After the Bushfires: A View of the Pandemic and School Closures from Amanda Heffernan in Melbourne, Australia

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Amanda Heffernan, a lecturer in Educational Leadership at Monash University, Melbourne. Having previously worked as a school principal and principal coach and mentor for Queensland’s Department of Education, Amanda’s key research areas include leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. 

This post is the seventh in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Scotland, from Liberia and from Pakistan. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?

Amanda Heffernan: I’ve been working from home since early March when Australia’s restrictions were put into place. Our state government’s advice was that if we can work from home, we must work from home, to stop the spread of COVID-19. After the first week or so I realised how much I needed to stop horror-scrolling through the internet and the news, and found routines that let me focus while still taking note of the state of the world. I’m fortunate in many ways, in that my husband is also an academic and began working from home at around the same time, so we were able to establish an easy-enough routine of work that could shift with the rhythms of how academic work ebbs and flows throughout the semester.

Being an academic often means being mobile, so while I moved to Melbourne a number of years ago (Victoria, Australia) to take up an academic position at Monash University, the rest of my family are in my home state of Queensland, Australia where it seems to feel much safer than it does in my chosen-home state of Victoria. Active case numbers in Queensland and other states are incredibly small, while ours rose so quickly and posed such risk that we have now been placed back into strict lockdown for 6 weeks (only permitted to leave our homes for work, compassionate reasons, outdoor exercise, or grocery shopping). One thing this experience has done for me is make me really realise how far away I am from ‘home’ even though I am still in Australia. The ways our different state governments & communities responded to COVID-19 meant that we all had very different experiences of the last few months. But – with that said – I am so grateful that we are in such a fortunate position in Australia, in comparison to a lot of other countries.

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?

AH: Universities (for the most part) are working online where they can. My Master’s students are mostly studying while working so they are able to use our critical educational leadership courses as a way of understanding and reflecting on their experiences in dealing with rapidly changing policy and community conditions at the moment. Schools here worked online for a few weeks, while remaining physically open to children of essential workers. As of June 9, schools were back in face-to-face mode, with really careful structures around social distancing where they can, though this is understandably incredibly difficult in many circumstances. School drop-offs and pick-ups are carefully managed, there are extra cleaning procedures in place, and staff are required to socially distance in their staff rooms. Many people are expecting a shift back to online learning in the future – and a back and forth of online & face-to-face until a vaccine is found.

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

AH: One thing Australia’s schools need help with is making sure that their work is being recognised by the public, politicians, and the media as being incredibly complex right now. The public discourse about schooling and education has shown some increase in appreciation from parents and carers who have realised how difficult the job is after trying to support their children through remote learning, and seeing how much work teachers are putting in to try to make sure students remain connected and supported. At the same time, though, we saw schools being treated as a political football between conflicting goals from our Federal and State governments, with the Federal government wanting schools to remain open, while Victoria’s state government closed them to flatten the curve. Teachers have been positioned in the middle of these tensions, and have had to respond quickly to changing requirements and directives.

One thing Australia’s schools need help with is
making sure that their work is being recognised
by the public, politicians, and the media
as being incredibly complex right now.

Earlier this year a research team I am part of at Monash University, launched a research report that showed Australia’s teachers across all states and territories felt undervalued and that it was having a significant effect on their intentions to stay in the profession. Teachers need to be publicly recognised as experts and professionals who are doing an exceptional job in incredibly difficult circumstances right now. We’ve already seen the economic effects of the pandemic affecting employment conditions (e.g. pay cuts or pay freezes, cancelled teaching contracts, staff layoffs) for education workers, after months of putting themselves at risk and being considered ‘frontline workers’.

We also need help from our politicians and policymakers remembering that education workers very rightfully have concerns about their own health and safety and the safety of their own families, as well as their school communities. There’s a real tension for teachers who want to do the best for their students while still being at risk themselves in their workplaces.

We also need help from our
politicians and policymakers remembering
that education workers very rightfully have
concerns about their own health and safety
and the safety of their own families,
as well as their school communities.

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?

AH: Something I have found useful is reading Monash Lens – it’s a collection of analysis and commentary on current issues by experts from our university, and it means I have access to a range of perspectives beyond just my field of expertise and interest.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?

AH: I’m reading Twitter a lot, after carefully curating my news feed. I’d recommend Pat Thomson (from the University of Nottingham) and Anuja Cabraal‘s Virtual Not Viral website and twitter chat for anyone who works with postgraduate research students, and for anyone completing a PhD in the current circumstances. It’s not just for graduate students – it has important points to think about for anyone working in research right now.

I’ve been revisiting Foucault over the last few months and would recommend a book I recently read: Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity by Margaret A. McLaren. It’s almost 20 years old now but does a fantastic job of positioning Foucault’s work within feminist perspectives.

I’d also recommend anything that gives a little bit of escapism and nostalgia right now – I’m one of the millions of people who have been playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time as part of my work playlist.

We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

AH: Seeing how the teachers and school leaders I work with have risen to the challenges that COVID-19 keeps throwing their way. We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet. They shifted to online learning, then shifted back once schools returned face-to-face, and now they face an uncertain future with our numbers starting to rise again. Their dedication and their efforts mean our students have been connected and supported through all of this.

A view from The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan: Neha Raheel on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Neha Raheel, (@NehaRaheel), Manager, Learning Experience & Assessment Design, Partnership Schools, at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan. Neha was also recently selected as a WISE Emerging Leader for her work at TCF. As described in an IEN post in 2019, TCF was launched by six friends in Karachi Pakistan who saw education as a key to addressing a wide range of social problems. Since establishing five new schools in 1996, TCF has developed a network of over 1600 schools in Pakistan.

This post is the sixth in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Scotland, and from Liberia. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you, your family/friends, and co-workers?

Neha Raheel: The lockdown in Sindh (one of Pakistan’s provinces, located in the southeastern part of the country), where I currently live and work, was announced on March 23rd, 2020 (initially for a period of 15 days, which extended till early June). The government began to lift the lockdown gradually in the first week of June, despite the number of cases being on the rise. Currently, education institutions, marriage halls, beauty parlors, cinemas, etc. remain closed while businesses have been allowed to operate between the hours of 06:00 am – 7:00 pm (five days a week) in certain parts of the country. The government also began putting several localities under “smart lockdowns” as the number of cases was surging. However, some of these localities have now started to re-open, and the government has announced that it will be making a decision regarding the re-opening of government schools and educational institutions on July 2nd.

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

TCF, as an organization, had announced that at the discretion of the Heads of individual departments, we were allowed to begin working from home from March 16th onwards, so my colleagues and I have been doing so since then. My team and I work on curriculum and assessment design for TCF’s Public-Private Partnership schools (340+ schools adopted by the organization from the governments of Sindh and Punjab, with a mandate to improve access to, and quality of education).

Work from home has presented a whole host of challenges for us. We started this project by working with a team of content developers: part-time employees whose main task was to help us create lesson plans for the Teacher Guides that we are currently designing for our Partnership schools (a majority of our Partnership contracts mandate us to use the government’s syllabus, instead of the one designed by TCF for its flagship schools). These content developers do not always have access to technology (they create handwritten content for us, which is then typed at the Head Office). The quality of the lesson plans has always been heavily reliant on feedback; which pre-COVID, was given and discussed in weekly in-person meetings. Since these meetings can no longer take place in person due to the lockdown, we have been struggling with shifting the feedback sessions to take place over phone calls (a lot of people who work part-time with us do not have access to a laptop/computer or a stable internet connection at home). We also had a lot of drop-outs from the project because the women that we work with simply could not cope with the demands of managing their caregiver duties with a part-time project. As a result, we had to innovate and come up with an alternate recruitment and onboarding strategy. We are now relying heavily on the grace and magnanimity of a team of volunteers who graciously have agreed to assist us with our work on various projects (1100+ people have applied to volunteer with our department in the past month, alone). We are still grappling with the task of working remotely, not only within the team, but also with our volunteers.

IEN: What’s happening in the communities where you work?

