We had the good fortune of connecting with Miguel Gonzalez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Miguel, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk-taking plays a fascinating role in the life of an educator. Much of what we have been taught through school and as educators is to mitigate risk, to backwards plan to avoid it. This comes in direct tension with the wide recognition that meaningful learning takes place at the intersection of success and failure. It is impossible to find the intersection of success and failure without taking thoughtful and intentional risk. I see this come to life each day at Embark Education, where I am the School Director. We support our learners to courageously inquire, engage, and discover a sense of self. At any given moment you can see student learning manifesting itself in a conversation between learners and the managers of Pinwheel Coffee or Framework Cycles, the two small businesses that Embark is embedded in. Each day all of us, adults and adolescents, are working together to intertwine learning experiences with shop operations on a quest to never be left asking “why am I learning this?” Which, ultimately, is a risk! This is a step away from the traditional conventions of schooling. It is a risk to openly recognize that we embrace learning rather than schooling. We support learners rather than students. This is a thoughtful and intentional risk, one in which our learners are honored as full humans with agency, empowered to understand how they move through the world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think the answers to many of these questions are encompassed in the way we approach one large, guiding question: How can we human better? Embark exists to give young people a space focused on giving them the concrete tools and skills to answer this essential question. Our approach to learning does not start with content and standards. It starts by asking questions like “How do you teach someone to be aware? How do you teach someone to be courageous? What are the skills a human needs to be resilient, to be curious?” We support our learners growing into these traits through collaboratively and intentionally-designed competencies, like critical thinking and collaboration to name a couple. In planning our curriculum around these competencies, what students learn is grounded in Common Core standards. This is how we nudge on all of the facets of school and break the school paradigm. I am incredibly proud of and excited about the work we do, and it definitely has not been without its challenges. Fortunately, I am surrounded by an incredible team of Educators and a dedicated Director of Curriculum who are wholly invested in and passionate about working with and alongside adolescents, and who are able to give students real leadership while still being committed to measurable academics.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I mean, obviously, I would start the trip at Pinwheel Coffee, grabbing a cup of house-made Chai or a Lemon Lavender Latte, accompanied by a cream cheese danish or a breakfast burrito. Pinwheel has great outdoor seating, so I’d definitely find a table outside to just sit and enjoy the neighborhood of North Denver. The next stop would have to be dropping in to visit Jake and the team at Framework Cycles. One of the things I admire most about Framework is how palpably welcoming it is; you can walk in as an experienced cyclist or a total newcomer to cycling and you are greeted with open arms and a wealth of knowledge. I would definitely catch an independent film at The Bug Theater, or a play at Su Teatro, followed by some good old fashioned Italian food at Gateano’s. And, of course, no trip to Denver would be complete without some time spent outside hiking or biking in Denver’s neighboring areas of Morrison or Evergreen.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I absolutely agree that all of us owe gratitude to those who support us. In my personal journey, I would be remiss to not share my appreciation and love with my parents. I was never the best student growing up, and I certainly don’t think my parents would have ever envisioned that my life’s work would be in the world of education. But, in reality, they provided me the guardrails to come into my own. They never pushed me to achieve the imposed measures of success of grades as long as I was learning and engaged. It was with this agency that I was able to embrace learning in non-traditional contexts and where, when I think about it, the most impactful moments of development happened for me. So, my journey starts with them, and I am grateful.