What Do You Mean…Ask the Kids?


Note: This is not the most eloquent piece of writing that I’ve shared on this blog.  It deals, however, with an issue far more important than my eloquence as a writer.  It deals with the consequences replacing deep analysis of serious problems with the superficial… the superficial look at serious problems and the rush to gather “points” for pandering to various belief systems in the quest for continued political power..  The cost of this folly is the continued erosion of the education of our children in a functioning system of public education.  

Earlier today I read a piece dealing with guess what?… the teacher shortage.  Surprise! Surprise!  I don’t know about you but I’ve about had it with the latest media “click bait”.  After pretty much exhausting our willingness to read more articles and opinions about COVID caused  “learning loss”, the tentacles of COVID have once again claimed front page status.  

Recently, the editorial board of NJ.Com, arguably the state’s largest source for news, offered yet another teacher shortage editorial entitled N.J. Schools are scrambling to recruit teachers. Why is it so hard? /Q&A” 

The piece begins with the assertion that some schools say they are “facing a daunting teacher shortage”, most notably in subjects like math, science and special education. NOTE: To be fair, there is also much being written about the shortage of, and need for, mental health professionals. The piece was written and published by the paper’s editorial board and provided insights offered by Christopher Morphew, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education.  My own conversations with former colleagues not yet enjoying the luxury of retirement have verified these concerns.  My purpose in sharing thoughts here is not to dispute the reality of teacher shortages. What captured my attention was a response provided by Morphew to the question: “What is the cause of this problem? Why aren’t there enough teachers?”

Morphew: The biggest, most obvious one is that for the last ten or so years, or even longer, there have been a shrinking number of teacher candidates, and students interested in going into education as a field. That’s down 30, 35 [SIC] percent nationally, and in some states as much as 70 and 80 percent.

It’s a less desirable field relative to other professional fields that have seen growth. And education is becoming highly politicized, to the point where choosing to enter this profession is choosing to enter a battleground, if you will. You are denigrated, your ethics are questioned, your skills are questioned, and you’re increasingly expected to take on the role of nurse, and psychologist and therapist. In many situations you’e not trained for that.

So the working conditions are challenging, the politics are challenging, there are other more desirable fields to enter into, and when you have all that besides a pandemic, that’s a pretty volatile mix for attrition rates.

This was an excellent analysis of the issues relating to concerns about teacher shortages and quality. It also added a topic that has been omitted in most analyses… the reality that this decline in teachers has been in process for some time now and, while exacerbated by the pandemic and its ramifications, it is not exclusively a COVID related issue.  In this piece I will offer an additional area for consideration while, in as gentle a way as possible, I’ll question the wisdom and qualifications of those currently offering what can only laughably be termed “solutions”.

I’ll begin with what, to some, may seem a challenging assertion.   

It begins with the recognition of what continues to be a national (if not international) issue…our penchant for valuing quick analyses and solutions/proposals rather the commitment of time and thoroughness required for an investment in/commitment to longer term problem analysis and solution development. The majority (if not all) of the writings about the problem of teacher shortage focus on decisions being made by adults about their choice to enter, not to enter,  or to leave the job market via early retirement or career change. There is general agreement that the shortage issue is related to one of two issues: the number of teachers leaving the profession or the number applicants for teacher preparation programs. My intent here is to focus on the drop in applicants pursuing teacher preparation. 

This focus led me to what seemed an obvious question.  Who has been left out of the analysis and discussions? As has become our practice, we tend to exclude from conversations regarding solutions the very people most involved in and affected by the decision.  Historically, a very large number of students who have traditionally made the decision to pursue a career teaching have done so before entering teacher preparation programs – i.e., They most frequently make these decisions during the school years and do so closely related to their own experience with teachers.   What if we explored this? What would happen if this were of sufficient importance to have the voices of our students heard as they share about their decision making process to and allow this to be a critical part of the problem analysis?

What If…

What if we discovered (and I believe we will) that far fewer students, while still in high school, are deciding to become teachers? What if we discovered that experiencing 30+ years of “school reform” has taught students that they want no part of seemingly endless days and hours of test prep and assessment taking, no part of the stress they see daily in the adults around them, no part of the loss co- and extra-curricular programing (the things they liked most about the school experiences)? What if we examined the precipitous drop in enrollment in teacher education programs over this 30 year period by actually speaking with those who turned away from choosing teaching as a career? What would the voices of those who actually experienced the past decades of “education reform” tell us?  Would such an approach not add significantly to the discussion about possible responses to our current needs? 

What if we spent less time arguing whether or not people in the military, folks with EMT certification, folks without teaching preparation training, etc. should be allowed to “teach”?

What if we devoted time to interviewing and listening to students who actually make decisions about their future? Couldn’t we/Shouldn’t we at least try?


“From my cold, dead hands”

Charlton Heston, May 2000 NRA National Convention

It’s been a long time between blogs.  I could take up some space here with explanations but that would waste time better spent reading and reflecting on the eloquence of an 11 year old student and the emotion of a mother who, on that fateful day, had decided to leave her child in Robb Elementary School after she attended her daughter’s awards assembly. 

What follows appeared in The Texas Tribune a non-profit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

WASHINGTON — Miah Cerrillo, an 11-year-old in fourth grade who survived the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, said she covered herself in another student’s blood to trick the shooter into thinking she was already dead.

Cerrillo, wearing a sunflower tank top and her hair pulled back into a ponytail, spoke softly as she answered questions for 2 minutes on video about what she endured that day in the classroom, just a few weeks after she witnessed her friends and teacher die in a deadly school shooting.

“He shot my teacher and told my teacher good night and shot her in the head,” she said in the prerecorded video. “And then he shot some of my classmates and the white board.”

That day Cerrillo said she and her classmates were watching a movie. Her teacher received an email and then got up to lock the door — that’s when made eye contact with the gunman in the hallway, Cerrillo said.

At that point, the teacher told the students to “go hide.” Cerrillo hid behind her teacher’s desk among the backpacks. The shooter then shot “the little window,” presumably part of the door to the hallway. She said the gunman entered a neighboring classroom and was able to access her classroom through an adjoining door. That’s when he started shooting.

One of the students who was shot, a friend of hers, was next to her among the backpacks.

“I thought [the gunman] was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood and I put it all over me,” she said.

She said she “stayed quiet” and then she grabbed her teacher’s phone and called 911.

“I told [the operator] that we need help and to send the police [to my] classroom,” she said.

Kimberly Rubio, a newspaper reporter and the mother of 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, who died that day, described dropping her children off at the school and attending end-of-school-year awards ceremonies that morning.

Kimberly Rubio, a newspaper reporter and the mother of 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, who died that day, described bringing her daughter to school and attending end-of-school-year awards ceremonies that morning.“I left my daughter at that school and that decision will haunt me for the rest of my life,” she said, as she testified in a video recording sitting next to her stone-faced husband, Felix Rubio.

She called for a ban on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, raising the age to purchase certain guns, keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, stronger background checks and to repeal gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

What Mrs. Rubio did not share was the experience of the physicians who prepared to treat the wounded. What they shared was something that once seen can never be unseen… what they saw were not children to be treated by corpses of little children… children who had been decapitated by the bullets that killed them, children, so mutilated, that they could only be identified by their clothing .

I offer the following for your consideration… a society that can place profit, an ideological-based interpretations of a 200 year old document, and/or partisan power strategies over the lives of its children is tragically broken.  

I began this piece with words taken from a speech by Charlton Heston. After its reception in remarks he offered in 1989, the final words of his talk became the rallying cry for the NRA and its members. One particularly high-profile use was in the speech he gave at the NRA’s May 20, 2000 annual convention, which came during the 2000 presidential campaign and garnered considerable media attention.

In that speech, Heston criticized Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore for his support of stronger gun control laws.

At the end, he lifted the flintlock he was given in 1989 over his head and said:

“As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’” 

Do we really want to be the country that rallies anti-gun control actions around “from their cold, little bodies?

To “CRT” or not to “CRT”

Note: Summer is usually a more relaxing time of year for both educators and parents.  While still not a “normal” time, we return to a time when kids are supposed to be at home (as opposed to our forced remote learning experience) and we are supposed to be able to sit down a bit and catch up on overdue relaxation.  I want to take a bit of this precious time and share with you several posts that have made a deep impression, both as an educator and as a parent. As I’ve shared in this space previously, Dr. James Ryan offered in his commencement  speech in 2016 (Harvard Graduate School of Education) that one of the most critical questions we can ask is “What Matters?”  As you read this post, I urge you to do so with that question in mind. What we choose to offer to our kids as learning experiences reflects our understanding of the purpose of education.  It’s a question which must be answered first and which deserves far more time than we’re allotting.

This  piece is from one of my favorite people.  If you’ve been following my work, you’ve undoubtedly read of my admiration for Jan Resseger. Jan is a gifted writer, a thorough researcher and am inspirational person.  In this piece Jan, too, suggests the need for reflection on the purpose question.  

Each of her blog pieces begins with this banner…

“That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children…. is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination…. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose… tied to one another by a common bond.” —Senator Paul Wellstone — March 31, 2000

She lives this belief much as Nancy Flanagan suggests for each of us.  Here is Jan’s post .  In it, Jan looks at the controversy surrounding the ways in which the history of our country (and, by extension, that of other countries as well) can be communicated to our children. Using her exceptional research skills, Jan has provided food for reflection on what has become a “flash point” for discussions about what learning experiences and opportunities might look like in a democratic country.

