April 21, 2021

Leadership and Social Influence:

How You Can Use Clubhouse to Discuss and Design The Future of Education

A guest post by Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Each week, Joe Erpelding, Senior Vice President of Thrively and former principal of Design39 Campus, a K-8 public school in San Diego, brings people together to discuss one of his deeply held beliefs – the future is a place we create. One week as Joe shared how entrepreneurship was an integrated part of the elementary experience Harshal, a parent at Design39 raised her hand to speak. As Joe invited her to the stage, she shared a story of how her sister was launching a company and was discussing potential brand color and logo designs at a family get together. Her son, a 4th grader overheard the conversation and started sharing ideas and feedback, leaving everyone in the room curious as to how. Next on stage was Nancy Bosnoian, a student at Columbia University and CEO and founder of End No Sleep who shared how she wished she had this experience while growing up in school. She shared a profound statement, “I always taught how to do well at being interviewed, but no one ever prepared me to sit on the other side of the table as the interviewer.” 

As the conversation evolved, individuals practicing design thinking in different companies to teachers, students and professors across K12 and higher education had their voices heard, ideas shared and valuable connections were made. As leaders today face increasingly complex challenges in a rapidly-changing world, a diverse learning network has become essential. In 2018, “Future of Jobs Report,” the World Economic Forum predicted their list of trending skills for 2022, many which are arguably necessary now. They introduced for the first time, “leadership and social influence” as a trending skill. 

So where were these conversations taking place and where can you join them? Welcome to Clubhouse.

What Is Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is a new audio-only social platform where you can connect in virtual rooms around topics of interest with people across industries, backgrounds and time zones. Having just celebrated its one year anniversary, it’s still relatively new and growing. As digital futurist Brian Fanzo shares, “It’s the only social media app that prioritizes conversations over content.” 

At a time where the spontaneity of meeting people at traditional events, both those we know and those we are introduced to, having conversations that spark creativity and connection is a void that Clubhouse has filled for many. If there’s one conversation that serves as a resounding theme in almost every room it’s how to design for the future of education. From GenZ to entrepreneurs like Elon Musk to authors like Adam Grant, everyone is discussing how to best prepare learners to thrive in a rapidly changing world. As education leaders tackle the complex challenge of how to design the future of education here are two ways to join the conversation and leverage Clubhouse. 

From Talking About Others to Talking With Others

Over the years I’ve learned that cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy. As Donald A. Norman reminds us, “We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.” On Clubhouse you’ll find yourself listening more than speaking. Unlike most traditional spaces, you’re listening to voices from across different industries and time zones. There are two experiences in particular that have resonated deeply with me. As we discuss how to design the future of education today, being in spaces where people from higher education, K12 and industry can come together to discuss challenges and opportunities has been an incredible empathy exercise. What’s made these conversations more powerful than the meetings that take place in offices within school buildings – student voice. 

In the Education Innovation Club, Each Thursday at 5pm PST, Vriti Saraf, Greg Kulowiec and I come together to do exactly that – design dynamic and relevant conversations. The power of Clubhouse was amplified for all of us when we invited Neema Avashia, a public school teacher from Boston, MA who has made waves for challenging the learning loss narrative saying, “We have an opportunity to think and plan differently in this moment—to build a system that is responsive to the needs of the students it purports to serve. Doing so requires that we begin by listening to those young people and amplifying what they say they need, as opposed to what we as adults think they need.”

Along with Neema we invited two students, Marcus McNeil, a junior and Daniela Maciel, a sophomore to discuss this topic. The conversation was both humbling and enlightening, with everyone in the room realizing the glaring gaps in our decisions that come from not engaging student voices. The students shared their experiences over the past year during the pandemic and what they hoped to see moving forward. 

At its core design is optimistic and while the narrative is often how public schools are failing our children, Jerry Almendarez, Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District in California, was a spark of optimism during the conversation when he shared how leaders are making the time and space to learn how they can best serve their students. He shared how his district is hosting student panels asking three questions to inform how the district designs learning moving forward. 

  1. What challenges are you having with distance learning? 
  2.  If you had a magic wand and could change anything about your learning experience what would you change? 
  3. What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

If you’re interested in hearing from your students, then consider participating in “Imagine September” an initiative from Justin Reich, Jal Mehta and Neema Avashia, in an effort to learn from the student experience during COVID-19 to plan for a better future.

From Networking by Proximity to Networking by Design

Over the past year as we’ve found ourselves having to find and create answers to questions we’ve never faced before it’s become evident that while social media can be a great place to scroll, search and identify those we trust and want to learn from, we need spaces where we can have deeper conversations. Over the course of our professional careers we often network by proximity, from those in our buildings to conferences we attend. One of the greatest opportunities today’s world offers is networking by design. What challenges are you trying to solve for? What opportunities are you excited about? Who can best help you reach your goals? What energizes you and where are the skill gaps that could be closed through collaboration with others. 

I often find that one of the skill gaps in education is designing an online presence and portfolio to showcase and communicate our strengths and creative skills. In a recent study from Adobe, “The Deciding Factor: Admissions and Measuring Student Success,” they interviewed college admission decision makers, high school counselors and students and found that while colleges valued “showcasing creative skills” as a top 3 indicator they look for, neither counselors nor students had this one their list. 

Two of my mentors in this space are Brian Fanzo and Brittany Krystle. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from their online content, their blogs, their posts and their videos and podcasts. However Clubhouse has increased the level of intimacy through conversations in real time. Together each week, along with Scott Martin, they host a room on Tuesdays at 9 AM PDT. It’s provided a space to ask questions, to go deeper into topics and to hear from them on a regular basis providing bite size learning opportunities. As we think about designing the future, it’s important to recognize we are all great at something but we can’t be great at everything. Collaborating with other individuals across industries is what will allow us to go far together. 

In having joined many Clubhouse conversations over the past few months, I’ve found myself incredibly optimistic by how many people are leaning into the challenges at hand and making the time and space to discuss and design solutions increasing access and exposure to the opportunities that today’s world offers. 

As Joe Erpelding reminds us, “the future is a place we create,” and we don’t have to create it alone.