Author Archives: T Hatch

Thirteen insights into teacher wellbeing and mental health in England

Just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week, this week’s post describes the key results from a study of teachers’ wellbeing in England. The post comes from John Jerrim, Professor of Education and Social Statistics at the Institute of Education, University College London, and it was published originally on the UCL Institute of Education Blog

With my colleagues Becky Allen and Sam Sims, I have published a major new analysis of teacher mental health and wellbeing in England. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, it is the culmination of two years of work and is, we believe, the most comprehensive analysis on this issue to date. In this blogpost, we’ll take you through a whistle-stop tour of some of our results.

1. Teachers in England are more likely to perceive their job as causing them stress – and having a negative impact upon their mental health – than teachers in other countries

In spring 2018, teachers in more than 40 countries were asked whether they felt their job caused them stress and had a negative impact upon their mental health. As the chart below illustrates, teachers in England were very clear in their views. Lower-secondary teachers in this country were more likely to say that their job had a negative impact upon their mental wellbeing than teachers in almost any other country. (Results for primary teachers produced a similar finding – albeit compared to a smaller number of other countries). Teachers in England clearly believe that their job – in certain ways – has a negative effect upon their wellbeing.

2. Teachers in England do not have lower levels of wellbeing than demographically similar individuals working in other professions.

It has previously been claimed that teachers have lower levels of wellbeing than other occupational groups. Our analysis dispels this myth – see the chart below. Once demographic background characteristics of individuals have been controlled for – e.g. gender – teachers in England actually have similar levels of (un)happiness and anxiety as other professional workers.

3. Like those working in other professions, there has been a recent rise in the percentage of teachers reporting mental health problems…

Over the last decade, there has been a notable rise in the percentage of teachers reporting a long-lasting mental health problem – see the chart below. This, however, is also true for other professional workers, such as accountants, nurses and human resource workers. It is therefore not a phenomenon that is specific to teaching, and hence seems unlikely to be related to teachers’ jobs. Indeed, our report reveals that there has been little change in the proportion of teachers who suggest depression has been caused or aggravated by their job.

4. …but this could just be due to an increase in reporting of mental health problems (rather than a decline in teacher wellbeing per se).

One potential explanation for the finding presented in the chart above is that it is due to increased reporting of mental health problems – both among teachers and society as a whole. The chart below may provide some support for this point of view. Over the period that reported mental health problems of teachers increased we have found the percentage of teachers reporting low levels of personal wellbeing has remained broadly flat. In other words, despite more teachers reporting a long-lasting mental health problem between 2011 and 2018, there has not been a similar systematic increase in anxiety, unhappiness, dissatisfaction with life and feelings of low self-worth.

5. There is no specific half-term where teachers feel particularly anxious or unhappy (…they are particularly happy in the summer, though!).

We all have ups and downs in our wellbeing. But we previously knew very little about how the feelings of teachers varied over the course of the academic year. Are teachers particularly anxious and unhappy at certain times? As the next chart demonstrates, we found little clear evidence that feelings of anxiety or unhappiness are especially likely to occur in any given half-term. Although there seems to be quite a large amount of week-on-week fluctuation (quite possibly due to our limited sample size) there seems little evidence of a systematic pattern by school term. The only exception is that – surprise, surprise – teachers seem to be happier and less anxious during the summer holiday.

6. There is no evidence that becoming a teacher is associated with a decline in mental health.

When someone decides to become a teacher – with the heavy workload and new experiences that entails – does wellbeing start to plummet? The answer – as demonstrated by the chart below – is no. Recently qualified teachers actually have similar levels of mental wellbeing at age 26 to when they were age 17 (before they became teachers). This pattern is also similar to other professional groups. Consistent with our interpretation of the second chart in this blogpost, this result suggests that deciding to become a teacher is unlikely to lead to a decline in wellbeing and mental health.

7. Middle-aged teachers who quit do not have better mental health and are not more happy generally (despite being slightly happier at work)

There is also little evidence that middle-aged teachers who quit for alternative employment experience much change in their general wellbeing and overall mental health. As the table below illustrates, although those middle-aged teachers who quit teaching report being slightly happier at work, this does not translate into lower levels of anxiety or depression, and is not associated with greater levels of happiness in life overall. In other words, for those who are considering leaving the teaching profession, the grass may not be that much greener on the other side.

8. Teachers’ working hours have been broadly stable since the early 1990s.

Workload and working hours have become a key education policy issue in England over the last few years, in part stimulated by results from the TALIS 2013 study which suggested that teachers in England work longer hours than teachers in most other countries. However, it does not seem that teachers are now working much longer hours than historical averages. Indeed, as the next chart reveals, there has been relatively little variation in the average working hours of teachers since the early 1990s. There is, of course, an important caveat to this finding. It is possible that workload has increased while working hours have remained stable – with teachers required to cram more work into the same amount of time – or for more tasks to build up and remain incomplete.

9. It is time spent upon marking and lesson planning that really causes teachers stress in the workplace.

When it comes to the link between working hours and workload stress, it is clear that not all tasks are equal – see the table below.

Looking across English-speaking countries, we find that each additional hour teachers spend on marking and lesson planning is strongly associated with an increase in their workload stress. The same is not true, however, for time spent on professional development and time spent actually teaching. Increasing working time spent on these areas are either associated with a decrease in workload stress or only weakly associated with an increase workload stress. For policymakers and senior leaders the message is clear. If you want to reduce the workload stress of teachers, it is these auxiliary tasks (often done in the evening, at weekends or during holidays) that need to be tackled.

