Well-Being, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Snapshots from the 8th ARC Education Thoughtmeet

  • How can we measure the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of students and educators?
  • What are the medium and long-term strategies that support the well-being of all student from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as those vulnerable families?
  • What are the key factors- physical, social and/or emotional- that systems should focus on in our efforts to enhance staff and student well-being during and beyond this pandemic context?

These key question launched A Focus on Well-being and Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory’s January ThoughtMeet (TM). ARC Talks were provided by Ársæll Már Arnarsson (Professor at the University of Iceland School of Education), Marc Brackett  (Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) and ARC co-founder and President Andy Hargreaves. This post highlights the key ideas and issues that were discussed by the ARC TM participants, representatives from the seven ARC member systems and its global partners. A detailed description from the January meeting can be found here; additional videos and other resources can be found here. This post was produced by Mariana Domínguez González, ARC Research Assistant and Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director

The Icelandic Well-being Saga

The Icelandic Well-Being Saga

“Children are engaged in their well-being and they are expressing their feelings. It is our responsibility to make that acceptable and to show them the way forward.”

In his ARC talk, Ársæll Már Arnarsson shared how Iceland was able to increase student well-being through policy and practice. Keeping in mind the important link between research and policy development, the Icelandic government drew from local, national and international studies to make changes in their legislation focused on child and adolescent well-being. Iceland´s Act of the Integration of Services in the Interest of Children´s Prosperity was written in June 2021 and was implemented in January of 2022. The Act is a gradual, coordinated law focused on the education and well-being of children from an early age. It proposes that each child have a support plan developed by a caseworker in coordination with the child’s family, and that this plan be revisited frequently. 

Emotional Intelligence: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Achieve Well-being and Success (Especially During Uncertain Times)

A focus on Social Emotional Learning and Well-being

“[S]chools have too many rules, not enough feelings”

In his ARC talk, Marc Brackett began by asking ARC delegates about their own emotions and feelings. For Brackett, emotions are important to recognize and name because they have a direct impact on our attention, our memory and our learning; on our capacity to make decisions; on the quality of our relationships; on our physical and mental health; and on our performance and creativity. This ability to recognize and name emotions is part of emotional intelligence which he defines as a set of discrete yet interrelated skills that can be learned and developed regardless of age. He then introduced ARC delegates to RULER, a systemic approach to social emotional learning (SEL) that he uses with schools worldwide. RULER is an acronym for:

Recognizing emotions in self and others
Understanding causes and consequences of emotions
Labeling emotions accurately
Expressing emotions
Regulating emotions effectively

In describing RULER and its use, Brackett highlighted that it should be implemented first with teachers through professional learning processes before using it with students. Additionally, pedagogical practices and school-wide policies around RULER should always take into consideration the different existing levels of mindsets, skill-development, as well as the school and home emotional climates of students. 

Well-being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World

A focus on Social Emotional Learning and Well-being

“One way to get well is to engage with the world, and to care about it and to feel that you are an actor and not only someone who is resilient or responsive or trying to cope at the same time.”

In the final ARC talk of the event, Andy Hargreaves presented the key ideas from his new book with colleague Dennis Shirley. He began by describing how recent interest in well-being draws from both the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, Ambiguity). The first of which he argues has led to a sense of too much control, while the second creates a feeling of being out of control. For Hargreaves, SEL and well-being are not opposites or in competition. Rather, SEL is an important part of the holistic well-being concept. He posited that SEL helps educators and students cope with the educational challenges they experience, but collective effort must also be directed at changing the system to increase well-being. He challenged ARC delegates to pay attention, not only to the interactive, the emotional and the social dimensions of well-being, but also to consider the societal, the physical and the spiritual. An important question for delegates to ask when engaging in policy development on this topic is “What is the role of well-being in society?”

What’s next?

Like previous ARC TMs, this event stimulated thinking and provoked further questions for participants. A more detailed capture of the discussion can be found in the summary document. The summary also includes a number of questions to spark future discussions for policy development, implementation, and practice, such as:

  • How can the research on well-being and SEL be made more accessible to policymakers, leaders and educators?
  • What are political challenges to the design and implementation of well-being models in education?
  • How can we meaningfully and effectively integrate well-being and SEL into schools at all levels? 
  • What resources and professional development will support teachers in this work and how do we provide it?
  • How can we engage students in taking an active role in their education to improve well-being and prosperity?
  • How can we provide space, time and access for staff and student well-being and SEL?

Key References and Resources

Arnarsson, Kristofersson, G. K., & Bjarnason, T. (2018). Adolescent alcohol and cannabis use in Iceland 1995–2015. Drug and Alcohol Review37(S1), S49–S57. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12587

Brackett, M. A., Bailey, C. S. Hoffmann, J. D. & Simmons, D. N. (2019). RULER: A Theory-Driven, Systemic Approach to Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Educational Psychologist54(3), 144-161. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2019.1614447

Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2021). Well-Being in Schools. Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World. ASCD.

European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD)

Health and Behavior of School-Aged Children (HBSC)

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

About the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory

The Atlantic Rim Collaboratory (ARC) is an international policy learning network that was established in 2016 to advance educational change based on eight guiding principles: equity, excellence, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy, sustainability, human rights, and professionally run systems. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) since 2019, ARC brings together senior public officials (i.e ministers and deputy ministers of education), professional association leaders (i.e. unions and inspectorates) and other key stakeholders from its seven education member systems (Iceland, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Scotland, Uruguay and Wales), global partners (International Confederation of Principals) and international experts and scholars to discuss, debate and exchange knowledge about educational policy issues and to formulate responses suited to their contexts. One of the founding ideas behind ARC is to tear down the walls between countries and regions, as well as between educational researchers and politicians, in order to pursue the most fundamental ideas of what it means to be educated in today’s world for the mutual benefit of all ARC-systems and future generations of students worldwide. Every year, ARC members meet at the annual Summit hosted by one of the member systems. However, since 2020, in addition to a virtual summit, ARC has also hosted bi-monthly virtual ARC ThoughtMeets (TMs) for its members. The TM outreach series was designed to stimulate and support a global educational movement for equitable, inclusive and sustainable educational solutions to COVID-19.

A view from Japan (part 2): Hiro Yokota on parenting, education and the new Digital Agency in Japan

This week’s post features a follow-up interview with Hirokazu Yokota, discussing his experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, as a parent, education policymaker and now government officer at Japan’s newly established Digital Agency. Yokota was a principal architect of two recent policies: the Basic Act on the Formation of a Digital Society, which set basic principles to transform Japan by cross-ministerial policy making and passed the Japanese Diet on May 2021; and the Priority Policy Program for Realizing Digital Society, which include policy measures for the government to implement and got cabinet approval in December 2021. Recently, he published an article on school leadership in Japan in the International Journal of Leadership in Education. The post shares his own views and does not necessarily represent official views of DA and the Japanese government.

IEN: What has been happening with you and your family this year? How does this compare to what you told us in your previous post at the beginning of the pandemic (A view from Japan: Hirokazu Yokota on school closures and the pandemic)?

Hirokazu Yokota: Too many changes to remember, I would say… the positive thing is that I and my family are still doing well and safe, which is the most important. My working style has changed a lot. I still work from home two to three days a week, which means I have more time to spare with my kids. Almost every meeting, including the ones with the Minister, happens online, which was almost inconceivable pre-pandemic to me. The society now has more tolerance for that flexible style, as it found paper-based and face-to-face working style infeasible in the presence of this lasting pandemic.

The other side? My six-year-old daughter suddenly said she wanted to wear a mask on top of another and cried (she always wears one when going outside). She, by watching TV news etc., was kind of afraid of getting Omicron. I couldn’t just say getting it isn’t a big deal. Kids absorb and think much more from what they see in the world than we imagine. As a parent, I have to balance two seemingly-conflicting demands – providing my kids with real-life, authentic opportunities to interact with a variety of people, and preventing the infection of Covid-19 at the same time. This is a very challenging act of parenting, and to be honest, I have not found any solid answer here.

