Author Archives: drkarenedge

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

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

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

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

IEN: Why this book, why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

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

hargrean@bc.edu Twitter: @hargreavesbc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

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

Lead the Change Q & A with Izhak Berkovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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