10. Countries with extensive accountability systems are slightly more likely to have teachers who feel stressed from being held accountable for pupil achievement.

Outside of workload, the other great evil often associated with low levels of teacher wellbeing is high-stakes accountability. Unfortunately, little high-quality quantitative evidence exists on how such accountability systems really impact on the mental health of teachers. What we do know from our report is that countries with more school accountability do have teachers who are (slightly) more stressed by this aspect of their job. Now, as I have said previously, we need to be careful with such cross-national comparisons. And, of course, correlation does not equal causation. So we might ask: in England, do we have the right balance between quality assurance of schools and ensuring that this does not stress teaching staff out? But at the same time, we should keep in mind that the relationship between accountability and teacher wellbeing is not that strong – and is certainly not deterministic.

11. Teachers feel more stressed about accountability when their colleagues do as well (but, surprisingly, not really when their headteacher does).

One thing we have learned about teacher stress induced by accountability is that it seems to some extent to cluster within specific schools. A form of ‘emotional contagion’, as it were. Teachers in over 40 countries were asked to rate how stressed they were about accountability in the TALIS 2018 study – “not at all”, “to some extent”, “quite a bit”, or “a lot”.[1] For every one category increase in colleagues’ stress levels – from “quite a bit” to “a lot”, say – there was a 16 percentage point increase in the proportion of teachers saying that they felt “quite a bit” or “a lot” of accountability-related stress themselves. Interestingly, though, we find only a weak relationship between whether headteachers feel stressed by accountability and the stress reported by their teaching staff. This may suggest that, in general, headteachers do a good job in not projecting their worries about accountability on to their staff.

12. Supportive leadership and manageable workloads appear more important than other factors when controlling workplace stress levels.

What can schools do to reduce workplace stress? In our project, we looked at how workplace stress (as well as job satisfaction and teacher retention) is related to five separate aspects of teachers’ working environments. When it comes to workplace stress, two of these working conditions stood out – see the table below. First, having teachers who feel their workload is manageable is strongly associated with a reduction in their stress levels. The second is having a supportive leadership team in place. These factors were much more important than collaboration with colleagues, lesson preparation and school discipline when it came to teacher wellbeing in the workplace.

13. Lockdown did not seem to reduce teachers’ workplace wellbeing or lead them to suffer from greater levels of work-related anxiety

The Covid-19 crisis has, of course, turned teachers’ (and everyone else’s) lives upside down. Although most of the data we use in our report comes from the pre-Covid era, we were able to investigate how the wellbeing of teachers may have changed during the early stages of the pandemic. As the chart below reveals, teachers’ work-related anxiety actually declined during lockdown. Moreover, our report reveals how lockdown did not seem to impact upon teacher wellbeing overall. Headteachers, however, did suffer from some period of high-stress, particularly just before school lockdown was announced and when school reopening was announced.

The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.

Notes: The findings relate to around 131,000 teachers in lower-secondary schools.

Want to Make Education More Innovative? Let’s Invest in R&D

This week IEN shares a post from Jeff Wetzler, a co-founder of Transcend and Transcend senior fellow Sujata Bhatt. This post, originally published in EdSurge, was written for a US audience but the international parallels are clear. As Bhatt and Wetzler explain: “With the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems around the globe have awakened to the urgent need to redesign schools to become more relevant and equitable. Innovation is no longer an optional pathway; it needs to be fundamental to how schools and systems operate. We need to redesign our teaching and learning infrastructure to embrace and meet local needs. Doing so means growing local community capacity to reinvent how students experience learning, and redesigning regional and national systems to support innovation at the local level. This piece was written specifically to describe what schools in the US could do to support R&D by using funding for schools made available by the passage of American Rescue Plan Act in March, but the approaches outlined here can readily be applied in all kinds of systems in the US and around the globe. In the past the federal government of the United States has created large funding programs like the School Improvement Grants (SIG) referred to in the article, and they have had little impact because they did not focus on growing the innovation R&D capacity of systems. In this piece, we ask, How might education systems respond differently this time?”

In 2019, the United States spent 2.8 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on Research and Development (R&D). R&D is our nation’s engine of innovation. It put that smartphone in your hand, that solar panel on your roof, and that COVID-19 vaccine in your arm. R&D unquestionably makes our lives better.

“[O]ur education system needs to innovate to make it more equitable, agile, relevant and responsive.”

At a basic level, R&D is the set of activities an organization undertakes to innovate—using research techniques to solve problems or learn new things. During the crises of 2020-21, we clearly saw that our education system needs to innovate to make it more equitable, agile, relevant and responsive. We learned that education conditions are intensely local; they vary dramatically in each and every community, limiting the usefulness of one-size-fits-all solutions. We also saw many communities embracing local innovation because they had to.

The Community-Based Innovation Opportunity

Over the next few months, the Federal Government is infusing $122.8 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding into our education system. This unprecedented investment offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign our teaching and learning infrastructure from the ground up by empowering local school communities to innovate.

Why local communities? During the pandemic, systems, schools, teachers, families and students began innovating to make different kinds of education possible. Perea Elementary in Memphis, for example redesigned how parents, teachers, and children support each other in virtual, in-person, and hybrid settings.

Contrary to the prevalent narrative of learning pods as the province of privilege, Edgecombe County Schools in North Carolina created learning pods for students without wifi access. The Oglala District, serving indigenous Lakota families in South Dakota, designed the Lakota Oyate Homeschool Coop to meet the needs of children who were disengaged and worried about both cultural and physical safety. This inventive renaissance needs to be supported and sustained. As these examples show, we learned that families and students want greater involvement, including the opportunity to infuse cultural values and traditions into what has been a one-size-fits-all model of schooling. We also know from previous funding programs like School Improvement Grants (SIG) that large infusions of federal funds can be less than successful if states, districts and schools do not work in collaboration to grow conditions for innovation at the local level. Why not bring these learnings and agents for change together to grow capacity for school communities to lead their own innovation journeys?

