This week on TeachLab, our host Justin Reich joins a panel of education leaders with Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis, Superintendent Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed and Dr. Beth Rabbitt, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, hosted by the US Department of Education's Office of EdTech. “It's really important for us to take some time and reflect on what we have learned in the past 20 months, recognizing the uniqueness of everyone's journeys… then also look ahead and strip away the things that we don't necessarily need, and continue with things that have worked for our learners.” Kristina Ishmael, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
This week on TeachLab, our host Justin Reich joins a panel of education leaders with Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis from Richland School District Two in Columbia, SC, Superintendent Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed of Hopkins Public Schools in Minneapolis, MN, and Dr. Beth Rabbitt, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, hosted by the US Department of Education's Office of EdTech.
In the conversation, panelists share recent experiences in districts, schools and classrooms throughout the pandemic. In the face of challenges, new strategies and innovations have emerged. Panelists reflect on how educators can take these insights and move towards more equitable learning experiences for all students.
The conversation was moderated by Chris Rush, Sr. Advisor for Innovation & Director of Educational Technology, Office of the Secretary at U.S. Department of Education, and Kristina Ishmael, Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Education, as a part of the Office of Education Technology’s “Planning for Changing Scenarios: Navigating the Road Ahead”, a webinar and blog series to help districts and schools share challenges and strategies.
“It's really important for us to take some time and reflect on what we have learned in the past 20 months, recognizing the uniqueness of everyone's journeys… then also look ahead and strip away the things that we don't necessarily need, and continue with things that have worked for our learners.”
- Kristina Ishmael, Deputy Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
In this episode we hear about:
Resources and Links
Visit The Office of Ed Tech’s Webinar Replay — Planning for Changing Scenarios: Emerging Stronger Post-Pandemic to reflect more on this episode’s conversation
Don’t miss our online course Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices
Learn more about MIT Teaching Systems Lab’s Imagining September and The Teachers Have Something to Say Reports
Check out Justin Reich’s book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education
Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley. Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley
Host Justin Reich
Justin Reich: From the studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. Earlier this year, I had the chance to participate in a panel on planning for changing learning scenarios, hosted by the US Department of Education. It was a great conversation with a group of incredibly thoughtful superintendents and education leaders. And the Department of Ed is kind enough to let us share it with you here on TeachLab. We had some real honest talk about the pandemic, the challenges that schools are still facing, and how we're going to build back better. And we had some superintendents that are really on the front lines of leading change in challenging times. A big theme that I hope you'll listen for is about prioritization. Schools are absolutely maxed out right now. Teachers are absolutely maxed out right now. And we can't improve schools just by adding more and more. Really, we need to start thinking about subtraction. What are schools doing now that they can stop doing? What are teachers doing now that they can stop doing, so we can make some space for innovation so we can focus on more important things?
Justin Reich: We thought this theme was so compelling, we're working on a whole new set of episodes for this spring, a new series we're calling Subtraction In Action that's going to dig even deeper into these ideas. But in the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this conversation and get as much out of it as I did.
Chris Rush: Hello, everyone. My name is Chris Rush, and I am senior advisor for innovation here at the US Department of Ed. And I am very excited to welcome everybody back to our ongoing webinar series around planning for changing scenarios. Today's topic is going to be focusing on emerging stronger post pandemic. And yes, it's not completely clear when post pandemic will be, but one way or another, we are starting to emerge now, there are exciting things happening in our schools, and we're all crossing our fingers as things continue to evolve as we go into this winter holiday season. Now, look, the aftermath of the pandemic, now and as we continue into it, really does present a real profound opportunity for school systems to learn from the new strategies, capabilities, and innovations that have really emerged during this crisis. And for all the challenging things that have happened along the way, trying to take advantage of those opportunities, that silver lining, so to speak, and figuring out how we can leverage these new muscles, really has the potential to reduce inequities and lead to improved learning experiences for all students when we look at this in the longer term. And that's what we are so excited to begin and continue a conversation around today during our webinar series.
Chris Rush: I'm excited to introduce my co-moderator here today that I am joined by Kristina Ishmael. She is deputy director for the Office of Education Technology here at the Department of Education. And before we dive in and she'll introduce to you the panelists that we have for our conversation today, just want to do a few quick housekeeping details around what's happening in this webinar. So first off, who's in the room? This is meant to be not only a conversation of the panelists, but also for you to be contributing. So please use the chat, let us know who's here, share your name, location, organization, or school or school district that you're coming from.
Chris Rush: And then additionally, while you can put questions into the chat, there is an extra Q&A button that's part of this, where you can submit more formal questions that we'll be taking look at. And Kristina and I will do our best to incorporate some of those questions into the conversation where we can, but if we don't get to them, don't worry, we're paying attention to all of these. So as we think about future webinar topics and ideas, those really help inform all of that. We'll also be sharing with you some resources in the chat, but also as you have other thoughts or responses to those, throw them right in there. And this webinar will be recorded and it will be uploaded onto the Ed website that you can be able to take a look at. So if you want to share it with others in the future or you want to circle back to it, it's right there. But ultimately we're really looking forward to a lively conversation day, hoping you all can engage. And with that, I will turn it over to my co-moderator, Kristina.
