Book Notes & Thoughts: An Elusive Science, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann

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Every time I go to a conference, I try to bring a book to read, usually one that has been sitting on my shelf waiting for me. The book fills those little in-between moments of travel waiting in line or on the plane, downtime after sessions finish, or in the quiet time before bed when there are no children to be tucked in. This time it was An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, former Harvard GSE dean and current research professor at Bard College. This was a nice follow up to reading and blogging about Reese’s history of K-12 schools, as that provided the context for Lagemann’s history of what was happening in research. As I become a member of this research community, this book gave me the historical perspective of my field.

My advisor, Rich Halverson, and Erica Halverson quote Lagemann in their chapter in the Sage Handbook, Education as Design for Learning, A Model for Integrating Education Inquiry Across Research Traditions. This was one of the foundation articles in how I think about education research. They draw on Lagemann to understand the foundations of educational research. As I try to formulate my own schema for situating design, improvement & innovation, and educational research & development, I wanted to understand the history of the field.

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From Consumer to Producer

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This summer I’ve started doing podcast interviews for the New Books Network. I just produced my first interview with Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning. I’ve worked with Jim for the last 3 years on our research project, so this was a natural way to start. Now I’m starting to line up more fabulous academics that I want to talk to. I listen to more and more podcasts, and it’s pretty exciting, though not without apprehension, to make this switch.

Educators are increasingly asking students to find authentic audiences for their work. As I sat preparing for Jim’s interview, I was nervous, unsure of some of the details, frustrated that some of the logistics of the audio recording studio didn’t work, and knew that I’d have to listen to my own voice on the recording! But, I knew that I would enjoy talking to Jim, the interview itself would be meaningful to others, that doing it would improve my interviewing skills, and that it is a good way for me to connect with scholars in my field.

In other words, there was interest, meaning, and personal value in my learning. I read about interest-based learning (like Brigid Barron or Nichole Pinkard), Connected Learning (Mimi Ito), and participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins), and now I’m doing it!

Book Notes & Thoughts: America’s Public Schools, by William Reese

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America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind,” by William J. Reese, 2011.

I subscribe to Larry Cuban’s blog, which means I get an email every few days with his historian perspective on new initiatives like Personalized Learning or Coding for All. As I work on my research to understand how change does (or does not) happen in education, I felt like some historical context might provide perspective on the conversations I am having today.

William Reese is a professor here at UW-Madison in Education Policy Studies and History, though I’ve not had the opportunity to take a class with him. I had previously read Pillars of the Republic, by Karl Kaestle and Shopping Mall High School, by Powell Farrar and Cohen, but I was particularly interested in this book about the more recent times of NCLB. Nonetheless, I learned much about the progressive era, Dewey, curriculum, urban vs. rural schools, and the wrestling of a common goal for public schools. One of the key trends that was new to me was the consistent assumption that held up urban schools as the ideal and rural schools as backwards. This is written as the dominant narrative of public schools, with some attention paid to integration orders after Brown v. Board and the different experiences of non-white and poor students in schools.

p. 13-14. “School-houses and churches are the true symbols of New England civilization, as temples, pyramids and mausoleums were the symbols of ancient civilizations,’ declared a college professor at mid[19th-]century…. Schools, he said, were not like clocks, once wound ticking of their own accord; someone needed to operate and guide them. Moreover, ‘no reform is carried in the State or the world without a reformer. Improvements originate with original minds, and are usually presented to the people by interested advocates.”

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Book Notes & Thoughts: The Making of Pro-Life Activists, by Ziad Munson

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This book might seem out of my general topic area, but after hearing Hahrie Han speak at the Carnegie Summit last year (in which she mentioned this book) and reading her book about organizing social movements, I wanted to dig a little deeper into how social movements mobilize and sustain their work.

Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow’s 2011 paper Getting Ideas into Action is probably THE foundational piece of my graduate school inquiries (and likely the rest of my career). They describe improvement science in networked improvement communities as sustained, collective action. This is a phrase that I continue to circle and turn over. I like the pragmatic focus of understanding why people to do what they do, particularly things that have collective momentum and/or impact, but I also see how difficult this is. We have such a deeply held belief that “the more you know” will make change, but over and over again, we find that people have their own minds and act in unpredictable ways.

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Reorienting the Search

Lost amidst journal articles, textbooks, and ideas, I decided to go back to the personal statement I wrote to get started on this graduate school journey, hoping it would help me find direction.

Pursuing research in education is my opportunity to circle these big questions, square my experiences, and dig deeper.

My vision for education was that we need to cultivate hopeful individuals, who think deeply and creatively, who develop their strengths and pursue their passions, who feel safe to take risks, who work effectively across cultures, and see opportunity in change. It is these aspirations that give direction to our actions.

What professional, social, and administrative support structures do teachers need to be innovative in their practice? How can a system-wide framework be designed to inspire personal investment? How do great leaders envision, design, and introduce large-scale initiatives when there is resistance? Is cultivating passionate and engaged teachers enough to shift an institution, school district, or nation towards change?

How do practitioners identify the problems that they need to solve? What tools do they use to solve them? What do they do with their solutions and how does that scale to the rest of the district? How do you study a multi-level, systemic process? How can schools change to meet the needs of their students, constituents, and society? How does this scale?

My commitment and passion for education is fundamental to who I am, and it is precisely this love that drives me to improve it. The world can be a better place if we are intentional in our actions, aware of our environment, and seek joy in learning and play. Living this at all levels – students, teachers, and administrators – will cultivate agency. After all, life is about possibility. If we see education as a set of rules that do not work or even include us, why bother? But if we live learning as a way to discover and transform, the possibilities are endless.

