What has remote learning looked like in Finland? School closures, equity, stress, and well-being

This week Raisa Ahtiainen reports on the work of a research partnership between the Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki and the Research Group for Education, Assessment, and Learning and the Research Group on Children’s and Adolescents’ Health Promotion both at Tampere University. (See Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland.) Since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote learning in March 2020, the members of this partnership have been documenting how teaching has been organized during the school closures in order to provide an overview of the situation for the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Further, the study aims to support the development of the practices of education organizers and schools. This post draws from data collected in May 2020, just after Finnish schools reopened following the initial lockdown and in the fall of 2020, about 6 months later. Data included surveys with five different groups – students, guardians,  teachers, principals and school welfare group members -that yielded almost 100 000 respondents in total. A third wave of data collection is being carried out in April 2021. For news stories on the school closures and reopenings see “Kids head back to school across Finland” (May 2020),“Three-week shutdown for Finland in March” (February 2021), and “Corona group recommends remote learning continue until Easter” (March 2021).

This spring, many students in Finnish comprehensive schools have returned to their classrooms after a 3-week remote learning period that started on March 8, 2021. In contrast to March, 2020 when all schools were forced switch to remote learning with just a few days’ notice, in 2021, remote learning applied only to the students in the upper grades of comprehensive schools (7th to 9th grade). However, in some regions the remote learning period has been extended until the beginning of April due to the high number of local COVID-19 cases.

After the nationwide remote learning period ended in May 2020, the regulations governing remote learning were changed at national level in response to the variation in the spread of the coronavirus around the country. Consequently, since August 2020, the local education organizers (i.e. municipalities) have been given responsibility to make their own decisions on remote learning (e.g. for 1-2 weeks) for a school or certain group of students and teachers if there have been verified Covid-19 cases or exposures. That has made the course of actions concerning needs for temporary local remote learning periods more flexible, and it is in line with the decentralized approach to governance in the Finnish context.

Based on experiences gained during the 8-week remote learning of spring 2020, the government has also made temporary changes in the Basic Education Act (i.e. the legislation guiding work in comprehensive schools) to make sure the most vulnerable student groups can still have access to school. That means schools are required to stay open for students in pre-school (the year before children enter government schools, around age 6), for students in grades 1-3, and for students receiving special support (students with SEN). These students have the right to go to school, with their teaching organized in school buildings. It has been seen as important to secure and support learning and schooling of these students during the exceptional times.

What did remote learning look like in Spring 2020?

In the spring 2020, remote learning divided students’ perceptions of learning. Some students reported that remote learning suited them well and they felt that learning at home had been more effective than at school. However, nearly half of 7th to 9th grade students and a third of students in 4th – 6th reported that they had learned less than usual during remote learning. The researchers concluded that despite the fast transition period, technically, remote learning went surprisingly well. Consequently, they noted that, if schools turn to remote learning again, the focus should be on the content of learning and on supporting students individually.

However, the results also confirmed the researchers’ suspicions that during the exceptional period in spring 2020 equality in education was not achieved as well as under normal circumstances. That is, the researchers found large differences in the distance learning practices of schools. For example, about a quarter of teachers and principals said that the school had jointly decided on loosening assessment requirements or on not lowering student grades, but more than half of the schools did not have such guidelines in place. In one in five schools, assessment practices were not agreed upon at all. In most schools, the aim of remote learning was to arrange teaching according to the school timetable/schedule as much as possible, meaning that the teacher was to be regularly available to students. However, as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses. There were also big differences between schools with respect to how schools had been able to provide their students with the digital equipment they needed for studying. About a third of parents said family members had taken turns using the equipment. In addition, when the usual school timetable/schedule was not followed or their normal teacher was not available to teach, the students’ stress symptoms increased. The differences in operating practices between comprehensive schools with only the upper grades (7-9) were remarkably large. However, schools with lower grades (4-6) typically implemented remote learning practices that were less structured and students received homework packages instead of interactive remote learning instruction.

… as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses.

Based on these findings, the researchers argued that well-implemented remote learning has a clear structure, it is interactive and students are required to be self-directed in a way that suits their level of development. Especially, for younger students, they found that more guidance was needed. Guardians of the younger students (1st to 3rd) grade were frustrated with remote learning tasks that their children received that did not include teacher guidance. 

What did remote learning look like in Fall 2020?

In the autumn 2020, the researchers examined a wide range of safety guidelines that schools were advised to follow. There were large school-specific variations in safety practices reported by teachers that were not explained by regional differences in the coronavirus situation. Guardians’ perceptions of the daily operations of the schools greatly differed from the situation described by the teachers, but confidence in the operation of the schools was strong. School safety practices were related to whether the school had experienced corona exposures during the autumn, although the epidemiological situation in the area explained the exposures more strongly. According to the study results, schools should continue to adhere to safety practices.

Further, the study paid specific attention to the number of and reasons for student absences and their effects on learning. According to the guardians, there were differences in the remote education received by students in the autumn depending on the reason for the absence from school. Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

In order to achieve equal learning opportunities for students, the researchers proposed that it would be good for schools to consider whether in the future it would be possible to implement distance learning more uniformly for students absent for various reasons.  Overall, students with more school absences felt that they received slightly less support to mitigate the effects of the spring exceptional situation and to keep up with their studies. Personal contact from the teacher, even remotely, was related to the student’s experience of receiving support. The researchers stress that schools should therefore continue to pay attention to reaching students personally who are absent for various reasons in when exceptional circumstances continue. Even a short personal interaction with a student during the school day can act as a means of engagement. The researchers pointed out, however, that in general, a large proportion of both primary and lower secondary school students felt that they had received study help from their teacher when they needed it.

School closures, remote learning, and well-being

Furthermore, school practices are important for the well-being of students and families, especially in distance learning situations. According to the study, the stress associated with a child’s schooling was high among guardians during the exceptional circumstances in spring 2020. Although the situation was not yet normal in the autumn, when the schools were generally open, the stress experienced by the parents was clearly less than in the spring.

It may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future

Stress experienced by teachers and principals due to their work was generally at the same level in the spring and in the autumn in 2020. In contrast, recovery from work-related stress was easier in the autumn than in the spring. The majority of teachers and principals felt that the school was well or very well prepared to implement remote learning if the school would be closed in the future. There were no regional differences in the responses based on the epidemiological situation in the region. However, school-specific variation was found, and part of it was associated with teachers’ experiences of collective efficacy. The researchers found that collective efficacy experiences are built on shared experiences of success and management. Thus, it may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future. Schools should therefore strive to maintain and strengthen cooperation between teachers and the team spirit of the school, as it can help the school and its staff to cope with this difficult time. 

Note: The research on ‘Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland’ is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education

                                                            — Raisa Ahtiainen

Exploring Self-Directed Professional Learning Online and Off: A conversation with Jeffrey P. Carpenter

This week, IEN shares an interview with Jeffrey P. Carpenter (@jeffpcarpenter), the latest in the Lead the Change (LtC) Series for the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Carpenter is an Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Teaching Fellows Program at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, and he has been a teacher in high schools and middle schools in Japan, Honduras, and the United States. A pdf of the fully formatted interview will be available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change (Ltc): The 2021 AERA theme is Accepting Educational Responsibility and invites those of us who teach in schools of education to accept greater responsibility for the inadequate preparation of educators for work in racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse P–12 schools and postsecondary institutions. For example, when educators discipline African American students at disproportionately higher rates, misdiagnose them for special education, identify too few of them for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, deliver to them a culturally irrelevant curriculum, teach them in culturally disdaining ways, and stereotype their families as careless and hopeless, the schools of education that produced these professionals are just as responsible as the professionals themselves. Furthermore, if scholars who study and document these trends do too little to make our findings actionable, then we, too, are contributors to the cyclical reproduction of these educational inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Jeffrey Carpenter (JC): Across all education sectors, it is clear that we need to do more to contribute to change in the interest of systematically underserved and oppressed students and communities. I primarily study self-directed teacher professional learning, and this past summer, many educators undertook various forms of self-directed learning around matters associated with racial justice and anti-racism. I’m engaged in several current research projects in which we study the opportunities and challenges of self-directed educator learning in this context. For example, I’m working with colleagues on a study of Instagram content from educators who identify themselves as anti-bias, anti-racist (ABAR) educators. I’m also interested in how educators can sustain self-directed learning that may make them quite uncomfortable or lead them into potentially complicated and contentious discussions. Although autonomy can be beneficial, it can also potentially be exercised to avoid or flee difficult but potentially necessary and powerful conversations. So, one step I am taking in my work, to support these aims, is to ask more research questions that pertain directly to self-directed educator learning that challenges the status quo and helps make our teaching and schools more justice-oriented.

Also, I agree that researchers, myself included, often do too little to make our findings actionable to educators. The implications of our research cannot always just be, “Well, it looks like we need to do more research.” To try to get my work in front of more educators’ eyes, I have tried to translate some of my research into practitioner-oriented pieces for outlets like Educational Leadership (see Carpenter, 2016) and Kappan magazine, and to present at practitioner-oriented conferences like ISTE and ASCD. I also share summaries of all of my research articles via my Twitter (@jeffpcarpenter). Recently, I’ve tried doing a couple livestreams where I talk about my research. I know, however, that this is an area where I can improve and need to do more. I’m also aware of the risks of going too far or too fast with implications and actionable findings; sometimes it does require time for knowledge to build and accumulate

LtC: Given your focus on various form of technology and its role in teacher professional development, collaboration and student learning, what would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?   

JC: Research on teacher learning has paid a lot of attention to formal interventions or programs targeted at developing teacher knowledge and/or skills in particular areas. Research on online teacher learning has also tended to explore formal online programs. We’ve learned a good deal from such research, but we also know teachers do not just learn and engage in professional activities in such formal contexts. I don’t think you can fully understand educational change without paying some attention to teachers’ organic, informal, self-directed, grassroots professional learning. My work has therefore been more focused on the ways educators use different technologies outside of official programs or courses for professional learning and networking. I’ll highlight four studies my co-authors and I published recently that should be of interest to the field. The first two studies deal specifically with change in relation to professional learning that includes digital elements.

