The Recent Development of Innovative Schools in China – An Interview with Zhe Zhang (Part 1)

Following the Chinese New Year last week, Zhe Zhang talks with Thomas Hatch and Zhenyang Yu talks about the growth of new schools in China. In the first part of this two-part interview, Zhang discusses how two innovative schools he has worked with have evolved.  In part two next week, Zhang shares his perspective on some of the opportunities and challenges for the development and expansion of innovative school models in China. Zhang began his journey with innovative education at Beijing ETU School after completing his engineering degree in Germany. At ETU, he was a teacher and participant in its initial development. He later joined Beijing Moonshot Academy, where he now serves as an administration officer and where he is developing Moonshot Academy’s teacher training program. For previous discussions on innovative schools in China, see IEN’s previous interviews with ETU Founder Yinuo Li (see Beyond Fear & Everyone’s a Volcano) and Moonshot Academy’s Head of Research Wen Chen (see Launching a New School in China).

IEN: How did you get started with ETU? 

Zhe Zhang: I got to know the ETU School in 2016 when I was still an engineering student in Germany. I learned about this school through the blog Slaves Society (奴隶社会) that ETU’s founders (see bio of Yinuo Li & Huazhang Shen) created on Wechat Official Channel. Their mission and values perfectly resonate with what I have always pictured an ideal school and learning environment to be. After I graduated from the engineering program in Germany, I returned to China and immediately joined ETU school as a teacher.

IEN: How has the innovative schools sector grown since 2016? How have schools like Moonshot Academy and ETU evolved?  

Z.Z.: ETU and Moonshot both began as private (Minban) schools, but ETU incorporates national curriculum standards and teaches mostly in Chinese language K-9, even as it draws on standards and approaches from outside China. As such, it aims to be a Minban school that provides a choice for students to either study abroad or participate in the National High School Entrance Test while learning and growing in “an encouraging and nurturing environment.” Moonshot is a private school, that draws on and aims to “localize” foreign curricula such as those from the College Board’s (US) Advanced Placement program. Most of Moonshot’s graduates choose to attend colleges outside of China.These two schools represent two major directions of school innovation in China, one that aspires to work within China’s national education sector and one that operates largely outside the national sector. 

“These two schools represent two major directions of school innovation in China, one that aspires to work within China’s national education sector and one that operates largely outside the national sector.”

A year after ETU elementary school was founded, the National Center for Schooling Development Programme (学校规划建设中心) of the Chinese Ministry of Education launched a project called “Future School Research & Experiment” (未来学校实验). ETU was one of 39 experimental projects that received funding from the government. At that time ETU operated without an official license, but that’s a common starting point for many of the innovative schools in China. At the time, as long as the educational activities weren’t in conflict with the core direction of the educational policies in China, these types of schools were permitted to innovate and pursue their educational activities.

Moonshot has developed into a K-12 school from a 9th -12th grade school. It is also growing and multiplying. The current plan is to establish three K-12 schools in total. Moonshot has also recently partnered with another local school in Beijing called Qingsen School (清森学校), which was previously the TsingHua University Affiliated School’s international branch (清华附中国际部). This branch grew out of the TsingHua University Affiliated School and joined Moonshot Academy. Now the new K-12 School is called Qingsen Tanyue (清森探月).

The challenges facing both Moonshot Academy and ETU, as well as all other Minban Schools, include, therefore, how to progress towards providing K-12 education for their students. 

IEN: Has there been any pushback from the government?

Z.Z.: Just last year, the Ministry of Education released a new set of data showing that in the K-12 educational sector, there are in total 221,800 public schools and 185,700 Minban (private) schools, but as I mentioned previously, so far the MOE’s “Future School Research & Experiment” project only consists of 39 schools. Innovative education therefore only serves a very small population and hence cannot be considered as mainstream education. However, in the past 3 years, I have seen a growing number of public schools and Minban schools that are applying the education models of the existing innovative schools to their own developmental trajectory.

IEN: What other kinds of innovative schools are there in China?

Z.Z.: There is a very interesting innovative school in Fuzhou, a province close to Taiwan. Fuzhou Inkai Primary School (福州云开学校) started from the pre-school level for 2-year-old young children. The founder built up the school‘s levels as her own child grew in age. Now it has developed into a K-9 school. The founding team from this school consists of educational experts from Fuzhou Teachers College. This school is a good representation of innovative educational experiments in a less developed context (in contrast to Moonshot and ETU, which are both in Beijing, one of the major cities in China). The school in Fuzhou has incorporated local culture and traditions into their innovative educational model. Compared to innovative schools in highly developed urban districts, Inkai Primary Schools, especially during its early phase, recruited college graduates with only 3-5 years of experience. The average professional experience of teachers therefore might not be as rich as those who are from urban schools. Additionally, its curriculum is more aligned with the Chinese public educational curriculum, however, Inkai has adopted many innovative pedagogies and concepts such as Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

IEN: How do you develop a curriculum that reflects local values but is also innovative?

Z.Z.: Many schools in China actually operate international education branches for students who have foreign nationalities and those who plan to study abroad. Moonshot Academy’s student body mostly comes from these groups. Moonshot draws on Western curricula and localizes and innovates by designing courses that help their students develop cognitive abilities and learn about Chinese culture within the global context. Even though teaching and learning might be slightly different from students’ previous educational experiences, all students have the opportunity to follow these curricula and discover and develop their identities through these courses. Some students might be conservative in their approach to learning, but I believe they will eventually be empowered to discover their potential and to open to new ways of learning.

IEN: Are there goals or plans that Moonshot has not been able to implement?

Z.Z.: The founder of Moonshot Academy had a vision of expanding the school at a global scale, but this remains to be a big challenge at least in the present stage. Moonshot has just developed a K-12 model earlier this year, and I believe as the model continues to operate and reaches a half or a full cycle, Moonshot will be able to scale and expand abroad. I can see that Moonshot will play a role in bridging communication between China and other countries in the world. 

Translated by Zhenyang Yu

Decolonizing Educational Research: Lead the Change Interview with Corinne Brion

In this month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview Corinne Brion shares reflections on her experiences as researcher and teacher in efforts to disrupt institutionalized forms of discrimination in education and education research. Brion is an Assistant Professor at the University of Dayton. The overall framework for her research is cultural proficiency to foster equity, diversity, and inclusion and create socially just educational systems. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website,

Lead the Change (LtC): The 2023 AERA theme is “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth” and charges researchers and practitioners with creating and using education research to disrupt institutionalized forms of discrimination. The call urges scholars to challenge traditional methods of inquiry in order to create increasingly useful, responsive, and equity-oriented research that can be used by schools to develop informed policies and practices to better support students. What specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Corrine Brion (CB): The specific responsibility of educational change scholars is to decolonize research. This means being more culturally proficient in our collective approaches to the work, and focusing on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), belonging, and social justice.

Thinking broadly about my experience and work on cultural proficiency and DEI, I think one important move would be to shift our attention towards more critical frameworks and participatory research methods and orientations. My research agenda is largely guided by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, 2030). The SDGs aim to eradicate poverty. As part of this effort, there are numerous targeted goals towards enhancing education, gender equity, and attending to the environment and climate change.

I am currently designing a community based participatory action research project in Ghana where teen pregnancy and HIV and tuberculosis infections are on the rise. This action research project will seek to understand the lived experiences of girls and women in the New Ningo Prampram community. Local participants will be at the center of every phase of the research–from the design to the implementation–because they are the experts in their context, know what is culturally appropriate, as well as how to build community buy-in. In this project, specific topics, data collection and analytical methods, and approaches to dissemination will be determined by the girls and women involved. In the past, we have engaged similar approaches that focused on the vocational goals of girls, documented and shared stories through audiovisual recordings, and used talking circles and collective art as means to collaboratively analyze shared experiences. This new work will inform how we can uplift the voices of the local girls and women in a systematic and sustainable manner. This project is the first phase of a larger undertaking that aims to provide access to formal education for these girls and women so that they can help themselves economically and live long and healthy lives. Together, we will learn to act and act to learn.

