The school closures and related educational adaptions throughout the Covid-19 pandemic led to many calls for “re-imagining education,” but which changes in schools actually can be made right now? Which ones will be made in the future? To address these questions, IEN is launching a new series to track both what changes in schools and what does not in order to reveal the conditions and constraints that have to be addressed to transform education over the long term. The series is part of a long-term project exploring school improvement efforts and educational innovations in both developing and developed contexts. The series pursue issues my co-authors, Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg, and I raised in The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021). The first post in the series comes from Larry Cuban, co-author with David Tyack of Tinkering Toward Utopia(Harvard University Press, 1995), who highlights how calls for ambitious educational reform already may be “downsized” as the realities of returning to school get closer — Thomas Hatch
The silence is deafening. Perhaps other observers have noted calls for major school reforms, I have not. The pandemic’s closure of public schools in March 2020 and the partial re-opening of schools in fall 2020 and full return to face-to-face instruction in winter 2021 have grabbed mainstream and social media attention. Especially for the rapid expansion of remote instruction and the Zoom marathon that all of us are running.
No reform agenda, however, have I seen for bettering the nation’s public schools. I have yet to detect any groundswell for altering the familiar school organization, Common Core Curriculum, and existing accountability measures already in place. There is much reform talk, of course:
Consider the words from a recent report of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights of the disparate effects of the pandemic on white and minority students:
[W]e have a rare moment as a country to take stock and to begin the hard work of building our schools back better and stronger—with the resolve necessary to ensure that our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities but by equity and opportunity for all students.
Or the head of a major administrators’ professional organization:
“There are a lot of positives that will happen because we’ve been forced into this uncomfortable situation,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the school superintendents association. “The reality is that this is going to change education forever.”
Talk is one thing, however, action another. Reform-driven policies have notably been absent from most of the 13,000 school districts spread across 50 states and territories during and after the pandemic, particularly when it comes to repairing inequities prior to and during the Covid-19 crisis.
Consider state and national testing. During the pandemic, the then U.S. Secretary of Education postponed the federally-required National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) until 2022. The current administration has called for standardized tests to be administered in the fall of 2021.
Apart from temporary suspension of nation and state tests, I have yet to hear of or read about any coalition of reformers offering concrete policies that can reduce the stark differences in funding and staffing schools in urban and suburban districts that have become, in a word, re-segregated. Progressive educators and their allies have surely called for such changes before, during, and after the pandemic’s closing of schools, but beyond exhortations, I have not noted an emerging coalition of school reformers at either the state and federal levels not only endorsing but also funding such efforts.
In fact, as Republicans have taken over most state legislatures–they now control 62 percent of them–, the appetite for funding schools and igniting school reform have shrunk considerably. Although conservative state legislators have called for more teaching of patriotism and less teaching about race, keeping schools as they are remains strong.
Progressive rhetoric for reducing inequalities in funding districts, ending disproportionate assignment of inexperienced teachers to high poverty, largely minority schools, and increasing “ambitious” teaching remains high in mainstream and social media but has yet to lead to substantial adoption of such policies, and most important their implementation in schools and classrooms.
Of course, lack of concrete reform-driven policies and their implementation does not mean that reforms begun prior to the pandemic and then put on hold have disappeared. Those reforms seeking the expansion of remote instruction have gained ground with the sudden switch from face-to-face to screens in March 2020. While surely distance learning now has a secure niche in a school district’s kit-bag of “solutions” to emergency closures, becoming more than an option for parents to choose is, well, doubtful (see here and here).
Remote instruction, then, is, by default, the coercive reform du jour. Yet frequent reports of test score decline and loss of academic skills especially among minority and poor students during the pandemic have yet to push the “pause” button on distance instruction as a choice for parents to have should they reject face-to-face instruction in school classrooms (see here and here).
With the spread of remote instruction as a school reform, what has thus far emerged from the pandemic emergency are not big-ticket, comprehensive overhaul of public schools aimed at reducing inequities among American children and youth but a shrunken version of what the past 18 months have offered.
And that is why I titled this post: Downsizing School Reform after the Pandemic.
Lead the Change (Ltc): The 2021 AERA theme is Accepting Educational Responsibility and invites those of us who teach in schools of education to accept greater responsibility for the inadequate preparation of educators for work in racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse P–12 schools and postsecondary institutions. For example, when educators discipline African American students at disproportionately higher rates, misdiagnose them for special education, identify too few of them for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, deliver to them a culturally irrelevant curriculum, teach them in culturally disdaining ways, and stereotype their families as careless and hopeless, the schools of education that produced these professionals are just as responsible as the professionals themselves. Furthermore, if scholars who study and document these trends do too little to make our findings actionable, then we, too, are contributors to the cyclical reproduction of these educational inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?
Deborah Netolicky: The rhetoric of education policy the world over is about the common good and quality, equitable outcomes for all. In Australia, we had the Melbourne Declaration (Barr et al., 2008) and now the Mparntwe Declaration (Education Council, 2019). Both declare an education goal of excellence and equity for all young people, and the building of a democratic, equitable, just, culturally diverse society that values Australia’s Indigenous cultures. Australia likes to imagine itself as a multicultural melting pot of inclusive diversity, yet, as in many countries, our rhetoric and our imagined national identity fall well short of our reality. As Suraiya Hameed, Marnee Shay, and Jodie Miller (Hameed et al., forthcoming) note, the concept of excellence in education for Indigenous students has been greatly under-theorised and requires a strengths-based rather than a deficit perspective. Racism, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, ableism, and the reverberations of our colonial past, persist. Inequities remain. Educational change is too often a political ball bounced back and forth, with governments making decisions based on short term political cycles and winning election votes, rather than on holding the line on sustained improvement for all.
Part of ‘accepting educational responsibility’ is working from a foundation of citizenship grounded in a shared moral purpose. Citizen-scholars and citizen-practitioners engage deeply with education committed to excellence, equity, and opportunity for all. We must not ignore the reverberations of past oppressions and the echoes of past violence in our current world. If we are to address the intensifying challenges that face society, education, and individuals, education scholars and practitioners need to make the implicit explicit, deeply interrogating systems, structures, policies, pedagogies, practices, and our own beliefs, behaviours, and language. Scholars, practitioners, and pracademic scholar-practitioners need to engage with, and provide safe spaces for, education debates, including, and especially, those that are uncomfortable and awkward, and that require us to examine our own motivations, biases, and privilege. As many authors argue in the forthcoming edited book Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Equity, Democracy, and Inclusion (Netolicky, forthcoming), positive educational change requires challenging and providing alternatives to Western (that is, White, masculine, materialist, hetero) norms and paradigms.
Decolonisation—deconstructing dominant ideologies and dismantling educational structures—is not enough. What is needed is not just the breaking down of systems of power and privilege, but also the building up of what we would like to exist in its place. This means including, embracing, and investing in Indigenous, culturally diverse, and culturally marginalised ways of knowing, being, teaching, and leading in education. We need these ways of knowing and doing to understand and apply inclusive policies and practices that serve all those in our communities, especially the most vulnerable.
“What is needed is not just the breaking down of systems of power and privilege, but also the building up of what we would like to exist in its place.”
LtC: Much of your work is informed by your positionality as a “pracademic” and the special understandings and experiences that come as a result. What would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience sitting in this specific space?
