Category Archives: About K-12 International Education News

School Closures, Internet Access and Remote Instruction in Vietnam:  A Conversation with Chi Hieu Nguyen (Part 1)

This week, Chi Hieu Nguyen talks with Thomas Hatch about the after effects and developments in education in Vietnam following the COVID-19 school closures. Nguyen is the CEO, and co-founder of Innovative Education Group (IEG). Innovative Education Group is an umbrella group of more than 10 education ventures. The interview includes a brief discussion of IEG’s work before Nguyen discusses what happened in Vietnam’s schools following the COVID-19 outbreak, how the education system has responded and what has happened since.

Thomas Hatch: Before we talk about the school closures, can you give us a sense of the kind of work you and your colleagues at IEG do in Vietnam?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: We serve the entire spectrum of the education landscape in Vietnam. We work with policymakers, researchers, school leaders, teachers, parents, and students, and each venture tackles a different problem. We manage education consulting companies but we also run full scale K-12 school systems; we’re involved in publishing, assessment, online learning models, and after school learning models, and even a nonprofit foundation to rebuild public schools in remote areas or provide scholarships and mentorship to underprivileged college students. But the majority of my work focuses on K-12 schools in terms of building new schools, upgrading schools, and transforming old schools. I focus mainly on the academic operation side.

The School Closures in Vietnam

Thomas Hatch: Can you give us a sense of what happened in schools in Vietnam after the COVID-19 outbreak?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: I think Vietnam is a very interesting case. If you look at the data, for example, in South Asia in general, during COVID-19, Vietnam had a longer stretch of lockdown compared to other countries because we were quite late in getting vaccinations going. So the closures started in March 2020, and, in total, we were probably online for a year and a half, and, at least for certain areas, it could be longer.

Thomas Hatch: Was that a government-wide shutdown? Was there any discussion or planning up to it? Or was it one day the schools were open, and the next day they were closed and online?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: In Vietnam it’s usually a top-down decision of the Government to shut down. But this time, it wasn’t uniform across the country. They started shutting things down depending on where the outbreak took place. Shutdowns could also happen based on the district. For example, there are 16 districts, and when a district had an outbreak, that district got shut down, and the others districts could stay open. So the school system operated in a very flexible way, but only in the beginning.  Then there was an intense period with the biggest outbreaks in summer and fall of 2020. That’s when pretty much the entire country got shut down, including the schools. Then, as we recovered, opening schools was really based on the city again – which had the highest amount of a percentage of vaccination and things like that. But the Government decided to have a target of 100% vaccination, and that is the reason why when it got back to normal it was pretty much every city and every province that came back to normal schooling. That happened around February–March of 2022. It was almost 2 years or a year and a half on and off, but mostly off.

Source: WHO & Google, Temasek and Bain, e-Conomy SEA 2020

Thomas Hatch: Who was making the decision about closing down schools? Was it the central government who would essentially say, okay, if you have an outbreak, you need to close? Or was it up to the local officials?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: It was the local authorities. Each province or municipality made those decisions depending on the outbreak. The central government gave a very general directive, but it was the authority of the province or the city that made the decision to shut down.

Thomas Hatch: Is that typical of decision making in the Vietnamese education system? Or is it usually more centrally controlled than that?

Chi Hieu Nguyen:  Over time, they have tended to give more leeway for local authorities to make the decisions. In 2018, after many years, we had an entire revamp of the national curriculum. That revamp produced the first competency-based curriculum nationally. But before that there was only a “one textbook” approach. That meant that, before 2018, for the entire public school system, we used the same textbook. From 2018 onwards, there’s a set of textbooks to choose from, so there’s a lot more leeway and flexibility for schools in different districts and different provinces and cities. It’s still a centrally controlled system, but there is increasing flexibility for the local authority to make those decisions. Over the past 5 or 6 years, there’s certainly more loosening of regulations to support the growth of the private sector as well, but it’s more obvious in education.

“Like a Survival Instinct” – The Initial Response to the School Closures

Thomas Hatch: What was the first step, the first reaction in terms of the school closures? Was it that people said, “oh my, we’re going to have to teach online and nobody has broadband access? And nobody has computers?”

Chi Hieu Nguyen: That’s really what it was. It was like a survival instinct. Everyone got online as much as they could. It’s actually accelerated the speed of adoption of technology and the Internet in a lot of schools. Many people and schools got online quickly, within about one or 2 months. But in contrast to many other Asian countries, in Vietnam, most of the new adoption of the Internet and digital devices — almost 75% — were in the metro areas. That means that in terms of the continuity of education, the metro areas did pretty well, but that the gap between the metro areas and rural areas widened because of COVID-19. For the Metro areas, COVID was a big kick that got a lot of people online, and now there are a lot of new digital products and services that are available. But in my work, even now, we still have to provide computers and teachers to teach online for students in the most remote area of Vietnam.

Source: Google, Temasek and Bain, e-Conomy SEA 2020

Thomas Hatch: That’s a pretty incredible increase in digital use in the metro areas. How was that response possible? Was it led by the Government? Or by local authorities? Or business?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: For private schools, the schools did it themselves, but I think the local education departments were also very responsive. For example, my province, the leadership of the public schools didn’t even need to wait for the local government or the central government to decide. They got students connected very quickly. I think there’s also that agility in the teachers. It’s a very young generation of teachers in Vietnam, and many of them are technologically enabled in their daily life. I think there’s just this passion in Vietnamese teachers in general that might have helped even in more rural areas where there was less internet penetration and technology is very limited. But, overall, I think the infrastructure was in place except for the very poorest areas. Vietnam is a very fast adopter of technology in general, and we saw that kind of a quick transformation in education. Students at most of the schools I know, both private and public schools, get online very quickly within just about 2 months.

Vietnam is a very fast adopter of technology in general, and we saw that kind of a quick transformation in education. Students at most of the schools I know, both private and public schools, get online very quickly within just about 2 months.

Thomas Hatch: What about devices? Did the schools have to hand out devices or did kids have enough mobile phones?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: Phones are something very common in Vietnam. Vietnam is a very e-commerce economy so the infrastructure is there. Almost every house has a smartphone with a data plan connected with the Internet.  I think it’s only with those with the lowest incomes or in the most remote areas where infrastructure is not strong enough. The majority of the country is pretty much connected.

Managing through Remote Instruction

Thomas Hatch: Then what? What were some of the first steps in terms of making sure that remote education would be effective? Was it training teachers in zoom and things like that? Was it creating a curriculum? And was that done centrally at the national level or at the local level?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: For one thing, the Ministry of Education worked together with the national television station to produce learning programs for every subject from grade 1 all the way to grade 12, so that even when students didn’t have internet they could actually watch the TV and learn the programs. But at schools, the effort was focused on just getting kids online and using the internet as a medium to get connected with students within the first, maybe 6 months to 9 months. There was not much of any conversation about teaching methods. But then, towards the end of 2020, and for most of 2021, there were more conversations and conferences about pedagogies, methods, and how to use technology. There was also new explosion of technological products and services in 2021. But for the first 6 months it was pretty much just getting online as much as possible.

Thomas Hatch: That’s very helpful. It’s really interesting the way you describe the COVID-19 response in phases, with an explosion of edtech technologies and things that teachers could use. It wasn’t necessarily focused on pedagogy. Can you give some examples of some of the more interesting edtech developments from your perspective?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: In just about 2 months it seemed like Zoom or Microsoft Teams were in every school. Then in 2021 Microsoft education came in, and suddenly there was an explosion in the number of teachers going for Microsoft education training to become a Microsoft Education Expert or to learn how to use the entire suite of packages and services. Google education followed as well. Vietnamese parents in general are also very keen on learning English with technology, and suddenly there is an explosion of pronunciation apps, reading apps, grammar apps, tons of this. There’s even an investment company translating the entire Khan Academy in Vietnamese.

For me, I also started using ClassIn. It’s a product from China, and it’s a platform that was built for the classroom. It’s different from things like Zoom that were designed as platforms for meetings and were hijacked into the classroom. On Zoom, for example, if you want to us another education tool, you have to ask students to switch platforms: “Okay, let’s go to Padlet” or you have to share a screen. And the moment you share a screen, with limited broadband, you often can’t stream a video or anything. Everything is just disrupted. But ClassIn brought everything together in one platform. You have a blackboard. You have a timer. You can store your video and your lesson plan, or whatever you want to share in ClassIn. Even if the students have very low broadband, they can still watch the video without distraction. It’s called like an online-offline model.

Thomas Hatch: But are schools still using these technologies and online tools?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: There are different aspects. Schools are more aware that something like COVID-19 could happen again and disrupt everything, so they’ve converted from paper-based into more digital resources. Now you see Vietnamese schools are starting to think about learning management systems like Canvas and everything digital lives there.

Schools are more aware that something like COVID-19 could happen again and disrupt everything, so they’ve converted from paper-based into more digital resources.

The second aspect is the way they approach the lessons. There now might be a combination between online activities and in person activities. The students before class, during class, and after class spend a lot of time on the digital platform, and of course, in class, they have discussions and they have in-person activities. The third aspect is that classroom organization may be more flexible. It’s no longer just one teacher and the entire class. You can have the class study from a different location, doing something for a field trip and then have a class study online, for example. You can start to invite teachers from all over the world to teach and start to explore other possibilities. Of course, you see this most at pioneering schools. One I’m involved in is The Olympia Schools, a private K-12 school system that is a part of our school network. They’ve started talking about deeper learning, about virtual reality, how to take advantage of AI and virtual reality. Now they’ve started to bring ChatGPT into daily teaching as well so there is almost no resistance to the wave of technology anymore because of that COVID-19. Now they have that mentality that we have to be very agile with every new technology coming out.  I think every city, in every major city in Vietnam, there should be about 4 or 5 schools like that. They are really pushing the boundaries, and they become like model schools that others can learn from.

Headlines Around the World: PIRLS 2021 International Reading Results Edition

This week, IEN scans the headlines for the results of the 2021 PIRLS reading assessment. For related scans from other international tests see Around the World in PISA 2018 Headlines; Headlines around the world: PIRLS (2016)  Results; Headlines Around the World TIMSS 2015 Edition; TIMSS and PIRLS 2011.

The release of the PIRLS 2021 4th grade reading results provides another opportunity for education systems to see if and how the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures affected students’ test performance.  In addition to collecting data in the middle of what the PIRLS report called the “COVID-19 disruption,” the latest implementation of PIRLS also entailed a transition to “an innovative digital assessment with 23 colorful and engaging texts delivered to students using a new group adaptive design.” The 2021 PIRLS also included a questionnaire that provided information about the challenges participating schools and students faced during the pandemic, which can help put the results in context.

In all, 57 countries and 8 benchmarking entities participated in PIRLS 2021, providing data from about 400,000 students, 380,000 parents, 20,000 teachers, and 13,000 schools.  According to the report, “in general there are downward trends in PIRLS 2021that likely are evidence of the assessment taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“in general there are downward trends in PIRLS 2021that likely are evidence of the assessment taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

As we have with previous PISA and TIMMS results, IEN scanned the headlines to see what media outlets in different parts of the world are emphasizing. Predictably, many of the headlines focus on rankings, often noting sharp rises and drops in performance. In this case, the headlines tout high performance in countries like England – rising to #4 in the rankings — but the reporting also acknowledges that rises like these reflect  “significant drops” in outcomes in some countries (like Finland and Poland) that are likely associated with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that some previously highly-ranked countries did not participate this time due to COVID. (At the same time, the headlines in Poland note that Poland, along with Finland, are still at the top of the rankings in the EU.)

In our google search scans, we found a number of headlines from media in the UK, Australia, and parts of Europe, with perhaps the largest number of headlines decrying South Africa’s dismal results. Although headlines in Brazil framed results there in negative terms, Nic Spaull pointed out that South Africa might actually do well to learn from Brazil, given that the results for 4th graders there suggest the that they were 3 years ahead of their peers in South Africa. Notably, no headlines from the US showed up in any of our scans.


Victorian students’ reading scores went backwards amid long remote learning period, international study showsThe Guardian

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in remote areas and First Nations students also lagged behind the national average

Year 4 reading outcomes steady despite Covid disruptions – major studyThe Educator Online

Falling through the cracks’: NSW boys fail to keep up with girls in readingThe Sydney Morning Herald


Brazil lags behind Uzbekistan and Kosovo in a reading assessment for elementary school studentsThe Rio Times


Students in Alberta outperformed several other Canadian provinces in reading scores during pandemicCTV News


PIRLS 2021: England rises up rankings, and 8 more findingsSchools Week

The country achieved an average reading score of 558, one point below the score when the tests were last held in 2016

Reading ability of children in England scores well in global surveyThe Guardian

English children are the most literate in Europe and shoot up the leaderboard to become fourth best in the world when it comes to their reading skills, study showsDaily Mail


European countries score well in international reading rankingsEuronews


Reading comprehension: France still falling short of European averageLe Monde


Germany: Reading skills below European average, and droppingDW

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Primary Four pupils take third spot in reading survey of 57 countries and territories around the worldSouth China Morning Post

Hong Kong students achieve remarkable results in International Reading Literacy StudyDimsum Daily

92% of Hong Kong P4 students were at or above the Intermediate International Benchmark, higher than the global average of 75%. The results also showed that 21% of the students were high achievers in reading literacy at the Advanced International Benchmark, which was only attained by 7% of students worldwide.”


