Keynote Speakers

Monday, October 22


Opening Keynote
Leading the Transformation of Education Systems; Dedicated to High-Quality Learning for All

Carlos Moreno, Big Picture Learning  
Phyllis Lockett, LEAP Innovations
Tony Monfiletto, Future Focused Education

What does it mean to deliver powerful learning experiences and personalized pathways that build the knowledge and skills that students and communities need for future prosperity and success?

Despite dramatic improvements in education over the last century, the one-size-fits-all, time-based system does not work as well as we need it to if we are going to ensure that all students succeed. In fact, the traditional system was designed to rank and sort students through a combination of practices: curriculum based on age and grade levels without regard for students’ previous experiences, grading policies that inflated or reduced grades based on behavior (or bell curves), not mastery. We have a system of age-based cohorts in an industrial model of education that sets different expectations for students based on their perceived ability or identity, and promotes students to the next grade level despite having not learned what they needed for more advanced learning.

Across the country, educators and policymakers are coming to the same conclusion: the structure of the traditional system is a barrier to equity and excellence and does not provide high-quality learning opportunities for all students. The premise of transforming education systems toward personalized pathways, connected to communities and aligned across K-16 and workforce needs points to a competency-based education system as a backbone to reimagine our structures and pedagogy. The traditional system, having been designed to sort students, must be and can be replaced with culture that all students can learn and thrive. We must re-examine the design, structures inside and outside of school that promote high-quality learning and pedagogy and reimagine the future with supportive policies and practices, to ensure every learner can succeed.

Key questions remain:

  • What does the future of education and the future of work portend for today’s youth?
  • Why does the traditional education system need to change and how will competency-based systems offer higher quality, more equitable learning environments?
  • How can we work together as a field to ensure that innovations in education systems benefit all students, especially those who have been historically underserved?

Our Opening Keynote plenary session will follow a TED Talk format, where extraordinary leaders will provide short, powerful talks sharing their journeys toward transformative learning connected to communities, future-focused careers and civic life. We are grateful to have three leaders who not only “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk” in catalyzing transformational change for the future of education from different perspectives. Their first-hand experiences in addressing tough questions, building upon local perspectives and wisdom, with an eye to rethinking what is possible, are helping to drive the transformation of education systems and advance equity for all students.  

Keynote Plenary Luncheon
The Evolution of Equity in Rethinking High School

Russlynn Ali, Emerson Collective and XQ Institute
Nick Donohue, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Everyone has a role to play in the future to respond to the vast changes in the world around us. By redesigning traditional approaches to high school, education innovators are working to prepare students for a brighter future.

Together, we are sharing our learnings and making resources open-source to stimulate dialogue and to inspire schools and communities all over the country. In our rapidly changing world, XQ views high school as the fulcrum for change in a process toward educational transformation. Changes underway include innovative approaches to curriculum and teaching that use real-world, interdisciplinary learning experiences to enable students to develop and apply deep content knowledge and complex skills. At the center is the empowerment of student voice and choice in approaches to teaching, learning and overall school culture that focuses on truly getting to know students, both inside and outside the classroom, and giving all students opportunities to build their identities as learners and develop the capacity for agency and autonomy. Broader definitions of student success require communities to examine the goals and outcomes for our education system afresh and look at holistic outcomes that integrate academic and social-emotional learning and enable students to become masters of fundamental literacies, holders of foundational academic knowledge, original thinkers for an uncertain world, generous collaborators for tough problems, and learners for life. Community partnerships are powerful and extend learning with community and cultural institutions, business and industry, higher education, nonprofit organizations, and health and service providers — and provide support, real-world experiences and networking opportunities for students, enabling them to envision and set goals for the future. Personalized learning is supported by leveraging technology to empower tailoring learning for the unique needs of each student, as well as to actively assess student progress and provide tools that help students build the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in college, career and life. School leaders are pushing the edge of what we understand is possible through non-traditional, flexible uses of time, technology, space, place, resources and roles to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

Join leaders from XQ and XQ Super Schools to hear about how they’re rethinking traditional systems and bringing equity to the forefront of high school redesign to ensure far more young people throughout our country will flourish in our rapidly changing economy and contribute to their communities and a diverse democracy.  