First, I’ve co-authored several papers with Torrey Trust and Dan Krutka on professional learning networks (PLNs), and we recently published an article in the Journal of Educational Change on how educators’ PLNs change over time (Carpenter, Krutka, & Trust, 2021). In 2018, we followed up with respondents to a 2014 survey on PLNs and asked them how their PLNs had changed since that earlier survey response. The respondents described a variety of changes in their PLNs and attributed those changes to a multitude of factors; we analyzed these changes using a social ecological model. Participants were most likely to reference changes in the people in their PLNs, and shifts in jobs or job responsibilities were the most common factor influencing changes in PLNs.  

The second study that specifically addressed change is part of a series of studies I’ve conducted with Bret Staudt Willet on teaching-related subreddits (Staudt Willet & Carpenter, 2021). In this most recent study, we analyzed more than a million contributions from close to 100,000 users to two subreddits over a three‐and‐a‐half year timespan. The two subreddits were quite different in nature and culture, which demonstrates how online spaces for educators are not monolithic, even within the same platform. Subreddits are also different from many other social media in that users primarily remain anonymous, which creates both opportunities and challenges with educator professional activities.

“Online spaces for educators are not monolithic, even within the same platform”

Two other studies that should be of interest relate to recent trends in educators’ uses of technology. First, I’m working with Matthew Koehler, Catharyn Shelton, and Spencer Greenhalgh on research into the online educational marketplace TeachersPayTeachers.com (TPT), which is widely used by educators but to date has barely been researched (Koehler et al., 2020). It appears that many teachers are making use of resources and curriculum from sites like TPT, and these sites operate outside of the regulation and approval processes associated with more traditional sources of curriculum. There’s little understanding of how sites like TPT may be contributing to education change. We recently published the results of the first stage of this project, which focused on the money side of the platform. We found that despite some of the democratizing rhetoric around the site, TPT sales were dominated by a small group of elite sellers who may in many regards be akin to small publishing houses. 

Finally, Instagram has become the site of a fair amount of professional activity among educators, and my Elon colleagues and I conducted the first survey of educators on their Instagram use (Carpenter et al. 2020). Instagram’s role in education will be interesting to follow, as the rise of social media influencers has been important in other industries and we are beginning to see more education influencers on Instagram and more recently Tik Tok. What kinds of change influencers may bring to education will be important to explore.

Across these four studies, it is apparent that by using social media and other online platforms, educators can adjust their professional learning activities according to their evolving interests and choose different spaces that meet their various needs. However, the same openness that may attract educators to these media mean that issues of quality, expertise, and commercial motivations inevitably complicate the use of social media platforms 

“By using social media and other online platforms, educators can adjust their professional learning activities according to their evolving interests.”

LtC: In some of your recent work, you highlight the possibilities and challenges of self-directed learning in social media spaces. Such work has implications in terms of how we can best promote meaningful change in learning delivery and orientations across educational institutions and the field writ large. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?    

JC: Self-directed educator professional learning is commonplace, but school districts and re-certification regimes often accept only certain types of activities for continuing education credit or licensure requirements. This can mean school districts potentially miss out on some of the benefits of the collective knowledge and resources educators develop through self-directed learning. It can also mean that there are missed opportunities to scaffold and improve the quality and impact of self-directed professional learning. Policy makers could consider how to accommodate and support the admittedly messy variety of participant-driven, voluntary professional activities that exists. Yes, formal, school-mandated PD can positively impact teacher and student learning, and it will remain part of the professional learning landscape. But it is apparent that educators do not learn and network purely through such PD formats. Meaningful learning and professional connections can occur via social media. Why not try to leverage that? Many, many educators do not want to learn only about the topics their state, district, or school decide to prioritize. Different educators begin professional learning experiences from different starting points and seek to implement what they learn in unique contexts.

School administrators should seek to understand and support the full scope of professional activities and learning in which educators engage. Self-directed learning activities may sometimes be less explicitly linked to institutional goals or strategic plans, but some such activities can likely be harnessed to the benefit of schools or districts. Educational institutions and policy makers have often attempted to curtail teachers’ social media use, especially their interactions with students, and such policies often fail to consider the ways educators use social media for professional learning. Educators can use platforms like Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter, to connect with others and engage in various kinds of professional exchanges. School leaders, policymakers, and teacher educators alike should consider ways in which wise professional uses of social media could be scaffolded and encouraged, while pitfalls and problems could be minimized or avoided. For example, some school districts have developed systems by which educators can earn continuing education units (CEUs) through submitting documentation for and reflective writing about some of their self-directed professional activities on Twitter (Carpenter et al., 2016).

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

JC: That so many teachers appear to be willing to engage (largely voluntarily) in self-directed professional learning via social media suggests to me that there are a lot of teachers who are hungry for educational change. However, social media stereotypically is not associated with “deep and often difficult transformation.” Now, some of that stereotyping of social media is a little unfair, as there are deep and difficult discussions that happen among social-media-using educators. But discussions don’t inevitably lead to transformation, or even humbler forms of change. It is possible that some or even much of the education discussion on social media amounts to idle chatter that does little to contribute to changes in teaching practices and student learning. There is important work to be done regarding how to help educators derive the most possible benefit from the wider networks they can establish and conversations they can engage in thanks, in part, to social media. For social media to have more positive impacts in education than negative ones, teachers will need to be able to manage a variety of tensions; the field of Educational Change may be able to impact how those tensions are navigated and mitigated. For example, social media is lauded for lowering barriers to participation and giving voice to users who may struggle to be heard elsewhere, but this lowering of barriers to participation also means that the quality of the shared content via social media can be problematic. Educators who use social media must be skeptical and critical consumers, aware of the pitfalls and perils associated with these media, and they may need assistance to become such users.

“Educators who use social media must be skeptical and critical consumers, aware of the pitfalls and perils associated with these media, and they may need assistance to become such users.”

Another tension the field of Educational Change can further attend to is exploring the optimal balance between self-directed professional learning and system-directed professional learning. Administrators, school boards, and policy makers understandably are interested in PD that is related to the approved curriculum, educator performance standards, and school and district strategic plans. They may have very good reasons for wanting groups of teachers to have shared PD experiences and common understandings of certain topics. If every educator pursues a completely self-directed PD path, educators in a district or school could lack the shared understandings that would help them to collaborate and push forward bigger change initiatives. Some educators may be self-aware enough and engage consistently in reflection such that their self-directed PD is maximally beneficial, but others may need external nudges to recognize their own areas for growth. Also, students could encounter a dizzying array of strategies and expectations if there are no shared experiences of any kind in the professional learning of their teachers.

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

JC: The pace and quantity of social media activities and content are relentless and potentially overwhelming. This contrasts sharply with how much of the work of education change is slow and incremental. We are experiencing a historical moment where there is finally, and rightfully a lot of demand and momentum for educational change. The immediacy and public nature of social media may help keep up the pressure for change, and that pressure may at times be helpful and on other occasions it may not be. I am excited by the prospects for helping pre-service teachers (PSTs) to make wiser use of social media. Many PSTs will at some point explore professional social media uses. To increase the chances that they use social media in ways that contribute to positive educational change, teacher education programs could help PSTs learn how to leverage the learning affordances and mitigate the challenges of social media. Teacher educators may be able to play a key role in helping PSTs understand the dangers associated with different social media platforms. Social media can provide PSTs with access to resources and educators otherwise unavailable to them, but managing the quantity of content and assessing its quality can prove difficult. Many PSTs could benefit from activities that help them consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of tools such as Instagram and heuristics that help them assess the content and ideas they find via such media.

References

Carpenter, J.P. (2016). Teachers at the wheel. Educational Leadership, 73(8), 30-35.

Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2016). The virtual workroom. The Learning Professional, 37(4), 24.

Carpenter, J.P., Krutka, D.G., & Trust, T. (2021). Continuity and change in educators’ professional learning networks. Journal of Educational Change. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-020-09411-1

Carpenter, J.P., Morrison, S.A., Craft, M., & Lee, M. (2020). How and why are educators using Instagram? Teaching and Teacher Education, 96,103149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2020.103149

Koehler, M., Shelton, C.C., Carpenter, J.P., & Greenhalgh, S. (2020). Where does all the money go? Free and paid transactions on TeachersPayTeachers.com. Teachers College Record. https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=23478

Staudt Willet, K.B., & Carpenter, J.P. (2021). A tale of two Subreddits: Change and continuity in teaching-related online spaces. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(2), 519-535. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.13051

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 Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.  Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung KimGraduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.

Climate strikes by school children, which erupted in 2019, continue

This week IEN re-posts a blog from the team at the GEM report that looks at the leading role that youth continue to play addressing the global climate emergency. The post provides a follow-up to IEN’s roundup of the decade from 2010-2020 that highlighted a series of stories on youth activism

In the middle of the pandemic, the world’s youth has not lost its focus on the planet’s biggest challenge. School children in Germany are setting up a political party, Klimaliste, standing in local elections. The party has policies aimed at ensuring the Paris agreement climate pledges are not breached. It’s also born out of annoyance at support that the Green party is giving to the local car industry rather than to renewable energy. After years of environmental activism and little change, it seems children’s anger may be the most important and effective campaign for climate action.

As many of the communities most affected by climate change are in low- and middle-income countries, it is unsurprising that climate justice activism by children emerged there. In Latin America, Belizean Madison Pearl Edwards and Ecuadorian Nina Gualinga have stood against threats to biodiversity from climate change and fossil fuel industries since ages 9 and 8. Established in 2006, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change links the issue with sustainable development, including poverty reduction, and allows youth activists across the continent to share ideas, strategies and lessons.

Government failure to curb carbon emissions, long after the damaging impact on future generations has been established, is the basis of constitutional lawsuits by youth in Europe and in countries elsewhere, including Canada, Colombia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and the United States.

Although the recent spotlight on Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arguably reflects media bias towards Western stories, there is a compelling logic to climate activism in the form of school strikes. One week in September 2019 saw the largest climate mobilization in history, with some 7.6 million taking to the streets. Greta reached her 131st week of school strikes this month. Her strikes inspired the birth of a youth movement, Fridays For Future, whose next day of action is on March 18th, entitled #NoMoreEmptyPromises. Their website details an impressive database of school strikes per country per month. No region is left untouched.

Even though school closures have put a dampener on some of these organised movements this past year, youth activists have found alternative movements. When the COP-20 was postponed, for instance, youth organisations set up their own “Mock COP“, a two-week virtual meeting with dozens of delegates from 140 countries, to show what they would do if they were in charge.