NR: Especially where our Partnership schools are housed, TCF works within communities with some of the lowest average incomes in the country and, as such, the digital divide has prevented us from using traditional education technology-based solutions for distance learning. TCF has, instead, been working on creating multi-grade content for a national TV channel: creating a televised show that focuses on student wellbeing (including physical movement through the yoga/exercise section of the program), joy, and basic literacy and numeracy skills (storytelling section and guided activities/assignments). Students also send in their artwork and assignments to TCF in response to the content broadcast in the program. TCF is also piloting a magazine to assess the effectiveness of paper-based Self Study Materials. The aim is to try to be as inclusive as possible and to try to reach as many students as we possibly can, especially those who are most impacted by the digital divide and learning losses.

At the same time, we are also thinking ahead to what will happen when schools eventually reopen. As such, my team’s biggest project this year is creating Teacher Guides for our Partnership Schools, with the purposes of improving the quality of teaching and learning activities in what are often rote learning based and teacher-centered classrooms; to reduce teacher workload of lesson planning (the majority of our teachers spend the entire day in the classroom, teaching all subjects and, as such, do not find time to research and create learner-centered lesson plans); and to serve as a developmental tool, building teacher capacity. These Teacher Guides are being made for the post-pandemic/post-lockdown world that our teachers and students will return to. The trauma-informed approach to education tells us about the importance of bringing joy, safety, trust, and hope in the lives of learners who have been through a trauma. As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face. The curriculum in these Guides, along with the restructuring of the school day, will allow us to include engaging learner centered activities, brain breaks and movement-based activities (to energize students, provide them with processing time, and bring a sense of joy in their lives); opportunities for guided and free play, and meditation and mindfulness activities. We are also mindful of the loss of connection, anxiety, and stresses that students might face in their absence from school (which is more often than not a safe and joyous space for our kids) and we hope that classroom routines such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, play, storytelling, collaborative pair/group work, gratitude journaling, and understanding, acknowledging, and knowing how to express one’s feelings will restore that sense of connectedness and will bring back joy and hope in the lives of our students when they return to school.

As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face.

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

NR: The digital divide is becoming increasingly tied with learning losses and is likely to result in a widening of the already prevalent achievement gaps in our country. At the policy level, we need to think about ways of lessening the impact of the digital divide on student learning (perhaps beginning with a drive of providing students/communities with access to electricity/basic tech/internet). At the same time, we are drawing our inspiration from several innovative (and low/no cost resource based) initiatives, such as the remote learning work being done by Pratham, India and Teach for Pakistan’s WhatsApp school. TCF is a not-for-profit and, as such, relies heavily on the philanthropic donations of people from across the world. To be able to continue fighting the good fight, we need people to keep donating for the cause, and also (if possible) volunteer their expertise for the various programs that we have. TCF is also actively thinking about the potential increase in drop-out rates once schools open (as evidenced by the drop-outs following the Ebola crisis), especially with relation to the gendered nature of the drop-outs. A question that we are currently thinking deeply about is: How can we re-engage students whose parents might find an extra set of earning hands to be more useful than continuing their education? As we continue working on our television program and pilot our magazine, we would appreciate any and all advice/resources/connections that would help us create, curate, and disseminate content.

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?

NR: There are several websites that are providing their content/lesson plans/lesson activities free of charge, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Learning Activities and Play Ideas for Pre-K-II:
    a. Pre-Kinders
    b. Play Ideas
    c. Steamsational
    d. DREME TE (Math activities for early years)
  2. Lesson Plans/Unit Plans (for all grades):
    a. National Geographic Education
    b. Teachnology
    c. PBS Learning Media (also includes videos)
    d. The Teacher’s Corner
    e. Scholastic
    f. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Virtual School Lesson Plan Database
  3. Stories
    a. Storyweaver
    b. Bookdash
    c. Global Digital Library
  4. Mindfulness/Meditation Exercises
    a. Kids Relaxation
    b. Mindful Teachers
    c. Teach Starter

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?

NR: Twitter has been a great source of connecting with educators from across the globe and has allowed me to watch/read/listen to the ways in which educators are responding to the crisis. Some of the accounts that I have found to be most useful include, but are not limited to: Teaching Tolerance, Social Emotional Learning, WISE, Design for Change, Pratham Education Foundation, Rising Academies, Math and Movement, CASEL, Recipes for Wellbeing, Karanga, SELinEdu, and many more. Webinars and conferences, so many of which have become freely available, have also been a great source of information (e.g. WISE Words, the T4 Education Conference, RISE Webinars, Catalyst 2030; Karanga’s Global SEL Conference, Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined, Elevating Education in Emergencies: Securing Uninterrupted Learning for Crisis-affected Children, etc.).

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

NR: Videos/comments/thoughts from TCF school leaders and teachers have allowed me to stay connected with the communities where we work and have also inspired me with their messages of resilience, hope, gratitude, and positivity. Reading about stories of inspiring teachers from different parts of the world has been an additional source of inspiration. Doing a daily virtual gratitude journal with my team members has brought several moments of positivity and gratitude to my life: reading each other’s responses and thoughts about simple and positive moments brings smiles to all of our faces. Playing games (including a Harry Potter themed escape room) and doing mindfulness check-ins with my team as we all navigate work from home and feelings of isolation and anxiety/uncertainty has been both grounding, as well as inspiring, as we all try to collectively navigate the new reality. More so than anything else, my dog (we rescued her a few months prior to the pandemic): the amount of joy and hope that she brings in my life is unparalleled.

Andy Hargreaves on “Moving: A Memoir of Education and Social Mobility”

This week IEN features an email interview with Andy Hargreaves about his new book, Moving: A Memoir of Education and Social Mobility. Hargreaves is a Research Professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and holds Visiting or Honorary Professorships at the University of Ottawa, Hong Kong University, Swansea University, and the University of Stavanger in Norway.

IEN: Why this book, why now?

Andy Hargreaves: Like one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters who went bankrupt, this book came upon me bit by bit, then all of a sudden. As you’ll understand if you read it, for decades, I intuitively felt that my life and lives like mine weren’t necessarily worth writing about. The children of famous families or who hold down big jobs often make a point of keeping a journal of their experiences, because they feel they are or will be notable and become someone whom people will want to read about in the future.

Like one of Ernest Hemingway’s
characters who went bankrupt,
this book came upon me bit by bit,
then all of a sudden.

My life never had that kind of plan. In a working class mill town, keeping a journal was not a luxury we could afford or an affectation we could even countenance. But slowly and surely, while I have always cared about social justice, I began to sense that I was also a part of what I was writing about. So bit, by bit, here and there, I would insert short passages into my writing to explain how my research was in some ways connected to my own life. We would now call this positionality.

If there was a key moment, though, it was probably sitting with my Mum during her dying days, at the age of 93. My Mum had lived a working class life. She left school at 14, worked in factories, got married during World War II, lived in rented housing then public housing, raised her children through austerity, and then became widowed at the age of 43. Trying to raise three boys she was what we would now call an “essential worker”. She had three jobs cleaning people’s homes, working in local stores and looking after other people’s children. When I was in my early teens, she eventually collapsed with a nervous breakdown, and we moved onto welfare.

In the memoir, I describe this moment when I found her life to be an inspiration, like this:

After she lapsed into apparent unconsciousness, I sat with her for the best part of nine days until her final breath. I thought the time would pass slowly, but the hands raced around the clock at the end of her bed. Over many hours and days, I wrote a short piece about her life—the stories she told, the experiences she had, the things she did—at first, just for its own sake, and because, as a writer, I knew it was one of the few things I could usefully do.

The narrative took on a shape, and I sent it off to the Lancashire Telegraph that my mum used to have delivered every day—a widely read daily paper across one of the most populated counties in England. I submitted it not as an obituary but as a tribute to my mum and also to a way of life shared by women and families like her throughout the region.The editor wrote back, asked for some photographs (which we had luckily already collected for Mum’s ninetieth birthday, her last big bash), and announced they would publish it as a major feature. Just a couple of days before Mum died, when all the fluid had practically gone from her body, I leaned right over her with family members gathered around. I had no idea whether she could still hear.

