The Polarization of Education: As consultants at Education Elements, my teammates and I have the incredible opportunity to support districts around the country as they solve some of their toughest challenges. These challenges range from “How do we change our practices to increase students’ agency over their own learning?” to “How do we use quantitative and qualitative data to determine our priority areas over the next five years?” Within each of those challenges, we encourage districts to use their resources strategically to advance educational equity, providing each child with what they need to develop to their fullest potential, regardless of their identity. Equity is a choice–a choice that individuals and collective communities make to put students’ individual and unique needs first.
Picture this...You are a Principal conducting a classroom observation, witnessing a teacher skillfully utilize data to drive instruction, and form small groups tailored to individual student needs. Suddenly, a crackling voice interrupts through the walkie-talkie, demanding your attention.You are needed in room 203 for a discipline matter, then in the girls' 5th grade bathroom for a busted pipe, and finally, to join an IEP meeting. Maybe this scenario also sounds familiar: You are a district leader, and you are in a strategy meeting to discuss the implementation of a new curriculum, yet you don’t have all of the key players in the room or a clear timeline to make decisions yet you continue to meet and get nothing accomplished.
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Schools across the country work tirelessly to provide positive educational experiences for their students, staff, and the larger community. Yet, there are times when they fall short of this goal. They may experience high teacher turnover, a poor school climate, and low student achievement, just to name a few challenges. In our work, we see that with the right support systems in place, we can collectively improve school performance and meet the needs of students and educators. Here are three valuable strategies you can leverage to achieve transformative improvements:
I have always aspired to open a new school that cultivates a school atmosphere centered on learning and student achievement. One that recruits and retains the best teachers and staff, meaningfully engages with students, families, and the community, and utilizes research-based and culturally responsive curriculum. I have not yet fulfilled that dream, but I had the opportunity to work alongside James Hopkins, a school principal in Durham, North Carolina, who has done just that. James opened Lyons Farms Elementary School during the 2022- 2023 academic school year.
Last year, I relocated to my home state of Tennessee from New York City, and I had to secure a car for the first time in many years. As luck would have it, my first winter back in Tennessee was one of the state's coldest on record. Just enough snow fell in late December to make driving, especially up my steep driveway, a daunting experience. As I slowly crept up the hill toward my house, my tires spun in place. Decisions needed to be made. Would it make sense to keep spinning my tires in place hoping to gain enough traction to move forward, or would it be better to stop, reflect, and rethink my approach? It was clear that what I was doing wasn't working. I took my foot off of the accelerator, stopped the car, reversed slightly, and attempted a different path on the grass adjacent to the driveway. In a few moments, I was safely parked in my house’s garage. Sometimes we need to pause and create new strategies when the ones we have in place are not working. This applies to school districts today who are facing very challenging circumstances with a record number of educators leaving the profession, math and reading levels at a twenty-year low, and public trust in education eroding.
As we reflect on the past school year and prepare for next year, it is helpful to evaluate the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and how they served to shape the culture of learning and development in your schools. According to the CASEL’s (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning ) framework, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions." SEL “advances educational equity [and] can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.”