Kristina Ishmael: Thanks, Chris. Good morning, everyone. Good afternoon for our East Coast folks. Good morning to all the other time zones. As Chris mentioned, my name is Kristina Ishmael, my pronouns are she and her, joining you all from Washington DC this morning. It is my pleasure to join this incredible panel of folks that are doing the work right now. And as Chris mentioned, we hope for the post pandemic, as fingers are crossed,, toes potentially crossed as well, and wanting to learn from what we've done over the past 20 months. And that is why we're joined today by Dr. Baron Davis from Richmond School District Two in South Carolina, Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, who is the superintendent in Minnesota at Hopkins Public Schools, Dr. Beth Rabbitt, the CEO of The Learning Accelerator. And then we have Justin Reich rounding out our panelists, who is the director of MIT Teaching Systems Lab, and the associate professor, you've got a long title, Justin, associate professor of comparative media studies. I thought we had long titles here at the Department, but I think you might win this one.
Kristina Ishmael: Thank you all for being here, first of all. A huge thank you to you for the work that you have done over the past 20 months to make sure that our students and our educators were being supported and served. So I would like to start us off with a very general question. As we look ahead to the future, whether that is in the coming months or potentially in the coming years, what is needed to ensure that every student and every educator can learn and work in spaces that are safe, supportive, enriching, and equitable?
Dr. Baron Davis: I'll start. I think it's a great question. Right now, the things that I'm grappling with is just, there are a lot of competing needs. There are multiple groups that we have to, as school leaders and systems leaders, have to be accountable for and tend to. Of course our students will be the primary focus for us, but we also have the needs of our teachers, as well as the needs of our support staff and classified staff that supports our schools like bus drivers and cafeteria workers and custodians and all those other individuals. And I think it's a mistake sometimes for us to believe that everybody needs are the same and each one of those groups have different needs. And what's happening when you are in the midst of a crisis, in the midst of like a pandemic, now everybody needs are competing because everybody needs those basic needs taken care of.
Dr. Baron Davis: And so I think one of the things that we're going to have to be able to do is to be able to come together with these competing, and they're not competing on purpose, it's just natural, but these different groups, and get a very strong understanding on what exactly the needs are before we can move forward. I think as school leaders, and sometimes as superintendents, I've made the mistake of assuming I know what you need as the sub coordinator or what you need as the bus driver, what you need as a student or a teacher. I got to get these people together, get these groups together, get these individuals together and start having the conversations about, "What have been your challenges? What have been your successes? What do you need to go forward? And how do we make sure that we don't go back to those things that weren't working even prior to COVID?"
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: Yeah, just to build on Dr. Davis's comment. Thank you. Hi, everyone. My name is Beth Rabbitt. I lead a national nonprofit called The Learning Accelerator. As I was thinking about what we're learning from schools and districts right now, one of the reflections I had is, to build directly on Dr. Davis' point, is we have to acknowledge the uniqueness of the journeys that folks have had through this pandemic, as well as the differences in where they are right now as they continue to navigate the pandemic. I think there are a lot of broad brush assessments that we're making about where kids are or where adults are that really need, like we have to get under the hood to understand who experienced what, how. What are the new strengths folks have built in addition to the challenges that they faced? Recognizing those strengths, recognizing those needs, actually developing much more nuanced plans for tackling them.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: And then secondly, as we're negotiating and navigating all that, really working to ensure we're keeping the door open for the future work we want to do to advance our systems. So saying yes, right now we might be responding to individual needs, creating plans for recovery and stabilization. But how do we keep the door open so the work we might want to do in one year, two years, those strategic visions we had in place still remain options on the table? And then our community understands we're still getting there, even if we are where we are right now.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: I'm happy to build on that as well. And hello, everyone. I'm Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed. I'm a superintendent in Hopkins, Minnesota, just 10 minutes outside of Minneapolis. And as Dr. Davis explained, this challenge is multifaceted. He talked about the competing needs of students and staff. And the question includes words like safe and supportive. What are the conditions that create safe, supportive, enriching, and equitable learning environments? And for me, there are two things that we need to think about. I think first we need mental health and wellness to be everyone's job. It's no longer just the job of parents, therapists, school counselors and social workers. Wellness needs to be at the center of the work that teachers and principals, instructional assistants even, and district office leaders do, because our classrooms are a microcosm of the world and the world is increasingly complex and volatile. We have to find ways of institutionalizing wellness like we never have before. Wellness should happen before, during, and after rigorous academic learning, to make sure that our students are feeling safe and supported.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: To me, there's another important component in all of this. And to me, safe also means culturally affirming and responsive. And I truly believe that BIPOC educators and students, whether they represent just 10% of a total school or district population or 80% of a total population, have to be able to show up with their authentic selves. And this means that we do have to think of ways of decentering whiteness and creating more space for all races and cultures to show up and be welcomed. In Hopkins, we have more than 71 languages represented, with our top three cultural heritages being Hmong, Latinx, and Somali. And so how do we navigate our ethical responsibility to ensure that the conditions that characterize our learning environments are ones that allow every student and every adult to be seen, heard, valued, and loved? So this means culturally responsive organizational values, culturally affirming curriculum, culturally respectful instructional practices, and really engaging in that hard work of system changes that erase the racial predictability from student outcomes.