Image: Victoria Pickering

While built on scientific consensus, schoolchildren’s leading role on climate is justified. Younger generations will be more exposed than political decision makers to climate change’s long-term impact. Behind the school strikes is the fact that today’s schooling, devised and provided by adults, will be irrelevant if tomorrow’s planet is uninhabitable. “What will we do with all this development if we are not going to have a future?” asked Ridhima Pandey, who, aged nine, filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in 2017 for failing to take action against climate change.

Education has immediate benefits, but from a capability perspective, which values individual agency, it can also deliver on the promise of greater future capability. Older generations undermine this promise by claiming a bright future through education while destroying its very possibility.

What is certain is that students are more likely to engage in politics with well-designed civics education and an open learning environment that supports discussion of controversial topics and allows students to hear and express differing opinions. A study of 35 countries showed that openness in classroom discussion led to an increase in the intention to participate in politics. Note the peaceful nature of protests by school children as well. The 2016 GEM Report showed that, across 106 countries, people with higher levels of education were more likely to engage in non-violent protests.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that teachers have supported school boycotts. An Education International resolution encouraged affiliates to ‘stand in full solidarity with all students striking or protesting against climate change’ and schools ‘not to take action against students’. Schools for Climate Action argues that schools and educators have legal child protection mandates, and inaction on climate change amounts to child neglect. Academics have set up petitions as well, each signed by well over 1000 in support of school strikes for climate.

It is a shame that children are being forced to miss days of school in order to wake adults up to their wrongdoings. But a wake up call is certainly needed. We stand with teachers and academics in saying that this is a peaceful, and justified movement we should support.

What Type of Education Do We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict? The Getting Unstuck Podcast Episodes #149/150

This week, IEN features an episode of the Getting Unstuck podcast in which hosts Jeff Ikler and Kirsten Richert talk with Thomas Hatch about his new book with Jordan Corson and Sarah Gerth van den Berg, The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021). The wide-ranging conversation addressed a number of topics from the book including why reform efforts so often fail and what we can do to create the conditions to make real improvements in schools right now and to build the foundation for transforming schooling over the long term. As Ikler and Richert put it in their own book, Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change (Corwin, 2021), these are steps that can help to get education “unstuck.”  Audio is available for both the full interview and an abridged version.

In a blog post on the conversation, Ikler highlighted several key ideas from the conversation:

What kind of education do we need?

 “We have to recognize that there are going to be aspects of the future that are unpredictable; we’re just not going to know exactly what’s expected or required. And so the idea that we could somehow agree now on what we think the world is going to be like 20 or 30 or 50 years from now is not realistic or adequate to guide our education system. So my point in the book is, let’s recognize that fact and prepare our students to be flexible and adaptable, so that they can adjust to the circumstances.”

“We have to improve the schools we have, but at the same time, we have to transform the education system so that we’re supporting the development of all students.”

Should we improve the schools we have now or transform the system?

 “We can and we have to improve the schools that we have right now. But that can’t be at the expense of doing the hard, long-term work on transforming the education system over time. And I think too often, we’re caught between choosing one or the other. It’s like either we can improve the schools we have, or we can start over and have this disruptive new education system. And the reality is, we have to do both. We have to improve the schools we have, but at the same time, we have to transform the education system so that we’re supporting the development of all those students, particularly those who’ve been disadvantaged by the system for so long.”

What can we do to improve schools and transform the system?

 “Find those environments where more powerful approaches to teaching and learning can take root find to take advantage of those conditions there rather than trying to power over the entire school and the entire school system and make everything different and changed in a short period of time.”

Power and Its Effects on Educational Change: The Lead the Change Interview with Steven Courtney

This week, IEN features the latest Lead the Change (LtC) interview with Dr Steven J. Courtney, a Senior Lecturer and the Education Research Coordinator at the Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, UK. He is co-convenor (with Ruth McGinity) of the research interest group Critical Education Policy and Leadership (CEPaLS) and an editor of the journal Critical Studies in Education. A pdf of the fully formatted interview will be available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2021 AERA theme is Accepting Educational Responsibility and invites those of us who teach in schools of education to accept greater responsibility for the inadequate preparation of educators for work in racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse P–12 schools and postsecondary institutions. For example, when educators discipline African American students at disproportionately higher rates, misdiagnose them for special education, identify too few of them for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, deliver to them a culturally irrelevant curriculum, teach them in culturally disdaining ways, and stereotype their families as careless and hopeless, the schools of education that produced these professionals are just as responsible as the professionals themselves. Furthermore, if scholars who study and document these trends do too little to make our findings actionable, then we, too, are contributors to the cyclical reproduction of these educational inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Steven Courtney: Oppressive systems cannot be dismantled until they are understood. Thus, we, as educational-change scholars, need to contribute descriptive, explanatory, and analytical illumination to national and international conversations, debates and policies, and to point the way to actions that will make a positive difference to the oppressed. This question highlights the consequences of giving insufficient thought to how power functions in education. We need to be clear that power relations are reproduced through education practices, structures, and cultures: these privilege some people and marginalise others, predominantly according to structural features such as race and gender. No educational change is neutral in this respect: all will either reproduce or alter these relations, and so educational-change scholars need above all to examine change in this context.

“We need to be clear that power relations are reproduced through education practices, structures, and cultures.”

Focusing on power and its effects, on context and empowerment rather than, for instance, on the supposed effectiveness or efficiency of any given intervention, is what makes me a critical scholar (see Smyth, 1989) — I discuss this in more detail in the introduction to a major new textbook (Courtney et al., 2021). My early, pre-doctoral research, for instance, focused on school inspection in England – this is a policy mechanism that appeals explicitly to school improvement, particularly for the most disadvantaged, yet can have a range of damaging effects on, inter alia, school leaders’ identities and careers (Courtney, 2012, 2016). The school inspectorate, Ofsted, was created in 1992 as a means of operationalising school choice in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different quality-assurance processes). Schools are ranked overall and in specified areas. These areas have changed over the years, but a focus on teaching, learning, leadership, and management has endured. Schools are ranked either “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. The reports are publicly available and are intended to provide parents with the necessary information to choose rationally between schools. Through school-inspection policy, parents are constructed as consumers in a market. What interests me about school inspection is its potential to illuminate the tensions between structure – here, hyper-accountability – and school professionals’ agency and identity.

My PhD dissertation (Courtney, 2015) was recognised by AERA Division A, and in it, I argued that the long-standing policy of school-type diversification in England was predicated on conceptualising children as having fixed abilities and hierarchising provision accordingly. The mechanism — school choice — is legitimated through its appeal to the superficially neutral notion of the market, but this conceals the profoundly neoconservative primary objective of keeping children in their place, or social reproduction. I have written about this more recently with more explicit focus on how this relies on eugenics thinking (Jones et al., 2021), where socio-economic advantage is seen as deriving from genomic advantage, and is therefore hereditary. School systems in such an ideological landscape tend to privilege children’s classification over their social mobility; the aim is to provide an education appropriate to their potential, which is conceived as fixed and variously limited. When analysed systemically, these “limits” tend to rise with the children’s socio-economic capital, suggesting they are not limits after all but rather shaped by access to resources. This landscape, and the contemporary emphasis on corporatised leadership, constructs a certain kind of ideal school leader, who knows that, to gain status, they need to build an empire through acquisitions and mergers, adhere to private-sector, entrepreneurial values and methods and privilege the standards agenda. Perhaps more troubling they must also accept the fiction outlined above that children’s limitations are inscribed into their bodies, evidenced, for example, as accent, deportment, health and taste, and are thus discernible and educationally actionable.

My later empirical research has focused on education privatisation, particularly on multi-academy trusts (MATs), which are more-or-less homologous to CMOs in the USA (e.g., see Courtney & McGinity, 2020). Grouping more individual academies (charter schools) into MATs has been depicted in policy as an important educational change that will operationalise school autonomy — a key shibboleth of the Right — but Ruth McGinity and I conclude that MATs actually operationalise education depoliticisation, where the state transfers responsibility for decisions concerning education to (1) private, or corporatised institutions; (2) families (which is a form of privatisation); and (3) the caprices of fate. This shift in responsibility for policy formulation, rationale and enactment happens through the structure – here, MATs — but also through the language used in schools and in government. Inevitably, we see these effects playing out in how school leaders see themselves and in what they think they ought to be doing. For instance, Ruth and I noted that the MAT leaders we observed and interviewed spent a lot of time trying to work out what the MAT’s distinctive purpose and values were. The idea did not occur to them that, in a public-school structure, these do not necessarily have to be distinctive; common education values can be established at national level through public policymaking that is politically engaged and so is democratically legitimated. These MAT leaders are enculturated in an education market where branding is key and requires a USP, and where education values and objectives are delegated to them by the state, as arms-length parastatal organisations.  Any educational change has to be realised in the context of a clear understanding of how things presently are: illuminating this for the field is my main contribution. 

“Any educational change has to be realised in the context of a clear understanding of how things presently are”

LtC: Given some of your work challenging neoliberal reform efforts as well as how and leadership has been conceptualized (i.e., the “grammar” of schools) and thus enacted in schools, what would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?  

SC: The learning goes both ways, believe me: I owe a great deal to outstanding critical field-leaders such as Helen Gunter, Michael Apple, John Smyth, Gary Anderson, Pat Thomson, Jill Blackmore, Stephen Ball, Tanya Fitzgerald and Trevor Gale.

One of the main contributions that these scholars have made to my thinking, and which I pass on to the field, concerns the importance of theory, theorizing and conceptualizing in education (Courtney et al., 2018). Scholars can best explain and illuminate if they make good use of appropriate thinking tools – throughout my career, I have drawn on Bourdieu, Arendt, Foucault, and Queer Theory. All have helped me to re-frame my research in ways that bring a new and useful perspective. For instance, as Fenwick English (2016) has written in this series, ‘Bourdieu’s work underscores how vastly more complex real change is and why most of what we think of today as change is largely tinkering at the edges of what exists’. My own work with Bourdieu supports this analysis, demonstrating how leaders’ identities are invested in particular educational arrangements that make countervailing change unthinkable (Courtney, 2017).