Ireland’s 10-year-olds outperform internationally in readingRTE


The results of the 2021 IEA-PIRLS international survey were presented todayItaly 24


Poland tops EU in ranking of children’s reading abilityNotes from Poland


Scots ‘in dark’ over pupils’ reading as global study results publishedThe Herald


Serbian children achieve excellent PIRLS literacy scoreSerbian Monitor


Singapore’s Primary 4 pupils are world’s best in readingThe Straits Time


The problem sinking Spain in reading comprehension rankingsWorld Nation News

South Africa

South Africa’s massive reading problemBusiness Tech

SA produces one of worst global reading results among over 50 countriesnews 24

South African children come last in international reading assessmentThe Rep


Swedish reading skills fell in 2021 despite decision to keep schools openThe Local

Responsibility, Partnership, and Transformation: An Interview with Whitney Hegseth

In this month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview Whitney Hegseth reflects on the responsibilities of educational change scholars, the need for mutually beneficial partnerships with educators, and the possibilities for systems that support mutual respect as well as academic excellence. Hegseth is a Visiting Fellow in Educational Leadership & Higher Education at Boston College. Her anthropological and comparative research sits at the intersection of scholarship on policy implementation and the (re)building of educational systems. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website,

Lead the Change (LtC): The 2023 AERA theme is “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth” and charges researchers and practitioners with creating and using education research to disrupt institutionalized forms of discrimination. The call urges scholars to challenge traditional methods of inquiry in order to create increasingly useful, responsive, and equity-oriented research that can be used by schools to develop informed policies and practices to better support students. What specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Whitney Hegseth (WH): One responsibility we have as educational change scholars revolves around partnership. We need to think creatively and ambitiously about how to partner with folks in and around K-12 schools in ways that are mutually beneficial and deeply authentic. Presently, I am engaged in a research-practice partnership aimed at improving youth wellbeing in a small, urban community serving a low-income, largely immigrant population (PIs Lowenhaupt, Oliveira, & Lai). This partnership challenges traditional methods of inquiry in two ways. First, it is cross-sector. The project centers a Children’s Cabinet, which is comprised of a group of community leaders ranging from city officials to school district administrators to directors of community-based organizations. Second, we endeavor to continually involve youth in this partnership. For example, our team is designing a week-long summer institute for high school youth in which youth leaders will work with us to develop their ongoing role and responsibilities within the Children’s Cabinet. During this institute, youth leaders will first learn to conduct research in order to better understand youth wellbeing within their community. They will then formulate a plan to advocate for betters supports around youth wellbeing. Partnering with youth and across sectors adds layers of complexity to the research cycle. Such complexity is crucial when working toward increasingly useful, responsive, and equity-oriented research.

Educational change scholars might also consider how to partner in creative and ambitious ways within our higher ed classrooms. Many of us are privileged to teach aspiring or current teachers and school leaders. How might we partner with these teachers and leaders within the higher ed classroom in ways that then inspire partnership work they go on to do in and around K-12 classrooms? I am currently brainstorming with some of my master’s students about how to write about our shared teaching and learning experience. These students are at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, but most were airlifted out of Kabul in 2021. My mentors are helping me to consider ways to preserve and amplify these students’ distinct voices, not just within our classroom, but also in any research and writing we engage in as we grapple with the following questions: What does it mean to respect those you teach? and; How does one engage in teaching and learning across profoundly different contexts?

“Ceding power to our partners is one step toward promoting more useful, just, and ethical research.”

My research and praxis are focused on disrupting power asymmetries. In all of my research, teaching, and writing, I endeavor to relinquish some of my own power, and share it more broadly. Ceding power to our partners — around the questions we ask, the methods we use, and the voices we involve when telling our stories — is one step toward promoting more useful, just, and ethical research.

LtC: In your work, you examine how mutual respect can be enacted in various educational systems and settings. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

WH: Currently, my scholarship is focused on comparing how different educational systems (re)build toward expanded aims; for example, how systems promote mutual respect, in addition to academic excellence. Informed by previous literature and my own empirical data, I define mutual respect as the work of intervening on power asymmetries typically found in classrooms — both between teachers and students, and among diverse groups of students — by way of according children increased equality, autonomy, and equity. It is first important to appreciate the ways in which mutual respect differs from respect. “Respect” is an omnipresent term in schools; it is displayed on coffee mugs and classroom posters, and is ubiquitous in school mission statements and mottos. However, respect can often entail deference to someone with more experience, more authority, or a more privileged identity. As Lawrence-Lightfoot (2000) reminds us, mutual respect is the work of creating symmetry, especially in unlikely places like classrooms.

I developed an analytic framework for mutual respect, which I discuss in a manuscript under revision, as well as in a chapter I am preparing for an edited volume, Reimagining School Leadership: Sustaining Improvement Through and Beyond Uncertainty (Editors Kruse & DeMatthews). In this framework, I conceptualize mutual respect as multi-dimensional; in my research, the dimensions that surfaced were respecting children by way of according them increased equality, autonomy, and equity. This framework also emphasizes how mutual respect can be operationalized instructionally, organizationally, and socially. Finally, with the help of this analytic frame, one understands that the different dimensions of mutual respect can reinforce and conflict with one another in unexpected ways, particularly when one attends to these dimensions across classroom instruction, organization, and social relations. For example, one might argue that respecting students organizationally — with different class periods that ensure students have equal access to different teachers, subject matters, and resources throughout the day — might constrain teachers’ ability to respect students instructionally, by giving them ample time during a lesson to autonomously pursue their own questions, or equitably move at their own pace, before rushing on to the next teacher or lesson.

One way the mutual respect framework serves as a useful analytical tool is by enabling sharper conceptualizations of any of its comprising dimensions (i.e., equality, autonomy, equity). In a piece that will be available this September in The Elementary School Journal (Hegseth, in press), I discuss the following finding: Montessori and International Baccalaureate teachers differed in how they attempted equity in practice, and, relatedly, they differed in how they understood equity to interact with other dimensions of mutual respect (i.e., equality, autonomy). These differences between the systems held constant across two national contexts. By attending to differences in how equity is positioned alongside other priorities for teaching and learning, this research provides a glimpse into some of the varied ways equity can unfold in classroom practice.

LtC: In a recent article you investigate how the educational infrastructure of the Montessori system might support antiracist practice. How might your findings help scholars and practitioners think about leveraging strengths to build more inclusive schooling?

WH: In an article published in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Educational Administration (Hegseth, 2023a), I discuss how the Montessori system’s highly elaborate educational infrastructure supports a transformation in perception and pedagogy for Montessori teachers. Such infrastructure thus has potential to systemically support teachers in moving toward more antiracist practice. In this piece, I describe a disciplinary incident in a Montessori elementary classroom in Washington, DC, which helps illustrate how the system’s educational infrastructure supports teachers in (re)framing problems and solutions in their classrooms. For example, through lengthy, intensive, and highly specified training, Montessori teachers come to understand that, when something goes awry with Montessori classroom management, the object of change—and the object of blame—is the environment, not the child. I have observed this (re)framing on multiple occasions in Montessori schools in Michigan, DC, and Toronto. In the article, I discuss how, upon observing a young Black girl who had become disengaged and unruly in class, the teacher framed the problem as a mismatch between the classroom environment and the child’s developmental stage. Rather than punishing this girl, the teacher — again informed by her training — accorded the child increased responsibility. She and some of her peers began mentoring younger children in other classrooms several times each week. Other components of the Montessori system’s infrastructure also supported how this Montessori teacher (re)framed the problem and solution in her classroom. The Montessori system has standards around multi-age grouping, and having long, uninterrupted blocks of time each day for children to direct their own learning.

“The Montessori system’s highly elaborate educational infrastructure supports a transformation in perception and pedagogy for Montessori teachers.”

With multi-age grouping, children have more latitude to develop at their own pace. The student highlighted in this article was in 5th grade, but her teacher could flexibly include her with the 6th graders who had also become disengaged. Together with the 6th graders, the student in question was accorded the responsibility of working with younger children. Further, with long blocks of time to direct their own learning, these students could leave their classrooms to mentor, thus learning how to manage that responsibility alongside their other academic pursuits. In these ways, different components of the Montessori system’s infrastructure coordinate to help teachers transform their perceptions and pedagogy.

These findings hopefully encourage scholars and practitioners to consider how system supports might be coordinated to transform not just practice, but also fundamental assumptions around children: what they are capable of, and how they deserve to be treated and taught. There is still much work the Montessori system can engage in to support teachers’ antiracist practice, but the system has a track record — ever since Dr. Montessori worked with special needs and working-class children in Rome over a century ago — of empowering young, marginalized people (e.g., Debs & Brown, 2017; Lillard et al., 2017; Whitescarver & Cossentino, 2008). There is much we can learn from this. Look out for a complement to this article, which will be published in the coming months, and which draws on data from the International Baccalaureate system (Hegseth, forthcoming)!

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?

WH: In the name of deep and difficult transformation, I focus my scholarship on examining interactions between institutional and policy environments, the educational infrastructure of systems, and classroom practice. I am presently writing or revising a few manuscripts in which I compare these interactions across different types of educational systems. I am also co-PI on a research project that compares such interactions across public, charter, and Catholic educational systems, all of which are situated in a single geographic region (PIs Hegseth & Miller). Across this research and writing, I aim to support school and system leaders. By comparing how different educational systems manage their surrounding environment, we can better understand the implementation work and challenges that leaders face, and how this may vary by system. Such understandings are a step toward better equipping leaders to support deep and lasting change in classrooms. I draw on two systems I have already discussed to illustrate the importance of considering — and comparing — a system’s relationship with its broader environment. In a manuscript I am currently revising, I discuss how the Montessori system spearheads deep change in classroom practice by aiming for tight coupling between system-level policies and classroom practice, and loose coupling or decoupling with normative educational resources and practices in the broader environment. As such, the implementation work expected of Montessori system leaders is to design, preserve, and impart extensive and coordinated educational infrastructure, which obviates teachers’ need to rely on resources in their environment, thereby supporting their implementation of the counter-cultural Montessori method.

“System supports might be coordinated to transform not just practice, but also fundamental assumptions around children.”

Relative to the Montessori system, the International Baccalaureate (IB) system aims to effect change via more flexible coupling between macro (i.e., environment), meso (i.e., system), and micro (i.e., classroom) levels. In a recent policy report I wrote for the Brookings Institution (Hegseth, 2023b), I argue that the IB system has designed a robust educational infrastructure, which is more skeletal in nature. For example, the system provides IB teachers and schools with instructional frameworks and a philosophy that can guide teaching and learning in myriad contexts. However, IB teachers are to then fill in the details of this framework using resources and curricula from their local context. Given this more open stance toward the environment, the implementation work expected of IB system leaders, then, is to continually build bridges between IB and ever-shifting reforms and policies in the environment. Further, system leaders must build capacity so that IB school leaders and teachers can similarly learn to reconcile resources in their environment with IB’s approach to teaching and learning.

“There are educational systems — in the United States and beyond — that endeavor to challenge the status quo of schooling, and to do so at scale.”

We are in a moment of system (re)building, and of organizational divergence (e.g., Datnow, Park et al., 2022; Marsh et al., 2021; Peurach et al., 2020). As such, it is important to compare — within and across systems —how educational systems interact with their broader environments. In doing so, we can think more strategically about policy implementation, about leadership preparation, and about how to support deep and difficult transformation in classrooms. 

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

WH: I am going on the job market this fall, and three things excite me about the field of Educational Change in which I am just starting out. First, as I mentioned, we are in a moment of system (re)building. Increasingly, school systems are moving beyond simply governing and providing access to schools and are transforming themselves into educational systems, which work to organize and improve instruction, scaling excellence and equity across classrooms and schools (e.g., Peurach et

al., 2019). Second, as many of these systems reset from multiple, interlocking pandemics, they are working toward expanded goals for students. These systems are moving beyond an exclusive focus on academics and increasingly aiming for social justice or holistic student development, as well (e.g., Datnow, Yoshisato, et al., 2022). Third, this is not a time for isomorphism, but rather variety (e.g., Peurach et al., 2020). Systems are (re)building in different ways; they vary in their priorities, in how they manage their environments, in their design of educational infrastructure, and in myriad other ways.

My background is in Sociocultural Anthropology (UC Berkeley, B.A.) and International and Comparative Educational Policy (Stanford University, M.A.). As such, a longstanding research interest of mine centers on interactions between micro-level assumptions and practices in classrooms and macro-level policy and cultural forces. I employ methods like video-cued multivocal ethnography (Tobin et al., 2009) to surface and critically examine what Geertz (1975) terms “common sense” – or tacit, culturally situated assumptions – around how to treat and teach children throughout their school day. In my doctoral work at the University of Michigan, my dissertation chairs Donald Peurach and the late David Cohen helped me to recognize the promise of the meso level within the United States. It was at that point that I began to examine the potential of educational systems to intervene on the relationship between macro-level forces (i.e., political, social, cultural) and the micro-level assumptions, biases, and practices found in classrooms.