Chris Rush: Just a follow-up before we head on to another question, there are so many needs floating around out there that you're all describing. Especially Dr. Davis, you were talking about this in particular. And we need to listen to all of those, but there are also probably some hard choices for you all to make when you do hear all of those different needs, and in trying to balance equity and to be supportive. Any advice for folks out there around how to go about making some of those choices and communicating about them?
Dr. Baron Davis: Yeah, I would first eliminate the choices that don't align with your mission. Because situations that are brought before you, many of them don't align to your mission, so to stay mission focused. And if that's difficult, then reevaluate what your mission is. If the mission is outdated for today's schools, then reassess the mission and put one in place that is more aligned to what students of today need in the K through 12 spaces, and then strategically abandon those things that do not align with your mission. And don't allow those things that are not aligned or supportive of the mission of your school system to be a part of the work that you do. And then once you get those things, find out what the initiatives, developed the initiatives, and strategically put them in place on what it initiatives or things you're going to tackle when. You can't address every single thing every year at the same time with the same amount of resources, because there are finite resources, not just from a financial standpoint, but from a human capital standpoint as well. And the system is only going to allow you to do so many things at one time. So really identify what are going to be the mission critical things you need in order to accomplish your mission and move your organization forward this year.
Dr. Baron Davis: And a lot of things line up with equity and inclusion and the practices of those things. So if that's part of what you are working on, then you have to ask yourself that question, does this align to our strategic plan? Does this align to our mission? And that's what we do, we filter things through our strategic plan. Is it inclusive, is a question. Is it innovative? Have we used the appropriate amount of data? How have we communicated it? Who are our partners? And then all that is part of those questions that we have to ask ourselves before we take on a project or take on some new initiative.
Chris Rush: I like it both provides direction, but also helps people understand the choices that you're making. Any others on that question? Or happy to move us forward.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: Yeah. I could just quickly say, in a similar vein, it's really important organizationally and really school to school, classroom to classroom, to have everyone engage in making a list of what we're going to start doing because wellness is so important, and what we're going to stop doing. Especially, Dr. Davis said, if it doesn't align with the mission and vision, then let's stop investing time and resources and people into that. So really identifying things that are mission and vision aligned and driven, but also identifying some traditional practices that really haven't been getting us the results that we need for all students. What are some of those traditional practices that we've been holding onto for a long time, but when we look at the value add it's not there? And so how do we identify it as something that we're going to stop doing?
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: And so one example might be trying to teach everything. In this country, we try to cover every single standard, and we're doing all of this cramming. And let's start thoughtfully identifying the most important, highest leverage power standards that really help students develop their critical thinking analytical skills. And let's stop trying to teach everything. So really having teachers and principals engage in that work around, what is it we've got to stop because it's time intensive and it's not getting us what we need with our student learning and the results that we're looking for?
Justin Reich: In some of our work with educators, we've talked about that letting go as Marie Kondoing the curriculum, I don't know if people know the famous Japanese house tidier Marie Kondo, who has this thing which to empty out your closet, you go to each shirt hanging in your closet and you put your hand on it and see if it sparks joy. And if it doesn't spark joy, then you fold it and say thank you and get rid of it. And I think there's a lot that we need to do. School reform can't be additive. We can't keep saying the job of teachers is to do more and more and more. If there's new things we want teachers to do, then there's something else that they have to not do, because their day didn't get any longer with.
Justin Reich: With a colleague at Harvard, John Mehta, we wrote a report called Healing, Humanity, and Community, which I'll put in here, which has a protocol that we used with a bunch of design [inaudible 00:17:39] and different district teams. We called it Amplify, Hospice, Create. What are, what, what went really well in the last year and a half that you want to build on and move forward with? I think an extremely exciting part of the last couple of years is that for many of the kinds of things we might have pointed to before and said, "Well, you can't change that," the mask is off on that. There are all kinds of things that we thought of as fixed, as determined, as static, as impossible to move. Then the last 18 months we discovered were plastic and changeable and we could get rid of them. And so I think an enormous challenge for the system in the years ahead is to figure out how do we take all the energy and creativity that we found in moments of crisis, and in humane, sustainable ways maintain that in a period that will hopefully feel less crisis like in the months ahead? But I'm excited to hear people talking about what we're going to get rid of, because we're not going to improve our schools just by adding more stuff on top of them.
