Tag Archives: Educational Policy

A Focus on (Imperfect) Leadership: Snapshots from the 9th ARC Education ThoughtMeet

The latest ThoughtMeet (TM) from the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory (ARC) featured conversations with Steve Munby and ARC delegates exploring “imperfect leadership.” Munby facilitates ARC events and is a member of the ARC Secretariat, and Visiting Professor at University College London Centre for Educational Leadership. Munby’s talk drew from his recently published book with co-author Marie-Claire Bretherton, Imperfect Leadership in Action: A practical book for school leaders who know they don’t know it all. This post highlights the key ideas and issues that were discussed in the meeting by representatives from the seven ARC member systems and its global partners. A summary, videos, and other resources from the March 25th ThoughtMeet: A Focus on Leadership. Summaries and materials from previous ThoughtMeets are available on the ARC Education Project website. This post was written by Mariana Domínguez González, and Daphne Varghese, ARC Research Assistants and Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director.

“Nobody is ready for leadership. It is always a big step up. Imperfect leadership is neither a set of competencies to be mastered nor a body of knowledge to be memorized. It is a mindset to be embraced.”

Steve Munby

What is imperfect leadership? According to Steve Munby, imperfect leadership goes beyond how effectively a leader responds to ever-changing and dynamic work conditions to encompass who the leader is as a person– their personality, expertise, how they motivate others, respond to stress, etc. Leaders are not finished products; rather, they should strive to be endless learners which he describes as grown up & restless (as illustrated in the quadrants below). Munby reminded ARC delegates that “walking into a leadership role is a new playground for everyone. There is no such thing as perfect leadership when we step into a leadership role.” Thus, strong self-awareness is crucial for imperfect leadership.

Source: Quadrant taken from Steve Munby’s presentation: March 25th TM

In order for leaders to stay restless, Munby stressed the importance of developing and leading an open-to-learning culture. Leaders should review and reflect on events or situations that haven’t gone well, practice self-compassion, and use feedback processes (such as 360 degree feedback) in a focused and time-specific way to improve their leadership practices. 

How can we help educators to improve and to develop as leaders? Munby stressed that all members in a team have the potential to be leaders. The key is to provide them with the confidence to step up and take a leadership role. Creating an imperfect leadership culture requires an investment in others, especially early career leaders. As the more experienced leaders, he explained “it is our responsibility to support the leadership development of others. We must support future leaders and provide them with opportunities to take on challenging tasks and feel supported to take risks. We also must be conscious to not reinforce one simple stereotypical view of leadership, but encourage potential leaders from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to lead.” Munby added that an imperfect leadership culture provides opportunities for experienced leaders to take on new and challenging roles in an effort to renew and re-energize them.

A Q&A panel discussion followed the ARC talk and delegates asked Munby about the role of diversity in leadership, the importance of co-leadership and distributed leadership models, how to deal with negative organizational cultures, as well as how to balance risk-taking and learning from one’s failures against stakeholder expectations:

What role do you think diversity plays in leadership? Munby noted that organizations need to go beyond the notion that diversity is solely about fairness. Rather, diversity creates better teams characterized by numerous perspectives and expertise. Organizations also need to steer away from a singular approach to leadership, as it can encourage specific group members to be leaders and deter others from stepping into a leadership role. Munby emphasized that conceptualizations of talent are narrow and fixed, and we need to find ways to challenge them.

How do we “row together” to create an expectation of sharing power and decision-making?  Munby described how stakeholder engagement is an essential collaborative strategy for systems to develop imperfect leadership and promote progressive policy leadership. 

How do leaders cope with negative organizational cultures? According to Munby, it is always important to try to find a way to internally influence the work culture. However, in some cases, if the negative culture becomes too fixed and unlikely to change, it may be best for the leader to switch to another workplace. 

Follow-up reflection questions for system leaders: 

  • What does imperfect leadership mean in a virtual post-Covid-19 context? 
  • What is the difference between leadership and management? 
  • How do we further develop adaptive leadership in our systems so that leaders are not only aware of their individual strengths and default styles but equally aware of how to respond when a situation needs a different approach? 
  • How do leaders balance the system/political aspect as well as the personal side of leadership? 
  • How do leaders manage the very real external pressures and expectations and also provide conditions for aspiring leaders to grow and make mistakes? 
  • How do we prevent or avoid burnout in leaders at all levels? What kind of support is most needed? 

About the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory: 

The (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.

From a “wide portfolio” to systemic support for foundational learning: The evolution of the Central Square Foundation’s work on education in India (Part 2)

This week, IEN continues to look at the developing work of the Central Square Foundation (CSF) and its efforts to build the capacity for improving learning outcomes in India. The post draws from an interview with CSF’s Co-Managing Director Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja. Last week, part one explored the first five years of the Foundation’s initiatives (2012-2017) and how they developed their current strategy focusing on foundational learning, educational technology, and affordable private schools. This week, part two concentrates on the “four pillars” of their approach to foundational learning and the lessons they have learned in trying to improve learning at scale in India.

“Four pillars” of work on foundational literacy: Partnerships, aligned instruction, professional development and assessment

Thomas Hatch: Tell me a bit about your work on Foundational Literacy now.

Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja: After almost four decades, India came up with a new education policy that highlights that unless we solve for early learning, any other reform, whether we do it in higher education or in secondary schools, will become irrelevant. Just last summer, the national government launched the policy with the introduction of the National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) The initiative aims to ensure that, by 2026-27, every child in India attains foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3. CSF has had a small but a catalytic role in the development of the policy, and this initiative is now phase three of our mission.

It’s important to know that India doesn’t have a formal early childhood education system. Our Right to Education Act starts at age six and grade 1. Prior to that, you can go to the Anganwadi Centers, which are under a different Ministry, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD). Those Centers, by the way, have done an incredible job when it comes to vaccination, nutrition, and health, but, unfortunately, the system is overloaded, and they also now have to take care of education. The new education policy talks about the need to address this problem in the three-to-eight-year age group and to have a strong pre-primary section, but it’s not yet institutionalized in the education system. 

TH: So this is a new focus area – it still follows your same general approach – but it’s not a totally distinct endeavor? 

SS: Exactly. It’s what we call radical prioritization of early learning. The idea is how do we equip the existing education system to raise the floor of their approach to early learning so that it translates into learning outcomes?  And it’s particularly crucial right now because, with COVID, enrollment in India is back to being a problem, especially with some socio-economic groups. For example, a girl who walked into grade three now would never have gone to grade 1 or grade 2, and India doesn’t have a pre-primary school system. The girl is probably eight or nine years old and is expected to start working at the third-grade level. That’s why the early learning focus is so important from a COVID learning loss perspective as well. 

Now a girl would walk into grade three never having gone to grade 1 or grade 2, and India doesn’t have a pre-primary school system. The girl is probably eight or nine years old and is expected to start working at the third-grade level. That’s why the early learning focus is so important from COVID learning loss perspective as well.

Building a lot on RTI’s approach in Kenya, we are pursuing what we call a four-pillar approach. The first step is to do a system diagnostic – “What are the critical enablers we need?”. One of the challenges in India is that learning gains are very intangible in the early stages of education. In India, the first high stakes assessment happens in grade 10, which is a board exam. That’s very critical and private schools will advertise how well they do, but it’s very late in the cycle of education and there’s no ownership or accountability for earlier stages of education. Actually, the system allows a child to pass out of primary and upper primary school without really having learned. That’s why the first step is How do we get alignment on goal setting and communication?” From the Chief Minister of a state to a parent or an illiterate parent who’s sending a first-generation learner to school, do we all understand what we mean by the mission of education and what we are hoping to achieve? What does learning to read with meaning mean? What does it mean to be able to do basic arithmetic? That becomes the first pillar. 

From the Chief Minister of a state to a parent or an illiterate parent who’s sending a first-generation learner to the school, do we all understand what we mean by the mission of education and what we are hoping to achieve? What does learning to read with meaning mean? What does it mean to be able to do basic arithmetic? That becomes the first pillar.

Teacher professional development and teaching and learning materials – the second and third pillars – are related.  With our literacy and numeracy partners, we are working on a structured pedagogy approach to ensure that there is a common learning outcomes framework reflected in lesson plans, workbooks, and learning activities for children in the classroom as well as deeply aligned teacher professional development. One of the learnings of all teacher training initiatives in India has been that teacher training by itself – which isn’t aligned to our curriculum or pedagogical approach – might inspire teachers, but doesn’t always translate to benefits in the classroom. So it’s designed to be a very integrated approach. In other words, it’s capacity building for the entire value chain, including teacher education and including all the materials and layers of academic support which are supposed to be helping teachers in the classroom. 

The fourth pillar is assessment and developing a monitoring framework. What will the assessment and monitoring dashboard look like at the district level, at the state level and then at the national level? Unfortunately, in India right now assessment is equal to testing and testing means we are judging children, whereas the intent has to be to assess so that we can support children wherever learning gaps are coming up.

Then, in order to support adoption and behavior change around these four pillars, we have to take into account things like, in India, teachers don’t retire. As economists say, there’s a “stock” but not a “flow;” there’s not an active “churn.” “I’ve been a teacher for two decades. What’s in it for me to truly change how I teach children language or another subject?”  That’s why we’ve specifically called out behavior change along with things like home learning and community engagement. How can we augment the teaching time that children are getting in school with the time they’re getting at home? But I want to stress that the idea is not to shift the responsibility of education to the parent, but can they play an enabling or facilitating role? 

These four pillars capture the work we are doing in our key states (Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh) with a focus on learning. Overall, our role is to leverage other NGO’s in the eco-system. The coalition that works with the state government in each case includes the Central Square Foundation, and we typically play a project management role and help to leverage other NGO’s in the eco-system, including a literacy expert and a numeracy expert. This approach reflects the principle that to solve this complex need, we need different organizations to bring their expertise and co-create a solution with the state. And it’s not proprietary. We want Gujarat to run it as Gujarat’s Foundational Literacy and Numeracy program. For it to actually scale and sustain, the budget, the branding, the operational costs has to come from the State itself. 

Reflections on the challenges and opportunities of supporting learning at scale 

TH: What kind of pushback have you gotten as this work has evolved? Are there particular areas where the government has resisted or you’ve had to change in order to move the partnership forward? 