The History of Public Education Demonstrates the Importance of Understanding the Implications of Racism

Posted on July 21, 2021 by janresseger

Conservative legislatures and state boards of education across the states are trying to prohibit what they call the teaching of “critical race theory,” which these far-right ideologues are redefining as any ideas that might make white Americans uncomfortable.  At the same time, on Monday, the NY Times featured an article about a tragic violation of our nation’s declared values of equality and justice for all—the century long mandate that American Indian children be enrolled in U.S. government-run boarding schools. Children were taken forcibly from their families and communities and sent, often far away, to boarding schools designed to force them to assimilate into the American dominant culture.

In a stunning history, Education for Extinction, David Wallace Adams describes the establishment in the 1870s of mandatory boarding schools for American Indian children and the philosophy of education that defined their purpose: “The word was civilization. European and American societies were civilized; Indians on the other hand, were savages… Indians must be taught the knowledge, values, mores, and habits of Christian civilization… The first priority was to provide the Indian child with the rudiments of an academic education….  Second, Indians needed to be individualized… In the philanthropic mind Indians were savages mainly because tribal life placed a higher value on the tribal community than individual interests… Education should facilitate individualization in two ways. First, it should teach young Indians how to work… But teaching Indians how to work was not enough. In the end, they must be inculcated with the values and beliefs of possessive individualism. They must come to respect the importance of private property… and they must come to realize that the accumulation of personal wealth is a moral obligation… The third aim of Indian education was Christianization.” (Education for Extinction, pp. 12-23)

The Boarding Schools’ purpose was forcing assimilation. Students were punished for using their primary languages and forced to speak English. They were given “American” names. This week’s NY Times story describes Dzabahe, a young Navajo girl renamed “Bessie Smith” by her boarding school: “The last day Dzabahe remembers praying in the way of her ancestors was on the morning in the 1950s when she was taken to the boarding school… Within hours of arriving at the school, she was told not to speak her own Navajo language. The leather skirt her mother had sewn for her and the beaded moccasins were taken away and bundled in plastic, like garbage. She was given a dress to wear and her long hair was cut—something that is taboo in Navajo culture.  Before she was sent to the dormitory, one more thing was taken: her name.”

The boarding schools for American Indian children represent one example of the ways the United States contradicted its founding promise that all are created equal and all are worthy of liberty and justice  In his profound book, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, James D. Anderson begins by acknowledging the blindness, bias, and misunderstandings that have defined the project of expanding the meaning of equal education for our nation’s children: “The history of American education abounds with themes that represent the inextricable ties between citizenship in a democratic society and popular education. It is crucial for an understanding of American educational history, however, to recognize that within American democracy there have been classes of oppressed people and that there have been essential relationships between popular education and the politics of oppression. Both schooling for democratic citizenship and schooling for second-class citizenship have been basic traditions in American education.

These opposing traditions were not, as some would explain, the difference between the mainstream of American education and some aberrations or isolated alternatives. Rather, both were fundamental American conceptions of society and progress, occupied the same time and space, were fostered by the same governments, and usually were embraced by the same leaders.”(The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, p. 1)

American Indian boarding schools are now a thing of the past, but today we have a lot of work to do before we can move forward to address injustices.  We must find a way to understand the truth of our history in spite of today’s ideologues who insist that what Anderson calls “the politics of oppression” never existed and certainly does not operate today. In a powerful new book, Scripting the Moves: Culture & Control in a ‘No-Excuses’ Charter School, Vanderbilt University ethnologist Joannne Golann dissects the biases she uncovered in her 18 month study of the culture of one of today’s no-excuses charter schools, which she identifies with a pseudonym, “Dream Academy.”  Although Dream Academy’s staff believe they are imparting social capital and so-called “middle class values” to their mostly African American students, Golann’s research demonstrates that the no-excuses school inculcates in children a very different understanding of their social place and their rights than the sense of entitlement possessed by more privileged children. “(W)e can interpret the rigid behavioral scripts employed by no-excuses schools as in line with a long history of managing poor youth of color through social control, surveillance, and punishments. The poor have long been viewed as intractable, in need of guidance and reform.” (p. 14)

Golann continues: “Instead of putting the onus on schools and teachers to provide the extra supports to help all students achieve, the no-excuses philosophy was reinterpreted in the context of the school’s behavioral script to mean, as reflected in… (a) teacher’s words, ‘holding students responsible for their character and their actions and their education.’ This perspective attributes the failures of urban schools to low-income Black and Latino children who are seen as lacking the right attitudes and values (like hard work, diligence, personal responsibility) to be successful and sees success as holding these children to tighter expectations.” (p. 40) “As students learned to adhere to the school’s demanding scripts in order to gain privileges, they developed what I call a sense of earning… A sense of earning, however, contrasts with a sense of entitlement, which sociologist Annette Lareau has identified as a middle-class mindset…  Schools… cater to middle-class White families, positioning them as ‘consumers’ whose needs ought to be attended to rather than ‘beneficiaries’ who should be grateful for the privilege of attending the school.” (p. 46)

In a profound 1998 book, Common Schools: Uncommon Identities, Walter Feinberg, professor emeritus of educational philosophy at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, considers the urgent importance of a critical approach to the teaching of the nation’s history: “To be an American, that is, to submit to the nation’s laws, is different than to identify oneself as an American and to participate in the public will formations that determine the direction of national action and inaction. This identification is active and requires an engagement with interpretations of events that comprise the American story. That there is an ‘American story’ means not that there is one official understanding of the American experience but, rather, that those who are telling their versions of the story are doing so in order to contribute to better decision making on the part of the American nation and that they understand that they are part of those decisions. The concept is really ‘Americans’ stories’…  This means, among other things, that students must learn about the various meanings that people from different backgrounds might give to different events. They need to address these differences in ways that promote continuing discussion…  (T)he common school must be involved in teaching students both to speak from the knowledge that their cultural identity provides and, as audience, to hear the voices of others… It is within and across this medley of difference that the common school continues the dialogue begun during the American Revolution about the nature of national unity and the character of national identity.” (Common Schools: Uncommon Identities, pp. 232-245) (emphasis in the original)

In a recent letter, 135 academic and professional organizations protest the far right attacks on public schools’ teaching honestly about the racism in American history.  They conclude: “Suppressing or watering down discussion of ‘divisive concepts’ in educational institutions deprives students of opportunities to discuss and foster solutions to social division and injustice. Legislation cannot erase ‘concepts’ or history; it can, however, diminish educators’ ability to help students address facts in an honest and open environment capable of nourishing intellectual exploration.”

My Thoughts…

Throwing boulders vs. throwing pebbles.  For quite a while now (longer than I care to admit) I’ve been privileged to work with teams of people engaged by school districts to bring about large-scale change (usually defined by a rise in test scores).  Our hopes and plans were bigger than our skills.  This work might be described as trying to throw boulders in the ocean, hoping that there would be a tsunami of change.  Our recent conversations have been based on more modest ambitions… using pebbles instead of boulders and hoping for ripples of change. Our learning…people are attached to and value the familiar.  Moving away from the familiar, whether this is offered to parents or educators, is a steep hill to climb.  One of my epiphanies in this process was the rediscovery of the power of beliefs. in a conversation several years ago, I was asked what I believed about kid learning.  I was offered these two slides and asked (1) to reflect on my beliefs about them and (2) how these were reflected in my practice.   What would  slides look like if the questions asked were “What do you believe is the purpose of education?”  

Missing the routine of school?  Here’s a homework assignment… Using these slides as a framework, create two slides about the purpose of education.  

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.12.26 AMScreen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.11.55 AM

This is a Time for a Deep Breath…


 Note: Summer is usually a more relaxing time of year for both educators and parents.  While still not a “normal” time, we return to a time when kids are supposed to be at home (as opposed to our forced remote learning experience) and we are supposed to be able to sit down a bit and catch up on overdue relaxation.  I want to take a bit of this precious time and share with you several posts that have made a deep impression, both as an educator and as a parent. As I’ve shared in this space previously, Dr. James Ryan offered in his commencement  speech  in 2016 (Harvard Graduate School of Education) that one of the most critical questions we can ask is “What Matters?”  As you read the next few posts, I urge you to do so with that question in mind. 

We Are A Country Without A Purpose…

Wait! What?  “A Country Without a Purpose”?   What if we are finding ourselves on the edge of a time which is no less unsettling than the time of the Revolution, the Civil Way, the Great Depression?  What if we are where we are because we have grown to value quick, politically expedient decisions rather than careful analysis of complex problems?  What if, as Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff suggested, there is a significant difference between trying to so things right and doing the right thing.  What if we have fallen into the Drucker/Ackoff trap of trying to do the wrong things better rather than actually trying to ascertain what the “right thing” is?

A quick example… During the time that I served as an assistant commissioner in the NJ Department of Education, we were heavily involved in the implementation of the Core Curriculum Content Standards as well as the development of specifications for the state’s large-scale assessment designed to measure the level of student achievement of these standards.  Who applied the greatest pressure to insure the development of “tough” standards and through assessments?  The state’s teachers?  No.  It was the state’s Chamber of Commerce.  Why the Chamber?  Because the Chamber and its membership had concluded that the major function  – i.e., purpose — of school was the development of a well-trained workforce.  People who knew better (or who should have known better) didn’t challenge this “purpose”.  For almost 30 years now we have been “chasing” the test scores.  Those of who spent time in schools during this time, will have no problem identifying the programs, policies and procedures designed to do test- focused “achievement” better.  Only recently, in the time of the pandemic, have we seen the beginning of serious discussion/reflection about the problems created by trying to do the wrong thing righter.  Drucker and Ackoff would be proud.  Millions of students and their teachers, not so much. It’s time to get serious about defining the right thing that we want to our kids and the learning.