Chris Rush: Both picturing the teacher that ultimately becomes the mayor that also becomes the notary person and does everything at some point that we keep doing in our schools. And I think you're right, we can't just keep adding that on to teachers. And to your last point, I think it's a perfect lead to my next question here, which is, look, the pandemic necessitated the use of all sorts of new techniques and differentiated and new learning models to really engage students. How do you think schools and districts and families can incorporate these new models into traditional instruction? Or should they? And some of that may be hybrid, some of it may not involving technology, and some of it might just be different practices. I'm curious what you all think about new models as we go forward.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: So I can start us off. So right before the state of Minnesota went into statewide distance learning in the spring of 2020, our district had just completed research around different learning management systems, and we had selected one to implement. Except at that point, we were many months out from implementation. But when COVID hit, we decided to move immediately. And so we adopted a new LMS and acted quickly to get all teachers trained. And it really saved us, because although we were already a one-to-one district, we hadn't been using a comprehensive LMS, and adopting one right away helped us facilitate quality distance. Learning, and helped us be more connected to our students during that time.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: So now we've become proficient facilitating virtual learning using an LMS, we're leveraging those platforms during in-person instruction as well. So whether it's flipped instruction, whether it's supporting students who are quarantining, leveraging virtual classrooms in flex spaces because of the teacher and staffing shortage. So sometimes we have subs or instructional assistants that check in on students while they're engaging in virtual learning and working with their assignments on the LMS. These are platforms that have really allowed us to be fluid and flexible during in-person learning, and also helping us navigate the staffing shortage.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: Another model that we've been doing more of is outdoor immersion. Now, it might surprise you, because yes, it does get cold here in Minnesota. Ironically, it's 55 degrees today, which is crazy to have that warmth on December 1st. Normally it's very cold. But with the pandemic still alive and well, we realize that facilitating learning outdoors is not only COVID safe, but being outdoors and with nature is something that students and teachers really love. In fact, one student shared that being outside for school is so cool, it's like you're learning and you don't even realize it. So we've launched three outdoor immersion kindergarten classes at one of our elementary schools. In those classes, students are learning outside 75 to 80% of the time. In the woods, in the greenhouse. We're even equipping the school grounds with a hobby farm with animals and gardens. And so it's this really amazing opportunity to just leverage the learning opportunities that are beyond and outside of school walls, and it's COVID safe.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: Yeah. To build on Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed's comments, so we've spent a lot of time surveying districts about what they did differently during COVID, innovations they pursued, the ways in which they brought new resources to the table. We profile Hopkins work, I'll throw it in the chat. But one thing we think is the major opportunity is to consider how these new tools, how these new resources, be they technologies or different learning spaces or community connections and partnerships, actually unlock opportunities for equity that didn't exist before. We oftentimes get so stuck in an operating model that it's hard to find new ways to bring in new resources.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: And as Justin was saying, we sort of broke down some walls last year. And we have really been able to think about, wow, so if we were able to do some more work virtually, what experts could we introduce students to? What types of interventions could we offer? If we were willing to allow high school students to work in a hybrid manner, what could they spend other time doing? Like really meaningful CTE and workplace experiences, or some of the stuff that might be important for them at home, like taking care of siblings, working. Could we ask rural students to not spend four hours a day on school buses? These are opportunities that technology and new resources have brought us, and it's a huge area of inquiry and learning. And I think that it represents a whole new kind of zone of development for us to think about. And I just want to applaud the ways in which we've seen superintendents, like Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed, really lean in and just try some new things. And what we're hearing from families and students is actually, they want more of it.
Justin Reich: Beth's organization, Learning Accelerator, had a great report, I think it was called Hop, Skip, Leapfrog, with a whole bunch of these examples from Hopkins, from lots of other places. Hopefully somebody will drop that in the chat, because it's a great repository of exactly these kinds of examples.
Dr. Baron Davis: Yeah. I think to reemphasize what was already shared, I think it's important that one model that we continue to examine and accept is a new mental model of how schools work. We were very flexible from our positioning and understanding because we were forced to be so. So not losing that mental model that we all adapted very quickly, that we can do these things. Many of these things have been in practice, but we just were stubborn in education in K through 12 to not adopt them. So we talk about flipped classrooms, I remember going to a conference maybe 10 years ago about flipped classroom models, where we were recording content ahead of time and students were reviewing the content on their own, and they were coming to class and actually doing the labs and the work. That's 10 years ago before COVID.
Dr. Baron Davis: So we should have had a repository of content that was available to any student nationally. Any student could have piped in for biology one and gotten content from all over the country. But we have this very silo based educational system that this is what we do in South Carolina. And not only this is what we do in South Carolina, but in Richland School District Two, this is what we do. We don't really consult with what's going on around there. But just think about all the vast resources that would've been available to students so that some school districts wouldn't have had to come out and rush with something if we had a national repository of information that students could have easily tapped into, or teachers could have easily tapped into on day one. So we got to address a new mental model, understanding that we all are responsible for the education for students in this country.
Dr. Baron Davis: Another area is really, I think, touching on what was shared earlier about being proficiency based. [inaudible 00:26:27] and teaching all of the things. What's the most important things? And let's assess our students based on those master or those power standards for those particular areas. And let's move them on once they demonstrate proficiency. Again, this isn't anything new. I think there was someone years ago, I don't know if it was Bill Gates or someone came up with this whole idea about, let's give a student a proficiency test at the beginning of wherever, and if you test out of algebra two, you shouldn't have to take algebra two. You've already demonstrate that you have the ability to do algebra two. But only in K through 12 education that we continue to practice this. Again, we know this exists, but we haven't had the courage, the organization to really push this through nationally that these are things that our kids need to be able to do.
