exploring, and he’s published in our newspaper. And this public school model has been around for decades. But often they can’t fill their schools. It seems like we would have a waiting list for such an empowering learning model. But status quo and false nostalgia seem to slow that down. Montessori learning is another model that goes all the way through high school offering student driven learning. And as I mentioned earlier, trace Pickering has a program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called Iowa big, where students use interest to create projects to serve the community as social entrepreneurs. Many of us have heard of High Tech High, and it’s noted in the documentary most likely to succeed. This is another example of students implementing project based learning and owning their education. And these are just a few examples. What great examples of students driving their learning instead of teachers, or state tests or textbooks artificially determining what is important? Why would we want student driven learning? Think about life after high school, the decisions we make are often about what we’re interested in. There’s no way I was going to go into engineering or business after high school, I knew I wanted to work in education and to travel the world, or liberal arts high school model assumes that we know what is best for every child, and that it’s very similar for each student. It also assumes that students need to memorize and be exposed to a breadth of content instead of going deep. This may have been true when we had to use encyclopedias or go to the library to gather information. Being broadly versed could save us time.

But now with smartphones answering any query within 10 seconds, school doesn’t have to be about covering a vast amount of content. And we all know that learning is much more effective. When it’s real life and relevant. We usually don’t care to understand our plumbing system until pipe bursts. When it’s really relevant the learning happens. A student may not care to learn a textbook of science content, but might want to dive into the physics it takes to upgrade their skateboard. So let’s make it deep and real. And what if we trusted our youth to know what they’re interested in, and then guided them to find real world applications and ways to use their interests for the good of society. We all do better when we’re interested in the topic and want to learn. And this could free our teachers up from being content experts who dispense knowledge to become coaches who encourage and guide students to deep personalized, profound learning. This is tricky, because some of our teachers are very comfortable being experts that lecture in the sit and get model of education. Since most of us can’t sit through a movie without needing a break. I’m not sure why we think adolescents with their YouTube attention span are engaging and learning when they sit through an hour long lecture. And they tell us they’re zoning out or messing around on their phones during lectures. So seems like it’s about time to put the heavy lifting and thinking on the learners and get them engaged.

My magic wand is that we break the paradigm of massive memorization and production of work that goes no further than the teacher’s desk, that we say this is not the gold standard, that we shift to student work driven by purpose and passion that creates a difference in the real world and is valued and that we do the hard work needed to create relevant, engaging student driven learning in all of our students. And if this effort excites you, shed out and active. We have a new group of in the trenches, pro youth innovators, and we are forging a collective. We are intergenerational and determined to shift the learning paradigm. We need your help, please sign up for our June 21 through 24th educational activism summit. It’s free, and youth, parents, teachers, business leaders, community members, all are welcome. You can go to Ed active to sign up, and more will be coming over the next two months. Together, we can create equitable learning models that serve as learners. Thank you for joining the education, evolution.

If you’re finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult with schools to help them find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s put together an action plan. Visit education backslash consult to book a call and let’s get started.

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education

Transcribed by

Latest Episodes

Unlocking the World of Literacy with Marnie Ginsburg

Reading is simple, right? Not for everyone, and it’s especially challenging for those who don’t have access to all the tools and resources they need to be successful. This week we hear from Marnie Ginsburg, founder of Reading Simplified, who has dedicated her career...

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

The further away administrators get from their roots as teachers, the more they forget what it’s like to be in the trenches. The result is often either a real or perceived lack of empathy for teachers. Both teachers and administrators have vital roles in the school,...

Following the Evidence for Effective Policy with Darleen Opfer

We all want what’s best for our learners, but oftentimes biases get in the way of having productive conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom. Instead, we need to have evidence- and research-based conversations that support what truly works...

Latest Blog Posts

Why Isn’t Educational Change Happening?

School change is so much harder than I thought! When I did my doctoral research on school innovation and created a hands-on learning school-within-a-school in the 90s, I had no idea that I’d spend the next few decades making tiny changes. Changes that often...

Instilling a Practice of Gratitude in Uncertain Times

Thanksgiving looks different this year. Traditions are being shattered in 2020 and new realities are emerging. Thanksgiving is no exception. After Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, COVID statistics jumped, reminding us that, sadly, the pandemic isn’t taking a break...

Building Interdisciplinary Learning into Traditional Classrooms

A traditional classroom setting is just that...traditional. Teachers must teach specific subjects for a required amount of time, often using prescribed curriculum materials that may be a decade old. There’s little consideration for the individual learner--their...


Coming Soon!


Listen to Education Evolution on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Education Evolution on Spotify
Listen to Education Evolution on Stitcher
Listen on Google Play Music

Related Posts

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

This week on the podcast, we’re welcoming back author and educator Miriam Plotinsky. She’s sharing about her latest book, Lead Like a Teacher, and talking about what school leaders can do to build more trust and a more collaborative school environment.

Sign Up for Podcast & Blog Announcements
and Get our Free Guide:
Five Interdependent Hacks to Lead the Creation of a Learner-Centered Culture!

By providing your email address you are agreeing to receive email communications from Education Evolution.
You can unsubscribe at any time.