“Mum,” I said, “I’ve something to tell you. I’ve written a piece about you for the Lancashire Telegraph. They say they are going to publish it as a double-page spread complete with pictures. It’s all about you and your life, Mum. A double-page spread. Here’s how it starts.” I turned to my text. “Here’s the headline”—the one the editors had assigned to it—“How a Loving Accrington Mum Scrimped and Worked for Her Family.” And then I began, “Doris was born in a commode at the back of a sweet shop in Accrington, two years after the end of the Great War . . .” Barely two sentences in, something happened that we thought was no longer physically possible. From the corner of my mum’s eye, out of a tiny frame that had received no fluid in over a week, a single tear fell slowly down her cheek. Then I stopped. She understood. She knew. And so did I. This life, these lives—lives like ours—are absolutely worth writing about, as many people appreciated when they wrote back to me about the piece in the weeks that followed.

https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/bygones/10870126.loving-accrington-mum-scrimped-worked-family/

This was really the impetus, the moment when I felt there was something worth saying not just about myself and my Mum, but about ordinary people like us everywhere, of all races and identities within the working classes, who struggle and sacrifice, and give things up so their children can have a better chance in life.

The challenge was now to find the time to write and perfect it, to develop it not as just a nostalgic memoir, but as a literary narrative about something in particular – the experience of working class upbringing and social mobility. This was an experience, I felt, with which many educators and other readers all across the world could identify. Some of this time I created myself, when I was in the midst of a very stressful and quite draining senior leadership responsibility. Taking an hour or two a day away from the escalating crisis I was trying to resolve, helped me create something that felt positive and renewed my energy in my daily work. Then, a perverse twist of fate came about when I broke my ankle hiking the Appalachian Trail, and could not travel for three months. This gave me the time and intense focus I needed to craft the memoir over countless drafts to the standard it really required.

IEN: What did you learn in working on this book that you didn’t know before?

AH: I learned a lot about social mobility. I discovered who invented the concept (the Russian-American immigrant Pitrim Sorokin, in 1927), and what baggage it brought with it. For Sorokin, social mobility – aka the American Dream – isn’t just about helping individuals move on and up through the various levels of social stratification. It’s also about greater equity – about moving those levels closer to each other. I consolidated my existing knowledge that the UK and US (unlike Canada), have two of the worst rates of social mobility in the world, and that these rates have been deteriorating from the golden age of social mobility during the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up, right through to the present. I learned that there are many different subjective experiences of being socially mobile. There are:

  • Individually heroic and triumphant ones like in Tara Westover’s Educated; · scornful ones about the culture one has escaped from like JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy;
  • Ambivalent and angst-ridden ones about living being between two cultures and belonging to neither, like most British narratives of mobility;
  • In-your-face defiant ones, like Canadian rap-star Drake, who “started from the bottom”, now his whole “team’s f****ing here”;
  • Ironic and satirical ones like US talk-show host Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime;
  • Brilliantly irrepressible ones like the sheer achievement of working class figure-skater, Tonya Harding’s triple axel, which overcame the prejudices against her held by elite judges (as depicted in I, Tonya).

I also learned a lot about myself and about how to come to terms with who I once was and how this had profoundly influenced the way I go about my work today. For the first time, I addressed what it was about a selective education system that eventually sent me across the country to university, while my two brothers went to work in factories at the bottom of the street. For the first time, I thought, wrote, and spoke about the fact that I had been a child with ADHD (known as “highly strung”) at the time. I credited the one teacher who intuitively understood this about me for helping to shape the path of my entire life. And I learned that mental health issues I have faced as an adult from time to time – depression, feeling utterly overwhelmed, completely disorganized, taking too much on, and getting distraught about letting other people down, have their roots in these childhood years.

For the first time, I addressed what it was
about a selective education system that eventually sent me across the country to university while my two brothers went to
work in factories at the bottom of the street.

I have confronted issues that were difficult for me as an adolescent. I had to hide the fact that for many months after my Dad died, I had to raise my family instead of my family raising me. I felt ashamed about the trouble I had with the local gang when I was the only one left in the neighbourhood who was still going to high school on the other side of town. I had to endure homophobic insults (that I didn’t really understand at the time), and physical violence (I’m talking boots, studs and belts) that I had not only to survive, but find a way to surmount so I would be left alone. I have learned to look back on all this with acceptance, irony and even humor – not just to come to terms with who I was and who I am now, but also to find a way to connect these experiences to countless numbers of people like me. And that’s one more area of learning. For my quest as a writer has not been to compete with the upwardly mobile narratives of unbelievable survival by the likes of Westover and Vance. It has been to use and develop my skills in language and storytelling, to help others with their ordinary but very real struggles to see something of themselves and the children that they teach in the experiences I describe. As I write in the memoir:

this book could never have been written without the existence of the lives that it describes—the everyday and often invisible lives of ordinary citizens who drive our buses and taxis, make our clothes, fix our appliances, clean our homes, keep us safe, serve us in the local store, and look after our children. The book is meant to speak especially to all those who have made sacrifices, given things up, left behind homelands, or taken on extra jobs so that they or their children could have the best-possible chance in life.

IEN: What do you hope those working on education around the world will get out of this book?

AH: I hope readers will feel that this book will resonate with realizing that social mobility doesn’t just happen by developing grit and resilience in individuals to help them navigate unchanged systems. There also need to be systems of culturally responsive pedagogy, inclusive curriculum, wraparound schooling that supports the whole child, and an end to discriminatory high-stakes testing, so we can support children who grow up in challenging circumstances. I hope educators will come to see that their task is not just to help kids beat the odds in a rigged system, but also to change the odds so that the system’s no longer rigged.

I wrote much of this memoir in the years of Brexit and Trump, and during the rapid growth of racism, populism and xenophobia around the world. The people I come from are some of the hardest working, deeply loyal and most welcoming you could possibly meet. They are also suspicious of outsiders, and resentful towards condescending elites. We cannot and must not write off the white working class by renaming it euphemistically as middle class, by associating it only with pitiable poverty, by removing all its claims for sympathy or advocacy because it also possesses undeniable racial privilege, or by looking down on it as a “basket of deplorables” and tasteless white trash. (For more on this see my piece on Leadership Ethics, Inequality & Identity)

If it is regarded as invisible or deplorable, the white working class will and does react by stigmatizing others – being prejudiced toward immigrants and racial outsiders and displaying inverse snobbery towards liberal elites. My narrative, and the narrative I think we need now in America and across the world, is not to rank the various struggles of marginalized and oppressed groups and pit them against each other, but to develop empathy among the many among us who struggle. My purpose is to help us all to draw on and face our own suffering so we can understand the even greater suffering of others, so that we can all strive together for shared equity and common dignity. For as Adam Smith once wrote, “sympathy is the basic emotion of democracy”.

IEN: What’s happened with you since you wrote the book?

AH: The pandemic happened. We had to cancel multiple book tours and writers festivals for groups up to 5000. We delayed publication for two months so we could figure out how to bring the work to people’s attention in the new environment. I am now discussing this memoir in book clubs of up to 1000 in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and elsewhere. Although I miss face to face teaching dreadfully, I am enjoying these more intense interactions around the book that are bringing other people’s lives and struggles to the fore, as well as my own. Even in a pandemic, we have to think about the opportunities as well as the problems before us. My mother, Doris, was named after the nurse who saved my grandfather’s life by caring for him in hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic. And now, all of a sudden, this book seems to speak to the lives of all the essential workers and their families on whom we have been relying so much. In the book, I wrote a passage that could well have been a tribute to all the essential workers and their lives today:

As you move up, on, and out, you hope you’ll continue to stand up for and stand with others against injustice and exclusion. Despite all your travels across different countries and cultures, you hope that when you open your mouth, people will still know where you come from. You hope you’ll retain some of your interests and TV-viewing habits, however unsophisticated and unfashionable they may be amongst the intellectual elite. You hope you’ll remember to treat all people with respect and dignity and acknowledge their humanity by thanking and conversing with them—the driver who lets you off the bus, the waiting staff at a conference dinner who never get noticed or receive any tips, and the people cleaning the toilets in the train station or the airport—because you remember how your mum used to clean people’s houses and how, when your own children were small and you were struggling financially, your wife was a waitress in the local pub and sold Avon cosmetics door-to-door in the evening. You also hope you do all this simply because it’s the decent thing to do.

