This week’s post provides a glimpse of what is happening in Uganda during the school closures. The post begins with short email interviews with two Associate Teachers from Educate! and then includes some examples of how Educate! has adapted their work in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The excerpts are drawn from an article published on Medium by Boris Bulayev, one of Educate!’s Co-founders.
In 2009, Educate! launched an experiential model for secondary education focusing on entrepreneurship. The key components of that model include a skills course in the last two years of secondary school, mentoring to help students start enterprises and community initiatives, and a professional development network for course leaders and mentors. Since that time, Educate! has scaled their approach in Uganda, expanded to Rwanda and Kenya and established partnerships with governments to support skills-based education nationally.
With the school closures in Uganda and most of Africa since March, As Boris Bulayev, put it in the article on Medium, “given our business model is rooted in in-person delivery, we were effectively out of business.” Although the Ugandan government is expected to make an announcement about reopening in September, in the meantime, the lockdown has been challenging for teachers as well as students and parents.
Alisio, an Associate Teacher with Educate! in Northern Uganda, and Akello, an Associate Teacher from the Lira District, shared their experiences in an email interview with IEN:
What’s happening with you and your family/friends?
Alisio: I am fine, doing farming work and family work. Friends are also busy on the farm doing agriculture, but a few in the town have been left with no source of revenue since small- scale businesses have been closed. Life is harder in urban centers than the village.
Akello: Life is a bit difficult due to the lock-down since we cannot move anywhere. But I’m pushing on well.
What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
Alisio: It’s been hard, lessons going on in the radio station from primary to secondary school. Five radio stations are conducting different lessons but I am uncertain of the education outcomes.
Akello: There is no serious learning taking place, some lessons are happening on Radio, TV but very few students pay attention to it and most parents are not also ensuring that the students get to listen and learn.
What do you/your community need help with?
Alisio: Relief food, agricultural inputs, repair of water sources. For education: financial sponsorship after lock down, both in primary and secondary especially as many parents have lost their source of livelihood.
Akello: It’s hard to determine the specifics, people want the lock down to end, and there are a lot of domestic violence related cases in families and this will affect the children. The help that can be given would be aimed at supporting orphans and designing projects that can respond to domestic violence cases.
What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
Alisio: History textbooks.
Akello: Reading the text books and making notes for students in preparation of the school opening.
What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
Alisio: Reading books – preparing notes for students, conducting behavioral research on the community.
Akello: Listening to/ watching the lessons on radio and TV respectively. Managing the students who are either watching or listening to the TV or Radio to be attentive. In my free time, I make briquettes.
What have you found most inspiring?
Alisio: I have shifted my mindset to have a positive attitude towards life. I have established other sources of income and now have a piggery project (7 pigs) and I hope to diversify my revenue stream.
Akello: Value everybody irrespective of status, put what you have learnt in practice.
While the schools have been closed and their direct relationships with students have largely had to stop, Educate! has also been trying to adapt. Drawing on resources like the Bain CEO plan for coronavirus and an article from Deloitte on resilient leadership, Bulayev described Educate!’s response as moving quickly into “defense” – ensuring they had the funds to survive for at least a year – and going on “offense” – essentially digitizing key aspects of their services and in-person delivery models. To carry out that strategy, Educate! created three different teams, each focused on a different product:
A version of their in-person, direct-to-school curriculum that can be delivered over a combination of radio, phone and SMS/text
A government partnership to continue student learning of core subjects by USSD [“Unstructured Supplementary Service Data] and radio
A light-web e-learning platform focused on youth, but open to others, on how to start and run hygienic motorbike delivery businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and stay safe while doing it, with potential to expand into informal retail and other informal sectors.
As Bulayev explains, although these strategies are designed to maintain their core services and impact over the short term, the crisis has also spawned the hope that over the long-term, the “digital will be blended with in-person to ideally achieve greater impact, scale, and sustainability.”
