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Beyond subject-verb agreement

Kelisa Wing said:

What kind of world do you want to leave for those who come after us? Who cares if my students know how to make their subjects and verbs agree if they use language to promulgate hate? Who cares if my students know the Pythagorean Theorem if they use numbers and statistics to minimize others? Who cares if my students know the stories in their history books if they do not use the past to ensure that we create a new equitable future?

Is your school preparing students to help create an equitable future?

We shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice

Following up on my previous post, I’m going to share a fantastic blog post from Michael Kaechele:

I have grown weary of the call to avoid controversial topics and stay neutral. Silence is compliance. There are many things in history that do not have two equal opposing sides: slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, etc. There is only one side to these events that is fair, just, and equitable. Educators should help students understand how oppressors justified their actions in history without giving credit to their arguments. Done properly it would be a warning against similar tactics used today.

Educators don’t take stock in conspiracy theories. We stand up for truth, justice, and decency. Please do not let students defend positions based on speculation and hearsay. It is our job to present truth to students even if they and their parents don’t want to hear it. We can not necessarily change their hearts and minds, but we can force them to confront the truth. Teachers should interrupt and challenge any student who presents conspiracy theories and false information with questions of its source and legitimacy. We can not allow bigotry, racism, sexism, or any other discrimination in our classroom.

I would add administrators and students to this list. We shouldn’t let them defend those positions either, and we surely shouldn’t pretend neutrality in the face of injustice. Nicely said, Michael.

How are the conversations going in your school system?

“Neutral”

Yesterday, after a morning of incitement from President Trump, his family members, and his personal lawyer, his Republican supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol and forced the evacuation of Congress as Presidential electoral votes were being certified. People died, tear gas was deployed, and the Capitol was looted. The scenes from yesterday will live as one of the most disgraceful, infamous events in American history.

Today I am hearing that school administrators are telling their educators to remain “neutral” as they discuss yesterday’s events. I respectfully ask these administrators, “What is ‘the other side?’ What does ‘neutral’ mean to you in this situation?” 

Your educators await your answer.

The importance of social studies and information literacy

As someone who grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs and whose parents worked for the federal government, today’s events have been… challenging.

I think that what I will say here is:

  1. Policymakers, you know how you’ve minimized the importance of history, government, and civics in all of your education reform efforts over the past couple of decades? Yeah, that was probably a big mistake…
  2. Superintendents and principals, are you ready yet to pay more attention to information literacy throughout your P-12 curricula?

Women in school leadership: A few awesome initiatives

WomenEdThere is some incredible work happening right now related to women in P-12 educational leadership. Below are four initiatives that have caught my attention over the past few months…

  • Women Who Lead. The first initiative is Women Who Lead, which is led by the always awesome Kim Cofino and her team at Eduro Learning. Women Who Lead has more than 500 curated video conversations with over 70 women who hold leadership positions in education. There are 8 different learning modules, customized pathway options, protocols, scholarship opportunities, a private discussion forum, a curated Twitter list, and much, much more. 
  • SheLeadsEdu. The second initiative is SheLeadsEdu, which is led by the phenomenal Jody Britten and Missy Emler and their team of ‘hell raisers.’ SheLeadsEdu hosts frequent Twitter chats, online video meetups, and book clubs. There also is a private community for participants as well as a SheLeadsEdu directory of women leaders around the world. 
  • WomenEd. The third initiative is WomenEd, a ‘global grassroots movement’ that brings together both existing and aspiring women leaders in education across the globe. WomenEd boasts a community of over 35,000 participants and has hosted hundreds of events. The leaders of WomenEd have a new book out, titled 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education, as well as an active blog, mailing list, and a variety of networks that you can join.
  • Women’s Leadership Incubator. The fourth initiative is the upcoming Women’s Leadership Incubator, sponsored by the Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) in the University of Wisconsin School of Education. The incubator experience begins in July 2021 and will feature ongoing coaching, regular meetings with experts, community action projects, and access to relevant research from one of the best colleges of education in the world.

If you’re a woman in educational leadership – or another school administrator who wishes to be an ally in this work – be sure to check out the amazing work happening in these communities. In addition to the initiatives featured above, tune in to the #SheLeadsEdu#WomenEd, #WomenEdLeaders, and #WomenWhoLead Twitter hashtags for some great discussions.

If you know of other initiatives that bring together awesome woman leaders in education, let me know!

Will schools acknowledge where and how they failed during the pandemic?

In an article about the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, Howard Bryant said:

Baseball should have taken the honest road, which would be to carry its stain and leave the tattered, piecemeal records of the various Negro Leagues as a historical reminder of its own destructiveness. Baseball did not do that — not because it was so important to give Josh Gibson a posthumous batting title but because like most of white, mainstream society, it does not want to carry its share of the responsibility for the condition it created.

While baseball has taken what it considers to be a step toward reparation, it has taken another away from accountability. Part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure.