It’s not enough just to clap for our essential workers now. It’s essential we rethink how as educators, we connect with and include their lives and cultures in the curriculum, and even in how they can have a space on their CVs to talk proudly about their family lives and responsibilities compared to the travel, hobbies and internships enjoyed by their more privileged peers.

IEN: What’s next — what are you all working on now?

AH: In terms of my research and writing, Dennis Shirley and I have just completed a book on Student Engagement: Beyond Relevance, Technology and Fun. It draws on our research work in the US Pacific Northwest, Canada, and the UK, to help educators rethink student engagement as being not just a psychological or individual challenge, but also as a social issue that requires changes in cultures, institutions, and policies too. This is especially true, we argue, during and after the pandemic. Organizationally, I am co-founder and president of ARC, a group of 6 nations (7 systems) and their Ministers and teacher union leaders who support and promote core values of broad excellence, equity, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy and human rights in professionally run systems. We have an annual summit and have found that peer interaction among the systems has provided invaluable learning and solidarity during the pandemic. We have produced several papers and op-eds coming from this work including one in the Washington Post and one for the Albert Shanker Institute (that originally appeared in The Conversation).

Finally

I hope readers enjoy the book and see something of themselves and the people they teach in it. Some of it is meant to be poignant and moving in places. But there are more joyous and funny parts as well. It only goes up to age 22, so perhaps one day there will be one or two sequels, if demand warrants it. If you read it, please write back and let me know what you think.

hargrean@bc.edu Twitter: @hargreavesbc

Black Lives Matter

 This month for the Lead the Change series we pause to reflect and to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters. We pledge to fight against entrenched racism, white supremacy, and oppression in all its forms and to honor and remember those murdered by the police. Black Lives Matter. 

Join Us as We Say Their Names 

Credit for graphic: Codeswitch https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die

For the past several years, IEN has shared the monthly Lead the Change Series interviews from AERA’s Educational Change Special Interest Group. This week, we join them in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and in fighting systemic racism, white supremacy and oppression wherever it occurs.

A view from Liberia: Abba Karnga Jr. on School Closures and the Pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview conducted by Maretta Silverman with Abba Karnga Jr., Program Manager at the Luminos Fund in Liberia, where the school lockdown continues. During the Ebola crisis, Karnga also served as Director of the Stop the Spread of Ebola Campaign. In partnership with the Country Health Team, he created an Ebola Emergency Response program responsible for social mobilization, case identification, and distribution of emergency supplies to affected homes. In 2019, he also reflected on his own educational journey in a Luminos staff profile: The Fight for Education Equality in Liberia: Living Up to My Father’s Example. Diaries from the Frontlines from the Center for Global Development provides additional perspectives on the outbreak and school closures from Luminos Fund staff as well as staff from The Citizens Foundation.

This interview is the sixth in a series that includes posts from Scotlandfrom Chile,  from Japan, and from the Netherlands.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education

Maretta Silverman: What’s happening with you and your family/friends? 

Abba Karnga Jr.: My family are like every family in Liberia: on lockdown, staying home, and not doing normal things. All of Liberia is in a state of emergency and there are lots of rules. We’re observing curfew, wearing masks when we go out in public, and handwashing constantly!

Right now, my kids are with my mom who lives in another county, doing the same thing. The major challenge my mom faces is trying to find activities for the kids to keep them occupied. It is the same for my friends and neighbors. Everyone’s kids are idle. My family has it better than most in Liberia, especially regarding food: we were able to prepare well for this crisis, have food, and can stay at home. But many families are having a lot of difficulty finding food. People aren’t eating regular meals. I feel like I have a responsibility, as someone who has a little, to share with those who are less fortunate. It’s a very weird and strange situation in Liberia. I think it’s much harder on children than adults.

LOWAH, LIBERIA: November 27, 2019 – Luminos Liberia Project Manager Abba Karnga Jr. Carielle Doe for The Luminos Fund.

MS: What’s happening with education/learning in your community? 

AK: Liberia’s Ministry of Education has ideas and strategies to help schools reach children and to help programs like us at the Luminos Fund to reach our students. One major thing they are concentrating on is radio programs. This is a great effort but I do see challenges because, in some places like the rural communities where Luminos works, either radio stations don’t reach, or families don’t have radios, or people haven’t heard about the program schedule so don’t know to listen. I’m afraid many students aren’t paying attention. I think everyone realizes the limitations, but radio is perhaps the best tool in the national toolkit to reach children.

Education is very, very slow in most of our communities. Some school systems have created lessons to send home but, anecdotally in my friend group, most kids aren’t really doing them. In Liberia, we know most learning happens at school. Parents are busy and may not be educated, so it’s hard to expect them to guide learning at home.

At the Luminos Fund, we offer a 10-month program to help out-of-school children catch up on their learning: to learn to read, write, and do math. In March, all our classes closed because of COVID. We decided to focus on learning that students could continue at home, as well as to distribute materials directly to our students’ homes: readers, math workbooks, and worksheets. We believe this is good practice for students, helps them continue engaging in education, and it’s useful for them to know their teachers are thinking about them. There are challenges, of course. I’d estimate that about forty percent of our facilitators (teachers) live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes, which is great. In communities where there aren’t facilitators, one of our supervisors goes to check in with students once a week.

About forty percent of our facilitators live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes

MS: What do you/your community need help with?

AK: Two things. First, food. There’s extremely high unemployment right now in Liberia. Most people depend on a daily hustle or contracts to survive, and much of that work has stopped due to the Coronavirus and lockdown. The Liberian government proposed a stimulus package some weeks ago, but it hasn’t moved forward. Families are really suffering.

Second, I wish children had more home recreation options during this period. Most homes in Liberia don’t have electricity, so TV isn’t realistic. Board games would be nice. It’s lockdown, but many kids still try to play outside and people have to chase them away. It’s risky. Parents are trying to make ends meet.

LOWAH, LIBERIA: November 27, 2019 – Abba Karnga, center, playing a learning game with students before the Covid-19 school closures. Carielle Doe for The Luminos Fund.

MS: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

AK: I’m excited about the support we’re witnessing from people in communities across Liberia, who have created local Coronavirus awareness teams. I’m on the team in my community. I think this community-level action comes, in part, from our experiences with Ebola a few years ago. Right now, we’ve set up handwashing sites. We ensure people coming into the community wash their hands and wear a mask. We go around with flyers (practicing social distancing) or loudspeakers on cars to raise awareness about COVID and share good information. It’s motivating and useful. I think it’s great when people mobilize themselves.

MS: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

AK: I listen to the Liberian Ministry of Health press releases that are shared every Friday on certain radio stations. They are credible and have the latest information.

MS: What have you found most inspiring?

AK: Our program! Luminos is an education organization but pivoted quickly to provide relief to students’ families during this crisis, including learning materials, soap, detergent, barrels for water, and food. Recently, we distributed food to over 1,600 of our students’ homes. For more than a week after, we received calls from parents. Some parents were literally crying in appreciation of what Luminos did. They said they never expected it and it was so timely. Some families were out of food and hadn’t known where they would find their next meal. We even heard from other community members and local leaders who heard what we did and called – not even parents. So, seeing the humanitarian aspect of this work is what’s most inspiring for me. I’m grateful we can do this for these families, and to be involved.

A view from Nairobi, Kenya: Deborah Kimithi on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Deborah Kimathi, the Executive Director of Dignitas, an education development organisation in Kenya.  Dignitas uses an innovative training and coaching approach to empower schools and educators in marginalized communities to transform students’ opportunities.   Deborah is also a Trustee of UK Charity Raising Futures Kenya, and Country Lead of the Kenya chapter of Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) which brings together more than 70 education actors from across the region.

This is the fifth in a series that includes posts from Chile,  from Japanfrom the Netherlands and from Scotland.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?