“As a parent, I have to balance two seemingly-conflicting demands – providing my kids with real-life, authentic opportunities to interact with a variety of people, and preventing the infection of Covid-19 at the same time. This is a very challenging act of parenting”

IEN: It’s interesting to see that you’re now working at a new governmental agency. What is the Digital Agency and what does it have to do with this pandemic?

HY: The Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for Japan’s digital transformation. Management of the health crises was hampered by outdated and cumbersome administrative systems. Additionally, in the past, each ministry, agency, and local government has been promoting digitalization separately, which resulted in 1,700 local governments with 1,700 systems: procured and managed separately with dispersed responsibility. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the ineffectiveness of this practice.

As a response, in September 2020, then Prime Minister SUGA Yoshihide made the digitalization of Japan one of his top priorities. Accordingly, the Digital Agency (DA) was established at an incredible speed and launched in September 2021. DA has strong powers of comprehensive coordination, such as the power to make recommendations to other ministries and agencies.

What is particularly interesting is that of the about 600 DA officers, a third (some 200) are coming from the private sector, which creates a mixed organizational culture of thorough coordination of stakeholder interests in the public sector and agile/flexible decision making in the private sector. New challenges every day, but a very inspiring working environment. Given that I’ve mainly worked within the education sector it really helps to broaden my perspective.

IEN: In the field of education specifically, you previously mentioned that the Japanese government planned to implement “one device per student” initiative. What has worked, and what has been problematic?

HY: The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has started the GIGA (Global and Innovative Gateway for All) School Program to make certain equitable and individually optimized learning by providing one computer per student and high-speed Internet for schools, which originally aimed at one device per student by the end of FY 2023. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, it was accelerated and strengthened, with the distribution of one device per student almost completed by July 2021. About 461 billion yen (some 4 billion US dollars) in total was allocated for that purpose, which obviously was a huge investment.

However, when I collected voices from 217,000 students and 42,000 educators through an online questionnaire on this GIGA School Initiative in July 2021, it turned out that there were many problematic issues on the ground – including slow networks, slow digitalization of school affairs, school staff that never got devices, equipment that was too old or insufficient for use inside and outside of the classroom as well as insufficient support by experts. In terms of policy implementation, just distributing a subsidy does not necessarily guarantee that ICT devices are actually used, and there are many steps to be taken before these are put into daily use like pencils and notebooks.

In order to fill in this gap between policy and practice, the Digital Agency, with the ministries concerned, released a joint message to students and educators, and presented their responses in the form of future directions of relevant policies. Some of them actually led to subsequent supplementary budget items approved in December 2021.

Additionally, we took the comments from students and educators very seriously, and based on the “Open/Transparency” principle of DA, we explained our stance in as much detail as possible, including cases in which measures are difficult to take. This, I believe, is very meaningful as a new trial of policy refinement based on voices from the ground, where digital plays a significant role in reaching out to people/users.

IEN: This initiative is still in progress, but what’s next?

HY: Yes, when we think of three phases of digital transformation – (1) digitization, (2) digitalization, and (3) digital transformation, the current movement is mostly in phase (1) (digitization). However, the potential of digital technology goes far beyond taking paper and face-to-face processes and putting them online; it also lies in promoting student-centered learning as well as providing wraparound and push-type services to children by connecting a variety of data. Therefore, recently (in January 2022), DA and the ministries concerned published “Roadmap on the Utilization of Data in Education.” First, we set the mission of digitalization in education as “a society where anybody, at any time and place, can learn with anybody in his/her own way,” and established “three core goals” – enriching the (1) scope, (2) quality, and (3) combination of data – for realizing that mission. Issues and necessary measures, such as standardizing data in education, the way the creation of the platform in the field of education ought to be, determining rules/policies for the utilization of data in education, are clarified with a timeline.

Although most of the policy measures are supposed to be taken by MEXT, DA recently started a pilot project for realizing support for children in need (e.g. poverty, child abuse) through data connection across departments and organizations. As for now, when it comes to data in such fields as education, childcare, child welfare, medical care, etc., they are handled at different departments within the local government. Additionally, there are a variety of institutions concerned such as child consultation centers and schools, each of which, based on their respective role, engage in support for children by utilizing the information that they have. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in each organization/department working in silos without having a clear understanding of which children/families need priority support. For example, the “Child Development Monitoring System” in Minoh City, Osaka Prefecture, classifies children through (1) economic situation, (2) child rearing ability, (3) academic achievement, and (4) non-cognitive abilities, etc.; they then utilize the results for support and monitoring through case meetings, etc.. Building on such practices, we will support local governments by establishing a system for connecting data in education, child welfare, health etc. as needed, utilizing that data to discover children truly in need (e.g. poverty, child abuse) and providing push-type support to them.

IEN: Knowing that fundamentally changing education is such hard work – just like “Tinkering Toward Utopia” – what do you imagine for education in the future?

HY: We have to admit the possibility that the fundamental framework of learning instruction in which “in school” “teachers” “at the same time” teach “to students in the same grade” “at the same pace” “the same content” cannot work anymore. This is not because teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. This is because there are so many different needs that children have – from absenteeism, special needs, Japanese-language learners, poverty, to so-called gifted.

With that in mind, we set the goal of digital transformation in education as realizing learner-centered education by enriching the combination of a variety of “places”, “people” and “contents” relating to learning (”A society where anybody, at any time and place, can learn with anybody in his/her own way”). For example, teachers are also expected to serve as coordinators who utilize resources such as human resources for learning that should be provided to a group of students (“Can learn ‘with anybody’”). Additionally, assessment will move from measurement of student learning at the entry point (how much students learn) to that based on a hybrid of the entry and exit points (what attributes and abilities they acquire) (“Can learn “at any time””). Furthermore, what students learn and in what order will differ based on respective needs and understanding of each student, which can be helped with big data analysis (“Can learn “in his/her own way””). This is easier said than done, but MEXT recently set up a new special council composed of stakeholders to discuss concrete policy measures to realize this vision. I’m hopeful that Japanese education will be able to shift from an equality-oriented, lecture-style system to the one that embraces diversity (individually optimized learning and collaborative learning) without undermining our focus on equity.

What’s Changing Post-COVID in Finland, New Zealand, and South Africa?

This week, IEN’s Correne Reyes takes a look at how education policies and initiatives have evolved post-COVID in two relatively “high-performing” education systems — Finland and New Zealand — and in a developing education system — South Africa.

Around the world, COVID school closures led to enrollment drops and concerns about health and safety that education systems like South Africa continue to confront. Meanwhile, systems like Finland and New Zealand appear to have dealt with those initial issues and are now tackling challenges like the emotional toll resulting from the pandemic.

According to The Conversation, in South Africa “Although improving, the achievement outcomes are still low, fragile and susceptible to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the education system a major blow, especially for poor and vulnerable learners.” As one example, South Africa reported a 30,000 student enrollment deficit in Grades R and Grade 1 due to the lockdown. With extended school shutdowns in July 2020 and January 2021, 9 million students faced hunger and malnutrition since they rely on school meals for their daily nutrition. Furthermore, only 22% of households have a computer and 10% have an internet connection, limiting remote options. Inequitable internet access means that is primarily students from wealthier communities with better resourced schools who have been able to continue their learning during the school closures. Despite these challenges, the South African government announced a plan to reduce the education budget over the next three years with a cut of over 4% for this financial year, which is likely to lead to further inequity.

“Although improving, the achievement outcomes are still low, fragile and susceptible to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealth the education system a major blow, especially for poor and vulnerable learners.”

Although Finland and New Zealand continued to experience some school closures, they have been able to turn their focus in policymaking to the health and wellbeing of their students and to rebuilding their foreign student numbers.