Dr. Baron Davis: I was thinking about my first year in college, I took a self-paced math class. And some of our students who probably could work independently on their own, and giving them the opportunity to work independently on it. Which we saw students be able to demonstrate the ability to do that. So not allowing those models to go away. And we might need some sort of gradual progression system in elementary school where it's very, very traditional standards based focus on developing the social skills that students need early in life. Hey, how about this novel thing? Let's not test students on standardized tests until third, fourth grade, like they do in other industrialized countries. And let's just focus on teaching them to be citizens, how to be kind, how to put things back, those types of things. And then we'll worry about assessing them. But we are so quick to start sorting students out academically that we start testing them in second grade and identifying them as gifted and talented, so that we can start sorting them into certain special programs. Let's maybe consider looking at that model.
Dr. Baron Davis: And again, I think what Dr. Rabbitt just said about apprenticeship opportunities, more opportunities for students to begin once they get to a certain part of their academic experience. We start now giving them an experience where they are out in the community working in areas that they are passionate about. Not necessarily focus on about just making a bunch of money one day, but what am I passionate about and how I'm going to contribute to society based on the passions that I have and let me get those experiences. I think those are models that we can begin to maybe push that mindset and bring everyone in.
Dr. Baron Davis: The last thing I would say is educators need to start having conversations saying that this experience is all of our responsibility, because we shoulder a lot. Just answered questions about mental health, and now it's like what are schools doing for the health for students and the mental health of teachers? And schools weren't designed to do that and teach curriculum and have curriculum instruction and prepare for end of the year standardized test scores. We just wasn't designed to do those things. So we are going to need some assistance in getting that done.
Kristina Ishmael: I think we could just end right there. Dr. Davis, thank you for bringing the word. This lines us up for the next question, and I have to bring it back to this only because while I work for the US Department of Education, and we always look at data, but let's talk about this. So you mentioned strategically abandoning things that were not aligned for our mission, and we have to root that or ground that in data. We do, we have to see where our kids are. I'm also a former early childhood and elementary teacher, so I'm like, "Yes, yes, and yes, please." None of those assessments until it's developmentally appropriate. But so let's talk about the data. We did have access to a lot more, well, forced access probably to platforms and tools that gave us more insight into the whole child and to the actual learner. How are you all using these different data points now? And what does that look like moving into the future?
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: So I guess I could start. Thank you for the question. So we've been thinking about data for a long time. And honestly, in my district, we haven't always been savvy and efficient with our data use. So about a year ago, we hired a woman, we hired her for a position called instructional data scientist. And so she organizes all of our surveys to parents, students, and staff. And she also works with all of our achievement data. So we have qualitative and quantitative data that we're now working with. She's cleaning it up, and we're really trying to become very systematic with how we use data. So what has been interesting is that we surveyed our parents and students and staff so much during this last year and a half, that we have a ton of data around what students need, what families learned about themselves, what students learned about how they learned, what teachers learned about how they teach and why they chose to include certain elements of their instruction and curriculum in the virtual space or not.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: So we uncovered really interesting themes, especially around soft skills, that students have been mastering during this time. So qualities such as grit and resilience and learning that they either thrived in distance learning, or learning that they really needed in-person instruction, learning how to be more self-paced and self directed. And so I think where we are now is that these themes in our data and feedback help us understand that students and families want more voice, choice and agency in their learning, and that students can be trusted to solve big problems, either problems within the learning, problems within their personal life, or system problems. We've been tapping our students to help us figure out what we need to do differently in our system to better and more effectively support students and families and staff. Because this data from our students just showed us how brilliant they are and the power of their ideas in coming up with solutions that actually have promise and will work. So that's some of what we've been doing with data in Hopkins Public Schools.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: There's an example that I love to share from Nashville, Tennessee, that we heard. Which I think we're collecting all these data, the question is, how do we use them to the benefit of the kids in our systems? And how do we get it often enough to be able to respond? In Nashville during the pandemic, they launched something called the Navigator Program, where they mobilized 5,600 adults across their system to have weekly check-ins with every single student, collecting data not just on how are you feeling about school, but how are you in terms of your housing and food security? How are your parents? What do you need? And that work, actually, they developed a data system to put that information in, and then they were able to effectively use that to assemble school based and district based teams to actually tackle what they were learning at the level of the individual student. But also, Rhoda, to your point, at the level of the system.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: And I think it's something they've decided to continue this year, and it's something a model we're seeing others take on. But all these data that we get, unless we actually create a system for using it and making it meaningful in the work, it can be actually just a lot of information. All data, no wisdom. And so I think the Nashville example is really powerful, because it humanizes the data, and it also is actually pretty doable. It sounds high bar, but it's actually pretty doable. I'll throw a profile of it in the chat, but wanted to share.
Dr. Baron Davis: I think it's important, we have a process in our district, we call it data era five, but it's basically a very standardized way, a structured way of looking at data in our school district. And it was important for us to understand that there are multiple data points that are assigned to any situation, in particular, any students. So whether it's academic data, behavior data, demographic data, all those things. And each one of them I think requires a different type of response. Some data there's some immediate interventions that we can put in place, or systems support that we can put in place that will help a student be successful, help a teacher be successful, an administrator or whomever.