SS: It took us a while to land on this four-pillar approach, but it’s what we have done strategically and theoretically. Actually bringing it to the ground with other partner organizations, as you can imagine, is easier said than done. There was a learning curve that we ourselves needed to go through. 

It’s easy for me to say that we are bringing together a project management partner, a literacy expert, and a numeracy expert. But historically in India, NGOs haven’t collaborated well. I think we NGO’s and civil society organizations tend to be in love with our own IP [intellectual property]. We think we’re the only ones who can do it, and it has to be done “our way.” But if I’m a teacher in a government school, and I’ve been teaching a certain subject for two decades, I’ve seen many programs and many missions and many NGOs come and go, but I’m still here. You can’t expect me to learn a different way of teaching language and a different way for numeracy and then do assessment. It all has to come together in an integrated manner. 

If I’m a teacher in a government school and I’ve been teaching a certain subject for two decades, I’ve seen many programs and many missions and many NGOs come and go, but I’m still here. You can’t expect me to learn a different way of teaching language and a different way for numeracy and then assessment. It all has to come together in an integrated manner.

The devil in the details is how will all the partners work together? How will we establish accountability? That’s been a learning experience. Because organizations are also people, understanding the chemistry of different partners – first at a coalition level, and then with the government stakeholders – has also been an interesting journey. 

From a government perspective, everyone understands why early learning is important so they latch on to the need for early learning, but I think the biggest challenge has been assessment and putting a strong monitoring system in place. Again, this comes from a legacy of assessment being equated with tests and exams that are used for selection. But it’s been much harder to make the transition to using assessment to inform instruction and to make course corrections so that everyone is that grade level and year-end remediation is not required. 

The other classic challenge is how prescriptive should a structured pedagogy approach be? Is teaching a science or is teaching an art? With our approach with the instructional materials and guidebooks for the teachers, we are trying to solve for the part that is science. And if you are a teacher who gets the art part right, your classroom will be more engaging, your students will be more engaged, and it will show up in their work. Whereas, if I’m an average teacher with average motivation, and I just want to get my work done, if you can provide me with a scientific solution that is prescriptive to a certain extent, at least it will ensure that my children get to grade level.

So, all in all, I would say our own learning has been around four challenges. First, what does it take to build a coalition for the four-pillar approach: What will our role be, how do we establish accountability? Second, how do we land that approach with a government so they see we are not coming with our own NGO program, that we want to help strengthen their early learning program? Third, how do we solve the assessment problem, so that assessment is both a check for understanding in the classroom and a way of monitoring so we know the health of the system overall? Fourth, what does having a scientifically defined learning framework with micro competencies and related lesson plans, do to the autonomy of a teacher?  Those have been the biggest challenges and areas of learnings for us.

What does having a scientifically defined learning framework, with micro competencies and related lesson plans, do to the autonomy of a teacher?”  

TH: What have you learned and what have you had to change in order to shift, particularly that NGO mindset of “I have the solution?” 

SS: The first thing we’ve learned is we don’t have to start with a solution that we are proposing. First, we have to do a diagnostic and understand – and help the government understand – what their current approach is. How do they do early learning? What have their gaps been? What’s happening in the classroom and what are teachers experiencing? Then one of the things we’ve had to change is to get the conversation started on learning goals, teaching and learning materials, and on an assessment framework with the government as an equal partner. We’re not presenting the framework to them. We’re actually discovering it together. We’re peeling the onion to see what ‘s amiss, what can we contribute?  How can you support that or this is sacrosanct and you can’t touch it?  For example, in India, you can’t touch textbooks.  Textbooks come from NCERT/SCERT (State Education Department) and they just get followed. However, if you want to reorder or the sequence or if you want to skip two chapters and augment them with some supplementary material, we can have that conversation. It has been crucial to understand the constraints and the appetite for change.  It has taken us a while to realize that we’re not helping states start the early learning program we are helping them augment their early learning programs so that kids learn on grade level.  

It has been crucial to understand the constraints and the appetite for change.  It has taken us a while to realize that we’re not helping states start the early learning program we are helping them augment their early learning programs so that kids learn on grade level.”

From a “wide portfolio” to systemic support for foundational learning: The evolution of the Central Square Foundation’s work on education in India (Part 1)

Over the next two weeks IEN looks at the first 10 years of the evolution of the Central Square Foundation (CSF) and its efforts to build the capacity for improving learning outcomes in India. The posts draw from an interview with CSF’s Co-Managing Director Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja. Part one explores the first five years of the Foundation’s initiatives (2012-2017) and how they developed their strategy for the next five years focusing on foundational learning, educational technology, and affordable private schools. Part two concentrates on the “four pillars” of their approach to foundational learning and the lessons they have learned in trying to improve learning at scale in India. For more on the 10th Anniversary of CSF’s founding see #10YearsOfCSF: Leaders at CSF on Their Vision for the Next Decade.

Central Square Foundation’s first five years: Developing a “wide-portfolio”

Thomas Hatch: Can you tell me about the background and evolution of the Central Square Foundation (CSF)?

Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja: We started in February 2012. The founder of CSF, Ashish Dhawan, has one of the largest private equity funds in India. He always had a deep desire to move to the development sector, and he started by serving on boards of other NGOs to try to gain an understanding of education. I joined CSF in July 2012, and for the first five years, we were only funded by our founder which allowed us to be very entrepreneurial in how we looked at education. The only “guardrails” he put up were that we would be a non-profit; we will look only at school education (K-12); and we would support young social entrepreneurs. As a result, venture philanthropy shaped a lot of the work that we did in the first phase of our journey.