This week’s post features an e-mail interview that Aidi Bian conducted for IEN with Emma Hua. Hua and Bian are teachers at the HD school, a school with campuses in Shanghai, Ningbo, Beijing and Qingdao. These four schools have close to 3000 enrolled students in total. A fifth campus, in Nanjing, will open in 2021. The school describes itself as a “private experimental school” and each homeroom has one “national teacher” and one “international teacher.” HD school is one of a growing number of bilingual schools in China that have been gaining popularity. Bilingual and international schools in China have been particularly hard hit by the virus because of visa restrictions that have made it hard to find teachers from outside China.
Across China, schools were closed for some time, but most cities reopened schools in April, with schools in heavily affected areas like Beijing and Wuhan opening later. After a small outbreak in Beijing in late June, Beijing’s schools were closed throughout the spring semester. Nationwide, the annual “Gaokao” exam was postponed until July 7, one month later than a normal year. Current regulations in Shanghai require every school to track the temperatures and health status of their students every day and report to the district government.
IEN: What’s happening with you and your family/friends?
Emma Hua: I was originally from Wuhan, Hubei, where Covid19 firstly broke out. I went back to Wuhan for Spring Festival during the winter break and stayed at home since Wuhan was locked down in late January. Things were not too bad after we got used to the situation. Our community in general was in good order: volunteers helped with information collection, people ordered food and things online and got delivery in time. I worked at home from early February to middle April, and then successfully returned back to Shanghai, after I was tested negative for the coronavirus in Wuhan.
IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
EH: Our school started remote classes since February. For primary school, most of the courses were recorded as 10 or 15-minute videos and uploaded to an online platform where students can download and watch every day at their convenience. This is a deliberate design since it would be hard for young kids to stay focused for a long time in an online live class, and many parents have concerns with their children in front of screens for too long. All the materials and resources were uploaded online, and students took picture of their homework and sent them to teachers. We suggested a timetable for the students, which they could adjust, and many students gradually developed a more regular and feasible timetable for themselves with the help from parents. At the end of each day around 4 or 5 pm, each class would have a Q&A live session where teachers talked about common mistakes in the homework and got updates from students.
We suggested a timetable for the students, which they could adjust, and many students gradually developed a more regular and feasible timetable for themselves with the help from parents.
The online class lasted until April when the situation in Shanghai was basically in control. An interesting discovery was that after students got back to school, some students made better progress than expected as they studied more online at home than at school. We hypothesized this happened because some of them could better individualize the pace of their learning as they watched the videos at home.
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
EH: At first, many teachers were not familiar with teaching online or making slides and videos, so the school organized some trainings to help teachers with making powerpoints and video editing. Courses and materials were prepared within a grade, where every teacher was responsible for several sessions of the whole week, to separate the tasks among the grade group. Some traditional teachers especially needed help with technology support from younger teachers. There were also struggles and pains when the internet of some teachers or students was not stable. In particular, when kids were young, they did not know how to deal with the technical problems. Teachers were tired, too, because the working time could be extended when communication with parents wasn’t smooth.
Courses and materials were prepared within a grade, where every teacher was responsible for several sessions of the whole week, to separate the tasks among the grade group.
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
EH: We used DingTalk as the main online platform for our second grade. After students selected their school and class, they could do a lot of things such as check in, download lessons and materials, submit homework, get feedback from teachers, etc. A good thing about this platform is that it did evolve and developed many good features that fit educational uses. For example, at first, students could see one another’s homework without any restriction, which could lead to copying. Later the new version changed the rule so that only students who had submitted their homework could access others’ work. Also, the platform allowed teachers to rate and exhibite the best work to the whole class.
IEN: What have you found most inspiring?
EH: I am appreciative that our school principals were very helpful and supportive to teachers. We have both foreign and Chinese principals, and they were responsible for the international teacher and Chinese teacher team respectively. I belong to the Chinese team, and the principal would participate in curriculum design and preparation and gave us support and suggestions. The school also has small gifts for teachers on national holidays. Another inspiration in the latter stage of remote learning was that we were trying to add more elements and activities to the online routine, such as weekly guided reading, which gave students a more diverse and similar-to-school experience even when studying online.