You can access the following resources from XQ ahead of the Symposium:

Tuesday, October 23


Morning Keynote
An International Perspective on Innovation and the Future of Teaching and Learning: Reflections on a Decade of OECD Insights and Research

David Istance, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), retired; Brookings Institution; University of Strathclyde, Scotland

Preparing our students to become lifelong learners with a deep knowledge of subject matter and a broad set of social skills requires all who are involved in K-12 education to have a better understanding of how pedagogy influences learning, knowledge of learning sciences, utilization of quality frameworks, and recognizing the importance of networks and communities of practice to drive the transformation of school systems.

For over a decade, the OECD has conducted intensive international study on innovating learning, teaching and systems, ranging from the nature of learning and innovative pedagogies up to system transformation. This study has included the recent publication of a handbook of texts and tools aimed at educational practitioners. David Istance was a key architect and author of this strand of international work. It has produced frameworks and guiding principles for others to apply in their own contexts, rather than propose universal solutions. Underpinning this work has been a number of fundamental suppositions, including: innovation is a necessity not a luxury, change should be guided by profound understanding of how young people learn best, and that innovating learning environments calls for collaborative designs and complex forms of learning leadership rather than ‘letting 1000 flowers bloom’.

This keynote will present the key principles and frameworks developed by the OECD over the past decade and it will locate the innovation of personalized learning within these broader frameworks. David will share his insights and breadth of experience on transforming system design towards innovative learning systems.

Luncheon Keynote
We Are the Evidence: Young People on Education Transformation

Student Panel – Jemar Lee, Education Reimagined and EdRevision, moderator

“Don’t let the past blackmail your present, for we all have a beautiful future… Of course, it’s going to take time; there will be failures. Try different strategies, but don’t stop. Please get on to this path, and you will see such beautiful results.” — Ikonkar Kaur Khalsa (Student, Lindsay High School graduating class of 2018)

Join moderator Jemar Lee — founder of EdRevision, current fellow with Education Reimagined, and recent graduate from Iowa BIG, for a conversation with four insightful learners from across the country experiencing learner-centered education in action. They will share their first-hand experiences of how transforming education has transformed their lives — who they are, the contributions they are making to their communities and where they see their future leading. In a provocative, unfiltered and honest conversation, they will inspire you to consider what you can do to start and embolden your communities’ shift toward learner-centered education.

Be ready to walk away with one key question: “As we work together to drive the transformation of learning in this country, what can I do to ensure young learners are at the forefront?”

Send your questions to this panel of learners through Twitter using #iNACOL18.

Wednesday, October 24


Closing Keynote

The Power of Whole Child Personalization: Connecting Science, Learning and Human Potential

Pamela Cantor, M.D., Turnaround for Children

Every day, students arrive at school with a backpack full of experiences that impact how they behave and learn. Many of those experiences are positive, but others are stressful, even traumatizing. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, almost half of our children have experienced at least one type of serious trauma. Traumatic experiences get under the skin, with implications for a child’s development and ability to learn and thrive.

Fortunately, emerging scientific research on how children learn and develop points to strategies for educators to unlock the potential in each student.

In this keynote presentation, Pamela Cantor, M.D., Founder and Senior Science Advisor for Turnaround for Children, will connect the dots between research and educational practice and explain how schools can be designed to support and personalize learning for the whole child.

During the presentation, Dr. Cantor will introduce Turnaround’s Building Blocks for Learning, a framework for comprehensive student development, and share insights from two papers she recently co-authored in the journal Applied Developmental Science which synthesize research from multiple disciplines into a set of scientific principles that can be applied today, to enable many more children to achieve and thrive. Dr. Cantor will use these principles to address the interconnected relationships between school system design, adult mindsets and skills, and the intentional support of successful learners – translating this complex body of work for practical use in schools.   

The goal: whole child personalized learning and the use of developmental principles that can and should be applied today to support innovations in school design and practice. Dr. Cantor will demonstrate how we can harness this scientific knowledge to design educational environments that promote the development of the brain, accelerate learning and drive holistic student development so that all children achieve to the fullest expression of their potential.

You can also access the following resources from Dr. Cantor below ahead of the Symposium:

Speaker Bios

Carlos Moreno

A proud native New Yorker, Carlos Moreno is a passionate educational leader committed to supporting school and district leaders who are creating high-quality, non-traditional schools. He is a Co-Executive Director for Big Picture Learning, a nonprofit organization that, since 1995, has developed over 150 such schools in the United States and throughout the world.