Wait! What?  Why am I asking this question right now?  Why am I asking it in a blog that focuses almost all posts on things related to education and learning?

Frequent readers may recall that, occasionally, I’ll suggest that it might be helpful to get a glass or two of your favorite adult beverage to make the post easier to digest.  This time, while I’m offering the same suggestion, it’s for a very different reason.

Since “retirement” I’ve gotten into the habit of beginning each day with a scan of the things that have magically appeared in my inbox overnight. My interests are pretty eclectic and include a number of education-oriented blogs as well as the scan of major news outlets. 

Recently, my scan I encountered two “big question” pieces.  They resonated with me as I hope they will with you.  They seemed to “beg” for thinking time. Hence the adult beverage suggestion.  The pieces that I’ll be sharing are not so much shocking as they are food for reflection.  I hope you’ll take my suggestion and read each of them.  This post will focus on the first piece by Nancy Flanagan.  It appeared in the  daily blog of the Network for Public Education and is used with her permission.


At the beginning of our first response to the pandemic I wrote several pieces that urged educators to avoid the “let’s get back to normal” urge and use the time we had been given to reflect on what learning could be.  My timing was horrible.  I neglected to acknowledge the all-consuming nature of the process of trying to juggle the realities of school in “survival” mode.  We saw firsthand the sometimes competing purposes of school – child (and educator) safety, child care, student achievement, family support (food and social services), access to technology.  The purpose often varies depending on the day, the access to technology,  or the family… all aimed at trying to do what have always done as right as possible. Nancy writes that we have reached a point in the discussions about schools, schooling, educational funding, success or failure of the American system of public schools etc. where we can no longer sidestep a serious discussion/analysis/reflection about the purpose of education in our country. 

Nancy Flanagan is a retired teacher and a long-lasting blogger. Sometimes she looks at the big picture, and sometimes the nitty gritty. Reposted with permission.

I could write a blog every week on all the Big Important Things that nobody pays attention to in public education. But then—that would make me a philosopher and not a teacher.

Right now, we really need deep thinkers, visionaries, those dedicated to clarifying our mission in public ed, trying to prevent dumpster fires, rather than putting them out, which is now a fair part of teachers’ work.

Instead, we have shallow, attention-seeking chatterheads lighting fires, then sprinting away—looking at you, Mike Petrilli and Tucker Carlson, and all  the ‘Concerned Moms’ who don’t want their children to, you know, feel bad about the facts of American history.

In fact, when you look at the sweep of schooling in America—going back to Horace Mann—there is no one overriding set of principles upon which public education has firmly rested for two centuries. Mann promoted a free, secular education, open to all children—the local academic melting pot that would lift an unruly, barely civilized nation into democratic greatness.

And what a magnificent idea that was—probably the last inspiring, visionary plan to educate the citizenry. Except, of course, for all the people who were left out, or given scraps and hand-me-downs. Or weren’t even considered citizens. Not so great for them, and they were building the nation, too.

There’s always been lofty rhetoric about public education. And the reality has always been far more complicated and far less effective at achieving whatever it is public ed is supposed to achieve.

And that’s the rub. What are we trying to accomplish, in our public education system? What’s our purpose? What are our overarching goals? What’s our product? (bold, italics mine)

It’s a great question to ask in a new-teacher interview: What’s your philosophy of education?

Back in the 1970s, I got that question a couple of times (and had an answer—it was part of my undergraduate education as a prospective teacher, that pedagogy coursework everyone denigrates).

Today, the interview questions are pragmatic—test scores, standards, deliverables—but there is real value in figuring out what’s most important to teach, what your students need. What you believe. What the country needs, even.

On July 7, Joe Biden tweeted this: The fact is 12 years of education is no longer enough to compete in the 21st Century. That’s why my Build Back Better Agenda will guarantee four additional years of public education for every person in America – two years of pre-school and two years of free community college.

Well, I’m all for free preschool and community college. You go, Joe. They’re only pieces of the comprehensive, coherent plan we need, but the education community is accustomed to working with (and around) bits-and-pieces ed policy. We’ll take positive fragments, any day.

Jennifer Berkshire had an interesting response to Biden’s tweet: Biden’s insistence on defining education solely in economic terms is so discouraging. IMO, this is a big part of why public education is as precarious as it is right now. Not only does it put the blame for being economically *noncompetitive* onto individuals themselves, but it leaves out the essential role that schools play in a democracy.

Bingo. Which comes first—the random policy promise, or the philosophy?

Berkshire and her co-writer Jack Schneider, an education historian, wrote this in an excellent piece in The Nation:

Our schools can’t fix the problems of poverty, and parts of the Biden administration seem to know that. But until education policy breaks free from this framing of the purpose of school, it will remain difficult to recognize what our schools can do. At a time when voting rights are increasingly being restricted, when we continue to debate the value of Black lives, and when we can’t agree on basic facts, public education has an essential role to play. We don’t have public schools in this country so that young people can compete for advantage against each other—or so that the private sector can reduce the costs of training labor. Instead, we tax ourselves to pay for universal K-12 education because public schools are the bulwark of a diverse, democratic society.

And—voila!—there we are, back to Horace Mann. The mission of public education is an educated, engaged citizenry. Open to absolutely everyone. Too bad we routinely lose sight of this core purpose, a defined public good.

If you want to read an excellent synopsis of how our national (non)philosophy of education has morphed and evaporated, over the decades, I recommend Consuming the Public School, by David Labaree:

We ask schools to promote equality while preserving privilege, so we perpetuate a system that is too busy balancing opposites to promote student learning. We focus on making the system inclusive at one level and exclusive at the next, in order to make sure that it meets demands for both access and advantage.

Does this sound like a system that just puts out emergent fires with policy band-aids—or a system grounded in principles of democratic equality? Other countries have overhauled their education systems after having a national conversation about what public education should be focused on. Why can’t we?

Oh, right. It’s political. 

While large scale change discussions have become highly politicized, what would happen if we each asked and answered the question with which Nancy ends her post…

What would your belief statement about public education look like?

My thoughts…

What would happen if each teacher, each administrator asked, answered and acted on such a question?  Would the whole system change?  After years of working with schools around the country on ways to help them implement large scale change, I no longer believe that meaningful change happens that way.  I believe it happens one person at a time, one teacher in one classroom decides what she/he believes about learning, about the purpose of education, about the importance of building a classroom culture caring and empathy.  Too many of us have sat by for too long trying to implement the ideas of others… ideas which have equated a child’s learning and development by scores on an annual state test (tests which have done far more to enrich test developers than they have to improve student learning), ideas which have stolen precious time and opportunities to build and nurture the critical  relationships with our students that are so important  to learning.  It hasn’t worked.  It won’t work. 

What if we each defined and acted on our beliefs about children and their development?  Couldn’t/shouldn’t we at least try? It’s tempting to be offended by the implication that we as teachers, administrators, parents don’t act on our beliefs about the basic goodness of children and our responsibilities for nurturing them.  Of course we do. We also work in organizations that seek to do what we are doing  even better… and many of us recognize that this involves the development of practices, policies, and procedures which are aimed at efficiency  and convenience…  doing things “righter” is not the same as doing the right thing.  

Be well…

Using Our Kids As Political Pawns… Shame on Us

Note: We are seeing a dramatic growth in rhetoric around the term “Critical Race Theory”.  While the number and intensity of media reports continues to increase, little time has been devoted to clarifying the term and its implications.  This has left many of us searching for understanding. Recently, Jan Resseger offered information intended to provide both context and clarity.  As usual, Jan has crafted a resource-rich explanation, one that shines an interesting and (to many of us) distressing spotlight on the continued politicization of schools, and even worse, our kids.   After a brief introduction and to save readers the need to follow a number of links I have, with Jan’s permission, reprinted her entire post.

Every time I think that the win all costs strategies that seem to consume our elected officials have gone about as far as they can go, I’m confronted with yet another example of my own naivety.  Each time I think that adults must be above turning our kids into pawns in the process of gaining power, the folks in state and federal government demonstrate the at I apparently just fell off the turnip truck.

In spite of the number of opportunities these folks have given me to understand that winning at all costs is what matters, I’m shaken by the latest politician defined crisis focusing on Critical Race Theory.  I have an image of politician operatives sitting around a table where one of them exclaims excitedly, “i’ve got it. Let’s take a concept, redefine into something else and then get people enraged about our definition.” 

Think that’s an exaggeration?  Try this from one of the architects of the CRT rebellion…

“We have successfully frozen their brand—critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions…. Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’  Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.”

And who wrote this?

Jan Resseger, in her post, shared the following:

Christopher Rufo, a 36-year-old documentary filmmaker and media opportunist from Seattle: “Rufo has played a key role in the national debate, defining diversity trainings and other programs as critical race theory, putting out examples that legislators and others then cite…. He continues to appear regularly on Fox News to discuss the issue and often offers strategic advice over how to win the political fight. In March, he wrote on Twitter that his goal was to conflate any number of topics into a new bucket called critical race theory. ‘We have successfully frozen their brand—critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions.”