In the United States context, I have also partnered with a middle school in my state that has worked over the past three years to increase the number of teachers of color employed there. This has been a tremendous success. When the project began, the school had only one BIPOC teacher in the school, and now, three years later, 96% of their faculty identify as BIPOC. The teacher turnover that facilitated these new hires was due to teachers needing to relocate, teachers going back to school, and retirements. As the school grew, there was also a need for additional teachers and these spots were filled largely by teachers of color who have thus remained at the school.

“To be truly equity-focused, we must have…policies and structures that are aligned with an anti-racist and liberatory agenda.”

I was excited when the leader of the middle school asked me to come, think through, and support a study to understand whether and to what degree this demographic shift had impacted the school culture, elements of teachers’ daily work, and/or student learning and well-being. As I approached this work, I knew I wanted to include the voices of all stakeholders. Teachers and school administrators were involved in the research design and were keen to hear students’ thoughts. To do so, we used a PhotoVoice approach in which I asked students to take pictures of things and people that were helping them succeed and made them feel good. Afterwards, I interviewed each student one-on-one to discuss their pictures. Students stated that teachers’ dispositions were most important in helping the students feel part of the school community and succeed academically. Such dispositions included: being approachable, funny, kind, caring, giving advice and feedback, and showing genuine interest in the student’s success academically, socially, and emotionally. Students, and particularly those who identified as people of color, also mentioned that having BIPOC teachers was helpful when it came to understanding and appreciating students’ cultural backgrounds and ways of knowing.

The call for this work came from the school, so I worked with them, and they with me, and I’ve learned a great deal through this study. In particular, I was reminded that diversity and inclusion are separate concepts. It is not enough to simply hire a more racially diverse staff, to be truly equity-focused, we must have a system in place that includes professional learning regarding bias and discrimination and policies and structures that are aligned with an anti-racist and liberatory agenda. Only then will all people, and particularly those from minoritized identities, feel welcomed, included, and empowered in our schools.

Moving forward, I think my role as a scholar and mentor to doctoral students is to support them in pursuing more equity-oriented approaches such as community-based participatory action research.  I also would like to pursue inquiry around gender equity in Africa, in particular.

LtC: In your work, you advocate for recognizing and embedding cultural identity in both adult and student learning to ensure learning transfer and inclusive communities. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?  

CB: Given my history as an international student and now, scholar, my experiences as a second language learner, and someone who spent six years in five different African nations, I have always been fascinated by the multiple cultures in which I have engaged. Culture is everywhere; it is pervasive. Moreover, each of us belongs to multiple cultures including, but not limited to, those that exist at the societal, organizational, and familial levels.

When I teach students, I often offer the metaphor of culture being like an iceberg. Above the water, we might see about 30% of this iceberg. Similarly, “above the water,” at the surface level, I observe particular traits and things about others and are observed of me. For example, people who see me see that I am a white woman. They can maybe guess my age, my level of education; they can hear an accent when I speak. All of these elements conjure particular assignments and assumptions regarding my identity and the culture or cultures to which I belong.

However, what they don’t see is the 70% of my identity and cultural affiliations that, back to my iceberg metaphor, would be underwater. They don’t see my talents, my learning style, or the traumas I have experienced. As such, a casual observation misses much of who I am and what cultural affiliations and understandings I bring along with me. The goal of such a conversation in my course is to help my students to understand that as leaders and teachers, we need to take the time to know our students, colleagues, staff etc., so that we can best understand them and thus serve them and their needs effectively.

“We need to take the time to know our students, colleagues, staff etc., so that we can best understand them and thus serve them and their needs effectively.”

Indeed, unless a teacher understands their students and their cultural orientation, it will be tremendously difficult, and probably frustrating, to effectively engage with these young people. Even more importantly, this lack of understanding could be extremely harmful for students. For example, think about students coming from the Republic of Congo as refugees in one of our U.S. based schools. They arrive in a new country, do not speak the language, and have spent years in refugee camps where they lacked food and education. Prior to living in a refugee camp, they witnessed and experienced atrocities such as wars and/or loved ones killed. How can a teacher teach such students effectively without understanding their experiences and cultural background (for instance the way they communicate or not, the way they mourn etc.)? 

I am really interested in how school leaders support refugee and immigrant students. For example, do they offer culturally proficient, professional learning and provide social-emotional learning opportunities for adults and their students? How do they provide such resources and how do they lead during crises? It is important to not just understand the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, but the multiple crises schools and educators frequently face such as chemical spills, natural disasters, shootings, school shootings, generational poverty, etc. (Brion, 2022; 2021).

I am also constantly examining the phenomenon of learning transfer for adult learners because schools and school systems spend millions of dollars on professional learning, but less than 10% of that investment gets implemented or transferred. To help with this process, I’ve developed a multidimensional model of learning transfer (MMLT) where culture is at the center of the model (Brion, 2022a; 2022b; 2021a; 2021b). The MMLT has the potential to help practitioners across fields and disciplines organize, deliver, and follow-up on professional learning to enhance the transfer of learning. Understanding learning transfer in professional learning is key because organizations worldwide spend large amounts of money and resources on developing their employees and should see better return on that investment.

LtC: In your recent work you investigate the important role of national cultures in the professional learning of school leaders in West Africa. How might your findings help scholars and practitioners across the globe approach professional learning in new ways that more closely align teaching and learning? 

CB: One important consideration in doing work in an international context is the role of national cultures. Ghana was British colonized, Burkina Faso was French colonized, so obviously understanding the stories of these histories and their ongoing impact before working in these contexts is very important. It is also important to be open to new understandings and learnings when working in contexts that are not your own. When I was in Burkina Faso, for example, I came to find out that there is an opening ceremony or celebration before a training. Unaware of this ritual, when I first arrived, I came to the opening session dressed in casual business attire. All of a sudden, the media arrived, and the participants arrived in their beautiful favorite clothes, and probably best attire, and it was a whole party. Only then did I realize that I had taken for granted that things would be done the same way there as at home. This taught me that it’s very important to take time to understand the context in which you are working and to ask lots of questions about how things are done as well as to be open to reorienting oneself as things evolve. Once I knew these celebrations were a regular part of the training process, I always put a couple of extra hours on the schedule to create space to celebrate and connect.

“Cultural humility is a key element to a decolonizing approach.”

When working in a different culture than our own, it is crucial to learn as much as possible about the culture beforehand and continue the learning, seeking feedback, reflecting process. It is important to observe, be flexible, and pivot quickly to match and uplift local customs and ways of working. It is also key to acknowledge mistakes and apologize when perpetrating a cultural faux pas. Cultural humility is a key element to a decolonizing approach.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

CB: Learning to have authentic, courageous conversations about our different experiences and beliefs is an essential component of supporting transformation in schools and the field. These conversations need to be expansive covering topics from race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, language, socioeconomic status, age, abilities, and other cultural characteristics. Courageous conversations support transformation work as they move us towards an asset rather than deficit mindset. They should be oriented towards moving participants to see the talents and cultural richness of someone rather than labeling them different, unable, or limited. As an example, a courageous conversation would be one in which problematic terminology such as English Language Learner can be challenged. This label can be demeaning and foster inequities rather than calling to this community of learners as multicultural learners signaling their rich linguistic capital and their capacity to speak one or more other languages. Similarly, a courageous conversation would be one in which we would challenge the label of “students with disabilities.” I see these different abilities as strengths and talents that should be uplifted rather than “fixed.” Imagine, for example, what a student who is experiencing blindness (notice I did not say a blind student) has to go through daily to keep up with their learning. They have to learn reading in Braille, to be creative when finding resources to help them with writing and completing assignments more generally. As such, these students show tremendous navigational capital (Yosso, 2005) and our conversations need to reflect these realities. I think change is about learning how to have those conversation, and it’s a process. Change is about seeking feedback and continuously learning about culture and having a culturally proficient mindset. It’s about self-awareness, as well as being aware of the culture of others. Change is about being able to pivot and evaluate and pivot again. It’s about knowing when to push someone that’s ready for more information, content etc. and knowing when to hold someone back who needs more time to reflect, think, and/or digest. Ultimately, however, it’s about making our systems more just.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

CB: I think, because of COVID, we are in a process of learning new ways of doing. This includes finding new ways to collaborate across the world. My students can Zoom with students in Ghana and talk about leadership and how culture affects leadership styles across contexts in ways that were far more limited previously, for example. I would love to build on these new opportunities for connection and do more co-teaching and learning from educators around the world, not just see them for a short period at conference time once or twice a year.