This idea pertains to schools and the pandemic as well. The first months of 2020 were an emergency that caught most school systems and their leaders off guard. In the summer months of 2020 (here in the United States), school leaders had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that they made in the spring and do things differently in the fall. While some school administrators used that window of opportunity, others did not and their schools and districts have repeated many of the mistakes they made in the spring again this fall. This winter break has given us all yet another chance to rethink what our schools are doing and make significant changes for January and beyond. How many school systems actually did so?

It’s one thing to make new mistakes. It’s another to keep making the same ones again and again. How many school leaders will look inward and, as Bryant said, ‘carry [their] share of the responsibility for the condition(s) [they] created?’ How many students, families, and educators have we failed as school systems, and will we ever hold ourselves accountable? If ‘part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure,’ how many school organizations are actively examining and owning their current failures in order to not repeat them over and over again?

Is your school system acknowledging where it has failed and who has suffered as a result? Are your school leaders making new mistakes or repeating the same ones again and again? Why?

Command and control versus key principles and autonomy

In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley noted:

Scientists now describe how order and form are created not by complex controls, but by the presence of a few guiding formulas or principles repeating back on themselves through the exercise of individual freedom. The survival and growth of systems that range in size from large ecosystems down to the smallest microbial colonies are sustained by a few key principles that express the system’s overall identity combined with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system. (p. 13)

In the rush to serve children and families and create new modalities of learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, I wonder how many school systems gravitated toward greater ‘command and control’ and how many embraced ‘a few key principles … with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system.’ I also wonder about the organizational contexts and leadership mindsets that fostered one or the other, as well as which approach worked better…

Thoughts? Experiences?

Like No Other School Year

Like No Other School YearAs you may remember, I conducted 43 interviews for my Coronavirus Chronicles series in Spring and Summer 2020. I was interested in learning how schools were responding during the first months of the pandemic. I am pleased to note that I wrote up some ‘findings’ from those interviews as a chapter in Pamela Gaudet’s edited book, Like No Other School Year: 2020, COVID019, and the Growth of Online Learning, and also shared a few takeaways from my summer class on crisis leadership. The book includes multiple contributing authors and some stories from Pamela’s own interviews.

Like No Other School Year is chock full of interesting information about school responses during the pandemic. Pamela asked me to write the chapter on leadership. Here is the table of contents:

  • Chapter 1, Introduction
  • Chapter 2, Learnings
  • Chapter 3, Social-Emotional Health and Learning
  • Chapter 4, Leadership
  • Chapter 5, Relationships
  • Chapter 6, Communication
  • Chapter 7, Online Learning and Teachers 
  • Chapter 8, Cybersecurity and Technology
  • Chapter 9, Summary and Recommendations
  • Chapter 10, Interviews

Hope you get a chance to check out this great resource. If so, happy reading!

Sir Ken Robinson: A Brief In Memoriam [guest post]

Amidst the chaos of 2020 we lost a true leader in education in late August just as schools were trying to reopen. In the event that you might have missed it, I wanted to circle back and offer a brief tribute.

Like most of you that knew Sir Ken Robinson’s impact on education, I first learned about him through his wildly popular TED Talk in 2006. It was, of course, not the first impactful thing he said, nor the last. He was by then already declared a Knight by the Queen, so I assume the story before the TED talk was robust as a professor and leader of the arts. But, anytime something is viewed around 100 million times, it tends to define the person. So, of course, the relationship between schools and creativity, and the embedded story of a young dancer, is perhaps Sir Ken’s most defining message. If you have not watched it yet, as it is the starting place for so many others, I do of course recommend viewing. 

A different message of his, less well known, has always resonated most deeply with me though. It is a metaphor he liked to use about a garden and it shows up in a few different videos that do not have a million views. Articulated more fully in his book Creative Schools (chapter 2), this is a short clip of the essence of it (start at 1:30 where he speaks of changing metaphors … at around 6:00 he begins on the distinction with industrial agriculture):

 

 

Contained in this message is something that strikes at the essence of our outdated approach to learning systems. As America, Britain, and others grew and industrialized, we adopted elements of that mentality for our schools as well. While the factory model of school narrative is certainly overused and a bit misplaced (particularly by reformers and salesmen) the transition to large-scale institutions of learning certainly shared notions of efficiency tied up with our conception of mechanization, standardization, and competition. As Sir Ken says in the video above, perhaps the better comparison is not the factory as much as it is the monoculture-based industrial farm. 

I would have loved to see Sir Ken continue to explore and develop this idea further for it is something that our generation must confront. It is remarkable what was achieved by industrialization and, specifically, industrial farming. I grew up working on an industrial farm and was convinced of its efficacy. Billions have been lifted out of subsistence poverty and the American grocery store became the envy of the world. But, these industrial achievements came at a heavy cost. We burned oil and coal to power our machines and changed our climate. We cleared the forests endangering countless species. Our topsoil has suffered and now must be supplemented by lab-created chemicals. With pesticides and herbicides we poisoned our waters. We medicated our domestic animals and produced lower cost, but lower quality, meats that have been shown to have adverse health effects on the humans that consume them. I’ve personally been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer and I can’t help but wonder what might have contributed. Sir Ken died of cancer as well. I wonder whether he might have asked similar questions.