Deborah Kimathi: Kenya announced its first case of COVID19 on March 13th, and on March 15th the government announced national school closures, and social distancing measures that included working from home for those in non-essential services. I spent the next morning in the Dignitas office, setting up our team of 15 for remote working, with no idea of what that would really look like (for a team who are typically 80% in the community delivering training and coaching to our 140 School Partners) or how long it might last for. Now, 11 weeks the team are all still working from home, and being incredibly fruitful despite the challenges.

Ever since, my family and I have been working from home in Nairobi, schooling from home, shopping from home, socializing from home, and everything-else-from-home! My husband and I are both still working full time (or more than), and managing our three children. Our childcare ceased on the same day, so that our nanny could also follow the government’s guidelines. Our oldest two (7 and 9 years old, one lockdown birthday later) are doing some home learning (not their school prescribed program which was 6 hours per day of poorly managed Google Hangouts), and our 3 year old, who was due to start nursery this term, is generally having way too much screen time. My working day currently starts at 5am, and goes until around 10pm, with a variety of interruptions.

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?

DK: One word comes to mind – inequality.  I have two very different ongoing conversations when it comes to education.  The first is with my children’s friends’ parents, mostly struggling with schedules, the need for each child to have a device or laptop, how to turn baking into a science lesson, and where to source real butter for said cake.  The other, and the more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements.  Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival.  COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest.  In these communities, more than 60% of families were unable to access public education pre-COVID19, as a result of poverty and systemic exclusion.  Marginalised by poverty, these are the same families excluded from a myriad of essential health and education services now, and often fighting a daily, violent war with police in their struggle to exist.

The more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements.  Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival.  COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest.

The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole.  This raises critical, urgent questions of ‘What happens next?’  When schools reopen, will those who’ve participated in online or home learning be ‘ahead’ of others?  How will schools assess progress and promote students to the new school year?  How many girls will be married or pregnant, never to return to school?  How many families will end up on the street, their children never to return to school?  How many children will have died from starvation?  How many children will be so scarred by the trauma, violence and anxiety of this season that learning never really resumes?

The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole. 

A young learner proudly carries his school books outside a typical partner school. Photo: Dignitas

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

DK: Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect and promote the learning and well-being of children living in poverty.  Whilst everything else is disrupted, our vision to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and succeed remains core to our COVID19 response.

In an effort to reach and protect these children, we immediately thought of our amazing community of School Leaders and Teacher Leaders.  Dignitas has trained over 1,000 educators, and have another 450 educators enrolled for 2020.  These School Leaders have already benefited from Dignitas training and coaching and they are also leaders who are rooted in, and passionate about the needs of their communities. Our partnership lays an ideal foundation for them to be further equipped to respond in these times of crisis as community champions of well-being and learning.  Dignitas is remotely training and coaching these educators as Community Champions who can work in household clusters to protect and promote children’s learning and well-being.  

Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect
and promote the learning and well-being
of children living in poverty.  Whilst
everything else is disrupted, our vision
to ensure all children have the opportunity
to thrive and succeed remains core
to our COVID19 response.

To make this possible, we need help in curating more digital content for these educators, the educators need tablets to access and share learning content, families need basic devices or radios to benefit from the government’s education broadcasts, we need to design and print home learning packs for children, and we need to help families with food!  The list is long, and we’ve been excited to collaborate with some amazing partners like Safaricom Foundation, Team4Tech, Cosaraf Foundation and Synthetic so far, but the need is huge!

A young girl, now at home, facing an uncertain future. Photo: Dignitas

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

DK: I’ve really appreciated being part of some great networks – WISE, Global School Leaders, RELI, Global Schools Forum and others who have curated relevant content and tools, and offered consistent, valuable support.  The opportunity to share and learn with peers has helped me to stay focused, inspired and fruitful in this season.

Friends and donors who are authentic partners in our work!  Can donor relationships be unhealthy, and have skewed power dynamics?  Yes. However, they can also be wonderful places of strategic collaboration, bringing together passionate, committed teams of people and resources to respond to community need in a wise and compassionate way.  We’re fortunate to largely experience the latter, and they’ve been amazing thought and action partners for this season.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

DK: I’m mostly listening to podcasts and recordings of webinars that I’ve missed in the busy-ness!  WISE and Africa.com have had great content, relevant to our context, and not afraid to ask the hard questions.  In terms of reading, material from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brookings Institute have offered interesting insight.  However, I think my most valuable learning experience in this season has been listening to others – peers in the Kenyan and Global education sector, and the communities in which we work.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

DK: People!  People who are so intentional in bringing hope and light to others.  People giving so generously of their time and expertise.  People who don’t have much, always willing to give the most. 

Lead the Change Q & A with Izhak Berkovich

This week’s post features an interview with Izhak Berkovich, faculty member in the Department of Education and Psychology at the Open University of Israel where he serves as the head of the Research Institute for Policy Analysis. This is the 106th edition of the Lead the Change (LtC) Series. The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

Lead the Change: The 2020 AERA theme is The Power and Possibilities for the Public Good: When Researchers and Organizational Stakeholders Collaborate and is a call to “address educational challenges through policy and community engagement and to work with diverse institutional and organizational stakeholders.” How can such leveraging of educational research contribute to collaboration and engagement within and across diverse stakeholder groups and to educational change?

Izhak Berkovich: The AERA theme for this year reflects one, if not the most central, challenges of the educational research community. It touches on the principle of relevance, which is perhaps the defining element of an applied field of research. Although relevance is often associated with applied research, some have suggested it as a basic scientific commitment. The noted educational psychologist, Lee Cronbach, argued that social scientists need not accumulate generalizations to “a theoretical tower”, but first and foremost capture contemporary facts, relationships, culture, and realities. I agree with Cronbach’s argument and I think policy and community actors are excellent partners if we want to make research more relevant to practice. 

First, policy and community engagement can help researchers better understand whether and to what degree their ideas on educational change are context specific. The aim here is to promote, by discussion with stakeholders, more context-emic studies that use the local context and its specific features as central input in selecting the concepts of interest and in forming the theoretical model and relations between the concepts. For example, some cultures value improvisation in implementation, and others value meticulous execution in implementation. Second, engagement with community and organizational stakeholders might shed light on matters in which stakeholders use research. These insights can help researchers develop an improved understanding of educational change as an empirical functional concept and the processes underlying it. These insights can also aid researchers in producing a better understanding of educational change as a normative concept that involves a value judgment on the nature of the baseline, the change process, and the ideal of change. Thus, engagement has valuable potential for promoting new practical understandings and for giving a voice to silenced individuals and groups. From my experience, I found that prolonged research relations with specific sites help develop such understandings. Immersion of this type enables researchers to better understand what is considered a school challenge, functioning work relations within the school, and community support for the school. That said, I think there is a tension between policy and community engagement in research on one hand and the expert and independent nature of science on the other. As a result, democratization and equality are difficult in many cases, and undesirable in some. For example, we can see this in the evaluation of policy programs and the heavy pressures to perform pseudo-positive evaluations.

LtC: Given your focus on leadership and school leaders emotional support of teachers, what would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

IB: My work with Ori Eyal (Berkovich & Eyal, in press) on school leaders’ emotional support of teachers, focuses on developing a model of emotional leadership in schools that is cardinal for sustaining change. We argue school leaders need to understand teachers’ emotions and be able to positively influence these emotions. Some may question why promoting emotional meaning making and teachers’ emotional wellness are so important, but because teaching is an autonomous profession, performed most of the time by a sole teacher behind closed doors, and at the same time an interpersonal occupation that involves maintaining relationships with students and parents, we must acknowledge that teachers’ emotions are a valuable input and output of teaching. Two central lessons can be learned from our work for the field of educational change. 