In terms of health and emotional support, New Zealand announced an investment of $75.8 million in their newest education wellbeing package to tackle the mental health that have arisen due to COVID-19. For the first time, primary and secondary schools will have “greater access to guidance counselors and counseling support services.” Additionally, Finland’s recent government proposal requested that “both comprehensive and upper secondary schools must have at least one social worker per 670 pupils / students and one school psychologist per 780 pupils / students.” This ratio would ensure more equal access and quality of health services in different parts of Finland. Finland suggests this would “promote the extension of compulsory education, improve opportunities to tackle bullying and also help to fill learning and well-being gaps caused by the corona.”

“New Zealand announced an investment of $75.8 million in their newest education wellbeing package to tackle the mental health and wellbeing issues that have arisen due to COVID-19.”

In both New Zealand and Finland, pandemic-related concerns have also shifted to address the loss of international students. Before the pandemic, international education in New Zealand was the fifth largest export industry, amounting to about $5 billion dollars a year. However, with the pandemic, and a 62% drop in related income from the decline in international students, experts predict it may take 10 years for the industry to recover. Education New Zealand chair, Steve Maharey, recognized that New Zealand was too dependent on China and India for students and the industry needed to diversify. To address the same issue, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has prepared the D visa, a bill that would allow third-country researchers, students and their family members the possibility to obtain a Finnish long-term visa, in hopes to promote education and work based migration.

Collaborative Community-Based Research, Leadership, and Counter-Movements: A Conversation with Ethan Chang

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Ethan Chang’s discussion of his work on Collaborative Community-Based Research, social justice leadership, and counter-movementsChang is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems.

To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities.

Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of
thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Ethan Chang: This is a big and important question. I would agree that there is consensus that we must all do more. But before asking what more we might do, I think there is a prior question: What have we as education scholars been doing? And to draw on Tuck (2009), have these various scholarly doings actually worked? In posing Tuck’s questions to myself and thinking about the urgent, but daunting work of dismantling oppressive systems, I choose to concentrate my work in three areas: (1) Collaborative Community Based Research (CCBR); (2) learning and social justice leadership development; and (3) critical studies of countermovements.

Collaborative Community-Based Research.

Collaborative, Community-Based Research (CCBR) is an approach to inquiry thatstrives to produce knowledge that emanates from, and isaccountable to, those historically excluded from knowledge production processes (Cammarota & Fine, 2008; Glass et al., 2018; King, 2016; Kirshner, 2015). It
refuses prevailing theories of change that insist more and better knowledge automatically leads toward justice (Tuck, 2009). As a process and a product, CCBR facilitates new epistemic relations, identities, practices, and concepts to prefigure the kinds of futures we hope to bring into the world (Curnow et al., 2019).

One way that Leiʻala Okuda and I have taken up CCBR is by engaging in the political education project of “recuperación crítica” (critical recovery) or “harnessing historical interpretation to the formulation of organizing strategies” (Rappaport, 2020, p. 94). We had the privilege of sharing in the insights of elders and former youth activists whose community-based struggles sparked anti-eviction and ʻāina-based
movements throughout Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. In partnership with elder-activists-researchers, we have sought to understand how and why they became lifelong activists (c.f., Conner, 2014) and focused on the organizational environments in which they were inducted into movement work as one way to access this question. We have undertaken this work because we believe it will take intergenerational work to undo centuries of oppression. As Miʻkmaq scholars poignantly remind, social transformation requires “thinking seven generations ahead” (Julian, 2016). Our CCBR activities—hosting virtual events, crafting academic and popular articles, authoring new identities for ourselves and each other (Catania et al., 2021)—represent various ways that we have attempted to enact this long-term theory of change, particularly amid a global pandemic that has strained intergenerational ties.

“It will take intergenerational work to undo centuries of oppression.”

Social Justice Leadership.

Another way I understand how change happens is by cultivating broad-based, collective leadership. Many scholars have productively challenged traditional definitions of school leadership underpinned by military and corporate models of organizational administration (Ishimaru, 2019; McGhee & Anderson, 2019). My work aims to extend scholarship that pulls the field away from assumptions about leadership as an individual act of heroism and toward models of leadership as a praxis of organizing (Ishimaru, 2013); that is, an exercise of analysis and action that co-designs bold and transformative visions of community self-determination and emphasizes building the leadership capacities of others (Anderson, 2009; Anderson & Chang, 2018; Awaachia’ookaate’ & Chang, 2020; Lac & Mansfield, 2018). We have been particularly inspired by Horsford (2012) and her scholarship that amplifies the lessons and insights of Black women leaders and educators like Ella Baker and Septima Clark. We feel there is so much to gain and so little to lose by turning to fields beyond education such as Social Movement, Black, Indigenous, Chicanx, and Asian American Studies. These fields offer generative locations for thinking about how change happens and how we might dedicate ourselves to meaningful projects of education
and social transformation in our lifetimes.


In my scholarship, I have also focused my energies on countermovements, or movements that aim to
undermine gains made by progressive social movements (Meyer & Staggenborg, 1996). Over the past several years, we have witnessed Blue Lives Matter rallies surface in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. We have also observed symbolic performances like the 1776 Commission emerge in response to expansive curricula developments like the 1619 Project (Hannah-Jones, 2019). These possessive investments in status quo racial hierarchies are not new (Harris, 1993; Lipsitz, 2006). But my
work has sought to illumine how these patterns of retrenchment play out on the shifting terrain of education politics today.

As one example, I studied an oppositional movement to Ethnic Studies, which is an interdisciplinary curricula and pedagogy that centers the insights of Black, Indigenous, and minoritized peoples (Cuauhtin et al., 2019). I spent extended time with white parents in a California suburb and attempted to understand how they positioned Ethnic Studies as “anti-American” and “anti-White,” forged a strategic coalition with disability advocates, and digitally sutured or bound their local countermovement to broader right-wing populist currents (Chang, in press). Telling the story of one local countermovement offers potential ways of comprehending, anticipating, and, as I ultimately concluded, weathering the next countermovement.

Each of these strands of inquiry cohere around a theory of change rooted in the lessons and insights of social movements. These projects have afforded productive tools and concepts to resist a swift desire to “do more,” and instead, to move with a sustainable (and sustaining) sense of urgency to build more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.

LtC: What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change might learn from your work and experience on critical analyses of education technology?

EC: My studies on EdTech raise similar questions about how we think change happens (Tuck, 2009). If there is one lesson I hope this work raises, it is that our imagined futures of a “twenty-first century education” demand attention to past and present realities of racism. My work in this space investigated how the institutional field of EdTech unevenly rewarded those actors and organizations who distanced themselves from acknowledging systemic oppression (Chang, 2019). In a familiar tale of American innovation, organizations who received significant funding and media attention were those who championed reform narratives about “fixing” the individual child in preparation for tomorrow’s society
(Chang, 2020; see also, Katz, 2020; Sims, 2017). By contrast, those who utilized digital tools to cultivate youth critical consciousness—to examine the historical formation of present inequities in an effort to
dismantle them—were underpaid, undervalued, and burdened by the day-to-day demands of organizational survival.

Like some of my current work on countermovements, this thread of inquiry into the EdTech landscape has proven profoundly ahistorical and deeply sobering. Most digital innovations rarely paid attention to “educational debts” that we know impact educational outcomes (e.g., adequate housing, nutritious foods, livable wages, to name a few; Ladson-Billings, 2006). Still, what keeps me returning to questions of digital technologies are pockets of hope and resistance such as cases in which youth appropriate digital tools for their own ends such as utilizing Google mapping technologies or social media platforms to build organizing power in their communities (Akom et al., 2016; Emejulu & McGregor, 2017). Our CCBR work aims to extend these insights. We seek to use digital tools to reconnect with prior generations of activists, leverage cloud-based platforms to cultivate place-based leadership, and co-create education and social futures rooted in the lessons of past struggles.

“Let’s move with a sustainable (and sustaining) sense of urgency to build more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.”