The New Yorker‘s Benjamin Wallace-Wells describes Rufo’s strategy to redefine critical race theory: 

“He thought that the phrase was a better description of what conservatives were opposing, but it also seemed like a promising political weapon.”  Wallace-Wells quotes Rufo: “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’  Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.”

How Is Far-Right Propaganda about Critical Race Theory Undermining Society and Our Children’s Education?

Posted on June 23, 2021 by janresseger

The news is flooded with hysteria about something called “critical race theory.” I am being told that the anti-bias and anti-racism programs I participated in at work were terrifying experiences that threatened who I am and undermined my patriotism—even though I don’t remember those workshops as threatening my identity at all. Legislatures across the country are passing laws to punish educators who teach honestly about slavery, the abuses of Jim Crow, and boarding schools that tried to force American Indian children to deny their culture. This post will address three simple and related questions: What did the term “critical race theory” mean in the past? What is it that fear-mongering extremists have folded together to change the original meaning of “critical race theory” into something supposedly terrifying? How is today’s hysteria about critical race theory undermining our children’s education?

What did “critical race theory” used to mean before extremists manipulated it this year in the right-wing press? 

Many people have thought about racism basically as personal bias or prejudice. But critical race theory is an academic concept that addresses much more systemic institutional and structural racism. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explains: “Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that holds that racism is systemic, embedded in government policies and laws that are evident in any serious examination of American history. Critics say that racism is the work of individual bad actors, and, they say, teachers are improperly injecting race in the classroom.”

National Education Policy Center Fellow Shaun Harper at the University of Southern California provides a more technical definition of “critical race theory”: “Individual actions (both intentional and unconscious) that engender marginalization and inflict varying degrees of harm on minoritized persons; structures that determine and cyclically remanufacture racial inequity; and institutional norms that sustain white privilege and permit the ongoing subordination of minoritized persons.”

In Education Week, Janel George adds: “Like many academic theories, Critical Race Theory is complex and constantly evolving. However, it can be characterized by a few tenets which challenge many traditional understandings of race and racial inequality. The Human Genome Project found that humans share 99.9 percent of the same genetic makeup, despite our different appearances. Critical race theory recognizes that our ideas of racial difference—which run counter to this scientific evidence—have been socially constructed. It acknowledges how that social construction of race has shaped America and how systems and institutions can do the bulk of replicating racial inequality.”

Emeritus education professor at the University of Wisconsin, former president of the American Educational Research Association, and author of the widely respected textbook, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, Gloria Ladson-Billings, responds to the current hysteria by emphasizing the importance of addressing institutional racism that affects children at school: “Curricula that largely exclude the history and lived experiences of Americans of color are the norm. Deficit-oriented instruction often characterizes students of color as failures if a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for them. Standardized-test scores from assessments detached from what students learn in the classroom are widely used to confirm narratives about the ineducability of children of color.”

Here are just two examples of structural racism.  In his book,  The Color of Law,  Richard Rothstein traces government policies and laws that have perpetuated racially segregated housing—zoning for segregation, the choice of sites for public housing, legally protected mortgage and insurance redlining, and racial bias in the approval of Veterans Administration and FHA loans. In  Schoolhouse Burning , Derek Black examines the explicit efforts of the post-Reconstruction state legislatures across the former Confederacy to segregate and underfund schools for Black children.  Later he describes the decades of legal work by the NAACP’s Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall to undo structural school segregation by race. What then followed after Brown v. Board of Education were efforts to stop school integration in court cases like Milliken v. Bradley that blocked school busing across suburban jurisdictional boundaries.

How Have Extremists Transformed and Politicized the Meaning of “Critical Race Theory”?

The Washington Post’s Laura Meckler and Josh Dawsey identify Christopher Rufo, a 36-year-old documentary filmmaker and media opportunist from Seattle: “Rufo has played a key role in the national debate, defining diversity trainings and other programs as critical race theory, putting out examples that legislators and others then cite…. He continues to appear regularly on Fox News to discuss the issue and often offers strategic advice over how to win the political fight. In March, he wrote on Twitter that his goal was to conflate any number of topics into a new bucket called critical race theory. ‘We have successfully frozen their brand—critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions.’”

The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells describes Rufo’s strategy to redefine critical race theory:  “He thought that the phrase was a better description of what conservatives were opposing, but it also seemed like a promising political weapon.”  Wallace-Wells quotes Rufo: “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’  Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.”

Finally NBC News has identified No Right Turn in Education, a radical-right parents group whose mission is to undermine honest teaching about American history at school: “When the Gladwyne Elementary School in the suburbs of Philadelphia decided to teach students about the concepts of racism, privilege and justice during the last week of classes, Elana Yaron Fishbein, a mother of two students in the school, sprang into action. Fishbein, a former social worker, sent a letter to the superintendent calling the lessons a ‘plan to indoctrinate the children into the ‘woke’ culture’  She said the superintendent never responded, though the district later said that the lesson plans were age-appropriate and did not shame students and that parents were allowed to opt out. Fishbein said other white parents in the district attacked her on Facebook when she shared the letter. So Fishbein moved her children to private school and started a group to advocate against anti-racist teaching. She called it No Left Turn in Education… Fishbein’s endeavor received a significant boost in September, when she appeared on Tucker Carlson’s prime-time Fox News show. By the next day, No Left Turn’s Facebook page had shot up from fewer than 200 followers to over 30,000. The group now has 30 chapters in 23 states, a rapid expansion Fishbein credits to Carlson’s show.”

How Have America’s Educators Been Responding to the Current Hysteria?

The editors of Rethinking Schools magazine worry about the rash of laws coming from far-right state legislatures, laws intended to prevent teaching about today’s injustices and their history beginning in slavery and threading through American history: “Lawmakers in a growing number of states are attempting to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the past and present… To put it another way, in 2021, when children look around at the vast inequalities apparent in every corner of their daily lives—where the wealth of a typical white family is 10 times that of a typical Black family, where a Black person is three times as likely to die in childbirth as a white person, and where African Americans are five times as likely to be in prison as their white counterparts—and ask, ‘Why? Why is it like this?’ that child’s teacher would be prohibited from answering their student’s earnest and urgent question. These laws peddle in bait-and-switch tactics, using the language of anti-discrimination to mask their perpetuation of a discriminatory and unjust status quo… By banning educators from teaching about these realities, lawmakers seek to deny young people the right to understand—and so effectively act upon—the world they’ve been bequeathed.”

David Blight, the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, looks for hard work to focus on teaching the truth without blaming: “Once again, Americans find themselves at war over their history—what it is, who owns it, how it should be interpreted and taught… History wars follow patterns. The subjects at their core usually carry visceral meaning for large swaths of the public. The disputes quickly invoke curricula, creeping into school boards and state legislatures with increasing stakes… History is politics by other means, and we who care about it have to fight this war better and more strategically ourselves… We need to teach the history of slavery and racism every day, but not through a forest of white guilt or by thrusting the idea of ‘white privilege’ onto working-class people who have very little privilege. Instead, we need to tell more precise stories, stories that do not feed right-wing conspiracists a language that they are waiting to seize, remix and inject back into the body politic as a poison… Historians must write and speak up in the clearest language, in prose our grandmothers can read. We need history that can get us marching but also render us awed by how much there is to learn. Slavery, as personal experience and national trial, is a harrowing human tragedy, and like all great tragedies it leaves us chastened by knowledge, not locked within sin or redemption alone.”

This post intentionally quotes current coverage of this issue from several sources and perspectives.  I hope you will follow the links and read some of the source material.

Thank you for taking the time to explore this critical issue. As always your comments and thoughts are welcomed.  Be well.

A Graduate Course in Leadership…

Leadership is about creating the space where great things can happen.

Recently, I received an email from my friend Eric.  In it he shares…

We did it here at FRS!   We survived hopefully the most challenging school years in recent history.

I am exhausted!   This end of year was particularly challenging bidding farewell to two incredible FRS teachers who will never be replaced. This in combination. With several families who have been with me there for the last 14 years. I don’t like good byes Rich.

Eric is currently a principal at a nearby elementary school.  Over the time I’ve been sharing thoughts via this blog, I’ve frequently written about leadership.  In his email, Eric shared a letter he received from a parent whose children have attended the school where Eric is principal.  This letter captures so beautifully and eloquently the meaning of leadership that I asked Eric for permission to share it here.  


June 18, 2021

Dear Mr. Fxxxxx

For almost an entire year, I have rolled these words around in my head, wondering how I could possibly satisfactorily put into words what your leadership at has meant to our family

Eleven years ago Ava walked through those doors and six years later William took the baton and followed his sister’s footsteps. I’m sure our family’s elementary school years were no more or less remarkable than any other student that has made their way through the halls of FRS. What has been remarkable, every step of the way, though – has been your incredible leadership style, and the connection I’ve personally personally witnessed you make with every single child and their family who has been in your care along the way. It is unmatched by any educator or administrator I’ve ever encountered, and there is simply no way I, or any of us, could ever thank you in a big enough way to match your service.