What if we—each state, each regional agency, each district, each school—were to commit to spending even just 2.8 percent of our ESSER funding to catalyze deep, broad, local, community-based innovation? What if we used this tiny percentage of our massive federal windfall to reinvent our education system by building strong local conditions, particularly the capacity of each and every school to apply evidence-based approaches to reinventing teaching and learning?

It starts with a small step: take evidence-based methods and models that we know work now, and seed and sustain them in local contexts so they can take root, grow, and spread.

With this small investment, we could leapfrog our nation’s PK-12 system from our current inequitable industrial era learning model to equitable, 21st century learning—and thereby create an education sector that is prepared to be flexible, agile, and resilient when the next crisis comes along. It starts with a small step: take evidence-based methods and models that we know work now, and seed and sustain them in local contexts so they can take root, grow, and spread.

How Might States, Regions, and Districts Develop and Support Local School Communities’ Innovation Capacity?

Below are two powerful, locally empowering strategies that states, regional service centers, and districts could use to focus their 2.8 percent R&D Reinvention investments:

SCHOOL INNOVATION EMPOWERMENT

Invest in capacity for community-based redesign and evidence-based efforts with long-term impact.

  1. A Local Reinvention Team in Every School: Invest in teachers, families, parents and students to form teams that can design and prototype learning experiences that are customized to create equitable, responsive, 21st century schools. When schools reopen, they face inimitable challenges in redesigning learning for students who return from a year of crises with varying strengths, skills, knowledge and needs. The focus, pace and sequence of learning, as well as the resources and supports provided, need to be tailored to each learner’s identity, prior knowledge, development, way of learning and life experiences—which requires designing new types of learning experiences collectively and coherently—not classroom by individual classroom. This is deep, creative, team-based innovation requiring listening, passion and energy while driving collaboratively towards a defined mission. Districts and states could resource (via Title I or II funds, or a separate Innovation fund) participation in these reinvention teams, which would develop innovation capacity for educators, families and students.
  2. Access to an Innovation Specialist: Invest in giving school reinvention teams temporary (2-3 years) access to innovation specialists explicitly tasked with growing local capacity to own and carry on the work. Innovation is not a haphazard process; R&D entails methods rigor, and expertise. These methods and mindsets are not widespread in the pre-K-12 sector, and they need to be. Innovation specialists who have expertise in these methods could be explicitly tasked with growing reinvention teams’ capacity to design and run rigorous R&D pilots so that over time the school community has the skills, methods and confidence to develop a transformational school design unsupported by coaches.
  3. Create system-level Innovation Funds that enable schools to access and adapt innovative models: Support school communities in investing in and implementing high-quality, evidence-based learning models that are equitable and responsive to the demands and opportunities of the 21st century.

“Every school needs to reinvent itself to support diverse learners survive and thrive in complex environments. However, the experiences need not be created and recreated by scratch in each and every school.

Every school needs to reinvent itself to support diverse learners survive and thrive in complex environments. However, the experiences need not be created and recreated by scratch in each and every school. School reinvention teams and communities should be able to adapt and adopt models developed elsewhere, particularly ones that are equitable, rigorous and evidence-based (and codified in the model libraries described below). To do so requires funding to pay for the models and for the innovation specialists who support the initial adaption process.

STATE / REGION / DISTRICT R&D AMPLIFICATION

  1. Invest in regional and state-wide reinvention capacity-building structures.Innovation Connectivity: Invest in leadership relationships and development by convening groups of school and systems leaders who are actively engaged in reinvention so that leadership capacity grows and knowledge may be shared across those networked groups. Innovation requires a different type of leadership; one that builds opportunities and guardrails rather than managing top-down compliance. Systems leaders need support in growing their capacity to lead innovation this way, and they need to be connected to others because innovation spreads through networks. These networks of innovative leaders need to be resourced and built. Launching, supporting and sustaining innovation networks across schools within districts and across districts within a region and state would be a valuable use of funds.
  2. Model Libraries: Invest in documenting innovative learning experiences and models via video and design blueprints, as well as funding regional and national “libraries” and platforms that allow systems and schools to borrow from each others’ experiences and models, thereby accelerating the spread of reinvention.

There are inspiring bright spots across the country that can supply others with inspiration and tangible approaches to implement. These innovative models are centered on equity, effective learning and human flourishing, so that all young people not only maximize their own potential but also see, confront and tackle society’s greatest challenges. Documenting evidence-based models that other communities can borrow and adapt, rather than reinventing the wheel each time, saves time and money.

It is impossible to forecast all of the crises, ruptures, and even opportunities that lie ahead. Imagine if each school, each district, each state chose to spend a mere 2.8 percent of their ESSER funds to proactively build capacity and infrastructure for this unknown future. These proven strategies have the power to yield an unprecedented return on investment for our children.

— Jeff Wetzler & Sujata Bhatt

Pracademics, Transformational Professional Learning, and Educational Change: A Conversation with Deborah Netolicky

In this week’s post, Dr. Deborah Netolicky (@debsnet) discusses her work as a pracademic scholar practioner in the latest Lead the Change interview from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Netolicky is currently Head of Teaching and Learning at St Mark’s Anglican Community School, Honorary Research Associate at Murdoch University, Chair of a local primary school board, and recent recipient of both the 2021 AERA Educational Change SIG Emerging Scholar Award and the 2021 Michael Fullan Emerging Scholar Award. Netolicky blogs at theeduflaneuse.com and is author of Transformational Professional Learning: Making a Difference in Schools and editor of Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Democracy, and co-editor of Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education. 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?