DN: Much of my scholarly work has involved looking at education, educational change, professional learning, and educational leadership through the lens of identity (e.g., Netolicky, 2017, 2019, 2020a). I have defined identity as the “situated, ongoing process through which we make sense of ourselves, to ourselves and to others” (Netolicky, 2020d, p.19). Examining education through the lens of identity allows us to remain focused on education as a human endeavour, wrestling with multiplicities, complexities, and tensions. In our forthcoming chapter, Claire Golledge and I (Netolicky & Golledge, forthcoming) advocate for what we call a wayfinding approach to school leadership that balances intuition with strategy, improvisation with systematisation, empathy with policy, the individual with the whole. This approach, and awareness of the multiple tensions navigated constantly by those working in schools, could be considered and engaged with by those in the field of educational change.
In the book Transformational Professional Learning: Making a Difference in Schools (Netolicky, 2020d), I utilise my positionality as boundary spanning teacher-leader-researcher who works to bridge the gap between research and practice. The structure of the book mirrors the ways I bring a practice lens to scholarship, and a research lens to my daily work enacting theory into practice. In our upcoming Journal of Professional Capital and Community Special Issue—‘Pracademia: Exploring the possibilities, power and politics of boundary-spanners straddling the worlds of practice and scholarship’—Trista Hollweck, Paul Campbell, and I (Hollweck et al., forthcoming) explore the identities, spaces, and tensions of what can be called pracademia. The multipart identities and multiplicitous spaces of pracademia involve simultaneous active engagement in education scholarship and practice.
Democratic educational change benefits from those operating in different educational spaces and also those operating between and across various educational arenas and communities. The pracademic whose day job is in the world of practice is free from the metrics and pressures of academia, free to engage in scholarship in some ways on their own terms, but also often in or beyond the margins of the academe. The pracademic whose day job is in a university is active in the practice of school-based education through working amongst and alongside practitioners, immersed in the work of school contexts, and engaging in scholarship ‘with’ rather than ‘to’ or ‘of’ those in schools. Often the in-between spaces involve unpaid bridging, sharing, and collaborating work.
Identity work—of pracademics, practitioners, or academics—can be part of scholarship that is a political act, edging from the margins of the academe towards the centre, in which we challenge ourselves to do “writing that matters – to us, to our communities, to our nations, to social justice, to the greater good” (Netolicky, 2017, p.101). Education theory and practice are always intertwined, but embracing the concept of pracademia in educational change is about intentionally embracing nexus and community. It is about co-creating a collective space shared by teachers, school leaders, scholars, policymakers, political advisors, and community members. It is about working within and across education spaces, and working together.
LtC: In some of your recent work regarding the future of education in a Post-COVID world, you speak to both the possibilities for a return to some practices and change for others. What do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike to create, as you say, reform for good?
DN: Injustices and deficiencies in our education and social systems are being revealed during the pandemic. Often multiple and intersecting disparities such as racial, gendered, socioeconomic, and cultural inequities became evident in, for example: the significantly increased risk to women’s employment and livelihoods compared to men’s; and the increased risk of mortality from COVID-19 of Indigenous Australians, ethnic minority groups in the UK, and Black Americans, as compared to their White counterparts. The pandemic also accelerated educational change, forcing innovation and introspection in education (Netolicky, 2020b). The person—child, student, teacher, leader—has come into sharper focus. Care and collaboration rose to the top of the priority list in education (Doucet et al., 2020), as did increasingly flexible ‘whole-person’ approaches to judging student success and providing student pathways for future success. What has receded is a focus on standardised testing as education systems are forced to reflect on how the apparent success of education is measured, and negative impacts of cultures of competition, surveillance, and hyperaccountabilities. While tertiary entrance examinations went ahead in Australia in 2020, alternate admissions pathways were also introduced by Universities. These include calculation of a predicted Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) based on students’ Year 11 results, and a Special Tertiary Admissions Test available to all students including those studying vocational pathways at school. In the UK, examinations (GCSE, A-Level, Scottish Highers, and Scottish Advanced Highers) were cancelled in 2020 and 2021, replaced with aggregated teacher-assessed grades that currently form the basis of UCAS applications. US universities have varying admissions policies, but most are currently ‘test-optional’ for a year or more (some permanently), meaning applicants do not have to sit the SAT or ACT standardised college admissions test. Rather, US applicants are submitting portfolios of achievements, employment, and community involvement to demonstrate their readiness for university. Universities leading flexible admissions criteria and processes (including portfolio entry, virtual tours, and online interviews) may help to change the focus of schools towards preparing students for beyond school, rather than on succeeding in examinations at the end of school. These increasing flexibilities may also go some way to democratising the university admissions process for marginalised groups.
“The pandemic also accelerated educational change, forcing innovation and introspection in education.”
During periods of remote learning, educators asked themselves: (1) What is it that we’ve missed during remote education that we want to bring back to schooling and education?; and (2) What is it that has been removed that we do not want to return to? (Netolicky, 2020c). Underpinning these questions are what we—those of us working, teaching, and leading each day in schools and universities—have come to realise are paramount: health and wellbeing, the importance of learning for all students regardless of circumstance, meaningful work, community, connectedness, adaptability, and resilience. We learned that governments, education systems, and schools need strong, clear leadership that can respond to crises with immediacy while considering the long-term view and the needs of the specific community. We learned that technologies can support teaching, learning, collaborating, and developing student autonomy, but cannot replace the connection, engagement, and learning that is possible when we are face to face. We learned that schools are more than places of learning. They are sites of community, relationships, society, values, and care. They also serve the practical, economic function of looking after children while parents go to work.
“We learned that schools are more than places of learning. They are sites of community, relationships, society, values, and care.”
Teachers have missed seeing students in person, and the complex and important non-verbal communication of the classroom, in which the teacher can ‘read the room’, see how each young person is approaching the day and the lesson, re-engage a disengaged student, or re-teach a concept to those who aren’t getting it. Students have missed school as a place where they see their friends and their teachers. What we would benefit from continuing to develop are:
Curricula in which students are active agents;
Use of a range of technologies to enhance learning, collaboration, and communication, and to empower students in their learning;
The declining focus on high-stakes testing and cultures of competition between schools and education systems, replacing this with a focus on multiple pathways to success and flexible alternatives that address the needs of students and their families; and
Providing trust, support, and resourcing to the teaching profession so that educators can get on with the complex work of serving their communities.
LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?
DN: Transformational professional learning— “learning that shifts beliefs, and thereby behaviours, of professionals” (Netolicky, 2020d, p.18)—has the capacity to support schools and school systems to successfully propel fruitful educational change. I argue (Netolicky, 2020d) for professional learning for those working in schools that:
Is targeted and ongoing;
Is driven by educational (not corporate or political) agendas;
Considers identity and humanity, providing high support and high challenge;
Offers voice, choice, and agency to the adult learner;
Pays close attention to context, culture, and relationships, avoiding one-size-fits-most models;
Enables collaboration that is rigorous, purposeful, sometimes uncomfortable, and allows respectful disagreement;
Broadens our definition of professional learning beyond courses or conferences; and
Invests time, money, and resources in the learning of teachers and school leaders.
Those in the field of educational change can support practitioners through teacher training, partnerships, sharing their scholarship broadly, and supporting practitioners undertaking post-graduate study. In my literature class, we are currently studying Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and discussing the ways in which this 1985 novel continues to resonate with modern readers, dealing as it does with inequities; misuse of power to protect the needs of a few; unjust class structures; oppression due to gender, sexuality, race, and class; and reduction of individual freedoms with increased government control in the name of a ‘greater good’ (something we have experienced during the pandemic). One of the characters talks about the intention of the novel’s distressing dystopian reality as intended to be “better” but notes that “better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some.” We need education that is good for all, not just good for some. It is imperative that we continue to consider the very purpose of education, and how we invest in what we value. I often talk in my workplace about changing culture and building trust ‘one conversation at a time’. We all have a responsibility to change education for the better for all students, one conversation, policy, study, action, paper, citation, webinar, social media post, at a time. Scholars can ensure that they are speaking not only to one another, but to communities, governments, and education professionals. We can communicate our scholarly work through accessible channels (such as open access, and popular, online, or social media) so that it is available to those working in schools.