I could refer to specific incidents like the time I watched you pull a child from the bus line to help clean his shoe because you noticed they had stepped in… er “something” on his way to school (lol). You could’ve sent him off to the side to handle it on his own, or sent him to another staffer to deal with it but you didn’t. YOU handled it, and you did so kindly and discreetly, and made that child’s day a little bit better by starting him off right. I could feel pages and pages of the countless interactions I have witnessed between you and students, you and parents, you and staffer. It has all been a pleasure to witness, not just because people like you make the world better in general, but because as a parent, sometimes it’s hard at school in the morning… Sometimes “just because” but sometimes it’s because in my kids’ school careers (so far) we’ve witnessed horrors like Sandy Hook or just went through natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy and then… Well, a global pandemic. Yet somehow you’ve managed to create a safe haven for my children to come to and feel loved, and seen, and safe. It’s my personal philosophy that children can only learn effectively when they feel safe and loved, and that’s exactly what you’ve delivered again and again and again.

In our house, the Tooth Fairy brings gold coins because, we all know, fairies deal and gold!Fairies are magical, just as childhood should always be filled with magic. Please take this “gold” coin. Keep it in your pocket or in your desk or on the shelf or a coin jar. Wherever you put it, please let it serve as a reminder that YOU are a keeper of magic . You keep magic alive in the halls of FRS, and my family will forever be grateful to you for that and so very much more.

As our family sadly says goodbye to FRS, please know that we will always look back on our years here with nothing but pure fondness. Thank you thank you thank you for everything.  Your ever-presence will be sorely missed by this mom.

Wishing you all the best                                          Screen Shot 2021-06-19 at 1.02.59 PM

Melanie and family

Be well.

US Department of Education Inks Contract with Wharton and Harvard Business Schools to Prepare Teachers and Manage “Failing” Schools!


Just kidding… I hope.   Watching the legislatures of more than 30 states move to privatize their public school systems via increased choice, charter and voucher options further increases our commitment to treating the education of our children more like a business and makes such a partnership seem almost inevitable.

NOTE:  This post will offer observations (and possible insight) into the growth of charter and voucher programs.  In the interest of full disclosure, while serving as an Assistant Commissioner in the NJ Department of Education, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the approval, evaluation and, sometimes, closure of charter schools.

I’d like to apologize for my “disappearance” for the past few weeks and suggest that you get a glass or two of your favorite adult beverage. This one is long!

In addition to struggling with the hacking of my email account, I’ve been struggling with finding a way to connect two seemingly disparate ideas. In the first of these, our small team, the Four Amigos1, has been engaged during our weekly chats with growing disappointment and appropriate response to the apparent loss of opportunity that the pandemic has presented – i.e., the opportunity to revisit the way we think about learning and schooling. This has been all the more troubling because it seemed that we were seeing an increase in discussions about the ways we might use the experiences of the last 18 months to unlearn what we know about schooling and rediscover what we know about the learning.

The second issue is one I’ve steered clear of in previous blogs… the increasingly obvious and planned assault on our system of public education.  Over the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve worked pretty hard to shy away from political statements.  But I need to highlight here something that has been happening and which cries out for our attention..  Depending on where you reside, you will be more or less familiar with the significant push to increase choice options for parents.  What has been less clear and what has received minimal attention in the media is the dramatic increase in such efforts and the source of the financial support for them. 

Critical Concerns

  • What these choice, charter and voucher policies have in common is that they are all funded by allowing the aid that is received by public schools to follow the child to their new school, in many cases significantly decreasing the amount of funding remaining for the public schools. Bruce Baker is Professor in the Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education.  His recent research focuses on state aid allocation policies and practices.  His findings referenced here  focus on the impact of a the diversion of state aid dollars to various choice options… 

 This is not intended as a criticism of charter schools. In my time as Assistant Commissioner as well as a national consultant, I visited a number of charter schools.  Some were exceptional, many were not. 

  • Charter schools and/or voucher, tax credit or scholarship programs have been around for a while, but what we are witnessing is an unprecedented influx of private money in local school board elections and the creation and lobbying efforts by so called “AstroTurf” lobbying groups… groups with names that imply parent leadership, parent participation as well as the right to choose, at public expense, schools other than those in the public system. Closer investigation reveals minimal participation or direction by parents, often providing a kind of anonymity for ultra-conservative or libertarian libertarian billionaires.  The climate of uncertainty about how and when schools will be open and what type of instruction will be provided when schools are open, has left many parents and community members unsettled and concerned.
  • Although originally designed and promoted as “laboratory schools” … schools that would improve learning by being unhindered by bureaucracy or stifled by regulation, a large percentage of the charters and charter school chains are, de facto, for-profit enterprises. 
  • The federal government has devoted millions of dollars to charter program seeding and support. Recent reports revealed that a huge portion of that funding went to charter schools that never opened or have closed. Regular readers of this blog will recognize the name of Jan Resseger.  Jan is an exceptionally talented researcher and writer who works tirelessly in support of the maintenance of a viable and equitable system of public education.    Here , Jan details how the Federal Charter Schools Program has enabled the academic and fiscal abuses by for-profit charter operators. 

The Real Danger of Privatization – an economic theory on life-support

 While many of us have been blessed with education, careers, and standards of living that are more than adequate to ensure our survival,  we are becoming increasingly confronted by inconvenient truths about the lives of too many of our fellow citizens.  While we are regularly exposed to media, politician, and pundit praise for the accomplishments of our country, the reality of many challenges such pictures.  While we continue to canonize the American system of free enterprise, we currently live in the poorest rich country among industrialized countries.  We have the highest education costs, the highest health care costs, the shortest lifespans, the highest incarceration rates. Are we now to believe that the folks that brought us to this would be the ideal designers and providers of education for our kids?

Don’t like the measures I chose to highlight?  How about what has already been done to our kids?  Look at the public investment in education since the Great Depression of 2008.  The majority of states, primarily those whose elected leaders self-identify as fiscally conservative or libertarian, have yet to restore school funding by their state to levels prior to 2008! 

In an article  which appeared in the NY Times Magazine prior to COVID, the writer shared data that indicated we were  in a time when the incidence of pre-adolescent stress, anxiety, depression and even suicide had never been higher! Has our focus during the past 30 years of educational reform been on increasing counseling services, improving social and emotional health?  It has not.  In fact, since the Great Recession of 2008, the majority of states have not yet returned school spending to pre-recession levels.  This before the increase in such issues connected to the pandemic.

While our kids were suffering in increasing numbers,  we “enjoyed” the great accountability movement… the improvement of education by adopting the practices of business … Hours and hours of state and federally mandated tests, a whole new market for test prep materials, rewritten standards-based textbooks, student data available for sale, attacks on the skills and commitment of teachers., etc., etc., etc.  Education has become business, indeed BIG business…Billions are spent annually to design and administer large-scale state-wide assessments.  Billions are spent on the purchase of technology required to take the tests. Billions are spent both publicly and privately to purchase test prep materials and tutoring services. And now, we see the hijacking of research promoting  the benefits of individually tailored learning experiences with the press for “personalized” learning… a term most frequently used to justify the purchase of computer delivered and paced software which is anything but “personalized”.  The great business model direction has turned our kids into commodities… commodities whose data can be used to target ads, determine Facebook feeds, and distance them even further from the connection so important to their development as functioning adults.  Less personal contact under the guise of “personalized” learning? To be identified by their test scores?  Is this what we want for our kids?  As parents? As educators?

What to do

I’ve spent a lot of time in schools.  I spend a lot of time listening to the experiences of families, kids, and educators.  This is not a solely a red or a blue issue.  The changes and conditions that I have shared here have occurred during the administrations of both Democrats and Republicans.  One of the Greek philosophers once said that the health of a society is measured by the way it treats its weakest members, the very young and the very old.  We’re not doing well on either right now. 

What to do now is to get involved.  Know what is happening in your schools/in your state 

  • Go to a board meeting. See how many topics deal with kids and their learning?  How many items are really about adult convenience, management, compliance?  Look at your school’s mission statement and ask what specific experiences they provide to make the mission a reality. 
  • Contact legislators… local, state, and federal. Affirm that it is the right of parents to have their kids attend the school of their choice.  Affirm as well that it is not the right of parents to have the costs of these choice decisions paid by government nor it is appropriate to have the costs of such choices reduce the ability of the public schools to offer equitable to all students regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, or disability.
  • Work to reduce the impact of billionaire philanthropists can have on social policies which reflect their individual agendas more than the good of our children. See here  For background on the mixed blessings of the rise of philanthropy in the past two decades.


  • I am not a fan of the current version of education… a test and punish culture driven for the past 30+ years by federal programs such as NCLB, Race to the Top, Every Child Succeeds, etc.  I am, however, a huge fan of a system of taxpayer supported public education. 
  • Our current system of public education (and only recently the content of that system) is under attack for ideological and political reasons which have little or nothing to do with improving the lives of children.
  • The attack on public education is a part of a much larger campaign to reduce the size of government and to move many, if not all, public services to private enterprise.
  • This has become an ideological struggle guided to a large extent by significant amount of philanthropic dollars offers by billionaires who have never set foot in a public school.
  • Education in the US has become a huge business and source of income for a limited number of large corporations. In the process of developing these sources of income, our children have become both commodities and consumers… commodities whose data has huge value and consumers of large-scale assessments, as well as of test-prep materials and services.
  • Early experiences with alternatives to traditional public schooling – i.e., vouchers, tax-free scholarships, charter school programs — have produced mixed results at best and have significantly limited the programming for students remaining in the traditional public schools.
  • The experience with the pandemic version of education has encouraged criticism of district responses to both safety and learning. The concept of “learning loss” has been promoted as yet another “failure” of the public school system. 

