Pegasus Springs seeks to accomplish its mission by joining with aligned partners and by supporting educators, students, parents, and school communities to make transformational change in these specific focus areas…
Pegasus Springs Education Collective values the importance of connecting all education stakeholders. Together, we can dismantle systemic inequities that have existed far too long. Together, we can also explore how to support schools in implementing more student-centered cultures and how to adopt methods of assessing and reporting student progress that focus more on the competencies, skills, and mindsets we know are most valuable for our students’ future in the 21st century. Education has made progress in moving away from the “industrial age” design of the previous century; but to more equitably engage and better prepare all students for their future, it is now more urgent than ever that we complete a comprehensive redesign of education more aligned with the current era. Our efforts are focused on foundational elements of educational practice, with each focus area also interwoven with what are often deep-seated and systemic inequities. For this reason, substantive progress will require a profound commitment to leading change and a shared vision within a community for implementing a supportive school culture. Such transformational change necessitates a collaborative, deep dive to thoroughly reexamine existing norms and to reimagine new ways for our education systems to be effective. Thankfully, we can rely on our collective strengths to navigate the challenges. We are at a pivotal time for education, and it is imperative that we rise to the occasion. We owe it to our students and to the future of our nation.
Learning & Teaching
To best prepare our students, it is essential that we establish curriculum across all content areas to enhance our focus on the competencies, skills, and mindsets we know are most valuable for their future in the 21st century—such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. This is of course not a new idea for education, but we need to ensure that this approach is the norm for all disciplines and for all students. For instance, the curriculum in more advanced courses often incorporates these skills more broadly, while students in other courses might not be provided the same common access to these types of learning experiences. It is critical however that all students, across all disciplines and course levels, have access to curriculum that instills these essential skills by inspiring curiosity, reflection, and teamwork—and by engaging them with opportunities to enhance their analytical thinking, digital literacy, and problem-solving skills. To more equitably serve all students, we should also reimagine traditional school schedules, re-examine how we place students into courses, and rethink traditional curriculum pathways and graduation requirements to incorporate more flexibility and interdisciplinary project-based collaboration.
To more successfully engage all students, we must also examine our entire curriculum through a lens of cultural awareness. We should work from a curriculum framework that is culturally and historically responsive, that includes a diversity of texts, and that promotes a comprehensive understanding of both history and current times. To support critical thinking and reflection, we must be willing to explore challenging topics that not only spark better classroom engagement but also prepare students to be engaged and responsible citizens. We must be willing, for instance, to explore troubling aspects of history and to discuss issues such as race, equity, and social justice. An inclusive curriculum should reflect the narratives and contributions of people in a way that represents the diversity of the world, our nation, and our classrooms. And of course, in selecting texts or readings for all grade levels, we need to ensure there are ample opportunities for all students to see themselves reflected in what they read—or as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop explained 30 years ago, to provide students “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” throughout their entire education.
As we prepare our children for their future and also seek to more fully engage them in their learning, it is essential that we provide all students with abundant learning experiences based on a student-centered instructional model. In contrast to a teacher-directed model, this approach of course calls upon the teacher to function more as a “coach” or “facilitator” for the learning. Students are then able to take on a more active leadership role, as their learning becomes more collaborative and interactive. Instead of being passive recipients of information, students in all classrooms would be regularly seen actively engaged, for instance in cooperative groups, accountable talk with peers, or presentations of their work. This is also not a new concept in education, and education has actually made significant progress toward this goal. As an equity issue however, it is imperative that all students in all classes be provided regularly with these expectations and opportunities as part of the norm. Every student deserves access to classroom experiences that foster collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and critical thinking—and instructional approaches that bestow the agency and self-confidence to own the learning.
A student-centered instructional approach also allows students to engage in more hands-on activities and to easily access technology to accomplish tasks or solve problems—and can ultimately instill a greater love of learning and a more intrinsic motivation for their work. Quite simply, a goal of this approach is to make school a place that all students find to be more engaging of their interests, more relevant to their lives, and more empowering of their identity. When we regularly provide a student-centered instructional approach and empower students to be collaborative leaders in the journey, we not only provide them development experiences that better prepare them for their future, we also rekindle the thrill of discovery and natural joy of learning that leads to the development of engaged citizens and lifelong learners.
