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?

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!

Teaching and leading for higher student engagement … even during a pandemic (aka How I spent my summer)

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningSome schools spent the summer engaged in magical thinking that everyone would be back in person this fall, just like before the pandemic. Others paid attention to the data and rising number of coronavirus cases and used their summers more wisely to design for better remote/hybrid learning and teaching than the mostly-low-level direct instruction, digital worksheets, and paper homework packets that we saw last spring. I was fortunate to work with numerous educators this summer on how to teach and lead for higher student engagement – even during a pandemic. I thought I would describe a little of that work below…

Redesigning lessons with Virginia teachers

This summer I worked with over 150 teachers in Virginia to redesign lessons and units for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. We used the 4 Shifts Protocol as the framing lens for our work together. We met virtually for 2 hours every day for 4 days. We used Days 1 and 2 to become familiar with the protocol by redesigning lessons that weren’t theirs (to reduce defensiveness). I modeled how to adopt an approach that focused on ideation, not judgment, and pointed out some key considerations and ‘think abouts’ for each section of the protocol. On Day 3 they brought their own lessons. I put them into virtual redesign triads. They helped each other shift their students’ learning in directions that they chose, using the skills they had gained during Days 1 and 2. Day 4 was more of an ‘office hours’ approach. Teachers popped in as desired and asked more individualized questions about their local contexts (e.g., how to handle scripted curricula, how to use the protocol as an instructional coach). Some of them brought additional lessons for us to hack at together. I did all of this twice, the first week with elementary educators and the second week with secondary teachers (so 8 days total).

Instructional leadership with Virginia administrators

I also had the wonderful opportunity this summer to work with school administrators from across Virginia. We met virtually for 90 minutes each day for a week. The setup was similar to what I just described with Virginia educators. On Monday and Tuesday, I introduced them to the 4 Shifts Protocol but we adopted more of an instructional leadership lens, not just a teaching lens. On Wednesday, we talked about some organizational strategies, leadership behaviors, and coaching techniques – again, more of an instructional leadership focus than just a pedagogical focus. On Thursday they brought lessons like the teachers did and we practiced instructional coaching with those lessons using the protocol. Friday was an ‘office hours’ approach again, and the leadership questions and ideas that they brought to those discussions were amazing. 

Innovative remote instruction with Texas administrators and building leadership teams

I worked with a school district in Texas at the beginning of the summer and was able to help kick off their annual, 2-day, in-district leadership institute. They asked me to do a short keynote highlighting some possibilities for hands-on, active student learning. I then facilitated 3 follow-up sessions over the next day and a half, working with elementary, middle, and high school administrators and their building leadership teams. I tried to connect some ideas from my keynote to the realities of pandemic-era remote instruction. I also showed and discussed multiple, concrete, age-specific examples with each group to illustrate how we can redesign instruction for higher student engagement, even during blended or online learning. All of this work was virtual.

Instructional leadership with Massachusetts administrators

I had an incredible experience with a school district in Massachusetts this summer. We spent a total of 3 weeks together, all virtual. During the first week all of the administrators in the district read Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning and engaged in a virtual book study. I dropped in each day to interact in their Canvas course shell and answer questions. During the second week we alternated between synchronous and asynchronous learning together. For instance, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week, we met together virtually in Zoom for a couple of hours of very robust conversation each day. I also created over a dozen mini-modules full of resources that they could explore in between each live meetup. The school leaders had lots of choice (because I’m trying to model, right?) and could investigate anything in the mini-modules that interested them. Some of the topics that they dove into were:

  • Workforce preparation and job automation
  • Skills development and college/career readiness
  • Educator staffing and the future of the teacher workforce
  • The integration of robots into day-to-day life
  • New literacies, including digital storytelling, AR/VR, and student multimedia / transmedia production
  • Instructional redesign for deeper learning, including additional leadership and coaching scenarios
  • Inquiry-based, project-based, and other high engagement learning strategies
  • The research behind deeper learning/teaching strategies and student achievement
  • Innovative scheduling
  • High-engagement remote learning
  • PBL during remote learning
  • Equity considerations during a pandemic

We also had a concurrent online discussion space in Canvas where they could share their reactions, concerns, and ideas for their local schools from the mini-modules. Those conversations were very active and impressive. 

All of that work continued into the third week, and the district also folded in some assistant principals, instructional coaches, media specialists, and other building-level teacher leaders. They are working to create a critical mass of people who might be ready to begin transforming day-to-day instruction. This was an incredibly unique 3-week experience for me. I was able to pilot and try a number of new virtual professional learning modalities with this district and had some absolutely phenomenal discussions with them. I get to work with them a little more this fall and absolutely can’t wait.

Book club with Solution Tree

Finally, Julie Graber and I conducted a 4-week book study around Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning for Solution Tree, our publisher. We met once a week for 4 weeks for 45 minutes a session. Although those were sparsely attended, all of the recordings are available on the Solution Tree website. Julie and I had some good discussions with our participants and were able to explain some of our thinking and approaches when we are engaged in instructional coaching.

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above, I also created my new self-paced 4 Shifts Video Series; had some good conversations with educators in Denver, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; continued my Coronavirus Chronicles interviews; recorded some additional episodes over at Silver Lining for Learning; and participated in a few podcasts! It was a busy but fun summer, and I really enjoyed working virtually with educators all across the planet on higher-engagement learning, teaching, and leadership.

As always, let me know how I can be of support to you and your community!

EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science

Chris Dede, esteemed faculty member at Harvard University and one of my co-hosts at Silver Lining for Learning, has a project that is a finalist for a STEM DIVE award. Check out the video below. Chris and his colleagues have created a very cool immersive virtual science environment, called EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science.

Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube and give EcoMOD a ‘vote’ during the People’s Choice Round!