LtC: In some of your recent work, you discuss the barriers to developing justice-oriented leadership development programs (i.e., moving beyond individual texts or courses to renovate entire learning ecologies). Your exploration of Highlander offers a number of lessons for leadership preparation programs. What would you consider as some of the most important lessons?

EC: The Highlander Research and Education Center (founded in 1932 as the Highlander Folk School) is an invitational, residential adult learning center for labor, educational, civil rights, environmental, and grassroots community leaders. It dramatically shaped the trajectory of U.S. history and culture, and for over the past century, survived and thrived amid ongoing state and vigilante attacks. Our work on Highlander surfaced in response to a white supremacist arson attack on the center in March of 2019 (Chang & Glass, 2021). We understood “recuperación crítica” (critical recovery) as one way to counter white supremacists’ literal attempts to erase Highlander. But in addition to studying Highlander on its own terms, we approached the school as a potentially illustrative case to “re-envision the ‘how’ and ‘who’ of leadership preparation” (Bertrand & Rodela, 2018, p. 28).

One of the lessons we feel Highlander offers is the power of bold, transformative visions, or what Kelley (2002) might call “freedom dreams.” Co-founder of Highlander, Myles Horton, put it this way: “You can’t develop any valuable leadership if you don’t teach people that they can deal with big problems” (Horton, 1990, p. 147). For Highlander, these big problems included Jim Crow segregation, poverty wages, environmental pollution (among others). This lesson is particularly urgent given the ways educational administration programs can, at times, focus on the small, technical, and managerial aspects of leadership. One of my strongest students recently graduated from our program and decided not to become a principal. She felt the state department of education kept principals “busy with mandates” and sought alternative organizational contexts to enact the kinds of leadership she felt in her naʻau (her gut; see Meyer, 1998). I offer these observations not to diminish the incredible and transformative work of school leaders, but to point the arrow back at my own teaching and scholarship and ask: How am I preparing aspiring education leaders to engage with “big problems”? In what ways am I working to transform the organizational contexts of schooling that so often discourage promising individuals from becoming formal school leaders? For me, Highlander provided a way to clarify the costs we pay, and the valuable people we lose, when we do not cultivate the conditions for aspiring education leaders to deal with big problems.

But Highlander also offers insight into how organizations might adapt to the ways big problems shift over time. Black woman activist, educator, and singer, Bernice Johnson Reagon, observed that Highlander possessed a remarkable ability to “move through time” (Phenix & Selver, 2009). Insights from unfolding social movements—for race, gender, sex, environmental, immigrant, and Indigenous rights (to name a few)—directly informed the organizational roles and routines at Highlander. By actively recruiting individuals that community members identified as leaders, Highlander invited students to infuse organizational structures with their values (Selznick, 1948). In this way, Highlander offers a concrete example of a leadership learning ecology rooted in and responsive to progressive social movements.

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?

EC: Like the first question, this question raises two prior concerns for me: first, regarding schooling as a privileged site of inquiry; and second, concerning how researchers might meaningfully support educators, activists, and organizers in ways that trouble an historical paternalism in our field.

“Highlander invited students to infuse organizational structures with their values.”

In the first instance, we know that schooling is only one way to organize teaching and learning (Varenne & McDermott, 1999). Nearly thirty years ago, Tyack and Tobin (1994) conceptualized the “grammar” of schooling to name the taken-for-granted school practices such as the single-subject, age-segregated classroom (p. 454). Like the grammar of speech that organizes meaning in language, the grammar of schooling organizes the everyday practices of teaching and learning in schools (Beckham, 2019; Mehta & Datnow, 2020). When we think of “deep and often difficult transformation” then, it involves changing this grammar. It entails rewriting inherited cultural scripts that so often reduce radical education reform ideas into modest additions to the everyday practice of schooling.

In contrast to studies that operate within the grammar of schooling, rich and exciting education scholarship has focused on learning in social movement (Curnow et al., 2019; Jurow et al., 2014; Shield et al., 2021) and community-based spaces (Baldridge, 2019; Terriquez & Serrano, 2018). Of course, these spaces are not insulated from oppressive roles or routines (Baldridge, 2020; Clay & Turner, 2021). But these studies allow us to consider— or perhaps more accurately, to recover— alternative grammars of teaching and learning such as learning spaces in which classrooms become intergenerational learning circles, teachers identify as relatives, or worksheets are replaced by visits with community elders (Kahakalau, 2020; Shield et al., 2021). These educational spaces represent promising local nodes for building and sustaining a national movement for education justice (Warren, 2018); one capable of realizing more than symbolic additions to the grammar of schooling (Rincón-Gallardo, 2019).

“Leadership as accompaniment stands in solidarity with youth and their struggles for a more dignified and just world.”

This question also raises important tensions concerning the meanings of “support” and the modes of association between “researchers” and the “researched” and between education leaders and the families and young people they aim to serve. Rebeca Gamez and I have been thinking through the idea of leadership as accompaniment as one way to specify social justice leadership in relation to youth activists. Accompaniment is a praxis drawn from social movement and abolitionist studies (Mei-Singh, 2021; Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2019; Watkins, 2019). Like musical accompaniment, “It starts with careful listening, empathy, and identification” and “involves augmenting, accenting, and countering one musical voice with others” (Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2019, p. 27). Educational leadership as accompaniment foregrounds an ethic of listening, attends to dominant forms of exclusion, and stands in solidarity with youth and their struggles for a more dignified and just world (Chang & Gamez, 2022). Awaachia’ookaate’ and I have also been interested in notions of accompaniment and aim to think through the challenges and risks inherent in articulating accompaniment toward decolonial ends (Awaachia’ookaate’ & Chang, 2020; c.f., Mackey et al., 2020). Across our projects, we aim to hold ourselves accountable for any recommendations we might pose to education leaders. In the words of Lugg and Shoho (2006): “To advocate for social justice, while being risk-adverse in practice, is the worst sort of professional hypocrisy (p. 205). We approach accompaniment as a generative research praxis that moves us to foreground deep listening and stand in solidarity with those whose lives and expertise have been historically disregarded.

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

I prefer not to speculate on where the field of Educational Change is going but can comment on what excites me and where I hope the field might be heading. One hope is that CCBR will gain increasing legitimacy but in ways that resist shallow inclusion into academia. Scholarship that aims to produce knowledge that is answerable to those with most at stake, that values humanizing processes in addition to products, that is committed to a radical reflexivity is needed now more than ever. Engaged scholars like Sheeva Sabati, Emily Borg, Chrissy Hernandez, Saugher Nojan, Farima Pour-Khorshid, George Lipsitz, Diane Fujino, and Ron Glass are doing impactful work in this area. These scholars understand CCBR as a valuable methodology for producing rigorous and relevant scholarship and insist on CCBR’s foundational political commitments to intervene in the cultural and material contexts of injustice.

Another direction that I hope to see more of in Educational Change scholarship are studies that take seriously the lessons of past and unfolding social movements. Skeptics might comprehend this direction of inquiry as impractical or even impossible amid a global pandemic that has exhausted our school leaders and educators. But it is precisely this exhaustion that speaks to a need for something other than individual models of heroic leadership. In their analysis of the common activist statement, “I’m exhausted,” Emejulu and Bassel (2020) examine the social structures that demand exhaustion and exact a toll on the minds and bodies of women of color (p. 402). One social structure pertains to a patterned refusal to take women of color’sinsights seriously. Activists are exhausted because we keep rehearsing old missteps and mistakes. We continue to insist that we can build futures premised on the oppression of others or remain fearful of our differences instead of leveraging them as sources of collective strength (c.f., Hernandez et al., in press; Surviving Society, 2021). Education research that engages past and present movements can help us reach beyond this exhausting normal. I hope to continue to be a part of conversations that animate these important insights and build toward more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.

The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

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“We are just broken”: The fate of education for girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover

This week, nearly 6 months after the US forces left Afghanistan, Naila Shahid shares some of the news and links since August of 2021 describing the impact of the Taliban takeover on girls’ education there. 