Thinking about educational change in this way was one of the motivations for me to explore with Bryan Mann in the article to which you refer (Courtney & Mann, 2020), why it is apparently so challenging to achieve lasting change. The problem was articulated by Tyack and Tobin (1994) as concerning a ‘grammar of schooling’, comprising features such as teaching knowledge through subjects and age grading. Bryan and I argue that if we are to take seriously Tyack and Tobin’s assertion that the grammar of schooling consists in structures that organise meaning, then we need to discount the examples they produced: these, we suggest, are the product of organising structures and not the structures themselves. Following this logic, two consequences arise. First, the actual grammar of schooling comprises four overarching discourses: industrialism; welfarism; neoliberalism and neoconservatism – it is these discourses that organise meaning in education (and indeed, society). Second, the reified products of those grammars, which include the features identified by Tyack and Tobin (1994), require a new name. We call them lexical features, since they express and reveal the underlying grammar, and use them to explain the interplay of durable and more transient features of the education systems in the USA and England.

An important consequence of conceptualising change in this way is that it becomes clear that grammatical change is highly unlikely without state support. This means that changes achieved by individual actors, including school leaders, are most likely going to remain lexical. This runs counter to the prevailing direction of much school-improvement and educational-change literature, which holds the school leader as key to systemic change. Bryan and I would argue, in fact, that this is simply a belief that itself reflects the current neoliberal grammar, which fetishises the individual.

“The school leader as key to systemic change… is simply a belief that itself reflects the current neoliberal grammar, which fetishises the individual.”

LtC: In some of your recent work, you speak to the ways neoliberal policies and discourses (e.g., “getting the right people on the bus”) can serve to de-professionalize and dehumanize teachers. Such work has implications for how we engage in real and lasting change in schools as well as the type of institutions we wish schools to be. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?

SC: In “Get off my bus!”, Helen Gunter and I (Courtney & Gunter, 2015) draw on Hannah Arendt to problematise a suite of leadership practices and dispositions constructed as ‘transformational’, ‘strong’ and admirably ‘relentless’, using Collins’ (2001) business-oriented bus metaphor about effective leadership. We argue that Arendt’s four-part definition of totalitarianism enables understanding of such leadership practices and identities in high-stakes, performative audit cultures such as those contemporarily privileged in neoliberal regimes like education. These four features are ideology (the standards agenda); total terror (the real risk of dismissal); the destruction of human bonds (reducing teachers to data points through audit and dismissing them); and bureaucracy (concealing these radical practices through banal administrative “re-structures” and everyday surveillance). Importantly, all the school leaders I interviewed engaged in these practices and all thought they were doing important educational-change work that was sanctioned by the state and justified by raised student-attainment scores. And they were right. But the human consequences were either unheeded, never recognised, or unacknowledged.

School leadership has been atomised purposively, with school leaders in England encouraged first to act individually to gain advantage for their school in the market, and now in clusters through MATs. Calling this MAT-located practice ‘system leadership’ conceals the way it rarely extends beyond the MAT. What is needed is a structure to encourage local praxis that takes into account its systemic and human impacts. The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) has helped work towards this objective in that nation: it helped draw up the Teacher Standards there, for example and so has a direct, important role in shaping the profession. Its English counterpart, The Chartered College of Teaching (https://chartered.college/), is the latest in a series of attempts to provide an independent voice for teachers there, and whilst it is perhaps too early to talk confidently about its impact, it seems to be making a good start.

Focusing on the systemic, re-professionalising and human will require a shift in thinking away from a focus on the entrepreneurial, individualised educational leader as primary change agent. Entrepreneurial leaders accept personal responsibility for fixing structural issues, and so they are popular with policy makers. The schools where such leaders thrive are de-professionalising, because corporate entrepreneurialism is not educative (Courtney, 2020). The two concepts have become purposively conflated through policy over many years in several nation states, including the USA (Saltman & Means, 2021).

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

SC: The field of Educational Change neither exists to champion all change, nor is its function to instrumentalise professionals in schools as reform achievers. Some reforms and reform agendas are harmful, as has been demonstrated by, for example, Ravitch (2014) and Gorski & Zenkov (2014). I have written about how technology has been used to intensify privatisation in US schools, taking the examples of cyber charters and predictive analytics using big data (Courtney, 2018). These are ‘difficult transformations’ that are legitimated through being labeled examples of ‘modernisation.’ As a result, there is moral as well as substantive pressure for teachers and leaders to get on board. I think embracing this approach would be a mistake, and borders on collusion with those who seek to further deprofessionalise educators.

The most useful way for those in the field of Educational Change to support professionals is to provide thinking tools and context to help them work out what enacting this change might mean; where in the wider scheme of national or global education reform it sits; what its conceptual antecedents are; and its likely impact on minoritised groups and individuals. In understanding educational change in this way, I have been greatly helped by important critical work by Blackmore and McNae (2021). They outline the differences between functional, interpretive and critical approaches to understanding school change. Briefly, functional approaches assume a more-or-less direct causal relationship between an intervention and student outcomes; interpretive approaches foreground contextualised experiences of change; and critical approaches ask who benefits, who loses, and how the socio-political informs sense-making concerning the change. Only once this thinking occurs should the focus of the practitioner move to how best to engage agentically in the change process, if at all. Here, the Educational-Change field is not short of intellectual resources.

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

SC: I find it exciting that the field of Educational Change is increasingly welcoming insights from the critical part of the field, where the focus is on power, ethics and inequity. This seems to me to be appropriate as the field moves to a richer understanding of what needs to change in education. For instance, going back to your opening question, I note and welcome your framing of this fundamental problem as an often-insufficient handling of diversity, as stereotyping and cultural disdain. All these speak to the work that the critical field is doing in, for example, race (Watson, 2020), gender (Fuller, 2013) and sexual identity (Courtney, 2014). These are helpful in the way in which they prompt thinking about the inequitable effects of power on the change process itself, and on groups of people who are involved in the change. It is very good news for the field that educational change is no longer reducible to a tick list of de-contextualised factors that actors deemed key – often the organisational leader – ought to implement (see Blackmore and McNae, 2021, for more on this).

We need to take care not to lose sight of the importance of a well-funded public education system that is fair for all and whose values are educative rather than corporate.”

So that’s the field. Concerning the educational change that is happening right now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am less optimistic than those who see it as potentially paradigm shifting (e.g., Watson, 2020). It may well be that, but it is also an opportunity for those whom Bourdieu (1990) might have characterised as being virtuoso players of the game, who are in a position to change its rules to suit them. There is a reason that capitalism often favours disruptors and by extension, disruption: the notion of privatisation by disaster is well established (Fontdevila et al., 2017; Jabbar, 2015). We need to take care not to lose sight of the importance of a well-funded public education system that is fair for all and whose values are educative rather than corporate (Gunter & Courtney, 2020). 

References

Blackmore, J., & McNae, R. (2021). Educational reform and leading school change. In S. J. Courtney, H. M. Gunter, R. Niesche, & T. Trujillo (Eds.), Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches (pp. 237–252). Bloomsbury.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Polity Press.

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. Collins Business.

Courtney, S. J. (2014). Inadvertently queer school leadership amongst lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) school leaders. Organization, 21(3), 383–399. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508413519762

Courtney, S. J. (2015). Investigating Schoo Leadership at a Time of System Diversity, Competition and Flux. University of Manchester.

Courtney, S. J. (2016). Post-panopticism and school inspection in England. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(4), 623–642. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2014.965806

Courtney, S. J. (2017). Corporatising school leadership through hysteresis. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(7), 1054–1067. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2016.1245131

Courtney, S. J. (2018). Privatising educational leadership through technology in the Trumpian era. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 50(1), 23–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220620.2017.1395826

Courtney, S. J. (2020). Why you should reject entrepreneurial leadership. In J. S. Brooks & A. Heffernan (Eds.), The School Leadership Survival Guide: What to Do when Things Go Wrong, How to Learn from Mistakes and Why You Should Prepare for the Worst (pp. 409–421). nformation Age Publishing.

Courtney, S. J. (2012). Ofsted’s revised school inspection framework: Experiences and implications. In BERA (Ed.), British Educational Research Association. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/216133.pdf

Courtney, S. J., & Gunter, H. M. (2015). Get off my bus! School leaders, vision work and the elimination of teachers. International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 18(4), 395–417. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2014.992476

Courtney, S. J., Gunter, H. M., Niesche, R., & Trujillo, T. (2021). Introduction: Critical scholarship and educational leadership. In S. J. Courtney, H. M. Gunter, R. Niesche, & T. Trujillo (Eds.), Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches (pp. 1–11). Bloomsbury.

Courtney, S. J., & Mann, B. (2020). Thinking with ‘lexical’ features to reconceptualize the ‘grammar’ of schooling: Shifting the focus from school to society. Journal of Educational Change, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-020-09400-4

Courtney, S. J., & McGinity, R. (2020). System leadership as depoliticisation: Reconceptualising educational leadership in a new multi-academy trust. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143220962101

Courtney, S. J., McGinity, R., & Gunter, H. M. (2018). Educational leadership: Theorising professional practice in neoliberal times (S. J. Courtney, R. McGinity, & H. M. Gunter (Eds.)). Routledge.

English, F. W. (2016). Lead the Change Series: Q&A with Fenwick W. English. In Lead the Change (Issue 61, pp. 1–4). AERA Educational Change Special Interest Group. https://www.aera.net/Portals/38/docs/SIGs/SIG155/61 _Fenwick English .pdf?ver=2016-09-10-130624-330

Fontdevila, C., Verger, A., & Zancajo, A. (2017). Taking advantage of catastrophes: Education privatisation reforms in contexts of emergency. In Private Schools and School Choice in Compulsory Education (pp. 223–244). Springer.

Fuller, K. (2013). Gender, Identity and Educational Leadership. A&C Black. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=SnEsAQAAQBAJ&pgis=1

Gorski, P. C., & Zenkov, K. (Eds.). (2014). The Big Lies of School Reform. Routledge.

Gunter, H. M., & Courtney, S. J. (2020). A new public educative leadership? Management in Education, 1–5. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/0892020620942506

Jabbar, H. (2015). ‘Drenched in the past:’ The evolution of market-oriented reforms in New Orleans. Journal of Education Policy, June, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2015.1047409

Jones, S., Courtney, S. J., & Gunter, H. M. (2021). Leading in a genetics-informed education market. In S. J. Courtney, H. M. Gunter, R. Niesche, & T. Trujillo (Eds.), Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches (pp. 355–369). Bloomsbury.