Dr. Baron Davis: And then there's some data that gives us an indication that there's some issues that are societal, or maybe even of greater concern, that we may have to build initiatives around to address. So it may be adversely impacting a demographic or a section of our student body population at a higher or disproportionate rate. And so what are some of those things that we need to put in place to solve those ills that create the situations that the students don't have any control over? Or, we have been practicing something that are creating issues in our students lives. And so that's the type of data we've been looking at. So whether it's our transient rate of our students or looking at the graduation rate of our students that are transient versus, as we disaggregate that data farther. And how or what are some of the things that we can put in place?
Dr. Baron Davis: I had recently had a conversation about that with a group here in the state, around the graduation rate of our students who are in foster care, and that their graduation rate is abysmally low. But I had this other competing data that was interesting, where I could show a group of transient students that I had in the district whose graduation rate was just as high as any other group of students. And that was our military connected family kids, who transitioned often at a moment's notice. But what's different is the structure that is in place to support the transition versus the structure in place to support the transition of our foster care students. So now that we know this, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to modify that or create a duplicate system that will provide the support for those students who are [inaudible 00:37:32]? So that's what we're looking at, those things. How do we solve those problems for our students that are long lasting impacts that become culturally embedded the practices of our schools, so that we improve the educational experience of today's student and future students who are going to come around?
Dr. Baron Davis: Because as long as we've been in school, we've had issues of a portion of our student body population who are in foster care, or the disproportion of number of African American male students who are being suspended or expelled from school, or in special education. We're trying to solve those systemic things, system wide things through that data, as well as addressing those other pieces of data when it comes to instruction and other things like that that are just as important. But those are things that we can handle, I think, from a year to year basis
Chris Rush: As a follow-up in that, especially at the students, I know in there basically we were talking about something to the effect of the fact that we need to be able to trust our students to be able to adapt to their needs along the way. And I'm curious, given all the very challenging circumstances that different folks are in, the devil advocate folks would say, "Hey, but we saw lots of students not perform as well this past year. So how can we just continue to trust that they will adapt?" And I think that goes to one of the question threads that's happening in the chat. We're just talking about, "Hey, why do people in Washington or in a state need to know what's happening in a math class?", for example. And I think there's something to the idea of trust and verify, in order to try to steward and make sure that people are getting what they need. So I'm just curious back to the group in relation to that about how you would balance that trust and how you would answer the critics that would say, "Hey, there were some folks who really didn't do as well or struggled this past year. So how do we just trust that going forward?"
Justin Reich: Well, one of the observations that we've had, having interviewed a lot of teachers and school leaders and had teachers interview their students, is that everyone is having a different pandemic. It's very, very difficult to draw conclusions about people's experiences in the pandemic or school's experiences in the pandemic. One of the paradox of the pandemic is in some ways, it is one of the most shared experiences that humans across the globe have ever had. But on the other hand, it's really, really different. Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed talked about how they happened to be in the position of just about having to adopt an LMS, right before going into the pandemic. If you had gone to her community a year before the pandemic and said, "Are you absolutely certain that is the number one best way to improve schools?"
Justin Reich: Somebody at that time probably would've been like, "Well, actually there's some other good approaches too." We did that one, and it was a good one, but we could have worked on formative assessment or restorative justice or a bunch of other things. Turned out that was a pretty handy choice to make in the months leading up to March 2020. There were lots of schools, for various reasons, that didn't make that choice. And if you live in a community where broadband access is really weak, many of your students might have had a really miserable experience with their learning over the last year and a half if there was a lot of remote learning happening in those places. There wasn't actually a lot learned about technology to development.
Justin Reich: There are a lot of students who discovered in new ways, new abilities for self-directed learning. There are a lot of students who got lost. I think a lot was made about students with disability, who particularly struggled during the pandemic. We interviewed a bunch of teachers who said, "Actually, we can point to these other students with disability who really thrived during the pandemic." Like it turns out for kids with social anxiety, being in a classroom with a whole bunch of other people all day is not the best environment for them to learn it. I think one of the most substantial challenges that schools will have moving forward is there's not going to be one set of answers to these kinds of questions. And in a period where, as some folks are talking about in the chat, teachers are completely exhausted. The answer of, "Well, let's make sure the kids who need more independence, get more independence. And let's make sure the kids need more structure, get more structure," that's a pretty difficult answer to give to teachers who are like, "I don't even have any prep periods because we don't have any substitute teachers. And that's what I'm doing right now."
