Headlines Around the World: Back to School Edition

Schools around the world get started at different times of year (this Wikipedia page offers a calendar with a partial list) but here in New York City students head back to school in September.  Therefore, we did a quick scan to see what’s being written about the start of school in different places.


Around the World

An article describing different back-to-school traditions from around the world (Business Insider)
9 back-to-school traditions from around the world

National Geographic recognized the return to school with a fascinating collage of photos of classrooms from around the world (National Geographic)
These Vintage Pictures Celebrate School Around the World

Another perspective about students going back to school around the world, describing UNICEF’s work to help children go to school in the face of adversity (Independent)
Top of the class: Children go back to school around the world

Similarly, this UNICEF report on conference in the Lake Chad Basin provides a reminder that millions of children around the world remain unable to go to school.
Education at risk for more than 3.5 million school-aged children in the Lake Chad Basin



Some basic tips on adjusting back to the daily school routine (CBC)
Back to school? Here are some tips to help you and your kids get back to sleeping easy

As they head back to school, families face an increasing burden of paying for everything from school supplies to extra-curricular activities (CBC)
Back-to-school bills and unexpected fees dividing classes, says youth advocate

 An article about how British Columbia is set to start off the new school year facing a teacher shortage (CBC)
B.C. short 250 teachers as new school year begins

Introducing a new sex-ed program in Quebec (CBC)
3 Quebec school boards say they’re ready to teach new sex-ed program



Even as they face a funding crisis, half a million children headed back to school in Palestine (Their World)
Day of celebration as Palestinian children go back to school amid funding crisis



Some new education reforms as students return to school in France (The New Republic)
The French Plan to Fix Inequality—by Ignoring It

France has banned mobile phones from schools this year (The Strait Times)
Back to school for French kids, without their phones



Many new teachers to address the teacher shortage (Greek City Times)
Schools in Greece start their first day of the new school year



A poll finds that as students in England head back to school, nearly half fear returning as a result of bullying (Telegraph)
Half of children worried about returning from school holidays because of bullying, poll finds

The BBC offers a short quiz to help parents and students get ready for heading back to school (BBC)
Back to school: How much do you know?



An article from the Brookings Institution about different issues to watch in the new school year (Brookings)
As kids go back to school, these are the education story lines experts are watching 

A back-to-school reminder of persistent school segregation across the country (Hechinger)
Take a closer look at those back-to-school photos: Is something missing?

An article about tech trends for the new school year (Ed Surge)
10 Inspired Tech Trends Every Teacher Should Know About

Students in a number of districts are returning to a new schedule as some schools are set to begin later in the day
Students catch extra winks with later start times for new school year (Burrell school district, Pennsylvania)
Students Head Back To School, Some With New Start Times (CBS, St. Paul, Minnesota)

However, many schools have started earlier in the year, including a few places starting before Labor Day for the first time
Back to school coming earlier for more Michigan students (Michigan)
Elected officials, students, families rings the bell to start off new school year (Philadelphia)

In Tacoma, WA students will not head back to school as teachers strike for better pay (USA Today)
Teachers are striking again; in Tacoma, they’re prepared to picket for weeks
Students in Los Angeles are already back in school, but teachers have authorized a similar strike (LA Times)
L.A. teachers authorize strike as tensions rise

Teachers and other school employees in Chicago face issues with receiving clearances (Chalkbeat)
Chicago schools start Tuesday, but 511 employees don’t have clearance yet

New York and Virginia have added teaching about mental health to their curriculum (Governing)
New School Year, New Mental Health Lessons: 2 States Now Require It

In New York City, the chancellor and mayor opened the year emphasizing equality (Wall Street Journal)
NYC Chancellor, Mayor Greet School Year, Emphasizing Equity

Also in New York City, as teachers head back to school, social media plays an increasingly important role (Chalkbeat)
New York City teachers head #backtoschool, both in real life and on Twitter


Some information and statistics about students starting and heading back to school in Iceland (Iceland Monitor)
Back to school today

Creating Coherence in Education Outside Schools in Singapore

As students in New York transition back to school from the summer break, IEN founder Thomas Hatch shares a post that explores how Singapore works systematically to connect learning outside of school with learning inside school.