Without external funders, we had the flexibility to look at a diverse set of issues from education technology to early childhood education to data and assessments. During this time, grant making was one big part of our work. Second, we supported research, particularly research from the perspective of how it can inform policy. Since we are neither a university, or an evaluation agency, our research was always oriented more for policymakers and for other education leaders and on how our research can help the ecosystem develop a collective voice. Third, we focused on government engagement. Even while we were doing grant making and looking for innovative solutions, we knew that for any solution to scale and be sustainable it needed government adoption. Early on, we weren’t even sure what government engagement meant, but we began by trying to come up with innovative solutions, having smart researchers lend their voice to it, and then handing it over to the government to run with it. But, as in much of the developing South, government demands typically include asking you to work in partnership with them, so we ended up setting up a number of project management units both at the central and the state level.

TH: What’s the advantage of an organization like yours taking some of that work on in a partnership with the government?

SS: The reality is that most people in the government understand the issues and challenges that the system is facing; they’re not blind to it. but the education production function is so complex that it’s difficult to pick out one part of the problem and solve it. The government is in the business of setting up the policy, and they are doing the regulation, and they are also the service provider of education. Working with an external partner enables them to hire people with a different profile – with different backgrounds and more specific expertise about a particular issue. The external partner becomes an extension of the government but they’re also able to bring a different profile of talent and to be razor sharp on the issue that they’re working on.

Working with an external partner enables [the government] to hire people with a different profile – with different backgrounds and more specific expertise about a particular issue. The external partner becomes an extension of the government, but they’re also able to bring a different profile of talent and to be razor sharp on the issue that they’re working on.

For example, working on a partnership focused on school leadership was my first project at CSF. At that time, school leadership as a term was not even being used in India. But, in 2012- 13, we were able to bring a group of people together, including myself, from the US and India, with expertise in organizational leadership to create the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) which worked with principals of “low-fee” private schools. (For an overview of the evolution of ISLI see IEN’s conversation with ISLI Founding Director, Sameer Sampat.) But then the government was able to set up a National Center for School Leadership that built on a lot of our learnings in ISLI even though “low-fee” schools aren’t even part of the government sector.

The development of India’s national online platform for teachers provides another good example. As you know, the growth of technology in India has always had the advantage of better device penetration, cheaper internet, cheaper hardware but the software solutions have been the problem. In this case, states started building their own portals for teacher education but their first version was basically just a PDF of their teacher manual that they put on their websites. So there was a huge opportunity for a platform to be built, not just a portal, but a platform on a national level that states could connect to. 

The national teacher platform called DIKSHA relied on core technology that came from the EkStep Foundation. Their own legacy is from AADHAR which is a platform enabling the Government of India to directly reach residents of the country in delivery of various subsidies, benefits, and services by using the resident’s unique 12-digit Aadhaar number only. They already had sophisticated technology at a level that no state government would have been able to develop itself. CSF then took on the project management responsibilities to integrate and adapt the technology for the state governments so that it aligned with their needs and had the look and feel of their website portals. It was a logical opportunity for CSF to start working with the government, but it was dependent on identifying a strong need where the government wanted support and where CSF had the ability to provide that support.  It’s one of my favorite examples of a government partnership, because it involved a foundation like EkStep that brought in the technical capability; we brought in the project management capability, and we also had a much deeper understanding of teacher education, having worked on that for about four years. To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the most successful examples of a public good being created in partnership with CSO’s and NGO’s and different parts of the government. By 2020, the Prime Minister described DIKSHA As “one nation one platform” for the entire spectrum of education, now serving students and families as well as educators.

Shifting to phase 2: Focusing on “impact”

TH: The examples you talked about illustrate how you were operating during those first five years? 

SS: Yes, and this was the time at the end of what we call the first phase of our work that our Board put the question in front of us of “What will CSF’s work look like?” During that phase, we were an operating organization which doesn’t actually work on the ground with students and teachers and school leaders. We incubated ISLI.  

We helped to bring the leader in from the US (Sameer Sampat who went on to co-found, with Azad Oommen the first Executive Director of CSF, Global School Leaders on the ISLI model), but I was the donor on the team. I wasn’t running the organization. We were also working with states who had different interest areas. In Delhi at one point, we were working on the school-to-work transition and department restructuring. Two very distinct areas of work that are not directly related to student learning outcomes. It’s a long value chain for department restructuring: it depends on department re-structuring leading to better pedagogy and better curriculum that reach classrooms in schools and teacher education programs that then leaders to better teaching and learning.  Our board left it up to us to decide: would it be better for CSF to continue with the “wide portfolio” approach and continue to engage with state and central government, when an opportunity and interest appeared? Or should we take stock and pick a part of learning outcomes where we could have a more direct impact? And we felt that the breadth of our work allowed us a space where we could narrow down our focus and make a more meaningful impact. We essentially said:  Let’s pick out an area. Let’s be more outcome and measurement and evaluation driven in our work overall and also in how we work with our partner.” We always say for education reform to stick we need to zoom in to a district and go deep. Similarly, we decided to pick an issue within education and go deep. 

