Tag Archives: Educational change

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

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

IEN: Why this book, why now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

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

hargrean@bc.edu Twitter: @hargreavesbc

Lead the Change Q & A with Izhak Berkovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Lead the Change Q & A with Terri N. Watson

This week’s post features an interview with Terri N. Watson, Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York. This is the 105th edition of the Lead the Change (LtC) Series.  The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

Lead the Change: The 2020 AERA theme is The Power and Possibilities for the Public Good: When Researchers and Organizational Stakeholders Collaborate. Organizational leaders, “who bring knowledge, status, and constituents to critical educational topics” were invited to this year’s meeting to reconnect and to harness our collective possibilities. How can the leveraging of such a diverse body of scholars contribute to collaboration and engagement within and across multiple stakeholder groups and to educational change?

Terri Watson: The 2020 AERA theme rightly calls for increased collaboration amongst education researchers, organizational leaders, and stakeholders. These partnerships are essential to educational change and reminds me of a similar charge echoed throughout Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, And the Foundations of a Movement, a collection of essays and speeches by Angela Y. Davis. In this work Dr. Davis, a political activist and scholar, passionately articulates the need for ‘movement builders’ and calls for seemingly divergent movements to coalesce for a common good, a public good. She consistently challenges neoliberal policies and practices found in society at large and in far too many K- 20 schools and schooling contexts. The latter is troubling as public education is one of the few services that, if it is to be effective, must address the human condition. In this light, I view the work of education researchers, organizational leaders, and stakeholders as akin to those of movement builders who, by way of AERA’s 2020 theme, are charged to unite for a public good: public education.

We must cease conducting research in schools and communities and, instead, establish meaningful partnerships with schools and communities

If we, as an association of 25,000 scholars, are to leverage educational research for the public good, we must intentionally forge meaningful relationships with the public. And, in addition to organizational leaders and stakeholders, education scholars must join forces with students, parents, teachers, school administrators, community members, and educational policymakers. To do so, we must cease conducting research in schools and communities and, instead, establish meaningful partnerships with schools and communities. Too often, education researchers are detached from the realities of schooling, the lives of young people, and the experiences of those deemed ‘other.’ And while we read journal articles, conduct research, and publish our findings, few researchers engage with schools and communities outside of the course of their study. Moreover, we rarely, if at all, share our findings with the general public nor employ what we have learned to inform education policy. If our scholarship is to impact educational change, we must engage with the public. To be clear, education scholars must endeavor to establish connections with the people, paradigms, and perspectives we persistently marginalize in and outside of the schoolhouse.

‘Theory is cool, but theory with no practice ain’t shit.’  – Fred Hampton, 1969.

At the start of my academic career, I conducted a longitudinal study of the leadership practices exhibited in a large urban high school. Using the lens of Critical Race Theory, I examined how teachers and school leaders identified and considered the challenges to parent involvement “without either engaging in or disrupting normative constructions of the term parent involvement” (Watson & Bogotch, 2015, p.258). Based on what I learned from the school’s parents, teachers, and administrators, and with funding obtained from a community based organization, I conducted parent meetings, teacher workshops, and worked with the school’s leadership team to redefine and reframe the function and purpose of parent involvement. I shared my experience with Sylvia Saunders, a reporter from NYSUT: A Union of Professionals. Our conversation, along with a link to the journal article, Reframing Parent Involvement: What Should Urban School Leaders Do Differently?, can be accessed here. A major lesson the field of Educational Change can learn from this study is that as critical researchers, we must be open to alternative ways of knowing and practice to facilitate change and, ultimately, student achievement.

LtC: Given your focus on how racism manifests and is manifested in schools and the impact of such racism as well as class and gender discrimination on Black girls in particular, what would be some of the takeaways the field of Educational Change can glean from your work and experiences with Black girls?

TW: I wrote the following text (tweet) on November 18, 2019:

Dear Educators,

Black girls are not loud – they want to be heard.