To better prepare students for their future and to align with instructional goals, it is important as well that education puts a greater emphasis on more authentic and competency-based assessments. An authentic assessment reflects the type of work or challenge typical for that specific discipline, and so such assessments are then inherently valuable in demonstrating an application of understanding in ways that a traditional exam is not able to do. Often, they are also more effective at engaging students’ interest and intrinsic motivation. A competency-based approach to assessment ensures a focus on identified competencies or skill sets that students need to exhibit in order to demonstrate their learning. With this approach, students can be afforded more choice regarding the timing and method of assessment. Teachers can include more project-based options and more cumulative, growth-focused opportunities as evidence of student progress—such as student portfolio reviews and student-led conferences. Such an approach also better supports teachers in making an important shift away from a traditional grading system to more equitable grading practices and places a greater focus on effective feedback to students. Overall, eliminating the emphasis on grades could do away with much of the hyper grade-focused mindset that seems currently to sap so much of the joy out of the learning experience.
Finally, it is essential to de-emphasize the role standardized testing is currently playing in education. Standardized tests are typically not an “authentic” assessment, and they can present bias and equity issues. While a smaller amount of standardized testing used judiciously can provide some helpful information for teachers, high-stakes tests used as a driver for educational decisions (or for “accountability” measures) can promote practices that tend to be harmful to student learning, such as an emphasis on test prep, an overly accelerated pace to “cover” material, or a diminished focus on other important aspects of a child’s development and education that are not being tested or even easily measured. In each content area, our curriculum/instruction/assessment could be redesigned to target big, overarching understandings and skill sets. By focusing any standardized testing and our classroom assessments on truly essential standards, teachers would then be afforded more freedom to design instruction for deep and meaningful learning. Overall, our education systems and our nation’s children would benefit greatly by revising our approach to assessment—and by restoring an emphasis on the innate joy of learning.
Student Success & Wellbeing
To provide all students with meaningful learning experiences, it is essential that we enhance both student voice and agency. For truly learning-centered school cultures, students must be key stakeholders and integral partners in all education’s efforts. Their voices, experiences, and aspirations are critical for success. Enhancing the role of student voice can often begin by exploring who is doing most of the talking in the classroom. If student-centered instruction is the norm, it is often easily recognized by how involved student voices are in daily lessons. Student agency is also evident by how much choice is afforded to students for demonstrating evidence of their learning and even by how much students are involved in the creation of the classroom environment. We see student voice and agency enhanced when students take ownership of their own learning goals, for instance by reflecting on their portfolios or by discussing their progress in student-led conferences. Quite simply, by enhancing both student voice and agency, we can offer more engaging and transformative experiences for our students.
Beyond the classroom walls, student voice should be involved in all issues by regularly seeking student perspectives and engaging them in discussions to improve the overall learning conditions of the school. Involving students to explore data and to discuss systemic practices can be a major shift for some school systems, but such a change can yield tremendous positive outcomes for all students. We must also ensure that student voices are equitably represented and that we make special effort to include students whose voices might have traditionally been marginalized or underrepresented. Involving student voice in the shaping of the school climate can even be an important part of trauma-sensitive practices to ensure we are nurturing healing spaces for all learners. Only by empowering student voice and engaging students as integral partners, are we able to provide students the agency and opportunity to develop the confidence and skills necessary for their future in the coming decades. Most importantly, we also are demonstrating that we value their experience and perspective, that we are committed to a diverse learning environment where all voices are heard, that they can feel safe and supported in being their full authentic selves. In this way, we ensure that all students are truly seen.
To create the type of learning environments that allow all students to feel safe and supported, it is important that trauma-sensitive schools are the norm everywhere. We must support all education professionals toward a comprehensive understanding of how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can affect over 60% of our population and how they can specifically impact one’s behavior and ability to engage in some school environments. Such knowledge and thorough understanding can then inform each teacher’s classroom management approach—as well as schoolwide discipline practices and policies. Instead of a solely reactive and punitive approach, schools can then proactively work to create environments that reduce problematic behaviors and can explore other effective approaches, such as restorative justice. Recognizing that students are often communicating to us through their behaviors also helps us make changes in our teaching strategies to prompt more effective classroom interactions. With thorough understanding of how trauma can affect us all, especially in moments of stress or uncertainty, it allows us to better support all students affected by trauma and to adopt a mindset less focused on punishment and more focused on effective ways to successfully reach and include all students.
