What I’ve been up to: Silver Lining for Learning

[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]

SLL title imageLast March about this time, Yong Zhao, Chris Dede, Punya Mishra, Curtis Bonk, Shuangye Chen, and I launched Silver Lining for Learning. The initiative was meant to highlight interesting technology-enabled learning around the world and to spark some discussions about schooling possibilities during the pandemic and afterward. Although I bowed out after Episode 32 due to other commitments, my colleagues have done an absolutely fantastic job of keeping the dialogues going.

Below is a list of the first year’s worth of episodes. You will see that Silver Lining for Learning has addressed a wide range of topics. One of the strengths of the project is its incredible global emphasis and reach. If you want to learn from and interact with other educational innovators around the world – and hear about some really interesting learning and teaching happening elsewhere – Silver Lining is a wonderful place to start. I love that numerous guest bloggers have been willing to share their experiences as well.

The site just got a new look for Year 2, and Yong, Chris, Punya, Curt, and Shuangye do an excellent job of sparking rich conversation with their inspiring guests. I am honored to have helped launch this initiative and hope that you will subscribe to the blog and join the hosts for their weekly discussions (which also are archived for later viewing). 

Year 1 Episodes

Why most schools won’t ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic

SkepticalA number of folks have been eagerly encouraging schools to ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic. Here is a smattering of such articles:

I’m guilty of this too. I even helped create an entirely new conversation series, Silver Lining for Learning, that was intended to ‘reimagine learning and teaching’ and examine the possibilities for ‘transformative improvements.’

The more I think about this idea, though, the more skeptical I am. One reason is the continued unwillingness of many (most?) school systems to reconsider even a small iota of what they do. Tragically, we continue to see traditional systems of education being shoehorned into virtual or blended delivery systems (tip: having kids complete electronic worksheets from home is not systemic ’transformation’). And we’ve seen a large number of administrators completely ignore the unrealistic demands that they’re placing on their own educators, particularly in hyflex environments where teachers are supposed to simultaneously serve students in their rooms and at home. 

Despite our wishes otherwise, even the savviest, most skillful, most trusted school leader is going to have difficulty transforming their educational system after the pandemic. As I noted in a recent article that I submitted:

“… reflection on organizational possibilities and institutional futures is common during the ‘reconstruction’ phase (Boin & Hart, 2003) of a crisis (see also Coombs, 2000; Heath, 2004; Boin, Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2005; Jaques, 2009; Smith & Riley, 2012). Time will tell if these ‘silver linings’ actually occur. Although many scholars have noted the revolutionary potential of major crises (see, e.g., Prewitt, Weil, and McClure, 2011; Harris, 2020), Boin and Hart (2003) stated that there are inherent tensions between crisis management and reform-oriented leadership. During a crisis, leaders often try to ‘minimize the damage, alleviate the pain, and restore order” (p. 549), which conflicts with attempts to disrupt the organization and move it in a new direction.” [emphasis added]

from McLeod, S., & Dulsky, S. (2021; under review). Resilience, reorientation, and reinvention: School leadership during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other words, any school leader who is trying to sell the need for a post-pandemic systemic transformation to their educators, families, and school board members is trying to sell a SECOND enormous disruption to the community (“Now let’s change school as we know it!”) at a time when everyone is completely exhausted from – and ready to be done with – the FIRST enormous disruption to the community (the pandemic), and that is AFTER trying to minimize the disruption and ‘restore order’ during the past 12 to 18 months. I can just imagine the reactions now: “OMG, are you kidding? MORE disruption on top of what we’ve already experienced? No thanks!”

Accordingly, at best I think we will see small, marginal amounts of tinkering after the pandemic. Some school systems will use technology in some different ways after the pandemic. We will see some teachers incorporate some new practices and skill sets into their work. We may see a few more options provided for families who like blended or online learning. But for the most part, everyone is going to be eager to just return to what they perceive as the ‘good old days’ before the pandemic hit. And that means our collective appetite for ‘reinventing school’ is going to be pretty thin…

Anyone want to bet I’m wrong?

 

References

  • Boin, A., & Hart, P. T. (2003). Public leadership in times of crisis: Mission impossible? Public Administration Review, 63(5), 544-553.
  • Boin, A., Hart, P. T., Stern, E., & Sundelius, B. (2005). The politics of crisis management: Public leadership under pressure. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Coombs, W. T. (2000). Designing post-crisis messages: Lessons for crisis response strategies. Review of Business, 21(3/4), 37-41.
  • Harris, A. (2020). COVID-19 – school leadership in crisis? Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(3/4), 321-326.
  • Heath, R. L. (2004). After the dance is over: Post-crisis responses. In D. P. Millar & R. L. Heath (Eds.), Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication, pp. 247-249. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Jaques, T. (2009). Issue management as a post-crisis discipline: Identifying and responding to issue impacts beyond the crisis. Journal of Public Affairs, 9(1), 35-44.
  • Prewitt, J. E., Weil, R., & McClure, A. Q. (2011). Crisis leadership: An organizational opportunity. Australian Journal of Business and Management Research, 1(6), 60-74.
  • Smith, L., & Riley, D. (2012). School leadership in times of crisis. School Leadership & Management, 32(1), 57-71.

Image credit: Skeptical face, fuzzyjay

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?

Dear school leaders and policymakers: It didn’t have to be this way

Covid map 2020-08-05Dear school leaders and policymakers, 

It didn’t have to be this way.

You had all summer to watch the rising number of coronavirus cases all across the country.

You had all summer to educate yourself about the science.

You had all summer to read credible news sources and see the viral outbreaks that occurred everywhere that people gathered without appropriate protections.

You had all summer to encourage people to do the things necessary to slow down the viral spread (hint: it wasn’t going to restaurants and bars).

You had all summer to invest in the safety precautions necessary for schools to be safe (ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, rules and policies, etc.).

You had all summer to recognize that reopening schools this fall was magical thinking and instead invest heavily in your educators’ ability to do high-quality, high-engagement remote learning (unlike last spring).

You had all summer to help your community close family equity gaps regarding computing devices and Internet access.

You had all summer to fortify yourselves for the brave political conversations and gather allies.

You had all summer to engage in realistic messaging to your community.

You had all summer to be the leader that you were appointed / elected to be.

Now you’re asking your community and citizens for “grace during this difficult time.” Are you surprised that many folks aren’t willing to give it?

It’s never too late to lead. Are you finally going to do so?

 

P.S. If you did most or all of these things, THANK YOU.

 

Image credit: Covid ActNow