Would it be better for CSF to continue with the “wide portfolio” approach and continue to engage with state and central government, when an opportunity and interest appeared? Or should we take stock and pick a part of learning outcomes where we could have a more direct impact?

This was around 2017 and about the time that the Gates Foundation began looking at doing work in education in India.  Our first validation came when they chose CSF as an “in-country” partner. We were still a relative rookie in the education space when they saw potential in us. 

As we moved into this second part of the CSF journey, we shifted from the portfolio approach to three focus areas: 

  • Foundational learning
  • Technology in education
  • Private school sector

Landing on the need for foundation learning was very evident for us. There is a rural household survey called ASER which has been going on in India for 20 years, and it shows that the problems with basic skills are quite deep.

The second area, building on some of our earlier work, was education technology. The widespread availability and use of mobile devices and data put India in a unique position relative to many other countries. There was also a lot of for-profit entrepreneurial activity happening in India, so we saw an opportunity for solutions to be created and designed locally. We also had a unique advantage because CSF had already been playing an evangelizing role for how tech can be leveraged for education within the government system. 

The third issue area is private schooling.  We are very unique as a country where over 40% of children do not take advantage of the free education provided by the public education system. Education in India, like it is worldwide, is aspirational. The moment a family can afford to pull their child out of the free government school, they would rather send their child to a private school with fees beginning at roughly $10 a month. For the most part, the government has looked at the private school system mostly from the perspective of regulation, and there hasn’t been a strong focus on quality. But in the first phase of our work, because a lot of us, including our founder Ashish, came from the management and the corporate side of the world, many people assumed “Oh you guys must be pro-private schools,” and it took us a while to clarify that whether it’s a government school or low fee private school the school is accountable to deliver quality education. 

Our approach to these three areas has been similar to what I described for our first phase: 

  • Working with the government and creating a reform agenda with a collective voice of other education leaders
  • Evidence building and supply shaping comes from the work we do with our partners, with other NGOs in the ecosystem with a sharp focus on the public good – making sure that whatever we are creating is available to others in the education ecosystem – and an emphasis on research
  • Deepening our government engagement efforts by shifting from working across multiple issues in multiple geographies to focusing our work in certain states on the issue of foundational literacy and numeracy

Getting to scalable and sustainable solutions in these areas became an extension of our approach in phase two. Across focus areas like education technology, we are trying to be more sharply focused on early learning, including at home, and in our work in private schools, we are trying to raise the bar for quality at the primary level. From a measurement perspective, we are targeting the learning poverty index the World Bank has highlighted (measuring the percentage of children who can read and understand a simple text by age 10), asking “how can we contribute to bringing down learning poverty in India?” with an ambitious target of bringing it down from 55% to 15% over the next five or six years. We’ve found this is both a directional goal– requiring us to articulate how our work contributes to it – and an aspirational and inspiring goal that connects our work with others. 

TH: Given how hard it is to achieve these goals, have you also established some benchmarks to see if you’re headed in the right direction?

SS: Unfortunately, because of COVID, the plan to get a baseline is still on paper. The whole principle of system reform is that you’re doing it – not just with the approval of the government – but in partnership with the government. However, with the situation worldwide with COVID, that’s been impossible. We actually adapted a tool that USAID uses, the Early Grades Reading Assessment and the Early Grades Math Assessment. We’ve partnered with an assessment agency, and we’ve piloted it in English and in Gujarati so the tool is ready, but quite honestly haven’t even asked the government for permission yet because it’s just unfair. We’re also acutely conscious that whenever we get an opportunity to do the baseline, it will actually be lower than it would have been before COVID first hit. But, in a way, it will also capture a more picture from ground right now. 

Time for an inclusive turn: Mel Ainscow on Inclusion as a guiding principle for educational reform in Portugal

This week Mel Ainscow shares his reflections on the implications of Portugal’s efforts to make inclusion a centerpiece of educational policymaking. Ainscow is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Manchester, Professor of Education at the University of Glasgow, and Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology. His works include ‘Struggles for equity in education: The selected works of Mel Ainscow’, and previous posts for IEN include ‘Finding pathways to equity’: A Conversation with Mel Ainscow and Christopher Chapman. An earlier version of this article, written for a UK audience, was published by the Fabian Education policy Group.

March 2022 saw the publication by the OECD of a review of national education policy in Portugal. The report, which was produced as part of OECD’s ‘Strength through Diversity’ project, has important implications for future reforms in many countries.

Legislation

The most striking thing that emerges from the OECD review is the way that, over the last twenty years or so, Portuguese policy makers have used inclusion as a guiding principle for educational reform. Crucially, this is not seen as a discrete policy – a task to be allocated to certain individuals or groups. Rather, inclusion is regarded as a principle that must inform all educational policies, not least those concerned with the curriculum, accountability, funding and teacher education. In this sense, it is seen as being everybody’s responsibility.

“Inclusion is regarded as a principle that must inform all educational policies, not least those concerned with the curriculum, accountability, funding and teacher education. In this sense, it is seen as being everybody’s responsibility.

Since 2008, Portugal has had in place laws envisioning the provision of education for all students, without exception, in their local mainstream school. This legislation led to special schools being transformed into resource centres for inclusion, tasked with supporting their former students, who are now placed in mainstream schools.