 With the Taliban takeover of the Afghan government last August, many expressed fears that the substantial gains made in girls education in the past 20 years might be lost.  Although an estimated 3.7 million children remain out-of-school in Afghanistan – 60% of them girls, according to World Bank reports, girls’ secondary school attendance increased 32% from 2003 to 2017. By 2018, girls made up almost 38 percent — 3.8 million — of students in the country; by comparison only 5,000 Afghan girls were enrolled in schools in 2001. Over the same period, the presence of women in higher education also rose, and the  gender disparity in higher education enrollment decreased over time in favor of female students entering Afghan universities. For example, there were only 1,000 female participants in the Kankor exam (the University entrance exam) in 2003, while this number jumped to an all-time high – 78,000 – in 2013. In 2020, Shamsia Alizada, the daughter of a coal miner from Kabul, received the highest score out of 170,000 students on the entrance exam.

When the US troops pulled out, however, and the Taliban seized control of the country in 2021,  many businesses and institutions, including schools, shut down. Since that time, public elementary schools have reopened again and in September 2021 the Taliban government announced the reopening of government high schools but only for boys, saying only that “a safe learning environment” was needed before older girls could return to school.  Private schools, including girls secondary schools and universities, only started operating again in 10 out of 34 provinces, after they negotiated with local Taliban leadership.  

 In  October 2021, Afghan officials announced that girls would be able to resume attendance in government secondary schools, but only after the development of a new educational framework. That statement did not give a time frame for reopening and made thousands of girls fearful about their exams, their plans to graduate, their university applications and their academic future in general. In November 2021, the Afghan government added a statement about reopening secondary schools for girls, simply stating“good news coming soon”. As of January of 2022, the  Taliban are pledging/promising to open all girls schools after the Afghan New Year in late March, offering a deadline for the first time. According to the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information, the major barriers for reopening the secondary schools for girls have been the “capacity” as they plan to completely segregate girls and boys schools. 

Depriving girls of their educational rights has contributed to continuing unrest. Reports have shared the stories of  women and girls in some areas of Afghanistan (mostly urban) who are raising their voices against the closure of girls’ secondary schools and taking action. Among those voices: 

Roya, 18,  who was supposed to graduate from high school and was preparing for the university entrance exam, declared: 

“I always dreamed of being a lawyer and had been preparing to get into law school, but now with the Taliban taking over I don’t think I have a future.”

Rahela Nussrat, 17,in her final year of high school and and unable to attend classes since the takeover, lamented:

 “When the Afghan government fell, I lost my right to education, this was the first time I cried specifically because of my gender.” 

Zakia Menhas, a medical student at Kabul university waiting for her college to reopen, told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro: 

“We really – just fed up – and it is really devastating for us. Like, we had hopes. We had dreams to chase. And now it is just a dark place. And we cannot find that light. And we are just broken.” 

Despite the challenges, some are managing to persevere. 

 Shabana Basij- Rasikh whogrew up in Kabul in the 1990s, has been operating Afghanistan’s only private boarding school for girls – the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), explained 

“Education transforms lives and societies. It’s transformed my life and it’s transformed my Afghan society these past 20 years.”

Angela Ghayour, who witnessed the civil war in Afghanistan in 1992 as well, could not bear to see girl’s deprived of education once again. After three months with little progress from the Taliban, she used social media to bring together 400 volunteers and started the Online Herat school to provide educational resources to women and girls. As she put it: 

“I feel this school is the result of all of my pain, my agonies and experiences. Our motto is, the pen instead of the gun.”

In the western province of Herat, the teachers’ union, 40 school principals and parents pushed back and reopened the schools in October. However, they had to negotiate with the local Taliban officials to have completely segregated classes and only female teachers. The parents are determined. Mastoura who now escorts her two daughters to school every day is resolute.

“We had concerns, and we have them still, But daughters must get an education. Without education, your life is held back.”

A timeline of the reported events: 

September 20, 2021- Afghanistan’s new government is likely to impose severe restrictions on girls’ education, The New York Times

September 24, 2021- Deputy UN chief urges girls’ education is a must for Afghanistan, Thompson Reuters Foundation News

October 11, 2021- What will happen to girl’s education under Taliban rule?, Thompson Reuters Foundation News

October 13, 2021- Amnesty International published testimonies from teachers and students in Afghanistan, Amnesty International

October 18, 2021- Taliban stops school for girls over 12, CBS News

October 22- 2021- Afghan girls determined to return to school, CBS News

October 29, 2021- Online learning (secretly) continues for girls in Afghanistan, Global Citizen

October 31, 2021- Afghan girls think their education doesn’t have a future, The New York Times

October 31, 2021- Afghan women’s education in limbo, Deadline

November 02, 2021- Afghanistan’s government says it will soon announce  “good news” about girl’s education, Reuters

— Naila Shahid

Leading new, deeper forms of collaborative cultures: Commentary from Cecilia Azorín and Michael Fullan

“How can schools be transformed into collaborative learning cultures? What are the first steps to be taken to initiate the shift towards collaboration? How can collaboration within and across schools be developed and extended?” Those are some of the questions that Cecilia Azorín and Michael Fullan ask in the fourth commentary in a series launched by Corrie Stone-Johnson and the Journal of Educational Change. In a 2021 editorial, Stone-Johnson introduced the series called Back to School in which she invited authors to “explore how and in what ways Covid-19 has shaped—and is shaping—schools and schooling around the world. This week’s post provides an excerpt from the commentary that brings together the ideas and insights of Azorín and Fullan from their work on collaboration and networking. Previous commentaries in this series include: Yong Zhao and Jim Watterston’s “The changes we need post-Covid,” “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”from Thomas Hatch; and “Owning educational change in Korean schools” by  Taeyeon KimMinseok Yang, and Sunbin Lim.

As Azorín and Fullan summarize their argument: 

“From its origin as teaching as a lonely profession (‘behind the classroom door’), collaboration since the 1960s has made halting progress. Some strong collaborative school cultures were established over the decades, but they were limited in three ways: they were in the minority; were mostly intra-school with a smattering of school districts; and they did not become an established part of a new culture. Over the past decade we have begun to see examples of networks of schools, but these too did not represent system change. Recently (mostly in the past two or three years) there is a new and powerful surge in collaboration arising from the combination two forces: first, the growing evidence that traditional school systems have been seen as ineffective for the majority of students having lost their sense of purpose (see Fullan, 2021), and second, that the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the school system, and serendipitously increased the interest in innovation and system reform as we enter thepost-pandemic period (Fullan & Edwards, 2022).

Prior to COVID-19, there was consensus on the need to prepare future generations in environments of collaboration (Azorín, 2022), but it did not materialize in practice. The pandemic has accelerated networking in education as a powerful tool for innovation. Collaboration is needed and the pandemic made this need greater. “Teaching today is a collaborative and social profession” which implies “moving ideas, knowledge, and teaching practices around in professional communities and networks of shared professional learning” (Hargreaves, 2021, p. 142). We see these developments emerging (and, indeed are part of networks ourselves working on this very agenda). We predict that this recent trend will take off in the coming years.”

In response, they describe what they call the “pulsar model of educational change:” 

Azorín (2020a) used the term ‘supernova’ to describe the impact that COVID-19 has had on education and argued that “like the lifecycle of a star, the educational journey of the previous decades has come to an end” (p. 381)

The ‘supernova effect’  has brought with it the potential for an unprecedented pedagogical  renewal and  change that could give rise to the real-time rapid development of new approaches to education.

The initial supernova drive has given way to what we call the pulsar model, where the change forces connect and interact thereby fostering processes of experimentation and innovation in education. Figure 1 shows the Pulsar Model of Educational Change, represented by a lighthouse (light beam) that illuminates the new educational pathways. In short, the Copernican axis represent the centrality of students; the light beam places collaboration at the center of action, and the innovation field concerns the pedagogical and collaborative developments essential for success.”