The possibility and necessity of better preparing global leaders is also exciting to me. To do that, we need preparation programs that prepare leaders with a global mindset. We need social solidarity because when we have social solidarity, we accrue social dividends, which are the benefits we all gain when people come together across races and other identity markers to accomplish what we simply cannot achieve alone (McGhee, 2021). As a result, we need multicultural coalitions as these partnerships increase our individual and collective cultural proficiency, which in turn improves our capacity to think critically, our ability to solve problems, and fosters more civic engagement (Brion, 2022; McGhee, 2021).

We can achieve such outcomes by globalizing our curriculum, seeking readings and guest speakers from around the world, and organizing short-term study abroad trips that are part of relevant courses. We can also use simulations in class as well as figure out new ways of connecting to ensure all students have access to the global community.

Finally, an asset lens will allow each of us individually and as a collective to play a part in progressively dismantling inequities and creating more inclusive and equitable communities. There is no doubt that creating socially just environments is an audacious endeavor. However, staying silent is perpetuating inequities and injustices. I look forward to continuing my cultural proficiency journey. I hope to meet you along the way and learn with you.

References: 

Brion, C. (2022a). Whose poverty is it? An autoethnography. Dialogues in Social Justice, 1(7), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1177/15554589221104999

Brion, C. (2022b). Culture: The link to learning transfer. Adult Learning, 33(3), 132-137. https://doi.org/10.1177/10451595211007926

Brion, C. (2021a). The use of culturally proficient professional development to enhance learning transfer. Journal of School Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F10526846211018205 

Brion, C. (2021b). Leading in times of Crisis. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership (JCEL). 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555458921992386

McGhee, H. (2021). The sum of us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together. One World.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education8(1), 69-91.

Looking ahead in 2023: Scanning the predictions for education

This week, Thomas Hatch pulls together IEN’s annual collection of articles that look into the future of schools and education. Last week’s post featured articles reviewing key stories and developments from 2022 and you can also revisit posts looking back on previous years (2021, 2020, 2019 part 1, 2019 part 2) and looking to the future (2022, 2021 part 1, 2021 part 2, 2020).

2023 already seems to be shaping up to be the year of CHAT-GPT and AI in education so it is perhaps not a surprise that many forward-looking articles focus on educational technology, but some efforts are also attempting to anticipate the future for business, financing and philanthropy in education. Readers can also explore a few articles that anticipate key issues that will be on the agenda in a specific region (Ireland, California, Ohio), and you can even look to see whether the National Center for Education Statistics predictions for 2023 (made in 2016) have come true. Although the predictions in the articles overall suggest some reasons to be hopeful, the challenging economic conditions and a looming financial cliff in the US stemming from the influx of funding to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic indicate some significant problems ahead. For other perspectives on the future, on January 25th, Getting Smart will be holding its annual “What’s Next in Learning?” town hall to explore innovations “driving the most equitable and scalable changes in education.”

With ChatGPT, Education May Never Be the Same, AEI

The Future of the High School Essay: We Talk to 4 Teachers, 2 Experts and 1 AI Chatbot, The 74

Imagining What Comes Next:  Schools Must Embrace the Looming Disruption of ChatGPT, The 74

How AI will change Education, Transcend Newsletter

4 K–12 Tech Trends to Follow in 2023, EdTech

“The biggest trends have an eye on physical security, virtual reality and a clear transition away from the front of the classroom as the focus.” 

37 predictions about edtech’s impact in 2023, eSchool News

Discover the Top Hurdles, Accelerators and Tech Enablers Driving K-12 Innovation in 2023, COSN

The three most important hurdles for education in 2023 will be attracting and retaining educators and IT professionals, designing effective digital ecosystems and digital equity.”

2023 State of Edtech Fundraising, Transcend Newsletter

6 Essential Predictions for the Education Market in 2023, EdWeek Market Brief

The public finance outlook for 2023: Prepare to slog, Governing

Disinflation and economic deceleration will dominate state and local budgets and investments. Cash is king, at least for a while. Payroll costs will outrace revenues. It’s going to be a year for muddling through.

Educators, buckle up: A bumpy economic ride lies ahead, District Administrator

We’re actually calling 2024-25 ‘the bloodletting’… Public education has not seen this sort of right-sizing, fiscal cliff, whatever you want to call it, of this magnitude at any time, including the last recession”—Marguerite Roza quoted in District Administrator

Philanthropy Trend Watch: A Few Ways the Sector Is Changing for the Better — and the Worse, Inside Philanthropy

Steal These Resolutions: 7 Experts Share How Schools Can Tackle Climate Change in 2023, Education Week

What’s next? Our predictions on the issues to dominate education in 2023, The Irish Times

California education issues to watch in 2023 — and predictions of what might happen, EdSource

Five predictions for Ohio education in 2023, Fordham Institute

Projections of Education Statistics to 2023, NCES

2022 in Review: Scanning the End-Of-The-Year Education Headlines

This week, Thomas Hatch looks back at 20222 by rounding up some of the end-of-the-year headlines from sources on education news and research globally and in the US. Next week’s post will look ahead by pulling together some of the education predictions for 2023.

End-of-the-year headlines in education for 2022 include the usual collections of photos, “top” stories, and lists addressing topics like education research, teachers/teaching, education law and educational technology. This year’s collection also includes several stories focusing on a disturbing, but predictable, development – guns have become the number one cause of death for children in the United States – and a number of other articles chronicle the year in COVID-related developments.  

The year in photos:

2022’s 10 Biggest Education Stories, in Photos, Education Week

2022: The year in Chalkbeat photos, Chalkbeat

International headlines:

Key moments of 2022, UNESCO

Top 20 blogs of 2022, Global Partnership for Education

US headlines:

The Teaching Profession in 2022 (in Charts)

The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2022, Edutopia

The 8 Most Consequential Developments in Education Law in 2022

Edtech Has Changed Forever — And Not Just By COVID, Tech & Learning

Remembering the startups we lost in 2022, TechCrunch

Headlines on gun violence:

Childhood’s greatest danger: data on kids and gun violence, The New York Times

For much of the nation’s history, disease was the No. 1 killer of children. Then America became the land of the automobile, and by the 1960s, motor-vehicle crashes were the most common way for children to die. Twenty years ago, well after the advent of the seatbelt, an American child was still three times as likely to die in a car accident as to be killed by a firearm. We’re now living in the era of the gun.

Childhood’s greatest danger: data on kids and gun violence, The New York Times

Child and Teen Firearm Mortality in the U.S. and Peer Countries

Matt McGoughKrutika AminNirmita Panchal , and Cynthia Cox

School Shootings in 2022: How Many and Where, EducationWeek

COVID-19 & Changes in Education

14 Charts that Changed How We Think about COVID and Schools, The74

45% of Public Schools Don’t Have Full Teaching Staffs, National Center for Education Statistics

Shortages of staff and equipment continue to plague schools, new data shows , The Washington Post

Teen Brains Changed During COVID, Axios

The ‘New Normal’: National Survey Shows Mental Health Now Top Learning Obstacle, The74

COVID Hurt Student Learning: Key Findings From a Year of Research, Education Week

Academic rebounding in reading and math continued in fall 2022; however, rebounding is not even across school years and summers, especially in reading.
The youngest students in the sample (current third graders who were kindergartners when the pandemic began) have the largest reading declines and showed the least rebounding.