Normally this would be the place for a kind of motivational paragraph… one that moves the reader to action.  If you’ve read this far, you don’t need such a closing.  What you may need is time to reflect and a place to express your reactions… a time to reflect on individual responsibilities when it has become clear that something very important to us has been or is being threatened. It is also a time for action … a time to speak with friends, local school leaders and politicians, representatives in state government and let them know that big money and big business should not be architects of the education our kids should receive. This is about grownups behaving badly… needing to be right, needing to win, and treating the children of this generation as pawns in a game in which there will be no winners.   

Thank you for your continued support of my writing. Be well.   

 1Some time ago, while participating in Will Richardson’s on-line community, Modern Learners, I had the good fortune to develop relationships with three very talented colleagues (two us were from the US while two resided and worked in Canada).   We found common ground in the realization that, as committed as we all are to the concept of publicly funded education for all, education in each of our countries had become more about schooling than about learning. Distressed by this realization, we decided to see what we could do to bring the focus back the learner.  Our areas of interest and expertise are as diverse as our experiences.  For two years now we have met weekly to support our mutual growth and to offer our learning to others. 

How Do We Help Kids Learn How to Be …?

When We Are Struggling To Find The Answer As Adults?

Note: This is “a thought essay”.  It began with my reflections on finding a thread between helping kids learn unschooling rules photo“how to be” and our apparent inability to determine who we want to be as a culture/society. The background to this can be found in Clark Aldrich’s book, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education. Aldrich suggests that there are 3 types of learning that make up the purpose of school: Helping kids Learn How to Learn; Helping kids Learn How to Do; and, Helping kids Learn How to Be. In this reflection, I’m focusing on the “how to be” purpose.

Prior to the national election in 2016, I had shared with some friends that I thought that the election might be a struggle for the soul of the country.  In the years since, I’ve heard the phrase numerous times.  As we watch the news and listen to the pundits opine, we are watching the “battle” lines harden for what might be the true struggle for our soul.  Each issue becomes a battle ground for a belief system.  The lines between ideas seem to be growing more clear and more rigid as we struggle with who it is we want to be.  As adults it’s challenging to make sense of the information coming at us from TV, social media, competing news outlets, etc.

Last night, PBS New Hour devoted one of its segments to a case being heard by the US Supreme Court in which the justices will determine whether or not a school has the right to discipline a student for language used on social media.  The case involved the emotional response of a 14 year old girl who was unsuccessful in her bid to be a cheerleader.

Folks, this is the world we are leaving for our children… a world with a climate in crisis, with a pandemic which continues to kill thousands, with doubts about the behavior of law enforcement, with rising tensions among the world’s nuclear powers, with Congress struggling to manipulate voting systems to maximize party gains, etc. and the Supreme Court is hearing whether a teenage girl has the right to give the finger to school authorities on Snapchat. 

How do we begin to help kids navigate a course through this minefield of opinions and behaviors? We can’t afford not to.

A Beginning:A

Who is it that we want to be?

What matters to us?

 After 30+ years of failed “reform” programs we have pretty definitive proof that lawmakers and policy wonks cannot be the “definers”. 

I recently saw an article about the need to test the reading development of students in relation to the benchmark of third grade reading performance.  The article described a proposal under consideration in one state to make retention a mandatory practice for kids who fall below “the standard”.  Such thinking is brought to you by the same folks who created the “test and punish” culture that has characterized educating our children since the implementation of No Child Left Behind and who think that having our kids take large-scale assessments this year to quantify the amount of so-called pandemic learning loss is critical.

What if where we are is a result of our own unintentional laziness?  What if we have left the definition of who we want to be to the wrong people?  What would happen if we recaptured our ownership of what is important in the development of our children?  Try this on for size.

What would happen if we made a list of the ways we want our children to be?  What would be on your list.  Here’s a quick shot at mine:

Caring, empathetic, kind, compassionate, thoughtful, reflective, curious, independent, open-minded, involved

You might note that none of these require that kids be grouped by age, or that they learn to read by third grade, or that they learn a fixed curriculum (especially one that was developed in the 1890’s), or that learning be organized into separate silos, rarely connected to real-world situations.

 Would it surprise you to learn that in the majority of schools that I visited while consulting in districts throughout the country, the exposure to experiences designed to foster emphasis on these traits/dispositions was most frequently dependent on the mindset of the individual teacher? 

What does our current approach (largely accidental exposure) say about the value we place on helping generations develop the dispositions and direction that lead to emotionally healthy and contributing lives? What if we didn’t leave the focus on the “ways to be” to luck of the draw in the scheduling process?  It would certainly require a different approach.

Some time ago I read that the health of a society is revealed in how it treats its most vulnerable… the youngest and oldest.  We’re not healthy.  We rank at embarrassingly low levels among wealthy nations in the percentage of folks living in poverty, in the percentage of citizens incarcerated, in opportunities for early childhood learning, in affordable health care, in the number of long-term care patients who have died of COVID related complication without the comfort of loved ones who have been forbidden from visiting those who lay dying. 

Is this who we want to be?  Is this who we are training our children to become? Have we inadvertently trained our children to become the adults that continue to behave so poorly?  What would happen if we took your list (or mine) of desirable dispositions and examined the degree to which the policies, procedures, and practices of our school either support or inhibit their development? 

We love grades.  We must.  We continue to use them. We spend hours refining the systems we use – i.e., should weReport Card use letters or numbers? Should a 65 be a “D” or an “F” or maybe a “D – “, should we give “zeros”?  Why do we use a system that encourages kids to “game” it, to select courses more on GPA implications than by interest, to avoid the risks of exploration?

Here’s a less comfortable grading question. Suppose we were asked to assign a grade to the notion of helping kids learn “how to be”.  What grade should we give our “efforts” …or, wait, maybe we should use our “achievement” instead of effort? How do we do as individual educators? How do we do as a school or district? 

It’s not unlikely that your district or school’s mission statement makes reference to good citizenship or contributing/productive member of society.  How many PD sessions or faculty meetings have been devoted to test scores, increasing the rigor of our offerings or increasing school attendance?  How many have been devoted to how we can help kids develop empathy, curiosity, reflective thinking? 

Look around.  We’re not seeing ourselves at our best.  The response of teachers nationwide during the pandemic has demonstrated how committed so many are to the well-being of our kids.  All indications are that our kids need more than us finding better ways to teach what politicians think is important.  In our hearts we know that our lives, the lives of our kids, and of our communities can so much richer if we can acknowledge that helping our kids learn “how to be” cannot continue to be an accidental outcome of education.

Be well.

Change for Mere Mortals… An Action Guide


There are two orders of things: There is the seen order unfolding in front of us every day on our streets and in the news…We call this order of things reality. This is the way things are.” It’s all we can see because it’s all we’ve ever seen. Yet something inside us rejects it. We know instinctively: This is not the intended order of things. This is not how things are meant to be. We know that there is a better, truer, wilder way. That better way is the unseen order inside us. It is the vision we carry in our imagination about a truer, more beautiful world—”

 Glennon Doyle – Untamed

 Whether you’re a parent, a relatively new teacher (like my granddaughter in Houston) or are considered a teaching “veteran”, you have probably felt what Glennon Doyle describes at the beginning of her book, Untamed.  If you nodded your head to the phrase “This is not how things were meant to be”, this post is or you.  It is based on the beliefs that trying to do the wrong thing better is frustrating and that we’ve been spending too much time doing that.

Several years ago, I joined Modern Learners, an on-line community focusing on the need to transform the frustrating experiences that our kids and their teachers were having in many schools.  My decision to join the group was in response to my need to find a way,  after a number of failed attempts, to actually retire.  The funny part of this is that this decision actually worked.  I no longer worked… well, at least not for money.  Ironically, as a result of that decision, I’ve actually worked more and harder than in any of my previous retirement attempts. 

But, more importantly, as a result of my interactions with others within the Modern Learners community, I connected with several other educators who shared my interest in changing the focus of education from what we’ll term “schooling” to learning… not the “learning” that is tested annually in most states, but the kind of learning that we experience when we’re exploring something that has engaged our minds and our hearts… the kind of learning that isn’t about credit for time spent in class or compliance with rules established more for adult convenience than for genuine learning.

The result of this connection was the formation of a group, called “the Four Amigos”.… a team of like-minded educators from here in the US and Canada interested in an exploration of how we might help teachers, school leaders, parents,  and kids experience something more than “schooling”… something that had learning as its center.

Most often our conversations with folks interested in change quickly move to the issue of “how” to change my schools or my district.  This paper will be different.  It will focus on “how” but it will not be oriented towards whole school or whole district change.  Simply put, we no longer believe that whole school or whole district or large system change is likely… even with the turmoil that has accompanied the need imposed by the pandemic to drastically alter our approach to schooling.  With very few notable exceptions, the national response in both of the countries represented on our team has been to replicate, as closely as possible, schooling as we knew pre-pandemic. 

You will note that, as you explore our suggestions, we have focused on the importance of word choice.  Throughout the paper, you will see the word “learner” rather than the word “student”.  This is deliberate . It reflects our experience that connects the word student with attending school and being exposed to all of the practices, policies, and procedures which are designed primarily around adult convenience and efficiency… all of the which is contrary to our belief that much learning of value takes place/can take place beyond the walls of the school.  It is for this reason that we distinguish between learning and schooling.  For the very same reason we urge you to begin your exploration of the ways in which our children (as well as adults) learn with your own personal exploration/answer to the question, “What is learning?”