Those working with, and alongside, schools and school systems can do so with an understanding of the realities of the lived experiences of school-based educators, including: intensification of workload; increasing job complexity; and escalating emotional stresses resulting from family and social issues impacting students such as violence, financial difficulties, discrimination, and mental health. We can resist the short termism of fast policy change that follows election cycles, in which politicians present education policy quick fixes or simplistic solutions to win votes, rather than playing the long game of education. We can all advocate for sustained educational change focused on common good and long-term improvements. We can challenge deficit media narratives around teaching and schools when they are accused of ‘failing’ or ‘falling behind’ and instead work to instil trust in, offer alternate narratives of, and engage in scholarship that shares the voices and complexities of, the teaching and school leadership profession.
“We can all advocate for sustained educational change focused on common good and long-term improvements.”
LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?
DN: One exciting thing I see happening in the field of educational change is the global, networked approach fortified and amplified by the pandemic. Collaboration—local, national, and global collaboration that is meaningful, transparent, productive, and focused on the shared moral purpose of the greater good for all—is key to a positive future. Now, more than ever, we are talking, researching, and working together, across societies, countries, systems, sectors, and fields, to co-design solutions to injustice, inequity, and discriminatory structures and practices.
An ongoing development in educational change and other fields is an increasing diversity of voices, perspectives, and representations. As Jon Andrews, Cameron Paterson, and I noted (Netolicky et al., 2019), and as is evident in my experience as editor of two books aiming to share diverse perspectives, this is not easy to achieve. It is often those with important perspectives to offer—from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, genders, sexualities, classes, belief systems, and (dis)abilities—who are least able to contribute, for a range of complex reasons. It remains important for all scholars, educational leaders, and organisers of conferences and events, to consider who is cited, who is invited, and who is excluded, and to pursue the ongoing work of diversity and inclusion. We need to ask ourselves what behaviours and language we accept without challenge. We need to speak against microaggressions in our own professional and personal contexts. We need to consider how measurements of educational ‘excellence’ might perpetuate discrimination, favouring some and disadvantaging others. What do our measures measure, and what do our methods of research reinforce?
We need to seek out and seek to understand Indigenous and non-Western knowledges, ways of knowing, theories, and theorists. Including diverse cultural positions and approaches to research moves from problematising and othering cultural minorities, to expanding perspectives and the current knowledge base (Shay, 2019). What is exciting is the increasing valuing, reclaiming, and development of Indigenous research methodologies. Australian examples include Melitta Hogarth’s Indigenous Critical Discourse Analysis (Hogarth, 2017, 2018) and Marnee Shay’s Collaborative Yarning Methodology (Shay, 2019). Drawing simultaneously on Indigenous and Western methodologies—learning, working, and researching at ‘the interface’ (Ryder et al., 2020)—can challenge societal norms (Hogarth, 2017) and lead to innovation, the formation of new knowledge, and the development of culturally safe methodologies (Ryder et al., 2020). It is this work at the boundary, the interface, or the nexus that offers possibilities, as it means not binary thinking but both/and thinking in which new spaces, communities, and knowledges are formed, that can move educational change forward, while honouring and acknowledging its past.
Hameed, S., Shay, M., & Miller, J. (forthcoming). “Deadly leadership” in the pursuit of Indigenous education excellence. In D. M. Netolicky (Ed.), Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Democracy. Routledge.
Hogarth, M. (2017). Speaking back to the deficit discourses: A theoretical and methodological approach. The Australian Educational Researcher, 44(1), 21-34.
Hogarth, M. D. (2018). Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy. (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).
Hollweck, T., Campbell, P., & Netolicky, D. M. (forthcoming). Defining and exploring pracademia: Identity, community, and engagement. Journal of Professional Capital and Community.
Netolicky, D. M. (2019). Elevating the professional identities and voices of teachers and school leaders in educational research, practice, and policymaking. In D. M. Netolicky, J. Andrews, & C. Paterson (Eds.) Flip the System Australia: What matters in education. Routledge.
Netolicky, D. M. (2020a). Being, becoming and questioning the school leader: An autoethnographic exploration of a woman in the middle. In R. Niesche & A. Heffernan (Eds.) Theorising Identity and Subjectivity in Educational Leadership Research, pp. 111-125. Routledge.
Netolicky, D. M. (2020b). Leading from Disruption to ‘Next Normal’ in Education. In Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined: Thoughts and Responses from Education’s Frontline During COVID-19 (e-book). World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in partnership with Salzburg Global Seminar.
Netolicky, D. M., & Golledge, C. (forthcoming). Wayfinding: Navigating complexity for sustainable school leadership. In D. M. Netolicky (Ed.), Future Alternatives for Educational Leadership: Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Democracy. Routledge.
Ryder, C., Mackean, T., Coombs, J., Williams, H., Hunter, K., Holland, A. J. A., & Ivers, R. Q. (2020). Indigenous research methodology – weaving a research interface. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 23(3), 255-267.
Shay, M. (2019). Extending the yarning yarn: collaborative yarning methodology for ethical Indigenist education research. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 1-9.
ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung Kim, Graduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.
This spring, many students in Finnish comprehensive schools have returned to their classrooms after a 3-week remote learning period that started on March 8, 2021. In contrast to March, 2020 when all schools were forced switch to remote learning with just a few days’ notice, in 2021, remote learning applied only to the students in the upper grades of comprehensive schools (7th to 9th grade). However, in some regions the remote learning period has been extended until the beginning of April due to the high number of local COVID-19 cases.
After the nationwide remote learning period ended in May 2020, the regulations governing remote learning were changed at national level in response to the variation in the spread of the coronavirus around the country. Consequently, since August 2020, the local education organizers (i.e. municipalities) have been given responsibility to make their own decisions on remote learning (e.g. for 1-2 weeks) for a school or certain group of students and teachers if there have been verified Covid-19 cases or exposures. That has made the course of actions concerning needs for temporary local remote learning periods more flexible, and it is in line with the decentralized approach to governance in the Finnish context.
Based on experiences gained during the 8-week remote learning of spring 2020, the government has also made temporary changes in the Basic Education Act (i.e. the legislation guiding work in comprehensive schools) to make sure the most vulnerable student groups can still have access to school. That means schools are required to stay open for students in pre-school (the year before children enter government schools, around age 6), for students in grades 1-3, and for students receiving special support (students with SEN). These students have the right to go to school, with their teaching organized in school buildings. It has been seen as important to secure and support learning and schooling of these students during the exceptional times.
What did remote learning look like in Spring 2020?
In the spring 2020, remote learning divided students’ perceptions of learning. Some students reported that remote learning suited them well and they felt that learning at home had been more effective than at school. However, nearly half of 7th to 9th grade students and a third of students in 4th – 6th reported that they had learned less than usual during remote learning. The researchers concluded that despite the fast transition period, technically, remote learning went surprisingly well. Consequently, they noted that, if schools turn to remote learning again, the focus should be on the content of learning and on supporting students individually.