Further legislation in 2018 provided a framework that sees inclusive education as a process under which the education system must be reformed so that it can adapt to the needs of all students. With this agenda as the focus, the Government has given priority to the development of policies that guarantee equal access to public education in ways that are intended to promote educational success and equal opportunities.

Abolishing labels

Importantly, the Portuguese legislation has moved away from a view that it is necessary to categorise students in order to intervene. Rather, it supports the idea that all children and young people can achieve a profile of competencies and skills at the end of their compulsory education career, even if they follow different learning paths. It therefore emphasises flexible curricular models, systematic monitoring of the effectiveness of interventions, and an ongoing dialogue between teachers and parents/caregivers.

“All children and young people can achieve a profile of competencies and skills at the end of their compulsory education career, even if they follow different learning paths.

This approach is in stark contrast to that taken in many countries, including my own, where recent years have led to an expansion of labels that situate problems of educational progress within the child. In England, this emphasis on labelling has led to a massive expansion in the number of learners placed in separate provision of various forms.  At the same time, there has been a worrying increase in those who are out of school altogether.

Collaboration

A key feature of the Portuguese education system is the emphasis placed on collaboration. This is facilitated by a well-established pattern of schools working in local clusters – a particular strength in relation to the promotion of inclusive practices and forms of organization that support the introduction of these ways of working. Indeed, many other countries are seeking to establish similar arrangements, building on research suggesting that collaboration between schools has an enormous potential for fostering their capacity to respond to student diversity.

A further area of strength in Portugal is the active involvement of community representatives in policy formulation within the school clusters. This includes the appointment of school directors, who are elected for four years. These arrangements provide a sound basis for engaging community partners to support the promotion of inclusion and equity within a local cluster.

Impacts

I was privileged to be a member of the team that carried out the review in Portugal. A striking feature of our discussions with stakeholders in different parts of the country was the widespread awareness and acceptance of the principles upon which the national education policies are based.

Particularly impressive was the way that children and young people talked about their pride at being students in a school that is inclusive. Many also talked of the value they gained from being involved with such a diverse range of classmates.

“Children and young people talked about their pride at being students in a school that is inclusive. Many also talked of the value they gained from being involved with such a diverse range of classmates.

At the same time, there is a high level of awareness at all levels of the education system of the dangers associated with using labels in referring to potentially vulnerable groups of students. Frequent mention was also made of the political history of the country that has influenced the concern to see education as a basis for fostering democracy.

Implications

As the Portuguese education system moved forward in relation to inclusion over the last two decades, the country has also seen impressive developments in terms of equity. Indeed, it is one of the few countries with a positive trajectory of improvement in all of the subjects assessed by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In addition, the rate of early leavers from education has reduced significantly, although there are significant variations between regions.

Portugal is one of the few countries with a positive trajectory of improvement in all of the subjects assessed by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

It seems, then, that seeing inclusion as a principle for educational reform can provide a pathway to excellence. This points to the urgent need for a new direction in education policies across the world. These should be guided by UNESCO’s ‘Education 2030 Framework for Action’, which emphasizes inclusion and equity as laying the foundations for quality education.

So, as countries formulate policies for education reform, I suggest that it is now time to take an inclusive turn. Moving in this radically new direction will, of course, take time, as is evident in the story of Portugal, where there are, of course, still more challenges to be addressed. It will also require that the resources and expertise that exist within alternative provision should be redirected towards the development of schools where children and young people learn how to learn together and live together.

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.

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.

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

Oppression, Trust, and the Development of Change Leadership: The Lead the Change Interview with Morgaen Donaldson

This week, Morgaen Donaldson discusses her work on the development of educators, policy and educational change in the November Lead the Change (LtC) interview Donaldson is Associate Dean for Research at the Neag School of Education, Director of the Center for Education Policy, Analysis, Research and Evaluation, and the Philip E. Austin Endowed Professor of Education Leadership and Policy at the University of Connecticut. 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?   

Morgaen Donaldson: Educational change scholars are vital to the effort to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions. Educational change is about new principles and processes of operating, and it seems to me that scholars in this space often think and act with this mindset. For me, this work means trying to think of new ways to conceptualize problems and solutions across various disciplines or domains. For example, when confronting a problem in the workplace, I examine individuals’ needs, motivations, and incentives as well as organizational structures and cultures in identifying possible paths forward. I love this work; I’ve always loved puzzles and big, complex challenges without easy solutions. Conceptualizing new ways of thinking and doing is exciting. Trying to shift the culture and structure of our higher education institutions to embrace these novel approaches is often frustrating and takes a clear vision and great leadership skills. Within the organizations with which I am affiliated, I try to ask the question “Why not?” more often than the question “Why?” For example, my colleagues and I recently moved our Center for Education Policy Analysis, Research, and Evaluation out of a department and into the Neag School of Education writ large. In discussing our new mission, committee members advocated for including explicit partnerships with community members. At first, I shied away from this idea. It sounded too difficult and time-consuming for a center focused on policy research. With urging from one of my colleagues, I started asking why not involve community members? After all, they feel acutely policies’ impact (or lack thereof). Yes, it requires faculty members to think and act differently, but maybe this is exactly what we ought to be doing.  I also try to spend time examining problems before I start conceptualizing ways to address these challenges.

