By Jake Murray
Much has been written about the Millennium generation—American teens and twentysomethings. They are often described as confident, upbeat, social, and open-minded – and I have found this to be true among the Millennium members I know personally and professionally. Yet these profiles mask the full story. With the economic downturn, rising cost of college, fewer and more elusive job prospects than in past generations, and the protracted dependence on parents and family, many among the Millennial generation are facing a new and more challenging road to adulthood.
As many of us know, the transition from high school through the mid to late twenties is often a precarious one – especially for young men. As they enter adulthood, many young adults appear aimless or adrift – confused about their immediate future. They are uncertain what they want to do, or – if they have an idea—how to go about it. For young adults who complete high school (22% do not), many reflexively enroll in and out of college, community college, or job training programs because this is what they are ‘supposed to do.’ But according to the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity study, just 56 percent of students complete four-year degrees within six years; a mere 29 percent of two-year college students earn associates degrees or certificates within three years. Many students accumulate debt, some credits, no credentials, and thus, enjoy few job prospects. They might want things like cars, smart phones, apartments, and trips for spring break, but they can’t afford these, or they overly depend on their families and friends for support.They often have fragmented visions of what adulthood is, and take even more fragmented routes to get there.
"According to the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity study, just 56 percent of students complete four-year degrees within six years; a mere 29 percent of two-year college students earn associates degrees or certificates within three years."
Thus, while it is dangerous to generalize experiences and circumstances for all Millennial members, it safe to say that many young adults lack a clear purpose or sense of self-sufficiency, and are disconnected from education and professional pathways. And disconnectedness –or the feeling of not belonging –is, in turn, fertile ground for apathy, poor health/depression, and in some cases, aggression.
For this reason, efforts to engage young adults – those right out of high school and through their mid/late twenties— to help them find purpose and pathways are so critical. Programs that offer this, like City Year and Year Up come to mind. We should encourage and fund more alternatives like these that offer a transition year or service year for a wide range of young adults, and more importantly, a purpose and connection to community. High school guidance counselors might also extend their scope to support students well past graduation. Colleges, universities, and job training programs should strengthen counseling, career advising, and mentoring roles to support all students, and perhaps, more so, the part-time students, transfer student, and other students who cycle in and out of these settings. It cannot be assumed that these students can or will 'figure it out' on their own, or make healthy decisions.
Perhaps most counter-intuitive to what we think adulthood means is that parenting - or family engagement – should continue well into the twenties. This is not the same type of parenting/ family engagement we would expect during adolescence. Parents and family members must reshape their relationships with young adults as peers, mentors and trusted confidants. They must find ways to stay positively and appropriately engaged with their sons and daughters/nieces and nephews/young cousins, while allowing for and encouraging independence, failure and bad decisions, as well as accomplishments. This engagement need not be complex or cumbersome. For instance, an uncle might meet with his nephew for lunch or coffee every week to see what he’s ‘up to,’ listen, discuss sports and movies, and offer advice on jobs or relationships. The key is to establish enduring, supportive rituals of engagement with young adults.
While recognition of and actions to counter this vulnerable transition phase will not prevent all aimlessness, misguided acts or aggression among young adults, they may change the milieu for many, and reduce feelings of apathy and angst that can accompany this time in life. These above ideas are also simple, caring practices that just make sense, and will have benefits for all young adults, no matter their circumstances. We should no longer expect young adults – especially young men – to just 'figure it out' once they walk out of high school and begin the road to adulthood.
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of the Wheelock College Aspire Institute, Wheelock’s social and education innovation center.
By Stephanie Cox Suarez and Julie Kalt
Welcome to the Documentation Studio
Making Learning Visible, a General Education Capstone course, was designed as an interdisciplinary collaboration between education and visual arts and is co-taught by Stephanie Cox Suarez, Associate Professor of Special Education and Erica Licea-Kane, Assistant Professor of Art. Making Learning Visible uses the tool of documentation to understand and interpret the learning of individuals and groups and to make this visible by creating a public display that engages a discussion and elicits multiple perspectives.
The importance of this type of learning is three-fold:
1. Developing skills in visual literacy is becoming increasingly vital in our digital world. Students learn basics in visual design.