However, the results also confirmed the researchers’ suspicions that during the exceptional period in spring 2020 equality in education was not achieved as well as under normal circumstances. That is, the researchers found large differences in the distance learning practices of schools. For example, about a quarter of teachers and principals said that the school had jointly decided on loosening assessment requirements or on not lowering student grades, but more than half of the schools did not have such guidelines in place. In one in five schools, assessment practices were not agreed upon at all. In most schools, the aim of remote learning was to arrange teaching according to the school timetable/schedule as much as possible, meaning that the teacher was to be regularly available to students. However, as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses. There were also big differences between schools with respect to how schools had been able to provide their students with the digital equipment they needed for studying. About a third of parents said family members had taken turns using the equipment. In addition, when the usual school timetable/schedule was not followed or their normal teacher was not available to teach, the students’ stress symptoms increased. The differences in operating practices between comprehensive schools with only the upper grades (7-9) were remarkably large. However, schools with lower grades (4-6) typically implemented remote learning practices that were less structured and students received homework packages instead of interactive remote learning instruction.
“… as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses.
Based on these findings, the researchers argued that well-implemented remote learning has a clear structure, it is interactive and students are required to be self-directed in a way that suits their level of development. Especially, for younger students, they found that more guidance was needed. Guardians of the younger students (1st to 3rd) grade were frustrated with remote learning tasks that their children received that did not include teacher guidance.
What did remote learning look like in Fall 2020?
In the autumn 2020, the researchers examined a wide range of safety guidelines that schools were advised to follow. There were large school-specific variations in safety practices reported by teachers that were not explained by regional differences in the coronavirus situation. Guardians’ perceptions of the daily operations of the schools greatly differed from the situation described by the teachers, but confidence in the operation of the schools was strong. School safety practices were related to whether the school had experienced corona exposures during the autumn, although the epidemiological situation in the area explained the exposures more strongly. According to the study results, schools should continue to adhere to safety practices.
Further, the study paid specific attention to the number of and reasons for student absences and their effects on learning. According to the guardians, there were differences in the remote education received by students in the autumn depending on the reason for the absence from school. Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.
“Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.
In order to achieve equal learning opportunities for students, the researchers proposed that it would be good for schools to consider whether in the future it would be possible to implement distance learning more uniformly for students absent for various reasons. Overall, students with more school absences felt that they received slightly less support to mitigate the effects of the spring exceptional situation and to keep up with their studies. Personal contact from the teacher, even remotely, was related to the student’s experience of receiving support. The researchers stress that schools should therefore continue to pay attention to reaching students personally who are absent for various reasons in when exceptional circumstances continue. Even a short personal interaction with a student during the school day can act as a means of engagement. The researchers pointed out, however, that in general, a large proportion of both primary and lower secondary school students felt that they had received study help from their teacher when they needed it.
School closures, remote learning, and well-being
Furthermore, school practices are important for the well-being of students and families, especially in distance learning situations. According to the study, the stress associated with a child’s schooling was high among guardians during the exceptional circumstances in spring 2020. Although the situation was not yet normal in the autumn, when the schools were generally open, the stress experienced by the parents was clearly less than in the spring.
“It may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future“
Stress experienced by teachers and principals due to their work was generally at the same level in the spring and in the autumn in 2020. In contrast, recovery from work-related stress was easier in the autumn than in the spring. The majority of teachers and principals felt that the school was well or very well prepared to implement remote learning if the school would be closed in the future. There were no regional differences in the responses based on the epidemiological situation in the region. However, school-specific variation was found, and part of it was associated with teachers’ experiences of collective efficacy. The researchers found that collective efficacy experiences are built on shared experiences of success and management. Thus, it may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future. Schools should therefore strive to maintain and strengthen cooperation between teachers and the team spirit of the school, as it can help the school and its staff to cope with this difficult time.
Note: The research on ‘Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland’ is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education
Richard Elmore died peacefully and unexpectedly the night of February 9, 2021. I’ve found myself crying over the past couple weeks remembering Richard’s presence in my life as a mentor, a beloved teacher, and a dear friend. I get teary eyed each time I read over the outpouring of beautiful stories and messages shared in the online memorial site created by his family, and learning more about the powerful presence he had in the lives of so many – family, students, colleagues, and friends. Among the things treasured by those whose lives Richard touched are his sharp intellect, his generous heart, his contagious laughter, his profound respect for and belief in young people, and (especially in his later years) his growing irreverence for the schooling systems that constrain them.
The poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said “People don’t pass away./They die/ and then they stay.” There are many ways in which we can expect Richard to stay with us over decades to come.
Richard’s thinking has and will remain crucial as a reference to those seeking to understand how and under what conditions powerful learning can – and most often doesn’t – happen in schools, in school systems, and beyond. Some of Richard’s key contributions to the field that have stood, and will no doubt continue to stand the test of time include:
Richard’s thinking has and will remain crucial as a reference to those seeking to understand how and under what conditions powerful learning can – and most often doesn’t – happen in schools, in school systems, and beyond.
Positioning the instructional core as the basic unit that our efforts as educators, teachers, school and system leaders should aim to transform fundamentally: “the problems of the system are the problems of the smallest unit”; “if it’s not in the instructional core, it’s not there”; “the real accountability is in the tasks students are asked to do”;
Proposing a “backward-mapping” logic to examine, plan, and carry out education improvement work (starting from what you want to cause and moving gradually from the inside out to adapt the practices, systems and cultures surrounding it as change is underway);
The notion that no amount of external pressure on schools will work in the absence of internal accountability (shared responsibility for improvement within the school) or reciprocal accountability (the responsibility of the system to invest the necessary resources and develop the necessary capacity of educators and leaders to produce the expected results) – “if you push an atomized, incoherent organization with an external accountability system, it will only become more incoherent.”
His more recent exploration of ‘outlier’ groups and organizations that are nurturing and unleashing powerful learning among young people and children (NuVu, Beijing Academy in China, Redes de Tutoría in Mexico).
His dire and sharp critique of the multiple ways in which schooling – the very institution intended to develop our young people’s ability and joy to learn – is getting in the way of powerful learning. (“A major lesson we have learned from attainment-driven models of schooling is that it is possible to disable human beings as learners by convincing them that they do not have the capability to manage their own learning”).
The list goes on, but I don’t intend here to cover the whole range of Richard’s intellectual and public legacy (a more detailed account of his outstanding public service and academic trajectory can be found in this post from the Harvard Graduate School of Education). I will instead share a more personal account of Richard as an example of a Beginner´s Mind, to illustrate how he stands out in the sea of internationally renowned education experts.
Richard knew a lot about schools, school reform, and education policy. And I mean A LOT. For many, students and colleagues alike, his mere presence was intimidating for this very reason. But much more prominent than what he knew was his disposition to learn: his openness to find surprise in the familiar and his willingness – almost eagerness – to put his own thinking to the test. I remember him telling me in one of our shared times in Mexico, with his loud, contagious laughter, how funny it was for him to find that people that organized a series of his talks in South America were shocked to find that he had learned a few new things in the ten previous years. His book I Used to Think… Now I Think is a beautiful collection of essays where prominent education thinkers are asked to describe some of the most important ways that their thinking has changed over the years. About the book, Richard remarked “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”
Richard remarked “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”
Richard’s openness to finding surprise in the familiar is beautifully demonstrated in his habit of visiting classrooms one day every week. This habit, established after decades of studying education reform and policy, became an almost religious practice that opened Richard’s mind to the everyday realities of classroom practice and gave him an unmatched sensitivity and profound understanding of teaching and learning, and the many ways in which education policies with lofty intentions almost invariably miss the mark of affecting the instructional core in any substantive way.