Black girls are not seeking-attention – they are seeking a connection.

Black girls are not aggressive – they know what they want.

Black girls are not bossy – they are leaders.

Last, Black girls are not adults.

To date, this tweet has been shared over 21K times and was ‘liked’ more than 68K times. As a Black woman and the mother of a Black girl, I know that schools, for many Black girls, are sites of trauma. This tweet is based on these truths and aimed to challenge oft-cited (mis)perceptions of Black girls. In addition, my article, “Talking Back”: The Perceptions and Experiences of Black Girls Who Attend City High School, is based on data gathered as part of the aforementioned longitudinal study. In this manuscript, I centered the voices and perspectives of Black girls and Black women scholars “to honor the voices that are oftentimes silenced in schools and to employ standpoints that are seldom considered in education research” (p.239).

As a Black woman and the mother of a Black girl, I know that schools, for many Black girls, are sites of trauma.”

The recommendations from this study appear below and were offered to improve the educational experiences of Black girls at CHS and are offered here as takeaways the field of Educational Change can glean from my work and experiences with Black girls.

Affinity groups. Several of the study’s participants described negative perceptions that many of CHS’ teachers, administrators, and security agents held of Black girls. In response, schools should establish affinity groups for Black girls: They build self-esteem, provide a safe place for students, and foster positive relationships among students and the larger school community.

Mental-health professionals. Mental health is essential to student success. Several girls shared that they suffered from depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, by-and-large, therapy is frowned upon in the Black community, and many Black girls oftentimes suffer in silence. Schools should provide access to mental-health professionals to students and, if requested, their families.

Post clear rules and regulations. Several Black girls felt CHS’ security agents targeted them. By posting clear rules and regulations throughout the school building, unpleasant interactions between students and security agents may be avoided. Moreover, if a student is disciplined, the student should know why she is being disciplined, and the consequence(s) should be clearly articulated in the regulations.

Form a task force. While all the study’s participants were on track to graduate from high school, data trends show Black girls tend to drop out of high school at higher rates than their peers. Furthermore, based on the data gathered for this study, several Black girls at CHS were found to experience challenges during their high school career that could have caused them to drop out. To ensure their success, schools should form a task force aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes of Black girls.

Professional development. Several Black girls interviewed for this study detailed conflicts they experienced with teachers and administrators at CHS and readily offered advice for the school’s leader to improve their lived experiences. In this light, schools should invest in professional development centered on meeting the needs of culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse students to improve teacher practices and, ultimately, student achievement.

LtC: In your recent work, you conceptualize racism in schools through an ecological lens to show the ways it operates across the system (i.e., individual, dyadic, subcultural, institutional, and societal) and how it is dynamic and changing. In so doing, you challenge school leaders and others to think beyond traditional approaches to addressing racism in schools and towards more systemic approaches. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these findings and bring them into practice?

TW: To effectively address racism in schools through policy and practice, we must first commit to the fact that society in general and public schools, in particular, are fundamentally racist. This truth is evident in the nation’s founding charter and in legal jurisprudence and throughout the history of public education. It is also quantified in the disparate educational outcomes of America’s children (see NCES Graduation Rates). Next, we must problematize the process of schooling. Meaning, we must ask hard questions about the ways in which schools function in our society. Paying close attention to how neoliberalism and its byproducts (capitalism, school choice, and standardized testing) have polarized the most vulnerable children, families, and communities. Then, we must gather the political and moral will to create systemic race-conscious educational policies and practices. Gathering such will is challenging, as while most people will readily admit that they are not racist, very few will support mandates that operationalize racial equity and social justice in the places that we call schools (see NYC’s Chancellor’s school desegregation efforts) In fact, I will go one step further and suggest that while most people, especially White people, will call out overt racism, very few will acknowledge and address the systemic and insidious ways racism functions in our society and schools. And that, dear colleagues, is wherein the challenge lies.

We must gather the political and moral will to create systemic race-conscious educational policies and practices.”