Signs of Academic Rebounding Emerge, But Concerns Remain, NWEA  

Happy New Year from IEN!

IEN will be taking a break over New Year’s returning with our first stories of the year on January 9th. In the meantime, please revisit some of our most viewed stories of the year and have a restful, peaceful, and healthy New Year!

What’s changing in classrooms and schools right now? Micro-innovations for teaching, learning and education (Part 1)

What’s changing in classrooms and schools right now? (Part 2) Micro-innovations supported by private and public sources

Scanning the headlines for results from OECD’s Education at a Glance: October 2022 Edition

Promoting equity through language access: A virtual visit to Liceo San Nicolas (Chile) and Easton Academy (UK)

Building equal learning opportunities for differently-abled children in Malawi: An interview with Patience Mkandawire on the evolution of Fount for Nations (Part 1)

From a “wide portfolio” to systemic support for foundational learning: The evolution of the Central Square Foundation’s work on education in India (Part 1)

Research, Practice, and School Improvement: Lead the Change Interview with Elizabeth A. Zumpe

In this month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview Elizabeth A. Lumpe shares reflections on her experiences as researcher, teacher, and a participant in a series of research-practice partnerships in Massachusetts and California. Zumpe is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the School of Education at University of Massachusetts Lowell. Starting in January, she will be an Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website,

Lead the Change (LtC): The 2023 AERA theme is “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth” and charges researchers and practitioners with creating and using education research to disrupt institutionalized forms of discrimination. The call urges scholars to challenge traditional methods of inquiry in order to create increasingly useful, responsive, and equity-oriented research that can be used by schools to develop informed policies and practices to better support students. What specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Elizabeth Zumpe (EZ): We live in a time in which educational problems are both urgent and complex. Expectations for public schools have risen substantially over the past 40 years (Mehta, 2013). During the same time, income inequality has also risen (Sommeiller & Price, 2018), and our school system has become resegregated (Government Accountability Office, 2022). Amid a global pandemic and a resurgent racial reckoning, a paradigm of standards-based accountability (Mehta, 2013) continues to dominate education policies. Educators serving high-poverty communities of color find themselves in under-resourced schools labeled as “chronically low-performing” and subject to sanctions. Meanwhile, teacher shortages are growing as many educators leave the profession (Marshall et al., 2022).

I find myself asking, what is the role of education scholars in the midst of this reality? Clearly, research is needed for describing and diagnosing these conditions. But is that enough, given the complexity and gravity of the problems? Perhaps because of my prior career as a public school teacher for over a decade, I think that bridging the research-practice gap is imperative. This bridging requires more than dissemination and brokerage. The work of research needs to be useful to help solve the problems in our education system. We cannot learn how to solve these problems at a distance from the daily realities of preK-12 schools. To understand how improvement unfolds, more scholars will need to get involved in the work of improving.

This interest drove my involvement in a multi-year research-practice partnership (RPP) with a Californian school district. The RPP included a research team from the University of California Berkeley and a team of district leaders. This district serves a high-poverty community of color, has been flagged for low performance for years, and has a reputation of micro-political conflict. We decided up front that our partnership needed to do more than document and describe the challenges. We wanted to learn side by side with educators how to strive towards improvement amid conditions of complexity and adversity. This required researchers to become aware of and curious about the practical dilemmas that educators face. We became embedded in day-to-day decision making, conducting action research as we took part in the improvement work. Researchers and practitioners—district leaders, school leaders, and teachers—met regularly to co-design improvement plans and professional learning and to study the uptake and limitations.

This is not how most academic research traditionally occurs. This approach means putting practitioners’ needs at the center of inquiry. It also means wading into the complexity of urban school districts and recognizing that scholars do not necessarily have all of the expertise. An RPP of this type, therefore, requires new methods and new role identities.

Building on these ideas, in the past year, I helped launch a new RPP between the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Lowell Public Schools. With co-PI Jack Schneider, this RPP involves researchers and practitioners co-designing a school quality data dashboard and a professional learning series for applying methods of continuous improvement. Research has not yet revealed much about how to build capacity for evidence-informed collective learning in high-poverty school districts that face resource scarcity, turnover, and pressures from test-driven accountability policies (Zumpe, 2022a). We hope that our work in Lowell will begin to shed light on this.

“An RPP means wading into the complexity of urban school districts and recognizing that scholars do not necessarily have all of the expertise.”

LtC: In your work, you use improvement science and design-based school improvement models to define and solve problems in school systems. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience? 

EZ: My research and collaborations with educators have taught me the importance of building capacity for organizational problem solving. I first learned about this while involved in research and development within an innovative EdD program at the University of California, Berkeley, the Leadership for Educational Equity Program (LEEP). In the book, Design-Based School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Education Leaders, by Rick Mintrop, we describe a pedagogy developed in LEEP for education leaders to use design-based problem solving to address an equity-relevant problem of practice in their own organizations (Mintrop, 2017). Initial phases of this approach involve developing a theory of action. This entails first defining, framing, and diagnosing the problem. Then, leaders set goals and identify change drivers—or powerful social psychological forces—that can enable self-directed learning. Throughout this work, education leaders conduct local needs assessments to learn with and from people in the organization and co-design the change process. These steps are similar to principles of improvement science promoted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Bryk et al., 2015).

However, through action research within LEEP, we also discovered that it is not straightforward for education leaders to learn how to become organizational problem solvers. Tracing how one cohort of leaders developed theories of action over two years, we found that leaders’ existing ways of thinking about improvement interfered. As described in an article published in the American Journal of Education, we found a countervailing mindset that persisted over time (Mintrop & Zumpe, 2019). Rather than seeking to understand and solve a particular problem, leaders tended to start out with a preferred solution they wanted to implement and to frame their problem of practice as “the absence of my solution.” This implementation-oriented framing strongly constrained how leaders used evidence, engaged with local participants, and thought about change.

“Education leaders, scholars, and policymakers should do more to involve the people in schools in deciding which problems to solve and to build their capacity to learn how to solve them.”

For education leaders, focusing on implementation seems a rational approach to improvement. The typical work conditions they face in districts and schools do not create an environment that favors problem solving. Education leaders are often handed policies or “best practices” to implement. But many also face frustrations about reform churn (Hess, 2011) and so-called “resistance” to change (Knight, 2009). This suggests reasons to question a reform approach that orients leaders towards deciding “for” people what the problem and solution should be. Education leaders, scholars, and policymakers should do more to involve the people in schools—students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members—in deciding which problems to solve and to build their capacity to learn how to solve them.

These findings suggest that educators’ mindsets about improvement can be shaped heavily by their institutional and organizational environments. My research and experience pose an important challenge to the field of educational change: If we want educators to undertake methods of continuous improvement like improvement science or design-based school improvement, then we have to puzzle over how they can come to develop conducive mindsets for this work while embedded in a typical district environment.

LtC: In your recent work, you investigate how district context (e.g., resources, past accountability experiences, turnover, and district norms) matters in establishing collective learning environments for school improvement. How might your findings help scholars and practitioners better support schools in designing and implementing system-wide change?

EZ: As part of our Californian RPP, I spent a year partnering with one school facing especially challenging conditions (e.g., negative reputation, staff shortages and turnover, serving many students who experience recurrent trauma and marginalization), like what many schools are facing today (Zumpe, 2022b). This was a school that eagerly joined the partnership and wanted to improve. But they faced challenges at the core of their work: daily challenges to reach their students, and as one teacher described it, struggles with “the basics of collaboration.” The school served a very high-poverty community of nearly all students of color. Educators talked of daily challenges to engage students who seemed “defeated.” The faculty describing having a negative reputation of what several members referred to as being seen as a “dumping ground” and having been labeled as “low performing” for years. Unfilled teaching positions and a teacher shortage required the principal and teachers to expend substantial daily effort to cover classes and keep their school running.