First, we contend the process of influencing emotional meaning making of the work, which we call “emotional reframing,” is the key for fostering motivation to sustain change in schools. Conventional claims of work design inspired by scientific management argue that shaping contextual elements at the workplace is the method to promote employees’ intrinsic motivation, but our findings suggest otherwise. Our work points to the fact that school leaders’ ability to promote positive emotional meaning making of work events is a main mechanism by which leaders affect and promote teachers’ intrinsic motivation. This seems logical when acknowledging that individuals are not a motivational “blank canvas” and that many of them, specifically in public service professions, come to work with strong crystalized motivational drives. This type of drive has been referred to as public service motivation, i.e., the “orientation to delivering services to people with a purpose to do good for others and society” (Perry & Hondeghem, 2008, vii). Our qualitative and quantitative work stresses that emotions are the key organizers of identity and that individuals who connect emotionally to a positive frame of meaning are more likely to work for the organization than those who have the change imposed on them.

“School leaders’ ability to promote positive
emotional meaning making of work events is a
main mechanism by which leaders affect
and promote teachers’ intrinsic motivation.”

Second, we suggest thinking about effective emotional leadership as a dual process of influence. On one hand, we found that school leaders embracing transformational leadership behaviors as a generalized style of action, beyond individuals, time, and situations, are successful in altering their negative emotional frames of meaning in a manner that supports their motivation and commitment to school. On the other hand, this is only half of the story. Our findings suggest that those interested in institutionalizing change must also seriously consider the mundane aspects of leadership (e.g., active listening, informal exchanges) (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2003)‏. We found that mundane leadership communication practices, such as words of empowerment, normalization messages, and empathic listening, together with principals’ availability, are central to help teachers process affectively charged daily work events (e.g., failures with students, parents’ complaints, and so on). We showed that both extroverted managerial behaviors and reserved ones can be emotionally effective. Effective school leaders, therefore, promote positive affective influence at the collective general level as well as in daily communication around mundane events. 

LtC: In your recent work connecting school leaders’ effectiveness with teachers’ organizational commitment, you find that the principal’s leadership is mediated by things like teachers’ relationship with the leader and their internal resilience and empowerment. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these findings?

IB: This recent study, conducted in collaboration with Ronit Bogler (Berkovich & Bogler, 2020), is a conceptual review that uses and augments empirical data published over two decades to better understand what promotes the most discussed outcome in the literature in relation to effective leadership, that is, subordinates’ affective and normative organizational commitment. This type of commitment reflects a deep internalized mental attachment between a person and an organization. 

To understand how deep this link is, we turn to Blake Ashforth’s work on organizational commitment and identification, which involves anthropomorphism—the attribution of human qualities to nonhuman entities (Ashforth, Schinoff, & Brickson, 2020). The strength of commitment lies in our coming to think of the organization as a person whom we bond with its own identity. We then are moved to feel affinity for the organization, when we feel well treated, dislike the organization when we feel mistreated, and/or indebtedness when we gain opportunities, and so on. Guided by a theoretical lens, we found robust support for two central paths that serve effective school leadership to influence teachers’ commitment: the socio-affective path (e.g., principal-teacher quality of relationship, trust in principal, teacher’s job satisfaction) and teachers’ psychological capital path (e.g., sense of psychological resilience and of psychological empowerment). 

Understanding how leaders affect commitment is vital to promoting effective schools and schooling systems. Longitudinal data on public school teachers’ mobility from the US suggests 8% of teachers move to other schools and most of them do so voluntarily (Goldring, Taie, & Riddles, 2014). This movement is amplified among new teachers, 12% of whom change schools. The scope of this phenomenon is likely to have a considerable negative effect on the resources and operation of schools, particularly when taking into account shortages in effective teachers and public pressures to improve educational outcomes. Our work supports changes in educational policy and school management practices. For example, policymakers are advised to finance psychological counselling for teachers to support and promote their resilience. School leaders need to make time for interpersonal communication with staff that help form high quality relations and trust. Principals can also create a system of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that is broad and aims to recognize teachers’ diverse contributions to school functioning.

“Understanding how leaders affect
commitment is vital to promoting effective
schools and schooling systems.”

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?

IB: The field of educational change has done an excellent job in shedding light on many aspects of initiating, mobilizing, and sustaining change in schools and educational systems. I identify three main collective challenges in this applied academic field, which we address to amplify our contributions to practitioners. I call these the three Cs: context, complexity and chronology. 

First, we need to better capture the external and internal context of change in schools and educational systems. This pressing need is recognized by many. Philip Hallinger (2018) called for “bringing context out of the shadows” and outlined several types of contexts (e.g., institutional, community, socio-cultural, political, economic, school improvement). We need to better understand their influence on the mobilization and operation of effective schools. For example, the vast majority of effective school leadership literature ignores socio-economic and cultural aspects despite schools being community embedded institutions (Berkovich, 2018). In light of such disconnection, it is no wonder that, at times, educational practitioners remind us that while interesting, academic work often has little to do with real life. 

Second, we need to better represent the complexity of change circumstances, behaviors, and processes. Complexity is a basic human characteristic, and as such it is embedded in all changes. We need more research that conceptualizes and tests schooling contexts, behaviors and outcomes as multifaceted phenomena. By this I mean that social phenomena are not uni-dimensional, the unique combination of such aspects is what creates the effects. This requires using typological thinking and clustering analyses, and can be applied in quantitative (e.g., Urick & Bowers, 2014) as well as qualitative works (e.g., Berkovich & Grinshtain, 2018). Alma Harris and Christopher Chapman’s studies (2002, 2003) on schools in challenging circumstances are excellent examples of multifaceted conceptualizations and typological thinking. 

“We need more research that conceptualizes
and tests schooling contexts, behaviors
and outcomes as multifaceted phenomena.”

Third, we need to better capture the chronological development of change behaviors and processes. We need to better understand how relationships and processes evolve over time (Shamir, 2011), and how early events or circumstances shape the organizational dynamics that follow (Howlett, 2009). Some studies in this area show that layering the dynamics of policy meaning at the individual level (Coburn, 2005) develops over time and influences the subsequent chain of events in education. Other works in this field have argued that educational systems often exhibit strong organizational imprinting that has persisting effects for decades and even centuries after the imprinting period (Mehta, 2013).

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

IB: I am greatly interested in the effect of digital activism of teachers and parents on educational policy. Digital activism has gained global momentum in recent years in light of the financial crisis and a renewed neoliberal agenda. In 2018, we witnessed the role of digital media in educational protests worldwide in the “Teachers’ Spring” in the US, in France, where thousands of teachers joined the “Red Pens” movement, and in Iran, were teachers organized to protest against the government. In all these protests, public school teachers acted together using digital media to influence government priorities and promote investment in public education. While scholars increasingly acknowledge that digital media is not the democratic game changer once thought of, it does open new paths for organizing and exerting influence, which challenge traditional structures and at times even overturn elite agenda. My recent book on the topic, with Amit Avigur-Eshel, based on Israeli cases (Berkovich & Avigur-Eshel, 2019), provides new insights on how activist collectives and social movements of teachers and parents take advantage of the capabilities of digital platforms, how they structure their messages, what distinctive operational dynamics of protest can emerge, and on the link between the lived experience of participants and online activism. The growing integration of digital platforms in educational policies and reforms is an uncharted research water, despite being a fact of life today. I expect, therefore, that expanding knowledge on this topic will be one of the main challenges of educational change researchers in years to come. 

Another topic that interests me as a researcher is the de-stabilization of the democratic state model. We see more and more citizens in democratic countries turning a cold shoulder to traditional politics and political institutions and adopting an anti-immigration agenda. So many citizens worldwide renouncing liberal democratic ideas and forming a basis for solidarity on perceived threats is of great concern that undoubtedly will affect the educational policy environment. This is not a process that came out of the thin air, and to some degree it is related to countries embracing minimal state policies (e.g., cuts in public expenditure, privatization). Growing socio-economic gaps is one of the key outcomes of such policies. As a result, the fabric of social cohesion is beginning to unravel, and with it liberal democracies. Regretfully, the coronavirus and its economic aftermath will potentially accelerate this process. Consequently, I think we will see higher levels of societal tension and conflict surface in the policy arena and the school arena, and educational changes will be more entangled with what Andy Hargreaves (2001) called “emotional geographies,” specifically around sociocultural differences and moral conflicts between stakeholders. In this context, empathy and listening skills, as well as creating working conditions that make emotional understanding possible will be more valuable than any technical knowledge.