Deborah Netolicky: The rhetoric of education policy the world over is about the common good and quality, equitable outcomes for all. In Australia, we had the Melbourne Declaration (Barr et al., 2008) and now the Mparntwe Declaration (Education Council, 2019). Both declare an education goal of excellence and equity for all young people, and the building of a democratic, equitable, just, culturally diverse society that values Australia’s Indigenous cultures. Australia likes to imagine itself as a multicultural melting pot of inclusive diversity, yet, as in many countries, our rhetoric and our imagined national identity fall well short of our reality. As Suraiya Hameed, Marnee Shay, and Jodie Miller (Hameed et al., forthcoming) note, the concept of excellence in education for Indigenous students has been greatly under-theorised and requires a strengths-based rather than a deficit perspective. Racism, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, ableism, and the reverberations of our colonial past, persist. Inequities remain. Educational change is too often a political ball bounced back and forth, with governments making decisions based on short term political cycles and winning election votes, rather than on holding the line on sustained improvement for all.

Part of ‘accepting educational responsibility’ is working from a foundation of citizenship grounded in a shared moral purpose. Citizen-scholars and citizen-practitioners engage deeply with education committed to excellence, equity, and opportunity for all. We must not ignore the reverberations of past oppressions and the echoes of past violence in our current world. If we are to address the intensifying challenges that face society, education, and individuals, education scholars and practitioners need to make the implicit explicit, deeply interrogating systems, structures, policies, pedagogies, practices, and our own beliefs, behaviours, and language. Scholars, practitioners, and pracademic scholar-practitioners need to engage with, and provide safe spaces for, education debates, including, and especially, those that are uncomfortable and awkward, and that require us to examine our own motivations, biases, and privilege. As many authors argue in the forthcoming edited book Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Equity, Democracy, and Inclusion (Netolicky, forthcoming), positive educational change requires challenging and providing alternatives to Western (that is, White, masculine, materialist, hetero) norms and paradigms.

Decolonisation—deconstructing dominant ideologies and dismantling educational structures—is not enough. What is needed is not just the breaking down of systems of power and privilege, but also the building up of what we would like to exist in its place. This means including, embracing, and investing in Indigenous, culturally diverse, and culturally marginalised ways of knowing, being, teaching, and leading in education. We need these ways of knowing and doing to understand and apply inclusive policies and practices that serve all those in our communities, especially the most vulnerable.

“What is needed is not just the breaking down of systems of power and privilege, but also the building up of what we would like to exist in its place.”

LtC: Much of your work is informed by your positionality as a “pracademic” and the special understandings and experiences that come as a result. What would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience sitting in this specific space?

DN: Much of my scholarly work has involved looking at education, educational change, professional learning, and educational leadership through the lens of identity (e.g., Netolicky, 2017, 2019, 2020a). I have defined identity as the “situated, ongoing process through which we make sense of ourselves, to ourselves and to others” (Netolicky, 2020d, p.19). Examining education through the lens of identity allows us to remain focused on education as a human endeavour, wrestling with multiplicities, complexities, and tensions. In our forthcoming chapter, Claire Golledge and I (Netolicky & Golledge, forthcoming) advocate for what we call a wayfinding approach to school leadership that balances intuition with strategy, improvisation with systematisation, empathy with policy, the individual with the whole. This approach, and awareness of the multiple tensions navigated constantly by those working in schools, could be considered and engaged with by those in the field of educational change.

In the book Transformational Professional Learning: Making a Difference in Schools (Netolicky, 2020d), I utilise my positionality as boundary spanning teacher-leader-researcher who works to bridge the gap between research and practice. The structure of the book mirrors the ways I bring a practice lens to scholarship, and a research lens to my daily work enacting theory into practice. In our upcoming Journal of Professional Capital and Community Special Issue—‘Pracademia: Exploring the possibilities, power and politics of boundary-spanners straddling the worlds of practice and scholarship’—Trista Hollweck, Paul Campbell, and I (Hollweck et al., forthcoming) explore the identities, spaces, and tensions of what can be called pracademia. The multipart identities and multiplicitous spaces of pracademia involve simultaneous active engagement in education scholarship and practice.

Democratic educational change benefits from those operating in different educational spaces and also those operating between and across various educational arenas and communities. The pracademic whose day job is in the world of practice is free from the metrics and pressures of academia, free to engage in scholarship in some ways on their own terms, but also often in or beyond the margins of the academe. The pracademic whose day job is in a university is active in the practice of school-based education through working amongst and alongside practitioners, immersed in the work of school contexts, and engaging in scholarship ‘with’ rather than ‘to’ or ‘of’ those in schools. Often the in-between spaces involve unpaid bridging, sharing, and collaborating work.

Identity work—of pracademics, practitioners, or academics—can be part of scholarship that is a political act, edging from the margins of the academe towards the centre, in which we challenge ourselves to do “writing that matters – to us, to our communities, to our nations, to social justice, to the greater good” (Netolicky, 2017, p.101). Education theory and practice are always intertwined, but embracing the concept of pracademia in educational change is about intentionally embracing nexus and community. It is about co-creating a collective space shared by teachers, school leaders, scholars, policymakers, political advisors, and community members. It is about working within and across education spaces, and working together.