Take a look at a modified version of Glennon Doyle’s words (bold, italics mine)…

“There are two orders of things: There is the seen order unfolding in front of us every day in our schoolsWe call this order of things reality. This is the way things are.” It’s all we can see because it’s all we’ve ever seen. Yet something inside us rejects it. We know instinctively: This is not the intended order of things. This is not how things are meant to be. We know that there is a better, truer, wilder way. That better way is the unseen order inside us. It is the vision we carry in our imagination about a truer, more beautiful world—”

For some additional context, here are a few thoughts offered by Yong Zhao in his recent paper xxx  “The Changes We Need: Education Post COVID-19”, Journal of Educational Change (2021) 

“…the changes or innovations that occurred in the immediate days and weeks when COVID-19 struck are not necessarily the changes education needs to make in the face of massive societal changes in a post-COVID-19 world. By and large, the changes were more about addressing the immediate and urgent need of continuing schooling, teaching online, and    finding creative ways to reach learners at home rather than using this opportunity to rethink education. While understandable in the short term, these changes will very likely be considered insubstantial for the long term.

  Readiness Is Not a Moral Issue

Not everyone sees the world as Zhao does.  For some of us school worked as learners and continues to work for us as teachers.  As Doyle notes (above)…It’s all we can see because it’s all we’ve ever seen. Some nod their heads to Zhao’s  words, but are overwhelmed by the mere act of preparing each day for to teach in ways we never envisioned and for which we were never trained.  Yet others have imagined experiences that are very different and are waiting for opportunities or are ready to make opportunities.  This paper is for you.

We urge you to begin your exploration of the ways in which our children (as well as adults) learn with your own personal exploration/answer to the question, “What is learning?”

 Why an individual approach?  What we’ve learned…

 What we have learned in the years leading up to the pandemic and what has been reinforced by our pandemic experiences is that in education, like almost all institutions, change happens very slowly.  Seeking and/expecting large scale institutional change is a recipe for disappointment.  Our small team has collectively more than 40 years of experience working to improve schools, school districts, even state policy.  We have learned this…

  1. Barring forced large-scale change mandates from either a state or the federal government, schooling will remain for kids and teachers essentially as it has been since the Gang of Ten laid out the curriculum and the grade level structure for schools in 1893…
  2. Meaningful change for our learners will take place one teacher or small group of teachers at a time. It will take place because someone sees a possibility.  It will take place because some says, “Enough!”. Maybe that someone will be a teacher, maybe a school leader, maybe a parent.  What they see may look different from place to place… maybe even from class to class.  

This is a Guide

This paper is written as a guide for those who, individually or as a small group, can’t wait for change to catch up with their need to offer kids something different.  It’s written for those who feel that learning is not about rigid standards, or curriculum organized in rigid content classes with little real-world connection or large-scale standardized assessments.   Maybe it’s not even about age-determined grade levels or seat-time based credits. 

It’s written for those whose know somewhere deep in their hearts that the purpose of education is both simple and clear. 

It’s about helping our kids learn how to learn…not simply transferring information from our heads into their theirs; not simply getting them ready for the annual large-scale standardized assessment.

It’s about helping kids learn how to do… not simply repeat what they’ve read but to be able to produce, to make, to act.

It’s about helping kids learn how to be… not in the context of compliance to school rules but in the context of personal development, of emotional health, of growing into responsible, caring adults.


Moving on to “HOW” — Getting Started



Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,said the Cat.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (Carroll, 1960, p. 88)


The HOW process is begins with questions… BIG questions.  My questions are “borrowed” from a  commencement address offered by Dr. James Ryan to the 2016 graduates of the Harvard Grad School of Education.  They’re the best questions I’ve found and I urge you to spend a fascinating few minutes with Dr. Ryan.

So, where do you want to get to?  What matters to you? 

Asking these questions regularly is a means of keeping  focused… focused amid all the distractions that can muddy up our days and our intentions. If you have found that there is something about your life in school that seems “not the way things should be”, begin with Ryan’s 5th question… What matters to you?  It’s your way to get to the heart of your beliefs and convictions. It’s a way of recapturing why you chose teaching as a career?

A sub-question to “what Matters” is “What do I believe?”  What do I believe about kids? About learning? Surprisingly, when I’ve interviewed teachers in recent years, I learned that they had never been asked that question… not in the interview, not in any evaluation conferences.  Taking time to answer these questions is a beginning to comparing what you are doing with what you believe is the right thing.

It cycles back to Ryan’s first question, “Wait! What?” Wait! I say I believe that all kids can learn and that kids should be active participants in their learning. But what am I doing that supports that belief? That seems to ignore that belief? How do the kids in my classes feel. 

It is here that we can begin the next question, “I wonder if my kids would feel like active participants in their learning?” “I wonder what my classroom looks like and if it feels like I believe all kids can learn?”

A Sample exploration…

What would my class look like if I believe that…

  • Learning should be learner focused, not teacher centered. The learner does the work of learning, not the teachers;
  • Learning is personal because we learn through our unique, personal lens on the world. It relies on the individual’s prior knowledge and experiences;
  • Learning should be personal, not “personalized” as in the current tech centered delivery system, but based on and organized around the personal interests and needs of learners;
  • Learning always relies on the individual’s prior knowledge and experiences;
  • Learning will frequently occur beyond the walls of the school;
  • Learning is personalized when every voice in the room is heard and valued.

Whether you’re working on this alone or in a small group, don’t skimp on time here.  Take some time. Write down what matters, write down what you believe about learning, write down what you feel about learning in your class.  

For many, perhaps for the majority of those seeking change, these questions can be a great starting point. The common theme that runs through changes in the experiences of teachers and kids will be the clear and non-negotiable focus on learning…  not on state test scores or test prep classes, but on learning… not on student control or compliance, but on learning… not transferring information from the teacher’s brain to the student’s, but on learning from the inside out… learning driven by student interests and teachers support/guidance in the exploration of these interests.

So where do I begin?

 Since we’re looking at “Big Questions as our starting point, Yong Zhao offers 3 questions that are an excellent follow-up to the “what if/what would happen if” questions above.

 He suggests that the three “big questions” that teachers who wish to see change will have to address are…

  1. The curriculum or What to teach?a deep exploration of the current curriculum — 
  2. Pedagogy or How to teach?… how will we move away from our traditional roles as the dispenser of information?
  3. Organization – Where and When to teach?

 What does Zhao mean by each of these?   How closely do these thoughts reflect your own thinking? If you had to start with one, which one would you begin with?  Here’s some additional detail about each…

Curriculum – What To teach?

First, there’s a conflict between what we have been hearing and what have been teaching.  While the specifics vary, the general agreement is that repetition, pattern-prediction and recognition, memorization, or any skills connected to collecting, storing, and retrieving information are in decline.

On the rise is a set of contemporary skills which includes creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, collaboration, communication, growth mindset, global competence, and a host of skills with different names (Duckworth and Yeager, 2015; Zhao et al. 2019).

…While helping learners develop basic practical skills is still needed, education should also be about development of humanity in citizens of local, national, and global societiesA new curriculum that responds to these needs must do a number of things.

First, it needs to help learners develop the new competencies for the new age (Barber et al. 2012; Wagner 2008, 2012; Wagner and Dintersmith 2016).

…The curriculum needs to focus more on developing learners’ capabilities instead of focusing only on ‘template’ content and knowledge. It needs to be concerned with learners’ social and emotional wellbeing as well. Also important is the gradual disappearance of school subjects such as history and physics for all learners. The content is still important, but it should be incorporated into competency-based curriculum.

Second, the new curriculum should allow personalization by learners (Basham et al. 2016; Zhao 2012b, 2018c; Zhao and Tavangar 2016). Although personalized learning has been used quite elusively in the literature, the predominant model of personalized learning has been computer-based programs that aim to adapt to learners’  needs (Pane et al. 2015). This model has shown promising results but true personalization comes from learners’ ability to develop their unique learning path- ways (Zhao 2018c; Zhao and Tavangar 2016).

…Enabling learners to co-develop part of the curriculum is not only necessary for them to become unique but also gives them the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination, which is inalienable to all humans (Wehmeyer and Zhao 2020).

Third, it is important to consider the curriculum as evolving. Although system- level curriculum frameworks have to be developed, they must accommodate changes with time and contexts.

What to do with this?… As you reflect on Zhao’s thinking on “What To Teach” – use the following questions to assess possible actions…

  • What are the things that I/we should keep “teaching”… e., what are the skills/dispositions that are leading to the learning I/we hope to see?  Example: The ways which language is used to communicate.
  • What are the things that I/we should stop “teaching” immediately…. i.e. what are the things/subjects that are keeping us from providing the kinds of experiences we want my/our kids (and ourselves) to have? Example: Disciplines disconnected from other areas of study.
  • What are the things that we should I/we start “teaching” doing immediately… e., What are the experiences that my/our kids need to have which are currently unavailable to them? Example: How to converse and use empathy in the process.

Pedagogy – How To Teach

First, learners are unique and have individual interests that may not align well with the content they are collectively supposed to learn in the classroom. Teachers have been encouraged to pursue classroom differentiation  (Tomlinson 2014) and learners have been encouraged to play a more active role in defining their learning and learning environments in collaboration with teachers (Zhao 2018c).

Second, the recent movement toward personalized learning (Kallick and Zmuda 2017; Kallio and Halverson 2020) needs learners to become more active in understanding and charting their learning pathways.