This post initially appeared on thomashatch.org

Workshop Spaces

Workshop spaces at the National Gallery Singapore (Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch)

The constant emphasis on Singapore’s high performance on educational tests masks the extent to which Singapore continues to try to improve the educational system. Since the launch of the “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” campaign in 1997, Singapore has pursued a series of initiatives to shift the system to provide a more holistic education that supports the development of 21st Century skills and learning throughout life.  As the Education Minister (for Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung recently explained “more emphasis should be placed on teaching students critical soft skills — such as building up their resilience to be able to fail and pick themselves up — and also helping students discover what they are passionate about.”

Until my last trip to Singapore, however, I did not understand the extent to which the Singaporean government supports efforts to create new kinds of learning opportunities outside of schools in order to achieve these national education objectives. Although concerns about an overload of afterschool tutoring persist, the Singaporean government actively aligns and connects work in the “outside of school” sector with efforts to expand the focus of learning in schools.

“Co-curriculars” and camps

The Singaporean education system has a well-known academic focus that has spawned fears about the consequences of excessive testing and rote learning. Yet the “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” effort also supports a series of initiatives designed to create spaces and opportunities for more holistic approaches to students’ development.  In particular, Singapore has developed a set of co-curricular activities at the end of the school day designed to foster the development of a wide range of abilities. While in the US, extra-curricular activities are largely locally determined, the Ministry of Education in Singapore requires every secondary student to participate in at least one of these co-curricular activities, including clubs and societies, physical sports, uniformed groups (such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), and visual and performing arts groups.  To reinforce the importance of these activities, students are assessed on their performance in their co-curricular activities, based on a framework that emphasizes Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation, Service (LEAPS).  Students can even boost their chances for placement in post-secondary institutions and get “bonus points” for assessments of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ in their co-curriculars.

Reflecting the increasing attention to students’ holistic development, the Ministry of Education in Singapore also recently established a National Outdoor Adventure Education (NOAE) Master Plan. That plan mandates that starting in 2020 all secondary students will participate in a 5-day outdoor adventure camp.  Carried out in a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and Outward Bound Singapore, the program is designed to immerse students in “authentic and often challenging situations, where they need to work in teams and learn to take responsibility for decisions they make.”

S pore Discovery

S’pore Discovery Center (Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch)

Learning Journeys

On top of the co-curriculars and camps, the Ministry of Education (MOE) also created what they called “Learning Journeys” in 1998. Learning Journeys are “experiential and multi-disciplinary learning trips” that students make to learn about key national institutions and heritage sites. Learning Journeys complement curriculum in subjects like Social Studies, History and Geography, they were conceived specifically to support the goals of National Education and to help students understand and appreciate the role that these institutions and sites play in Singapore’s development.  The National Education initiative first established in 1997 seeks “to develop national cohesion, the instinct for survival and confidence in the future” by helping students develop an “awareness of the facts, circumstances, and opportunities” of Singapore’s history and current realities and to help students “develop a sense of emotional belonging and commitment.”

While schools can create their own Learning Journeys, the Ministry of Education has invited a host of government agencies and other institutions to serve as Learning Journey partners.  For example, the Energy Market Authority (responsible for maintaining Singapore’s energy supply) offers five different Learning Journeys including “Gas It Up” and “Clean and Green.” These Journeys take students behind the scenes to local energy facilities “to bring engineering concepts to life and interest students to seek out a career in the Power sector.”