Dismantling oppressive systems is even more difficult because the layers of these systems are multi-faceted and oppression pervades and refracts through them. Educational change scholars must examine how oppression functions through these layers and commit to challenging and eliminating oppression at all levels, from the societal, to the organizational, to the inter-personal, to the intra-personal. This is hard and continuous work and scholars must commit to working over a lifetime to eradicate this oppression. Within my work, I try to keep equity in the forefront of my decision-making. I try to ask about how my actions will recreate, erode, or upend oppressive systems. Our actions and inactions often have inequitable reverberations, and I am working on anticipating the impact of my words and choices on equity and making decisions and consciously advance equity through my voice and my actions

LtC: Given your work focused on teacher and now principal evaluation and the challenge of ensuring the organizational and institutional infrastructure and capacity to engage in this work with fidelity and to ensure better outcomes for adult and student learning alike, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?   

MD: I think policymakers, practitioners, and researchers are often looking for simple answers to complex problems. When I started my book on teacher evaluation (Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Teacher Evaluation), I was interested in learning what could help teacher evaluation make a difference in teachers’ instruction and students’ learning. Was it better feedback? More observations? More opportunity for structured reflection? Peer review? I learned that the answer to the complex problems plaguing teacher evaluation was in itself complex and somewhat unglamorous. My work uncovered that the best way to improve teacher evaluation is working over months and years to develop a clear, strong vision of effective teaching and deep learning and then maintain that focus across all initiatives in the school. Schools that lead with a strong vision of teaching and learning and incorporate teacher evaluation as one arm of their efforts towards these ends wind up implementing teacher evaluation relatively robustly. Schools that set aside everything to focus only on teacher evaluation generally do not do it that well. When schools prioritize good teaching and deep learning and this vision pervades everything the school does, teacher evaluation ends up working well.

“When schools prioritize good teaching and deep learning and this vision pervades everything the school does, teacher evaluation ends up working well.”

More recently, my colleagues and I conducted a five-year study of principal evaluation in three states. We have learned a great deal from this project. Overall, we found that about half of districts implemented principal evaluation as part of a suite of activities meant to bolster school leadership. In these districts, both district leaders and principals reported that principal evaluation helped them develop as leaders. In the other half of districts, principal evaluation was said to have marginal effects on practice, or effects only for the struggling principals. We further found that principals report more positive effects of principal evaluation when they perceive their principal evaluation system to support their intrinsic motivation. Lastly, we found that district leaders tend to implement principal evaluation differently in higher- and lower-performing districts. In higher-performing districts, leaders tend to implement evaluation processes organically, with little attention to the evaluation rubric or weights, but maintain a focus on instructional leadership. Their counterparts in lower-performing districts enact the processes as specified in the state guidelines and district policies but widen their lens beyond instructional leadership to include managerial, logistical, and community-oriented leadership (Donaldson et al., 2021; Mavrogordato et al., under review).

Ltc: In some of your recent work on teacher evaluation, you highlight the need for better understanding of whether and how evaluation can lead to improved teacher practices. Given your findings regarding the need for trust between evaluators and teachers and the development of social capital, what do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?   

MD: Trust is essential for the success of every organization. It may be even more important for schools, given the segmented, egg crate structure of the organization (Lortie, 1975) and the fact that its chief purpose is to guide the learning and development of other people’s children. Moreover, in the case of teacher evaluation, lack of trust has often hampered its implementation and dampened any positive effects. Trust is central to teacher evaluation and the broader success of efforts to improve teaching and learning in schools. 

“Trust is essential for the success of every organization.”

So how could trust among teachers and between teachers and school leaders be deepened?  For one, schools can provide more opportunities for teachers and leaders to struggle together and in partnership about thorny problems of practice. When teachers and leaders come together on equal footing to examine a problem from multiple perspectives and in different dimensions, everyone plays a role in coming to a shared understanding of the problem and a shared commitment to solving it. Collaboration around problem-diagnosis and problem-solving can build a partnership among teachers and between teachers and leaders that also fosters trust along the way.

Trust between educators and caregivers is also incredibly important. I think this may be the relationship that is most in need of enhancements to trust. In preschool and the early grades, schools are generally welcoming to parents and caregivers, but parental/caregiver involvement gradually wanes as children grow older (Murray, McFarland-Piazza, & Harrison, 2015). To build trust, schools could open their doors to caregivers on a more regular basis, inviting parents into classroom lessons, asking students to share work and involve parents in creating projects. This will build trust between teachers and parents/caregivers and also help educators learn more about students’ families, which can then inform their teaching. There is a lot of work to be done in this area.

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?    

MD: There are two ways that scholars in the field of Educational Change could better support these individuals who are spearheading deep and difficult transformation. First, I think scholars of Educational Change and other researchers need to work harder to translate their research into practice and reflect practice in their research design and methods. To me, the impact of my scholarship in schools and school districts is more important than the number of times it is cited. I think the field could and should do a much better job identifying topics that are meaningful to practitioners and communicating findings to the world of practice much more deliberately through ongoing engagement with the field. Educational Change scholars can also advocate that the practical impact of scholarly work should be recognized and rewarded in university promotion and tenure decisions. Second, I think scholars in the field of Educational Change have a responsibility to study and understand what it takes for individuals to make change and investigate the toll on these changemakers. COVID-19 has heightened our collective awareness of the challenges facing educators and the day-to-day struggles that many of them experience. I think the field of Educational Change should pay more attention to the resources and experiences of change leaders and examine the consequences of playing this role for them, their health, and their careers.