Ravitch, D. (2014). Hoaxes in educational policy. The Teacher Educator, 49(3), 153–165. https://doi.org/10.1080/08878730.2014.916959

Saltman, K. J., & Means, A. J. (2021). Corporatization and educational leadership. In S. J. Courtney, H. M. Gunter, R. Niesche, & T. Trujillo (Eds.), Understanding Educational Leadership: Critical Perspectives and Approaches (pp. 339–354). Bloomsbury.

Smyth, J. (Ed.). (1989). Critical Perspectives on Educational Leadership. The Falmer Press.

Tyack, D., & Tobin, W. (1994). The “grammar” of schooling: Why has it been so hard to change? American Educational Research Journal, 31(3), 453–479. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312031003453

Watson, T. N. (2020). Lead the Change Series: Q&A with Terri N. Watson. In Lead the Change (Issue 105, pp. 1–7). AERA Educational Change Special Interest Group. https://www.aera.net/Portals/38/docs/SIGs/SIG155/105_%20Lead%20the%20Change_TW_April%202020.pdf?ver=2020-04-25-112409-497

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 Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.  Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung KimGraduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.

Ways with Learning: Conversations with Shirley Brice Heath About Nonformal Education

In this week’s post, former IEN Managing Editor Jordan Corson (@jordancorson1) summarizes some of his recent conversations with renowned linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath about her work with nonformal education programs around the world. This conversation is part of a series of posts over the past several years that describe the development of a variety of afterschool and out-of-school education programs including Ikamva Youth and the Kliptown Youth Program in South Africa, Citizen Schools in the US, the BEAM Center in New York City, outside of school programs in Malaysia, and extra-curricular and afterschool programs in Singapore. Brice Heath is currently working on a new book entitled Theater for the Future.  In it, she points out that she does not believe we can or will “return to the usual passive uses of theaters, and that the model of Public Works (such as the National Theater’s Public Acts) will spread around the world of modern economies.”

For decades, Shirley Brice Heath has explored dynamic language learning and nonformal, community-based education programs. When she published the monumental Ways With Words, an ethnographic examination of two communities engaged in language learning practices, the book raised challenging and influential questions about the relationship between culture, community and language. In recent years, Heath’s work has extended in many directions, including museum learning in London and community-based arts programs in New York City. Heath’s collaborations with these diverse organizations and communities offers a number of lessons about the possibilities of education beyond the bounds of school. It also further illuminates her commitments to working with families and supporting underserved communities. In studying voluntary learning and describing what is happening in places where youth learn voluntarily, Heath hopes to push educators to rethink where and when education happens and how learning contributes to building a more equitable world.

Rethinking where and when education happens and how learning contributes to building a more equitable world

Public Works

Working with the Public Theater, Heath has helped develop the Public Works program. The program partners with organizations throughout New York City to connect community members to classes, workshops, and a participatory model for theater. Once a year, Public Works brings together the community partners to produce a show at the Delacorte Theater.  Public Works as an endeavor aims to reflect something central to Heath’s work, learning and making that is “of, by, and for all people.” Rather than theater as something for those who can afford it, and instead of theater as a passive event, Public Works reaches out to create meaningful, participatory forms of engagement rooted in local communities. Heath shares many stories of the hundreds of people that make Public Works, but vividly recalls the story of a man who joined the Delacorte productions every year. Even after battling serious illness, the man returned for a production of As You Like It, feeling that helping to create and participate in the theater was something inexplicably important in his life. As a consequence, Heath describes Public Works as blurring “the lines between theater professionals and community members” and promoting learning in meaningful and productive work.

Public Works blurs the lines between theater professionals and community members and promotes learning in meaningful and productive work.

The Public Works program in New York has expanded to build similar models in Dallas, working with the Dallas Theater Center, and in Seattle, working with Seattle Rep. As with its New York City work, Public Works in these cities engages communities to create collaborative theater projects that emerge from participating community members. Though the programs share a similar mission and structure, their localized roots mean different forms. In the process, the programs act as places to build local communities as much as they function to develop the actors’ craft

A Different Kind of Museum Learning

Heath also extols the work of the Tate Museum in recent years. The museum decided to get rid of the familiar hourlong guided tour format for schoolchildren, the Museum created open “learning studios,” where children and any interested person could explore and discover information on topics related to the museum’s exhibitions. These studios, as well as thematic workshops, extended well beyond the limited scope of a class fieldtrip. As with Public Works, the program breaks down divisions, making visitors not merely passive observers, but emerging experts on topics central to the Museum’s galleries and exhibitions. This approach shifts the position of youth and those who come to the museum from visitors to collaborative participants. For instance, many workshops at the Tate now pair artists and scientists and invite community members to come learn with them, and the Young People’s Programmes welcomes 15-25 year olds to “experiment, create and innovate…to design and deliver programmes for themselves and other peers.”

Shifting the position of youth and those who come to the museum from visitors to collaborative participants

This shift has also come with a more fluid, flexible form of museum learning, helping free educators and young visitors from demands like coordinating their visits with school fieldtrips. The Tate Museum (and subsequently other sites throughout the UK) has used this model to create collaborative, accessible, and open spaces to encounter art. These programs further promote community partnerships, linking science and arts, something Heath sees as inextricable.

Heath has also worked with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Similar to her research in the UK, Heath has worked with the museum to undertake significan changes in its educational programming. The Louisiana Museum specifically uses its physical space to consider the role of architecture and environment in creating place-based learning experiences. Whether the New Worlds of Learning or experiential learning with refugee children, these activities, as with other institutions, emerge from partnerships and community engagement.

Shirley’s Lessons

These programs offer a small glimpse of the many projects that Heath and community activists undertake. In each of these endeavors, Heath was never exclusively a researcher, but an active partner in building collaborative spaces of exploration. Reflecting on this ongoing work, Heath shares a few lessons about learning in general.

  • Schools cannot contain learning

Learning is an ongoing exploratory process that extends far beyond the boundaries of school. Older community members eagerly participated in Public Works productions. Parents joined children at museums not as chaperones but as co-learners. Additionally, the shape of these programs suggests that learning does not fit into the neat, bordered confines of a school. The work culminates in large, expressive productions and participants develop a clear sense of craft. Yet, there is no assessment of mastery and learning emerges from the shared task of designing and creating.

  • Art and science are artscience

Heath points to an ongoing conversation about the false division between art and science. She uses David Edwards’ term, artscience, as a way to show the deeply entangled nature of these fields. Looking at the collaborations of artists and scientists in places like the Tate Museum, Heath suggests that artscience involves collective learning and the integration and use of multiple, entwining knowledge and skills. Artscience is not a new phenomenon; Heath notes that these disciplines have historically worked together. Artscience is perfectly exemplified in informal learning practices. Heath points to the way youth make art in the 21st century. Musicmaking, podcasts, and video production require artscience expertise.

  • Voluntary Learning Embraces Equity

As much as these informal learning sites create opportunities for anyone to participate, they are not apolitical. Heath’s work, and thus her involvement in cultural centers and museums, directly focuses on creating learning spaces beyond the confines of schooling that directly work for and with people from underserved communities. For instance, the Louisiana Museum creates specific programming for youth with disabilities as well as work with refugee youth that create safe environments for children to take risks, explore art, and develop self-confidence.

Throughout, Heath suggests that there is nothing particularly magical or mystifying about informal learning work. Really, it is about interaction and space. The most profound learning events occur in museums, theaters, and parks and on the way there and back in conversations about everything they encountered.

                                                                                    —  Jordan Corson

A Beginner’s Mind: Remembering Richard Elmore

This week, Santiago Rincón-Gallardo reflects on the passing of his good friend and mentor Richard Elmore. Rincón-Gallardo (@SRinconGallardo) is an education consultant, chief research officer at Michael Fullan’s consulting team, and author of Liberating Learning: Educational Change as Social Movement.

Richard Elmore died peacefully and unexpectedly the night of February 9, 2021.  I’ve found myself crying over the past couple weeks remembering Richard’s presence in my life as a mentor, a beloved teacher, and a dear friend. I get teary eyed each time I read over the outpouring of beautiful stories and messages shared in the online memorial site created by his family, and learning more about the powerful presence he had in the lives of so many – family, students, colleagues, and friends. Among the things treasured by those whose lives Richard touched are his sharp intellect, his generous heart, his contagious laughter, his profound respect for and belief in young people, and (especially in his later years) his growing irreverence for the schooling systems that constrain them.

Richard learns geometry from his tutor, Maricruz, a 13-year-old girl from Santa Rosa, Mexico

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said “People don’t pass away./They die/ and then they stay.” There are many ways in which we can expect Richard to stay with us over decades to come.

Richard’s thinking has and will remain crucial as a reference to those seeking to understand how and under what conditions powerful learning can – and most often doesn’t – happen in schools, in school systems, and beyond. Some of Richard’s key contributions to the field that have stood, and will no doubt continue to stand the test of time include:

Richard’s thinking has and will remain crucial as a reference to those seeking to understand how and under what conditions powerful learning can – and most often doesn’t – happen in schools, in school systems, and beyond.

  • Positioning the instructional core as the basic unit that our efforts as educators, teachers, school and system leaders should aim to transform fundamentally: “the problems of the system are the problems of the smallest unit”; “if it’s not in the instructional core, it’s not there”; “the real accountability is in the tasks students are asked to do”;
  • Proposing a “backward-mapping” logic to examine, plan, and carry out education improvement work (starting from what you want to cause and moving gradually from the inside out to adapt the practices, systems and cultures surrounding it as change is underway);
  • The notion that no amount of external pressure on schools will work in the absence of internal accountability (shared responsibility for improvement within the school) or reciprocal accountability (the responsibility of the system to invest the necessary resources and develop the necessary capacity of educators and leaders to produce the expected results) – “if you push an atomized, incoherent organization with an external accountability system, it will only become more incoherent.”  
  • His more recent exploration of ‘outlier’ groups and organizations that are nurturing and unleashing powerful learning among young people and children (NuVu, Beijing Academy in China, Redes de Tutoría in Mexico).  
  • His dire and sharp critique of the multiple ways in which schooling – the very institution intended to develop our young people’s ability and joy to learn – is getting in the way of powerful learning.  (“A major lesson we have learned from attainment-driven models of schooling is that it is possible to disable human beings as learners by convincing them that they do not have the capability to manage their own learning”).