It was Richard’s Beginner’s Mind that led him to accept my invitation to visit Mexico in 2010 to learn about tutoría (the pedagogical practice at the core of the Learning Community Project, also known as Redes de Tutoría). He endured an early morning flight and a ride of over 100 kilometers of bumpy, dusty roads to get to a remote rural community in the State of Zacatecas. Once there, he accepted the invitation of Maricruz, a 13-year-old girl from Santa Rosa to learn geometry with her support as a tutor. He was struck by her confidence and joy as a learner and a teacher, an experience that moved him (and all of us who had the privilege of being in Santa Rosa that day) to tears. It was Richard Beginner’s Mind that saw and named the Learning Community Project as a social movement, an insight that provoked in me what I can only describe as an intellectual awakening. It crystalized and integrated several ideas that had until then felt scattered and disorganized. This insight, a seemingly small side-comment in the vast extension of Richard’s thinking, is now foundational to my thinking and work on educational change.
I don’t know of another academic that is as openly willing – even eager – to prove himself wrong – as Richard was. You can see this in his writing and his public speaking. His book Restructuring in the Classroom with Penelope Peterson and Sarah McCartney is an account of the disintegration of his faith in school restructuring as a strategy for instructional change. Here, he outlines that new school structures do not produce, as he initially believed, the changes in culture required to enhance the learning experience of children in classrooms. In his commentary paper “‘Getting to Scale’… It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time” he reflects back on key flaws of his thinking 20 years earlier, articulated in his classic article “Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice.” In his last interview Richard talked about Instructional Rounds, a practice that he developed with colleagues at Harvard. He said it struck a chord with many school and district leaders, and that it helped them reconnect with their purpose, that it stimulated a lot of action and excitement. But – and here comes the punch line – he came to learn that “there was really not much relationship between satisfaction and impact.”
As the Buddhist tradition suggests, in a Beginner’s Mind lie the keys to a happier life and a healthier connection to others and the world – much needed features of the more conscious lives and the more humane world that we can build.
Richard died in the midst of a profound global crisis, in times where nothing less than the human project is at stake. In the world that we’re leaving behind, many academics have been revered for and built their identities around all they know. Richard’s conscious decision to maintain a Beginner’s Mind even at the pinnacle of his academic stardom shines as a bright light in a dark sea. I hope many of us will find in his example the courage to cultivate a Beginner’s Mind: to engage – as he invited us in his last podcast – in learning to do things we are fully incompetent to do; to be open to the awe of seeing the familiar in a new light; and to welcome with open arms the times when our dearest certainties are proven wrong. As the Buddhist tradition suggests, in a Beginner’s Mind lie the keys to a happier life and a healthier connection to others and the world – much needed features of the more conscious lives and the more humane world that we can build.
In his last years, in addition to taking on painting, Richard brought the attention of his Beginner’s Mind to the future of learning: the latest findings of the neuroscience of learning, the potential role of architectural design to represent and enable diverse models of learning; and the work of outliers in the learning world. His excitement about the future of learning however, grew in a way inversely proportional to his faith in schools and school systems. Richard grew increasingly skeptical about the prospect of schools and school systems becoming effective vehicles to protect and cultivate the extraordinary learning minds of our young people. He grew highly discouraged and impatient with how, to the contrary, compulsory schooling crushes the natural curiosity and joy to learn in children and youth. The last time I saw him in person, during a short visit to Boston, he told me he was working on a book of his latest thinking – one that, he confided to me with a playful smile, would likely upset many people.
Richard left a huge question for us to tackle: Will schools and school systems figure out a way to move away from schooling and cultivate powerful learning instead?
Richard left a huge question for us to tackle: Will schools and school systems figure out a way to move away from schooling and cultivate powerful learning instead? His answer today would be a resounding ‘No’. I hope we’ll be able to prove him wrong on this one. I can picture him, with his Beginner’s Mind, laughing out loud with joy when we do.
Last week, IEN focused on stories describing how educators were responding to the insurrection at the US Capitol. This week, with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, we’ve collected headlines and links for a number of stories that center on what many expect to be a dramatic shift in US education policy. Some of the stories look back, assessing the tenure of Betsy Devos; many look ahead to examine what Miguel Cardona and the new administration might do; and a few look at the roles that Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and others have played and may play in education policy moving forward.
Annually, in January, IEN scans the headlines from our regular sources for reviews of the previous year and predictions for the future (see Rounding up the issues of 2019 and the 2010’s – Part 1 & Part 2 and New year, new predictions?). But, after an incredibly unpredictable 2020, many of the stories we encountered focused on trying to make sense of what happened last year. Below, we’ve rounded up the reviews of 2020 we’ve come across so far. Next week, we will share a collection of articles looking at what policy changes the Biden administration and the nominee for Secretary of Education might bring to schools in the US in 2021.
IEN will be taking a break over the holidays. Wishing everyone a safe and healthy New Year!
TIMSS 2019 Around the World: Headlines announcing the latest results in Math and Science
This week, IEN has collected headlines focusing on the results from the latest release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study of 2019. The press release reported that “science and mathematics achievement is on the rise,” with progress in the percentage of students reaching minimum proficiency as 92% of fourth grade students and 87% of eighth grade students reached TIMSS 2019 Low International Benchmark. At the same time, there is a growing gender gap in 4th grade in math, as boys had higher average scores in almost half of all countries.
In a recent article in Forbes, Tom Vander Ark outlined 15 “invention opportunities” that can support the development of equitable high-quality learning opportunities in the future. Among the fifteen, are challenges to create an “accountability 2.0” and develop the mechanisms that can bring people together to share diverse perspectives and support community agreement on the aims and purposes of education. These mechanisms are essential for fostering the common understanding and collective responsibility that fuel the social movements we need to dismantle systemic racism, create equitable educational opportunities, and transform education.
Re-defining accountability itself serves as a first step in developing these new mechanisms. For too long, accountability in the US has been synonymous with answerability: Answerability reflects the beliefs that individuals and groups should be accountable for meeting clearly specified and agreed-upon procedures and/or goals. Yet the focus on answerability ignores responsibility another crucial aspect of accountability. Responsibility reflects the belief that individuals and groups should be held accountable for living up to and upholding norms of conduct and higher purposes that are often ambiguous and difficult to define in advance.
Individuals and groups should be held accountable for living up to and upholding norms of conduct and higher purposes that are often ambiguous and difficult to define in advance.
Although carefully specifying outcomes that need to be achieved and establishing consequences for failing to meet those targets can increase efficiency, it also ignores many other valued outcomes, and it can undermine the discretion and expert judgment that may be needed to make many decisions. When taken to extremes, this approach spawns a compliance mindset and leads to efforts to game the system that make it look like the goals have been achieved when they haven’t.
At the same time, simply leaving individuals and groups alone is not the same thing as supporting the development of individual or collective responsibility. Developing responsibility also involves developing the capacity—the investments, materials, abilities, commitments, and relationships—needed to carry out responsibilities effectively. In short, accountability comes from the capacity to support a balance between answerability and responsibility.