Put simply, there are educational systems — in the United States and beyond — that endeavor to challenge the status quo of schooling, and to do so at scale. Some systems focus on changing practice. Other systems go even further by seeking to transform fundamental assumptions around how to teach and learn from children. I am excited to continue oscillating between macro, meso, and micro levels, comparing interactions between these levels across different systems and national contexts. This is how I feel best suited to support educational change with my research, writing, teaching, and consulting. I have already written pieces that explore how educational systems — some in alignment with their broader environments, others at odds — support holistic student development, antiracist practice, mutual respect, and increased wellbeing for students. There is much more to study, and so many ways to partner with/in these systems in order to support their desired transformations. I am grateful to be in the beginning stages of such an urgent, practical, and varied line of work within the field of Educational Change. 


Datnow, A., Park, V., Peurach, D. J., & Spillane, J. P. (2022). Transforming education for holistic student development: Learning from education system (re)building around the world. Washington, D.C.: Brookings.

Datnow, A., Yoshisato, M., Macdonald, B., Trejos, J., & Kennedy, B. C. (2022). Bridging educational change and social justice: A call to the field. Educational Researcher, XX(X), 1-10. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X221138837

Debs, M. C., & Brown, K. E. (2017).Students of color and public Montessori schools: A review of the literature. Journal of Montessori Research, 3(1), 1–15.

Geertz, C. (1975). Common sense as a cultural system. Antioch Review, 33, 5-26. Hegseth, W. M. (in press). Attempting Equity in Classroom Practice: A Debate Across Educational Systems. Elementary School Journal.

Hegseth, Whitney M. (forthcoming). “Systemic supports for antiracist practice in International Baccalaureate classrooms.” In George Noblit (Ed.), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.1837

Hegseth, W. M. (2023a). “Systemic supports for antiracist practice in Montessori classrooms.” In George Noblit (Ed.), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.1818

Hegseth, W. (2023b). Transcending borders: The International Baccalaureate’s systemic approach to educating the whole person. In Datnow, A., Park, V., Peurach, D. J., & Spillane, J. P. (Eds), Transforming education for holistic student development: Learning from education system (re)building around the world. Washington, D.C.: Brookings.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2000). Respect: An exploration. New York: Perseus.

Lillard, A. S., Heise, M. J., Richey, E. M., Tong, X., Hart, A., & Bray, P. M. (2017). Montessori preschool elevates and equalizes child outcomes: A longitudinal study. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1783), 1–19.

Marsh, J. A., Allbright, T. N., Brown, D. R., Bulkley, K. E., Strunk, K. O., & Harris, D. N. (2021). The process and politics of educational governance change in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Denver. American Educational Research Journal, 58(1), 107-159. doi: 10.3102/0002831220921475

Peurach, D. J., Cohen, D. K., Yurkofsky, M., & Spillane, J. P. (2019). From mass schooling to educational systems: Changing patterns in the organization and management of instruction. Review of Research in Education, 43, 32-67. DOI: 10.3102/0091732X18821131

Peurach, D. J., Yurkofsky, M. M., Blaushild, N., Sutherland, D. H., & Spillane, J. P. (2020). Analyzing instructionally focused education systems: Exploring the coordinated use of complementary frameworks. Peabody Journal of Education, 95(4), 336-355.

Tobin, J., Hsueh, Y., & Karasawa, M. (2009). Preschool in three cultures revisited: China, Japan, and the United States. University of Chicago Press.

Whitescarver, K., & Cossentino, J. M. (2008). Montessori and the mainstream: A century of reform on the margins. Teachers College Record, 110(12), 2571–2600.

An Interview with Cynthia Robinson Rivers on the Evolution and Scaling of the Whole Child Model (Part 3): Key Changes and Challenges for Expansion

The final part of this 3-part interview with Cynthia Robinson-Rivers focuses on some of the changes that have been made in the Whole Child Model over the years as well as some of challenges she faces now that she has moved from the role of founding principal to a partner responsible for helping the model to expand. Cynthia Robinson-Rivers is the founding principal of the Whole Child Model at Van Ness Elementary School in Washington D.C. Robinson-Rivers recently joined Transcend, where she works with schools in Texas, Tennessee and Washington D.C. who are adopting the Whole Child Model. This interview was conducted by Thomas Hatch and students from his School Change class at Teachers College, Columbia University in the fall of 2023. Part 1 focused on the initial development of the Whole Child Model and some of the supports for teachers and Part 2 looked at community engagement and some of the challenges of implementation. These posts build on an interview last year with Transcend’s Keptah St. Julien who talked about the key elements of the Whole Child Model (See part 1; part 2).

TH: You’ve talked about the depth of knowledge and expertise that goes into all of the elements of the model, but what about changes? Were there particular challenges or things you had to change about the model as it developed?

CRR: Yes, lots of the practices were developed in response to some challenge we were having in the beginning. We didn’t initially have structured recess. One year I found I was spending many afternoons on the phone with parents who were mad that their child had gotten hurt during recess. As a staff, we talked about how we can’t take away recess: a) It’s illegal. B) We know that’s bad for kids. C). Often the students that need to get outside and move their bodies most are the ones who are threatened with losing their recess. So what do we do? We had a wellness team that brainstormed, and we thought of structured recess, which allows students who have been unsafe to learn missing skills without having their recess removed. We piloted it, and then, because we were working with Transcend, they helped us to codify it.

During the pandemic, we also thought a lot about the extent to which the model has the potential to be liberatory by design. We thought a lot about racial equity and whether or not the model allowed students’ to build positive identities or grapple with issues of racial conflict. We looked at Strong Start because there were a lot of opportunities for connection; a lot of opportunities for belonging; and a lot of opportunities to self-regulate. But there were not many opportunities for students to reflect on current events or things that were bothering them. And there were not that many opportunities for creative expression. That’s when we added the Reflect and Share component. Reflect and Share is a part of Strong Start that might not happen every day, but probably once a week. That came directly out of our pausing and wanting to talk about difficult issues of race, and wanting our model to include opportunities for that.

Van Ness Elementary School (Courtesy Broughton Construction)

TH: When did those conversations happen where you recognized those problems and made those adjustments?

CRR: Usually in conversations amongst my leadership team or our team that has expertise in socio-emotional learning and mental health. And then we would talk with Transcend and say, here’s what we’re seeing. Transcend functioned as R & D experts for the school. We identify a problem, and they might interview students, coordinate teachers to pilot, create a draft resource, and then get feedback from the larger school as well. The Reflect and Share is a good example of that. We spent most of one school year working on answering key questions: What are the Reflect and Share questions we should ask if we’re going to engage kids around these tough issues? What problems might come up that a teacher needs to be prepared for? What about the pitfalls that you might encounter if kids are upset, and you don’t know how to navigate the conversation? We took a couple of years looking at those kinds of issues and by this spring the Reflect and Share structure will be formally added to our model and website with refinements made based on that R & D cycle.

Scaling the Whole Child Model

TH: Let’s talk a little bit now about your transition. So now you’re working with schools in a couple of different places. How did you select the new sites?

CRR: The first five schools in D.C. that we partnered with had been led by school leaders that I knew, and they and some of their teachers had visited the school. We went to them and asked if they were interested in learning more about and potentially adopting the model. We specifically chose five schools in which one school was similar in demographics to ours, two schools that were specifically different – they had a much higher ELL population – and two schools that were in a different part of the city, with higher poverty levels. Part of that was to see how the model needs to shift, depending on the different contexts.

Our selection process includes a number of different engagements and an application process that schools will go through before they get to the early phase work. Recently, ten schools in D.C. were invited to go through the application and selection process. From there, 5 schools will then do the early stage work towards potentially deciding to adopt the model. We really want to work with schools that opt in. We have to have a school leader who is passionate and willing to lead that hard work, and then we need a critical mass of their staff members who also have the interest and the desire.

TH: That does create some challenges. One thing people say about scaling up these kinds of models is that you need central office support. But if only some of the schools opt in, then the district itself is not as invested. How do you balance that?

CRR: It’s a great question. I think D.C. is a good example of how you can work with individual schools with the support of central office leaders.  It’s also an example of how schools become interested in the model after hearing positive stories about it from their peers. We had those five early adopting schools, and they were super passionate, super interested. Then the next set of schools were chosen from a cluster of 10 schools from which 5 became model adopters.  One of those principals presented her experience at a professional development session for school leaders, and this resulted in interest from additional schools. Building excitement about something through the enthusiasm of the early adopters is one way to spread without forcing. By next fall we’ll be working directly with 20 elementary schools, which is 25% of the elementary schools in D.C. We then plan to pause expanding direct partnerships with schools to also focus on supporting central office staff members who work on aligned practices with schools that are not direct partners.

“Building excitement about something through the enthusiasm of the early adopters is one way to spread without forcing.”

TH: What’s one of your biggest challenges right now, in terms of adapting or scaling the model? 

CRR: We are wrestling with the coaching model. It’s hard because we started this in the 2018-2019 school year. In that spring we started our training with our first group in D.C., and then the next school year, the pandemic happened. So we changed the model to make it applicable virtually. Practices had to really change so we could do them virtually over Zoom or Teams. Schools were faced with such unique challenges. Because of the context changing so much in the past four years, we’ve had to try different coaching approaches. During the pandemic we had virtual coaches, who were only in-person a few times that year at schools. We have had coaches on-the-ground working at schools with intensive needs, such as lots of behavior issues or tons of new staff. We are still refining our approach to figure out what coaching model will be most useful at which type of school. One key learning has been the importance of the school staff leading the work with our support, owning their own vision, and championing the model rather than relying on us as outside consultants to do so.  

We are also trying to make sure that this is not just about rolling out different practices. When we facilitate a session, it may be interpreted as “we’re doing Strong Start now,” or “We’re doing Structured Recess now.” Instead I would want people to say, “Student having the skills to self-regulate is important; Here’s why that’s important, based on what’s happening in their brains and their bodies.” We want to be principle and research forward and help schools understand the practices are just the things that get at these underlying much more important ideas. I think that can easily get lost as we’re sharing with schools that get excited about implementing model components versus slowing down to understand the rationale first.

We want to be principle- and research-forward and help schools understand the practices are just the things that get at these underlying much more important ideas.”

TH: As you’ve shifted from being a founding principal and now to trying to expand the model, what are some things you learned about the model that you didn’t know before or perhaps about being a principal?

CRR: I’ve noticed that it’s much more straightforward to implement the model when baseline conditions are not as challenging, for example if the school has fewer difficult behaviors at school because of students who have been impacted by trauma. I’ve also expanded my understanding of topics like extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation to support schools that want to move away from using systems that emphasize points or ‘school bucks.’ If a school is invested in that kind of extrinsic rewards system, you have to be able to both explain in a compelling way why strategies that take more time and effort are better for students’ long term development and offer alternative ways to foster intrinsic motivation.

I have also realized that how we staff schools can make it inherently difficult for the people that choose to work within schools. The teaching and school principal positions are both so challenging and stressful in the current environment, so as I work with school teams, I try to constantly stay aware of their competing priorities, brainstorm strategies to alleviate stress, and encourage partners to find ways to prioritize their own health and wellbeing. Being able to finally be on the outside of schools also encourages me to talk with policymakers and others with decision making power to let them know the changes that are needed to make these roles sustainable for those already in the profession and appealing to those considering entering it.

TH: That connects to your earlier point about how hard it is to do this work in schools that don’t have the resources or capacity as other schools, and that’s a reality we can’t accept. So the question is, how do we work against these conditions and create conditions that actually will enable these models to take off where they need to, in ways that people can do it within their normal lives. Do you have any specific advice for folks who are interested in creating new school models and new school designs? 

CRR: Yes. If you are working within a system, which is what this model does, then everyone implementing needs to understand the “why,” and being willing to go slow versus really fast with rolling it out is critical. Separate from that, though, if you’re thinking about designing a model, I would encourage super unorthodox thinking because that’s what’s necessary right now. 

“If you’re thinking about designing a model, I would encourage super unorthodox thinking because that’s what’s necessary right now.

Really be daring. Don’t pretend that school as it exists is something that we should refine; it’s something we should completely redesign.

An Interview with Cynthia Robinson-Rivers on the Evolution and Scaling of the Whole Child Model (Part 2): Opportunities and Challenges for Implementation

The second part of this 3-part interview with Cynthia Robinson-Rivers about the Whole Child Model addresses some key questions about the engagement of parents and community members and some of the key challenges for implementing the model. Cynthia Robinson-Rivers is the founding principal of the Whole Child Model at Van Ness Elementary School in Washington D.C. Robinson Rivers recently joined Transcend, where she works with schools in Texas, Tennessee and Washington D.C. who are adopting the Whole Child Model. This interview was conducted by Thomas Hatch and students from his School Change class at Teachers College, Columbia University in the fall of 2023. Part 1 focused on the initial development of the Whole Child Model and some of the supports for teachers. These posts build on an interview last year with Transcend’s Keptah St. Julien who talked about the key elements of the Whole Child Model (See part 1; part 2).