2. Developing skills of observation creates an attitude of close listening to understand learning.
3. Skills in collaboration and negotiation as a team are essential 21st century skills. A long-term group project is a challenge that pushes these skills.
A notable element of the learning process is the opportunity for students to observe and participate in new settings that are intimate yet professional, and to witness interactions that would not normally be available to them. For example, at Perkins School for the Blind, Early Learning Center, students listened to families with toddlers with multiple disabilities and heard first-hand about daily challenges from the parents.
Documentation tells a story about learning, so Stephanie and Erica ask themselves if they can see learning in these students' displays. Students have learned that sharing the documentation -- getting another perspective -- helps a story to emerge. They hope to learn from this first round of documentation so that they can truly make learning visible.
“We’ve learned that sharing the documentation -- getting another perspective -- helps a story to emerge.”
Hayley, Connor, Andrea and Aaron documented their experience at the Assistive Device Center at the Perkins School for the Blind, a workshop that creates customized materials for children with disabilities. Unlike commercially available products, the center designs and constructs products that meet the unique needs of individuals. The materials to create these devices are affordable, durable and designed to reflect the interests and cultures of the individuals that use them. For example, a young girl might need a seat insert to go in regular chair for more back support. “It’s amazing that something as simple as cardboard can be so useful,” explained Connor. Hayley made a personal connection to the mission of the Center: “My sister is severely handicapped, and after seeing how much money my family has spent on these types of devices, I wanted to feature the Center, which creates much more affordable and durable options for children.”
Emily, Kathryn, Emily and MacKenzie worked with the Perkins Early Learning Center creating a Welcome Board entitled, “All We See is Possibility,” for new parents at the Center. The Board, which they recreated at the Documentation Studio, is meant to “introduce parents to the faces they would see at the center,” including professional staff, other families and community volunteers.
Brae, a student teacher at the Peabody Terrace Children’s Center, documented “Doctor Play"," which turned out to be an exercise and lesson in boundaries, power and empathy. After having Doctor Mary Alexander come in to talk to her students about the body, she documented, through photos and scripts how the children not only altered their vocabulary about the body, but also developed a raised awareness of the patient. Not only did they learn to be gentle when conducting an examination, but also began using words like clavicle, tendons and spine.
“My sister is severely handicapped, and after seeing how much money my family has spent on these types of devices, I wanted to feature the Center, which creates much more affordable and durable options for children.”
- Hayley Adamuska
If you would like to learn more about the Documentation Studio, contact Stephanie Cox Suarez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Daniel Michaud Weinstock
A recent HBR Blog Post on Change Management emphasizes the importance of management capacity to offset the myriad reasons that change management efforts so often fail in business. So why does change management similarly fail in nonprofit and human service organizations? Given the critical needs that these organizations try to meet, what gets in the way of their ability to respond most effectively and efficiently to the evolving realities of the people they are trying to serve? A few key realities often come into play
Who Is the Client?
Mission-driven and human service entities are established with a guiding purpose – to most effectively respond to the needs of the population(s) they serve. The guiding question should always be, “How are we operating in the best interests of our clients/to most effectively meet our mission?” However, too often, as organizations evolve over time, adding service delivery strands, layers of management, and/or back office functions, the needs and interests of people within the organization subsume those of the clients. Healthy organizations need to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the people that are working to meet the needs of the clients – but not at the expense of the clients themselves. Change management efforts must always be directly tied to effectively addressing the interests of the clients so that everyone affected is asking, “How can I, in my role, ensure that we are best serving our clients/most effectively meeting our mission?” Leaders need to model this, and make sure that it is multi-directional process, so that staff has the time, space, and safety to identify what they need from colleagues all levels of the organization.
An organization’s initial design and infrastructure is an important artifact in change processes. It reflects the context in which the organization was founded. Over time, the organizational structure and the functional tasks for which people are responsible emanate from that original design. It is the dirt roads upon which modern roads were laid, and busy streets now operate. While the need for change is tied to various internal and external factors, it can be helpful for the organization to revisit that early artifact, and examine to what degree the original dirt roads meet the current needs of the organization. Sharing in this archaeological digging can help people recognize that the imperative for change is not tied to any one individual and is not personal – it is tied to processes and practices that date back to the organization’s inception.
"Sharing in this archaeological digging can help people recognize that the imperative for change is not tied to any one individual and is not personal – it is tied to processes and practices that date back to the organization’s inception."