Justin Reich: The two pieces of advice that we've given to lots of schools and districts would echo in a lot of ways what Dr. Davis said at the beginning, is that people need opportunities to reflect on their experiences and what they've learned and what they've had over the course of the last year. Dr. Davis' first lines about, let's not make assumptions about what we think school bus drivers needs and cafeteria workers need and teachers need, let's make sure that they really have a voice in sharing that. There's so many teachers who we've interviewed who've said we are the first person who's coming to them and listening to their experience about teaching and learning in the pandemic. And that's not the way that teachers in the United States should feel a year and a half into this. And then there's got to be some realism and recognition that the work of adapting and taking what we've learned and putting into practice is going to be a long, long process. In some respects, I've started thinking of schools as institutions of having long COVID in the same way that individual get long COVID. Long after the initial effects of this pass, there's going to be damage that requires time and healing, and these are tough challenges ahead.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: We ran a school leader focus group last night, just to build Justin's last comment, and we're asking school leaders about what they wanted to learn from other school leaders about this period. And one school leader said, "I'm actually not that interested in hearing from schools when their success measures are rising or when their success mothers are falling. I'm interested when they're flat. What happens in that flat period?" And I think that is a really important question for us to be asking, because we rolled out so many of these innovations during crisis in March of 2020. And last year was really a game of shoots and ladders for so many districts. And so in part, it is about talking to our kids, making sure that our strategies are aligned for our rich visions for equitable teaching and learning, but also backed up by data around how we know kids learn from the science of learning.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: And then finally, being willing to actually exist in a flatter space for a moment as we acclimate and learn how to learn in new ways. I'm going to acknowledge, and with the comments in the chat, the systems are under so much pressure right now to show improvements, and so much pressure to respond to data. We have to be willing to live in that tension for a bit longer to try to do the things that we believe are going to be best for kids, and learn from the flat part of the curve.
Dr. Baron Davis: Chris, you asked a great question, especially about balance. And personally, I struggle with that as well. And not only as an educator and as a superintendent, but I struggle with that as a parent too. You definitely got to take into consideration what your kids want and think and feel and desire. But at the same time, I have to be a parent too. I kind of have some lived experiences and understand what are some of the necessary things you need to do in your preparation for adulthood. So you may not like some of the things that I ask you to do, or you may not, at that certain stage in your life, understand or appreciate why you do the things that you do. I had a conversation with my administrators about the difference between discipline and punishment. We're training you to have a disciplined mind. So that's what discipline is about, it's disciplining your mind, being a disciplined person. So when you have challenges, you have something to revert to, something that's natural.
Dr. Baron Davis: And so I'm working on teaching my students and my own personal kids how to be disciplined people. But so they have to do things they don't want to do. But we have begun to tail off into this society where we're going to let children direct what needs to happen. And so there's a balance between that, hearing their voice, understanding their voice, affirming them, but also helping them understand "But this is what we need to do." And that happens at all levels, not just with students, but with administrators, with teachers, with parents. This is what we need, because we are in a very fragile place in education right now. We were already fragile, and the pandemic has put so much more pressure on it, where we're losing teachers.
Dr. Baron Davis: Teachers have been hearing, kids have been hearing for years that teaching is not a viable profession, so we're not gaining any new people coming into the profession, because parents are telling kids not to be teachers. Teachers are telling kids not to be teachers. Society is telling kids not to be teachers. So we are preparing everybody for every other job in America, in the world, except for the teaching profession. And so we're now beginning to reap that harvest of years and years of doing that disservice to this profession and this field. So we are at a very critical point, and that's something we are going to have to figure out on how to rebuild that, while at the same time, listening to and incorporating things that the direction of the people, the experienced people want to have, while at the same time, keeping some continuity to the profession, and the same time being innovative in our approach to what education and education experience should look like 15 years from now.
Kristina Ishmael: Thank you for these thoughts. This is something that our office, the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development in particular is addressing right now through the development of a Dear Colleague Letter on how to address teacher shortage in particular. I know that that does not address teacher burnout or exhaustion, which is clearly happening as well. But hoping that we can start to think about some innovative approaches as far as short term and long term strategies, as well as where funding comes in with this unprecedented amount of funds that are coming to schools right now. And then what are the sustainable funding streams that would help hopefully maintain that to attract and retain our teachers right now? So thank you for all of that. I appreciate it.
Kristina Ishmael: I am curious as we think, again, going back to a post pandemic world or what's next or whatever we want to call it. As I've seen in the chat over here, how are we thinking about these new structures and the new ways that we're doing things, creating with teachers and alongside? But I also want to think about our students here. They've had the chance to really develop their agency, as Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed mentioned. So how can we use what young people are saying, and what educators are saying for that matter, to redesign or reimagine not only the curriculum, but perhaps school schedules and maybe moving to more competency based models, as they have certainly been working towards developing their agency?
Justin Reich: Well, certainly the first step of including students and teachers is talking to them and really listening to them. Not giving them opportunities to speak and then going on and doing other things, but really involving them. We did a project called Imagining September, I'll put a link to it in the chat, where we came up with five simple questions that we encourage teachers to talk about with their students. What's gone really well for you over the last year and a half? What's been really hard for you over the last year and a half? What are you really proud of? What do you feel like you've lost? And how do you want adults in your school to run things differently? And we had about 250 teachers have that conversation about 5,000 of their students, and the results were provocative and important. And there's a report that we wrote that we posted before about that. But I think even more important was just create creating mechanisms for teachers to talk with their students and then to talk with other adults about what they found. Some of these things will happen from top down initiatives, but anyone in the system can find young people to talk to, take their ideas seriously, and then share them with others.