This week’s post features a Lead the Change interview with Carol Campbell (@CarolCampbell4), Associate Professor of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Campbell is a member of the International Council of Education Advisors for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Government. She has held education, academic and government roles in Canada, the UK and the USA
Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?
Carol Campbell: Re-reading my 2014 Lead the Change Q & A, there are many points I still consider to be important and there is much that continues into my current work – the importance of educational system improvement for excellence and equity, the role of research and evidence-informed policy and practice, and the need to carefully attend to the processes of educational change balancing and valuing professional voice, agency, and judgement alongside the role of government directions, policies, and resources. In my 2014 comments, I said:
There remain perennial issues of how to truly achieve educational excellence and equity, and there will be new emerging issues associated with global and local changes.
Over the following six years, there have indeed been changes in the field of educational change. Below, I highlight some evolutions in my work since my 2014 Q &A.
First, evolutions in my work concerning the substance of educational change. In 2014, Ontario had just established a new vision for education – expanding the previous focus on raising achievement and closing gaps in performance to become a broader vision of excellence, equity, and well-being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). It is clear that alongside the importance of academic achievement, persisting systemic and structural inequities in access, opportunities, and outcomes from schooling, and increased prevalence of mental and emotional health issues for students and staff require priority attention (Campbell, 2020a). These issues need new, and additional, educational priorities, strategies, and resources. The genuine quest to improve equity and well-being for students requires also fundamentally rethinking the core of schooling and classroom practices too. For example, in our review of Ontario’s assessment system (see Campbell, Clinton et al., 2018), our recommendations for changes to support teachers’ approaches to student assessments for their classes and to transform large-scale standardized testing have implications also for: student voice, agency, equity and diversity; professional judgement and pedagogy; curriculum; integration of technology; and communication and engagement with parents or guardians.
Second, shifts in my work about the processes by which educational changes are developed, implemented, and evaluated. In 2014, I wrote:
The next phase of Ontario’s change strategies will require further evolution… in valuing, developing and integrating educators’ leadership, voices, capacities and actions.
That idea turned out to be very important. By 2014, the limits of top down reform were increasingly apparent internationally and also in Ontario. In the Ontario collective bargaining negotiations between teachers’ federations, school boards, and the government in the 2014 period, priority issues included initiative overload, workload, and work intensification. Agreement was reached to establish a joint working group involving all education and related organizations and government to co-develop new ways of working between labor and management. The resulting Policy and Program Memorandum (PPM) formally enshrined Collaborative Professionalism:
In Ontario, collaborative professionalism is defined as professionals – at all levels of the education system – working together, sharing knowledge, skills and experience to improve student achievement and well-being of both students and staff. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 1)
In my recent research both in Canada and internationally, there is growing and substantial evidence indicating the importance of valuing, investing in, developing, and trusting the education profession to lead educational change. This approach benefits not only the people who work in education, but also, importantly, the students they serve and wider system improvement (Campbell, Osmond-Johnson et al., 2017; Campbell, Zeichner et al., 2017; Campbell, Lieberman et al., 2018; Cordingley et al., 2019; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Lieberman et al., 2017).
Such educational change processes have, however, been challenged by austerity and adversity towards the education profession in many contexts, including Ontario during 2018-20. As we look around the world at governments who have attempted to mandate austerity and created adversity for the education profession, we find these change efforts generally do not succeed in bringing about long-term successful and sustainable change. When professional judgement, agency and empowerment have been developed; governments cannot unilaterally revert to top-down mandates. Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices. The need for professionalism and teacher leadership are especially important in the context of the global pandemic, as discussed further below. Therefore, my work has shifted in considering professionally-led educational change and collaborative professionalism in times of support for innovation and improvement, challenges of austerity and adversity, and now to prioritize professional judgement and professional capital in responding to the educational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices.”
LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?
CC: In terms of the substance of educational change, the field is becoming both broader and more diffuse in the range of policies and practice being researched; yet it is also becoming more precise and deeper in seeking to unpack the realities, implications, and possibilities of educational change. Increasingly, schools and educators are being asked to do more to meet the current and predicted future needs of students in a rapidly changing global and economic context, for example, by considering the competencies and skills to be incorporated into curricula, pedagogy, assessments and integration of technology. Teachers are also being asked to meet the increasing diversity of student populations and complexity of educational, mental, emotional, and physical needs present in classrooms. Already emerging in the light of COVID-19 is an expanding range of educational, health, and social needs for students and staff – from the logistics of physical distancing, hand washing, and hygiene in schools to how to address issues of trauma, anxiety and well-being for students and staff, and how to ensure adequate and equitable access to quality teaching and learning whether at home or in school (Campbell, 2020b).
Regarding the processes of educational change, the now long-standing tensions between bottom up and top down reform have not fully gone away but they have shifted somewhat in current evidence and debate. I have been a contributor to the ‘Flip The System’ movement – which prioritizes and values teacher-led educational change rather than top-down government directives – from the start (Elmers & Kneyber, 2015) and this is growing in momentum. For example, the findings from both TALIS and PISA emphasize the importance of professional ownership and leadership of educational change (Schleicher, 2019, 2020). There are examples of countries, including Scotland where I am a member of the International Council of Education Advisors, taking this shift to a professionally-led education system seriously. At the same time, there is still the tendency of many governments to mandate, micro-manage, and expand the scope and details of influence they seek over the day-to-day work of educators. In the emergency rapid response to COVID-19, it is understandable that governments made decisions quickly; however, this mode of governing needs to be re-balanced through partnership with the education profession whose leadership, knowledge and judgement are essential to protecting and educating all students (Education International, 2020).
LtC:What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?
CC: I am excited about the vibrancy and growth of the educational change community. As a field, educational change has become established over time while also evolving as a wider range of people becoming actively involved in investigating a diverse range of topics to grow the field further. My 2014 Q & A included discussion of research, policy and practice connections, I am excited to see the growth of ‘boundary spanners’ who work collaboratively within and across these communities and the increasing number of ‘pracademics’ – practitioners and policy-makers who are researching, writing, active on social media, and speaking out about educational change. Nevertheless, we have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field; including those of us who are already established scholars in the field introducing, encouraging, mentoring, sponsoring and collaborating with people who are currently under-represented in the field, for example Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students and practitioners. These connections and intersections are vital.
“We have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field.”
“Excites” is not the appropriate verb, but if we go to the Latin origin of “call forth”, the implications and impact of COVID-19 for educational change cannot be understated. At the height of the pandemic, over 91% of students globally were not in school and 63 million teachers were affected (UNESCO, 2020a, 2020b). The human tragedy and trauma of COVID-19 are horrendous and our first duty is to protect people and save lives. As countries start to shift from emergency response remote learning to what the provision of education for school children will look like and require whether at home, in school, or blended learning; there are significant questions about all aspects of schooling, teaching, and learning (Campbell, 2020b; Osmond-Johnson et al., 2020). The immediate COVID-19 response suspended many of the traditional conventions, structures, and routines of schooling – these emergency responses should not necessarily become the ‘new normal’ but neither should there be a full return to the previous status quo.
Long-standing and new inequities for students and schools have been brought into very sharp attention currently. As I write this, anti-racism, particularly anti-Black racism, protests are happening in every state of the USA and around the world. In my home country of Canada, systemic and structural racism, including anti-Black racism, are long-standing issues too that have not been fully addressed by our governments and school systems (Campbell, 2020a). It is also one year since the publication of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which concluded: “this violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples” (MMIWG, 2019, p. 1). This report further amplified the Calls to Action from the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 2015) investigating the historical trauma and legacy of abuse and violence perpetrated by the Residential School system for Indigenous people.