The list goes on, but I don’t intend here to cover the whole range of Richard’s intellectual and public legacy (a more detailed account of his outstanding public service and academic trajectory can be found in this post from the Harvard Graduate School of Education). I will instead share a more personal account of Richard as an example of a Beginner´s Mind, to illustrate how he stands out in the sea of internationally renowned education experts.

Richard knew a lot about schools, school reform, and education policy. And I mean A LOT. For many, students and colleagues alike, his mere presence was intimidating for this very reason. But much more prominent than what he knew was his disposition to learn: his openness to find surprise in the familiar and his willingness – almost eagerness – to put his own thinking to the test.  I remember him telling me in one of our shared times in Mexico, with his loud, contagious laughter, how funny it was for him to find that people that organized a series of his talks in South America were shocked to find that he had learned a few new things in the ten previous years. His book I Used to Think… Now I Think is a beautiful collection of essays where prominent education thinkers are asked to describe some of the most important ways that their thinking has changed over the years. About the book, Richard remarked “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”

Richard remarked “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”

Richard’s openness to finding surprise in the familiar is beautifully demonstrated in his habit of visiting classrooms one day every week. This habit, established after decades of studying education reform and policy, became an almost religious practice that opened Richard’s mind to the everyday realities of classroom practice and gave him an unmatched sensitivity and profound understanding of teaching and learning, and the many ways in which education policies with lofty intentions almost invariably miss the mark of affecting the instructional core in any substantive way.  

It was Richard’s Beginner’s Mind that led him to accept my invitation to visit Mexico in 2010 to learn about tutoría (the pedagogical practice at the core of the Learning Community Project, also known as Redes de Tutoría). He endured an early morning flight and a ride of over 100 kilometers of bumpy, dusty roads to get to a remote rural community in the State of Zacatecas. Once there, he accepted the invitation of Maricruz, a 13-year-old girl from Santa Rosa to learn geometry with her support as a tutor. He was struck by her confidence and joy as a learner and a teacher, an experience that moved him (and all of us who had the privilege of being in Santa Rosa that day) to tears. It was Richard Beginner’s Mind that saw and named the Learning Community Project as a social movement, an insight that provoked in me what I can only describe as an intellectual awakening. It crystalized and integrated several ideas that had until then felt scattered and disorganized. This insight, a seemingly small side-comment in the vast extension of Richard’s thinking, is now foundational to my thinking and work on educational change.     

I don’t know of another academic that is as openly willing – even eager – to prove himself wrong – as Richard was. You can see this in his writing and his public speaking. His book Restructuring in the Classroom with Penelope Peterson and Sarah McCartney is an account of the disintegration of his faith in school restructuring as a strategy for instructional change. Here, he outlines that new school structures do not produce, as he initially believed, the changes in culture required to enhance the learning experience of children in classrooms.  In his commentary paper “‘Getting to Scale’… It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time” he reflects back on key flaws of his thinking 20 years earlier, articulated in his classic article “Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice.” In his last interview Richard talked about Instructional Rounds, a practice that he developed with colleagues at Harvard. He said it struck a chord with many school and district leaders, and that it helped them reconnect with their purpose, that it stimulated a lot of action and excitement. But – and here comes the punch line – he came to learn that “there was really not much relationship between satisfaction and impact.”

As the Buddhist tradition suggests, in a Beginner’s Mind lie the keys to a happier life and a healthier connection to others and the world – much needed features of the more conscious lives and the more humane world that we can build.

Richard died in the midst of a profound global crisis, in times where nothing less than the human project is at stake. In the world that we’re leaving behind, many academics have been revered for and built their identities around all they know. Richard’s conscious decision to maintain a Beginner’s Mind even at the pinnacle of his academic stardom shines as a bright light in a dark sea. I hope many of us will find in his example the courage to cultivate a Beginner’s Mind: to engage – as he invited us in his last podcast – in learning to do things we are fully incompetent to do; to be open to the awe of seeing the familiar in a new light; and to welcome with open arms the times when our dearest certainties are proven wrong. As the Buddhist tradition suggests, in a Beginner’s Mind lie the keys to a happier life and a healthier connection to others and the world – much needed features of the more conscious lives and the more humane world that we can build.

In his last years, in addition to taking on painting, Richard brought the attention of his Beginner’s Mind to the future of learning: the latest findings of the neuroscience of learning, the potential role of architectural design to represent and enable diverse models of learning; and the work of outliers in the learning world. His excitement about the future of learning however, grew in a way inversely proportional to his faith in schools and school systems. Richard grew increasingly skeptical about the prospect of schools and school systems becoming effective vehicles to protect and cultivate the extraordinary learning minds of our young people. He grew highly discouraged and impatient with how, to the contrary, compulsory schooling crushes the natural curiosity and joy to learn in children and youth. The last time I saw him in person, during a short visit to Boston, he told me he was working on a book of his latest thinking – one that, he confided to me with a playful smile, would likely upset many people.  

Richard left a huge question for us to tackle: Will schools and school systems figure out a way to move away from schooling and cultivate powerful learning instead?

Richard left a huge question for us to tackle: Will schools and school systems figure out a way to move away from schooling and cultivate powerful learning instead? His answer today would be a resounding ‘No’. I hope we’ll be able to prove him wrong on this one. I can picture him, with his Beginner’s Mind, laughing out loud with joy when we do.

#RememberingRichardElmore

What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland Now? Pasi Sahlberg on Finnish Lessons 3.0

In this conversation, Pasi Sahlberg discusses his latest work and the motivation behind his new book  Finnish Lessons 3.0 What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? This is Sahlberg’s third look at the Finnish educational system, diving deeper into the changes and challenges since the publication of the first edition of Finnish Lessons in 2011.

Why this book, why now? 

Pasi Sahlberg: It is about ten years since the first edition of Finnish Lessons was published. At that time the world was very different, OECD’s PISA had rearranged the global image of education, and international transfer of educational ideas was blossoming. There was relatively little literature about education in Finland at the same time when the demand for deeper and more evidence-based stories was huge. When the book was published in 2011 only a few believed it would live beyond its first edition. Everyone, including me, was surprised to learn that Finnish Lessons soon became a best-seller that was translated to nearly 30 languages.

We decided to update the story about Finland’s schools when more data became available, especially from OECD’s PISA 2012 that showed Finland’s earlier high performance had started to decline. The Economic downturn caused by the 2008 banking crisis had forced Finland to cut spending on education and Finnish schools were experimenting with new pedagogical innovations. The second edition was published in 2015, and I thought that this updated edition would be good enough forever.

Unfortunately, Finnish education continued to struggle in both what students learned in school and how the school system was able to serve children with widening range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. PISA 2015 and 2018 raised more questions in international forums and also in local debates about the real state of Finnish education. My publisher and I had a conversation about having yet another edition of Finnish Lessons that would take a more detailed stock of the state of education in Finland. It was a good decision – in the middle of the writing process the global coronavirus crisis hit the world and offered an additional question to be answered: How did Finnish schools cope with remote learning and disruption that caused so much confusion and troubles elsewhere?

What did you learn in working on 3.0 that you didn’t know before?

When the going gets tough, you need well-prepared educators whom you can trust in finding the best way forward.

Researching the unknown and writing about it is always a learning experience. Since Finnish Lessons 2.0 was published I have resided in the U.S., Finland and Australia and that gave me a unique opportunity to take a closer look at Finnish education from outside and inside. Conversations with educators and colleagues in these three locations over the years have been particularly helpful in understanding the power and the challenges of Finnish schools. For example, I learned to appreciate the flexibility and creativity that are embedded in the Finnish way of education. This became particularly evident in early 2020 when all education systems unexpectedly went into remote learning mode when most school buildings were closed for several weeks due to the global coronavirus pandemic. I have always spoken to foreign visitors about these system characteristics in Finland but it was that tiny ugly virus that made that concretely visible. When the going gets tough, you need well-prepared educators whom you can trust in finding the best way forward. This is exactly what flexible management, lack of rigid external standards, and collaborative problem solving were able to do in Finland where students and teachers were able to navigate through the hard times with less damage than most others. I have included these stories in my new book.

What’s happened in Finland since you wrote the book? 

This I explain in detail in this third edition. Many things have changed. On one hand, there are some interesting new developments, such as the new curricula for all levels of school education that aims at making teaching and learning more engaging and interesting for both teachers and students. On the other hand, Finland has lost some of its most important educational assets it had earlier compared to other countries: Equity and quality of its educational outcomes. There are significantly more low-performing students, family background explain more of students success in school than before, and all young people spend much more time staring at digital screens that is time away from reading, playing and sleeping.

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

I have a busy year ahead here in Sydney, Australia. I am leading a couple of large research projects at the university and working with half a dozen doctoral students. Besides that, there are two new book projects in the pipeline. I try to work a bit less and spend more time with my boys and family.

What’s your hope for the future and what do you hope the book will contribute to it? 

The main thread of Finnish Lessons is collectivism, collegiality, and collaboration at various levels of society.

My hope is in young people and their passion to change the course we live right now. Look at the issues like climate change, fight against racism and gender equality, for example. These global movements are strongly led by young people. This is really positive regarding what the future looks like. I hope that Finnish Lessons will continue to speak for better agency for teachers thereby stronger voice for students regarding their education and life. The main thread of Finnish Lessons is collectivism, collegiality, and collaboration at various levels of society. I hope that Finnish Lessons helps more people to understand that education is fundamentally a common good a bedrock of democracy that has been challenged recently in number of countries around the world.

Resilience, Oppression & Liberation: A Conversation with Anna Nelson

This week, IEN shares the latest edition of the Doctoral Corner Q & A from the AERA Educational Change Special Interest Group. This week’s Q & A features Anna Nelson, LCSW. Nelson is a College Assistant Professor with New Mexico State University (NMSU) School of Social Work and a Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership and Administration at NMSU. From 2010- 2016, she served as Executive Director of the New Mexico Forum for Youth in Community, a statewide network intermediary that promoted racial, health, academic and economic justice for all youth statewide. The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website.

LtC:  What inspired you to study educational change?