I endeavored to learn with educators how the pursuit of improvement becomes possible in this kind of environment. Through participant observation and action research with several work teams, including one that I launched and led, I observed how the chronic experience of adversity meant that their work teams had not been able to develop into trusting, “effective” groups able to solve the complex and vexing problems they faced. Rather, amid a history of turnover, overload, and being told that they were a “dumping ground” school, they were struggling to develop a more foundational capability—what I am calling, collective agency, or a group capability to face up to and work together to address any problems (Zumpe, 2020).

This experience left me wondering how educational policies and school improvement models might attend more to the humanity of educators undertaking complex work amid trying circumstances. High-stakes, standards-based accountability reforms tend to treat enduring problems to educate students amid adversity as “excuses” to be surmounted by pressure, ambitious goals, and threats of consequences. However, in the groups that I partnered with, each new low accountability rating tended to have a devastating impact on collective agency, prompting educators to abandon initiatives underway, turn on each other, and feel hopeless when they felt their efforts to improve were “never enough.”

I think policymakers, scholars, and education leaders need to think more about how to nurture collective agency as a key resource for school improvement. This includes identifying concepts and metrics that allow incremental developmental efforts to become visible and recognized. In challenged schools, reforms might be designed to orient educators towards a focus on simpler problems at the outset, to establish basics of teaming and serve as a foundation for building problem solving capacity over time. Another possibility may be to focus less heavily on solving “problems” and leverage insights from strengths-based organizational development models (Daly & Chrispeels, 2005), such as appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005).

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

EZ: Currently, school improvement research is quite limited when it comes to understanding organizational development in challenged school contexts. A dominant logic of inquiry developed through the effective schools movement has led to a body of case studies of “improved” or “effective” schools that have accomplished great feats while serving high-poverty communities of color, as well as many other cases of schools deemed “ineffective.” We need to learn much more about what might lay in between. How do schools develop? What kinds of dilemmas and struggles are entailed? My research builds on a handful of studies that have pointed to the importance of recognizing how chronic and cumulative adversity functions as a context for improvement (Mintrop & Charles, 2017; Ordenes, 2018; Payne, 2008). As described above, if we take adversity seriously as a context, we will need to build a better understanding of how to cultivate and sustain schools’ collective agency in the midst of an environment that can shut down agency.

“Policymakers, scholars, and education leaders need to think more about how to nurture collective agency as a key resource for school improvement.”

Such an approach—school development “in the next level of work” (City et al., 2009)—would constitute an important departure from how we have historically conceptualized, measured, and practiced school improvement. Learning how to recognize and sustain emergent agency requires attending to human needs, building trust, and sharing in the risks and joys of solving problems in schools. Design, development, and research in this area would necessitate proximity and action-oriented partnerships.

This has important implications for the kinds of methods and dispositions needed for those who seek to support educational transformation. To date, a major function of educational research has been to identify or design “best practices,” and to study the extent to which educators exhibit or implement these. Establishing standards of practice like this can be helpful. However, all too often, such standards are developed at a distance from educators, and educators have not had a say in constructing them. This sets up a situation in which research can end up describing a desired state that educators do not have the resources to attain. Such research can alienate educators rather than serve them.

That is not to say that educators always necessarily “know best.” I think we need to strive towards more mutuality in how scholars and practitioners share in the burdens and rewards of research and development in education. This has profound implications. Putting research into the service of solving real world problems will call for new relationships and models of knowledge production that allow us to pool our intellectual resources to design learning standards, activities, and materials that are engaging and responsive to educational needs. With this approach, I believe we can also produce knowledge that the field of educational change desperately needs about how development unfolds in complex and challenging environments.

“If the practice of scholarship could not enable the pursuit of change, I was not sure what it was worth.”

To get there, we will all need to learn how to understand each other across institutional contexts and status and power differentials. How might we come to understand each other’s limitations and differences as tied to differing institutional pressures and learning needs, and not as moral failings?

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

EZ: When I left K-12 teaching practice to begin doctoral study, my initial excitement for scholarly learning waned quickly when I experienced the gut punch of the research-practice gap. Too much of the scholarly research seemed disconnected from the everyday problems and experiences facing educators. Too little of it seemed practically relevant for the pursuit of improvement. It also seemed like many established and successful scholars had too little concern for whether their research could or did influence practice. I encountered a pervasive distaste in the academy for action-oriented research. Walking in the library stacks, I often pictured the kids languishing right at that moment in an under-resourced school and asking, who is all this knowledge for? If the practice of scholarship could not enable the pursuit of change, I was not sure what it was worth.

Fast forward to today, and that situation has substantially changed. A vast new research territory has opened. I am excited about the emergence of a thriving scholarly community working to build a new paradigm of educational research that is improvement-focused (Peurach et al., 2022). I find new hope in scholars who are building new theories and methods for practice-focused knowledge production in the service of solving educational problems (Bryk et al., 2015). This includes other scholars like me who are involved in RPPs, developing new approaches to research that are more collaborative with educators, and working on the puzzle of how to make research more responsive to practice (Cobb et al., 2018; Cohen-Vogel et al., 2016). I am also excited about research emerging from those who study educators’ experiences with using continuous improvement methods (Yurkofsky, 2022) and who study the dynamics of RPPs to help us figure out how to help them emerge, grow, sustain, and succeed (Farrell et al., 2019; Henrick et al., 2017).

I am also excited about the innovations underway in the field of leadership development. Over the past 15 years, the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) has led the transformation of education doctorate programs towards dissertations-in-practice (Perry et al., 2020). Now with over 130 university consortium members (https://www.cpedinitiative.org/), members of CPED commit to a set of principles that emphasize improvement-focused research and social justice. This innovation offers strong promise for producing new forms of knowledge that can guide scholars, policymakers, and educators towards new practices and new structures for a more just educational system.

These new developments hold promise for stronger connections between research and practice—but that is not a foregone conclusion. The pull of old habits and institutional forces could render “new” approaches new in name only. Funders might shy away. Academics and educators might find that the efforts of connecting research and practice outweigh the rewards. But every week, as I read new research and participate in expanding communities of practice in this new space, I become more optimistic that a new paradigm of knowledge production is emerging.

References: 

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Harvard Education Press.

Cobb, P., Jackson, K., Henrick, E., & Smith, T. M. (2018). Systems for instructional improvement: Creating coherence from the classroom to the district office. Harvard Education Press.

Cohen-Vogel, L., Cannata, M., Rutledge, S. A., & Socol, A. R. (2016). A model of continuous improvement in high schools: A process for research, innovation design, implementation, and scale. Teachers College Record, 118(13), 1-26.

Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Daly, A. J., & Chrispeels, J. (2005). From problem to possibility: Leadership for implementing and deepening the processes of effective schools. Journal for Effective Schools4(1), 7-25.

Farrell, C. C., Harrison, C., & Coburn, C. E. (2019). “What the hell is this, and who the hell are you?” Role and identity negotiation in research-practice partnerships. AERA Open, 5(2), https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858419849595

Government Accountability Office [GAO]. (2022). K-12 education: Student population has significantly diversified, but many schools remain divided along racial, ethnic, and economic lines. GAO-22-104737. https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-104737

Henrick, E. C., Cobb, P., Penuel, W. R., Jackson, K., & Clark, T. (2017). Assessing research practice partnerships: Five dimensions of effectiveness. William T. Grant Foundation.

Hess, F. M. (2011). Spinning wheels: The politics of urban school reform. Brookings Institution Press.

Knight, J. (2009). What can we do about teacher resistance?. Phi Delta Kappan90(7), 508 – 513.