References

Berkovich, I, & Eyal, O. (in press). A model of emotional leadership in schools: Effective leadership to support teachers’ emotional wellness. Routledge. 

Harris, A., & Chapman, C. (2003). Effective leadership in schools facing challenging circumstances. Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.‏ 

Three Different Types of School Leadership for Learning: Results from TALIS 2018

This week’s post comes from Alex J. Bowers who draws from his recent working paper published by the OECD using the newly released TALIS 2018 dataset. Bowers is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Across countries, what is the role of school leaders and to what extent do teachers in schools agree with the leader on perceptions of their leadership practices? How many different types of leaders are there and how do these different types distribute across countries?

I examined these issues by analyzing the responses of over 152,000 teachers, across more than 9,000 schools with their principals, in 47 countries/economies on their perceptions of practices linked with the concepts of leadership for learning. I found three very different types of schools based on the alignment and mis-alignment of teacher and leader perceptions, and the results suggest that the proportions of the three different types of schools varies in important ways across national contexts.

I found three very different types of schools based on the alignment and mis-alignment of teacher and leader perceptions, and the results suggest that the proportions of the three different types of schools varies in important ways across national contexts.

Over the last few decades, researchers, policymakers, and school system leaders across the globe have shifted their conception of school leadership from the heroic single leader appointed at the top of the organization, to more distributed and shared conceptions of school leadership between teachers and principals. These new conceptions include leadership for learning, which encompasses aspects of transformational leadership – engaging teachers in the collaborative work of improving instructional practice – and instructional leadership – setting the vision, mission, and goals of the school, leading professional development, and supervising instruction. Importantly, leadership for learning also includes human resource development through mentorship and induction of teachers and strong management of resources to address specific student needs, community outreach, and student behavior and discipline.

To understand the extent to which teachers and leaders agreed across key aspects of leadership for learning, I analyzed data from the newly released TALIS 2018 survey items that asked teachers and principals similar questions around issues in their school of:

  1. Student assessment
  2. Feedback on teacher practices
  3. Teacher self-efficacy and a common set of beliefs about teaching and learning
  4. Professional development and trust
  5. Professional collaboration around lessons
  6. Mentoring and induction of teachers
  7. Engagement of stakeholders, such as teachers and parents
  8. A shared discipline climate

My results showed three different patterns of responses among teachers:

  • A high response type that has the highest responses across the eight domains and is the majority of teachers. These teachers have the highest work satisfaction, more often chose teaching as a career, and are the most experienced.
  • A low response type in which about a quarter of teachers responded with some of the lowest levels of perceptions of leadership for learning in their schools. These teachers reported the lowest job satisfaction and the highest workload stress.
  • A mixed response type in which about a fifth of all teachers reported high levels of self-efficacy, professional development, trust, stakeholder engagement, and a shared discipline climate, yet low levels of teacher feedback, professional collaboration, and mentorship and induction by the principal. These teachers have high job satisfaction and the lowest workload stress.

Second, I found three different patterns of responses between these three different types of teacher responders and their principals. In the first type, the principals have the highest responses across the leadership for learning domains, and thus are generally well aligned with the majority teacher type. In the second school pattern, principal responses are somewhat more in the middle providing a moderate response type. The third type of school, however, is typified by principals who disagree primarily around issues of mentorship and induction of teachers.

Importantly, while a large percentage of the school leadership research is grounded in the USA context and education research literature, the results from this analysis suggest that the USA may have only two of the three types of school leadership identified. The third type, in which leaders disagree more often across the survey, is a type of school that is more often found in countries such as Finland, as well as Portugal, Spain, Chile, Austria, and Argentina among others.

Percentage of respondents by school leadership type and country; Figure 10 from “Examining a congruency-typology model of leadership for learning using two-level latent class analysis with TALIS 2018

As I note on pages 53-54 of the working paper:

…it is intriguing that although the research that supports both theories of instructional leadership and leadership for learning, and the TALIS 2018 items, depends to a large extent on research from the USA context, the results of this study suggest that the USA has only two of the three types globally of leadership for learning schools… Given the global conversation on both leadership for learning, as well as policy in many nations attempting to implement instructional leadership theories and ideas, this finding that the United States is missing one of the three types of schools is intriguing. I will note, that I am not arguing here that the USA research is wrong, but rather that it may be incomplete, as USA researchers have not had access in their context to this third school type in the typology… The point that this model with the TALIS 2018 data captures the current global research issue that indicates that at the education policy level, mentorship by principals is “contested practice” across multiple national contexts provides a means to extend leadership for learning frameworks to include a wider global lens of schooling practice that includes these types of differences across national contexts (p.53-54).

Although no causal interpretations can be made, the results do provide an opportunity to surface previously unknown patterns and similarities across schools and countries, increasing the opportunity for collaboration and dialogue. For instance, in considering professional development and instructional improvement, the three different types of schools may need quite different types of supports and professional development resources. An intriguing professional development opportunity would be to bring together the principals and teachers from each of the three different school clusters, and provide them with the opportunity to collaborate, discuss, and surface the issues for instructional improvement that matter most to their type of school and their instructional practice with students in their community. Countries with similar patterns of leadership for learning across national contexts, may also find interesting and useful collaborative opportunities for improvement around shared interests and conceptions of teaching and school leadership.

Bowers, A.J. (2020) Examining a Congruency-Typology Model of Leadership for Learning using Two-Level Latent Class Analysis with TALIS 2018. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Publishing: Paris, France. https://doi.org/10.1787/c963073b-en

A view from Glasgow, Scotland: Maureen McKenna on school closures and the Pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education, Glasgow City Council. This is the fourth in a series that includes posts from Chile,  from Japan, and from the Netherlands.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education

IEN: What’s happening with your family and friends?

Maureen McKenna: Since the UK and Scottish Governments announced lockdown, I have been working between home and the office. My youngest son has moved back home with us from Belfast and he has set up his IT equipment in the back room. He has managed to complete his probationary period with the company during this lockdown. My oldest son has been placed on furlough (a government scheme where you get 80% of salary) with a major sports company – it is hard financially for him but he is grateful to still be employed. My daughter is expecting her second child in early July and is desperate to get back to work in her nursery school but that is looking increasingly unlikely as the lockdown continues. She is helping her six year old son with his school work, completing the transition records for the four year old children in her key group to support them when they go to primary school in August and doing lots of on-line professional learning. We live outside the city so we are managing long walks most days. However, like most people, as this lockdown continues it is becoming more challenging to maintain work patterns.

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/18418825.puzzles-glasgows-stem-experts-might-leave-stumped/

IEN: What is happening with education/learning in your community?

MM: In Glasgow, in normal times we have around 68,500 children in our primary and secondary schools. A further 12,000 are in our nurseries. Almost all closed on 23rd March 2020. We have kept some nurseries and schools open for the children of key workers. We have only around 500 children coming in to the schools and about 400 in nurseries. This has been increasing recently and in the last week we have around 650 primary-aged children in schools. Glasgow has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK. Many of our families’ lives are impacted by poverty, alcohol and drugs. When we consider how to support our families we think of them as thriving, coping, just coping and chaotic. In normal times, most families are thriving and coping – some are just coping and a number are chaotic mainly due to addiction. In our ‘new normal’ fewer families are thriving and coping and notably more are just coping. 

Wellbeing, compassion and care had to be our focus – if we got that right then learning would follow.

Our priority for Glasgow schools and nurseries was to ensure we remained connected – in a world where news bulletins were incessant in their spread of fear, raising the anxiety of all. Therefore, wellbeing, compassion and care had to be our focus – if we got that right then learning would follow. Heads of nurseries and schools were asked to create contact trees where each member of staff would have a named contact and put in place arrangements for staff to contact families regularly, particularly vulnerable families. This has worked well. Relationships have remained strong in the main which will be essential for the next phase. Phone calls, social media, Apps, STEM e-bulletins, and YouTube channels have all been used. Teachers have sent home lesson packs as well as “sensory boxes” for students with visual and hearing impairments. A partnership with the local city newspaper produces twice weekly two-page spreads with activities in math, in STEM, and other subjects to help families support learning at home, and some inserts into national news have all worked well – all with the consistent message of ‘we care’.