Anna Nelson: As a Critical Race Scholar and doctoral student in Educational Leadership, a licensed social worker since 2003, and a social work educator for more than a decade, my trajectory in educational change stems from my own lived experiences with education and my professional experiences as an educator and social worker. Consistently thematic in these experiences is an ever-present dichotomy. Where the potential exists for education to bolster resilience, inspire liberation and offer opportunity, the stark reality is that education is oppressive for many Black, Indigenous and Students of Color (BISOC). As a cisgender, mixed Woman of Color, I experienced school as a safe space where my mind, body and spirit were nourished. In serving BISOC, however, I regularly witness educational marginalization, punitive disciplinary actions and disparate pedagogical practices waged against them. This, coupled with the understanding of my educational privilege, edifies my mission to promote deep, socially just and liberatory educational transformation.

LtC: What and/or who inspires you in the field? Why?

AN: Seminal authors who inspired me are many, including Anzaldúa (1987; 1990), Crenshaw (1989), Constance-Huggins (2012), Delgado and Stefancic (2012), Freire (1970; 1974; 2005), hooks (1994), Ladson-Billings (1998), and Solórzano and Delgado Bernal (2001). These authors deepen my critical analysis and perspectives on education transformation and provide language to contextualize BISOC’s educational experiences. However, one distinguishes herself for me as both inspirational and transformative, and she is Tara Yosso (2005).

In 2005, Yosso authored Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion on Community Cultural Wealth. This article made my heart sing because, in a revolutionary way, it challenges cultural deficit narratives in education while simultaneously uplifting vast funds of knowledge, cultural capital and community cultural wealth BISOC possess. I see my students in Yosso’s (2005) words. I see hope in resistant capital, or the ability to speak truth to power and maintain one’s values and beliefs in the face of oppression (Yosso, 2005). I routinely witness aspirational capital, or the ability to maintain ones hopes and dreams even during adversity (Yosso, 2005), permeating the lived experiences of BISOC. BISOC’s brilliant expression of navigational capital, or the ability to successfully maneuver through systems and institutions that weren’t designed for or by Communities of Color (Yosso, 2005), is profound. Finally, BISOCs’ manifestations of familial capital, or the cultural funds of knowledge grown from language, collective history, memory and intuition shared across generations (Yosso, 2005) serve as a powerful foundation to combat cultural deficit narratives in education. I see these sources of cultural capital because Yosso (2005) gave me words to name them and taught me how to identify and honor them in BISOC.

LtC: What do you believe to be the biggest challenge for educational change and what would be a first step to address this challenge?

AN: While education is widely accepted as a human right (United Nations, 1948), the sociopolitical era in which we exist underscores deep civil unrest and profound differences in educational attainment, divided by perceived street race (López, et al., 2018), gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and myriad points of identity (Crenshaw, 1989). Indeed, as Jones (2000; 2002) puts it, this reflects a lifetime of lived experiences apart from one another. To me, this is the grand challenge for education in 2021 and beyond, the need to urgently adopt antiracist, culturally humble (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998) and sustainable (Paris & Alim, 2017) curricular, pedagogical, and educational leadership practices that promote liberatory social justice and true equity in education.

Angela Davis (1983) calls us to action by stating, “It is not enough to be nonracist, we must be antiracist.” It is not sufficient to strive to be nonracist in our own actions and beliefs. As educators and educational leaders, we are compelled to radically acknowledge the disparities in academic outcomes and opportunities for BISOC and commit to taking action against policies, practices and paradigms that give rise to these disparities. This action begins within us through the consistent practice of cultural humility (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998).

“It is not sufficient to strive to be nonracist in our own actions and beliefs.”

Widely adopted by social workers and public health practitioners, cultural humility is an emerging practice in education. It requires of us a deep commitment to life-long learning and critical self-reflectivity, recognizing and challenging power imbalances between ourselves, students and communities, and holding systems and institutions accountable. We begin a sustainable practice of cultural humility when we regularly ask ourselves, “What were my perceptions of and how did I interact with students, colleagues and community members who have identities different from my own? How did I contribute to, or detract from, social justice and equity today?” and, “What can I do differently to promote social justice and equity in my work tomorrow?” We practice cultural humility when we critically analyze our curricula, pedagogy, and organizational policies for access, representation and equity. We are culturally humble allies when we interrupt and confront implicit biases and microaggressions. We humbly stand in allyship when we leverage privilege by creating pathways for power and action for our students. These actions create a foundation for culturally sustainable practices, or those that honor cultural capital, resilience and resistance among our students and promote liberatory social justice and equity as integral to education.

“We practice cultural humility when we critically analyze our curricula, pedagogy, and organizational policies for access, representation and equity.”

LtC: What are some new areas of inquiry and/or directions you think the field should be headed?

AN: Despite “unprecedented levels of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial and gender school diversity” (Santamaria & Santamaria, 2016, p. 1), cultural deficit narratives in academe and disparities in access and outcomes for BISOC persist in the United States. Combined with cumulative traumatic impact of racism and other oppression, these structures produce a trifecta of social injustice for BISOC in higher education. One crucial direction the field of education must consider with urgency is adopting antiracist policies and practices that uplift the cultural capital and resilience of BISOC, while systematically dismantling those that lead to academic inequities for BISOC.

With the dual purposes of igniting critical discourse within educational change and providing a framework for analyzing higher education contexts, institutional policies and practices that may either perpetuate injustice or uplift the immense cultural wealth possessed by BISOC, Critical Trauma Theory (CTT) (Nelson, 2019; 2020a; 2020b; 2020c; Nelson, Kew & Castro, 2020) is one solution to persistent educational disparities for BISOC. CTT is a microtheoretical perspective within Critical Race Theory that attends to the impact of cultural, cumulative and collective oppression-based trauma experienced by many BISOC, often in education contexts, while simultaneously uplifting vast funds of knowledge, resilience and cultural capital they possess (Nelson, 2019; 2020a; 2020b; 2020c; Nelson, et al., 2020).

Attending to the intersectional identities each of us possess, CTT offers the first unified definition of oppression-based trauma as:

Oppression-based trauma is exposure to and lived experiences of personally-mediated, institutional and structural forms of oppression (Jones, 2000) through symbolic, emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, economic and environmental manifestations, across one’s lifespan. Oppression-based trauma exposure includes but is not limited to linguicism, racism, colorism, nationalism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, colonization, political, historical and intergenerational trauma, and acts of oppression because of one’s documentation, immigration-,  refugee-, or former incarceration status.

Advised by this definition are CTT’s five key tenets. First, CTT calls educators and educational leaders to radically acknowledge that oppression-centered structural and institutional barriers to education access exist for BISOC and other decentered identities (Crenshaw, 1989; Delgado & Stefancic, 2017; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Solórzano & Yosso, 2001; Yosso, 2005). Second, this acknowledgement must also hold to account that exposure to oppression and subsequent risk for trauma is ever-present (Goodwin, 2014; Jordan, et al., 2014; Kucharska, 2018; & Nadal, 2018), where nascent literature links trauma with restricted academic outcomes (Arnekrans, et al., 2018; Bernat, et al., 1998; Cantrell, 2016; Jolley, 2017; Jordan et al., 2014; & Walker, 2016). Third, CTT contends that oppression-based trauma is cumulative, cultural and collective, thereby requiring its own critical micro-theoretical perspective that delineates it from individual trauma to address oppression-based trauma in educational contexts. Fourth, centrality of experiential knowledge evidences the existing presence of students’ posttraumatic growth, healing, resilience and resistance in the face of oppression (Yosso, 2005). Fifth and finally, because of the prevalence of oppression-based trauma and its detrimental impact on academic success for college students, CTT is a vital socially-just micro-theoretical addition to CRT that educators and educational leaders must consider applying to their work. 

CTT is promising in its practical application, offering educational leaders and educators tools and skills necessary for transforming their educational settings into antiracist/oppressive, culturally safe environments for BISOC to thrive. Recently I had the honor of presenting a CTT-guided series for one community college in New Mexico committed to implementing CTT campus-wide. This series culminated in my presentation of the Applied Critical Trauma Theory (ACTT)-Guided Assessment Tool which measures self- reports of personal, professional and institutional adoption of CTT-guided strategies, including a campus equity walk (Nelson, 2021). Further CTT application will be discussed in an April, 2021, paper presentation entitled Riotous Research: A Critical Trauma Theory to uplift the language of those unheard- Black, Indigenous and Social Work Students of Color.

I am humbled by this opportunity to participate in AERA’s Educational Change Special Interest Group Doctoral Corner and hopeful CTT will be one resource among many that inspires collective transformation in education systems nationally.

References

Anzaldúa, G.E. (1987, 1999). Borderlands/La Frontera: The new Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.

Anzaldúa, G.E. (1990). Haciendo caras, una entrada. In G. Anzaldúa (ed.), Making face, making soul/Haciendo caras: Creative and critical perspectives by feminists or color. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Arnekrans, A.K., Calmes, S.A., Laux, J.M., Roseman, C.P., Piazza, N.J., Reynolds, J.L., Harmening, D., & Scott, H.L. (2018). College students’ experiences of childhood developmental traumatic stress: Resilience, first-year academic performance, and substance use. Journal of College Counseling, 21(1), 2-14.  https://doi.org/10.1002/jocc.12083 

Bernat, J.A., Ronfeldt, H.M., Calhoun, K.S., & Arias, I. (1998). Prevalence of traumatic events and peritraumatic predictors of posttraumatic stress symptoms in a nonclinical sample of college students. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(4), 645-664. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9870219/

Cantrell, A.M. (2016). Understanding posttraumatic stress and academic achievement: Exploring attentional control, self-efficacy and coping among college students. Masters Theses and Specialist Projects. Paper 1618.  http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/theses/1618

Constance-Huggins, M. (2012). Critical Race Theory in social work education: A framework for addressing racial disparities. Critical Social Work, 13(2). https://ojs.uwindsor.ca/index.php/csw/article/download/5861/4834?inline=1

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.  https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf

Davis, A.Y. (1983). Women, race and class. Vintage. ISBN: 9780394713519

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical Race Theory: An introduction (2nd ed). New York, NY: New York University Press. ISBN: 987-93-81406-64-9

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.

Freire, P. (1974). Education for critical consciousness. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Freire, P. (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters from those who dare teach. Westview Press.

