Teaching Profession Opinion

A Letter to My Former Teachers: Reflections and Optimism

By Contributing Blogger — November 03, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This post is from Sunny Zhang. Sunny joined Envision Learning Partners this summer as a Special Projects Coordinator.

Dear Teachers,

Since day one of Kindergarten, I have been blessed with many “aha” moments while in your classrooms. For sixteen years, my only job was to be your student. My experiences in your classrooms were limited to paying attention and learning in class, doing my homework, and studying for exams. I was always on the receiving end and never thought about my education from your perspective.

This all changed recently. A few months ago, right before starting my new role as special projects coordinator with Envision Learning Partners (ELP), I spent two days in Los Angeles at a Linked Learning conference with Justin Wells, a talented deeper learning coach and ELP’s Vice President of Program. My goal was to acquaint myself with Envision and how ELP shares the Envision Portfolio Defense model with districts like Los Angeles Unified School District, and to learn from LAUSD educators who are deeply invested in improving student outcomes. And while I did learn new terms such as “linked learning,” “pathways,” and “portfolio defense,” it wasn’t completely clear to me how they all fit together or why the deeper learning pedagogy was more effective than traditional teaching practices. But as I attended more workshops and got a better understanding of the jargon, I realized I knew more about this style of teaching and learning that I initially thought I did. It turns out, thanks to you, I wasn’t so far removed from these concepts. I began to recognize the similarities between linked learning, deeper learning and my own high school experience.

I always knew that my school, High Tech, wasn’t a traditional high school, but it took three thousand and some miles for me to realize that it was so much more than just a STEM-focused high school. From conducting individual research projects to experimenting with codes and programs--we were deeply engaged in experiential learning. We presented our work to professionals and operated industry-standard machinery. All of this was topped off with an opportunity to further develop our skills and interests through internships our senior year. Each of these distinct experiences informed the next, and together, you--my teachers--created a wonderfully connected, cohesive learning journey. From learning by doing, I was even more focused and able to see the direct application of concepts learned in your classes to real world careers. The experiences you provided helped me understand the effectiveness and value of a linked learning education--even if I didn’t use that language at the time.

What I also came to appreciate, while observing LAUSD and ELP working together, is just how important this work is for all students--for students from every background and community. That experiential education that I was lucky enough to have--that is the kind of learning and growing that all students need and deserve.

That’s one of the reasons I was so inspired by what I saw at the Linked Learning conference: teachers working together to integrate Linked Learning with the Envision Portfolio Defense system. It’s exciting to think about the powerful combination of experiential learning and meaningful performance assessments that measure what matters most: what students know, what they can do, and how they reflect on their growth. It’s even more exciting to think about how this powerful combination can positively impact students, both in terms of their experiences of school and learning as well as the long-term outcomes they will enjoy because of these integrated, responsive, rigorous classrooms.

So thank you for giving me an education that prepared me well for my future, and for setting me on a path to where I am today, with ELP. Here, I have the unique opportunity to witness the work teachers do each day to ensure student success. I am incredibly excited to support the teachers and schools working with ELP who are making an impact in the lives of students they serve, and eager to talk with others about this important work. I hope to have many opportunities to share my hope and enthusiasm with others, and to help ELP bring educators together around the common goals of spreading deeper learning and helping students achieve success--however they define it.

With gratitude,


Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read