And depending on the magnitude of the change involved, mere refurbishing of these early roadways will not suffice; new pathways may need to be established and built, and therefore everyone in the organization needs to learn these new traffic patterns together. As Heifitz’ framework of technical versus adaptive change suggests, effective change management – and leadership therein – demands clarity about whether the change entails a technical fix in function, process or role (“if we just repaint the lines, widen this road, add a traffic light, install a bike lane…”) as opposed to more significant overhaul that requires a new way of being from everyone (“we need to dig up our old roads and start anew…”). And, with the latter, people need the time, space, and safety to adjust, try new routes, share mistakes and successes, and develop and adjust roadmaps for the future.
Intent versus Impact
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” builds on the metaphor in the previous point. As leaders promote change, the imperative may be client-, mission-, and/or data-driven, placed in an historical or a future context, or connected to many other variables. All of these may be justified and tied to best intentions for the organization to function most effectively. However, even if the people affected – be they employees or clients – can make and accept that intellectual justification, good intentions only go so far. People have the need to understand, “what does this really mean for me?” They want to know the impact – and need the time, space, and safety to adjust. Leaders need to be transparent about motivations and intentions, and need to be similarly clear about desired impact. However, the pressure will still build as people experience the inevitable gap between intention and impact, aspiration and reality. Providing rest areas and other outlets to release some of this pressure for all impacted by the change is an important consideration in change management.
Organizational change is a process that demands context, clarity, communication, and shared commitment. A main street in Cambridge is under construction, and the message on the digital signs both leading up to and during the construction reads: “Western Ave under construction for 2 years. Seek alternate routes.” I have heard many people scoff at the notice of two years. Yet it has helped to prepare people in advance while continuing to remind everyone that it is ongoing and they may benefit from making a change in their commute. Implied, too, is that it will require everyone’s patience and understanding. For organizational change to succeed, people need to also know why the change is happening and what it will lead to, when, where and how they can give feedback, what the alternate routes entail, with guidance and coaching along the way. They need time, space, and safety to adapt. Organizational leaders can embrace, model and provide these kinds of supports internally to help transition from “under construction” to transformation.
Daniel Michaud Weinstock is an organizational development consultant, coach, and facilitator. He has over 15 years of experience working in and with nonprofit, human service, and educational organizations and systems. He has both led and been a part of organizational change processes, and continues to learn from and celebrate his successes and mistakes.
By Julie Kalt
“Aspir(e)ing Profiles” is a series where we feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!
Katie Everett, Executive Director of the Lynch Foundation, exudes passion for philanthropy and social change. Her perspective on lessons she’s gleaned over the past 16 years are honest and abundant, “There are no stupid questions and no one solution. It takes a village and whole network of people working to get anything done. No one organization is going to solve every problem. Great intentions go far. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Katie grew up in a home where the culture was to always give back. “My mother was a public school teacher and a girl scout leader. My father was a marine, a banker and Treasurer for Pine Street Inn. We spent Thanksgivings helping to serve at Pine Street.”
After attending Boston College, Katie went on to work at the Boston Inner City Scholarship Fund where she first met Peter Lynch, the Chair of the Board at the time. She quickly went from managing their personal philanthropy and board relationships to helping build what is now a $100M foundation devoted to education, culture and historic preservation, healthcare and medical research, and religious and educational efforts of the Roman Catholic Church.
Katie explained what’s so unique about Lynch’s approach to investing. “We have an open concept application unlike many other foundations and respond to everyone that engages with us. We have high expectations, but also provide a lot of support for the people and organizations we invest in.”
“There are no stupid questions and no one solution. It takes a village and whole network of people working to get anything done. No one organization is going to solve every problem. Great intentions go far. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Also unique to a family foundation, the majority of trustees of the Lynch foundation are not family. What’s more, the Lynches are intentional about comprising their board with a mix of relevant skill sets, including a historian to add insight to their cultural and historic preservation issue area. “We continue to learn and grow. We make mistakes, which we aren’t afraid of. The Lynches like to identify young talent they can invest in, like Wendy Kopp and Paul Farmer, both of which are now having global impact.”