Dr. Rosa Rivera-McCutchen, my colleague at the City University of New York, and I drafted the case study #BlackLivesMatter: A Call for Transformative Leadership to provide aspiring and current school leaders with the opportunity to engage in critical reflection and transformative leadership practices. We were inspired by the acceptance speech Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings delivered in the spring of 2015, upon her receipt of the Social Justice in Education Award at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting:

In her lecture aptly titled “Justice . . . Just, Justice!” Ladson-Billings explained why she was troubled by the current use of the term “social justice” and feared how it was, for some, purely ideological. Most distressing, she noted how many social justice advocates fail to recognize injustice. Poignantly, Ladson-Billings challenged the audience to move beyond justice as a theory to justice as praxis.” (p. 3).

Public education will not right itself. We must move beyond rhetoric and theory – if we are who we say we are.”

Dr. Ladson-Billings’ message rings true for the field of Educational Change. Public education will not right itself. We must move beyond rhetoric and theory – if we are who we say we are.

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?

TW: I began my teaching career in 1994 at a middle school in East Harlem. I elected to teach at JHS 45 because it was located between two housing projects and many of the students who attended the school shared life experiences similar to my own. Nearly 20 years later I joined the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York (CCNY). The College’s legacy of proffering “access, opportunity, and transformation” to the children of the City of New York aligns with my primary aim, as a scholar-activist, to improve the educational outcomes and life chances of historically excluded and underserved children and families. Moreover, based on my educational experiences, I deeply understand that schools are complex systems and require a heavy lift from individuals and groups who seek to transform them. Hence, during my first year at CCNY, my colleague, Dr. Hope Hartman (Professor Emeritus) and I explored the effects of metacognition on school leaders. Our article, Transformational Leaders Who Practice Metacognition, appeared in the New York Academy of Public Education’s research journal here.

Dr. Hartman and I wrote the aforementioned manuscript with our graduate students in mind. We knew that as novice school leaders they would be charged to contend with systemic racism, inequitable funding, and the legacy of low expectations for children of color. We explained:

“We posit that in order to reform schools, specifically in urban areas, transformational leaders who systematically practice metacognition are better able to promote effective, caring, and socially just schools and communities than those who do not. This article provides a paradigm for and examples of metacognitive transformational leadership” (p.8).

The field of Educational Change can best support individuals and groups engaged in the transformation of schools by creating and offering workshops on transformative leadership practices (see Shields, 2010) and metacognition (see Schon, 1983). Those who seek to transform schools and the process of schooling “must observe their own actions, inactions, and attitudes, as well as their impact on others. Upon awareness, they should take steps to enhance their effectiveness” (Watson & Hartman, 2013, p.9). Learning experiences centered on transformative leadership practices and metacognition promotes social justice and self-awareness and can help individuals and groups actualize their goals for educational change.

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

We are currently experiencing unprecedented times. In an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus NYC’s public schools, the nation’s largest public school system, recently announced that its 1,700 schools will remain closed for the remainder of academic year. I am sure other school districts throughout the U.S. will soon do the same. While many are lamenting the possibility (and impossibilities) of this decision, I am inspired by its promise. The physical closure of schools will force many in the field of Educational Change to reimagine and redesign the form and function of schooling. We can no longer rely on traditional paradigms and practices and must find new and different ways to engage young people, establish community, and effect change. This forced shift will be refreshing. The traditional structure and function of schools and schooling created nebulous and hostile environments for far too many children, particularly those of color. This is the time for the field of Educational Change to implement new solutions to old problems. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

This is the time for the field of Educational Change to implement new solutions to old problems. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain!”

References

Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Shields, C. M. (2010). Transformative leadership: Working for equity in diverse contexts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46, 558-559.


Watson, T. N. (2016). “Talking back”: The perceptions and experiences of Black girls who attend City High School. The Journal of Negro Education, 85(3), 239-249.