Learners should exercise self-determination as members of the school community (Zhao 2018c). The entire school is composed of adults and learners, but learners are the reason for existence of  schools. Thus, schools and everything in the school environment should incorporate and serve the learners.  Yet most schools do not have policies and processes that enable learners to participate in making decisions about the school—the environment, the rules and regulations, the curriculum, the assessment, and the adults in the school. Schools need to create these conditions through empowering learners to have a genuine voice in part of how they operate, if not in its entirety.

Direct instruction should be cast away for its “unproductive successes” or short-term successes but long term damages (Bona- witza et al. 2011; Buchsbauma et al. 2011; Kapur 2014, 2016; Zhao 2018d). In its place should be new models of teaching and learning. The new models can have different formats and names but they should be student-centered, inquiry-based, authentic, and purposeful. New forms of pedagogy should focus on student-initiated explorations of solutions to authentic and significant problems. They should help learners develop abilities to handle the unknown and uncertain instead of requiring memorization of known solutions to known problems.

What to do with this?… As you reflect on Zhao’s thinking on “How to Teach” – use the following questions to assess possible actions.

  •  What are the practices that I/we should keep?… Example: Learners working collaboratively
  • What are the practices that I/we should stop immediately? Example: Calling on first student to raise his/her hand.
  • What should I/we start doing immediately? Example: Engage learners determining what is to be explored.

 Organization – where and when to teach?

 Moving teaching online is significant. It ultimately changed one of the most important unwritten school rules: all learners must be in one location for education to take place. The typical place of learning has been the classroom in a school and the learning time has been typically confined to classes.

When learners are not limited to learning in classes inside a school, they are distributed in the community. They can interact with others through technologies. This can have significant impact on learning activities. If allowed or enabled by a teacher, learners could be learning from online resources and experts anywhere in the world. Thus, the where of learning changes from the classroom to the world.

Furthermore, the time of learning also changes.

Learners could join different learning communities that involve members from different locations, not necessarily from their own schools. Learners could also participate in learning opportunities provided by other providers in remote locations. Furthermore, learners could create their own learning opportunities by inviting peers and teachers from other locations.

When learners are no longer required to attend class at the same time in the same place, they can have much more autonomy over their own learning. Their learning time expands beyond school time and their learning places can be global.

 What to do with this?… As you reflect on Zhao’s thinking on “Where and When to Teach” – use the following questions to assess possible actions… 

  • What are the practices that I/we should keep? Example: Questioning learners to make connections between in-school and out of school experiences.
  • What are the practices that I/we should stop immediately? Example: Restrictions to internet searches
  • What should I/we start doing immediately? Example: Offering credit/recognition for out-of-school learning

 What’s Next?

What comes next will largely be determined by the responses and feedback toWhat  this guide.  Was it helpful?  What was most helpful? Least helpful? What would you like to see next?  We are looking at building a bit of a model for what we’re calling the “Three Learnings Classroom”… a guide for building experieences for learners that offer suggestions for Learning How to Learn, Learning How to Do, and Learning How to Be.  Given the growing body of research and experiences with the social and emotional health of our learners, we are especially interested in a focus on the Learning How to Be challenge.

Why Should We Become Involved?

 “If those who were not a part of building the reality only consult reality for possibilities, reality will never change.” 

It’s Time To Make a Change -Part 1

It’s not time to make a change 

Just relax, take it slowly 

You’re still young, that’s your fault 

There’s so much you have to go through 

Find a girl, settle down 

If you want you can marry 

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy


All the times that I’ve cried 

Keeping all the things I knew inside 

It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it 

If they were right I’d agree 

But it’s them they know, not me 

Now there’s a way 

And I know that I have to go away 

I know I have to go


Father and Son



This post is the first of two written in response to increasing frustration expressed by teachers, school leaders, students and parents that returning to pre-pandemic “schooling” is unacceptable while recognizing that whole school or whole district changes are unlikely even when things return to “normal”. The experiences of the learners and the adults are calling our for change but those most affected feel powerless to bring it about.  

I’ve always been a fan of Cat Stevens and the exchange between a father and son seemed to capture the tension that exists when two people see the world very differently or, in this case, when teachers and kids see the world very differently than those who might have the power to make change.

In recognition of the unlikelihood of large scale change and the implications of that, we are offering an approach for those whose hearts cry out for something better… an approach which doesn’t require that we physically “leave” but which might allow us to “find a way”.  

The purpose of this approach is to offer support for those educators who are finding significant dissonance between why they were drawn to teaching and the emptiness of/frustrations with the experiences they are having.

It is an action-oriented guide .. one that requires a personal and individualized commitment… one that speaks to the minds and hearts of teachers and school leaders who know that there is a better way for our kids to learn and that it can’t wait until all are ready.

As you read this post and the accompanying action guide you will note the use of both “I” and “we” in the text.  This is a reflection of a first for this blog… a collaboration co-authors/co-designers.

Several years ago, I joined Modern Learners, an on-line community focusing on the need to respond to the frustrating experiences that our kids and their teachers were having in many schools. 

As a result of my interactions with others within the Modern Learners community, I connected with several other educators who shared my interest in changing the focus of education from what we’ll term “schooling” to learning… the kind of learning that isn’t about credit for time spent in class or compliance with rules established more for adult convenience than for genuine learning.

The result of this connection was the formation of a group, called “the Four Friends”.… a team of like-minded educators from here in the US and Canada interested in an exploration of how we might help teachers, school leaders, parents,  and kids experience something more than “schooling”… something that had learning as its center.  

Dr. Katie Martin is the author of “Learner-Centered Innovation and VP of Leadership and Learning at Altitude Learning”. She teaches in the graduate school of Education at High Tech High.

In her recent post, Challenging the Status Quo to Rewrite New School Rules, she writes…

In 1999, the US Women’s Soccer team wanted to play in the NFL stadiums like the men’s teams.  FIFA, the governing futbol association said no. Women’s teams had not traditionally made enough money and the belief was that they would never sell enough tickets to make it profitable.  

Despite the lack of support from the top, the US Women’s National set out to accomplish what no one thought possible. The 1999 Women’s Team took it upon themselves to visit schools and talk to kids. They visited soccer fields and got fans excited about the World Cup. This group of committed women knew what they were capable of and believed in their vision and their team. They worked together to make their vision a reality and challenged the status quo. As a result of their determination, in 1999, the US Women’s team played at the Rosebowl Stadium in Pasadena which was attended by 90,000 people- the largest crowd ever to attend a women’s sporting event in history. It was also the most-watched soccer game in the US to date including any Men’s World Cup matches. 

In her new book, Wolfpack, Abby Wambach asserts, “There were suddenly new rules to the game– written by those women– but only because  a bunch of badass visionaries had the courage to break the old ones.” 

Dr. Martin notes that this was not a book about soccer… “It was about the courage of these women and those that followed them to challenge the status quo and redefine the rules.” She applauds those who have had the courage to challenge the status quo.  She notes that she feels the same way when she walks into schools and see educators who have had the courage to stand up and challenge the status quo in order to create what kids today not only need but deserve. 

We know that the status quo is strong and is alive in many aspects of our lives. Fighting for something new and different is not always easy. Not fighting for what we believe in is even harder. 

What If There Were New School Rules?

Dr. Martin suggests that “…when we challenge the status quo, it means we can find new ways to meet the needs of our students, families, and learning communities despite the norms and the ways things have always been done.”  She continues…The pandemic “has helped many of us reject the fact that students need to be sorted, ranked, and managed and challenging long-held assumptions about intelligence, curriculum, and ultimately learning.”  In such schools/classrooms, the focus is on learning and what people need… not rules, and compliance.  Martin notes that “The status quo makes it easy to sort and rank. The status quo maintains hierarchy. The status quo feels safe.” 

Martin reminds us that when the compliance-driven model is all you know… all you have experienced, it’s hard to imagine that kids can function outside of such an environment.

In “Leadership for Deeper Learning”, Richardson, Batheon, and McLeod share students’ perspectives of school and one student comment especially addressed this.

“I  think it’s a whole paradigm shift, like a whole new cultural norm. For many years kids were seen and not heard. It’s as if we don’t have a voice until we are part of the real world. But we are part of the real world. We are living in it with new technology and social media and things which give young people a place to voice their opinion. I think it’s a new generation and we deserve to be heard. We should be heard and I think that is hard for some people to understand.”

We should all reflect on this high school student’s perspective and realize that if our schools don’t value the students we serve and make them feel seen and welcome, we will never be able to grow them.

Design for Learners and Learning

Martin emphasizes the importance of knowing what you want and designing to get it.

In what is increasing referred to as the “deform” culture, we have defined around standards and assessments, not learners, not around learning beyond the preparation for the state assessments.  As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is the introduction to a “how to” white paper.  It is designed around the the thoughts expressed by a number of participants in our discussions… “I’m ready to change. My school, my superintendent, my principal, my team isn’t.  What do I do to create the learning my heart know is possible?”  

We invite to to read and, more importantly, to take the opportunity to interact with the Action Guide paper we’ve provided.  We also invite you to interact with us using the email links.  

Dr. Susan Clayton,                        claytonsiusan64@gmail.com

Cameron Jones,                            cameron.jones@ocdsb.ca

Tom Welch,                                    twelchky@gmail.com

Rich TenEyck,                                rteneyck42@comcast.net