When I asked Katie about her personal passions apart from her work with Lynch, she admitted that it’s hard to separate them because she’s been working with the Lynches for well over a decade. “I moved my kids from the suburbs to the city and enrolled them in Boston Public Schools. What I get to see in my job ignites a certain passion inside of me. Equity and opportunity for all children is possible, and we can get it done.”
Katie embodies the values of the Lynch Foundation – humility and opportunity. She explains that philanthropy began to help forge solutions to social problems, so you must accept the risk alongside the extraordinary reward that comes with it.
Although Katie concedes there are inevitable challenges, she is working so that the Lynch Foundation can continue to push the conversation about what is possible, particularly in the arena of public policy.
The Lynch Foundation has made investments in two of the Aspire Institute’s programs: The Boston Family Engagement Partnership and the Wheelock Catholic Schools Initiative. “Parents,” Katie said, “will be the next voices to push policymakers.”
What is your phrase to live by?
Go big or go home.
What issue are you following?
The Mayoral race. Who isn’t following that?
If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Sheryl Sandberg. We are going to “Lean In” together.
The Wheelock College Aspire Institute was recently selected as the fiscal sponsor for the Boston Compact, a citywide effort to bring public, charter and Catholic schools together.
Klare Shaw, Special Assistant to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson, Kevin Andrews, founding Headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School and Mary Grassa O'Neill, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Boston shared with us their vision for the Compact, early wins and the challenges that lay ahead.
1. Why does the Compact make sense right now? For each sector? For Boston?
Mary: We have always been very siloed. There has been not much interaction between students, principals and school leaders. [Through the Compact] we have committed to the City of Boston that we all have the same education focus and want to make sure that all children have the same opportunities to develop the skills and access the opportunities to have a very successful life.
Klare: The relationships we already have make good groundwork [for the Compact], and there is a lot of fluidity between the systems right now that didn’t exist before. This is true for leaders, teachers and families who are familiar with the multiple sectors. The mayor reflected that we are one city and schools need to cooperate and accommodate families.
Kevin: I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston. I credit Dr. Johnson and the Mayor with establishing the Compact. Superintendent Johnson was open to talking about how we can work better together rather than as separate entities. With some change in BPS and with the help of leadership in Mayor’s office, there is a sense of urgency that moves us forward and reminds us that we need to serve every child in city of Boston.
"I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston." -Kevin Andrews
2. What do you hope to achieve? What are you particularly excited about?
Mary: I hope we develop a high level of trust between and amongst educators and in those leading the organizations so that we can be open about what we do well and where we can improve. Each sector is known for particular things, and one thing the education world has not done well is to build on a practice of excellence. We want that practice of excellence to be seen and recognized in all schools no matter which sector it came from.
Kevin: This is always about building relationships. At the principal/teacher level, I hope we see the sharing of best practices, whether with Black boys, English language learners or students with disabilities. I want to look back and say that teachers are working together because of the Compact. We’ve seen pockets of that, but we want to see it more. For example, principals are talking across sectors on their own about how to make schools better.
Klare: The Compact has an intentional focus on the city’s most vulnerable learners. [I want to see] people come together to set priorities about what the city needs in the name of progress.
3. What are you proud of so far? Any early wins?
Mary: School doors are literally and symbolically open to have folks from all sectors visiting and learning. No educator who has taken advantage of this opportunity can say he has walked into a school and not learned something. I am excited that some of this has spilled over into emergency planning, for example. We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree.
Klare: I went to a conference convened by the Gates foundation, and out of all of the other locations where similar work is happening, not only was the level of relationship building [in Boston] greater, but also the goals to serve specific student populations were so clearly set out in our compact, was very different than other cities there.
Kevin: [I am proud of the] Mayor coming on board, efforts to bring in the Catholic schools, the school-to-school partnerships and the school showcases. [The philanthropic organizations that comprise] the Boston Opportunity Agenda said this would have been unthinkable five years ago. There are still a lot of naysayers, but I think that group is becoming smaller and smaller.
Klare: It’s extraordinary to see students from all three schools playing music together.
Kevin: Meg Campbell, the Head of the Codman Square Academy (a Commonwealth charter school), was appointed to the [Boston] School Committee. How many other cities have done that?
Mary: In the past, one sector would tear other sector down to raise itself up. Early on, it was decided that we were not about that. I want to give as many kudos as I can to Dr. Johnson because it would have been easy for her to say she didn’t have the time to commit to this effort.