Community engagement in the evolution of the Whole Child Model

Thomas Hatch: Understanding how to work with communities so that school models are not imposed on people is a crucial part of the development process. This model is striking because it’s clear and well-informed theoretically and developmentally, but at the same time it’s a community driven model. Can you talk to us a little bit about the community process that went into developing the model and how it has enabled you to build some common understanding of the model?

Cynthia Robinson Rivers: At Van Ness, we engaged in early conversations just to get input from families and that informed what we put into the model and the components of the model. We then continued engaging families in a variety of ways, including through listening sessions with families and through sharing the information that we were learning as a school staff so that families were just as familiar as our teacher with the research that was guiding our decisions.

To be honest, I feel I could have done a much better job with family and community engagement. One place that we were inspired by and that does this really well is The Primary School in East Palo Alto California. Parent coordinators are leveraged there to get family input and feedback through monthly family meetings with a consistently high rate of attendance, which means families appreciate and enjoy them. Our team learned about this during a 2019 visit to the school when our first cohort of principals were able to visit with us. Before I left Van Ness, we were looking to figure out ways to implement practices like the ones we learned about while there.

During the initial phase of our direct partnership with schools, when schools learn about our model, examine their own conditions, and determine if they will partner with us, the school’s design teams interview students; shadow a student, and engage with their current families. One school in Texas had a virtual visit to Van Ness, where they learned about the model and saw it in action. Teachers and school leaders [from Van NESS] did a panel and a Q&A that was attended by about 100 families who got really excited about their school adopting the model. That can then help to sustain the model because you have buy-in and investment, not just from the staff, but from the community as well.

TH: Those are great examples. What about resistance from parents or teachers or any other challenges you faced in developing the model?

CRR: I made the mistake in my communication early on as a school leader by sharing more of the compassionate side of our approach and less of the structure. I was very clear about the notion that we need to disrupt the traditional ways that we’ve treated kids, and we need to allow them to have more agency and teach appropriate behaviors instead of trying to punish behaviors. I think early on that left parents with the misunderstanding that it was about being too nice with kids. On the one hand, we needed work with our families to make sure we were not misaligned. For example, if, at home, families are punishing children harshly or using corporal punishment, then that’s a misalignment that we don’t want to be present. We knew that engaging families and also sharing knowledge with them about best practices for a child’s behavior is an important next step. But I also needed to share more about assertiveness, structure, consistency of the model and that we are not just being all nice with kids. There is actually a good amount of structure and consequences for inappropriate behavior, and I missed sharing that with the families early on. I’ve encouraged our school partners to talk about compassion and talk about what kids deserve, but also talk about the consistency and structure of this model, so that parents know we’re not just letting children run wild and do whatever they want at school.

TH: What about home visits? How do you feel home visits impact the effectiveness of the model? Do you feel like parents have pushed back with the home visits or do you think that they’re accepting of them?

CRR: Home visits have been so helpful in enabling families to understand and value the model. There’s a little bit of pushback that quickly goes away after a few parents have a home visit and then share how wonderful it is getting to know the teachers in that way. That usually gets other families excited about it. One thing that we do is get the class rosters finished by June so that teachers can complete the home visits over the summer with a goal of having 50% of them done by the first day of school. With that prioritizing, if we know about them, kids who might have a harder time have a home visit and at least one or 2 other touch points. So on the first day of school they really feel connected.

During the home visit, we will also bring a social story, which is a book that helps a child know what to expect with words and pictures. You can do a social story about how to line up, how to go to recess, or what do we do in music? We do a social story over the summer for the summer home visit specific to what to expect at school. This alleviates a ton of anxiety. It also is a time when, with the family and the child, we’re able to share a lot about what we do and what the model looks like in a totally low stakes, relationship-building context. In those ways it’s a very helpful structure.

“We’re able to share a lot about what we do and what the model looks like in a totally low stakes, relationship-building context.”

For families that really feel uncomfortable even after they hear about how great home visits are, we offer to meet them in the community, anywhere that is not school, for example at the cafe or at the park, or at the library, at a neutral location. In that location, we do all the things that we would do during the home visit. The same conversations about “what are your hopes and your dreams for your child?” Nothing academic. It is purely to build a positive relationship with the families. We’ve incorporated home visits as one of our practices in the family circle component of the model, but initially learned about how to conduct them from one of our partner organizations, Flamboyan Foundation, which specializes in family engagement strategies for educators.

TH: you talked a little bit about the need for alignment particularly related to discipline. But I can imagine there are other issues where alignment is important. How do you work on it if there is misalignment with parents and the school?

CRR: We try to do that without judgment and in as asset-based a way as possible. We know parents are the child’s first teacher, and they’re doing the best with the knowledge that they have. If they are engaging in a practice that we would disagree with, like spanking for example, we would try to come to that with understanding and not judgment. What I’ve found over the years, and this is part of why I like the Primary School’s example, is that it’s very hard to influence behavior using a top-down lecture style information-sharing such as at a back to school night or a parent meeting. It can come across paternalistic and condescending. But a different approach is to have discussion circles of parents, led by a parent leader who’s been trained and then empowered to establish this group that shares information both ways, not hierarchically. The example I would give on this is when we had a parent meeting with the topic “We are a healthy school and we want our students to have healthy meals and snacks.” I tried to talk about this in an intellectual way about the impact of nutritious food vs. junk food in a child’s body. I’m sure no one changed their habits in any way after that talk. As an alternative, if you had a parent-led circle, offered a healthy snack as part of that meeting, and a conversation starter like “Oh, how do you plan lunch for the week while buying not too expensive items that are also good for kids?” That’s a session topic where parents are sharing information. They feel valued, they feel heard, and then people are packing better lunches. When there is misalignment, getting lectured and getting told your way is wrong, or “here’s a better way” doesn’t work. We need to create opportunities to slowly and in a trusting environment learn about alternatives.

“It’s very hard to influence behavior using a top-down lecture style information- sharing such as at a back to school night or a parent meeting… But a different approach is to have discussion circles of parents, led by a parent leader who’s been trained and then empowered to establish this group that shares information both ways, not hierarchically.”

TH: What about shifting a little bit to talk about teachers. Are there particular aspects of the model that the teachers found especially challenging?

CRR: I think all parts of BOOST are hard because it addresses the kids that have some of the most challenging behaviors. So if you’re at the point where you’re meeting to figure out what CARE PLUS strategies will be helpful for a child, that might be a child who has eloped from the classroom multiple times. You don’t know where they are. You can’t leave the class. It’s not safe to leave them alone in the hallway. Or a child who has consistently, physically harmed others. And you have to talk to parents after school whose child was hurt. And you have to assure them that you’re going to keep them safe.

It’s really tough stuff that always, but especially in the past 2 years, is even harder if the teachers are already overwhelmed. There’s a pandemic, the teacher just came back from quarantine, half the class is at home on the computer. Teachers are already stressed, and it’s really really hard especially in those moments when you need to be composed to have that empathy for the child in order to follow through on an intervention that requires you to be fully present and using your reasoning brain. That’s why the model provides structures and language that teachers can practice, and when you understand “the why,” that can make it possible to leverage what you know even when you’re upset, because you have so much practice with it. You’re concerned about and empathizing with the child, instead of being annoyed with them, because you understand what happened to them, and why they’re behaving that way.

I would also say LANGUAGE AND TONE, in general, is one of the hardest parts of the model. The STRONG START set of practices in the morning feel so good. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Greeting kids and classroom design. If you go into one of the model classrooms, you can look and see, this is gorgeous. Of course I would want my room to look like this. But for language, in terms of safety, when you’re doing a transition or routine, like when you need kids to safely get somewhere or safely do something, it is sometimes different from how we actually talk. In the language of safety, it’s important to speak assertively, to be specific, and use concise, not verbose language. The example that has resonated with teachers in clarifying this is if you were in an accident and had to evacuate a plane. You would not want a captain that says something like “Okay, passengers, it seems like it’s an emergency. Maybe you guys should stand up.” No, you’d want the clarity and strength of the captain saying, “Stand up. Walk to the nearest exit door.” In the language of safety, that assertive tone and concision is not a voice that feels natural to lots of people and remembering to say things in that way is hard.

“The example that has resonated with teachers in clarifying this is if you were in an accident and had to evacuate a plane. You would not want a captain that says something like “Okay, passengers, it seems like it’s an emergency. Maybe you guys should stand up.” No, you’d want the clarity and strength of the captain saying, “Stand up. Walk to the nearest exit door.””

Highlighting appropriate behaviors is another thing that can be challenging. For example, when kids are lining up, and they’re mostly in line, but some are not, you would acknowledge a student who is lined up in a way that keeps the hallway safe. It’s hard to remember not to call out the negative, and thereby accidentally reinforce that negative behavior. If a child is hitting the person beside them, we instinctively want to say “no hitting” or “stop hitting” instead of “keep your hands in your lap like this to be safe.” In many schools you’ll hear negative behaviors highlighted “Stop running in the hallway” or “Don’t call out during the story.” We’re often noticing all the behaviors that we don’t want to reinforce, and we have to remember to notice the behaviors we want to see more of, which is a hard language shift to make.

The Evolution and Scaling of the Whole Child Model (Part 1): An Interview with Cynthia Robinson Rivers

The first part of this 3-part post draws on an interview with Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, the founding principal of the Whole Child Model at Van Ness Elementary School in Washington D.C. Robinson-Rivers recently joined Transcend, where she works with schools in Texas, Tennessee and Washington D.C. who are adopting the Whole Child Model. The interview was conducted by Thomas Hatch and students from his School Change class at Teachers College, Columbia University in the fall of 2023. Part 1 focuses on the initial development of the Whole Child Model and some of the supports for teachers. This post builds on an a 2-part interview last year with Transcend’s Keptah St. Julien who talked about the key elements of the Whole Child Model (See part 1; part 2).

Establishing the key components of the Whole Child Model at Van Ness Elementary School

Thomas Hatch (TH): Can you tell us about the Whole Child Model and how it originated at Van Ness?

Cynthia Robinson-Rivers (CRR): As we were developing what would later become the Whole Child Model, we talked with teachers, students, parents, and community members and asked: “If we’re successful during our students’ elementary school years – pre-kindergarten through fifth grade – what will our students be like as adolescents and adults?” This generated a long list of words, including, most prominently, “compassionate,” but also words like “critical thinkers.” Those became our graduate aims, and they were for the students to be creative, compassionate, critical thinkers, curious, constant learners and students able to build community across lines of cultural and racial difference. These were the characteristics and dispositions we hoped to cultivate in students during their time with us. From those aims, we then worked together to develop the actions we would need to take in order to be able to develop those traits in our students.

In our second year, we partnered with Transcend and they helped us to codify the things we were doing as a school model that could be shared with others. That work led us to establish three key components:

  • Student well-being,
  • Student as a maker
  • Student ownership for learning

Student well-being is the most developed, as it was the component we started with, and it’s the most foundational to the model.

The work on student well-being also has 3 parts:

  1. CARE is the set of universal “tier 1” practices every student receives. It’s effective in supporting kids, helping them to be successful with their school day for 90 to 95 percent of students.
  2. BOOST is the set of additional “tier 2” and “tier 3” supports that we give to that 5 to 10% of students who need additional support to be successful participating in the routines of school.
  3. FAMILY CIRCLE is our approach to family engagement, and it includes practices that aim to place families as equal partners in education and leverage that support for the student’s development.

Zooming in on CARE, which stands for Compassion, Assertiveness, Routines, and Environment, something as straightforward as the language teachers use and the tone of voice they use when they speak with students is considered a tier 1 support for everyone that walks into the school building.

We start with the physical environment, with the classroom as the “third teacher” and as a hugely important part of the students’ experience. We want them to enter a room that is comfortable, personal, accessible, and a reflection of the students’ backgrounds and cultures.

We think about the physical environment of the classroom as the third teacher and as a hugely important part of the students’ experience. We want them to enter a room that is comfortable, personal, accessible, and reflective of the students’ backgrounds and cultures.

There are many ways in which our approach to the classroom environment helps to meet a child’s needs. Most importantly, we want the room to be accessible, meaning students know how to access materials independently and where to find needed items that are in organized bins and are clearly labeled. Ideally, we have lamps and natural light as an alternative to overhead fluorescent lights and access to nature through keeping plants in the room. We have framed pictures of students and their families to not only acknowledge the importance of families and make them visible in the classroom, but also to help calm students when they are upset. We aim for our classroom environments to be trauma-informed, welcoming, predictable and consistent.  When kids don’t know what’s coming, they’re much more likely to be dysregulated and to be quicker to get upset than when they know exactly what to expect, and the classroom can help to establish that kind of predictable and supportive environment. Another important part of the classroom is the centering space, a physical space in every room that kids know they can go to if they feel upset and has the visuals and the physical materials that can aid them in doing so.

In addition to the physical environment, we have the Strong Start morning routine, inspired by a socio-emotional learning program that Van Ness utilized in its beginning years, which includes support from students beginning with a greeting at the door when they start the instructional day. The aim is to enable kids to be successful, especially if they have come to school with challenges that day or the evening before.