With the new challenges of a global pandemic combined with the unacceptably long-standing history of inequities, injustices, and systemic and structural racism which are being brought to the fore right now; part of the solution must be in and from the education system. If ever there was a time for a serious rethinking of the purposes, structures, content, processes and outcomes of schooling and the need for evidence-informed educational change, it is now. I hope the educational change community will be ‘called forth’ to rise to this incredible and urgent challenge to collaborate to generate ideas, provide evidence, and to offer concrete suggestions to create new possibilities for genuinely equitable and excellent education systems which also embody a duty of care, protection and well-being for all people (students and staff) involved.
LtC:What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?
CC: Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people. Of course, when you work to bring about change there are a host of educational, political, and practical factors involved. Educational change should also be evidence-informed, drawing on research and data, professional expertise and judgement, and engagement of affected communities.
“Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people.”
My advice is to always be very thoughtful about the human dimensions and implications of whatever change you are attempting. This includes:
working in partnership to identify needs and priorities for change;
engaging collaboratively in mutually respectful interactions to co-develop plans and details for change;
supporting and trusting the people who will be directly involved in the day-to-day development, adaptation and implementation of changes;
considering as many possible potential consequences (positive, negative, intended and unintended) before actually proceeding with change; and
having those continuing, trusting relationships to listen, learn, revise, or even abandon changes due to the emerging experiences and evidence.
The purpose of education is the betterment of humanity and that applies to both the substance and processes of educational change (Campbell, 2018).
LtC:What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?
CC: There are many potential and important future research directions. We have been living with many tensions in educational change – for example:
a rapidly changing world, yet the tendency for changes in curriculum and assessment systems to be slow, incremental, and often additive rather than transformative;
the commitment to be inclusive, culturally responsive, support diversity and advance equity, yet unacceptable continued evidence concerning systemic, structural and sustained inequities in and from schooling;
the rise of the importance of leadership and professional judgement throughout all levels of the education system, yet the complex and contested balance between the exercise of formal and informal power and authority;
the desire to learn how to appropriately integrate and manage technology and online media in teaching, learning and the work of the profession, yet ever increasing needs to mitigate the ethical, privacy, and safety risks involved;
the growing recognition of the importance of well-being for students and staff, yet changing pressures in students’ lives and work intensification for educators contributing to stress, anxiety, and related health issues, which are compounded by the profound impact of COVID-19.
It is even more urgent now to address these priorities specifically to understand the details of changes needed for each issue and holistically for interconnected, substantial changes in education systems.
We are witnessing educational change during a global pandemic combined with protests and social movements advocating for significant change to address long-standing discrimination and inequities. It is an extremely difficult time for many people. No one has all of the answers, so more than ever we need to come together as a global community to learn from each other. We know from history that from times of ruptures in society, social movements calling for action, and paradigm shifts in knowledge; change will evolve. I encourage the educational change community to be proactive in considering and supporting the possibilities for constructive, positive future changes.
Campbell, C.(2018). Developing teacher leadership and collaborative professionalism to flip the system: Reflections from Canada. In D.M.
Netolicky, J. Andres & C. Paterson. Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education. London, UK: Routledge.
Campbell, C., Zeichner, K., Osmond-Johnson, P. & Lieberman, A. with Hollar, J., Pisani, S. & Sohn, J. (2017). Empowered educators in Canada: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A.L., Hammerness, K., Low, E.L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M. & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching 1uality around the world. San Francisco, CA:Jossey Bass.
Elmers, J. & Kneyber, R. (Eds.) (2015). Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up. London, UK: Routledge.
Lieberman, A., Campbell, C. & Yashkina, A. (2017) Teacher learning and leadership: of, by and for teachers. London, UK: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) (2019). Reclaiming power and place: Executive summary of the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Canada: MMIWG.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2014). Achieving excellence: A renewed vision for education in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the truth and reconciliation Commission of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: TRC.
ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change SIG, Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung Kim, Graduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.
Trista Hollweck: Where I live in Ottawa, Canada, the final week of June marked the ‘official’ last days of the 2019-2020 school year. And what a strange year it has been. Since the start of 2020, my three elementary-aged children have been out of school due to a number of unusual events: a province-wide labour dispute, which resulted in a number of rotating strike action days, inclement weather (this year it seemed we had an unusually high number of snow days) and a global coronavirus pandemic that catapulted 91% of students across the world into a full-time ‘learning at home’ context. As a result of COVID-19, my husband and I have also found ourselves working at home and sharing space, screens and bandwidth with our children. To say that I have found the experience challenging is likely an understatement, but I also recognize my extreme privilege. There have been no deaths due to the coronavirus in my immediate circle. I also continue to have paid work, have access to technology and outdoor green space and share virtual schooling responsibilities with my partner. I know it could be a lot worse and it certainly has been for many and these disparities will continue into the future.
IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
TH: As I reflect on the end of this academic year, I am definitely relieved to have the weight of ‘learning at home’ off my shoulders for the summer. However, the recently released provincial reopening plan gives me pause. The plan requires school boards to prepare for three different scenarios: a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, a modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery. My children are part of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) who released their plan for a fall school schedule which breaks students into cohorts of 15, with one cohort attending school on Monday and Tuesday, all cohorts home Wednesday while schools are deep cleaned and a second cohort attending Thursday and Friday. Apparently, cohorts at home will be learning alongside those in school. There are many remaining questions about this plan for students, families and educators. How will students and staff be protected? Why the deep cleaning on Wednesday? How will students at home be learning simultaneously with those at school or will teachers be responsible for both in class and online workloads? As expected, this plan has not been well-received by parents and health care providers who have raised serious concerns about the safety and mental health of children if they remain isolated and take issue with some of the quality of distance learning. In response, there is an active movement advocating for a full return to school in the fall. Educators and school staff remain concerned about the health and safety protocols in any school reopening plan. Personally, I struggle with the possibility of continuing to balance work and home beyond the summer, especially since all our children’s summer camps were cancelled. In fact, I think 15-year-old Ontarian, Liv McNeil, brilliantly captures what I and so many are feeling at this moment in her short film “Numb” submitted for a pandemic assignment at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.
Usually at this time of the year I am feeling more chipper and optimistic, but instead I am left with a sense of loss. As a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, I am disappointed for the teacher candidates who were unable to complete their first practicum placements in schools and worried about what their second year might look like. As a mentor-coach and teacher leader, I am deeply worried for my colleagues and other teachers and school leaders who are very concerned about what the fall will look like, whether they will have the necessary time to plan and whether their health and safety will be considered. They are also exhausted from having to pivot rapidly from traditional bricks and mortar schooling to emergency remote learning, learn new instructional skills at breakneck speeds whilst simultaneously navigating often unclear and conflicting opinions and expectations from the Ministry, school district, union, parents, and education experts and public intellectuals. Many of them also remain very concerned about some of their students who they know have difficult home lives and feel quite helpless in being able to support and care for them. Finally, I feel sorry that so many students did not get to experience their proms and graduation events as they were intended. That said, a quick tour around my neighbourhood and across my social media feed shows just how creatively schools, families and communities have rallied to celebrate events, mark graduations and reimagine the traditional convocation ceremony. Lawns and windows are dotted with signs broadcasting that a “Graduate from the Class of 2020 lives here” and it is inspiring to see the sheer volume of innovative virtual proms, farewell tributes, and powerful commencement speeches. One of my friends who is a principal at a small school even told me that their individualized pandemic graduation approach was so well-received by students and families that it will likely become a school tradition. This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling- to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education. I do not yearn for a return to ‘normal’ schooling which has never served all children well or equitably. Rather, we have an important opportunity to learn from this unique pandemic experience and build our system back better.