There are now over 50 Learning Journey partners including the Maritime and Port Authority, the Singapore Stock Exchange, and the Public Utilities Board.  In the process, the government both encourages these organizations to use their resources to support schools and provides schools with the funds they need to pay for these out-of-school experiences.  In addition, every year the Singaporean government deposits about $200 in an Edusave account for each Singaporean child enrolled in schools funded by the Ministry of Education. Those funds can be used for a variety of educational resources and enrichment activities including Learning Journeys and educational trips overseas.

As a result of the government’s investments, a whole group of not-for-profit and for-profit organizations have gotten into the act by offering Learning Journeys and other enrichment activities. For example, the Singapore History Consultants have developed a wide range of Learning Journeys for different age groups that focus on topics like “Our Journey to Nationhood” and “The Dark Years: World War II & Singapore under Japanese Occupation.”  The offerings of the History Consultants are designed both to appeal to students but also to be relatively easy for teachers and schools to implement: while teachers and schools can design their own field trips, they can also purchase packages that include, as the History Consultants put it, “worksheets, air-conditioned transport, and tour facilitators/chaperones.”

The initiatives of organizations like the National Heritage Board (NHB) also illustrate the extent of support for education outside of school in Singapore.  The National Heritage Board is a statutory board established in 1993 as the “custodian of Singapore’s heritage”, which has also taken on responsibilities for the development and maintenance of many of Singapore’s museums and historical sites. (Statutory boards in Singapore are autonomous government agencies often designed to spur economic development in particular sectors).  The National Heritage Board has pursued those goals by using funds allocated by the government as well as funds raised through its own institutions to foster a wide range of educational activities that help to connect work in schools with work in the institutions overseen by the NHB.  For example, the NHB has helped to fund the development of education departments within museums and they have also offered grants and encouragement for smaller galleries and other organizations to create programs for students and the general public that help “tell the Singapore story” and accomplish their mission.

The NHB has also helped to fund the development of Heritage Trails, which local organizations create to highlight particular aspects of Singaporean history and culture. Among the many trails, a “Spirit of Saving Lives” Trail winds through the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital and introduces visitors to Singapore’s medical history. The Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations also offers a trail dedicated to “Walking in the footsteps of our foremothers” to highlight the contributions of women to the development of Singapore. The National Heritage Board’s efforts also include support for schools to adopt nearby heritage trails, to train their students to serve as trail guides, and to incorporate the trail’s educational opportunities directly into their school curriculum. More recently, the NHB has provided funding for schools to create their own Heritage Trails and Heritage Corners.  In turn, the efforts of the National Heritage Board have helped to encourage other governmental organizations and statutory boards, like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the National Parks Board, and neighborhood groups to get into the act and develop their own Trails.

Beyond Schools: Museums and Discovery Centers

In addition to the co-curriculars, camps, and Learning Journeys that come directly under the purview of the Ministry of Education, the Singaporean government also fuels the work of a wide range of other public and quasi-public entities that support students’ development and help to integrate educational initiatives across sectors. Government agencies, particularly the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth (MCCY), and groups like the National Arts Council provide funding for educational activities that serve the objectives of Singapore’s education system. For example, Singapore’s National Gallery also receives funding from the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth and corporate sponsors to support educational activities including field trips and workshops.  Many of those programs are offered to schools for free, but schools can get grants from the National Arts Council to pay the National Gallery to provide more customized “in-school” programs. In turn, the National Gallery staff develop their programs with an eye to both the national curriculum established by the Ministry of Education and the National Gallery’s own mission, vision, and special exhibitions.

The S’pore Discovery Center (SDC) provides another example of the way that cultural and national institutions support Singapore’s educational goals. Launched initially by the Ministry of Defence as a museum to showcase the history of Singapore Armed Forces, the SDC has now evolved into a multi-faceted “Discovery Center” and “edu-tainment” complex (complete with paintball, a “4D thrill ride”,  “Crisis Simulation theatre,” and a first-run movie theatre) that also plays a key role in supporting Singapore’s goals for National Education.