"We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree." - Mary Grassa O'Neill
4. What are some potential challenges that you anticipate?
Kevin: The true test of the Compact is sustainability, which usually has to do with people and relationships. Who the new mayor is going to be will dictate how successful the Compact is going to be. Who knows what the Superintendent is going to do? How do we become an oasis of something people see as very positive no matter who is in what leadership role?
Mary: It’s very important that we stay focused and produce compelling evidence. This is the beginning of something great that can turn around education for every family in Boston.
Klare: We all continue to have various financial challenges – [a challenge will be] continuing to support and extend activity with appropriate financial support.
5. Is there a full understanding of the Compact at the teacher level?
Kevin: I don’t believe that our teachers are fully aware of what’s happening with the Compact. We have not dug deep enough. Some principals are on board. All charter school leaders and Catholic school leaders aware of the Compact, but I don’t think we are digging down deep enough.
Klare: The School Committee is aware of it, but within BPS other people might not be as polite or may have fear around what the Compact means. But if you speak to some of our principals, they are extremely enthusiastic about the time for reflection and collaboration.
Mary: We cannot overlook that it’s much newer for principals and teachers. I think it will take some time for relationships to mature and develop.
6. What is the significance of the Boston Compact nationally compared to what other cities are doing?
Kevin: Seven cities are being funded for implementation and 16 with planning grants, which might join in phase two. Boston is the only Gates Compact city explicitly committed to serving populations that have been traditionally underserved. It is fertile ground for us right now. We are also only one of two cities to include Catholic schools. All of us represent 83% of children in the City of Boston. We have to thank Gates for national connections and Wheelock/Aspire for local connections. I think Gates believes Boston is a major player in this effort.
Mary: I think if leaders and educators are willing to open up, we can be joined together and become a team. We have a lot of good work to do ahead.
"...the goals to serve specific student populations [are] so clearly set out in our compact." - Klare Shaw
Kevin: The proof of the pudding is in the eating! I am very much encouraged by the work done to date and really believe that for Boston and all its problems and history, we will be a city that people will point to if they want to see collaboration happen.
Mary: We are excited, enthusiastic and will make this happen. We will make a difference.
This interview was conducted by Jake Murray, Senior Director of the Aspire Institute and Julie Kalt, Communications and Operations Specialist at Aspire. For more information on the Compact, please visit bostoncompact.weebly.com.
By Adam Berinsky
The debate over the merits of public versus charter schools has been contentious in recent years. While the evidence on the performance of charter schools is mixed, the public has weighed in strongly in favor of charter schools. According to a poll conducted last year by Gallup for Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK), for the third year in a row, over two thirds of the American public favored the idea of charter schools. What are we to make of these results?
I am not an education scholar, but I am an expert in the study of opinion polls. Based on my readings, there are several reasons to think these poll results might better reflect diffuse opposition to government involvement in general, and not firm support for charter schools.
For one, this question reflects the responses of the full public – many of whom have no direct current experience with a school of any sort. In the 21012 PDK/Gallup survey, two thirds of respondents had no children in school. Experience with schools is certainly not a prerequisite to have an informed opinion, but it could be that the particular question asked by PDK stimulated a “top-of the head” response rather than a carefully formed opinion.
One thing we know from 75 years of public opinion polling is that if we ask people questions on surveys, they will answer them – regardless of their interest or knowledge about a particular issue. Political scientists have found that a great number of survey respondents will even answer questions about completely fictitious policies and programs. This is an extreme example, but we know that in the absence of direct experience with a given issue or controversy, survey respondents will look to the question wording to find cues to allow them to navigate an unfamiliar issue.
"Based on my readings, there are several reasons to think these poll results might better reflect diffuse opposition to government involvement in general, and not firm support for charter schools."
PDK asked, “As you may know, charter schools operate under a charter or contract that frees them from many of the state regulations imposed on public schools and permits them to operate independently. Do you favor or oppose the idea of charter schools?”
There are several cues in this question that might lead to an increased level of support for charter schools. “Regulation” has long been a dirty word in American politics. Thus anything that would “free” schools from regulation might be seen as a good thing, regardless of the merits of that alternative. In addition, the question does not ask about support for charter schools per se, but rather support for “the idea of charter schools” – a more abstract concept.
