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Wayfinder Establishes Senior Fellowship to Look Beyond COVID-19 at the Future of Education

Young female student with brown hair holding notebooks and standing up in a classroom with other teen students nearby.
Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

After raising a $6.6M Series A, Wayfinder calls on education leaders to look beyond the crisis of the moment and not miss this opportunity for innovation at scale.

As a first step, Wayfinder is establishing a new Senior Fellowship on COVID-19 and the Future of Education to support its growing network of schools across 34 states and 15 countries. Social Entrepreneur and Presidential Leadership Scholar J. Eric Wilson will serve as the inaugural Senior Fellow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an undeniably profound impact on the education system. Teachers are now working tirelessly to address the effects of unfinished learning and widened learning gaps that resulted from the extended period of remote instruction. Meanwhile, mental health and emotional well-being among children and adolescents — which was already suffering prior to the pandemic — has taken a turn for the worse, amounting to what was declared a crisis by the US Surgeon General in December, 2021.

With students and teachers struggling, administrators and school staff are contending with issues of their own. Although the recommended caseload for school psychologists is 250 students, the average caseload in the US is roughly 1200. Additionally, administrators are trying to figure out how to handle the massive substitute shortage as well as the demoralization and resignation of thousands of overworked teachers.

“In response to the recent crises in education, many are calling for a swift return to ‘normal.’ But considering “normal” still included overwhelmed school staff, thousands of students in need of mental health support, and measurable inequity in educational access and performance, why would we want to rush back to it?” says Waydinder CEO Patrick Cook-Deegan, “The pandemic interrupted public education on the largest scale in modern history, and with it brought a huge opportunity to examine what education could look like in the 21st century.”

Our world is fundamentally changed, and the traditional education playbook can and should be rewritten. Recent times have revealed that our current school system is designed around certainty, which cannot be promised. Though individual educators have demonstrated an ongoing willingness to adjust practices to meet the times, large-scale adherence to traditional structures and models of education have stifled risk-taking and inhibited significant change.

Wayfinder, however, is fully ready and eager to meet the challenges of today’s educational landscape. We were established as an organization in human-centered research at the Stanford University d.school, and as we have grown and innovated, our processes and products have continued to be driven by evidence and completed with the highest level of fidelity.

“So much attention is focused on the small things while the big structural challenges are being ignored,” says Eric Wilson. “Behind the shouting match dominating the media and public forums is a growing coalition of educators, researchers, and public policy experts trying to bring our collective attention back to the hard conversations needed to give our students a relevant and purpose-driven education.”

Over the next several months, Wayfinder will be working with Eric to conduct research and hold interviews with people who will collectively define the future of education and put together a blueprint for its way forward. We firmly believe that education in the 21st century should encompass multiple fields of knowledge and professional sectors. For this reason, Eric will be collaborating with individuals and groups outside of the traditional education sector to gain insights into the far-reaching implications of educational advances.

Using the information we gather, we will seek clarity on the future of schooling. As we move forward, we also plan to continue building our network of collaborators so that we may learn from and contribute to thought leadership in education and its adjacent fields. Ultimately, we aim to determine how Wayfinder can create and help progress a collective forward-looking vision for education writ large.

“Normal is the last place we want to get back to, and I’m excited to support Wayfinder in forging a new path aligned with a future of constant change” — J. Eric Wilson.

J. Erik Wilson, Senior Fellow



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Helping Schools Build Belonging, Purpose, and 21st Century Skills since 2015