In addition to infusing National Education topics and goals across the school curriculum, the Ministry of Education has also fostered National Education through active participation and experiential learning in informal settings outside of school.  The S’pore Discovery Centre has been a natural partner in those efforts. With a mission To “Share the Singapore Story and inspire a desire to contribute to Singapore’s future,” the S’pore Discovery Centre offers a series of interactive exhibits that give students opportunities to explore Singapore’s governance and values and current affairs as well as Singapore’s future. Permanent exhibits like Dream Lab gives visitors a chance to learn about Singapore’s future plans while Harmony Circle features a game show with questions about Singaporean culture.  Those exhibitions also include a roster of changing activities linked to four commemorative events held on an annual basis to celebrate key events and values.  These include Total Defence Day, International Friendship Day, Racial Harmony Day, and National Day.  The Discovery Center also develops a variety of “outreach” programs, including travelling exhibitions that schools can choose to bring right into their classrooms as well as partnerships that engage students in becoming guides to the exhibitions.

Coherence and constraints inside and outside schools

Far beyond the kind of “1000 flowers bloom” philosophy often found in the US, what Pak Tee Ng and others have called the Singapore government’s “centralized-decentralization” approach seeds “ground-up” initiatives (what those in the US might call “grass-roots” efforts); but it also creates a context of support and pressure that reinforces alignment with national education and coherence across initiatives. In many cases, government agencies (or quasi-government agencies like Statutory Boards) provide some (but not all) of the funding for these activities, often in the form of seed investments or grants and awards linked to Singapore’s national goals.  As a result, as investors, the government has some influence over the work, but these organizations also have to develop their own sustainable business plans and their own sources of revenue.

The government ministries, statutory boards, and institutions like the National Gallery and the S’pore Discovery Center also have advisory or governing boards with members drawn specifically from different sectors (this is similar to the governance of entities like eduLab in Singapore that I wrote about earlier).  Having board members from different ministries, industries, academia, and other institutions helps support cross-sector communication and information sharing. For example, while the S’pore Discovery Centre operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Defence, it has a board that includes members from other government agencies including NEXUS (the Central National Education Office) and the Ministry of Education as well as from other organizations in the public and private sector.

Pressure and support also comes from Singapore’s embrace of many of the principles of Total Quality Management and performance management, particularly a focus on customer service. That embrace includes the use of a variety of customer surveys by organizations like the Discovery Centre and the National Gallery. At the same time, the Ministries of Education, Defence, and Community, Culture, and Youth, and the National Heritage Board also get feedback on the work of these organizations through nationwide surveys like the National Education Orientation Survey and the Heritage Awareness Index.  As a consequence, the S’pore Discovery Centre and the National Gallery have to figure out how to fulfill their goals in ways that satisfy the government agencies with which they are associated, and they have to respond to the demands of their customers and attract children, schools and families in a competitive marketplace with a wide range of public and private vendors.

Some constraints, however, come along with the close connections between the work inside and outside the education system. In particular, despite the interest in supporting more holistic development, this work outside of school still faces the reality that the most popular programs are usually those most closely tied to the academic topics covered in high-stakes tests.  This is a particular challenge for institutions like the Discovery Centre that focus on National Education, which is not a tested subject.

Nonetheless, the systemic support and pressure in Singapore means that an extensive, well-resourced, and aligned set of educational opportunities outside of schools surrounds an already focused and coherent public education system. Furthermore, that coherence is achieved even though many of those learning opportunities outside of school are not overseen directly by the Ministry of Education.  That coherence and coordination benefits from the mix of government funding and competition for those educational opportunities, the many organizational and personal connections across institutions and sectors, and the focus on customer service and the embrace of feedback throughout.

Botanic Gardens

Singapore Botanic Garden (Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch)

— Thomas Hatch

IEN on Vacation

We’re off until the beginning of September, but will be back with new posts, including one about Singapore and one from Shenila Koja-Moolji. In the meantime, be sure to check out our Twitter for the latest international education news.

LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Kirsi Pyhältö

Kirsi Pyhältö, Ph.D. is Full Professor of educational sciences in the Faculty of Educational Sciences, at the University of Oulu, Finland, and research director in the Centre for University Teaching and Learning, at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include school development, teachers’ professional agency, and student and teacher well-being. She has over 140 publications that include refereed articles, book chapters, and textbooks.

Over the years Pyhältö has led several externally funded research projects on the above mentioned topics in collaboration with her colleagues. Currently, Pyhältö is leading two active research groups: Learning and Development in School http://www.learninginschool.fi/ and From a Ph.D. Student to an Academic Expert https://researchondoctoraleducation.wordpress.com/. Dr. Pyhältö is founding co-coordinator of EARLI Special Interest Group 24: Researcher Education and Careers. For a full list of publications see: https://tuhat.helsinki.fi/portal/fi/persons/kirsipyhaltoe(677db559-b36b-44a4-90c6-d3e4bd87e94b)/publications.html


In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Pyhältö talks about her work on the role of teachers as active professional agents in school reforms. As she puts it:

Our recent research on teacher agency shows that a strong sense of professional agency contributes to school development in various ways. There is, for instance, emerging evidence that professional agency in the teacher community also promotes active and intentional teacher learning in the classroom. This implies that learning in and between the classroom and the professional community is one of the focal areas of teacher learning. Professional agency in the form of active and intentional teacher learning both in the classroom and in the professional community has shown to be associated with increased student engagement and academic success, reduced levels of early career in-service teachers’ attrition, teachers’ experimentation with innovative teaching methods and commitment in school development, and reduced levels of teacher stress. It can be argued that teachers’ sense of professional agency is a central determinant for the extent to which they are able to engage in continuous professional learning, contribute to school development, make a difference in their working environment, and continually develop sufficient strategies to cope with work-related stressors—to promote sustainable change in the society.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also interviewed Kim Fong Poon-McBrayer and Jennifer Groff.

Network Literacy: Learning the New Language of Educational Change

 This week, IEN shares a post from Dr. Alan J. Daly, Professor in the Department of Education Studies at University of California, San Diego. Daly’s post explores scholarship on networks and the possibility of using networks to enact educational change. Daly’s post builds on ideas expressed in “Leading educational change in socially networked systems,” his chapter in the book Future Directions of Educational Change. This post is part of a series of posts from the book, including Jon Saphier’s post on Building a Strong Adult Professional Culture in Schools, Allison Skerrett’s post on Promoting Justice for Transnational Students, and an earlier discussion with the book’s editors Helen Janc Malone and Santiago Rincón-Gallardo.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly                                    

                                                                            Martin Luther King


In 1963 while sitting inside of a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King penned a powerful letter that at its core reminds us we are part of an interdependent and interconnected system. The idea that we all exist in an inescapable network of mutuality animates my recent contribution to the book, Future Directions for Educational Change (2018) suggesting the need to become more literate in the language of networks.

There is no shortage of ideas about how to bring about improvement in education. Many change agents draw on a variety of formal structures, processes, and accountability levers to improve performance.  However, while these more technical approaches at improving outcomes are important and have been well documented, what has been generally missing in the change equation, or at least neglected, are relational linkages between individuals through which change moves.

As we know, learning and leading is increasingly interactive, social, and at its best creates change in the learners, leaders, and the systems in which they operate.  We live in a social world and as such are deeply affected by others, sometimes in ways in which we are unaware.  In fact, a growing body of research suggests that even our happiness, health, weight, and wealth are influenced by the social networks in which we reside. On an educational side, networks are also related to student achievement outcomes and teacher access to knowledge. The ability to work well with others, tap into networks, and draw on collective intelligence is of critical importance for a variety of outcomes as we move more into a knowledge-network economy.

