Authenticity in Action: An XQ School Knowledge Exchange

This school builder in rural Tennessee visited High Tech High in San Diego. What he learned will impact the way he thinks about education.

By Dustin Hensley

For educators at XQ schools, lifelong learning is more than a catchphrase, it’s a practice that allows educators and students to integrate the accumulated knowledge of others into their communities and beyond in order to better their own practices, whether it’s in the classroom, or in life. 

In this guest blog post from Library Media Specialist at XQ school, Elizabethton High, Dustin Hensley shares what’s possible when educators lower their barriers and speak honestly about the challenges they face and how they can come together to overcome them.

To those of us in the education sphere, we know that our craft is often overstuffed with buzzwords. One that has recently seemed to gain prominence in the schooling zeitgeist is “authenticity.” For a word that has seen so much popularity, it still seems to be quite the rarity to find it emanating in a school. 

I was fortunate enough to not only witness but experience true authenticity recently when visiting High Tech High in San Diego, California, during their 2019 Fall Institute. 

Sign that says High Tech

Students at the Center

My favorite thing about High Tech High was how obvious it was to see student learning and experiences as the true center of their operations. Observing classes and talking with students helped show that there was a shared culture among everyone involved with High Tech High, including their emphasis on personal growth and collaboration. Students were proud to show their work, which is covering almost  every inch of wall space throughout the three campuses and explains their learning journey in creating their public products.

Another hallmark of the High Tech High visit was the students’ ability to engage with adults as thought partners. Almost every activity that we participated in involved at least one High Tech High student. These students weren’t just being added as token representatives but were active throughout discussions and provided descriptive feedback and helped push conversations forward. This showed the dedication that High Tech High puts toward developing self-advocacy skills in their students while also building social capital.

Learning Through Sharing

Another huge take away from the visit that speaks to High Tech High’s commitment to authenticity was their staff openness to answer questions and speak to their experiences. Our school is currently in the middle of transitioning towards project-based learning and a learner-centered paradigm, so having several staff members visit a school and be allowed to voice concerns and witness high-quality PBL in action was a huge success for our team. High Tech High teachers and coaches were more than willing to share curriculum, think through project ideas, and stay after to discuss how difficult change can actually be for both faculty and students.

So often we go to trainings and hear about all of those things and think about how great they sound in the abstract, but being able to witness it actually happening goes a long way in truly cementing our understanding. We are much like our students in that way. We as educators hate the sit-and-listen sessions. We want to get up and do something and talk to people. High Tech High Fall Institute really honored that long-held anxiety that we share and ensured that we were actively engaged.

I hope that that is something that all of us as educators can take away and apply. How we can truly be ourselves and be open with others about the struggles of changing how we do things but understanding that after all of the frustration, our work with students will be so much better. High Tech High’s coaches, teachers, and students were all welcoming hosts that were authentic and worked with us to become better at what we do. Let’s all do that for each other.

Do you have a story to tell about classroom inspiration? We’d love to hear it! Become an XQ Guest Blogger today!