Strong Start includes: 

  • Greetings: Students get a personal, warm greeting, with a choice of how to be greeted and a meaningful exchange back and forth – serve and return (as in tennis) – that will help kids who may not have healthy attachment to get experience connecting with a trusted adult. 
  • Breakfast in the classroom: As an alternative to a noisy and impersonal cafeteria, students eat together in the more quiet and calm environment of their classroom.
  • Independent activities: Students journal, conference with their teacher, or engage in partner or small group activities that can include academic interventions.
  • Community Building: Teachers bring the class together as a group to foster a sense of shared community and belonging. 
  • Purposeful Partnering: Teachers pair students up with at least one other child to engage in activities that create student to student connections.
  • Breathe and Focus: Teachers give the students an explicit opportunity to practice ways of gaining composure if they’re upset. 
  • Goal setting:  Teachers ask students to set an intention for the day. We know that when we set a goal and we tell someone about it, we’re much more likely to meet that goal.
  • Reflect and Share: Students are able to process current events or recent classroom conflicts through a group conversation the teacher facilitates.

We also engage in a broader set of CARE practices – that include strong start, classroom design, intentional language, and other components –  and many people visit schools that we work with and think, “Oh, this is great!” and comment on how “warm and fuzzy” the practices seem.  So we often explain that, while the environments we create are warm and that’s important, the practices are rooted in brain science and each have a purpose.  We try to share as much as we can about what happens inside students’ bodies and brains when their development has been impacted by trauma and the importance of schools being trauma-informed.

The Whole Child Model is inspired by Dr. Bruce Perry’s neuro-sequential model. It helped us to understand that if kids come to school fearing for their physical safety, which is the case in some of our highest need schools, they first need to regulate.  That’s where practices like Breathe and Focus come in. If students are not regulated, they’re not ready to learn. We also know that if they are upset, they might be controlled by their limbic system. Their amygdala might be over reactive and they may be scanning for threats. In that state, they are also not ready to learn. Where we want them to be is in their prefrontal cortex, regulated and ready to reason and think abstractly and critically.

A typical day with the Whole Child Model

TH: The extensiveness and comprehensiveness of the support is really noteworthy and as you emphasized, it’s not just a set of features or elements but they are grounded in a particular approach and theory about children’s development and children’s behavior. Could you give us a sense of how all of this plays out in a typical day?

CRR: Students arrive, receive a greeting, and have breakfast in the classroom. As students are arriving, those already in the classroom engage in independent activities, including journaling and reading, until the teacher gathers students together for strong start group activities. While many social-emotional learning programs call for a daily or weekly block of activities, we believe that students should experience positive and supportive interactions throughout each day and should have frequent opportunities to practice their skills in authentic ways.  So, you would see this come to life in language a teacher uses when working with students, to either help them be successful because of the clarity or concision of language or help them think critically because of open-ended questioning. You would see students learning independently in all parts of the room – the maker space, the art center, the small group reading table, and other areas – in ways that promote autonomy and choice to empower students.  Social stories – visual stories that help students know what to expect – might be used to support students moving to a new activity or individually to help students who have difficulty with transitions. These are just a few examples of how a whole-child, student-centered approach would live throughout the day and not be confined to a narrow block of time.

“You would see students learning independently in all parts of the room – the maker space, the art center, the small group reading table, and other areas – in ways that promote autonomy and choice to empower students.”

Key Supports for the Model: Staffing for Socio-Emotional Development

TH: Can you talk a bit about what it takes to support the model? For example, do you need a lot of support staff to be able to make it happen? Do the teachers have any coaching?

CRR: Yes, the socio-emotional, behavioral, and mental health staff require in-depth training, but within these roles the staffing and capacity vary widely at our schools. In DC, many schools have “behavior techs” who respond if there is a child in immediate need. The behavior techs are also the people who run structured recess and restorative in school suspension.

In other regions using the Whole Child Model, staffing approaches are very different and, in some cases, have less support and capacity. Some schools have only an itinerant social worker, no behavior techs, and no positions like dean of students to coordinate behavior responses. We work with schools to determine who can own some of those systemwide approaches in lieu of the behavior techs. Typically, we are able to work with schools to figure out who on the staff would be most appropriate to take the lead and make sure interventions are running.

Before implementing intensive behavior interventions, it’s important to focus on CARE Plus, the set of interventions that happen in the classroom before a student is referred to outside supports. If the teacher has a student who could benefit from additional support, there are many CARE Plus strategies that can be used. For example, a child might get an individualized daily schedule in addition to the classroom posted schedule, because they need to know exactly when transitions take place and need to see that in a personalized way. Students may have specialized seating or they may get the additional responsibility to be the line leader because being in line is a part of the day that the student may have a hard time with. Students may get to have a movement break or use their break card to go get a break. These are all interventions within the classroom but teachers need the support of an administrator to help think through which strategies would help the child before more intensive interventions are considered.

Book Studies and Professional Learning for Teachers

TH: What about professional development for teachers? Can you talk about your book studies and how other professional development activities are integrated into the school day? 

CRR:  Yes, when I was at Van Ness, we would read one book for a school year, and we usually read a chapter or two per month and one book every summer. The summer reading was on your own, and we would debrief it during the first week of professional learning at the beginning of the school year. The year-long book study would be the focus of every monthly staff meeting, where we would talk about what we learned in that chapter and how we would apply it. Then that would line up with how we would do observation and feedback as a leadership team, giving feedback on those specific practices that teachers were learning about and implementing. We were able to use those forums because we had other opportunities for other types of professional learning.  DCPS implements LEAP, a structure that allows for weekly 60 to 90-minute content area meetings when early childhood, ELA, math, or enrichment teachers gather in a PLC to improve their practice.

We found that when you define the times and places where you will prioritize different focus areas, it helps ensure you don’t forget about the non-cognitive aspects of a child’s development.

In addition to monthly staff meetings and weekly LEAP sessions, there are quarterly PD days where we usually have a year-long focus area. One year was focused on racial equity and ways to mitigate against implicit bias. Another year our PD days focused around maker-centered learning, and we brought experts from Project Zero at Harvard to come do training with us. Defining the times and places for different kinds of professional learning helped us to decrease the tension that teachers often have, where they feel like they have so much to do on reading and math and raising test scores that they don’t think they have time for social-emotional learning or well-being. We found that when you define the times and places where you will prioritize different focus areas, it helps ensure you don’t forget about the non-cognitive aspects of a child’s development.

Systems Change, Wellbeing, and Affect: Lead the Change Interviews for AERA (part 5)

This week, IEN shares the fifth and final post in a series featuring presenters from the Educational Change Special Interest Group sessions at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association.  This post features presenters from the session titled: Systems Change, Wellbeing, and Affect. Excerpts include responses to the question: “What are some of the ideas you hope the field of Educational Change and the audience at AERA can learn from your work related to practice, policy, and scholarship?” Part 1 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Transforming Education and Teacher Education: Technologies, Pedagogies, and Practice. Part 2 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Conditions Conducive to Learning that Promote Ed Change. Part 3 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Networks in Education and Change. Part 4 of this series featured presenters from one session titled: Engaging Educators in Equity-Focused Change and another titled: STEM and Sustainable Development Goals. The full interviews can be found on the LtC website. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb.

Reengaging the disengaged: A program evaluation of young adult reengagement programs

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Jacob Williams, Destiny McLennan, and Christopher Mazzeo of Education Northwest 

In the United States, 4.35 million youth and young adults (YYA) ages 14 to 24, or 11.2 percent of young people, are neither in school nor working. These disconnected or opportunity youth (OY) are twice as likely to live in poverty and have a disability and more than 20 times more likely to be living in institutionalized settings (Lewis, 2020).

Many factors contribute to YYA decisions to disengage from high school; however, due to a complex interplay among them, it is difficult to pinpoint one as more salient than another. Common influencers that can undermine young people’s experiences in school include a range of school or system-level factors such as lack of support or guidance from adults, school safety, school policies, and peer influences, as well as a range of life or family challenges often met with little support from schools including health challenges, becoming a parent, incarceration, death of a family member, or gang involvement (Hynes, 2014). Other research points to racial bias, low adult expectations and negative school climate as important factors influencing disengagement (Crumé, 2020). School closures, the shift to virtual learning, and an economic slowdown due to COVID-19 are expected to lead to a significant increase in number of disconnected YYA in the coming years (Lewis, 2020) and greater demand for high quality reengagement efforts.

Those who become disconnected often become overwhelmed by an accumulation of these factors, pushing engagement in school or the workforce down their list of priorities. Once a disconnection event occurs, the odds of reengagement fall due to individuals’ sense of being overwhelmed and/or a lack of easily accessible—or perceived relevant—supports.

There is some evidence showing efforts to reengage YYA can be highly successful (Aspen Institute, 2019; Bangser, 2013), yet, the field still lacks a rigorous research base examining the implementation and effectiveness of specific reengagement programs, program models, and strategies. The results of our investigation provide additional evidence on: 

  • Outcomes young adult reengagement programs hope to achieve,
  • Strategy/approach(s) reengagement programs deploy to reengage young adults and accomplish successful outcomes,
  • How reengagement programs adapt their services and approach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and
  • Paths forward to
    • review and reform policies that were not designed to address the specific needs and contexts of reengagement programs and have been shown to have a negative impact on reengagement,
    • design reengagement programs to facilitate “going above and beyond” support that does not burden staff, recognizes the nonlinear nature of the reengagement path, includes monetary support for program participants, and better incorporates program participants’ voice, and
    • improve young adults support in the K–12 system to reduce the number of young adults requiring reengagement programs.

Teacher Perceptions of Implementation Climate Related to Feasibility of Schoolwide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Catherine M. Corbin, University of Washington, Maria L. Hugh, University of Kansas, Mark G. Ehrhart, University of Central Florida, Jill Locke, University of Washington, Chayna Davis, University of Washington, Eric C. Brown, University of Miami, Clayton R. Cook, Character Strong, Aaron R. Lyon, University of Washington

There are several things we hope our work will convey. We hope researchers take away how influential specific aspects of the school implementation context (e.g., implementation climate) can be related to implementation outcomes (e.g., feasibility). Importantly, we must examine both shared and individual educator perceptions of the school implementation context. There are statistical and conceptual reasons to take this approach.

First, school implementation climate is an organizational construct operationalized by aggregating teachers’ individual perceptions of it. This means that school implementation climate includes variance among teachers and schools. Not examining or accounting for these different sources of variation (e.g., clustered standard errors, multilevel modeling) means that we will not know whether some or all results pertain to school implementation climate or teachers’ perceptions of it. This type of ambiguity can lead to interventions that target the school when an intervention targeting teachers may have been more appropriate or vice-versa.

“School implementation climate only gets better by strengthening individual perceptions of it.”

implementation context is necessary for improving it—school implementation climate, for example, only gets better by strengthening individual perceptions of it. This means we need to understand how individual perceptions of the school implementation context are related to various implementation outcomes to effectively intervene. We also hope that practitioners see the inherent value of this work to improve students’ educational outcomes. Practitioners live the challenges associated with school-based EBP implementation. Depending on their role (e.g., teacher, principal), they are uniquely situated to either intervene to improve it or report on aspects of their implementation context that need improvement.

While we have much to learn about how the implementation context develops and exerts influence, schools can take action immediately. For example, embedding school implementation climate into implementation data collection would allow schools to link their implementation progress monitoring with aspects of the climate known to influence EBP implementation. Research-practice partnerships may be key in supporting schools to set up the systems necessary to describe and then influence different aspects of the implementation context.

Finally, those who make and/or influence policy are essential to supporting organizational change at scale. For example, school districts have an important role to play in supporting the implementation context of individual schools. Are funds available to build out and/or maintain the data infrastructure needed to monitor EBP implementation? Are schools staffed to build strong implementation teams (e.g., EBP specialist, staff with extensive EBP implementation experience, implementation coach) and/or are staff schedules organized to include time dedicated to supporting EBP implementation (e.g., progress monitoring, reviewing data, creating and updating implementation plans)? Is professional development available to support school leader and teacher knowledge and skills surrounding effective organizational change as it relates to EBP implementation? These are all things that state, local, and district policy can exert direct influence on.

The affective dimension of inspections for educational change and improvement: Insights from Chilean low-performing schools

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Álvaro González, Universidad Catolica Silva Henriquez

Interestingly, I have found in my research that the portrayal of policies as “de-humanized” instruments or systems renders invisible the people who design and deliver such policies, and who have their own concerns about their impact on low-performing and disadvantaged schools and the communities they serve. Moreover, teachers and leaders are not mere “implementers” of policies aimed at their schools, but become policy actors themselves, translating and negotiating meaning and priorities between their communities and state or national policy. There are both cognitive and affective responses from both sets of actors that might determine the extent to which policies are translated into practice, producing real consequences on the lives of people who are in these contexts.

teachers and leaders are not mere “implementers” of policies aimed at their schools, but become policy actors themselves, translating and negotiating meaning and priorities between their communities and state or national policy.

