ShapingEDU 2021 Unconference "Post-pandemic Best Practices" Session Graphic
Home / Reshaping Learning Blog / ShapingEDU Unconference 2021: Flying With the Black Swans

ShapingEDU Unconference 2021: Flying With the Black Swans

Paul Signorelli

— August 11, 2021

Attempting to identify a key takeaway from the 2021 ShapingEDU Unconference—held online July 20-23, 2021—makes me want to start by giving the entire experience a tagline: “Flying With the Black Swans” (unexpected, unpredictable events that change our world view). The online interactions were, as is always the case with onsite or online ShapingEDU activities, a wonderful combination of the expected, the unexpected, and the sublime—in this case, the anticipated dynamic conversations centered around exploring several of the “wicked problems” we are facing and attempting to address in teaching-training-learning; the unexpected cross-pollination that comes when I find myself in a physical or virtual space with colleagues from across the country as well as from other parts of the world; and the sublime sense of ecstasy that comes from those moments when those of us gathered recognize a) that this is not an isolated event but, rather, part of an extended conversation that is results-oriented, and b) that we are actually creating foundations for actions that have the possibility of producing positive results. 

Link to promotional video for ShapingEDU Unconference "Black Swan" Session

Let’s step back from philosophizing and acknowledge what the ShapingEDU Unconference and other first-rate gatherings with well-developed, playful agendas foster. The experience of serving as an Unconference co-facilitator for conversations about what we have learned about teaching-training-learning (“365+ Days Later: Post-Pandemic Best Practices”)—and, more importantly, what we can do with what we have learned—gave me an opportunity to explore the transformations we have seen since COVID-19 moved substantial numbers of people in our communities from onsite to online learning. We have seen the struggles. We have seen the pain of learners and learning facilitators trying to adapt to a world they hadn’t imagined and, frankly, were not much enamored of inhabiting, much less sustaining. And we have seen incredible moments of creativity and adaptability that remind us we can do much more than we imagine we are capable of doing if we are immersed in a supportive community with members willing to adapt to changing circumstances in a world that seems hell-bent on continually throwing challenges at us.

What has come out of the Unconference experience, for me, is a sense of exhilaration inspired by the fact that those of us exploring the pandemic-learning challenge want to continue documenting and sharing success stories about what we can do to create “a new and better normal”—or as others involved in those conversations said, “create an enlightened journey toward success in the post-pandemic era that is permanent, accessible, and as antifragile as it can possibly be.”

Graphic for ShapingEDU 2021 Unconference "Post-pandemic Best Practices" Sessions

The formal conclusion of the 2021 Unconference was not as much an ending as a marker in a much longer journey upon which we long ago embarked and are continuing, enthusiastically, to navigate. Those of us involved in the post-pandemic best practices explorations are already beginning to craft a description of who we are, what we want to accomplish, and how we propose to draw an ever-growing number of dreamer-doer-drivers into the conversations, the planning, and the implementation of that effort to document and share information about how we can build upon what we have learned up to this point in pandemic-era thinking:

“We are highly ambitious, collaborative storytellers deeply inspired by what we have seen teacher-trainer-learners do in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We see value in telling our diverse, global community’s stories and collecting stories to be shared from and by others. We want to expand the range of voices currently heard so we retain, disseminate, and build upon successes in learning during the pandemic.

“We seek to learn and grow from the stories ready to be told. Hearing and sharing stories is necessary to do this. By collecting and documenting these stories, we can better prepare ourselves and those we serve to deal effectively with unexpected changes at the small-, medium- and large-scale levels. We want to look for and encourage others to watch for those potential “Black Swans.” We want to be proactive in developing skills needed to respond effectively to those Black Swans that are landing on our pond. And we want to help create antifragile organizations--those organizations that actually become stronger as a result of having faced enormous challenges…”

Our next step is to reach out to colleagues like you to invite you to join the ShapingEDU community and become involved in our efforts. If you want to join us, we hope you’ll follow this link to sign up as a member of the ShapingEDU community and let us know how we can put your skills and experience to work on reshaping learning in the digital era.

Paul Signorelli

Paul Signorelli, one of several contributors to the Reshaping Learning blog, served as one of three ShapingEDU Storytellers in Residence from July 2020-June 2021. He also blogs at Building Creative Bridges and can be reached at