As Big Picture’s Co-Executive Director, Carlos is the visionary for all U.S. school and district wide programs. Carlos leads a national team of regional directors, designs and leads Big Picture’s several annual conferences, and coordinates leadership development and support services for school and district leaders and works with scores of non-Big Picture schools that wish to incorporate elements of the Big Picture Learning design. He also leads the Deeper Learning Equity Fellowship in partnership with the Internationals Network for Public Schools.

Carlos holds undergraduate degrees in marketing and business from Johnson & Wales University along with a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. Most recently Carlos was named as a Pahara-Aspen Institute Fellow – a fellowship designed to sustain diverse, senior leaders who are reimagining public education and who will help shape the future of the educational excellence and equity movement.

Phyllis Lockett

Phyllis Lockett has been dedicated to transforming education in the U.S. for more than a decade. She is currently the founder and CEO of LEAP Innovations, an organization headquartered in Chicago that connects innovation and education to transform how students learn. LEAP works directly with educators and innovators across the country to pilot, research and scale personalized learning technologies and innovative practices across classrooms and outside learning environments.

Before starting LEAP, Phyllis was a driving force behind Chicago’s charter movement. As founding president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, she helped raise more than $70 million to support opening 80 new public schools. Her work more than tripled the number of charter schools and drove Chicago’s first magnet school replication.

She previously served as executive director of the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA), a pro bono consulting firm for government agencies, helping to shape the Chicago Transit Authority’s $2.8 billion capital improvement program and the Chicago Housing Authority’s 10-year, $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation. She also held marketing, sales and business development roles with Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Kraft Foods and General Mills. Currently, Phyllis is a board member of ASCD, an independent director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and serves as a board member on several civic organizations including The Economic Club of Chicago, The Chicago Network and the Adler Planetarium. She is also a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago and a Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute. She earned a Master of Management degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University.

Tony Monfiletto

Tony is from Albuquerque, New Mexico and has worked in education since 1990. He began his career at the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy to promote the restructuring of the Chicago Public Schools. After leaving Chicago in 1993, he joined the staff of the Legislative Education Study Committee in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he specialized in public school finance. This big picture work was fundamental in establishing the context for cutting edge small high schools in his hometown. His work is focused on using the local wisdom and reciprocal relationships with communities to create schools that provide, “the best education for the students who need it the most.”

In 2008, Tony began work on ACE Leadership High School, the first in a network of the next generation of career focused schools in New Mexico. The Leadership Schools Network has now grown to four schools, ACE, Health, Technology and Siembra (entrepreneurship) High Schools. These institutions are dedicated to the premise that “learning by doing,” Positive Youth Development and the highest level of private sector collaboration, will result in schools that make Albuquerque a healthier and more prosperous community. Tony is also a Pahara-Aspen and Sizer fellow.  

Russlynn Ali

Russlynn Ali is Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective and Chief Executive Officer of XQ Institute. XQ’s mission is to fuel, inspire and catalyze America’s collective creativity in order to transform our high schools so every student can succeed. 

Russlynn served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education from 2009 to 2012, acting as Secretary Arne Duncan’s lead advisor on equity and civil rights. Prior to her work in the Obama Administration, Russlynn served as vice president of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C. and founded Education Trust-West, in Oakland.

Her professional background also includes experience as a teacher, attorney, liaison for the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, assistant director of policy and research at the Broad Foundation, and chief of staff to the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education. 

Nick Donohue

As President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Nick Donohue is leading efforts to reshape New England’s public education systems to be more equitable and more effective, supporting strong futures for our region’s communities.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Nick served as the New Hampshire State Commissioner of Education where he shepherded in systemic reform efforts to innovate teaching and learning. He also served as Special Master at Hope High School in Providence, where he oversaw implementation of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s Order to reconstitute the school.

As a sought after thought leader in education transformation, Nick has worked throughout his career to expand access to high-quality, innovative learning opportunities for New England students. His leadership in education reform continues to challenge traditional notions of schooling to respond to our changing world and the systemic inequities inherent in our systems of education, with the goal of preparing learners to contribute to a thriving democracy.

Nick currently serves in a number of leadership roles, including Chair of the Board of Directors for iNACOL, and participates as a regular member of the Partnership for the Future of Learning and Boston Opportunity Agenda. Nick’s previous board affiliations include serving as chair of the board of Grantmakers for Education, and serving as a trustee for both the University System of New Hampshire and Community Technical College System, among other affiliations.

Nick’s writing on philanthropy, education transformation and systemic racism in education has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine, The Boston Business Journal, The Providence Journal, and the Hartford Courant, among others.