The results of the poll lend additional support for the idea that the charter school question might be picking up more generalized anti-government sentiment than real support for charter schools. On this question – like questions of economic policy and government regulation – there exists a large gap between Democrats and Republicans. While a bare majority of Democrats (54%) favor charter schools, 80 percent of Republicans express support for charters.
In sum, while it is true that large majorities of American express support for charter schools, further polling with better tailored questions needs to be conducted before we are sure that this support represents a considered opinion; for now, it seems more a transient belief.
Adam Berinsky is a Professor of Political Science at MIT. He studies the political behavior of ordinary citizens. While he is primarily concerned with questions of representation and the communication of public sentiment to political elites, he has also studied public opinion and foreign policy, the continuing power of group-based stereotypes, the effect of voting reforms, and the power of the media.
By Najeema Holas-Huggins
The New York Times recently posted an op-ed on the dire need for investments in early education, penned by John E. Pepper, Jr. and James M. Zimmerman, former executives of Procter & Gamble and Macy’s, respectively. The op-ed mirrors another printed in The Boston Globe recently from the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children’s (BTWIC) board and committee members Jed Swan of Drydock Ventures and Ron Friedman of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners. With more and more members of the business community standing up, the message is becoming harder to ignore: early childhood education is in the best interest of the business community and the nation at large, and it needs to be available to every child.
“Capitalists for Preschool,” the NYT op-ed, highlights the urgency of the need, noting that China aims to offer 70% of its children three years of preschool, a move that will no doubt bolster and strengthen their future workforce. Meanwhile, the US debates the issue and slow progress, with critics saying benefits gained in pre-k peter out by 3rd grade. Pepper and Zimmerman rebuke this notion, stating “this (the decrease in positive impacts) is mainly attributable to differences in the quality of preschool and of the schooling that follows – not a deficiency in preschool itself.”
We hope more “capitalists” will stand up and verbalize their support for increased investment in early education, particularly in Massachusetts.
We hope more “capitalists” will stand up and verbalize their support for increased investment in early education, particularly in Massachusetts. Their wisdom, culled from decades of leading various businesses to economic success, can change the conversation at the legislative level and lead to a revolution in the way the public views, and prioritizes, early education. Meanwhile, BTWIC will continue to engage our business leaders to support early education in Massachusetts.
Najeema Holas-Huggins is the Manager of Marketing and Associate Researcher for the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC). In this role, she’s worked for nearly four years to increase the visibility for BTWIC and its work and impact on children, families, and the early education field in Massachusetts through traditional marketing activities, social media, and donor cultivation. She has also co-authored multiple research reports, including BTWIC’s 2010 “Blueprint for Early Education Compensation Reform.”
By Jeff Winokur
Kim Farris-Berg wrote a recent blog post by about the Mission Hill School in Boston, an exciting place to be for students and teachers. Ms. Farris-Berg and her first-grade daughter Ruby were surprised to hear that a 2nd/3rd grade class would learn about bees “…via discussion and reading, but really…watching.” As in watching real bees, from an observation hive in their classroom! This differs from Ruby’s own school experience, which as described consists of a preponderance of worksheets in all subjects. Ruby and her mom were also struck by the independent thinking in which students were encouraged—expected—to engage. “Ruby was intrigued by the idea of adults trusting her to guide her own learning at school.”
I share Ruby’s wistfulness for more school settings that treat students as thinkers and doers, worthy of respect. While Ruby as so many others do will surely survive first grade and the rest of her school years, I hope she will experience first-hand the kind of learning she was drawn to at Mission Hill. I saw the same video clip that Ruby and her mother watched (A Year at Mission Hill—Chapter 3: Making it Real). I too was struck by how engaged students were, and also by what the teachers were doing and had already done to make this engagement possible. Ms. Ferris-Berg noted that at Mission Hill the teachers are the ones who “call the shots” in terms of curriculum and other critical areas. Teachers are empowered at Mission Hill. However, it is not enough to empower teachers—teachers also must be knowledgeable about content, how students of various ages tend to interact with this content and be familiar with teaching strategies that support deep independent thinking on the part of students.
"I share Ruby’s wistfulness for more school settings that treat students as thinkers and doers, worthy of respect."