Finland’s PISA scores have slipped a bit in recent years, its education system still excels in many respects and continues to stand out as one of the most equitable high-performing systems. Even though many analyses highlight the autonomy of teachers as central to that performance, those analyses often fail to mention several other key aspects of Finland’s education system that support the development of the relationships, trust, and common understanding in education so central to developing collective responsibility and achieving equitable outcomes:
A well-established social-welfare state that supports all members of society by connecting education, health, social services, and other sectors
A national curriculum framework and a strong, coherent infrastructure of facilities, materials, assessment and preparation programs to support teaching and learning
A curriculum renewal process in which stakeholders from all parts of society participate in reflecting on and revising the curriculum framework
The use of a variety of high-quality informal and formal assessments that inform efforts to improve practices and performance throughout the education system
The Finnish approach to assessment plays a particularly important role in supporting the development of common understanding and common aims. That approach includes diagnostic and classroom-based assessments that elementary teachers can use early in children’s school careers to identify those who may need some additional help with academics and to ensure that all students stay on track. In secondary schools, well-known exit exams anchor and focus the system. The National Board of Education in Finland also regularly gives tests to samples of students and schools, providing an overview of national and regional performance in key subjects, such as Finnish and mathematics. Although the National Board doesn’t use that information for ranking (and can’t, because not all students and schools are assessed), it shares school-level information with the schools that participate and municipal-level data with the municipalities involved. In addition, the National Board makes these sample assessments widely available for free, so that any teacher, school, or municipality that wants to administer these tests can do so. As a consequence, even without national testing, Finnish schools and municipalities have government-paid tools that link directly to the core curriculum that they can use to benchmark their performance against regional and national samples.
Under these conditions, students don’t have to pass tests that require them to demonstrate proficiency by third grade; they hardly ever “fail” or have to be held back; and most students reach at least a basic level of educational achievement. At the same time, this approach both supports considerable autonomy for educators and schools and builds the common connections that steer the system toward broad education goals without having to rely heavily on rewards or punishments.
This approach contrasts sharply with those in contexts like the US that focus almost exclusively on answerability by using tests to hold teachers, school leaders, and schools “accountable” for reaching specified benchmarks and other outcomes. Rather than using assessments to look back to see whether educators did what they were supposed to do, educators and system leaders in Finland use assessments to look forward and to see if people, classes, and schools are headed in the right direction. Such an approach doesn’t require data on every single aspect of student, teacher, or school performance, but it depends on making sure no one gets too far off course. It means using assessment to look for outliers and listening for signs of trouble, not to check on each individual, or make sure everything is done a certain way or in a certain timeline. In the process, Finland supports the development of the collective responsibility central to guiding education into an unpredictable future.
Rather than using assessments to look back to see what educators did we need to use assessments to look forward and to see if people, classes, and schools are headed in the right direction.
New technologies, artificial intelligence, and many other kinds of innovations can help to improve education. But those technical achievements will not accomplish much without the personal commitments and broader social movements that can transform our communities. If we are truly going to develop collective responsibility in education, then we have to develop collective responsibility for education. We have to hold ourselves, our elected officials, and our communities accountable for making the changes in our society that will end segregation and discrimination, create equitable educational opportunities, and provide the support that everyone needs to thrive.
This is the sixth in a series of interviews inviting some of the authors of earlier Lead the Change interviews to review their previous responses and consider how they might modify/ adjust/add to what they wrote based on their experiences and insights since publication. The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website along with the original interview from 2015.
Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?
Helen Janc Malone: First of all, congratulations to the Educational Change SIG on 100+ issues of the Lead the Change Series! Kudos to Drs. Santiago Rincon-Gallardo, Kristin Kew, Osnat Fellus, and Jennie Weiner on their editorial contributions to take the series to the next level. When the newsletter first started, we sought to create a place for members to dialogue about the latest research, emerging questions, and possibilities for further field advancement. I am humbled that the series continues to serve as that platform.
In the 49th issue I spoke in part about the out-of-school time field and the importance of bridging youth development and educational change fields, “What this means is that educational change must pay attention to how we create both the conditions and vehicles for authentic experiences that support student learning and development at the center.” My views from five years ago have only been reaffirmed—linking fields that serve the same students in order to complement experiences of school and out-of-school learning is essential.
There has been significant research in both fields that could inform and reinforce each other’s approaches on the relationship between system design and opportunities to high-quality education access, and by the growing evidence about the importance of cross-actor collaboration as a vehicle for educational change. The research on out-of-school time learning, for instance, has offered new approaches to cultivating authentic student voice in education, to building strong school-community partnerships, and to equity and access in learning. Educational change has started to address the importance of family and community voices within schools and in supporting teaching and learning. Taken together, we now have substantial evidence about connecting the school day with nonformal and informal learning, with strong family and community engagement, and with community services that provide well-rounded, positive, and developmentally appropriate learning experiences through the day.
Having spent nearly twenty years contributing to various domestic and international research networks and creating outlets for knowledge translation, I have observed evolving conversations about the need to authentically engage community partners in educational change efforts in order to facilitate student learning, especially in the face of rising societal inequities that manifest themselves most starkly through persistent resource and opportunity constraints. Today’s unprecedented times in some ways, demand that we further create intentional spaces for research exchange while simultaneously interrogating our collective assumptions about whether our existing structures support the desired outcomes we seek for the most vulnerable student populations.
LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?
HJM: As someone who has been a part of youth leadership development work, comprehensive school reform efforts, out-of-school time learning, community schools strategy, and educational change field, I have witnessed within these spheres a commitment to change that is adaptive and responsive to various actors within and outside schools. At the same time, I have observed that education policies enacted in the U.S. and abroad approach supporting students, and in particular, vulnerable populations, using simultaneously cyclical, continuous, and emerging perspectives. Cyclical, because in education policy, we have witnessed an oscillating dynamic of public dollar investments in the instructional core as the sole driver of educational change and looking broadly at the role various actors play to support teaching and learning. The investment priorities have at times positioned dollars for an in-school approach as an either/or proposition to a coordinated services approach. Yet, we know from practice, the answer is that students benefit when we as a society invest both teaching and learning for equity and supportive learning environments outside of the classroom.
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">While public policy has navigated the narrow/broader debate to educational investments, there have been long standing, though perhaps more discrete sustained efforts to create authentic whole child services that advance learning and positive youth development. Communities engaged in these efforts display a core belief that teaching does not happen in isolation, and that a holistic approach stands to benefit students, families, teachers, and communities. And finally, especially during time of focusing events, we have observed moments of (re)discovery that necessitate a broader approach to education. These shifts of what approach will lead to the most meaningful and lasting educational change will likely continue into the future unless we flip the debate and start with a foundation centered on equity and students and the facilitating factors that support thriving children and youth. And, that piece is on us to lift up in our research, in practice, and in informing policy.While public policy has navigated the narrow/broader debate to educational investments, there have been long standing, though perhaps more discrete sustained efforts to create authentic whole child services that advance learning and positive youth development. Communities engaged in these efforts display a core belief that teaching does not happen in isolation, and that a holistic approach stands to benefit students, families, teachers, and communities. And finally, especially during time of focusing events, we have observed moments of (re)discovery that necessitate a broader approach to education. These shifts of what approach will lead to the most meaningful and lasting educational change will likely continue into the future unless we flip the debate and start with a foundation centered on equity and students and the facilitating factors that support thriving children and youth. And, that piece is on us to lift up in our research, in practice, and in informing policy.
“Teaching does not happen in isolation…a holistic approach stands to benefit students, families, teachers, and communities.”
LtC: What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?
