The Elephant in the Room

Makeda Gershenson

Simon Says | The Blind Men & The Truth of The Elephant


One of my favorite jobs growing up was working at the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska. My glamorous role included 1) scanning poster-sized charts of land yet to be digitally recorded 2) renaming and ordering individual files. If college didn’t go as planned, I assumed I’d always be able to find a FT position at a nice government job… I was good at it… it paid well… and I really liked it.

That job is, undoubtedly, extinct.

A US Department of Labor report suggests that 65% of students today will be filling positions yet to be created. What do you want to grow up? has transformed into a nebulous question. Truth? We don’t necessarily know what our kids are going to experience on their journey to adulthood and the work force.

I’ve been in the field of education for over a decade. In my experiences in roles such as classroom teacher, MakersEd Fellow, curriculum designer and most recently, trainer in SEL and restorative practices, I’ve been a part of many living laboratories. Students, teachers, parents, youth around the world — all seem to desire to have fun, get stuff done and feel good about their efforts.

How do we support students in navigating this increasingly complex world built around social constructs that don’t always work in students’ favor?

Welcome to the Science of Self — a conscious process of designing a personal operating system that flourishes within and beyond the systems in place.

Step 1 — Know Your Selves.

Go ahead. Pause. Take a mental snapshot.📸

A quick reflection can give you invaluable insight.

How are you? / What do you need? / What’s in the way? / What’s next? 

Developing a practice of self-awareness helps you recognize patterns in your thoughts, moods, actions. Get creative about how to navigate through your most common challenges. Multi-tasking your afternoon away? There are notifications, apps and people that can help you regulate the things that need balancing.

When you take time to examine the ways you show up in different spaces and situations, you can peek into windows of wisdom that move you through the tough stuff.

We rarely ask learners how they’d like to solve problems that present themselves. By letting learners be transparent about what’s working and what’s not, educators can support their biggest stakeholders in recognizing opportunities for growth.

Step 2 — Rewrite The Narrative

It astounds me that much of the content students are learning and being tested on is the same as when I was a student.

I can look teenagers in the eyes and share with confidence that there is 99.6% chance they won’t need to recall the Pythagorean Theorem beyond their next few semesters. In the rare event the equation might arise, the situation would most likely allow them to use their resources to figure it out.

My nephew’s generation is being raised with Siri’s software and systems said to be more powerful than the computers that transported Apollo 11 to the moon.

The context of our modern lives has transformed — yet the content is largely the same.

How can students create meaning in subject matter that doesn’t matter?

RSA ANIMATE: The Power of Outrospection

What if we used schools as a place for learners to develop collaboration and communication skills about today’s complex global challenges?

What if we listened to more voices around the world and tinkered with our troubles together?

Step 3 — Give Yourself Another Chance

🤥 I already studied for that test. 🤥

😤 I can’t believe she said that! 😤

😯 I can’t believe I did that!😯

🤒 I feel terrible… 🤒

Students, like adults, have rough days.

As a curriculum designer, I’m often bouncing between objectives, standards and activities that both engage and reinforce new learnings. After years of developing curriculum and taking it into classrooms, it’s clear that the biggest user validation comes from the student experience, not the list of standards being checked off.

When students practice taking internal inventories, they get more grounded in their own understandings. From there, they can explore different methods of learning, communicating and handling challenges. This offers another opportunity to confidently step closer to goals that matter to them inside and outside the classroom.

Apply your Selves — try new strategies, a new routine for emptying the backpack or setting out clothes for tomorrow. Make it a game or set up and test different structures that you work well within.

The New Yorker

Forging into the Unknown

No one can predict the future, although algorithms are getting closer by tracking patterns in behaviors and attention. The roles and rules of the world are always and currently, quite tumultuously, changing. We can’t be sure what life will be like for both youth and adults in the future.

I used to be considered the tech guru in an office. Now I tsk, grumbling about the latest update which has rendered my PC or SmartPhone an obstacle and tool of procrastination instead of an efficient and effective resource. I have incredible amounts of information at my fingertips and yet, the struggle to manage it all is quite common and very real.

I am *confident* about the reliability of reflection, repeated revision and revolutionizing your Selves.

No time better than now to develop these essential skills. More social-emotional learning (SEL) from the lens of an educator and artist soon.

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“Makeda and I worked on mindfulness, breathing, exercising, ideas about sorting, prioritising and adapting to change.