Goodwin, E.I. (2014). The long-term effects of homophobia-related trauma for LGB men and women. Counselor Education Master’s Thesis.  http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/edc_theses/160

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Jones, C.P. (2000). Levels of racism: A theoretical framework and a gardener’s tale. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 1212-1215. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.90.8.1212

Jones, C.P. (2002). Confronting institutional racism. Phylon, 50(1/2), 7-22. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4149999

Jordan, C.E., Combs, J.L., & Smith, G.T. (2014). An exploration of sexual victimization and academic performance among college women. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 15(3), 191-200. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1524838014520637.

Kucharska, J. (2018). Cumulative trauma, gender discrimination and mental health in women: Mediating role of self-esteem. Journal of Mental Health, 27(5), 416-423.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29260963/

Ladson-Billings, G. (1998) Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 7-24.

López, N., Vargas, E.D., Juarez, M., Cacari-Stone, L., & Bettez, S. (2018). What’s your “street race”? Leveraging multidimensional measures of race and intersectionality for examining physical and mental health status among Latinxs. Sociology, Race and Ethnicity, 4(1), 49-66. doi: 10.1177/2332649217708798

Nadal, K. L. (2018). Concise guides on trauma care series. Microaggressions and traumatic stress: Theory, research, and clinical treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0000073-000 

Nelson, A. (2019, December). An introduction to Critical Trauma Theory and its relationship to substance use disorders in Latinx Communities [Webinar]. National Latino Behavioral Health Association.

Nelson, A. (2020a, January). Practical tools to implement critical allyship and Radical self-care in our service delivery to Latinx communities [Webinar]. National Latino Behavioral Health Association.

Nelson, A. (2020b, September 15). Applying theory to the work: Bridging panel concepts to practice through decolonization and antiracism [Panel Presentation]. National Hispanic and Latino Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network, National Latino Behavioral Health Association, and U.S. Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, The Intersection of Acculturation, Assimilation and Substance Use Disorders in the Latinx Community: A Virtual Learning Community.

Nelson, A. (2020c, October 2). Conveying Mattering in online contexts for Black, Indigenous and Students of Color (BISOC) and first-generation college attendees. New Mexico State University Faculty Spotlight Series. https://nmsu.instructuremedia.com/embed/526cf0cb-c4dc-4794-8e7b-e0a274de2b2f

Nelson, A. N., Kew, K. L. & Castro, E. (2020, Apr 17 – 21). Applied Critical Trauma Theory to Enhance Resilience and Success for College Students with Oppression-Based Trauma [Roundtable Session]. AERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. http://tinyurl.com/v4ce9gw (Conference Canceled)

Nelson, A.N. (2021a, January 29). Critical Trauma Theory Series: Applied Critical Trauma Theory (ACTT)-Guided Assessment Tool [Webinar]. San Juan Community College.

Nelson, A.N. (2021b). Riotous research: A Critical Trauma Theory to uplift the language of those unheard- Black, Indigenous and Social Work Students of Color [Paper Session]. Social Work, White Supremacy, and Racial Justice: Reckoning with our History, Interrogating the Present, and Reimagining Our Future. Compendium pending publication.

Paris, D., & Alim, H.S. (Eds.). (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. Teachers College Press. ISBN: 978-0-8077-5833-5

Santamaría, L.J., & Santamaría, A.P. (2016). Toward culturally sustaining leadership: Innovation beyond ‘school improvement’ promoting equity in diverse contexts. Education Sciences, 6(33).  https://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/6/4/33

Solórzano, D.G., & Delgado Bernal, D. (2001). Examining transformational resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit theory and framework: Chicana and Chicano students in an urban context. Urban Education, 36, 308-342. http://uex.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/36/3/308

Solórzano, D.G., & Yosso, T.J. (2001). Critical race and LatCrit theory and method: Counter-storytelling. Qualitative Studies in Education, 14(4), 471-495.  http://www.sjsu.edu/people/marcos.pizarro/courses/8021/s1/SolorzanoYosso2001.pdf

Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9(2), 117-25. Retrieved from https://melanietervalon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CulturalHumility_Tervalon-and-Murray-Garcia-Article.pdf

United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights: Article 26. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Walker, L. (2015) Trauma, environmental stressors, and the African American college student: Research, practice and the HBCUs. Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. https://cmsi.gse.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/Walker%20Research%20Brief%20%28final%29.pdf

Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91. doi: 10.1080/1361332052000341006

From Learning Loss to Learning to Read: High Leverage Strategies for School Improvement

This week IEN shares a post drawn from IEN founder Thomas Hatch’s new book with Jordan Corson and Sarah van den Berg, The Education We Need For A Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin 2021). An edited version of this post was published originally at: https://corwin-connect.com/

Along with the devastation of the coronavirus outbreak and widespread school closures come hopes for reimagining schools as they reopen. These hopes for the future, however, rest on making the concrete improvements in schools that we know we can make today.

Despite the enormity of the challenges and the massive race and income-based inequities in society and schools that the coronavirus exposed – again – the pandemic has also made visible the fact that many communities already have the capacity to address at least some of these challenges. In New York City, in the first month of the school closure, the Department of Education worked with businesses like Apple and Microsoft to provide almost 500,000 computers and iPads to students who needed them. Across the US and around the world, even with limited digital infrastructure, communities are opening up hotspots for public use, equipping buses with Wi-Fi (and sometimes solar power), and pursuing other innovative ways of getting students online. Given the existing possibilities, one commissioner for the US Federal Communications Commission testified that the connectivity gap could be closed “virtually overnight.” If it can be done, then it should be done. No need to wait any longer.

Getting students connected to the Internet is no panacea for educational challenges, however, particularly in many parts of the developing world, where almost half of all students don’t have a computer at home and over 40 percent lack access to the internet. We also know that even with Internet access and online opportunities, significant improvements in students’ learning depend on developing more powerful instructional practices and providing better support for educators. Nonetheless, the responses to the coronavirus show that we have the capacity to address some inequitable learning opportunities, and we can take these steps right now by responding to high-leverage problems.

High-Leverage Problems

My colleagues in the New Jersey Network of Superintendents and I argue that those efforts can begin by developing a coordinated response to what I call high-leverage problems:

  • High-leverage problems concentrate on issues widely recognized as central to the development of more equitable educational opportunities and outcomes.
  • They present opportunities for visible improvements in relatively short periods of time.
  • They establish a foundation for long-term, sustained, systemic efforts that improve teaching and learning.

Addressing high-leverage problems depends on developing a keen sense of what matters to people and what matters in an organization. It requires careful analysis of multiple problems and continuous reflection on the process of addressing them. It relies on a powerful repertoire of strategies that meet the specific demands of different situations and on developing new practices and resources when necessary. All together, these steps can lead to the “quick wins” that help propel organizational and social changes in many sectors.

#Learningloss & Learning to Read

Take the critical concern for the “learning loss” likely to be created by the massive disruptions to schooling that so many children around the world are experiencing. That term – now almost a one-word hashtag – actually obscures a host of challenges that have to be unpacked to be addressed productively. First, different children experience learning loss to different degrees; they may experience it in some academic areas and not others; learning loss may also be affected by experiences of trauma and the stresses and socio-emotional challenges that come with the pandemic; it may result from inaccessibility to online learning and school support services including free meals and counseling; and it may stem a loss of relationships with peers and teachers, disengagement with school, and prolonged absences from learning in person or online. Such a litany of problems can make any first step seem inadequate and pointless. Nonetheless, breaking down a high leverage problem like learning to read yields a coordinated series of strategies that many communities already have the capacity to pursue:

  1. Make books by authors from a variety of backgrounds freely accessible.
  2. Find children with vision problems and provide them with glasses.
  3. Develop and understanding of why some children are chronically absent from school/online learning and support regular attendance.
  4. Identify children who are struggling to learn to read and provide targeted interventions.

The logic is simple: when children have access to books, when they can see, when they’re in school, and when they receive targeted support if they’re struggling, they’re much more likely to learn to read.

The logic is simple: when children have access to books, when they can see, when they’re in school, and when they receive targeted support if they’re struggling, they’re much more likely to learn to read.

Even in countries like the United States, children in high-poverty areas have a much harder time getting books than their peers in middle-income areas, but a number of programs (including one sponsored by the country singer Dolly Parton) have taken advantage of book vending machines, doctor’s offices, and other mechanisms to address this issue. Organizations like EmbraceRace and the Jane Addams Peace Association post lists of books by authors from different racial and cultural backgrounds so that there’s no excuse not to provide all children with access to materials that reflect their heritage.

 Of course, making books and print materials available in a variety of languages, by authors from a range of backgrounds, is just one step. Children still need to be able to read those books once they get those books into their hands. Nonetheless, 25 percent of school-aged children in the United States have undiagnosed eye problems that inhibit their ability to read, and one in three children haven’t had their vision tested in the past two years (if at all); but relatively low-cost programs to test students’ vision and get glasses to those who need them do exist. In the developing world, it may be complicated to create a supply chain that makes print materials readily available and ensures every child who needs glasses gets a pair, but it can be done.

We know that chronic absences from school have a devastating effect on children’s learning and have a disproportionate impact on students in communities of color, but that knowledge has also led to the development of a number of successful strategies for helping many children to get to and stay in school. Despite the re-emergence of the “reading wars” over the best approach to teach reading, there are a number of well-established strategies and supports that many teachers and schools are already using that target the specific needs of at least some of the students who experience difficulties in learning to read when they are in school.

Improve Schools and Transform Education

These first steps may not reach every student right away, and any initial success has to be followed by developing educational activities that foster more advanced skills and a broader set of developmental needs – an even more challenging proposition. Ultimately, addressing these challenges will depend on truly reimagining schooling, and, reconceptualizing notions like “learning loss” that ignore the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum and age-graded pacing that make it almost impossible for students to catch up once they’re left behind.

We need to reimagine schooling, reconceptualizing notions like “learning loss” that ignore the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum and age-graded pacing that make it almost impossible for students to catch up once they’re left behind

In short, the pandemic itself will not change schools:  Nothing will change in schools unless we change it. Yet the strategies to provide glasses, to address chronic absences, and to provide targeted support in reading can lead to real improvements in schools – even in the midst of a pandemic – if we choose to dedicate the time, resources and commitment to put them into practice on a wide basis.  We can take these critical steps to make the schools we have more efficient, more equitable and more effective today and to lay the groundwork for transforming education as a whole in the future.