To learn more, the full commentary, “Leading new, deeper forms of collaborative cultures: Questions and pathways” can be found in the February 2022 issue of the Journal of Educational Change.

Five Paths of Student Engagement: An Interview with Dennis Shirley

…now is the time to re-engage our youth in their learning, and to find our own justly-earned portion of joy and fulfillment in doing so.

This week’s post features an interview with Dennis Shirley, author with Andy Hargreaves of Five Paths of Student Engagement:  Blazing the Trail to Learning and Success and Well-Being in Schools: Three Forces That Will Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World. Shirley is Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, and author of The New Imperatives of Educational Change: Achievement with Integrity. 

IEN: Why this book focusing student engagement now? 

Dennis Shirley: One challenge with schooling is that teachers want students to focus on the curriculum they’ve chosen, and students have other interests and concerns that lead them to daydream or disrupt instruction. In the US, Gallup polls tell us that about half of our students in grades 5-12 are engaged with their learning.  About a quarter are passively disengaged, and another quarter are actively disengaged. What can we do to help those students who are disconnected with their schools to feel more motivated to learn?  This is the question that motivated Andy Hargreaves and me to write this book.

In the US, about half of our students in grades 5-12 are engaged with their learning.  About a quarter are passively disengaged, and another quarter are actively disengaged. What can we do to help those students who are disconnected with their schools to feel more motivated to learn?

Since the book has come out in June of last year, I’ve been privileged to present its key ideas to educators all over the world in webinars and interactive workshops. One might think that with COVID-19 causing so many disruptions that educators would be preoccupied with simply managing the pandemic, but I’ve been pleased to find that they are more determined than ever to make sure that their students are deeply engaged with their learning. Every presentation that I’ve done has been followed by spirited discussions about how our young people have changed as a result of the pandemic and how our educational systems should adjust as a consequence.

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

DS: In Five Paths of Student Engagement, we challenge three big myths of student engagement.  The first myth is that all learning has to be socially relevant.  We tend to hear this a lot from many colleagues and especially from those who are involved with social justice agendas that they want their students to promote.  These concerns speak to legitimate aspirations for students to receive educations that help them to be active citizens in the future. What some educators tend to forget, however, is that children and young people have interests of their own.  Sometimes these interests concern outlandish things like dinosaurs, unicorns, hobbits, and muggles that could be powerful levers for promoting their engagement with learning. The young adult sections of our book stores are packed with best-selling books that cater to these cravings of today’s youth for adventure and fantasy.

The second myth is that all learning has to be facilitated with technology. Old-fashioned, “brick and mortar” schools are out, it is said; digital learning is in.  Of course, there are technological tools that promote student engagement; I use them myself in online courses that I teach in a new Master’s degree program we’ve started in global perspectives on educational change.. But all we have to do is venture into a school where students are riffing in a jazz quartet or are conducting experiments with chemicals that they have just learned about to know that first-hand, three-dimensional experiences still have an important place in education.  Especially when it comes to the restorative power of nature, we can do much more to get our students outside of their school buildings and exploring their local ecosystems, even in the most densely populated communities. Andy and I discuss this more in our new ASCD book entitled Well-being in Schools:  Three Forces to Uplift Your Students in a Volatile World.

The third myth is that all learning has to be fun. Happiness, exuberance, and excitement are delightful parts of learning when we can get them, but should these be the only emotions our students experience in their schools? If you think about it, there’s not much fun to be found in learning about racism or climate change, but these contemporary challenges are important parts of any credible social studies or science curriculum. Let’s not limit ourselves to the superficial pursuit of superficial forms of emotional gratification when we could and should be going for genuine gravitas instead.

Let’s not limit ourselves to the superficial pursuit of superficial forms of emotional gratification when we could and should be going for genuine gravitas instead.

IEN: What’s happened since you completed the book? 

DS: We gathered most of the data for our book by working cheek-by-jowl with educators in a network of rural educators in the Pacific Northwest of the US. It was a very different world when we began this work all the way back in 2013. At the time few people seriously imagined that the United Kingdom would actually break away from the European Union or that Donald Trump could become president of the United States. We had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic would be coming our way and that it would so profoundly disrupt schools and learning around the globe. 

These transformations meant that we had to write a very different kind of book than that which we initially imagined. While the on-the-ground work of teaching and learning in schools continued without interruption up until the spring of 2020, we found that we had to rework many passages of the manuscript and revise some of our interpretations in light of the new circumstances. 

In our introduction we write about the transition from an outmoded Age of Achievement and Effort to a new Age of Engagement, Well-being, and Identity. This change was evident before the arrival of the pandemic and has now become obvious to all of us. I’ve argued elsewhere that anyone who thinks that the way that we are going to get young people more engaged with learning when the pandemic winds down will be by giving them more test preparatory activities is seriously disconnected from our world today. 

…anyone who thinks that the way that we are going to get young people more engaged with learning when the pandemic winds down will be by giving them more test preparatory activities is seriously disconnected from our world today

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

DS: The persistence of COVID-19 means that in the short term, Andy and I are presenting a lot of webinars and online workshops related to the theme of student engagement.  Engagement is the kind of topic that can change your life, really: I often find myself noticing if my attention has lapsed when dealing with something, and then I go back and try to ascertain why it did so.  In that way the book has been helpful and transformative in my personal life, and not just in my professional pursuits.

Five Paths of Student Engagement and Well-being in Schools were initially part of a single book manuscript, along with a third section on identity and belonging. As that original manuscript kept growing larger and larger, however, Andy and I eventually agreed that it needed to be divided up into three shorter books. We’re currently more than half-way done with the book on identity and belonging and are aiming to have it completed and published by Corwin Press in 2022. 

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

DS: In spite of some missteps, on the whole I’m delighted with how agile our educators and schools have been in responding to COVID-19. We’ve seen a resurgence of long-suppressed creativity that should give us all great hope for the future. The new visibility of the ethos of care that brings people into our profession has been uplifting, too.  I love learning about teachers who have done things like convert their home dining room into a Hogwarts library to engage their students with online learning, or who transform their backyard tree house into a classroom to excite their students’ imagination and to increase their motivation. Even the simplest things, like when a principal tells teachers to let the kids go outside and play more frequently than was done in the past, can be very significant in the lives of the young.

Last year a survey of young Americans conducted by Harvard University revealed widespread optimism about the future in spite of many contemporary challenges. The hopefulness of African-American young people was especially striking, from a dismal 18% who were optimistic in 2017 to 72% who were hopeful in 2021. That young people can look towards the future with determination and commitment when the “bad news bias” of the media is so prevalent across the political spectrum should chasten those pundits who indulge in fashionable pessimism so relentlessly. 

That young people can look towards the future with determination and commitment when the “bad news bias” of the media is so prevalent across the political spectrum should chasten those pundits who indulge in fashionable pessimism so relentlessly.

The schools that Andy and I conducted our research in in the Pacific Northwest were often dreadfully underfunded, and the communities frequently were struggling economically. In one discussion with a classroom of students in a small town in Idaho, not one single student saw a plausible future for themselves in their hometown. Yet their resilience, and their determination to make the most of themselves, remains indelibly printed in my memory. So in spite of all of our obstacles and worries, now is the time to re-engage our youth in their learning, and to find our own justly-earned portion of joy and fulfillment in doing so.

A focus on future generations: A Conversation with Carrie Sampson on school boards, research, and educational change

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Carrie Sampson’s discussion of her work on equity, research, school boards, and educational changeSampson is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Carrie Sampson: Many scholars come into the field of education because we hope to make a positive contribution. We have dedicated decades of our lives to learning and teaching. We read, listen, reflect, formulate questions, seek answers, write, and share knowledge. Trained to think critically about our field, most of us are excellent at finding flaws, issuing critiques, and pointing fingers. In doing this, we come to understand just how complex our educational system is, and we recognize that even if we fix one part, there’s still hundreds of moving parts that make it nearly impossible to fix an entire system. Sometimes we become disillusioned. At times, I have become disillusioned. Yet, as education researchers we have not come this far to sit in our disillusionment. It’s our responsibility to continue to find the best possible solutions to the many problems in our systems. It’s our responsibility to fight the good fight.