A knowledge-network society will be driven by collaboration, emotional intelligence, and the ability to effectively and efficiently connect to a variety of content and support networks. We live in an increasingly socially connected world in which people find and share information through and with others on a large variety of topics.  Likely at some point during your day you have connected to a social network to share or find information—maybe you sought advice from colleagues, checked in on friends on Facebook or tweeted out something of interest. In a real sense we live in a networked society and success in this space will require a host of new skills and proficiency in network literacy, which are rarely explicitly considered or taught.

Efforts at improving public education systems in support of better achievement for all students are commonplace across the globe with most countries experiencing policies targeted at improving their nation’s schools.  Many of these change efforts are enacted through a wide range of formal structures and processes with the direct intention of building the individual capacity or “human capital” of teachers to improve performance.  However, while these more formal, technical, and often top down approaches at improving education are important, and have been well documented, what has been less thoroughly explored in the change equation are the relational ties between people that may support or constrain the flow of expertise, knowledge, and practices related to improvement efforts.  The idea underlying this more social approach to change is grounded in the idea of networks.

Networks exist in almost all aspects of life from subways, to communication systems, to biological and brain-based networks.  As detailed in Social Network Theory And Educational Change, network science provides perspective and tools to enable us to understand and describe how different elements interact creating a larger patterned structure that is often hidden in plain sight. These networks can show up in face-to-face interactions within communities, districts, and schools. For instance, the figures below are from some work we have underway in the US and Europe. In this example I show two schools that experience different academic outcomes.  School 1 was able to diffuse expertise within the school by an intentional focus on developing learning communities (each node is a teacher colored by grade level) and use of coaches (green nodes). In contrast, School 2, which had significantly lower performance, relied almost completely on one coach (green node) for expertise rather than accessing other educators. In addition, as is evidenced by nodes on the upper left side of School 2’s network, a number of teachers were disconnected from others.  These sociograms allow us to have deeper insights into the social infrastructure.

School 1                                                                      School 2


These networks also exist in virtual space. Another example comes from the project #COMMONCORE in which we examined close to 200,000 people and nearly a million tweets related to the Common Core State Standards in the US(see figure below).  This work enabled us to identify groups and influential individuals in the larger conversation around the common core.




Social networks whether they be on-ground or on-line provide insights into how the social processes involved in change are stretched across individuals and levels within a system.  This perspective entails a shift from a primary focus on the individual and the attributes of that individual to understanding the more dynamic supports and constraints of the larger social network in which an individual operates.


Network scholarship in education focuses on how the constellation of relationships in networks and between organizations facilitate and constrain the flow of “relational resources” (attitudes, beliefs, information etc.) as well as provides insight into how individuals and groups gain access to, are influenced by, and leverage these resources.  The network perspective does not supplant the importance of individual attributes, but rather offers a complementary optic and set of methods for better understanding the dynamic influence of social processes involved in change.  Therefore, rather than trying solely to understand the process of change based on the attributes of an individual (gender, years of experience, training, education, beliefs, etc.), a network approach foregrounds the influence and outcome of an individual or organization’s ‘position’ vis–à-vis social ties with others, as well as the overall social structure of a network.  In many cases, results suggest that the underlying social structure determines the type, access, and flow of resources to actors in the network leading some to suggest that the old adage “It is not what you know, but who you know”, is more accurately, “Who you know defines what you know”.

Network scholarship has been taking off across the globe.  In addition to the work we have completed here in the US, we have collaborated with many international colleagues including: the Netherlands (see school level research by Nienke Moolenaar); Belgium (see work on mentorship in schools by Charlotte Struyve); Norway (see teacher level efforts by Esther Canrinus); Spain (see pre-service scholarship by Jordi Gibson and Twitter by Miguel Del Fresno); the UK (see multiple school comparison efforts by Chris Brown and data use by Chris Downey); Canada (see scholarship by Joelle Rodway); and Taiwan (see leadership and school research by Yi-Hwa Liou).  This is not an exhaustive list, but gives you a flavor of the breadth of the international work.  We are also expanding out to the Southern Hemisphere that comes from my recent Fulbright Global Scholarship in New Zealand and South Africa.

