This week IEN features the October Lead the Change (LTC) interview with Helen Janc Malone (@HelenJancMalone), Vice President for Research and Innovation at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and the National Director of the Education Policy Fellowship Program. Among her books, Malone is a former Chair of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and helped to launch the Lead the Change series. She also served at the editor of Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform, a collection of many of the first interviews produced for the LtC series.
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.