As an elementary science educator I’m personally pleased by the prominence of science in a number of Mission Hill’s school-wide themes. When one begins with science it is much easier to integrate subjects such as math and literacy. Talking, writing, measuring, all were abundantly evident in the video clip. Also notable is that students were engaged in a number of the 8 practices as set forth by the National Research Council in their 2011 book, Framework for K-12 Science Education Standards. For a variety of reasons not all teachers are familiar with these practices or how they can be modeled and taught in a K-8 setting.
Some people who view this video might conclude that the students at Mission Hill are not applying themselves fully; that the teachers aren’t really teaching; that teachers are just letting the students run the show; or that students should just sit down and learn. And there are others who might say that the schools they know or those in which they teach employ some of the same teaching methods--such as hands-on experiences or an absence of worksheets--visible at Mission Hill. Those who carry these opinions often make certain assumptions about teaching and learning that can be misleading. Here are a few to consider:
Assumption #1: Hands-on or first-hand experiences are the best way to teach.
Hands-on experiences are indeed a major component of good teaching and learning. As important as experiences are to the learning process though, the experiences do not teach by themselves. Students must be challenged to articulate the thinking that has been stimulated by these experiences. Colleagues of mine often refer to a quote from George Forman, a professor emeritus from the University of Massachusetts:
“Experience is not the best teacher. It sounds like heresy, but when you think about it, it’s reflection on experience that makes it educational.”
A teacher must be skilled in knowing how to encourage this reflection—she must be knowledgeable about the content herself, knowledgeable about how her particular students are likely to understand this content, adept at asking open-ended questions, and willing to challenge students’ thinking. Such skills do not come easily. In the brief video clip we see Mission Hill teachers interact with students in a variety of ways that support reflection. One teacher discusses the “habit of mind” of using evidence to support an idea. These interactions go beyond the hands-on; they encourage the “minds-on” as well.
Assumption #2: Worksheets are bad
Ruby’s experiences with worksheets—in school and for homework, day after day—probably accomplish little for deep learning. But students do need to record for all kinds of reasons. If a worksheet is carefully chosen and constructed to support student thinking, then it can be a valuable teaching tool. We hear a teacher mention his not wanting to photocopy a sheet on organelles for the purpose of memorization. And we see students writing on blank sheets in notebooks. It is the teacher’s judicious use of worksheets or other venues for recording information or thinking that determines whether a particular strategy will push for student thinking or simply be busy work. Here again, the skilled teacher must know how a given strategy will provide the scaffolding necessary to help students become independent thinkers.
Assumption #3: The teacher is really not teaching when students are left to fend for themselves.
Sometimes this can be true. But despite how it might appear, providing time for students to work on their own requires careful observation on the part of the teacher. It is not a “hands-off” approach. For students to be trusted to begin to take responsibility for their own learning, adults must carefully monitor their learning. The astute teacher, as we see with the 7th and 8th grade teacher at Mission Hill observing students using a balance, carefully and gradually releases responsibility to the student when he or she is ready. It takes teachers who know how, when, and why to guide, and when students are ready for increased responsibility.
The relative effectiveness of any teaching and learning environment hinges on the skill of the teacher. Much of what the talented teacher does is not immediately obvious, especially to those who think teaching requires an adult do most of the talking at quiet students. It becomes clear that what makes Mission Hill special is a group of teachers who are active, thoughtful, knowledgeable and intentional.
Jeff Winokur is an early childhood and elementary science specialist. At Wheelock, he works with schools and districts to develop their capacity to improve the teaching of science to children. This has included serving as consultant to many schools in the Boston Public Schools as well as to Boston's science department. As an instructor in education at Wheelock, he teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level courses in teaching science to children. Winokur's work in science education includes having been a co-author of The Essentials of Science and Literacy (2009), and Science and Literacy: A Natural Fit (2009), and co-host of the video professional development series for educators, Looking at Learning... Again (1997) produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
By Diana S. Cutaia
This past week, a video surfaced of Rutgers University Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Mike Rice, physically and verbally assaulting his players. Although this video was brought to the attention of the Rutgers Athletic Director and President in November, when he was fined and suspended for three games, it resurfaced this week only to spark a firestorm of controversy that concluded in his termination as head coach. An Olympic game of finger pointing has subsequently ensued resulting in guilty verdicts in the court of public option for the Rutgers Athletic Director and the College President. The drama is still unfolding but some valuable lessons can already be gleaned from this experience.