LtC: In some of your recent work regarding the future of education in a Post-COVID world, you speak to both the possibilities for a return to some practices and change for others. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike to create, as you say, reform for good?    

DN: Injustices and deficiencies in our education and social systems are being revealed during the pandemic. Often multiple and intersecting disparities such as racial, gendered, socioeconomic, and cultural inequities became evident in, for example: the significantly increased risk to women’s employment and livelihoods compared to men’s; and the increased risk of mortality from COVID-19 of Indigenous Australians, ethnic minority groups in the UK, and Black Americans, as compared to their White counterparts. The pandemic also accelerated educational change, forcing innovation and introspection in education (Netolicky, 2020b). The person—child, student, teacher, leader—has come into sharper focus. Care and collaboration rose to the top of the priority list in education (Doucet et al., 2020), as did increasingly flexible ‘whole-person’ approaches to judging student success and providing student pathways for future success. What has receded is a focus on standardised testing as education systems are forced to reflect on how the apparent success of education is measured, and negative impacts of cultures of competition, surveillance, and hyperaccountabilities. While tertiary entrance examinations went ahead in Australia in 2020, alternate admissions pathways were also introduced by Universities. These include calculation of a predicted Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) based on students’ Year 11 results, and a Special Tertiary Admissions Test available to all students including those studying vocational pathways at school. In the UK, examinations (GCSE, A-Level, Scottish Highers, and Scottish Advanced Highers) were cancelled in 2020 and 2021, replaced with aggregated teacher-assessed grades that currently form the basis of UCAS applications. US universities have varying admissions policies, but most are currently ‘test-optional’ for a year or more (some permanently), meaning applicants do not have to sit the SAT or ACT standardised college admissions test. Rather, US applicants are submitting portfolios of achievements, employment, and community involvement to demonstrate their readiness for university. Universities leading flexible admissions criteria and processes (including portfolio entry, virtual tours, and online interviews) may help to change the focus of schools towards preparing students for beyond school, rather than on succeeding in examinations at the end of school. These increasing flexibilities may also go some way to democratising the university admissions process for marginalised groups.

“The pandemic also accelerated educational change, forcing innovation and introspection in education.”

During periods of remote learning, educators asked themselves: (1) What is it that we’ve missed during remote education that we want to bring back to schooling and education?; and (2) What is it that has been removed that we do not want to return to? (Netolicky, 2020c). Underpinning these questions are what we—those of us working, teaching, and leading each day in schools and universities—have come to realise are paramount: health and wellbeing, the importance of learning for all students regardless of circumstance, meaningful work, community, connectedness, adaptability, and resilience. We learned that governments, education systems, and schools need strong, clear leadership that can respond to crises with immediacy while considering the long-term view and the needs of the specific community. We learned that technologies can support teaching, learning, collaborating, and developing student autonomy, but cannot replace the connection, engagement, and learning that is possible when we are face to face. We learned that schools are more than places of learning. They are sites of community, relationships, society, values, and care. They also serve the practical, economic function of looking after children while parents go to work.

“We learned that schools are more than places of learning. They are sites of community, relationships, society, values, and care.”

Teachers have missed seeing students in person, and the complex and important non-verbal communication of the classroom, in which the teacher can ‘read the room’, see how each young person is approaching the day and the lesson, re-engage a disengaged student, or re-teach a concept to those who aren’t getting it. Students have missed school as a place where they see their friends and their teachers. What we would benefit from continuing to develop are:

  • Curricula in which students are active agents;
  • Use of a range of technologies to enhance learning, collaboration, and communication, and to empower students in their learning;
  • The declining focus on high-stakes testing and cultures of competition between schools and education systems, replacing this with a focus on multiple pathways to success and flexible alternatives that address the needs of students and their families; and
  • Providing trust, support, and resourcing to the teaching profession so that educators can get on with the complex work of serving their communities.

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?    

DN: Transformational professional learning— “learning that shifts beliefs, and thereby behaviours, of professionals” (Netolicky, 2020d, p.18)—has the capacity to support schools and school systems to successfully propel fruitful educational change. I argue (Netolicky, 2020d) for professional learning for those working in schools that:

  • Is targeted and ongoing;
  • Is driven by educational (not corporate or political) agendas;
  • Considers identity and humanity, providing high support and high challenge; 
  • Offers voice, choice, and agency to the adult learner; 
  • Pays close attention to context, culture, and relationships, avoiding one-size-fits-most models; 
  • Enables collaboration that is rigorous, purposeful, sometimes uncomfortable, and allows respectful disagreement; 
  • Broadens our definition of professional learning beyond courses or conferences; and  
  • Invests time, money, and resources in the learning of teachers and school leaders. 

Those in the field of educational change can support practitioners through teacher training, partnerships, sharing their scholarship broadly, and supporting practitioners undertaking post-graduate study. In my literature class, we are currently studying Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and discussing the ways in which this 1985 novel continues to resonate with modern readers, dealing as it does with inequities; misuse of power to protect the needs of a few; unjust class structures; oppression due to gender, sexuality, race, and class; and reduction of individual freedoms with increased government control in the name of a ‘greater good’ (something we have experienced during the pandemic). One of the characters talks about the intention of the novel’s distressing dystopian reality as intended to be “better” but notes that “better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some.” We need education that is good for all, not just good for some. It is imperative that we continue to consider the very purpose of education, and how we invest in what we value. I often talk in my workplace about changing culture and building trust ‘one conversation at a time’. We all have a responsibility to change education for the better for all students, one conversation, policy, study, action, paper, citation, webinar, social media post, at a time. Scholars can ensure that they are speaking not only to one another, but to communities, governments, and education professionals. We can communicate our scholarly work through accessible channels (such as open access, and popular, online, or social media) so that it is available to those working in schools.