Watson, T. N.,  & Rivera-McCutchen, R. (2016). #BlackLivesMatter: A call for transformative leadership. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 19(2), 3–11.

Watson, T. N., & Bogotch, I. (2015). Reframing parent involvement: What should urban school leaders do differently? Leadership and Policy in Schools, 14(3), 257-278.

Watson, T. N., & Hartman, H. (2013). Transformational leaders who practice metacognition. The Professional Journal: The New York Academy of Public Education, 8-11.

Lead the Change Interview with Miriam Ben-Peretz

Miriam Ben-Peretz is Professor Emerita at the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa. She has been Chair of the Department of Teacher Education and Dean of the School of Education at the University of Haifa, as well as President of Tel-Hai College, and visiting Professor at several universities internationally.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Ben-Peretz shares lessons she has learned from educational change in Israel:

“Educational change in a country like Israel has shown that change has to be all encompassing, implemented by institutional forces such as the Ministry of Education or a board of education in a community. Without the impact of institutional recognition, no state-wide educational change can be implemented, certainly not over time.”

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

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Interview with Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Rukmini Banerji is director of the Assessment Survey Evaluation Research (ASER) Center in New Delhi, India, and senior member of the national leadership of Pratham, an organization that reaches three million primary school age children in India every year.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, she describes her own work with educational change what she sees as the status of education in India today:

“Looking back at the last two decades and more, we can see the impressive progress that India has made in providing educational opportunities to children. Today we have more than 96% of children (in the age group 6-14) enrolled in school. There is a government primary school in almost every habitation in the country. Children get free meals in schools, in many states textbooks and uniforms are also free. In 2010, the India Parliament passed the Right to Education Act which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children ages 6-14. In terms of inputs and infrastructure, the Indian government has made huge strides in the provision of schooling. Now it is time to look at some of the outcomes of schooling and more specifically at the question: are our children learning?”

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

 

Interview with Louise Stoll

 

Dr. Louise Stoll

Dr. Louise Stoll

Louise Stoll is Professor of Education at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at the Institute of Education, University of London, as well as a freelance researcher and an international consultant. Her research and development activity focuses on how schools, districts and national systems create capacity for learning and improvement, focusing especially on leadership, learning communities and learning networks. This interviewwhich is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

Global Learning Alliance Conference 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 9.21.08 AMA recent meeting of the Global Learning Alliance (GLA) included a series of presentations from educators around the world responding to the question: “What in the world are schools doing to cultivate 21st century capacities, and why does this matter?” The GLA was established to to share ideas for moving schools and educational systems towards supporting the development of 21st century skills and brings together scholars, researchers, teachers and school leaders from China, Canada, Singapore, Finland, and the US among others.

Presentations at the conference included discussions of recent developments in countries like Singapore and Finland as well as considerations of broader issues of change and innovation. A symposium of educators from Singapore, for example, described innovative school level programs designed to support the development of engineering and design skills amongst high school students. At the same time, Dr. Suzanne Choo, of Singapore’s National Institute of Education, also cautioned that while students there are excelling in many areas like English language and mathematics, fewer and fewer students are taking traditional liberal arts subjects like English Literature. Dr. Jari Lavonen, of the University of Helsinki, suggested that many of the conditions for innovation in schools are in place in Finland. These include a long-term policy vision rather than “ad hoc” ideas from multiple policymakers; decentralized decision-making and assessment at a local level instead of standardization, inspections, and national testing; trust-based responsibility instead of test-based accountability; and collaboration, networks, and partnerships vs. competition and rankings.

Dennis Shirley, Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and author of The Global Fourth Way, also focused on the possibilities for cross-cultural learning in education. Shirley, who began his career as an education historian, discussed how examples of cross-cultural learning through history, including the way kindergarten permeated the rest of the world, could be vehicles for innovation or for maintaining the status quo.

At issue throughout were fundamental questions, however, about what constitutes “innovation”: When is a program or a practice actually “new” and when and to what extent do “innovations” lead to better schools and educational systems?