Understanding how to connect to and leverage this larger social infrastructure is critical in accessing information, judging quality, supporting decision-making, and connecting with others for discovery and community.  We also commit to sharing our work out to practitioner audiences to support reflection and consideration of the role of networks.  Last summer, The Trust Gap, was published by the American Federation of Teacher in their American Educator magazine on our work around trust and networks that many systems used to catalyze conversations around networks.  Despite the fact that we live in an inescapable network of mutuality we do not systematically and explicitly teach social network literacy skills. Learning this important language is often left to chance or assumed to be self-evident. However, given the ubiquity and importance of networks in our personal and professional lives we must become more intentional and mindful about increasing our network literacy particularly in its relationship to educational change.


— Alan Daly



Building a Strong Adult Professional Culture in Schools: Adult Culture and Effective Schools

This week’s post comes from Jon Saphier, President of Research for Better Teaching.  Like last week’s post from Allison Skerritt, this piece grows out of Jon’s chapter “Strong Adult Professional Culture: The Indispensable Ingredient for Sustainable School Improvement” from  from the book Future Directions of Educational Change.

“Four years of public school teaching…and ten years as a principal… convinces me that the nature of the relationships among adults who inhabit a school has more to do with a school’s quality and character, with the professionalism of its teachers than any other factor.”

Roland Barth, 1985

Building on Roland Barth’s comment 30 years ago, many have argued that. adult culture is the main shaper of the school’s capacity as an organization to learn and improve its results for students.

Literature on adult culture in schools considers many dimensions of “the way we do things around here,” including stories and story-tellers, heroes and villains of the past, traditions and celebrations that people look forward to (or dread,) and the degree to which there is celebration, community, and opportunities for human contact with one another.  But in my work, some elements have been more important than others. Appreciation and recognition for example, are certainly important in any organization’s “culture;” but are not as central as the regular behavioral norm of “examining student work together non-defensively and deciding how to re-teach what some students didn’t get the first time we taught it.

Educational studies of adult culture started rolling out more frequently in the 90s.  So for at least 25 years we had major authors advocating for the importance of Adult Professional Culture, as well as produced for educators by practitioners. The argument is straight-forward: Strong Adult Professional Culture (APC) leads to more teaching expertise in more classrooms for more children more of the time, because it creates the kind of deep collaboration and use of data that supports constant learning about teaching practice. From this perspective, high-expertise teaching leads to better learning for students.

More recent research studies are also looking at the on the connection between strong cultures and student achievement. These studies make the case that the range and sophistication of teaching expertise is far larger and more complex than the voting public and policy-makers realized. This complexity explains why deeply collaborative cultures are necessary for the kind of problem-solving in which true professionals engage.  They can work together to analyze and address learning issues rather than apply some “best practice.”

Our approach at Research for Better Teaching suggests that there will be no sustainable improvement in student results and no reduction of the achievement gap until leaders and teachers succeed in establishing a series of norms of behavior between adults:


  1. Frequent teaching in the presence of other adults (Public Teaching)
  2. Safety to take risks, be vulnerable in front of colleagues
  3. Constant learning about High-Expertise Teaching


  1. Deep collaboration and deliberate design for interdependent work and joint responsibility for student results
  2. Non-defensive self-examination of teaching practice in relation to student results
  3. Constant use of data to re-focus teaching


  1. Urgency and press to reach all students and do better for our disadvantaged students
  2. Commitment to implement “Smart is something you can get” in classroom practice, class structures, and school policies and procedures


  1. Human environment of caring, appreciation and recognition, getting to know one another, traditions we look forward to


  1. Demanding and high standards for development towards high expertise teaching for all teachers
  2. Honest, open communication and ability to have difficult conversations
  3. Environment of Reflection with Habits of Mindful Inquiry


Many other elements of school practice count, and count heavily (good curriculum; community support; resources; school structures like induction and teacher leadership and common planning time; and others.) But no matter how well these important areas are structured, they will not accomplish on their own what we need for students unless we develop these kinds of Strong Adult Professional Cultures. Only leaders can make this so. And it has to start from the top.