Marshall, D. T., Pressley, T., Neugebauer, N. M., & Shannon, D. M. (2022). Why teachers are leaving and what we can do about it. Phi Delta Kappan, 104(1).https://doi.org/10.1177/00317217221123642

Mehta, J. (2013). How paradigms create politics: The transformation of American educational policy, 1980–2001. American Educational Research Journal, 50(2), 285-324

Mintrop, R. (2020). Design-based school improvement: A practical guide for education leaders. Harvard Education Press.

Mintrop, R., & Charles, J. (2017). The formation of teacher work teams under adverse conditions: Towards a more realistic scenario for schools in distress. Journal of Educational Change, 18(1), 49-75.

Mintrop, R., & Zumpe, E. (2019). Solving real-life problems of practice and education leaders’ school improvement mind-set. American Journal of Education, 125(3), 295-344.

Ordenes, M. A. G. (2018). Commitment as struggle: Teachers serving students in the face of socioeconomic adversity [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California.

Payne, C. M. (2008). So much reform, so little change: The persistence of failure in urban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Perry, J. A., Zambo, D., & Crow, R. (2020). The improvement science dissertation in practice: A guide for faculty, committee members, and their students. Myers Education Press.

Peurach, D. J., Russell, J. L., Cohen-Vogel, L., & Penuel, W. R. (2022). The foundational handbook on improvement research in education. Rowman & Littlefield.

Sommeiller, E., and Price, M. (2018). The new gilded age: Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county. Economic Policy Institute.https://www.epi.org/publication/the-new-gilded-age-income-inequality-in-the-u-s-by-state-metropolitan-area-and-county/

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (2021). A knowledge forum on the EdD. https://www.cpedinitiative.org/

Yurkofsky, M. (2022). From compliance to improvement: How school leaders make sense of institutional and technical demands when implementing a continuous improvement process. Educational Administration Quarterly, 58(2), 300-346.

Zumpe, E. A. (2020). School improvement in the next level of work: Struggling for collective agency in a school facing adversity [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA.

Zumpe, E. (2022a). Evidence-based practices in U.S. schools: The California context. In C. Brown & J. R. Malin (Eds.), The handbook of evidence-informed practice in education: Learning from international contexts. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Zumpe, E. (2022b, August 2). Five of the biggest threats today’s K-12 students and educators face don’t involve guns. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/5-of-the-biggest-threats-todays-k-12-students-and-educators-face-dont-involve-guns-182648

Identity, community and leadership: A virtual visit to St. Paul’s Primary School (Scotland) and Hymba Yumba Independent School (Australia)

This week, IEN provides a glimpse of “virtual school visits” to St. Paul’s Primary School in Scotland, and Hymba Yumba Independent School in Australia. This post is the third in a series sharing videos and reflections from a session of the 2022 (virtual) Conference of the International Congress on School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). The series began with Promoting equity through language access: A virtual visit to Liceo San Nicolas (Chile) and Easton Academy (UK) and Exploring Democratic Student Leadership and Active Citizenship: Virtual Visits to a Kenyan and an Italian school. This post provides each school’s  description of their values and approach, key takeaways of school members from a virtual panel discussion, and the reflections from the coordinator of the virtual school visit. This post was produced by Paul Campbell (Asia Pacific Centre for Leadership and Change). 

St Paul’s Primary School, Glasgow (Scotland)

St. Paul’s Primary School is a catholic primary school located in Glasgow, Scotland. The school’s virtues are faith, hope and love, with the central virtue being that of love. This is at the core of everything at St Paul’s; it is the basis of all interactions and relationships. The community at St. Paul’s believe that by creating a nurturing environment, where all of the community are welcomed and loved and none are judged, children can exceed their potential. 

“The community at St. Paul’s believe that by creating a nurturing environment, where all of the community are welcomed and loved and none are judged, children can exceed their potential.”

St. Paul’s Primary School is located in the North East of Glasgow and serves a community of 465 children. 385 children are in the primary school (ranging from 5-12 years old in Primary 1 to Primary 7) and 80 children (ranging from 3-5 years old) are in the nursery class. The children in the primary school and nursery class are learning at Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence levels Early, First and Second. Learning for some of the children in the nursery class is supported by the Birth – 3 years old curriculum in order to address identified and emerging barriers to learning.

The school is situated in a busy town, and the school serves an area of high levels of deprivation. 78% of pupils are eligible for Pupil Premium/ Pupil Equity Funding/ Free School Meals which are measures of deprivation.  25% of pupils have an additional support need and 25% of pupils have English as an Additional Language, with 27 languages spoken in the school.

The school has been recognized for sector leading work, with the senior leadership team having engaged in a range of accredited professional learning to support the ongoing work of the school. The school is therefore dynamic, and always looking for ways to improve their research-based pedagogy.  The school’s vision is to have 100% of pupils reading (91% of the 2020-21 Primary 7 cohort left the school being able to read). 

A virtual visit to St. Paul’s Primary School

The school has very high expectations for pupils; and everyone in the school community shares these standards including the children themselves. Over the past nine years the headteacher has been in the post, she has purposefully built a whole community of learners: children, staff and parents. A focus has been on empowering staff and children to lead change in school, using a number of strategies to develop their voices.

Staff and children are part of the school’s quality assurance procedures. Parents have also been involved in this empowerment agenda, gaining qualifications in parenting and food hygiene, and leading our successful Plot to Plate Initiative (more information can be found on the school’s website).

The school commenced their Children’s Rights journey 7 years ago and recently became the only state primary school in Glasgow to gain a UNICEF Rights Respecting School Gold Award. The children are fully involved in the running of the school; they drive forward change through the school improvement plan and through the various Pupil Voice Committees in the school. The children have a strong belief and drive to make the world a better place and this can be seen in their many campaigns to improve the local school environment, trying to create a more sustainable school and world and writing to the Scottish Government. The school’s strategies for Health and Wellbeing focus on building emotional resilience and the children themselves have driven the change from what was the Promoting Positive Behaviour Policy to a Relationship Policy; highlighting a shift in thinking, culture and practice.

Hymba Yumba Independent School, Queensland (Australia)

Hymba Yumba Independent School (HYIS) is founded and proudly based in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture. The school is a Prep – Year 12 majority Indigenous school, founded in 2011 by Uncle Albert Holt and has been built upon the traditions of Indigenous culture, spirituality and identity. Situated in Springfield, Queensland on the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul people, the name of the school is from the Bidjara language group and was gifted to the school by founder, Uncle Albert Holt. Hymba means the development of skills in listening, reflecting, evaluating and planning and Yumba is the building and support for learning; the building of school and classroom routines and the building of community. The excellence in teaching and learning stems from a 21st century cultural and pedagogical approach, focused upon the whole jarjum (child) and his/her journey in education.

“Hymba means the development of skills in listening, reflecting, evaluating and planning and Yumba is the building and support for learning; the building of school and classroom routines and the building of community.”

HYIS is developing not only a futuristic approach to education, but also developing and building 21st century facilities to create an environment that is engaging and stimulating to create the strongest outcomes for their jarjums. By the end of Year 12, their jarjums will be in a career pathway that is either ‘learning or earning’ and will be equipped with real life experience and skills. The vast opportunities provided at Hymba Yumba are supported by passionate teachers and a strong network of partners with tertiary and vocational organisations. Although teaching excellence is at the forefront of HYIS’ work, they focus on the jarjum as a whole and therefore provide multiple wellbeing and sports programs to support the jarjums in their education journey. This is in recognition of how good mental and physical health is just as important as academic education in today’s society. Upon graduation, jarjums will proudly be able to lead in both worlds equipped with skills, experience, education, cultural knowledge and strength. The school first opened its doors with only 50 students and 8 staff members, and today has over 280 students and 40 staff making up the school community.