Those working with, and alongside, schools and school systems can do so with an understanding of the realities of the lived experiences of school-based educators, including: intensification of workload; increasing job complexity; and escalating emotional stresses resulting from family and social issues impacting students such as violence, financial difficulties, discrimination, and mental health. We can resist the short termism of fast policy change that follows election cycles, in which politicians present education policy quick fixes or simplistic solutions to win votes, rather than playing the long game of education. We can all advocate for sustained educational change focused on common good and long-term improvements. We can challenge deficit media narratives around teaching and schools when they are accused of ‘failing’ or ‘falling behind’ and instead work to instil trust in, offer alternate narratives of, and engage in scholarship that shares the voices and complexities of, the teaching and school leadership profession.

“We can all advocate for sustained educational change focused on common good and long-term improvements.”

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

DN: One exciting thing I see happening in the field of educational change is the global, networked approach fortified and amplified by the pandemic. Collaboration—local, national, and global collaboration that is meaningful, transparent, productive, and focused on the shared moral purpose of the greater good for all—is key to a positive future. Now, more than ever, we are talking, researching, and working together, across societies, countries, systems, sectors, and fields, to co-design solutions to injustice, inequity, and discriminatory structures and practices.

An ongoing development in educational change and other fields is an increasing diversity of voices, perspectives, and representations. As Jon Andrews, Cameron Paterson, and I noted (Netolicky et al., 2019), and as is evident in my experience as editor of two books aiming to share diverse perspectives, this is not easy to achieve. It is often those with important perspectives to offer—from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, genders, sexualities, classes, belief systems, and (dis)abilities—who are least able to contribute, for a range of complex reasons. It remains important for all scholars, educational leaders, and organisers of conferences and events, to consider who is cited, who is invited, and who is excluded, and to pursue the ongoing work of diversity and inclusion. We need to ask ourselves what behaviours and language we accept without challenge. We need to speak against microaggressions in our own professional and personal contexts. We need to consider how measurements of educational ‘excellence’ might perpetuate discrimination, favouring some and disadvantaging others. What do our measures measure, and what do our methods of research reinforce?

We need to seek out and seek to understand Indigenous and non-Western knowledges, ways of knowing, theories, and theorists. Including diverse cultural positions and approaches to research moves from problematising and othering cultural minorities, to expanding perspectives and the current knowledge base (Shay, 2019). What is exciting is the increasing valuing, reclaiming, and development of Indigenous research methodologies. Australian examples include Melitta Hogarth’s Indigenous Critical Discourse Analysis (Hogarth, 2017, 2018) and Marnee Shay’s Collaborative Yarning Methodology (Shay, 2019). Drawing simultaneously on Indigenous and Western methodologies—learning, working, and researching at ‘the interface’ (Ryder et al., 2020)—can challenge societal norms (Hogarth, 2017) and lead to innovation, the formation of new knowledge, and the development of culturally safe methodologies (Ryder et al., 2020). It is this work at the boundary, the interface, or the nexus that offers possibilities, as it means not binary thinking but both/and thinking in which new spaces, communities, and knowledges are formed, that can move educational change forward, while honouring and acknowledging its past.

References

Barr, A., Gillard, J., Firth, V., Scrymgour, M., Welford, R., Lomax-Smith, J., Bartlett, D., Pike, B., & Constable, E. (2008). Melbourne declaration on educational goals for young Australians. Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

Doucet, A., Netolicky, D., Timmers, K., & Tuscano, F. J. (2020). Thinking about Pedagogy in an Unfolding Pandemic: An Independent Report on Approaches to Distance Learning During COVID19 School Closures. Education International & UNESCO.

Education Council. (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. Carlton South, Victoria: Education Services Australia.

Hameed, S., Shay, M., & Miller, J. (forthcoming). “Deadly leadership” in the pursuit of Indigenous education excellence. In D. M. Netolicky (Ed.), Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Democracy. Routledge.

Hogarth, M. (2017). Speaking back to the deficit discourses: A theoretical and methodological approach. The Australian Educational Researcher44(1), 21-34.

Hogarth, M. D. (2018). Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy. (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).

Hollweck, T., Campbell, P., & Netolicky, D.  M. (forthcoming). Defining and exploring pracademia: Identity, community, and engagement. Journal of Professional Capital and Community.

Netolicky, D. M. (2017). Cyborgs, desiring-machines, bodies without organs, and Westworld: Interrogating academic writing and scholarly identityKOME 5(1), pp. 91-103.

Netolicky, D. M. (2019). Elevating the professional identities and voices of teachers and school leaders in educational research, practice, and policymaking. In D. M. Netolicky, J. Andrews, & C. Paterson (Eds.) Flip the System Australia: What matters in education. Routledge.

Netolicky, D. M. (2020a). Being, becoming and questioning the school leader: An autoethnographic exploration of a woman in the middle. In R. Niesche & A. Heffernan (Eds.) Theorising Identity and Subjectivity in Educational Leadership Research, pp. 111-125. Routledge.

Netolicky, D. M. (2020b). Leading from Disruption to ‘Next Normal’ in Education. In Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined: Thoughts and Responses from Education’s Frontline During COVID-19 (e-book). World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in partnership with Salzburg Global Seminar.

Netolicky, D. M. (2020c). School leadership during a pandemic: Navigating tensionsJournal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(3/4), 391-395.

