This year’s Learning Leadership Symposia seem to have a sense of urgency, an attitude that says, ‘we’re getting to the solutions because our kids deserve it!’

In Orlando’s Administrative Panel Discussion, this sense of urgency was compounded by a kind of brashness and openness that left little doubt that the panel was there to solve problems and place the learner first, egos and toe-stepping be damned! This year’s Orlando panel was nothing short of magic, and included Rob Bixler, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Digital Learning for Orange County Public Schools, Dr. Belinda Reyes, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for the School District of Osceola County, and Dr. Sherri Wilson, Director of Innovative Learning for Broward County Public Schools.

According to Rob Bixler, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Digital Learning for Orange County Public Schools, “The pandemic did change the way education is perceived. In many ways, good. But in many ways, it kind of peeled back what goes on inside a classroom. Coming back last year was a little bit of working your way back to this full year, where we're all back face to face fully. Finding those students, bringing them back, some of whom have dropped off the map. Luckily for us, our enrollment is starting to creep back up, so we're getting them back over the course of the last several months. But there's a desire for change and many families liked that virtual model, but it didn't work for everyone. It's finding that balance between offering those opportunities and having another model where kids can be in school. Even though kids and parents like the virtual model, mental health and relationships still matter. Many of our parents felt that digital was everything on a computer because that's what they saw during the Pandemic.”

LeiLani Cauthen, Moderator and CEO of the Learning Counsel News Media and Research added, “America's in a model conversation since the pandemic and everywhere we go, they say we can't really go back to normal. The manufacturing line, grade, class, move on the line, bells ring, etc., etc. Parents want something different. And schools are struggling to determine what that is. It's not all online; You must have the human interaction. But is this model, this 250-year old thing we do, does it still ring true? It's a feeling that something's shifted, but we're not quite totally nailing it.”

Dr. Belinda Reyes, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction at the School District of Osceola County, said, “Really the pandemic for us was a great big magnifying glass. It magnified what it means to be a teacher. The importance, not just in a classroom, not just content, but within a community, within our society. There was a lot of, ‘Wow, look at all that a teacher contends with.’ So it was magnifying all of those good things that our teachers provide. Take it out a little bit. What about our schools and feeding, and what about the social-emotional, about what about all those students' service supports? It was really magnified as we asked, where will our children get this? And so, society took a step back and said, Wait a minute. Look at all education is – so much more than just books or content.

“The pandemic also provided this magnifying glass in the areas that we need to work on,” continued Reyes. “When we looked at those areas, what it really came down to was focus. So now we traded in our magnifying glass for some binoculars and thinking about what is in our focus. I'm a structure and systems person as you know, but what do we have structures and systems for? I think in the past, in education in general, it's not for students, not for learning. But it should be about students. That's the reason we're here. It comes down to that learner. And it's about learning, not so much teaching.”

Dr. Sherri Wilson, Director of Innovative Learning for Broward County Public Schools, added, “Truthfully, I think it's the reallocation of human capital and talent and making sure that we're honing in on the relationships so that we can harness that talent so it impacts students within our classroom spaces. The honor and integrity that many have seen lacking in the nation for educators as a collective, The pandemic illuminated the importance of that. Of having that high quality classroom instructor within our spaces. Parents really appreciated that. It was amazing to see the appreciation and the tenor of how parent-teacher conferences then changed about little Sarah or little Johnny. The cadence changed because they had an inside view to what teaching and learning was like at their kitchen table, as opposed to when it was simply in brick and mortar classroom in the brick and mortar. It illuminated a lot for our external stakeholders. It illuminated that process, illuminated a lot for our teachers as they approach curriculum and instruction. Acknowledging the fact that we have a generation of students that have been in brick and mortar for the first time and all they know is virtual learning. And dealing with the impact of that experience in getting them socialized in a classroom space and expecting them to basically respond as they would pre-COVID. There are so many things that are forcing the educator to get out of their own way, forcing the leaders to get out of their own way and not leaning on the days of old, but creating a new continuum that will bring us into the future.”

And this was simply the opening volley in a fast and furious, anything goes discussion from these education experts. But the main reason you’ll need to watch the video is because these panelists did much more than point out the flaws in the system, they produced amazing insights and a bucket-full of solutions you can carry home to your own school or district. Make no mistake, this is must-see video, and you will be all the wiser for having watched.