Key Lessons: Reimagining the intersection of practice, policy and research

This virtual school visit, made possible through the generosity and community spirit of the schools involved, enabled a rich dialogue around the nature of school and community leadership, and the contextual variation that emerges in understanding this within a global context. With the emphasis on leadership, community, and the development of the whole child evident in both schools, participants in the school visit discussed and highlighted the idea that ‘nothing is too much’ in trying to achieve what is needed to nurture and support the development of the ‘whole child’.

‘Nothing is too much’ in trying to achieve what is needed to nurture and support the development of the ‘whole child’.

The role of leadership, and particularly that of the Principal was highlighted in relation to the possibilities for school improvement. The learning focus, and the values and ideas that inform the leadership they exercise within their communities was viewed by participants as being key to the successes shared within the two communities, and with application beyond. Importantly, as both schools and participants highlighted, the role of the whole learning community coming to understand, appreciate and continue to build an understanding of the students and communities they work with is central to responsive practices, and priorities or approaches to improvement.

Participants reflected that what the schools illustrated was the importance of professional community, and organizational learning, sustaining the passion and enthusiasm for the community and the schools’ mission and values, and the centrality of relationships in achieving this.

More broadly, the role of leadership, community and the development of the whole child and the sharing of this through a forum like the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) highlights the scope and possibility to be imagining and reimagining the intersection of practice, policy and research. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated even further the possibilities and potential of collaboration within and across systems. As national and international socio-political contexts continue to change, these school communities and the conversations that represented ideas and experiences from across the globe (Hong Kong, Morocco, Sweden, Australia, Scotland, the United States, and Qatar), highlight the role education and schooling can play in supporting communities, and society more broadly. This has required creativity, bravery, and new modes, means and outputs of thinking as to the role and nature of schooling in uncertain times.

What these virtual school visits have also highlighted is the need for sustained, critically reflective dialogue and analysis of the structures, mechanisms, tools, and approaches that not only support school effectiveness and improvement, but enable the learning, growth, development, and understanding of the young people we work with in school communities. Through the intentional development of shared and inclusive forums to share ideas, reflect on experiences, and imagine the future, we can collectively contribute to and enhance the positive experiences and outcomes of young people in school systems across the globe.

Note on ICSEI Virtual School Visits: The International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) held its 35th annual congress online in January 2022 due to the pandemic. Over many years of face-to-face conferences, participants have had the unique opportunity to visit local schools to gain first-hand experience with the host country’s education system, share ideas and insights from one system to another, and act as a catalyst for discussion and debate between colleagues from different countries during and after the visits. The Virtual School Visits sought to keep that purpose, with the added advantage of not being restricted to one host country, increasing the richness and diversity of insight, discussion, and collaboration beyond what was possible at a face-to-face congress. ICSEI 2023 will be in Chile in January 2023 and schools’ visits will again be held virtually. For more information: https://2023.icsei.net and https://2023.icsei.net/school-visits/

What’s changing in classrooms and schools right now? (Part 2) Micro-innovations supported by private and public sources

In the second post of a two-part series, Dulce Rivera Osorio explores what’s changing in schools by scanning news articles that report on educational “micro-innovations” developing by in the US and internationally by non-profit organizations, private companies, and states and education systems. In Part 1, Thomas Hatch introduced micro-innovations and then Rivera shared a number of examples of micro-innovations being made in instruction or school/district operations that have been described in media articles from the US. To learn more about  the numerous proposals to change schools and “reimagine education” post-COVID, read IEN’s previous post: Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being.

In addition to changes in structures, resources, and practices at the classroom and school/district level, news articles have discussed a variety of micro-innovations that have been introduced by nonprofits and private companies in the US. To give a sense of the variety of initiatives, companies like Highland Electric Fleets and Thomas Built Buses have worked with school districts to cover the upfront costs involved in shifting from conventional buses to electric buses (US schools can subscribe to an electric school bus fleet at prices that beat diesel).

Airbnb, working in partnership with the National Education Association, has developed an adaptation to their hosting approach that provides extra income to teachers based in the US who share their homes through Airbnb (NEA, Airbnb partnership aims to help teachers supplement income). Nonprofits like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs have provided before and after-school programs for some time, but during the school closures of the pandemic they helped provide child care, academic support and access to recreational and arts activities by implementing socially distanced “learning camps” in some parts of the country (New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote). The Boys and Girls Clubs have also been actively developing new programs to support career and workforce learning.  As the The Hechinger Report describes, clubs in Indiana, Washington State, and Montana have been working with Transfr, a technology start-up, to use virtual reality to develop “immersive” career and workforce training simulations for manufacturing, carpentry, public safety, hospitality and automotive industries (Future of learning with virtual reality).

State and national education systems have also been developing responses to the challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the school closures that rely on a variety of new structures and programs. Alaska is creating its own digital content delivery system to aid rural communities and areas with poor internet connectivity (From Alaska Schools Creating Digital Networks to Aid Remote Learning to a Homework Freeze in Texas to Limit Screen Time, 9 Ways States Are Aiding Schools Amid COVID-19). Texas is implementing a state-wide telemedicine program so that school children can access therapists in school (State telemedicine program allows Texas children to see therapists at schools).

New policies and changes in policies are also encouraging districts and schools to develop new resources and mechanisms to support teachers and schools. In California, lawmakers made innovative changes in zoning policies that allow school districts to build staff housing on any property the district owns without requiring zoning changes from city or county officials (California removes hurdles to building teacher housing). At the national level in the US, federal agencies like the EPA are providing funding for states to take advantage of new technologies and developments that can both save schools money and support the environment (EPA nearly doubles funding to districts for clean school bus rebates). The passage of a $430 trillion spending package designed to address the global climate crisis includes a host of provisions that provide creative ways schools and districts can save money and support the planet. As a new guide from the Aspen Institute and the World Resources Institute (K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act) reports, districts can now get tax credits to support energy-reducing innovations in the form “direct pay” – cash payments to the district instead of through credits claimed by a third party that made the whole process problematic (Quick Hacks: How Schools Can Cut Costs and Help the Environment).

Outside the US, NGO’s, companies, and education systems are also looking for new ways to address issues as varied as a shortage of bus drivers, “remote learning,” and mother-tongue language instruction. In Australia and New Zealand, GoKid, a carpooling app, hopes to aid the shortage of school bus drivers by making carpooling more accessible and easier for parents (GoKid partners to address school transportation crisis). The app helps parents to find carpool partners in a school or school district by providing a rough location map of nearby families and suggesting optimized routes.

In India, as a recent Brookings report explains, the development of young mothers’ groups created new ways to support learning at home during school closures. With the support of the Pratham Education Foundation, groups of 4 – 6 mothers met weekly or fortnightly to share experiences and access “idea cards” sent via WhatsApp containing games, activities, and recipes. For children in grades three to six, youth volunteers led small groups of children in “mini learning camps” for one to two hours per day using simple instructional activities and materials made by the children. In Bangladesh, BRAC dealt with the school closures by creating “phone schools.” In these “schools,” locally-recruited and trained teachers conducted virtual classes in group calls with three to four children. BRAC reported that those calls reached over 180,000 students in more than 7,000 schools (The power of community as a catalyst to tackle disrupted learning).

With emerging evidence supporting the expansion of mother tongue instruction, South Africa has instituted policies to support mother tongue instruction in grades 1, 2, and 3, but now the Eastern Cape education department allows high school students who are taking the matric exams to answer using their home language (Policy options to crack the mother tongue versus English riddle in South African schools). That kind of development can encourage schools to offer mother-tongue instruction through grade 12.  As provincial education official Fundile Gade put it, “China, Singapore and Germany use their own languages. English is a secondary language, like other languages, so it can’t be given preference as if pupils can’t learn and develop outside of English (Matric pupils to write exams in isiXhosa and Sotho at Eastern Cape schools).