In building my good fight, I have focused on three major areas as a scholar. First, I constantly return to my “why” for the work I do. While it has always been rooted in the notion of “the personal is political,” my “why” has changed over the years. It has shifted from my own experiences as a mixed race, Black and Chicana, woman who grew up in poverty in both rural and urban communities. My success in education was too reliant on luck and cultural capital rather than a system that offered ample opportunities, a system that failed many of my peers and family members. 

These days my “why” centers on what I have experienced and witnessed as a mother-scholar of two school-aged children—one who is 8 years old and skipped the first grade and one who completed his kindergarten year online due to COVID. Since the time they entered preschool, my kids have faced racism and gender discrimination. Navigating these isms when they happen to me is one thing, but when they happened to my babies, it lit a fire in my soul like no other. The urgency and clarity of my “why” both shifted and soared. In an article about coalition politics, we cited Bernice Johnson Reagon, a Black feminist and activist (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020). Her emphasis on the importance of doing what we do for future generations resonated with my “why.” Reagon (1983) said, “…most of the things you do, if you do them right, are for the people who live long after you are long forgotten” (p. 365). This work is not about us. Just like our ancestors before us, we will likely not reap the benefits of our labor directly. Instead, my children, our children, and those children who are not yet born have the chance to be impacted by our work. I believe this must always be the center of our “why.”

My other two areas of focus are simple. I hold on to the notion that “all politics are local.” This means I try to engage in my local community as much as I can. These communities are my home. I seek to understand the history and context of where I live. I am on advisory councils, I engage in political campaigning, and I meet with local officials to advocate for change. Relatedly, and more recently, the final area of focus for me has been gaining the skills to translate my research for a broader audience. As school boards are increasingly part of the broader conversation among the media, decision makers, families, and even youth, I have been increasingly called on to offer a research-based perspective on school board governance. I pursued this career largely because I liked research. And like most of us, I spent many years learning to do research, not translate it. Sadly, we don’t often teach our future academics to talk about their research in a non-academic context. Yet, it’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences and that must begin with learning the skills to translate our scholarship in ways that all groups of people can understand and apply what we learn.

In sum, the three areas of responsibility that ground my work and I believe should ground our field’s work are a) a focus on future generations as a major part of our “why”; b) engaging in our local community; and c) translating our research to those outside of the academy.

“It’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences.”

LtC: Given some of your work using critical lenses to examine political coalitions, district reform, and equity (or a lack thereof), what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

CS: I’ll share six things I’ve learned from my work and experience.

(1) The notion I mentioned above about “all politics is local” is from the fact that I’ve seen time and time again that local politics matter. Democracy and justice happen locally first. Without political players and policies that make sense at the local level, educational change for the better will never happen.

(2) We need to work on being more proactive. From my dissertation research that explored school board policymaking for English learners, two of the school board members I interviewed said that they, as board members, were always putting out fires and never got a chance to work ahead of the fires to prevent them (Sampson, 2016). While reacting to the inequitable experiences voiced by minoritized communities is critical as a school board member, the idea of being proactive about ensuring that our children have equitable educational opportunities (and not just reactive) always stuck with me. Consequently, I carefully consider what it means to be proactive in terms of my research implications toward educational equity.

(3) Building critically conscious coalitions is needed to sustain the work. As someone with several minoritized identities, I have come to realize that groups are too often in competition mode. Moreover, as one of my research findings illustrates (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020), competition can water down the end result for all groups. Instead, coalitions that are rooted in the unique needs of the communities these coalitions intend to serve have a better chance of achieving more relevant and adequate outcomes.

(4) While I center race in much of my work, knowing and acknowledging how race intersects with other identities is critical to how I shape my scholarship. Aligned with Crenshaw’s (2017) concept of intersectionality, I gained significant insight on why this concept and reality matter from my studies in feminist theory and research. While pursuing my graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, I was assisting on a study examining the history of school desegregation in Southern Nevada (Horsford, Sampson, & Forletta, 2013). As I learned about feminism, I began to ask deeper questions aimed at exploring why a group of mostly White women from The League of Women Voters became one of the leading organizations to advocate for racially desegregated schools (Sampson, 2017). I learned that their efforts were often largely informed and shaped by their racialized, gendered, and classed experiences, and more importantly, their efforts influenced the outcome for Black children who were bussed from their neighborhood schools for nearly two decades.

(5) As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental. Maybe it was my economics degree that trained me to believe that when systems change quickly and drastically (for good and bad), these systems often experience push back aiming to disrupt those changes creating little to no real change. My studies on school boards taught me the same thing (e.g., Sampson, 2019; Sampson, 2019b).

(6) Specific to my research on school boards, I have learned that school governance matters to educational change, and yet, many states and localities have fallen short when it comes to electing and training strong candidates for these positions. Nonetheless, district leaders (i.e., superintendents, other board members) who can help create a heathy foundation on which a school board can grow and develop cohesively can contribute to setting a vision for positive change. I’ve seen board members who clearly don’t understand issues of race and racism shift their thinking and be willing to compromise once they understand the stakes of their decisions, and that usually happens through both training and developing a trust among district leadership. We must do a better job at creating pathways and training for board members so they are equipped to govern toward positive change (Sampson, 2019a, 2019c).

“As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental.”

LtC: In some of your recent work examining district reorganization in Nevada using a critical lens, you find that marginalized communities are excluded from the policy process, resulting in anti-democratic and inequitable processes and outcomes. You explain that other efforts to decentralize districts in Chicago, New York City, and Houston, seem to have similar results. Is there a way for districts to restructure in an equitable and democratic fashion given the current political climate?

SC: This is a tough question. Our political climate is highly divisive. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I still think many local communities, when given the opportunity to really engage in open and honest dialogue, can agree on some fundamental areas of education that can move school districts in the right direction to improve educational opportunities for all children. The problem in these districts mentioned is that the push to reorganize typically came from outside

of the district, often from the state-level, not from within or at the local level (Sampson & Diem, 2020). While it might take longer to make change from within, informed by those most impacted by the change, I think it’s the only way to prompt the change necessary particularly with the aim of improving educational equity.

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?

SC: We must be in conversation not only with those directly in schools but also those connected to schooling. One thing I hope we all learned from COVID-19 is that schooling happens beyond the walls of classrooms. Not only do teachers, staff, and school leaders matter but without the families and youth they serve, schooling is nothing. And yet, as my coauthors and I noted in a blog we wrote during the beginning of COVID (later published in a book), school systems often overlook and dismiss families (Sampson, Wong, Cervantes-Soon, Estrella, & Demps, 2020).

Moreover, as researchers, being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better. This shapes our research methods, including the questions we ask and how we make sense of the problem we are studying. As an example, one recent study I co-conducted was heavily influenced because my colleague and I were in conversation with a

community-based organization advocating for change. We began by thinking that maybe we could help them. But more so, they helped us develop a keenly relevant study by offering us deeper context and helping shape our overarching research questions and the purpose of this specific study on school board meetings (Bertrand & Sampson, 2020; Sampson & Bertrand, 2020, 2021). Without these conversations, our work can miss the mark of being applicable toward any positive change.

“Being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better.”