Justin Reich: I will say, one of the most striking things we heard from students is we really primed them to be talking about issues of the pandemic. And then when we asked them what they wanted adults to do differently, they didn't talk about things that were really anchored to the pandemic. They talked about longstanding inequity in their schools that they thought were unfair or unjust or not well serving them that existed long before the pandemic. So for lots of students in our schools, the things that feel like the most challenges to their learning and growth are not things that have appeared in the last year and a half, but have been things that have been persistent in their education and in their lives.
Dr. Beth Rabbitt: One thing that we're encouraging folks to think about is getting below the water line in these conversations with students and families and teachers. We're seeing a lot of districts doing surveys, for example, what Justin was saying, is giving the opportunity to be heard, but not actually involved in the diagnostic conversation about why things are happening the way they are. I'll give an example. We're working with a district that has been exploring what the next wave of innovation should look like. And they heard from a ton of families that they wanted more opportunities to engage in meaningful work and credit bearing experiences. It's super tempting to jump immediately to, "Well, we should launch a CTE program," rather than having that next phase of conversation. Which students? Why? What are the problems people are feeling that cause them to want to have? Is it that they actually don't feel their coursework is meaningful, like it's not actually authentic? Or is it actually people do want workplace credentials. We have to really listen to kids and families, and also be willing to spend more time in the diagnosis before we jump to solution.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: Yeah. I was on a Google Meet with some high schoolers this past weekend, and students really want to co-design their learning content with their teachers. They want to have a direct say in what they learn and how they learn it, and also how they would demonstrate mastery. One of our students shared that school needs to be a place where you plan the rest of your life. So I think Dr. Rabbitt is right, our students frequently don't see themselves in the curriculum, and frequently don't see the relevance or the purpose. They feel disconnected. It makes them feel like that time is being wasted. And I think that it's also important for us to not embrace a completely negative narrative, because we have amazing teachers who are really listening to their students and infusing what students are saying into the learning process and the content design. So I think we need to figure out who those educators are and how they make that magic happen in their classrooms, and we can replicate that.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed: I do think that teachers really add value around the standards alignment. So if we let scholars talk about, "Well, this is what I'm passionate about learning, and this is how I think we could learn these things," then teachers can then align those, those curiosities and those passions with the standards. And then that's a very powerful model for teachers and students to work together. So whether it's cultural relevancy or just career or passion alignment, content that has a provocative edge and really reflects what students are experiencing and navigating in real life, in society, these things are so important to infuse in learning and to have students have a direct voice in what that looks like. In our preschool classrooms, we use Reggio Emilia, which is, yes, three and four year olds can also have a say in what they want to learn, and teachers can be trained in how to allow students to follow their passions in the learning day.
Dr. Baron Davis: I think it will be important for us, as we work on things like that, to remember to be as inclusive and equitable as possible. Because I know the students who are going to dominate those conversations, the ones who are going to have the confidence and the ability to say what they want. I know who's going to dominate that conversations and where those classrooms are going to go. So somebody's got to be the adult in the classroom to make sure that everyone's being inclusive, and that you're understanding the situations of those students, before we start designing things around a group of students who are very articulate, or who are comfortable with sharing their experiences, or have an idea what want to do. Because there are going to be kids in high school who have no idea what they want to do. And they have no input and no thought because they don't come from a community or culture, or they don't come from experiences where people are asking them, "What would you like to do, Baron?" They don't have parents who do that. So they don't expect that from an adult. They're looking or someone to guide them and to help them develop and find out who they are.
Dr. Baron Davis: And that's what I think our responsibility is, to help them find out who they are on this pathway through this learning experience. Who are you? What do you think your purpose in life will be? And we understand that every kernel doesn't pop at the same time. So we're not pressing you at this point. You should already have done X, Y, and Z in your educational experience, but we know that these are stop posts and gaps. So when you get here, until that point, we can mark you there and say [inaudible 00:56:44].
Dr. Baron Davis: I would love to be able to crate spaces where students can be critical thinkers and learners. They are critical thinkers and learners of content and information, and the creative spaces where teachers can be facilitators of that. And just be facilitators of that, not pseudo administrators, not pseudo school counselors, not mental health specialists, not arts, not restorative justice technicians, but they went to school to be facilitators of instruction. But we've given them so many more responsibilities, because we as at educators and as a profession keep accepting every issue into public education. And so the vast majority of the people in our system by sheer number are teachers, so we have to put that on teachers. And they can't be experts at their craft, the jacks of bunches of trades and master's of none, because we make them do everything else. So if we can get some of that stuff out of the way and let them just be facilitators of information and help develop critical thinkers and those types of things, that'll be great. And then let administrators and other people provide the necessary support and structure that kids can be who they need to be as students and learners, and the instructors and the facilitators can do the job they've been empowered to do. That should be future structures of schools.
Justin Reich: I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. The conversation got us thinking a lot about subtraction, what we don't need to be doing in schools, what we can hospice, what we can leave behind us. And we're excited to be working on a whole new set of episodes about that theme called Subtraction In Action. You can find us on Twitter @teachlabpodcast, and be sure to subscribe to get future episodes on our new series on Subtraction In Action. This episode of teach lab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley. It's from a webinar produced by the Office of Education Technology at the US Department of Education. Our mix was recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.