This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling – to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
TH: In Ontario, it is safe to say that from a parental perspective the remote emergency teaching and learning has been a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst some educators have been incredible in their ability to offer innovative and impressive distance learning provisions, others seem to have struggled. Moving forward into a hybrid or blended learning situation, there will need to be opportunities for educators to learn from and support one another through mentoring and coaching, collaborate in professional networks, have clearer expectations for what is expected and access useful professional learning and development. During the pandemic, there have been incredible professional learning offerings. I have found curated resources on websites, webinars and online workshops focusing on trauma-informed approaches to teaching, culturally responsive approaches, restorative justice in education, repurposing our pedagogies, and building community in an online environment very useful. I think teachers and school leaders will need help navigating the sheer magnitude of available resources. Clear expectations and directives as to what effective distance learning and hybrid learning should look like would also help.
Systems will also need to find and fund supportive structures for the social and emotional wellbeing of students, teachers, school staff, school leaders and the wider school community. As an educational community, we will also need to take a moment to consider the purpose of schooling and reject practices that are not aligned with our aims. We must also listen to our students. Whereas some have thrived with self-directed learning, others as Liv McNeil captured in her video have found it a soul-destroying experience. In my own family, it has been hardest on my grade-five son, despite his teachers’ best efforts. With organization and self-direction already an issue, virtual schooling required constant supervision and prodding. He dreaded the twice weekly google meets (even though they were very well-structured), never remembered to submit assignments (even though they were complete and the platform was easy to use) and overall, missed learning by listening in class and the supportive feedback he received daily from his teachers. As he said to us, “I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework.” Incredibly, his teachers noticed his struggles and set up individual weekly chats to keep him on track and check in. Going forward, we will need to continue to be creative in our instructional approaches, embed new pandemic pedagogies, prioritize wellbeing and relationships, collaborate and learn with and from other systems, work with stakeholders, and be innovative in finding ways to get all students learning in a safe and consistent manner.
“I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework”
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
TH: In my work as the Project Director for the ARC education Project, I am fascinated by how our different member systems are managing the pandemic and education. I am also following what we can learn from other responses across the country and globe (see Educational International, the OECD, HundrEd, Unicef, People for Education, UNESCO). I believe Ontario can learn a lot from and with its global partners and that we need more ways to share our experiences and include key stakeholder voices at the decision-making table. Twitter has always been an excellent resource for me as an educator and it has been truly wonderful during the pandemic. I have an opportunity to learn from educators around the world and access content and practices I may not normally. I have been following People for Education, Carol Campbell and Caroline Alfonso among others to give me insight on what is happening in Ontario. I have also been actively engaged with my Facebook friends and gauging their responses to the numerous articles and opinion pieces that I am posting. This helps me get a sense of different perspectives and keeps me thinking critically. There are no easy solutions and no plan that will make everyone happy. Finally, as a mentor-coach and practitioner, I have appreciated Growth Coaching International’s #curiousconvos webinars (and even participated in my first one) as well as the resources made available by the Instructional Coaching Group and Cult of Pedagogy.
IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
TH: I have found many moments of inspiration during the pandemic. It is amazing to see how quickly schools and districts have found innovative ways to deliver food, social services support, technology and mobile hotspot devices to students as well as how they’ve delivered curriculum using online, radio, television and printed methods. So many teachers have been incredibly innovative in their pandemic pedagogies and their use of online platforms and social media apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram to connect with their students. Colleagues at my previous school district, the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), are also a constant source of inspiration. Since most elementary schools outside of the greater Montreal area in the province of Quebec reopened in May, I believe we can learn a lot from their experience and creativity (see the interviews with WQSB teacher Letha Henry and principal Sam Halpin). Ultimately, I tend to dwell in a place of hope and am inspired to believe that together we can use this terrible situation to catalyze transformational change and improve our public education system.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
This week’s post features an e-mail interview withDeborah 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.
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.
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!
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.