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/18418825.puzzles-glasgows-stem-experts-might-leave-stumped/

Before 23rd March we were part-way through the roll-out of 50,000 iPads to staff and pupils. We had a carefully planned programme of support for staff and pupils that launched in August 2019. Our ambitious plan had all secondary-aged pupils getting their own iPad, along with upper stage primary pupils. Other stages would have access to class sets of iPads. At the time, there were some in the educational world who criticised us for being so ambitious and told us via social media that digital learning was not all it was cracked up to be – now, there are some in the education world highlighting how awful it is that some children don’t have access to digital learning and what are we doing about it. Given our new situation, we have plans to accelerate the issuing of iPads to secondary staff and we are exploring how quickly we can accelerate the issuing of iPads to senior pupils in secondary schools, recognising that the whole of academic session 2020/21 is likely to be our new normal. So our staff are providing pupils’ work using on-line links; where this is not possible, packs of work are prepared for parents to collect or they are delivered to homes. Other staff are volunteering with our third sector partners to deliver much needed food parcels to families all across the city.

Now we are starting to think about recovery – the longer our children are out of school the wider the attainment gap is becoming between those from the least disadvantaged and the most disadvantaged communities. In the last ten years, we had made tremendous progress closing the attainment gap – I worry a lot about our children and young people who were so dependent on the structure and support of school.

IEN: What are you working on now?

MM: We need to continue to focus on the wellbeing of our school communities. In our recovery plans, we are planning on how we use the nurturing principles which are so embedded in our everyday work to help us build the confidence of staff, parents and pupils to re-establish learning. We are structuring our plans around Recovery, Resilience and Re-connection. Our psychological service has developed really good advice for schools and nurseries to support their planning. Wellbeing, compassion and care must continue to be central to our plans – recent events have been traumatic for even the most resilient of people – so it is critical that we take time to build resilience and think carefully about how we re-connect with each other, with children and young people and with families.

Recent events have been traumatic for even the most resilient of people – so it is critical that we take time to build resilience and think carefully about how we re-connect with each other, with children and young people and with families

This past week, we engaged with groups of headteachers from across the city to discuss what physical distancing will mean in their buildings, what steps will they need to take to re-connect and what will academic session 2020/21 look like in our ‘new normal’. We are gathering the findings from these discussions and we will share them more widely so that ideas are shared, promoting more discussion encouraging heads to start to include their staff. We have a strong culture of relational trust and collaboration across our schools and nurseries – this will help us build for the future. I am also linking with Directors of other local authorities in Scotland, sharing ideas while we try to find innovative and creative ways to continue to deliver high quality learning and teaching to our children and young people.

IEN: What are you most proud of?

MM: I am always proud of the achievements of the children and young people and the commitment of our staff. It is no different through this challenging time. We have staff who are continuing to come to work in the hubs we have set up to provide childcare. They are integrating learning with fun activities for the children. The numbers are increasing as support is offered to more of our just coping families. We also have staff who have worked with health colleagues to design face shields which can be made from 3D printers and other staff who are making scrubs out of bed linen, including my mum (she’s not a member of staff – she has just volunteered to keep herself busy!). They are working in our schools doing this great work. Three of our secondary schools are being used as food distribution centres through a partnership with third sector organisations. School staff are working with them to link with families in the greatest need. I have just ordered £25,000 worth of sanitary products which will be included in packs to families.

We will all have to dig deep in the coming months drawing on our own resilience but I know that we will come back just as strong, hopefully with a better sense of community. I know our staff will rise to the challenge – it will not be easy but education is too important. We know that education is key to reducing the impact of poverty on people’s lives so we have no choice – our children and young people continue to deserve the very best we can give.

A view from the Netherlands: Melanie Ehren on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Melanie Ehren, Professor and Director of Research of LEARN! at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. This post is the third in a series that includes posts from Chile and from Japan.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you in Amsterdam? 

Melanie Ehren: The Netherlands has been in ‘intelligent lock down’ for over a month now. Starting the 12th March, cafés, restaurants, hairdressers and many shops closed. Initially, schools were to stay open following advice from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) that there was a minor risk of children spreading the disease. Widespread concern over teachers’ health and national outrage however resulted in a closure of all primary, secondary schools and vocational schools on the 14th. I was at the Dutch Ministry of Education on the 12th to give a talk about ‘trust and accountability’ when the announcement was made. It was a surreal experience to leave the building at the end of the day and say farewell to colleagues, knowing that it would be a while before we would meet in person again. With so much time in lock-down the world has become quite small. In a short amount of time, all national and international events, meetings and conferences were cancelled and the days are now filled with a continuous stream of online meetings interspersed with attempts to write papers, develop proposals for new research (much of it now concerned with the consequences of COVID-19), finish a book on ‘trust and accountability’ with Jacqueline Baxter, and write up case study work from South Africa on the same topic. At LEARN!, as a research institute, we’ve worked hard to build a knowledge bank with our relevant research work.  We have been publishing a series of articles on education and COVID-19 for parents and educators as well as a series of blogs on the relevant education news here and internationally.  That work is informed by the weekly meetings I have on Friday afternoon with a rapid response network of practitioners in the field. The crisis is bringing unprecedented change to teaching here and to how schools are organized, and we have doubled up our efforts to map these changes as well as help schools and policy-makers to make the best evidence-informed decisions.

The view from the author’s desk, picture courtesy of M. Ehren

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community? 

ME: Our university also closed on Thursday 12th March, one day before I was teaching my group of students on the MA ‘Education and Innovation’. The first week was really hectic with moving all teaching online, finding out about which platform to use for online lectures, allowing for small break out groups. Most of us are now using Zoom with break out rooms for small group work. My own teaching ended after that first week but we are now preparing to move all our courses, even those that are scheduled for the fall online, including assessments with online proctoring. It has been a major challenge and learning curve for many, and we are collaboratively learning about how to teach well in an online learning environment where large seminars just don’t work that well and students don’t show up for them. There is also a real challenge in connecting to students who go off radar, where some also experience anxiety, a lack of motivation or opportunity to study due to living in small, shared and noisy housing or losing a sense of purpose when family and friends have health concerns.

There is a real challenge in connecting to students who go off radar, where some also experience anxiety, a lack of motivation or opportunity to study due to living in small, shared and noisy housing or losing a sense of purpose when family and friends have health concerns.

The National Institute for Public Health have reported that there are over 40,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands, but with new hospitalization falling below 50 each day, they suggest that control measures appear to be working. Consequently, primary schools are now set to reopen again on May 11, though with lessons in smaller, alternating groups of students. Secondary schools will reopen on June 1.

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

ME: We have seen over the past weeks that schools have had to ramp up their offer of online teaching, rethinking their educational partnership with parents. Schools serving pupils from deprived backgrounds have had to think of ways in which to connect to these pupils, given that some did not even have a laptop at home and where many are still unable to understand how to access online teaching. Schools have worked with youth services and municipalities to reach these children and have come up with solutions that work best for the pupils involved. All these solutions have been highly context-specific as the reasons for why pupils are not involved vary and the best solutions capitalize on existing high-trust relations. After schools had a couple of weeks to adapt to the situation, more substantive questions have arisen, such as how to ensure the quality of teaching when schools remain closed for longer periods of time or when they only open in a phased manner and some type of blended online and classroom-based teaching is required.

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

ME: The problem is that there is just too much out there and it is hard to sift through all the resources, links and support. Many reports also highlight similar issues,  particularly on how the current situation increased inequality. I find the weekly conversations with practitioners most helpful to understand the questions that still need answering and to hear alternative views. One of the practitioners in my network, responsible for inclusive education for example told me that some children are actually doing quite well in the current situation of home-schooling; the safety and structure of the home environment enables them to learn much better then in school.

The problem is that there is just too much out there and it is hard to sift through all the resources, links and support.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

As my days are filled with so much COVID-19 related work these days I really want to read, watch and listen to something unrelated. I’ve downloaded archived podcasts like ‘Freakonomics’ and ‘Revisionist History’ and tend to listen these during long hikes in the weekend.