I illustrate this point in my presentation by addressing the affective dimension of inspections for educational change and improvement. Inspections are a type of performance-based accountability (PBA) policy instrument to evaluate schools’ performance and deliver feedback. This paper explores the affective dimension of inspection based on a qualitative case study of three low-performing public schools in Chile, from a policy enactment perspective, to understand actors’ positionality and assimilation of performance feedback. Results indicate that emotional reactions to the performance evaluation (like anger, indifference, shame or challenge) and relational aspects (like negotiation, compliance or dismissing) before and during the inspection visit offer insights as to what extent the performance feedback offered to them was assimilated in their change and improvement efforts. This has implications to understand how and under what conditions low-performing schools can initiate and sustain improvement processes beyond a technical-rational perspective, connecting with the emotional and relational aspects of educational change.


Aspen Institute. (2019). The state of opportunity youth research: Early lessons from five multi-site evaluations of OY programs and collaboratives.

Bangser, M. (2013). Reconnecting disconnected young adults: The early experience of Project Rise. (Policy Brief). MDRC.

Hynes, M. (2014). Don’t call them dropouts: Understanding the experiences of young people who leave high school before graduation. A report from America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University. America’s Promise Alliance

Crumé, H. J., Martinez, D., Yohalem, N., Yoshizumi, A. (2020). Creating paths for change: Understanding student disengagement and reengagement. Seattle, WA: Community Center for Education Results.

Lewis, K. (2020). A decade undone: Youth disconnection in the age of coronavirus. New York: Measure of America, Social Science Research Council.

Equity-Focused Change, STEM & Sustainability: Lead the Change Interviews for AERA (part 4)

This week, IEN shares the fourth in a series of posts featuring presenters from the Educational Change Special Interest Group sessions at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association.  This post features presenters from two sessions, one titled: Engaging Educators in Equity-Focused Change and the other titled: STEM and Sustainable Development Goals. Excerpts include responses to the question: “What are some of the ideas you hope the field of Educational Change and the audience at AERA can learn from your work related to practice, policy, and scholarship?” Part 1 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Transforming Education and Teacher Education: Technologies, Pedagogies, and Practice. Part 2 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Conditions Conducive to Learning that Promote Ed Change. Part 3 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Networks in Education and Change. The full interviews can be found on the LtC website. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb.

“Contradictions, Niceness, and Accountability: A Content Analysis of an Urban District’s Leaders’ Perspectives on Racial Equity Transformation”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Patricia M. Virella, Montclair State University

I hope they can learn how change research isn’t merely about uncovering problems and finding solutions. Instead, change requires uncomfortable conversations, vulnerability, and pushing through to the other side. I also hope that given the majority of scholars in the field of education research are White and cis gender, more take on the challenge of infusing equity-oriented practices. As a Black Puerto Rican woman, this work is critical to my own identity, but also, doing this can be demanding.

Additionally, if we want to have actual Educational Change, it’s not going to come just from scholarly articles. It will come from working hand in hand with school districts, scholars being reflective about their own privilege and positionality, AND listening to what schools need. In my work, I see that there are great things happening in schools across the United States. Yet, there appears to be a “fix-it” mentality in scholarship without inquiring what schools need or are already doing. I hope that my scholarship lifts the veil on change and shows the way it is happening in some school districts.

Another example of what I hope the field and audience can learn is how to position their work towards social justice. I deliberately draft my findings using Huffman and Tracy’s (2018) work on writing findings using a social justice lens. There is so much scholarship that problematizes urban communities and how to fix them, when, in reality, the fix is to align yourself to White normative practices. I want my work to elevate narratives that show how dope urban communities are and how beautiful they are. When I read scholarship that perpetuates a negative view, it reminds me of Robin D.G. Kelley’s book “Yo’ Mama’s Dysfunktional!” where he explains that researchers who went into urban areas to produce the nation at risk report already had their minds made up before they conducted their research. I see the same in scholarship. I love when there is a focus on joy, inclusive culture, and showing how we are not dysfunctional.

Last, I hope my works shows that one needs to be vulnerable to change anything in education. I do not know it all, none of us do. So, we have to show a level of vulnerability in this work. If you do not know, ask. Do not assume just because you read Derrick Bell or Gloria Ladson-Billings that you now know what the urban or Black or LatinX experience is. Instead, inquire. Ask.

“Self-efficacy within Cultural Representation of Latino Teachers Moving into the Administrative Pipeline”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with LeAnne Salazar-Montoya, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Kristin Kew, New Mexico State University, and David Wade, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

It is our intent to share examples of potential problems of practice and offer suggested research-based approaches that can positively support practitioner strategies for leadership, influencing policies that will amplify the importance of inclusive and culturally relevant and responsive approaches in schools. We love the works of Solórzano and Yosso (2022) and Tara Yosso (2005) in that she focuses on community and cultural capitals from a Latina/o critical race theory stance and challenges traditional epistemologies that are white hegemonic in nature. We see the resistant capital of Yosso’s (2005) work in the form of resilience in our research on the border (Kew & Fellus, 2022). Historically, the practice, policy, and research in the field of educational change and with the Educational Change SIG has been international in nature (Hargreaves et. al., 2016). We see the field engaging more and more in critical research and transformative resistance that questions traditional grammars of schooling such as the value of testing and test taking, teacher centered classrooms, and balkanization of subject matter and grades (Kew, 2018). Our work embraces educational change research from a critical perspective, and we feel that we are among scholars in this SIG who will move this agenda forward to ensure more equitable and inclusive schooling and educational leadership.

The Educational Change SIG founder, Andy Hargreaves, stated in one of his TED Talks (2016) in Canada that we should take off with the wind, not using the resistance of the wind as an obstacle but as an opportunity. We see the trajectory of the educational change field as one that moves us towards embracing community and cultural capitals of diverse groups, keeping some of the classic research in the field while rethinking or abandoning aspects of past literature that create inequitable social structures, practices, and discourses. One of our favorite authors on the borderland, Gloria Anzaldua stated, “If we have been gagged and disempowered by theories, we can also be loosened and empowered by theories” (Anzaldua, 1990, xxvi).

In our work we use a combination of critical race theory and feminist theories. In our AERA presentation, we will share some of the gender barriers, power differentials, the value that Latina Superintendents in New Mexico found in trusted networks and mentors, and how they maintain a sense of direction for themselves and their districts. Aligned with the AERA 2023 call for papers, our presentation shares not only the findings of our research study but also the value we gained as women researchers conducting portraiture.

Assessing a Comprehensive School Reform in Pursuit of Student Success in Math, English, and Science Performance

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Xiaozhou Ding, Dickinson College, Danqing Yin, University of Kansas, and Rong Zhang, University of Alabama

As a team of three accomplished scholars, Xiaozhou Ding brings a background in quantitative economics research with a focus on education. Danqing Yin’s expertise lies in education policy research utilizing qualitative and quantitative methods, driven by a passion for uncovering educational challenges and devising solutions. Rong Zhang, with a background in research on educational
leadership, is enthusiastic about exploring educational topics and advancing educational methods.

We have been avid learners of change literature and have kept up with innovative approaches and reforms in our fields. Our academic journey has been marked by a continuous exploration of education reforms. From Tyack and Cuban’s (1995) seminal work, “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform,” which illuminated the challenges of bringing about change in education, to more recent literature that continues to shape current reform initiatives such as “Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing” (Margolis, 2017), “Organizing Schools for Improvement” (Bryk et al., 2010), and “What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education” (Zhao, 2018), these readings have given us a deeper understanding of systemic inequities in specific areas of education, the drawbacks of one-size-fits-all systems, and the importance of using evaluations with caution.

With the findings from our project, we hope to shed light on how school leaders contribute to successful educational changes based on the evidence we found from the Kansas Can School Redesign Project. To be more specific, using the causal inference methods, we discovered that the Kansans Can School Redesign Project significantly increased eighth-grade students’ science achievement. Hopefully, with more data, we will find the key factors influencing Kansas students and schools (e.g., on student behavior, social-emotional learning, etc.). We hope to provide promising evidence for future school reforms in other districts.

Hyukshin Schools in Korea: Educational Change Toward Whole Person Education

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Dean Stanton, Wortham, and Clara Shim, Dr. Deoksoon Kim, Dr. Dennis Shirley, Hailey Shin, Boston College

The central idea of our research is that teachers play a foundational role in sustainable educational change, particularly in the case of Hyukshin schools. Educational change occurs best when teachers take a leading role, working with leaders, parents, and students to make improvements in the schools. Hyukshin schools are enacting educational change with teachers leading the way. The bottom-up Hyuksin Schools movement is led by teachers and administrators who are passionate about ensuring student well-being. Hyukshin school teachers play a crucial role in leading the paradigm shift that is diversifying definitions of student success, forming horizontal relationships with students, and establishing a collaborative school community in which multiple voices are heard.

Our research also explores how educational change cannot occur without societal change. At the same time as Hyukshin schools are moving toward whole-person education, Korean society, and particularly parents, push in the opposite direction –overemphasizing academic achievement and narrow professional success. Although broader Korean society has recently begun acknowledging the need for whole-person education in the 21st century, the society still prioritizes academic performance over whole-person education. The Hyukshin School movement is making some progress at the margins. But more educators, policymakers, and parents will have to join such movements for broader social change to take hold. In Korea, and elsewhere around the world, the tension between whole-person development and narrow academic achievement will continue to manifest.

STEM Education Addressing Sustainable Development Goals: Building Global Competencies to Co- Construct an Agenda of Consequence

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Elizabeth C Kurucz, University of Guelph, Catherine Hands, Brock University, Emily Krysten Spencer-Mueller, Wilfrid Laurier University, Asfiya Taji, Wilfrid Laurier University, Karin Archer, Let’s Talk Science, Nadine Gudz, York University

Now more than ever, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are being recognized as a priority for education to ensure both personal and national success (Let’s Talk Science [LTS], 2019). A recent review of international and Canadian policy
recommendations indicates the need for graduates in the STEM disciplines and broader STEM fields to meet societal demands, and systemic educational change from developing specific domain knowledge to developing global competencies (LTS, 2019). Toward this end, we hope to convey to the audience a collaborative strategy for operationalizing policy recommendations for a greater focus on STEM programs.

The primary purpose of this year’s presentation is to highlight promising practices for implementing educational change. It provides academics, practitioners (school leaders and teachers), and policy makers with insight into new ways to develop and evaluate innovative curriculum that responds to an evolving landscape and encourages both individual and societal well-being. Co-
constructing an innovative STEM program including UN SDGs, responds to AERA’s call to collaboratively advance agendas of consequence that support goals of social and environmental justice. In doing so, we work toward addressing the Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development’s Education 2030 question: “How can instructional systems effectively develop the
knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed for students to positively impact society and flourish in this uncertain future?” (OECD, 2018), which we suspect is a focal question for many SIG members.

This research contributes to educational change, and school-community relations literature. It involved designing and evaluating an innovative model of high school education focused on developing future-ready learners. We believe the collaborative ways in which students, teachers, school and district administrators, as well as community members and academics worked together throughout this project to develop and implement the initiative provides new insights and direction for further investigation.


Love, B. L. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

Huffman, T., & Tracy, S. J. (2018). Making claims that matter: Heuristics for theoretical and social impact in qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 24(8), 558-570.

Kelley, R. D. (1998). Yo’mama’s disfunktional!: Fighting the culture wars in urban America. Beacon Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. J. (1999). Chapter 7: Preparing teachers for diverse student populations: A critical race theory perspective. Review of research in education, 24(1), 211-247.

Anzaldúa G (2012) Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.

Gil, R.M. & Vazquez, C.I. (1996). The Maria paradox: How Latinas can merge old world traditions with new world self-esteem. Publisher’s Putnam’s Sons.

Hargreaves, A., Stone-Johnson, C., Kew, K. (2016). Education reform and school change. Obo in Education. Doi:10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0014

Kew, K. (2018, April). Traditional secondary schooling in the United States: A brief history of educational change over time. International Journal of Education and Social Science, 5(3), 33-45.–2/

Kew, K., & Fellus, O. (2022). Borderland education beyond frontiers: Policy, community, and educational change during times of crisis. Policy Futures in Education, 20(4), 417-432.

Let’s Talk Science. (2019). Spotlight on science learning: A review of recent international and Canadian policy recommendations extended version. Let’s Talk Science.

OECD. (2018). The future of education and skills. Education 2030. Retrieved from

Salazar-Montoya, L. & Kew, K. (2020). Latina superintendents in New Mexico and their glass ceilings. School Leadership Review, 13(1).

Solórzano, D.G. & T.J. Yosso. (2002). “Critical Race methodology: Counterstorytelling as an analytical framework for educational research.” Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23–44

Yosso, Tara J. (2005). “Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth” (PDF). Race Ethnicity and Education, 8 (1): 69–91 doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006. S2C ID 34658106.

A View from Poland (Part 3) — Jacek Pyżalski on the Refugee Crisis and the Polish Education System’s Response to the War on Ukraine

In the final part of this three-part interview, Jacek Pyżalski talks about how Polish educators have responded to the influx of refugees caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. In Part 1, Pyżalski provides an overview of the school closures in Poland and how the education system responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In Part 2, Pyżalski talks specifically about student and teacher wellbeing. Jacek Pyżalski is is the Professor in the Faculty of Educational Studies (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan). He is experienced in researching the problems connected to social and educational aspects of ICT usage by children and adolescents. He was a pioneer in Poland in the field of cyberbullying research, and he has extensively studied the impact of remote education in crisis on the wellbeing of students, teachers and parents.

