We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Miguel Gonzalez a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Miguel thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Let’s jump right into how you came up with the idea?
There is so much to share, and so much that I absolutely love, about my work as the Director of Embark Education. One of the most profound learnings that I have experienced, a learning that has led to the ideation of current and future programming at Embark, stems deeply from the work of creating learner-centered experiences for adolescents at our micro-middle school. At Embark, the school, we support our learners to courageously inquire, engage, and discover a sense of self by creating the space and building the relationships that empower each learner to be confidently at the helm of their educational journey. We have faith in, and radically respect, adolescents much in the same ways we do our peers. While this trust, faith, and respect may not be common in middle school environments, our students rise because of it.
After witnessing the powerful results of what happens when we get out of learners’ way and authentically support them in capitalizing on their strengths, we started wondering: Are there spaces like this, where radical trust and respect are core tenets that are lived and breathed and truly provided, for educators? What would a space like this look like? What would happen if we replicated the conditions of Embark, the school, and created a space for educators to surface their brilliance in proximity to others?
Our answer: The Iterative Space, a residency designed to elevate and honor professional educators. Over the course of the six-week residency, Iterative Space residents are asked only to take pause each day to share a provided meal; to iterate by engaging in their work in any path that feels resonant; and to share their insights and discoveries. That’s it. We believe that simply by providing a space for educators to show up authentically in exploration of their ideas and passions, meaningful and impactful actions will emerge – and, they have! We have seen incredible educators breathe life into their passions, such as Caitlin Long bringing to life Re/Scripted, an organization dedicated to advancing the complexities of difference in gender and sexuality in education towards a more equitable, just and inclusive future, or Kyle Gamba taking La Luz, a micro school with a focus on experiential learning, relationship building, and character development, from a dream to reality.
We are preparing to embark on the third Iterative Space residency, coming this June, and we could not be more excited to welcome an amazing group of 15 educators from across the country into the Space. We are also actively working on creating an Iterative Intensive, a three-day, learner-centered adult learning experience embodying the same values of radical trust and relationship building.
As I have watched our work at Embark Education expand from its roots as a learner-centered micro-middle school to learner-centered residencies and intensives for adults, I continually come home to that one that core learning that has been the impetus for it all: that truly remarkable things happen when we simply create the supportive space, built on relationships and filled with radical trust, for humans to surface their brilliance.
Miguel, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Before Embark Education, I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado in English with an emphasis in Secondary Education and hold my M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Pennsylvania State University. It has been an incredible journey and opportunity to bring my experiences and skills to Embark Education as an educational leader. Previous to joining Embark, I served as the Middle School Director at DCS Montessori for three years. Before that, I was an administrator supporting a nationally-recognized Teacher Leadership program in Denver Public Schools. I have also been fortunate to be a middle school teacher both in Colorado, as well as in the international education world. During my tenure as an international educator in Costa Rica, I taught 7th grade, lead the Educational Technology department and the IT department, and served as the High School principal. All of these experiences have culminated in an extremely rewarding professional journey that has ultimately landed me at Embark, where I work in close partnership with an incredible team of educators and colleagues to intentionally create learner-centered experiences for youth and adults.
Is there a particular goal or mission driving your creative journey?
The mission driving our work at Embark Education is to foster and support individual mindset shifts toward a learner-centered paradigm.
It’s funny, when I take a step back and reflect on that statement, on our mission, it’s not lost on me how lofty that mission is, and the weight that those words hold. And yet, when I think about how we are working towards actualizing that mission, as ambitious as it is, I am instantly humbled by the realization that the work, while big, is actually achieved in so many ways by the seemingly simplest of measures. Actions that might seem small, like educators at Embark, the school, simply scheduling out regular, intentional one-on-one conference time with each student, or a group of Iterative Space residents simply gathering once a day to break bread and share a meal . . . these seemingly small actions foster the relationships and build the radical trust that ultimately spark the mindset shifts about what education can look and feel like.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
This isn’t a story that is unique to my narrative, but there is no question that the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic not only illustrated my resilience, but the resilience of our students and educators at Embark, the school, and through a more broad lens, educators as a whole. As was the pretty universal experience, we were forced to pivot to virtual learning in spring 2020, which surfaced both expected challenges, as well as unexpected opportunities for both students and educators at Embark, the school. Through the unpredictability of the pandemic, we also launched our inaugural Iterative Space residency in early summer 2020. In reflecting back on the decision to move forward with launching the Iterative Space in a time of such heightened and widely-felt uncertainty, while it was a big decision full of nuances that we were not anticipating and questions that we didn’t always have the answers for, we knew it was the right decision. Despite the added logistical challenges of trying to safely bring people together during a pandemic, we knew that in a strange and almost serendipitous way, the time was ripe. People, and educators in particular, needed connection, thought partnership, and most of all, space. It wasn’t easy to pull it all together, but in retrospect and standing where we are today, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
- Website: www.embarkeducation.org
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/embarkedu
- Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/miguel-gonzalez-52039334
- Twitter: mobile.twitter.com/directorembark
Photos by Melissa Bailey and Brian Lewis