Netolicky, D. M. (2020d). Transformational Professional Learning: Making a Difference in Schools. Routledge.

Netolicky, D. M. (Ed.). (forthcoming). Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Democracy. Routledge.

Netolicky, D. M., Andrews, J., & Paterson, C. (Eds.). (2019). Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education. Routledge.

Netolicky, D. M., & Golledge, C. (forthcoming). Wayfinding: Navigating complexity for sustainable school leadership. In D. M. Netolicky (Ed.), Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Democracy. Routledge.

Ryder, C., Mackean, T., Coombs, J., Williams, H., Hunter, K., Holland, A. J. A., & Ivers, R. Q. (2020). Indigenous research methodology – weaving a research interface. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 23(3), 255-267. 

Shay, M. (2019). Extending the yarning yarn: collaborative yarning methodology for ethical Indigenist education research. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 1-9.

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.

Who and What Counts in Education? A Conversation with Jordan Corson

This week IEN shares an interview with Jordan Corson that focuses on his work on learning with transnational youth inside and outside schools. Corson is an Assistant Professor of Education and an affiliated faculty member of immigration studies at Stockton University. He is a co-author with Thomas Hatch and Sarah Gerth van den Berg of The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021). This post is the first in an occasional series that features the work of early career scholars. The series grows out of a collaboration (#EdIntColl) between IEN, ARC (Atlantic Rim Collaboratory), ICSEI (International Congress For School Effectiveness And Improvement), and the Educational Change SIG (Special Interest Group) of AERA (American Educational Research Association).

IEN: What’s the key problem or issue that you’ve been working on? 

Jordan Corson: In this early part of my career, I’ve really been focused on critically engaging questions of who and what counts in education. Interrogating problems of marginalization, my work aims to challenge dominant understandings of inclusion, reform, and of education itself. Exploring these issues has taken on a number of forms, but has so far largely focused on two research projects. First, I studied with people living and working in a neighborhood and marketplace in Mexico City called Tepito. When I was first living in Mexico, I heard a lot about this neighborhood that “didn’t have education yet.” People in Tepito may have varying levels of schooling, but they’re constantly engaged in complex educational practices in their everyday lives. Spending a lot of time in Tepito ultimately led to an ethnographic and historical project about educational life in the neighborhood.

An image of Tepito

In a similar vein, my dissertation project looked at the everyday lives of immigrant youth in a newcomer school in New York City. Even in the culturally and linguistically affirmative space of their school, one designed specifically to support immigrant students, the youth with whom I worked had become labeled “at-risk” of dropping out.

In these projects, I aimed to challenge the deficit narratives around educatedness and labels like being “at-risk.” Working ethnographically, I looked at rigorous intellectual work taking place in everyday life, be it practices of translaguaging, navigating the city, taking on family and professional responsibilities, or just hanging out and sharing ideas with each other. But, showing educational life as something already present was just a starting point.  Although scholars like Shirley Brice Heath and Kris Gutierrez have been working to challenge schooling’s monopoly on education, the problem here is that, at the risk of creating an overgeneralization, these kinds of “non-formal” educational practices are still not taken seriously. Something like afterschool clubs or extracurriculars might be seen as important (though supplementary) education, but that still misses so much in everyday life. One example I always love to share is the albur, a kind of wordplay or double entendre that people practice in playful conversation in Tepito. There’s no school or program, no training to learn how to do this, but it takes serious intellect and creativity to engage in the back and forth of albureando. In educational research, that’s just not seen as serious knowledge or a necessary skill. Similarly the youth with whom I worked in New York City were only seen as educated when they succeeded in formal educational processes. I never wanted to attack public schools that are already under constant attack, but this returns to my initial question of engaging educators and policymakers on issues of who and what counts in education.

A sign hanging in the newcomer school

IEN: What did you learn about it? 

JC: Beyond any other lesson, what I’ve really learned is that as researchers, we’re so often limiting our scope and our work. Questions of educational change are largely just looking to keep “tinkering toward utopia” as if the ultimate goal is to achieve Horace Mann’s dream of universal schooling. Youth labeled “at-risk” in schools may want education reform or policy change, but they’re certainly not sitting around waiting for policymakers or anyone else. They are pushing for changes on the ground, through things like demands for immigrant rights. Moreover, they’re also doing their own thing. They’re engaging in educational work that is useful to their everyday lives. They’re taking up rigorous ideas and feeling successful in doing so. And, they’re collectively participating in education (both formal and non-formal) that they find joyful and pleasurable. What that says to me is that we need more educational research that goes beyond figuring out ways to better school kids. Educational research and educational discourses in general are dominated by these twin concerns for inclusion in schools and academic success. I don’t want to abandon those aims or suggest schools should accept the marginalization that many students face, but there are many more educational questions out there. It’s about listening to what is already happening and respecting kids’ collective autonomy. My job as a researcher and educator who wants to change education is not to figure out how to improve inclusion mechanisms. It’s not a matter of reform. Instead, it’s about exploring how kids who are already equal, and who verify that equality through everyday intellectual work, have been marked as “at-risk” or “failing,” even in inclusive and affirmative educational environments. From there, it’s about thinking about inventive, playful ways for researchers to work on undoing all the unequal conditions we’ve made.

It’s about exploring how kids who are already equal, and who verify that equality through everyday intellectual work, have been marked as “at-risk” or “failing,” even in inclusive and affirmative educational environments

IEN: What are the implications for policy/practice? 