As part of our commitment to trauma-informed practices, we must also be willing to explore how schools can sometimes create trauma for students, how our selected curriculum might prompt traumatic response, and how some systemic policies can actually trigger behaviors that are counterproductive to the very learning and growth we are trying to promote. Finally, we must ensure that trauma-informed understanding leads us ultimately to healing-centered practices, which focus on a strengths-based approach that illuminates a pathway for moving forward. With empathy and a commitment to collective care, we can create learning environments where all students know with certainty that they are valued members of the community—and they can feel safe and supported in their journey of growth and development.
A critical component of creating the conditions for student success and wellbeing is ensuring there is a systemic approach to social emotional learning that integrates SEL into all aspects of students’ daily experiences. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make decisions.” This skill set is clearly essential for experiencing success in school, and we must collaborate with our communities to implement an effective and comprehensive approach to embedding these learning opportunities throughout a student’s education. As SEL has become a more widespread concept, it has sometimes been implemented merely as a separate program or initiative, but that approach tends to be insufficient to achieve the desired impact on school culture or student outcomes. So that all students reap the benefits, we should also be willing to examine SEL within the context of equity, and we must take steps to integrate SEL skills schoolwide to ensure truly equitable learning environments for all students. The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide Social and Emotional Learning provides suggestions for a collaborative process that engages an entire community in implementing such an approach.
We now know about SEL’s many benefits when it is delivered effectively, and we know that the acquired competencies and skills sets of SEL are essential for so many aspects of life, even beyond school. Years of research have demonstrated that the cognitive aspects of learning are closely linked to its social and emotional components. Unfortunately, although we have known for some time that SEL is critical at all grade levels and that it provides many benefits, making the shift in educational practices has not always been easy for some school communities. As schools seek to improve student achievement, to reduce instances of bullying or aggression, and to address growing mental health issues among students, it is more essential than ever that we work together to effectively implement a community-wide approach to SEL. The results we can achieve are well-worth the efforts, and it is vital that all students have the opportunity to benefit from this proactive approach. By bringing together our communities and engaging all stakeholders, we can nurture the mindset necessary to shift school cultures. Together, we will then create the safe and supportive learning environments that all children deserve.
Leadership & Culture
As the other focus areas have indicated, perhaps the most prevalent obstacles to the success we desire for all students are systemic inequities that have gone unexamined far too long. Somewhere in the mission statement of most schools, there is often a reference to ALL students. In reality, we know however that our education systems are often falling short of that goal for large numbers of children. Reversing these trends will require a collective effort and a sense of critical urgency to take substantive action to dismantle systemic inequities. We must have the courage to examine our biases and traditional practices, and we must be willing to move past any discomfort in exploring issues such as race, privilege, and social injustice. As a school community engages in these efforts, they must also be willing to sustain their anti-bias and antiracist work over the long term in order to make significant progress, and people must hold each other accountable for the work.
An active commitment to education equity requires a thorough exploration of a school’s data, policies, and practices, followed by steps to actively dismantle components that have disenfranchised some students or sustained inequities within our systems. This most likely includes many of the areas discussed in other focus areas—such as making changes to curriculum, shifting our instruction and assessment strategies, and adopting updated discipline practices. We will need to support educator understanding of culturally responsive practices, and we must look at every aspect of a school’s effort to support the social, emotional, and academic development of students through an equity lens. The time is right for making such transformational change, and together we can do this. Let’s make the structural and systemic changes necessary to abolish educational inequity and to better meet the needs of all our students—regardless of race, color, socioeconomic status, ability, religion, national origin, home language, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We can then know in our hearts that when we reference ALL students in our school mission statements, that we have built a system that truly reflects this commitment—and that we really mean ALL. It is clear that neither our education systems nor our nation can succeed in achieving all of our longest-held and most aspirational goals until we collectively confront the deep and troubling history of inequity.