HJM: In the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic there is an opportunity to re-imagine education that supports all students, and in particular, student populations that the current system does not serve well. Rather than create a ‘new normal’ that maintains the status quo, we (collectively) could approach this moment from a redesign frame and think deeply as to what we want in and from our education environments. This includes determining the conditions we want for learning, approaches to schooling, to the students’ experiences themselves. We have an opportunity to closely examine the purpose[s] of schooling, the pedagogical approaches to learning, the role external partners play to support and facilitate student development, the fiscal [in]equity in education, as well as systemic alignment with and across a student’s day and life. How we respond to these areas of consideration will be shaped by who is in the conversation. We need to be sure that the proverbial table includes voices that ultimate benefit from the educational changes we collectively seek – children, youth, families, teachers, and community partners. Local communities should be an essential partner in these conversations. Systems are not designed to change overnight, and in many ways, they are designed to resist rapid and discontinuous change, so having conversations regarding the future of education should be the focus of our present, in order to maintain a sense of urgency, obligation, and necessity, while also coupling practice, research, and advocacy to advance new directions.
The Educational Change SIG is well positioned to lead these conversations, as the core of what we do is to explore, examine, and engage in the change processes at all levels. Some of the scholars highlighted in the Lead the Change series have both led and researched within- and cross-sector systemic changes that redefined the narrative on teaching and learning, roles and responsibilities, lifted up local voices and sought educational justice. We could model the conversations that surface deep structural work, to learn from each other across continents, and to lift up innovations that we see make a significant difference in students’ lives. As a global community, we have the power of collective voice to share lessons of the past, the possibilities for the future, and considerations for education at large.
“As a global community, we have the power of collective voice to share lessons of the past, the possibilities for the future, and considerations for education at large.”
LtC: What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?
HJM: There is a renewed urgency in our work. As John Kingdon’s (1984) classic work, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, reminds us, we have a policy window, an opportunity to potentially see new policies enacted at all levels that address the needs of learners. As noted in the previous question’s response, we are in a global moment where countries across continents are taking a deeper look into their teaching and learning practices, their systems, designs, institutional arrangements, and funding for education. There is a pressing need to be informed by innovation, research, and promising practices. As a global SIG, affecting change starts with listening, sharing, and collaborating. First, we have a shared responsibility to engage the field to look for allies in learning that play a critical role in students’ success and positive development. Second, we have a responsibility to bring attention to the political, social, and historical dimensions of educational change. The SIG’s scholars have done due diligence in examining the educational change process from various aspects, structural, institutional, and individual. Their scholarship can contribute to our shared understanding of the why, what, and how of education improvement and policy change for the current moment. And, as I noted in the 49th issue, we have an opportunity to join other SIGs in a collective voice for the change we seek in our communities and across systems.
LtC: What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?
HJM: I’ll note three that immediately come to mind given the current global context. First, we should take note of who is leading during these times of rapid change. In many respects, the immediate responses to directly support students has been at the local level, with school districts, principals and staff, teachers, families, and community allies working together so that students have access to food and basic supplies, health services, WiFi, and online lessons for continuous learning. We should unpack the ways our schools and local communities innovated during these challenging times, what can we learn from their responses about leadership, about change management, about innovation, and look for ways to authentically engage local voices in the shared research so that our work is informing local contexts and we in term, learn from them.
Second, educational change intersects with cross-sectoral issues—equity, racial justice, climate—and thus, we stand to benefit by learning from these issues and associated social movements to understand the macro forces that are shaping what we see inside classrooms, as well as how we can rethink education in the broader context. And, third, this period has given us an important inflection point to examine whether our ‘go-to’ leadership and change theories we apply to understand various education phenomena remain both relevant and adequate given the transformative nature of recent events, or whether this is an opportunity to expand upon the leadership theories, as well as to develop new frameworks and theoretical underpinnings to guide educational change in the future.
ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung Kim, Graduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.
This week’s post features a Lead the Change interview with Carol Campbell (@CarolCampbell4), Associate Professor of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Campbell is a member of the International Council of Education Advisors for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Government. She has held education, academic and government roles in Canada, the UK and the USA
Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?
Carol Campbell: Re-reading my 2014 Lead the Change Q & A, there are many points I still consider to be important and there is much that continues into my current work – the importance of educational system improvement for excellence and equity, the role of research and evidence-informed policy and practice, and the need to carefully attend to the processes of educational change balancing and valuing professional voice, agency, and judgement alongside the role of government directions, policies, and resources. In my 2014 comments, I said:
There remain perennial issues of how to truly achieve educational excellence and equity, and there will be new emerging issues associated with global and local changes.
Over the following six years, there have indeed been changes in the field of educational change. Below, I highlight some evolutions in my work since my 2014 Q &A.
First, evolutions in my work concerning the substance of educational change. In 2014, Ontario had just established a new vision for education – expanding the previous focus on raising achievement and closing gaps in performance to become a broader vision of excellence, equity, and well-being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). It is clear that alongside the importance of academic achievement, persisting systemic and structural inequities in access, opportunities, and outcomes from schooling, and increased prevalence of mental and emotional health issues for students and staff require priority attention (Campbell, 2020a). These issues need new, and additional, educational priorities, strategies, and resources. The genuine quest to improve equity and well-being for students requires also fundamentally rethinking the core of schooling and classroom practices too. For example, in our review of Ontario’s assessment system (see Campbell, Clinton et al., 2018), our recommendations for changes to support teachers’ approaches to student assessments for their classes and to transform large-scale standardized testing have implications also for: student voice, agency, equity and diversity; professional judgement and pedagogy; curriculum; integration of technology; and communication and engagement with parents or guardians.
Second, shifts in my work about the processes by which educational changes are developed, implemented, and evaluated. In 2014, I wrote:
The next phase of Ontario’s change strategies will require further evolution… in valuing, developing and integrating educators’ leadership, voices, capacities and actions.
That idea turned out to be very important. By 2014, the limits of top down reform were increasingly apparent internationally and also in Ontario. In the Ontario collective bargaining negotiations between teachers’ federations, school boards, and the government in the 2014 period, priority issues included initiative overload, workload, and work intensification. Agreement was reached to establish a joint working group involving all education and related organizations and government to co-develop new ways of working between labor and management. The resulting Policy and Program Memorandum (PPM) formally enshrined Collaborative Professionalism:
In Ontario, collaborative professionalism is defined as professionals – at all levels of the education system – working together, sharing knowledge, skills and experience to improve student achievement and well-being of both students and staff. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 1)
In my recent research both in Canada and internationally, there is growing and substantial evidence indicating the importance of valuing, investing in, developing, and trusting the education profession to lead educational change. This approach benefits not only the people who work in education, but also, importantly, the students they serve and wider system improvement (Campbell, Osmond-Johnson et al., 2017; Campbell, Zeichner et al., 2017; Campbell, Lieberman et al., 2018; Cordingley et al., 2019; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Lieberman et al., 2017).
Such educational change processes have, however, been challenged by austerity and adversity towards the education profession in many contexts, including Ontario during 2018-20. As we look around the world at governments who have attempted to mandate austerity and created adversity for the education profession, we find these change efforts generally do not succeed in bringing about long-term successful and sustainable change. When professional judgement, agency and empowerment have been developed; governments cannot unilaterally revert to top-down mandates. Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices. The need for professionalism and teacher leadership are especially important in the context of the global pandemic, as discussed further below. Therefore, my work has shifted in considering professionally-led educational change and collaborative professionalism in times of support for innovation and improvement, challenges of austerity and adversity, and now to prioritize professional judgement and professional capital in responding to the educational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices.”
LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?
