Episode 25: What Happens When We Believe All Young People Are Brilliant? with Dr. Sonn Sam

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Episode Summary:

Sonn Sam, National Director of Partnerships at Big Picture Learning, discusses his experiences and insights on creating learner-centered education systems.

Sonn shares how his experiences as a refugee from Cambodia shaped his educational journey and how he did not feel seen or supported in traditional school environments. He found mentors and purpose through community programs focused on his interests, like dance.

Later, transformative educators helped Sonn discover his passion for empowering youth by asking him questions no one had asked before about what he cared about. This led him into education and working with Big Picture Learning.

Key topics covered include:

🦸‍♀️ The importance of knowing students’ interests and passions to drive relevant learning
👨‍👦‍👦 Small group advisory structures for relationship building
🌎 Connecting students with mentors and internships in the community
🎨 Developing competency-based systems and authentic assessments
🏇 Moving from theory to action by starting small and evolving practice over time

Sonn emphasizes the need to build ecosystems that honor the brilliance in every student, not just those who fit traditional measures of success. His vision is for an education system where every child feels seen, heard, and loved.

Related Resources:

  • Strategies: Competency-Based Assessment (Learner-Centered Collaborative).
    Standardized assessments can limit how we see what young people have learned. Sonn makes a call to lean into competency-based assessment practices. Check out our various strategies for making competency-based learning a reality in your learning community.
  • The Life of a Big Picture Learning Student (Big Picture Learning).
    “As part of her senior project at Gibson Ek High School in Issaquah, Washington; aspiring animator Paige Huffman created this short narrative about her Life at a Big Picture School, and how the BPL approach to teaching and learning helped her come out of her shell in ways a traditional high school may not have.”
  • Designing Intentional Advisories—Q&A with Dr. Sonn Sam and Dr. Brenda Diaz (Education Reimagined).
    Advisories are a core design element for every Big Picture Learning environment. Learn more about advisories in this Q&A with Dr. Sonn Sam and Dr. Brenda Diaz (Dual Executive Principal of Nashville Big Picture High School and Metro Nashville Virtual School).

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