Book Notes & Thoughts: Organization Theory

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Over the last few days, I read a textbook. And if I’m honest, I loved it. Graduate school continues to feel like a privilege and a luxury, to learn about ideas that I find interesting, do engaging and meaningful work with teachers and other researchers, and try my best to write in a way that captures my thinking.

I remember a high school English teacher telling me that the easiest (and therefore worst) way to write a summary is to do so chronologically: “And then, and then, and then.” It’s the easiest to write, because it’s also the easiest way to understand. This is what I needed to wrap my head around organization theory, which I want to use for the conceptual framework for my dissertation.

This book, Organization Theory, by Mary Jo Hatch, gave me an entry point into the scope of study, both chronologically (from classical, modern, symbolic/interpretive, to post-modern) and topically (core concepts, decision making, power, politics, change, and learning). Not only did this give me an entry point into this field, but it also allowed me to see where my interests are. What does thinking about schools through the lens allow me to see, understand, and say? And of course, how do I limit my view by seeing it through these theories?

Classical period, 1900 onward; Modern, 1950s onward; Symbolic/Interpretive, 1980s onward; Post-Modern, 1990s onward. Theory = a system of ideas; Social theory = a perspective on reality. Continue reading

Carnegie Summit, 2017: Pre-Conference

This is my favorite week of the year. For the third time, I’m excited to attend the Carnegie Summit. This is a place where people are talking about things the same way I want to. I’m inspired by the work people do and the amazing results they have improving the lives of their students and teachers.

For the first time I’ll be attending a pre-conference session on “Using Data for Improvement”. With our work this spring, I’ve found that the hardest thing is for teachers to use measurements! It’s been tough to find practical measures that teachers feel is a good enough responder to what they are trying to accomplish. For example, I suggested using the amount of time a student talks in response to a question. This was dismissed as misleading: students could be concise and clear or longwinded and obtuse, but the amount of time did not for sure reflect quality. I’m hoping to get lots of examples of what schools have used and perhaps some principles or logic about how to come up with them.

The keynotes this year are Tony Bryk, Becky Margiotta & Joe McCannon, Peter Senge, and Jeff Duncan-Andrade.

Other sessions I’m interested to attend:

  • How do we improve? A comparison between three approaches to improving quality
  • Building a science of improvement
  • Tracking networks through social network analysis
  • Developing ideas for change: Where do good ideas come from?
  • How improvement science advances outcomes and opportunity
  • Seeing the system from the user’s point of view through journey maps

Of course in the middle of all of this I am also midway through a first draft of my dissertation proposal. Hopefully this will be inspiration for some evening productivity!

 

The next 500m

A little over a year ago, I wrote about managing the second 500m of a crew race. Catch – send. Catch – send. There were moments that weren’t pretty, and work that I’m glad is done, but I made it through. I’m into the third 500m now, and it’s time for a power 10: 10 strokes as hard as I can pull.

It’s spring break. Campus is quiet, undergrads are off to Florida or Mexico, other grad students are working from home, and I’m in the office, frantically writing a first draft of my dissertation proposal. In two weeks, I need to have an executive summary for the Clark Seminar, which I’m honored to have been selected to. Next week, I’m off to another Carnegie Summit to present a poster about our PiPNIC work. So this week is it.

The third 500m is when you started to feel the send. You feel the glide of the boat under you, the water beside the boat smooths out, and there is a crisp snap against the oarlocks. The power 10 feels good: a sense of power, possibility, and strength.

I’m starting to see connections between what I thought was an interesting idea and the good work happening in schools. I use words like epistemology and distributed cognition and (at least I think) I know what they mean. I have definitely developed an appreciation for the time it takes to develop from an idea to a study.

Focus on the rhythm, keep the course, send each pull.

Book Notes & Thoughts: Going to Scale with New School Designs: Reinventing high school

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As part of our personalized learning in practice study, we visited, studied, and worked with a number of small district charter schools across Wisconsin. We talked a lot about High Tech High and Big Picture Schools. When I found this book (again, perusing the education stacks), it was in the area that I am thinking about: scale, design, and new models for learning. Reading it gave me a window into how to do education research at an organizational level.

Going to Scale with New School Designs: Reinventing High School, by McDonald, Klein, Riordan (2009).

The late 1990s was a time when the small school movement was rising, and there was interest and support for restructuring. This was the time of charters and vouchers, with the idea of choices and new designs. Similar to the Improvement by Design, this book is largely a story of the challenges of replication. In fact, they are an interesting (though unintended) juxtaposition. Whereas the goal of CSR was to replicate large traditional schools, the goal of “going to scale” with Big Picture was to replicate small, instructionally innovative schools. But their questions for inquiry are quite similar: how to install and support their design across contexts?, what challenges might be expected? how to manage these? what are the roles of the designer and client?

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Book Notes & Thoughts: Change Leader, by Fullan

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Next up on the read it and return it list is Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most, by Michael Fullan (2011). This book was cited in something I read and I happened to be wandering the education stacks (yes, some people still do this) and I picked it up. I was curious about the first chapter: Practice Drives Theory: Doing is the crucible of change. Definitely in my court.

“All the best concepts to be deeply experientially grounded.” (p. xi) This book comes after Fullan worked on whole-system reform, engaging with practitioners and policymakers to change large, complex education systems. “The most effective leaders use practice as their fertile learning ground. They never go from theory to practice or research evidence to application. They do it the other way around: they try to figure out what’s working, what could be working better, and then look into how research and theory might help.” (p.xii)

  • “Doing is the crucible of change” (p.3)
  • “Effective change leaders … walk into the future through examining their own and others’ best practices, looking for insights they had hitherto not noticed” (p.11)
  • adaptive challenge (require new discoveries and behavioral change) vs. technical problems (we know the answer, solution just needs to be applied) (p.17-18)
  • “balance between capacity building and accountability interventions” (p.19)

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