Thomas Hatch: Let’s turn to how the Polish education system has responded to the thousands of students and families fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine. Roughly how many students joined Polish schools?

Jacek Pyżalski: I think there were about 200,000 at the peak but it was changing rapidly. Some of the students disappeared after two weeks and moved somewhere else. Headmasters had problems figuring out whether someone was still a student of the school or not, because people were just moving without information. It was a kind of chaos, particularly in the very beginning. Now it’s less in many cases. When I talk to the school headmasters, they say, “at the peak we had sixty students, but now we’ve got fourteen” or something like that. It’s still a lot, but it decreased dramatically. We are now facing some new problems Because we have finished with what you could call the “first stage,” now it’s a problem of stabilizing the situation. We are at a stage where we have to take care to respond systemically.

Jacek Pyżalski

Thomas Hatch: But what I learned on my visit to Poland is that the problem was even more complex: a third of the Ukrainian students were in the Polish schools, but maybe two-thirds were in Poland, but they were still learning remotely in their schools in Ukraine and never went to the Polish schools?

Jacek Pyżalski: Yes. A lot of young people from the Ukraine are at least partly using distance education because the  Ukrainian Government prepared remote education for those students who fled to the other countries. Some of them are also doing parallel study in the Polish schools at the same time they are still students in the Ukrainian formal remote system. But also even before the war, we had a big migration from Ukraine, but it was economic. A lot of these Ukrainians and some who came with this recent wave want to stay. They chose Poland as the final destination for a long period. They want to stay here and to work here. But then there are others who treat Polish schools mostly as the place where someone takes care of their children. They still care more about the Ukrainian system, and they do not really engage in Polish learning. This makes it hard to improve the quality of education for the others who want to stay. It’s a problem. One thing in this situation is education, the other thing is humanitarian aid, and it’s not easy to distinguish both priorities. There is not an easy solution for this –still Polish teachers and schools do their best.

One thing in this situation is education, the other thing is humanitarian aid, and it’s not easy to distinguish both priorities. There is not an easy solution for this.

Thomas Hatch: So you said to me before that now there needs to be a system response, but what kind of system response are people working on, or do you think is required?

Jacek Pyżalski: I think it’s still not at the stage that they are working on. They made some adjustments to the exams so that some part of the exam will be in Ukrainian and things like this. We already have preparation classes so before you go to the normal classes you can learn the Polish language to make it easier to participate in the educational activities. There are also adjustments in the social welfare system. So it’s a lot of things. Of course, it’s always not enough. It’s always a problem for any country to adjust to that scale of migration in that short time.

I can tell you about some really radical situations. For example, there is a small village where there is work growing fruit. They had a really small school with one hundred students. And then, in one moment, the school has three hundred people. Two hundred are from the Ukraine who came with their parents who wanted to work there. You cannot imagine and prepare for such situations. You cannot imagine how many challenges like this pop up from Monday to Tuesday. So we have to accept that it is not easy to organize a response to the extent that people want.

Thomas Hatch: That’s fascinating. Even in the US, where some schools are taking in significant numbers of refugees from the border, it’s nothing like the scale that you’re talking about. Has there been any effort to work with Ukrainian teachers who also left their homeland?

Jacek Pyżalski: We’ve got it in our laws that we can employ Ukrainian teachers and we employ them, in some cases, as support teachers in classes where there are Ukrainian students. They serve as language assistants or cultural assistants. So in a lot of schools there are two teachers; they act as a bridge between the Polish teachers and the Ukrainian students to help them adjust and to help them fully use the Polish educational system. Also, some people, like mental health professionals and psychologists, were also employed in Polish educational institutions to help the children, particularly with traumatic disorders and things like this.

Thomas Hatch: In the US, especially with the school closures, one of the things we’ve seen is a proliferation of schools: parents and others created private schools or micro schools or camps. Has there been any of that kind of activity outside the public school system to provide specific programs, private schools or other kinds of schools for Ukrainian students?

Jacek Pyżalski: Not for Ukrainian students. We have this movement like everywhere for Polish students with private schools and home education, but I haven’t heard about such initiatives that weren’t public initiatives. I think it was mostly in the public arena.

Thomas Hatch: Are there any specific innovations or promising practices that you’ve seen to help work with Ukrainian students or to integrate refugees into the Polish education system? 

Jacek Pyżalski: There were a lot! Some small things and also systems things. But what was the issue here in Poland? In a short time, a lot of people fled. In a short time, because we observed this in 71 schools, there were 5-6% of schools that have really increased in size because it was not equally distributed among those young people who came. They came to big cities and the places where they could find work. In some schools there were 1-2 persons coming, or nobody, and in 6% of schools there could be a 40% increase in the school population in one month. Those people are speaking another language; many are having psychological problems because, even if they were not touched by the war directly, they’ve got close family in the war and things like this. There’s also the shock of moving to another country. Some people moved without anything, just having everything in one backpack. So it was a big shock. We also surveyed about 100 teachers, 60% of the teachers said before this they had no children from other countries at all. So having so many children at one time, in many cases for people who had never worked in a multicultural classroom, it’s not easy (Together in the classroom: Children from Ukraine in Polish schools – potentials and challenges in building a multicultural school in the context of the war in Ukraine: Teachers’ perspective).

60% of the teachers said before this they had no children from other countries at all. So having so many children at one time, in many cases for people who had never worked in a multicultural classroom, it’s not easy.

But you ask me about specific things, small things, and I can give you multiple examples. For example, some schools used the Ukrainian labels for the school rooms like the toilet and the kitchen. Young people feel welcomed when they see their mother tongue on the labels. Also the Ukrainian teachers made cards for all the school staff, the technical and administrative staff, so they can speak at least some Ukrainian, and they can communicate with young people. Also, when teachers organize group work, they would mix the children so that the children are doing tasks together no matter their nationality and they have to communicate and cooperate.

In terms of bigger things, we should review the work of the School with Class Foundation who produced educational materials for the schools and students. For example, they made cards with Ukrainian and Polish language that the students could play with. But, overall, there was a big mobilization of the Polish population. It was astonishing, and it was something really heartwarming: people were not just providing materials and physical things, they were also providing support and inviting people to their homes. It was a really big thing.

There was a big mobilization of the Polish population. It was astonishing, and it was something really heartwarming: people were not just providing materials and physical things, they were also providing support and inviting people to their homes.

Thomas Hatch: Anything we haven’t covered that you wanted to share about the situation in Poland, or how Poland’s responded, or how it compares to other countries?

Jacek Pyżalski: A lot! We could talk for the whole day. But what I would like to emphasize is that we have to remember the wellbeing of teachers. We talked about the Covid crisis, about emergency remote education, and we also talked about the humanitarian crisis, this migration crisis. But actually for the teachers, these crises are so close to each other. Normally there is a crisis, and there is the normal situation. But again, can we talk about “normal” when we jump from crisis to crisis? What is our reference point? Nobody knows.

Can we talk about “normal” when we jump from crisis to crisis? What is our reference point? Nobody knows.

I saw your book, the book about the education we need and in times you cannot predict, and for me this is the issue. How should we deal with a world that is so impossible to predict? We have no reference points, so we can’t. We don’t prepare ourselves for crisis, for peacetime and for crisis. We need to respond to a permanent crisis. How do we teach for a permanent crisis? There are more questions than answers. I know this is a challenge, but if you ask me for really clear answers, I would surrender.

Thomas Hatch: But despite your understanding of the challenges and the difficulties, you strike me as someone who is also profoundly engaged and optimistic about what is possible.  What gives you hope at this point?

Jacek Pyżalski: I believe in education. I believe in knowledge. That’s why I’m advocating for and conducting so much research  that is at least to some extent translated into practice.. Even if you have no time to get prepared, I believe that we should start from really knowing what’s going on, not just guessing what is needed.


Ryzalski, J., Luczynska, A., Kata, G., Plichta, P., & Wieslaw, P. (2022). Together in the classroom: Children from Ukraine in Polish schools. Modern Education Discourses, 5 (2022).

Networks in Education and Change: Lead the Change Interviews for AERA (part 3)

This week, IEN shares the third in a series of posts featuring presenters from the Educational Change Special Interest Group sessions at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association.  This post features presenters from the session titled: Networks in Education and Change: Contexts, Theories, and Practice and includes responses to the question “What are some of the ideas you hope the field of Educational Change and the audience at AERA can learn from your work related to practice, policy, and scholarship?” Part 1 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Transforming Education and Teacher Education: Technologies, Pedagogies, and Practice. Part 2 of this series featured presenters from the session titled: Conditions Conducive to Learning that Promote Ed Change. The full interviews can be found on the LtC website. The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb.

“Researching With Communities to Promote Inclusive Education in Latin America”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Ignacio Calderón Almendros, University of Malaga, Spain.

In different Spanish-speaking countries we have worked to promote inclusive education based on this idea of contributing to the
community itself by building the sense of inclusion in the school. Starting from the analyzes of oppressed groups implies that the narratives emerge from an emotion: pain. Building inclusive education from there gives a profoundly humanist meaning to a concept that has been manipulated by neoliberalism to the point of reducing it to nothing. Therefore, this approach, which seeks to subvert power relations in schools, goes through a mobilizing emotional cartography: from solitary pain to collective recognition, anger as a revolutionary impulse, and love by becoming a collective project hoped for by social and educational justice.

For this to happen, the discourses have to maintain the languages of the oppressed people throughout the process (Calderón-Almendros, 2019). These languages (sometimes maternal, intuitive, loving) are being abandoned throughout schooling, and replaced by professional, bureaucratic, and supposedly scientific and neutral languages.

We have studied this idea particularly with people with disabilities: a mother who goes to school talking about her son as a correct person, leaving the limits imposed by normality, ends up succumbing to the overwhelming power of the institution and professional language: reality is what the institution says. That mother has to assume that her son is not well, and refusing to do so is interpreted as not seeing reality. She has to undergo to the interpretative schemes of the professional, which are loaded with the historical prejudice that has kept people like her son out of school. This school’s rejection of an emerging narrative—a new conception of reality—eliminates any option for transformation. This logic is shared among many disadvantaged groups, who are disarmed of their languages, and thus demobilized. In the face of institutional language, they are left naked.

For this reason, educational change focused on inclusion and equity needs to start from these genuine languages and fight to maintain them. It implies a connection with other people who little by little are joining the struggle, because they connect with those interpretations that they have been abandoning, forced by the system. The connection between different pains shared within the school produce the emergence of broader and intersectional narratives that take into account different groups and sectors of the educational system: a school that excludes, causes pain in the student body, but also in the families and in the teaching staff. All of them are abandoning their own senses of the meaning of educate. And together they can rebuild new collective meanings, based on their own research made by conversations and actions at different levels.

“Educational change focused on inclusion and equity needs to start from these genuine languages and fight to maintain them.”

In our work, both in Spain and in Latin America, we have generated moments of collective narrative construction, with conversations among a large number of people in which they analyze the situation of their educational systems, their limits and possibilities, as well as the role that they can take on its transformation. These conversations —nourished by personal and biographical experiences— constitute the new interpretation framework, in which they have been able to collectively transgress what is not allowed to think. These narratives are the breeding ground for other narratives focused on action: the community begins to build responses to the reality it lives. Reality is also constructed by them.

“Creating Boundary Infrastructures in Networks of Collaboration for Educational Change”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Jeremy F. Price, Amy Waechter-Versaw, Brooke Moreland, AJ Knoors, Indiana University

We are presenting a fairly novel context for educational change—a diverse and distributed network across a state—rather than bounding the work institutionally in a school, district, or set collection of schools and districts. The use of Actor-Network Theory as an analytic frame has been particularly useful in this regard, as we work through and examine the ways that the people, processes, and tools worked together to facilitate ongoing change with equity and inclusion with technology as the goal.

A rapid response—as was necessary in the face of the shutdowns caused by COVID-19— followed by intentional and rigorous analysis can yield lasting insights into reverberations in practice, policy, and scholarship caused by catastrophically and profoundly disruptive events and by quotidian uncertainties alike. As we face a persistent pandemic, enduring climate change and the drastic weather events that accompany it, and a genuine reckoning through advances in and backlashes against racial and social justice, we must think, plan, and react agilely, creatively, and across networks if we wish to facilitate and see sustainable educational change with inclusion and justice at the forefront.

“We must think, plan, and react agilely, creatively, and across networks if we wish to facilitate and see sustainable educational change with inclusion and justice at the forefront.”

On a very practical level, our scholarship can also serve as a case study to help scholars and practitioners learn from the work to promote the use of the knowledge for justice-oriented and inclusive educational change in new contexts. Case studies are well-suited for bringing ideas from one setting to another, by prompting ideas and questions when thinking through how the ideas can be brought to a new context (Lincoln & Guba, 1988; Ruddin, 2006).

