Category Archives: School Leadership

Progress Not Perfection: Overcoming Your Hesitation to Talk about Race and Equity at Work

The Shaman by Pedro Paricio via Halcyon Gallery

Is it a prerequisite that you feel fluent in the language of race, inclusion, and equity before tackling such issues in your organization?

This is a question I’ve been working through myself. Acting to resolve a sensitive issue we may be met with silence, confusion, denial, or resistance. If not communicated tactfully, we might unintentionally offend colleagues. In the worst case scenario, we might encounter marginalization, reprimand, or even termination. Scary stuff. So, initially, my intuition said that we should get good at talking about sensitive topics before launching into action to avoid complicating an already complex situation. Reaching a level of conversational proficiency where we feel confident to handle any situation before intervening in an equity issue seemed like a logical pursuit.

More recently, I’ve come to think that this is a recipe for delay, paralysis, and, ultimately, the perpetuation of the status quo. Waiting for everyone to reach proficiency won’t work because everyone’s starting from a different place. More importantly, as a sector and as leaders, we’re late to the game on this and it’s time to report for duty.

As an education leader, you have two roles: lead and provide space and support for others to grow. The same is true when making equity part of your daily dialogue. It’s important to acknowledge that people all have different levels of comfort and sophistication with discussions about race and equity. For instance, when we talk about race, there are often stark differences between people of color and whites. Continue reading

Is Your Organization Talent-Ready? Launching Our Expanded Talent Services Practice

Look across the sector and you’ll find countless organizations focused on the important work of developing broader teacher and leader pipelines to education organizations. Teach for America, TNTP, New Leaders, Education Pioneers, Encore Fellows Network, The Broad Residency, The Strategic Data Project, and the new The Surge Fellowship are some of the more well known examples. Each has changed the national conversation about who works in education, which skills are needed, and what it takes to get high-caliber professionals in the organizations that need them most.

But what happens when a talented teacher, principal, or system-level leader lands in an organization that’s not equipped to allow him or her to thrive? As a field, we’ve spent more than a decade focusing on the supply side of the talent equation without commensurate consideration for building talent-ready organizations that are innovative, effectively managed, and joyful places to work that generate dramatic results for students.

At Bellwether we are proud to announce our expanded Talent Services practice to support organizations to become talent-ready. Grounded in our track record of success placing transformational leaders in new roles and our disciplined strategic approach to growing effective organizations, Talent Services captures the best of Bellwether’s integrated approach.

Continue reading

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Rural Teachers

I can’t remember the last time I read a report that so thoroughly informed me about the basics of an important subject or so swiftly disabused me of my faulty assumptions.

If you care about rural-education issues or track the composition of the teacher workforce, you must read “The Supply and Demand for Rural Teachers” by Dan Player.

lead

Image from The Atlantic, “The Challenge of Teaching Science in Rural America”

This short and edifying paper is the latest release from our rural ed-reform initiative, ROCI. The paper’s purpose is deceptively simple: “Summarize what we know about the current state of rural teacher labor markets by contrasting them with the same data from urban, suburban, and large and small town settings.”

What follows are mostly descriptive statistics. Nevertheless, you’ll almost certainly find yourself repeatedly thinking, “I. Did. Not. Know. That.”

Continue reading

Do You Have Opposability and Cross-class Expertise?

In yesterday’s New York Times op-ed, “Skills in Flux,” David Brooks shares some examples of seven new skills that are valued in today’s highly-networked, multicultural, and data-rich world. He writes: “As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too, and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.”

More to come on what this means for the education sector, but for now I want to dig into two skills that Brooks mentions that are particularly valuable for education leaders.

The first is opposability – the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind while still retaining the ability to function (a la F. Scott Fitzgerald).

The education sector is wrought with polemic arguments that present policy solutions as mutually exclusive, but behind those arguments is intimidating complexity and startling nuance that exposes the vast gray area where most issues reside. For instance, high-quality, competency-based instruction is not incompatible with annual tests and accountability measures, yet I don’t often see education leaders and policymakers employing the mental opposability that could reconcile these ideas into powerful policy and practice.

The second is cross-class expertise – the ability to operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.

Brooks’ idea of cross-class expertise as a professional skill is particularly germane to urban education where teachers, principals, and system leaders are disproportionately white, well-educated, and affluent compared to the constituencies that they serve. I interpret this skill as a kind of actionable self-awareness specific to race and class which is related to one of my recent posts on the necessity of education leaders being able to discuss issues of race, class, and inequity,

In a conversation with my colleague Saamra Mekuria-Grillo, at the Pahara Institute, we broke down  cross-class expertise into two kinds: native and learned. Native cross-class expertise is a skill acquired by mixed-race, bi-cultural, or mixed-class people or those who operate in highly diverse environments for extended lengths of time – much like how being  immersed in a digital culture results in digital natives. Learned cross-class expertise pertains to people who operate in a racially or culturally homogeneous environment but proactively gain exposure to new cultures, perspectives, and experiences to inform their work and personal development.

Should the education sector learn to value opposability we’d move closer to public debate that’s more civil, productive, and nuanced. And more cross-class experts could help reconcile the urgency to close achievement gaps with reforms that include the communities where they exist.

After Two Years in Teach For America, What’s Next? (Part 2 of 2)

Last week I wrote about the impact Teach For America corps members have on student learning, noting that the evidence is largely positive. The second part of Teach For America’s theory of change—which states that alumni will become leaders in the movement to end educational inequity—is equally important. Teach For America has always thought about this two-part theory of change as a balancing act, investing in measuring immediate progress within the classroom alongside how many alumni are active as education leaders. But this second metric is much more difficult to measure.

In light of how quickly Teach For America has grown, understanding how the organization measures alumni impact takes on even greater importance. As of 2014 there were over 37,000 alumni, or more than three times the number of corps members.

Source: Teach For America internal data via 2014 Bellwether Education report Continue reading