US schools can subscribe to an electric school bus fleet at prices that beat diesel, Canary Media

NEA, Airbnb partnership aims to help teachers supplement income, K-12 Dive

New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote, Education Week

Future of learning with virtual reality, Hechinger Report

From Alaska Schools Creating Digital Networks to Aid Remote Learning to a Homework Freeze in Texas to Limit Screen Time, 9 Ways States Are Aiding Schools Amid COVID-19, The 74

State telemedicine program allows Texas children to see therapists at schools, KUT 90.5

California removes hurdles to building teacher housing, EdSource

K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, World Resources Institute

EPA nearly doubles funding to districts for clean school bus rebates, K-12 Dive

Quick Hacks: How Schools Can Cut Costs and Help the Environment, Education Week

GoKid partners to address school transportation crisis, Benzinga

The power of community as a catalyst to tackle disrupted learning, Brookings

Policy options to crack the mother tongue versus English riddle in South African schools, The Conversation

Matric pupils to write exams in isiXhosa and Sotho at Eastern Cape schools, Times Live

Using Education Research to Disrupt Institutionalized Forms of Discrimination: A conversation with Whitneé L. Garrett-Walker

In this month’s Lead the Change interview Whitneé L. Garrett-Walker highlights challenges and opportunities for students and educators to work toward fostering systemic equity in schools through an understanding of the historical contexts of modern policy. Whitneé is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Policy and Social Diversity at the Ontario institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Whitneé is a Black, Indigenous (enrolled member of Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana) and Queer woman from the San Francisco Bay Area. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change (LtC): The 2023 AERA theme is “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth” and charges researchers and practitioners with creating and using education research to disrupt institutionalized forms of discrimination. The call urges scholars to challenge traditional methods of inquiry in order to create increasingly useful, responsive, and equity-oriented research that can be used by schools to develop informed policies and practices to better support students. What specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Whitnee L Garrett-Walker (WLGW): I think educational change scholars have a responsibility to be co-conspirators for the purposes of equity and social justice. We do not need more of the same kinds of research on change management, school transformation, and transformational leadership occurring in institutions that primarily serve historically marginalized youth and communities. We have enough research on traditional notions of leadership that are centered in white, heteronormative, ableist values. We need to see more research and intentionally diverse collaborations (diversity within identities as well as the folx leading/researching various educational contexts) to continue conversations of why we need critical leadership in our field to push social justice movements forward. This looks like intentional collaboration to change the field of educational change and our expectations of what we hope to give and receive from it as means to better build our collective future. For example, we need more research on the importance and responsibility of solidarity across our various identities. I talk more about that with some amazing colleagues and friends here: UnLeading Podcast: Leading Through Solidarities.

In terms of my own research, I come to this work as a former teacher, instructional coach, and school leader of 14 years in San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco, California. My research is deeply informed by my practice of being a Black, Indigenous (Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana) and queer woman working in urban public schools. Given this, my research explores the experiences of racialized and gendered leaders and the ways in which they are defining their experiences, including their challenges, promise, and the potential of what is possible within the innovation of their leadership as well as their healing. I see my research as grounded in the ancestral, historical, and political context and understanding of what educational leadership looks like for Black, Indigenous women. I gather Black and Indigenous women and seek to learn from them because they are me, and I am them. I remain curious about their experiences as well as opportunities for solidarity as a model of what is possible for transforming the field of education, broadly. Their leadership, legacy of resistance, and critical hope are not just innovative, but pedagogical tools. My work is deeply connected to this call for the simple fact that my research subverts what has been and demands that we turn our eyes to what is possible.

LtC: You write about your experiences as a mother, a Black and Indigenous woman, a school leader, and a scholar, offering insights into the challenges and joys in balancing these identities, especially during global crises. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

WLGW: As folx read my work, my hope is that they learn to humanize Black and Indigenous women and our experiences both in the world and in our work. We are whole people who are full of love, joy and the resistance of our ancestors shines through us and within our work inside and outside of schools/the academy. To tell our stories takes courage, as well as hope; not that someone will find us worthy, but so folx know that we exist as more than we’ve been caricatured to be. I think our SIG and field of educational change can learn much from my work and from the work of amazing colleagues and scholars before me. My hope is that folx gain more information and clarity about the experiences of historically and multiply marginalized practitioners to shift how we conduct research, engage with policy, lead the way on policy, and finally prepare new practitioners for the field. I do this by approaching my work from the space of movement-building, as opposed to the space of conducting research for the sake of conducting research. I conduct research for the sake of collective liberation from the harmful ways that whiteness, capitalism and other systems and structures of oppression have adversely impacted how we think about and engage with each other and educational leadership. My hope is that my colleagues and those who read my work will do the same.

LtC: In your work investigating the experiences of Black women in leadership, you use critical theories to guide your analysis. How might your findings help scholars and practitioners envision and implement a more just and inclusive education system for faculty, staff, students, and communities?

WLGW: Well, I think particularly through critical hope. In my dissertation study, I found that Black women continue to engage a legacy of resistance that is grounded in their desire to lead from a space that activates their ancestral legacy of resistance. Critical hope is what fuels their desire to transform learning outcomes for historically and multiply marginalized youth and keeps them in this work and to continue this work, they must engage in healing as ongoing. So much can be learned from these findings, regardless of your place in an educational institution. I think it is so powerful to read and empathize with people who do not look like you (or experience the world as you do) because it begins an important process of critical self-reflection, transforming your behavior, and building connections to rebuild the world as we know it.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

WLGW: It’s important to read, elevate, and center work that intentionally engages deeply in conversations that we need to have. For example, if you are a white scholar who is engaged in the work of educational change, who are you collaborating with? Who are you citing? How are these collaborations explicitly allowing for shifts in practice? How are you bringing these diverse authors and perspectives into your classroom? Another way to support the collective work toward equity is through directly incorporating the innovative scholarship of emerging scholars and practitioners who are multiply marginalized.  Most times, our work is not seen by those in our field without a tweet or a newsletter such as this. Educational change as a SIG and the field as a whole must center scholarship from multiply marginalized and historically marginalized peoples to transform how we think about each other and create meaningful opportunities for solidarity.

“My research subverts what has been and demands that we turn our eyes to what is possible.”

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

WLGW: I believe that our field is moving entirely too slowly in reference to the way we think/write and conduct scholarship about educational change. We are living during a powerful series of moments where everyone is clearly aware of how systems and structures of oppression are alive and well. COVID-19 has also shaped the way we’re engaging and thinking about the future of the public education system. There aren’t any additional excuses that can be provided as to why the harmful behavior of some continues to go unchecked or why we keep conducting research and publishing scholarly work that highlights inappropriate ways of how we write about and engage with certain populations. Educational Change as a field is in a special place where we have the power to shift language, behavior, and policy, and this is what excites me most about the future of our field and our SIG.

Giving Thanks for Education Around the World 2022

Every year, during the week of Thanksgiving in the US, IEN highlights opportunities to support some of the organizations that we have featured that are making a difference in children’s lives and in their educational opportunities. This year, we also want to emphasize the drastic needs to support children who are suffering from war, famine, natural disasters, climate change, and disrupted education, and to highlight ways to donate to some of the organizations that are working to respond to those crises, particularly in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and East Africa.

Over 27 million children at risk as devastating floods set records across the world, Unicef

How women and girls vulnerable to climate change are fighting back, Independent

Inside Somali hospitals where climate change-induced hunger is killing children, CBSMornings

To Keep The Trauma At Bay, Ukrainian Refugee Children Are Given More Time To Play, Radio Free Europe

In Afghanistan, a drive to continue education – and confront the Taliban, The New Humanitarian

Take action to help those affected by catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, Obama Foundation

Take Action to Protect Children from the Impacts of Climate Change, Unicef

Help save children in Somalia, Save the Children

How To Donate To Ukraine Relief Efforts, Forbes

Afghanistan is the only country in the world that forbids girls to go school: Donate, Malala Fund

Fount For Nations

Donate Here

IkamvaYouth (South Africa)

Donate Here

Kliptown Youth Program (South Africa)

Donate Here

The Citizens Foundation (Pakistan)

Donate Here