At the local, state, and national levels, we must ensure that teacher leadership is truly empowered and at the center of all decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and all aspects of education. The expertise and experience of our nation’s teachers have often been excluded when determining ways to move forward; and far too often, it seems as if initiatives are being done to teachers, instead of with them. We must trust our teachers to provide the essential guidance for education, as they know better than anyone what works best for students—and what will be necessary to support staff through change. Our nation’s teachers are the moral compass for education, and it is their passion and expertise that provide the true north for navigating a successful journey forward. One way that communities demonstrate a commitment to empowering teacher voice is by establishing a shared leadership model and by providing resources to develop the leadership capacity of all educators. Every school system must be committed to ensuring teacher voices are full partners at the table for all discussions and decisions regarding vision, policies, practices, and improvement efforts.
To nurture the conditions necessary for this type of leadership, it is imperative as well that we take steps to elevate the teaching profession and to collectively reaffirm respect for a profession that not only makes all other professions possible but also is deeply rooted within the foundational ideals of our democracy. This collective appreciation remains a critical priority and becomes reality by ensuring better salaries and excellent working conditions for all teachers, top-notch learning environments for all children, and the necessary support and materials for educators to do the job in a way that all children deserve. Additionally, we should take new steps to effectively recruit and retain excellent educators, increase the diversity among our nation’s teaching force, and provide regular opportunities within a school schedule for substantive collaboration among teachers. To help reduce turn-over trends, let’s also strengthen teacher preparation programs and ensure quality induction and mentoring programs for all beginning educators. It is by prioritizing steps such as these that communities everywhere demonstrate true respect and appreciation for a profession so steadfastly dedicated to our future as a nation—and so integral to its ongoing success. By valuing and empowering teacher leadership, we not only improve morale and retention throughout the entire profession, but also create learning environments that yield greater success for all—both staff and students.
Because the culture of a school influences every aspect of learning and teaching—and even has the power to render improvement efforts as ineffective, there is perhaps no more critical role for education leaders than that of “culture builder.” How we shape the often-unspoken beliefs and shared practices among the adults in the school can have a great impact on how effectively student learning occurs. Administrators and teacher leaders must regularly take active steps to shape and continuously reinforce a collaborative culture that is centered on ongoing learning for both staff and students. A collaborative culture is built upon the model of shared leadership, and a learning culture embodies the idea of continuous growth. Change is simply embraced as part of the natural process of ongoing development. In such a culture, staff members collaborate as a team and have developed high levels of collective efficacy. They firmly believe that together they have the ability to make great impact, and they intentionally establish specific practices to harness their efforts and to reach shared goals. Traditional improvement efforts often fail to yield the full results we desire. But when beliefs and practices consistent with collective efficacy are the norm in a school culture, what follows is often a tremendous impact on student achievement.
A collaborative culture of learning must extend as well to students, parents, and community members. Their voices should be welcomed as full partners, and we must provide collaborative opportunities for planning and learning together. We want to create safe and respectful spaces where all topics and perspectives can be discussed, and all practices or policies can be regularly revisited in order to better serve our students and community. While it is of course important that all leaders understand the difference between school climate and culture, leaders should regularly monitor the morale of the school as an indicator of how people are feeling about their everyday work. By regularly seeking feedback from students, staff, and parents, we empower all voices and demonstrate that we value their input on all matters. Such open and supportive collaboration is essential to nurture an inclusive learning culture and to create a shared and inspiring vision for the future. When successful, the professional culture is modeling the very norms and expectations we desire for our students. In education, we often try to get the student culture in schools to behave in ways that the adult culture is not—and it simply doesn’t work. It’s not how kids learn. Students mirror what they experience and will reflect what is happening around them. If we want students to engage in collaboration, to embrace challenge, to think critically and to be creative, we as the adults must do the same. In an ideal culture, learning becomes the very air that is breathed by all who inhabit the school. It simply becomes the way we do things. To truly reinvent schools and create more equitable, student-centered learning environments, we must embrace the notion that our core work as school leaders is really about adult development and reinventing culture.