Last, and certainly not least, we provide an account of infrastructures and relationships that have allowed us to learn to listen and work together as a diverse network and strategic coalition. Designing and sustaining long term equitable and inclusive educational change means engaging with lots of different people in lots of different ways, learning from them and facilitating the development of their agency and capacities. This process needs to be salient and accessible for all members of the network, and through the relationship- and infrastructure-building, we have charted one way of engaging with communities, with educators, and with institutions for just and inclusive educational change.

“Educational Transformation and Relational Accountability in Education Change Networks”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Leyton Schnellert, University of British Columbia, Sara Florence Davidson, Simon Fraser University, Bonny-Lynn Donovan, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

We explicitly conceptualize an Education Change Network (ECN) as dialogic space where educators engage with equity-deserving community partners to disrupt colonizing one-size-fits-all conceptions of education and collaborate to bridge from reflective dialogue to making situated, responsive, community-honoring changes to practice (Schnellert, Davidson, Yee, & Donovan, 2023; Washington & O’Connor, 2020). Not enough is known about how partnering with Indigenous community members and researchers within an ECN might support teacher learning, innovation, and decolonization. For example, school districts across Canada seek to support educators to address the TRC Calls to Action. However, teachers often do not know who to access and/or how to work with equity-deserving community partners and resources to transform pedagogy and school practices.

Educators who engage in collaborative approaches to professional development may “find themselves more apt to venture into the unknown, to engage in long-term inquiry, and/or to share what they are learning with others than those who are unsupported by their colleagues” (Van Horn, 2006, p. 61). In our research, we investigate whether and how inquiry-based ECNs can support educators to access and collaborate with Indigenous community partners to disrupt and transform teaching and learning in classrooms to increase success for Indigenous learners and expand mainstream notions of success.

We conducted a critical case study (Grosvenor & Pataki, 2017; Merriam, 2009) guided by Indigenous Storywork principles (Archibald, 2008) to research ECN processes and outcomes. An Indigenous Storywork principle-informed critical case study enabled us to engage in respectful and responsible data collection, analysis, and knowledge mobilization approaches that position Indigenous communities as curriculum and educational change partners. The ECN in this study met together as one large network five times during the school year. At the ECN meetings local Indigenous educators and Knowledge Keepers shared foundational concepts and related stories from local syilx* Knowledge Keepers. Educators were also introduced to the concept of white privilege, exploring decolonization, Indigenization, and protocols for sharing Indigenous knowledge. For educators in the ECN this work was complemented by participation in “small fire” inquiry groups of 5-18 educators engaging with related ideas and practices. Small fires met 5-7 times in addition to the full group ECN meetings (Schnellert, Davidson, & Donovan, 2022).

Our study contributes to understanding how to develop teacher capacity to enact decolonization and reconciliation. Research suggests that this can lead to the development of culturally sustaining pedagogies and address systemic racism (Sleeter, 2012; Washington & O’Connor, 2020). We saw evidence of this from teachers’ collaboration with local Knowledge Keepers and Elders, learning from and with the Land, and taking up practices that welcome all students’ identities in inclusive classrooms. Most critically we demonstrate how an ECN that positions Indigenous Knowledge and community partners as curriculum informants can address the pressing needs brought to light by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (2015) and anti-racism efforts.

*“According to nsyilxcən language speakers, there are no capitalizations in the spellings of any nsyilxcən words. In an egalitarian
society, capitalization insinuates there is something that holds more importance over another, and that does not fall in line with syilx ethics” (Bonneau, 2022, para 28).

“Elements of Network Culture”

Excerpts from the LtC interview with Leyton Schnellert, University of British Columbia, Mehjabeen Datoo, University of Toronto, Donna Lynn Kozak, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Miriam Miller, University of British Columbia, Graham Giles, York University

Educational change agendas will have little impact if they fail to engage educators in generating and mobilizing knowledge about and for their own practice and contexts. However, PLNs that engage educators in situated collaborative inquiry can impact teachers’ agency and result in positive changes at the classroom, school, and system levels (Butler & Schnellert, 2012; Daly & Stoll, 2018). When educators inquire together, they have the opportunity to grapple with research and practice in ways that are meaningful in their particular contexts. Creating spaces for rural educators to collaborate and innovate can result in situated, place-conscious pedagogies and teacher leadership (Schnellert, 2020).

In our research with rural PLNs, educators have described their increased awareness of their own capacity for change-making and problem-solving. They also identified the value of meeting online with innovators from rural and remote communities very different from their own. The unique attributes of each context and situated innovation offer inspiration, motivation, and creativity. Thus, if PLNs are structured to enable collaborative inquiry processes, they have the potential to be particularly helpful in fostering innovation.

Innovation, like learning, is social and emotional and occurs within relational contexts; emotional aspects of innovation and educational change have often been overlooked and researchers are now turning their attention to this element (Datnow, 2018; Hargreaves, 2019; Woodland, 2016). Trusting, collegial relationships allow educators to nudge each other’s thinking and learning beyond superficial matters and open up opportunities to deepen their thinking and practice (Ciancutti & Steding, 2001).

“Change is challenging and with discomfort comes growth.”

In the study we will present at AERA 2023, the nested nature of education change was evident in many ways within the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning PLN. The PLN is comprised of teams who attend online networking sessions during the school year and an annual symposium in the Spring. In each context, educators work together in inquiry teams with the goal of improving student engagement. To join the PLN, inquiry teams must outline how they plan to collaborate with community partners to address a local issue or opportunity.

Data analyses showed that the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning PLN offered educators a space to reflect on and process experiences. These relational exchanges motivated participants to continue innovating at their own sites; however, their emotional experiences related to educational change and their projects were not limited to pleasant emotions like inspiration and fulfilment. For example, one participant shared that they felt uncomfortable when they experienced criticism and pushback regarding their innovation. Data analysis suggested that the PLN created a forum to share experiences, identify barriers and challenges, and problem solve together. Of note, the supportive and generative nature of the PLN community helped educators to persevere and sustain their innovations. This normalized that change is challenging and with discomfort comes growth.


Chancel, L., Piketty, T., Saez , E., & Zucman, G. (Ed.)
(2022). World inequality report 2022. World Inequality Lab.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Penguin.

Calderón-Almendros, I., Ainscow, M., Bersanelli, S., & Molina, P. (2020). Educational inclusion and equity in Latin America: An analysis of the challenges. Prospects: Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment, 49(3), 169–186.

Calderón-Almendros, I.; Moreno-Parra, J. & Vila-Merino, E. (2022). Education, power, and segregation. The psychoeducational report as an obstacle to inclusive education. International Journal of Inclusive education.

Mojtar-Mendieta, L. & Calderón-Almendros, I. (2021). Silenced voices leading school changes. Enabling Education Review, 10, 28-29.

Calderón-Almendros, I. (2019). Differences and inequality in schools: The languages of oppressed people as hope. Ars Vivendi Journal, 11, 2-11.

Rincón-Gallardo, S. (2019). Liberating Learning: Educational Change as Social Movement. Routledge.

Carlile, P. R. (2002). A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development. Organization Science, 13(4), 442–455.

Farrell, C. C., Penuel, W. R., Allen, A., Anderson, E. R., Bohannon, A. X., Coburn, C. E., & Brown, S. L. (2022). Learning at the Boundaries of Research and Practice: A Framework for Understanding Research–Practice Partnerships. Educational Researcher, 51(3), 197–208.

Fenwick, T. J., & Edwards, R. (2010). Actor-Network Theory in Education. Taylor & Francis.

Hopkins, M., & Woulfin, S. L. (2015). School system (re) design: Developing educational infrastructures to support school leadership and teaching practice. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 371–377.

Lamb, A. J., & Weiner, J. M. (2021). Technology as infrastructure for change: District leader understandings of 1: 1 educational technology initiatives and educational change. Journal of Educational Administration.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Harvard.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1988). Criteria for Assessing Naturalistic Inquiries as Reports. American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Nespor, J. (1997). Tangled Up in School: Politics, Space, Bodies, and Signs in the Educational Process. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Penuel, W. R. (2019). Infrastructuring as a Practice of Design-Based Research for Supporting and Studying Equitable Implementation and Sustainability of Innovations. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4–5), 659–677.

Peurach, D. J., & Neumerski, C. M. (2015). Mixing metaphors: Building infrastructure for large scale school turnaround. Journal of Educational Change, 16(4), 379–420.

Ruddin, L. P. (2006). You Can Generalize Stupid! Social Scientists, Bent Flyvbjerg, and Case Study Methodology. Qualitative Inquiry, 12(4), 797–812.

Star, S. L. (1989). The Structure of Ill-Structured Solutions: Boundary Objects and Heterogeneous Distributed Problem Solving. In Distributed Artificial Intelligence (pp. 37–54). Elsevier.

Young, D., Borland, R., & Coghill, K. (2010). An Actor-Network Theory Analysis of Policy Innovation for Smoke-Free Places: Understanding Change in Complex Systems. American Journal of Public Health, 100, 1208–1217.

Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. UBC Press.

Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich Publishing.

Bonneau, A. (2022, February 6). How snk̓lip brought salmon to snpinktn. Toronto Star. snpinktn.html

Ermine, W. (2007). The ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193-203.

Grosvenor, I., & Pataki, G. (2017). Learning through culture: Seeking “critical case studies of possibilities” in the history of education. Paedagogica Historica, 53(3), 246–267.

Hare, J., & Davidson, S. F. (2019). Learning from Indigenous knowledge in education. In Starblanket, & Long (Eds.), Visions of the heart: Canadian Aboriginal issues (5th ed.) (pp. 203-219). Oxford University Press.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (2nd ed.) Jossey-Bass.

Schnellert, L., Davidson, S. F., & Donovan, B.L. (2022). Working towards relational accountability in education change networks through local Indigenous ways of knowing and being. Cogent Education, 9(1), 1-12. 1080/2331186X.2022.2098614.

Schnellert, L., Davidson, S.F., Yee, N., & Donovan, B.L. (2023) Welcoming Indigenous ways of knowing:Decolonizing and building relationships through education change networks. Education Canada 63(1), 22 – 25.

Sleeter, C. (2012). Confronting the marginalization of culturally responsive pedagogy. Urban Education, 47(3), 562-584.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to action.

Van Horn, L. (2006). Re-imagining professional development. Voices in the Middle, 13(4), 58-63.

Washington, S., & O’Connor, M. (2020). Collaborative professionalism across cultures and contexts: Cases of professional learning networks enhancing teaching and learning in Canada and Colombia. In Schnellert, L. (Ed.) Professional learning networks: Facilitating transformation in diverse contexts with equity-seeking communities (pp. 17-48). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.

Butler, D. L., & Schnellert, L. (2012). Collaborative inquiry in teacher professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(8), 1206-1220.

Brown, C., & Poortman, C. (2018). Networks for learning effective collaboration for teacher, school and system improvement. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Bryant, J.A. Jr. (2007). Killing Mayberry: The crisis in rural American education. The Rural Educator, 29(1), 7-11.

Chapman, C., & Hadfield, M. (2010). Realising the potential of school-based networks, Educational Research, 52(3), 309– 323.

Ciancutti, A., & Steding, T.L. (2001). Built on trust: Gaining a competitive advantage in any organization. Contemporary Books.

Corbett, M., & Gereluk, D. (2020). Rural teacher education: Connecting land and people. Springer.

Daly, A., & Stoll, L. (2018). Looking back and moving forward: Where to next for networks of learning? In C. Poortman & C. Brown, (Eds.), Developing professional capital in professional learning networks (pp. 232-242). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Datnow, A. (2018). Time for change? The emotions of teacher collaboration and reform. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 3(3), 157-172.

Hargreaves, A. (2019). Teacher collaboration: 30 years of research on its nature, forms, limitations and effects. Teachers and Teaching, 25(5), 603-621. Irvin, M. J., Byun, S., Meece, J. L., Farmer, T. W., &

Hutchins, B. C. (2012). Educational barriers of rural youth: Relation of individual and contextual difference variables. SAGE Publications.

Kreisberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment and education. SUNY Press.

Parsley, D. (2018). Remote but not removed: Professional networks that support rural educators. American Educator, 41(4) 34-37.

Schnellert, L. (2020). Supporting innovation across the system: Lessons from B.C.’s system change efforts. Education Canada, 60(2).

Schnellert, L., & Butler, D.L. (2021) Exploring the potential of collaborative teaching nested within professional learning networks. Journal of Professional Capital and Community 6(2), 99-116

Schnellert, L., Datoo, M., Miller, M., Kozak, D., & Giles, G. (2023). Growing innovation in rural sites of learning. Perspectiva Educacional, 62(1), 63-116 DOI: 10.4151/07189729-Vol.62-Iss.1-Art.1393.

Schnellert, L., & Richardson, P. (2016). Living critical mindfulness as professional development: Co- creating authentic spaces for learning and being in the academy. In Ragoonaden, K. and S. Bullock Mindfulness and critical friendship: A new perspective on professional development for educators, 33-44. Lexington Books.

Woodland, R. (2016). Evaluating PK-12 professional learning communities: An improvement science perspective. American Journal of Evaluation, 37(4), 505-521.