JC: I think the biggest implication here is that policy, practice, and even schooling itself need to be restricted. The kids with whom I worked already had jobs, family responsibilities, and all kinds of commitments. As kids struggled, teachers rightly wanted to help. But, that so often meant adding in tutoring, afterschool, and other supports on top of everything else. Simultaneously, educational life outside of the school is getting smaller and smaller. At one point during fieldwork for my dissertation, some of the participants and I were at a museum. A docent was guiding us around, offering really cool details and information about the works we encountered. At one point, she asked us to all sit around a painting and started asking people to raise their hands and share ideas. It suddenly hit me, we were just back in school. The logics and expectations governing school have spread out so far, they’re encroaching on all parts of life. Simultaneously, though, there are obviously standardizing and normative forces encroaching on schools. I want to be careful here and reiterate that I think school is a wonderful place and schools should absolutely be searching out ways to welcome students and help them succeed. But, school is just one educational site among many. And, it’s a place where so much happens beyond academic success. Most of my fieldwork took place outside of schools, but some of the best stuff I observed in classrooms were teachers conspiring with students to subvert and navigate things like state tests. There were also some really beautiful moments when teachers stepped back and let the wild joyfulness of education take over. Beyond any kind of culturally responsive teaching, teachers here let a borderless curriculum rooted in students’ lived realities take over. It wasn’t drawing on interests and identities to help them read but just letting students explore and enact their own educational pursuits. Sometimes, that might be seen as academically useful from a schooling perspective. Two of the participants in the project loved performing translanguaged raps in front of their class. There were also some fantastic collective actions like the kids starting a gender and sexuality alliance. But, it also involved students sitting back, texting, and messing around on their phones. I don’t want to idealize it (there were a few pretty chaotic moments) or ignore ongoing oppressions and exclusions that these kids face, but these moments opened up some amazing possibilities for collective planning and routes that work against policy and practice that sought to govern their lives.

Educational life outside of the school is getting smaller and smaller… The logics and expectations governing school have spread out so far, they’re encroaching on all parts of life

IEN: What resources, tools, readings, helped you carry out your work?

JC: I don’t want to refer to research participants as resources, but the work was only possible thanks to their ideas, activities, and hospitality. It’s been hard to keep in touch since the project concluded, particularly during COVID, but their intellectual generosity is truly what made this work. One of the greatest resources for the participants and I was always New York City. The subway, parks, wandering the streets in the middle of summer. The place just oozes with educational potential. At the same time, beyond any IRB protocol, I always wanted to center mutual care and safety. Resources around things like know your rights were really helpful.

In terms of readings, I keep a number of books with me throughout writing. Leigh Patel’s Youth Held at the Border uses youth narratives to challenge the labels used to confine and exclude immigrant youth. The book balances intimate storytelling with a thorough critique of structural issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Whenever I feel a sense of futility creeping in, I turn to Saidiya Hartman’s work as well as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons. This kind of writing shows the creative and productive possibilities of rigorous academic work. It offers both the dominating ways that people are governed and controlled and the many strategies people take up to resist that kind of governance. Moten and Harney also show how intellectual labor comes from all over, be it be chatting on the front porch or on the factory floor at work. Furthermore, they really flip the script and show how educational institutions like universities so often act to regulate thought and codify knowledge. Finally, Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster illustrated how equality is not simply some future possibility towards which we work but a starting point.

Of course, as lonely as writing can be, colleagues and mentors have always been great resources for bouncing ideas off of, sharing readings, or reining me in. I guess when it comes down to it, I’ve been a very small part of these research projects.

IEN: What’s next for your work? What problems and issues are you/will you be working on? What are your hopes for that work – what do you envision for the future?

JC: I’m just starting out as a professor, so what’s next for my work is a lot of learning how to live within and balance the varying demands of academic life. That certainly means supporting a lot of first gen folks as they become teachers. Trying to stay true to my research focus, I’ve tried to balance supporting the development of their craft with some critical questions regarding the privatized, credentialing nature of things like the edTPA.

From these research projects, I’ve been preparing manuscripts for journals and beginning the process of converting my dissertation into a book. I hope and know both the work in Tepito and the dissertation project will be with me for some time, so it’s a bit difficult to think of what’s next beyond trying to share that work. I do know the demands of academia have so far suggested I be the sole author of something like a dissertation. Going forward, I want to seek out more collaborative research that builds on collective knowledge.

Which is a more radical view of the future of schools? Is it a world with AI everywhere and floating desks? Or, is it a world in which equality is a fundamental principle applied to everyone that enters the school?

Looking ahead, one project about which I’m increasingly interested is the role of the future in education. When I started teaching last year, I inherited a class called Schools of the Future. In building the syllabus, I found a lot of institutional projections and probabilities of what schools would be like in the future, including lots of images of limitless technology. On the first day of class, I asked everyone to find or create a media image of what schools might look like in 25 years. I asked everyone to really push at the boundaries of possibility, thinking about the wildest images of schools of the future. The most common vision we came up with seemed to be like an episode of the Jetsons. In order to consider the future, we’ve also been looking at a lot of images of the past. How have schools been constructed (and why) and how have they changed over time and place? One example we looked at was some of the education work of the Black Panther Party. As we looked at the actual curriculum and explored some of the pedagogy, there wasn’t anything all that futuristic about it. In some ways, it involves some recitation and rote learning. But, that leads to a question of which is a more radical view of the future of schools? Is it a world with AI everywhere and floating desks? Or, is it a world in which equality is a fundamental principle applied to everyone that enters the school? These questions, once more, return to this fundamental issue of who and what counts in education. But, any kind of new project is somewhat down the line. For now, I’m just really happy to continue writing and working with some awesome students who I still haven’t met face to face.

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