Jon Saphier

Promoting Justice for Transnational Students

This week, IEN shares a post from Dr. Allison Skerrett, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Austin.  This week’s post builds on work discussed in her chapter “Curricular and Pedagogical Perspectives on Transnational Students Within Socially Just Approaches to Literacy Education” from the book Future Directions of Educational Change.

Monica was a 17-year old young woman when I first met her in 2013 on the internationally diverse Caribbean island of Dutch Sint Maarten where she was born. Monica’s father lived and worked across Sint Maarten and the US to maximize the family’s economic opportunities. At age nine, Monica moved to Florida to live with her father when he secured long-term employment there. She attended schools in Florida until the middle of 11th grade at which point Monica’s father took a new job in Sint Maarten and she was abruptly re-instated in Sint Maarten schools. Arriving in the middle of the school year, Monica’s family had little school choice; thus Monica was enrolled in a vocational school in which she experienced a lack of academic challenge. Increasingly frustrated and bored in an educational system that failed to acknowledge her previous schooling experiences, Monica eventually dropped out of school. It was at age 20 that Monica decided to grasp back her educational future by sitting and passing the US GED exam. She then moved to Holland to attend university.

A recent UN policy brief (2016) reported that as of 2013 28.2 million migrants worldwide are between the ages of 15-24. Similarly UNICEF (2017) stated that as of 2015 31 million children worldwide are migrants. The term migrant students often raises images of students who are highly mobile due to their families following work opportunities. However the term transnational students is frequently used in educational scholarship to signal the deep familial, cultural, political, and other connections these students and their families build across their original and new homelands.

Ironically the school-age population of transnational students is booming in a time when some world nations are increasingly uncertain about, or even explicitly hostile to, flows of diverse peoples into and across their borders. This paradox emphasizes that the education of transnational students is a matter of justice. As I explained in my chapter in Future Directions of Educational Change, by justice I mean provision of equitable opportunities for all students to experience their full potential in academic and social life. In my earlier book, Teaching transnational youth and a related overview in Education Week, I detailed a transnationally-inclusive approach to literacy education that promotes the academic development of transnational and all other students.

In this piece, I argue it is critical for all educational stakeholders to protect and advance gains transnational students accrue from their teachers’ implementation of transnationally-inclusive approaches to literacy education. Below I lay out some specific and powerful action steps through which teachers, educational leaders, and policymakers can do so.

  • Learn about transnational students from professional articles and from surveying your own student populations.
  • Reach out to families to let them know you are aware of their transnational lifestyles and wish to support their children academically.
  • Ask families and students whether they can assist you with connecting to schools and educators in other countries they also call home. These transnational professional relationships will allow exchange of knowledge about students and help you better support students’ academic progress.
  • Hold conversations with other teacher colleagues, school leaders, and local and state policymakers to raise awareness of transnational students and their educational circumstances. In these conversations, share the transnationally-inclusive curriculum and instructional practices you have been using and student learning outcomes. Discuss broader-scale curriculum and other policy changes that would support rather than ostracize transnational students and families.
  • Build global educational networks for sharing about educational policies, curriculum, and instructional practices in different countries. This can be a grass-roots movement started by teachers in any school, region, or nation. A powerful example lies in the field of nursing where, through allnurses.com, nurses across the globe engage with questions, knowledge, and practices related to their shared profession.

It is possible and urgent to secure greater justice for the millions of transnational students like Monica who populate schools today.