Nick holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University and an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). In 2016, Nick was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree from the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

David Istance

David Istance headed the Schooling for Tomorrow project at the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) for a decade, before leading another of its long-running programs – Innovative Learning Environments – and its follow-up Innovative Pedagogies for Powerful Learning. This work has spanned systems change and future thinking, through local strategies and innovations, to research and practice on teaching and learning. Creating syntheses and new frameworks has been as important as reporting on specific innovations.

David held the main pen in these international projects, looking to provide intellectual leadership as well as promoting the innovations of others. He has privileged the practical relevance and accessibility of knowledge, as for instance his 2017 book Innovative Learning Environments – The Handbook aimed precisely at educational practitioners and leaders. He has since co-authored Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: the importance of innovative pedagogies published by OECD in 2018. Equity and lifelong learning have been inspiring themes throughout his work and he has recently focused his attention on aging and learning by seniors.

David retired from OECD mid-2017 and is now a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and a Visiting Professor at University of Strathclyde, Scotland.

Jemar Lee

Jemar Lee is a nationally respected advocate for learner-centered education, an educational entrepreneur and a alumni of Iowa BIG high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As co-founder and former team member of EdRevision, a new youth-led initiative, Jemar has spoken and presented to educators and students about learner-centered education at more than a dozen conferences around the country, including SXSWedu, iNACOL, Education Reimagined, keynote speaker at Edvision’s Ed Expo, Iowa Governor’s Future Ready Iowa Summit, International Seminar for Student Voice & Partnership and many more.

Currently, Jemar is taking a solidified gap year as he serves as a fellow with Education Reimagined working to help the learner-centered movement grow stronger and become irreversible. While doing this, he will be taking online college courses stepping onto a campus in the fall of 2019.

Pamela Cantor, M.D.

Pamela Cantor, M.D. practiced child psychiatry for nearly two decades, specializing in trauma. She founded Turnaround for Children after co-authoring a study on the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City schoolchildren. In schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty she saw students deeply affected by the circumstances in their lives, teachers struggling to meet the intense needs of their students and principals unable to build an environment that is physically and emotionally safe and supportive. She recognized that the scientific research on stress and the developing brain that she had learned in medical school should be translated into practices to help children and schools challenged by the effects of unrelenting adversity. Dr. Cantor started Turnaround to help schools understand the impact of adversity on learning and to put children on a healthier developmental trajectory, so they can live the lives they choose. Today, Turnaround translates scientific research about how children develop and learn into tools and services for educators to help all students thrive — impacting more than 50,000 students during this school year.

After leading Turnaround for sixteen years as President and CEO, in 2018, Dr. Cantor transitioned to a new role as Founder and Senior Science Advisor. She now focuses on the scientific underpinnings of Turnaround’s work, on targeted applied science initiatives and on thought leadership opportunities.  She is a leader of the Science of Learning and Development Initiative, a collaborative effort focused on elevating and translating a diverse but increasingly convergent body of scientific literature to support the transformation of the systems that educate children from birth to adulthood.

In 2016, Turnaround published Building Blocks for Learning, a framework for comprehensive student development. The paper explores the roots of higher-order skills and mindsets, such as agency, perseverance and academic tenacity that all children need to flourish and suggests a path to acquire them.

In 2017, Dr. Cantor co-authored Building the Bridge Between Science and Practice: Essential Characteristics of a Translational Framework in the journal Mind, Brain and Education. And in 2018, Applied Developmental Science simultaneously published two papers co-authored by Dr. Cantor, Malleability, Plasticity, and Individuality: How Children Learn and Develop in Context and Drivers of Human Development: How Relationships and Context Shape Learning and Development. Together, the papers synthesize research from multiple disciplines on what is understood and what can be done to help all children develop in healthy ways, no matter the adversity they might experience as they grow up.

Dr. Cantor has been invited to share her insights at events including the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s By All Means Convening, ASU + GSV Summit, National Summit on Education Reform, Aspen Ideas Festival, NewSchools Summit, SXSWedu, and EdSurge Fusion. Her work has been highlighted in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and on NOVA and National Public Radio.

Dr. Cantor received an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a Visiting Scholar in Education at Harvard University and a member of the Council of Distinguished Scientists for the National Commission on Social, Emotional & Academic Development. An Ashoka Fellow, Dr. Cantor was awarded the 2014 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Impact.