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

SC: I think we are at a crossroads. COVID-19 and the many uprisings prompted by racism and white supremacy have brought to the surface several deep-seated problems in education. To sit in optimism and hope that educational change can offer improvements to these problems keep many of us motivated to fight the good fight. Yet, those of us whose work is rooted in critical theory and who have lived in marginalized spaces, know that the systems holding these problems hostage are too complex and unjust to adequately change without being completely dismantled. I think what the future holds is much of what the author Octavia Butler wrote about in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. After the world as they knew it fell apart, she envisioned change as the opportunity to plant new seeds, using their talents to create a community rooted in a collective vision of liberation. Although these texts paint a bleak picture in some ways, I think they also show that change is inevitable. Our crossroads is figuring out how change can offer us the opportunity to collectively envision and engage in efforts that result in an educational system or systems that can support future generations to solve our most pressing problems, such as racism and climate change, that will continue to haunt us for years to come.


Bertrand, M., & Sampson, C. (2020). Challenging systemic racism in school board meetings through intertextual co-optation. Critical Studies in Education, 00(00), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1765823

Butler, O. E. (1995). Parable of the sower. New York: Warner Books. Butler, O.E. (1998). Parable of the talents: A novel. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Crenshaw, K. W. (2017). On intersectionality: Essential writings. The New Press.

Horsford, S.D. Sampson, C., & Forletta, F.M. (2013). School resegregation in the Mississippi of the West: Community counternarratives on the return to neighborhood schools in Las Vegas, 1968-1994. Teachers College Record, 115 (11). 1-28.

Reagon, B. (1983). “Coalition politics: Turning the century.” in Smith, B. (Ed.) Home girls (p. 356-368). New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Sampson, C. (2016). The role of school boards in addressing opportunity and equity for English

learners in the U.S. Mountain West (Dissertation). University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Sampson, C. (2017). So it ‘‘became White activists fighting for integration?’’ Community

organizations, intersectional identities, and education reform. The Urban Review, 49(1), 72-


Sampson, C. (2019a). (Im)Possibilities of Latinx school board members’ educational leadership toward equity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(2), 296–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18799482

Sampson, C. (2019b). From a lighthouse to a foghorn: A school board’ s navigation toward equity for English learners. American Journal of Education, 125(4), 521–546.

Sampson, C. (2019c, August 26). In school boards we trust? The potential for educational equity in public education. Equity Alliance Blog. Retrieved from https://equityalliance.stanford.edu/content/school-boards-we-trust-potential-educational-equity-


Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2020). “This is civil disobedience. I’ll continue.”: The racialization of school board meeting rules. Journal of Education Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2020.1778795

Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2021). Counter-storytelling, metaphors, and rhetorical questioning: Discursive strategies of advocacy toward racial equity in school board meetings. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2021.2002268

Sampson, C. & Diem, S. (online first, 2020). Democratic (dis)engagement in school district decentralization: A critical analysis of actors and coalitions. Leadership and Policy in Schools.

Sampson, C., Demps, D., & Rodriguez-Martinez, S. (2020). Engaging (or not) in coalition politics: A case study of Black and Latinx community advocacy toward educational equity. Race Ethnicity and Education, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1842346

Sampson, C., Wong, L.-S., Cervantes-Soon, C. G., Estrella, A., & Demps, D. (2020, May 13). A Call from Black and Brown mothers for true family engagement. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true-family-engagement-bbfda3e7f72d

No surprise? Predictions for education in 2022 include hopes for attention to student engagement, well-being, and climate change

Following last week’s scan of education stories that look back at 2021, this week, Thomas Hatch pulls together some of the articles that make predictions for education in 2022.

Echoing the hope and despair in the stories reflecting on 2021, many of the predictions for education in 2022 highlight continuing concerns about learning loss, stress and anxiety, as well as hopes for addressing student engagement, well-being, and climate change.  Thomas Arnett captured the conflicting sentiments, writing: 

In most places, fighting the current fires in conventional schools will suck up most of the oxygen in the room. Nonetheless, my hope for 2022 is that among the roughly 13,000 school systems in our country, there will be a substantial subset that launch new versions of schooling that five to ten years from now will prove that they offer exactly what many students need. — From How will 2022 reshape K-12 education?

The US & Around the World

61 predictions about edtech, equity, and learning in 2022World News Era

61 predictions about edtech, equity, and learning in 2022

Top education predictions for 2022: ‘Need for trained teachers to increase’, say expertsIndia Today

8 K-12 trends to watch in 2022: Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing policy pingpong, curricular controversy and more are set to impact schools this year,  K-12 Dive

3 Big Education Wishes for 2022 (focusing on personalization, grace, and renewing the Every Student Succeeds Act), Michael Horn & Diane Tavener, Class Disrupted (podcast)

What’s in store for K-12 schools in 2022?

Could we see a mass exodus of teachers fed up with educating through a pandemic? How might two years of learning in a pandemic impact test scores? Will Universal Pre-K ever become a reality?

What’s in store for K-12 schools in 2022? Class Dismissed

9 mostly pessimistic 2022 education predictions for 2022 – From a teacher, Larry Ferlazzo, Answer Sheet (Washington Post)

4 educator trends going into 2022, Abbas Manjee, SmartBrief

Five 2021 education stories that will continue to matter in 2022, Yasmine Askari,  MinnPost

 Trends Shaping Education in 2022, Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart

Education Technology 

13 Predictions for K–12 and Technology in 2022THEJournal

Five Ed Tech Trends To Look Out For In 2022, Nick Morrison, Forbes

Pandemic Gave Teachers New Insight into Ed Tech. Now, it May Be the Next Big Thing in 2022 — and Beyond,

[W]hile some districts are still spending stimulus money just to spend it instead of taking the time to research and evaluate their options, most have a better understanding of technology than they did before COVID-19 struck and are demanding information about the tools students use. 

Pandemic Gave Teachers New Insight into Ed Tech, Tim Newcomb, The74

Special Education

Two key predictions around special education for 2022The Hill

Higher Education

7 higher education trends to watch in 2022Higher Ed Dive

US Education Policy

What education policy experts are watching for in 2022Brookings

Albany 101: Here are the big NYC education issues to watch in the new legislative sessionChalkbeat

California education issues to watch in 2022 — and predictions of what will happenEdSource

Hope and Despair? Scanning Education Stories that look back at 2021

This week, Thomas Hatch pulls together some of the blog posts and news stories that look back at 2021. Next week: A roundup of predictions for 2022.

Schools Week in the UK summed up what many may have been feeling, declaring “The year a return to normal only got further away” while US News & World Report looked for a silver lining, exploring “How 2021 set the the stage for a seismic overhaul of education.” For my own part, I tried to both look back and look ahead in a commentary for the Journal of Educational Change on what can change in schools (“We will now resume our regular programming”):

“What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?” But “What if it isn’t? What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the conditions that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?”

Here, in no particular order, are a few more headlines from the “reviews” of 2021 from some of our regular sources.

Around the World

From learning recovery to the futures of education, UNESCO

Grave violations of children’s rights in conflict on the rise around the world, UNICEF

Meet Gen Covid: Growing up under the shadow of Covid-19, the young in Asia talk about loss, gain and hope, Straits Times

2021 in education: a year in review (UK), Twinkl Digest

The year a return to normal only got further away (UK), Schools Week

2021 in Review, FreshEd Podcast (Will Brehm with Susan Robertson & Mario Novelli)

In the US

Education in 2021: 10 Photos That Capture a Chaotic Year, Education Week

Protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, on Aug. 12, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP

2021 in pictures: Images that captured the tragedy and resilience that marked 2021, Hechinger Report

16 charts that changed the way we looked at America’s schools in 2021, The 74

Education data legislation review 2021: State activity, Data Quality Campaign

Top 2021 education legislative trends, Education Commission of the States

Survival Mode: Educators Reflect on a Tough 2021 and Brace for the Future, EdSurge

After A Year Of Uncertainty, College Presidents Reflect On COVID-19’s Impact, EdSurge

2021 education year in review, The Report Card with Nat Malkus (in conversation with and Erica GreenLaura Meckler, and Eesha Pendharkar)

Proof Points 2021 Year in Review: A reading mystery, test-optional admissions and the problem with small classes, Hechinger Report

Philanthropy Awards, 2021, Inside Philanthropy