CC: In terms of the substance of educational change, the field is becoming both broader and more diffuse in the range of policies and practice being researched; yet it is also becoming more precise and deeper in seeking to unpack the realities, implications, and possibilities of educational change. Increasingly, schools and educators are being asked to do more to meet the current and predicted future needs of students in a rapidly changing global and economic context, for example, by considering the competencies and skills to be incorporated into curricula, pedagogy, assessments and integration of technology. Teachers are also being asked to meet the increasing diversity of student populations and complexity of educational, mental, emotional, and physical needs present in classrooms. Already emerging in the light of COVID-19 is an expanding range of educational, health, and social needs for students and staff – from the logistics of physical distancing, hand washing, and hygiene in schools to how to address issues of trauma, anxiety and well-being for students and staff, and how to ensure adequate and equitable access to quality teaching and learning whether at home or in school (Campbell, 2020b).
Regarding the processes of educational change, the now long-standing tensions between bottom up and top down reform have not fully gone away but they have shifted somewhat in current evidence and debate. I have been a contributor to the ‘Flip The System’ movement – which prioritizes and values teacher-led educational change rather than top-down government directives – from the start (Elmers & Kneyber, 2015) and this is growing in momentum. For example, the findings from both TALIS and PISA emphasize the importance of professional ownership and leadership of educational change (Schleicher, 2019, 2020). There are examples of countries, including Scotland where I am a member of the International Council of Education Advisors, taking this shift to a professionally-led education system seriously. At the same time, there is still the tendency of many governments to mandate, micro-manage, and expand the scope and details of influence they seek over the day-to-day work of educators. In the emergency rapid response to COVID-19, it is understandable that governments made decisions quickly; however, this mode of governing needs to be re-balanced through partnership with the education profession whose leadership, knowledge and judgement are essential to protecting and educating all students (Education International, 2020).
LtC:What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?
CC: I am excited about the vibrancy and growth of the educational change community. As a field, educational change has become established over time while also evolving as a wider range of people becoming actively involved in investigating a diverse range of topics to grow the field further. My 2014 Q & A included discussion of research, policy and practice connections, I am excited to see the growth of ‘boundary spanners’ who work collaboratively within and across these communities and the increasing number of ‘pracademics’ – practitioners and policy-makers who are researching, writing, active on social media, and speaking out about educational change. Nevertheless, we have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field; including those of us who are already established scholars in the field introducing, encouraging, mentoring, sponsoring and collaborating with people who are currently under-represented in the field, for example Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students and practitioners. These connections and intersections are vital.
“We have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field.”
“Excites” is not the appropriate verb, but if we go to the Latin origin of “call forth”, the implications and impact of COVID-19 for educational change cannot be understated. At the height of the pandemic, over 91% of students globally were not in school and 63 million teachers were affected (UNESCO, 2020a, 2020b). The human tragedy and trauma of COVID-19 are horrendous and our first duty is to protect people and save lives. As countries start to shift from emergency response remote learning to what the provision of education for school children will look like and require whether at home, in school, or blended learning; there are significant questions about all aspects of schooling, teaching, and learning (Campbell, 2020b; Osmond-Johnson et al., 2020). The immediate COVID-19 response suspended many of the traditional conventions, structures, and routines of schooling – these emergency responses should not necessarily become the ‘new normal’ but neither should there be a full return to the previous status quo.
Long-standing and new inequities for students and schools have been brought into very sharp attention currently. As I write this, anti-racism, particularly anti-Black racism, protests are happening in every state of the USA and around the world. In my home country of Canada, systemic and structural racism, including anti-Black racism, are long-standing issues too that have not been fully addressed by our governments and school systems (Campbell, 2020a). It is also one year since the publication of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which concluded: “this violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples” (MMIWG, 2019, p. 1). This report further amplified the Calls to Action from the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 2015) investigating the historical trauma and legacy of abuse and violence perpetrated by the Residential School system for Indigenous people.
With the new challenges of a global pandemic combined with the unacceptably long-standing history of inequities, injustices, and systemic and structural racism which are being brought to the fore right now; part of the solution must be in and from the education system. If ever there was a time for a serious rethinking of the purposes, structures, content, processes and outcomes of schooling and the need for evidence-informed educational change, it is now. I hope the educational change community will be ‘called forth’ to rise to this incredible and urgent challenge to collaborate to generate ideas, provide evidence, and to offer concrete suggestions to create new possibilities for genuinely equitable and excellent education systems which also embody a duty of care, protection and well-being for all people (students and staff) involved.
LtC:What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?
CC: Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people. Of course, when you work to bring about change there are a host of educational, political, and practical factors involved. Educational change should also be evidence-informed, drawing on research and data, professional expertise and judgement, and engagement of affected communities.
“Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people.”
My advice is to always be very thoughtful about the human dimensions and implications of whatever change you are attempting. This includes:
working in partnership to identify needs and priorities for change;
engaging collaboratively in mutually respectful interactions to co-develop plans and details for change;
supporting and trusting the people who will be directly involved in the day-to-day development, adaptation and implementation of changes;
considering as many possible potential consequences (positive, negative, intended and unintended) before actually proceeding with change; and
having those continuing, trusting relationships to listen, learn, revise, or even abandon changes due to the emerging experiences and evidence.
The purpose of education is the betterment of humanity and that applies to both the substance and processes of educational change (Campbell, 2018).
LtC:What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?
CC: There are many potential and important future research directions. We have been living with many tensions in educational change – for example:
a rapidly changing world, yet the tendency for changes in curriculum and assessment systems to be slow, incremental, and often additive rather than transformative;
the commitment to be inclusive, culturally responsive, support diversity and advance equity, yet unacceptable continued evidence concerning systemic, structural and sustained inequities in and from schooling;
the rise of the importance of leadership and professional judgement throughout all levels of the education system, yet the complex and contested balance between the exercise of formal and informal power and authority;
the desire to learn how to appropriately integrate and manage technology and online media in teaching, learning and the work of the profession, yet ever increasing needs to mitigate the ethical, privacy, and safety risks involved;
the growing recognition of the importance of well-being for students and staff, yet changing pressures in students’ lives and work intensification for educators contributing to stress, anxiety, and related health issues, which are compounded by the profound impact of COVID-19.
It is even more urgent now to address these priorities specifically to understand the details of changes needed for each issue and holistically for interconnected, substantial changes in education systems.
We are witnessing educational change during a global pandemic combined with protests and social movements advocating for significant change to address long-standing discrimination and inequities. It is an extremely difficult time for many people. No one has all of the answers, so more than ever we need to come together as a global community to learn from each other. We know from history that from times of ruptures in society, social movements calling for action, and paradigm shifts in knowledge; change will evolve. I encourage the educational change community to be proactive in considering and supporting the possibilities for constructive, positive future changes.
Campbell, C.(2018). Developing teacher leadership and collaborative professionalism to flip the system: Reflections from Canada. In D.M.
Netolicky, J. Andres & C. Paterson. Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education. London, UK: Routledge.
Campbell, C., Zeichner, K., Osmond-Johnson, P. & Lieberman, A. with Hollar, J., Pisani, S. & Sohn, J. (2017). Empowered educators in Canada: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A.L., Hammerness, K., Low, E.L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M. & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching 1uality around the world. San Francisco, CA:Jossey Bass.
Elmers, J. & Kneyber, R. (Eds.) (2015). Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up. London, UK: Routledge.
Lieberman, A., Campbell, C. & Yashkina, A. (2017) Teacher learning and leadership: of, by and for teachers. London, UK: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) (2019). Reclaiming power and place: Executive summary of the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Canada: MMIWG.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2014). Achieving excellence: A renewed vision for education in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the truth and reconciliation Commission of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: TRC.
ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change SIG, Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung Kim, Graduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.