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

MD: COVID-19 exacerbated the inequity and inequality that has plagued education systems worldwide. I think it is becoming more difficult for defenders of the status quo; the evidence that students and schools are struggling is stark. After a year and a half with educators and students struggling mightily to engage in a version of schooling, education cannot afford to start up again with “business as usual.” This provides a window for Educational Change scholars to reconceptualize how school and schooling are done. Educational Change scholars can and should partner with practitioners to envision and enact a new system that addresses persistent and pronounced inequities in schooling inputs and outcomes. No one would wish COVID-19 to have occurred, but Educational Change scholars have an opportunity to speak up and share their knowledge about how schools could radically reconfigure how education is done to provide greater benefits to students.

References

Donaldson, M.L. (2020). Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Teacher Evaluation: Understanding the Research and Theory. New York: Routledge.

Donaldson, M.L., Mavrogordato, M. Dougherty, S. & Youngs, P. (2021). Doing the ‘real’ work”: How superintendents’ sensemaking shapes principal evaluation policies and practices. AERA Open, 7(1).

Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. University of Chicago Press.

Mavrogordato, M., Youngs, P., Donaldson, M., & Dougherty, S.  (under review). “Principals experiences with principal evaluation in 22 small and mid-sized districts.”

Murray, E., McFarland-Piazza, L., & Harrison, L. J. (2015). Changing patterns of parent–teacher communication and parent involvement from preschool to school. Early child development and care185(7), 1031-1052.

Children 5-11 can now get a COVID-19 Vaccine: Headlines from across the US

Last week, the FDA authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine among children ages 5-11. Additionally, the CDC also voiced its support. Consequently, around 28 million children in the US can now obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although many parents and educators have embraced the news, others remain concerned. According to The74’s summary of the October KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report

  • Nearly 3 in 10 parents of 5-11 year-olds (27%) are eager to get a vaccine for their younger child while a third say they will wait to see how the vaccine is working. 
  • 3 in 10 parents say they will definitely not get the vaccine for their 5-11 year-old (30%). 
  • Parents are now 5-11 percentage points more likely to say they will “definitely not” get their children vaccinated.
  • 53% of parents are worried their child may be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 even if they don’t want them to.

To respond to the concerns, many states, counties and school districts have begun incentivizing parents to vaccinate their children, utilizing many approaches. Here’s a quick scan headlines that give a sense of the resources and responses to the vaccine rollout across the US:

Covid Vaccine for Kids Ages 5 to 11: Top Questions Answered, WebMD.

What pediatricians want parents to know about the Covid vaccine for kids, NBC news.

Some parents want to wait to vaccinate their kids. Here’s why doctors say do it now, NPR.

Answering kids’ (and parents’) questions about the Covid-19 vaccine for ages 5 to 11, CCN Health.

Arizona

School officials in Phoenix are giving $100 gift cards to vaccinated students, Time.

California

Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Oakland school districts mandate vaccination against Covid-19 for their students or opt for remote learning, Politico

“Nearly 350,000 California students face an imminent choice: Get vaccinated for Covid-19 or stay home.”

Florida

Tallahassee-Leon county is hosting a family fun day that offers free breakfast, lunch and Covid-19 booster shots, Tallahassee Democrat

Illinois

Chicago will suspend school for a day on Nov. 12 to host “Vaccination Awareness Day”, Chalkbeat, Chicago

Minnesota

Minnesota is encouraging students to obtain the vaccine but has refrained from an official mandate, StarTribune.

New York

New York City is encouraging children to receive the vaccine by offering $100 incentives, NBC

“Children who get their shots at schools or at other city clinics across the five boroughs will be eligible for the $100 incentive that the city has offered since late-July to new vaccine recipients getting their shots at city-run sites.”

NYC schools start vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds to cheers, relief, and some frustration, Chalkbeat.

COVID-19 Vaccines Roll Out for Young Children in NYC, Early-Bird Families All Smiles, The 74.

Photo Essay – Inside a Vaccine Site for Kids: A Brooklyn Pharmacy Becomes A Comforting Spot for COVID Shots, The 74.

https://www.the74million.org/article/photo-story-inside-a-vaccine-site-for-kids-a-brooklyn-pharmacy-becomes-a-comforting-spot-for-covid-shots/

Oregon

Hundreds of kids-size vaccine doses administered at Oaks Amusement Park, KGW8.

South Carolina

In Anderson, high school students can obtain $100 for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, Time

Texas

Travis County will use a school based approach to roll out vaccines for children., Kxan

Dallas will maintain mask mandates despite vaccines being available for young children now, Dallas News

Washington

Given the increased demand for vaccines, Washington state urged parents to be patient, Seattle Times


School districts increase their efforts to vaccinate their students by utilizing their buildings during school hours, evenings and weekends, Seattle Times.

https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/washington-state-school-districts-ramp-up-efforts-for-covid-vaccine-clinics-testing-programs/

— Dulce Rivera Osorio