Bellwether’s Edu-Decade Reflections

The 2010s are almost over (*gasp*), and everyone’s talking about what we can learn from the eclipsing decade. I asked my colleagues for some reflections on the good, the bad, and the in between from ten years of education progress, and I highlighted additional readings where you can get more information on their ideas:

Via Flickr user haru__q

What have you learned about education in the last decade?

Cara Jackson: Democracy is hard. I might have once thought that if integrating schools could be done anywhere, it could be done in a Maryland school district with well-educated, liberal parents. I’m very disappointed in the tone of the debate in Montgomery County Public Schools community meetings on the school boundary analysis, and I’ve found that people who I thought shared my commitment to equity are more worried about their property values. [insert dumpster fire gif]

Related resource: This local article about the community meetings uses the headline ‘This is Just People Screaming’

Yoshira Cardenas Licea: As a teacher, I learned that developing strong teachers requires incredible support from different angles (e.g., internal drive, teacher preparatory programs, veteran teachers, accessible resources, and internal and external professional development). I was surprised by how much work it took — in time and effort — to see results. I was disappointed by how little support I received from my district and principal when compared to surrounding districts and fellow teachers. I was encouraged by the hard-working people around me who were willing to dedicate the time and effort necessary to make a difference in students’ lives.

Related resource: Our 2018 blog series on teaching, school leadership, and the education talent pipeline

Tresha Ward: Student relationships matter. Schools where all leaders and teachers actually “see” and truly care for each student in front of them, in a deep and genuine way, are more successful. Adults who know how to, and who have a sincere interest in, building relationships with students are more successful. I visit so many schools trying to “do” restorative or trauma-informed work, but they don’t prioritize as their #1 strategy ensuring that adults build genuine and caring relationships with all of their students.

Schools need to wrestle with the following questions as they take stock of their school culture: Can you say confidently that the adults in your building love kids and want to see them all be successful? Is every child known and seen? Does every child have more than one caring relationship with adults in the building?

Is your school quick to control, penalize, or ding students for behaviors small and large? Is the learning environment tense and compliance-driven in the name of “high expectations”?

Related resource: Tresha’s blog post on building a cohesive school culture

What are your hopes for the next edu-decade?

Hailly Korman: Over the next decade, I would like to see leaders invest in measuring what matters and learning how to engage in the kind of data collection and information sharing that facilitates responsive services while protecting student privacy. From a technological perspective, this is already a solvable problem — we just need to commit to actually solving it in meaningful ways for the people who matter most: students and families.

Related resource: Hailly’s 2018 report with Justin Trinidad about mitigating data fragmentation for students

Stephanie Spangler: Based on my decade spent as a student, teacher, and now (for a hot second) supporting schools with Bellwether’s Strategic Advising team, here’s where I hope we focus our “ed reform” attention in the decade to come:

Obsessing Over High Quality Curriculum + Instruction: For a movement about improving schools, we’ve only recently started to take instruction as seriously as we should. Designing excellent curriculum and delivering top-notch instruction is complex, intellectual, and essential to actually improving student outcomes. Despite that, teachers are often left to their own devices to figure out what and how to teach. At both a high-performing charter school and traditional public school in Washington, DC, I wrote nearly everything myself as a very inexperienced teacher. We’re getting more serious about quality curriculum as a lever for educational equity, and I hope that continues. The recent “reading wars” are a great example of how much work we have to do around actually defining and delivering quality instruction!

Related resource: A popular 2019 audio documentary on the way American schools teach reading 

Building Schools Where Teachers and Leaders Thrive: I’m hoping we continue to move beyond the heroic individual teacher as a solution, and get serious about building schools that support and develop teachers and leaders as true professionals. Has anyone read Susan Moore Johnson’s new book, Where Teachers Thrive? I’m halfway through and obsessed. She writes: “By focusing on individuals while ignoring the schools where they work, reformers failed to address a major source of the problem: the outdated, ineffective, compartmentalized school organization that rarely provides teachers with the resources and supports they need to improve teaching and learning.” Yes Susan!

Related resource: Our blog posts connected to school leadership can be viewed here, including this Q&A about reorganizing schools to be more collaborative workplaces

Getting Real About Implementation Supports: My last hope is that we get more specific about implementation supports for all our ideas. We can all agree in the abstract that things like differentiation, project-based learning, restorative justice, personalized education, and 21st-century learning are great. But my mind always goes back to what any of it means for real kids, real teachers, and real schools. What does the latest buzzword mean for school scheduling, staffing, classroom spaces, and curricular resources? If we want to see any impact, we need to get more specific about defining and supporting the systems and structures necessary to actually make any of these things happen.

Related resource: This blog post examines the importance of documenting school procedures to better implement new initiatives

Stay tuned in January for a list of Bellwether’s top publications and blog posts of 2019!