In a comparable way, in America, our industrial schools have achieved much but at a high price. We have achieved near-universal basic literacy. Nearly nine out of ten students graduate high school. Yet, according to Gallup polling of students, more high school students are actively disengaged in school than are engaged. Our schools have shown a nearly complete inability to close achievement gaps or serve as a tool of desegregation. And, research has shown economic mobility, achieving higher standards of living than your parents, has declined as inequality in America continues to grow. This year, 2020, has shown with stark clarity the implications of these failures. Our society is dangerously scientifically illiterate. Racism continues to bring out America’s worst inclinations. A majority of us are economically vulnerable. And, perhaps most concerningly, we seem unable to share a common social purpose or work across differences to make any substantial progress. Like our farms, the dominant ideologies of our schools are good at many things but increasingly feel antiquated and ill-equipped to help us solve our modern challenges. 

In this way, Sir Ken Robinson was a critical voice that, in his humorous but insightful way, brought forward the loss of the full complexity of humanity we have sacrificed for standardization. He considered our approach to be Out of our Minds, in that we only sought to develop some of the potential each mind has to offer.  His passion and stories around dance and the arts were just one of those sacrifices that, upon reflection, a listener can’t help but regret. With a chuckle, Sir Ken was able to cut through the dominant narratives of education and insert a new notion that we might be capable of schools in which all children can flourish. Schools in which each child can find their Element

He offered a different mental model through a new metaphor.  “Human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process.” A teacher’s role then is to prepare the soil, nurture it, and then let natural processes innate in each learner grow. In well prepared soil with the right conditions life of all forms flourishes. Our attempts to craft the standard educational system has worked very well for a few, but left many others for whom “the standard” was not a good fit to wither. In this sense our schools, our farms, and our society must be more organic. 

For me, and I think a great many others, Sir Ken pollinated a shift in paradigm. For the millions who watched his videos, read his books, or listened to speeches, he prepared the soil and created the conditions for us to grow our own new notions of how we might help learning flourish. The task of growing the complex, organic ecosystems in which all children might flourish then is left to us. Happily, Sir Ken, and many others, have helped to pollinate these ideas so widely that a global effort to grow these more organic models of school has inspired models of Creative Schools to bloom all across the planet. 

Sir Ken Robinson had a unique and irreplaceable ability to reach an audience and to open minds. His legacy is a challenge for us to be creative ourselves to empower students to engage the full range of their natural instincts to learn. 

Thank you, Sir Ken, for opening my mind and engaging my own natural instinct to learn, grow, and find a better way. We have lost many precious things in 2020 and we will dearly miss your presence, wit, and insights. But, you have left us a powerful metaphor from which to find our way to a better place. 

Guest Post by Justin Bathon. Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Kentucky. Director, Center for Next Generation Leadership.

Dear Linda

The art of mathDear Linda,

Fifteen years ago you let a pigtailed 2nd grader walk down the hall and take 5th grade math.

We came to you as the principal of our elementary school in Minnesota and said, “She’s ready for something more.” You smiled at us, looked at the data, and said, “We’ll find a way to make it work.” And then you and your teachers did exactly that.

It didn’t matter that she had to miss time in other subjects; she made it up. It didn’t matter that she was a tiny sprite compared to those bigger kids. All that mattered was that she adored math and could keep up. Every day when it was math time for the fifth graders, she walked down the hall and joined them. She loved it so much. She had a math-themed birthday party that year!

The next year we did the same, but with sixth grade math. And then we moved.

Our new school district in Iowa didn’t quite know what to do with her. But inspired by what you had made possible, every year – somehow – we found a way to make it work. One year in elementary school the best we could do was a self-paced, ‘teach yourself’ model with occasional check-ins with the Gifted and Talented teacher. One year in middle school she had to take a boring, non-interactive online course. In high school she sometimes had to hop on a city bus (or two) to go take math classes at the local university. But she did it. She stayed three years ahead all the way through…

Fifteen years later I am proud to say that pigtailed 2nd grader graduated this past spring with a B.S./M.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Western. She was an officer in the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable student group. She helped the university steel bridge team go to nationals for the first time. And two months ago she entered the world of work as a happy bridge designer in New York (and, yes, we miss her tremendously).

Linda, a decade and a half ago you were willing to think outside the box. You didn’t throw up unnecessary roadblocks. You didn’t force our kid to fit the system. You just found a way to take our 2nd grader where she was and move her forward instead of letting her stagnate in some arbitrary ‘grade level.’ Collectively you and your teachers just made it work. With a smile. And it made a huge difference for her.

We need more principals like you. We need more schools like yours. We need more pathways that personalize students’ learning and empower them for future life success. Every child deserves the opportunities that our pigtailed daughter had. Thank you for leading as school administrators should, not just for our 2nd grader but for all of the other students that walked your halls as well. We will be forever grateful.

Yours truly,

SCOTT

Image credit: The art of math or the math of art, Alan Levine