The outcry around Mike Rice, while understandable and justified, is still somewhat striking. Anyone who follows sports, works in sports or covers sports, knows that, while he may not be the rule, he is definitely not the exception. I have heard many respond to this latest case that “college sports are out of control.”
Folks, while things may be getting better, much about college sports – and youth sports— and coaching remain the same. While we have seen progress and regression on both sides of this issue I assure you the changes have been small, slow and not always forward. Too many coaches still use an autocratic style of coaching that's centered in public humiliation and intimidation as the only forms of management and motivation.
What is getting better is that we, as a society, are no longer accepting this culture in sport. There is real outrage because more than the few believe that this is wrong. Yes! But our excitement should be tempered—we have a long way to go as evidenced by this issue and the many that have recently come before it. I see three major themes that have surfaced in sport the last few months and they bring with them some valuable lessons learned.
Lesson # 1: No one is in the lighthouse, and the ships are off course.
It seems that the media (and I lump social media in there loosely) is now in charge of policing athletics. That is never a good thing. In the most recent cases, we have seen that the media has played a central and significant role in making sure that action is taken to address an issue. Whether it be Stubenville, Penn State, or Rutgers. Where are the college presidents? Where are the athletic directors? An athletic director is there to set the course and monitor the navigation of that course for all coaches, and student-athletes. They are responsible for ensuring that student-athletes are safe and the educational mission stays central in the process. Coaches seem to think they are artists and that if their tactics are questioned or challenged, we are interrupting the creative process. What we should be telling coaches is, you can mix the colors any way you want, but you will stay on the canvas provided and within the lines that have been prescribed.
Lesson # 2: Sticks and stones break bones, but bones heal.
The rampant use of the word “faggot” and “fairy” in the Mike Rice video was a repeated slap in the face to society waking us up to the fact that the culture of sport is still ripe with homophobia. This is not character building. It is not motivation. It is bullying. It is abuse and it is blatant homophobia. We allow too much of this in sport under the false pretense that it’s a natural part of building young men. I heard far too many men tell me this week that “my coach did that to me, and look I turned out ok. I’m a better man for it.” While I can’t speak to validity of their statement, I know that we, as a society, are never better off when we dehumanize and denigrate a group. We have learned that many times in our history. I have also heard the argument from men that went something like this: “My coach treated us worse than that but we won and we were better because of it”. It seems that winning becomes the smoke screen for bullies and abusive coaches. There is a right and wrong way to do the same thing, and I know plenty of coaches that have found ways to win games while also respecting, empowering and educating athletes.
Lesson #3: No license needed to drive this ship.
We have seen a big shift in this country. Thirty years ago many coaches were either current educators or folks who earned a degree in physical education. While the vast majority of coaches have advanced degrees in sport management, for some no related degree or education is required. Currently the credentialing for coaches is on-the-job training and a resume of experience, no matter the quality or outcome of that experience for young athletes. Knowing the impact that coaches have on young people, why are we not requiring more? Why aren’t coaches (from youth through collegiate sports) required to be credentialed like any other educator or professional? Is this the role of the NCAA or individual institutions? Who will step up first to make this change? Whoever does will set the world of sport spinning on its head.
These lessons learned may not be simple to implement, but they are possible. College Presidents need to demand that athletic directors step up and monitor their coaches. Athletic Directors need the authority and mandate to act with urgency when coaches are no longer adhering to the mission and values of an educational institution or humanity. And we need everyone, at every level of leadership and involvement in sports to step forward and state that homophobic slurs are unacceptable.
In the end we need courage; the courage to change the broken institution of sport. I hold out hope, but only time will tell if my hope is justified.
Diana Cutaia was the Director of Athletics and co-founder of the Sport based-Youth Development program at Wheelock College from 2005-2012. She has over 20 years’ experience in using sport as a tool for positive youth development and is a leading expert on topics such as physical activity, girls in sport, peaceful coaching, and positive cultures in sport. She is the owner of Coaching Peace Consulting, LLC. You can reach her at Diana@coachingpeace.com.
By Julie Kalt
“Aspir(e)ing Profiles” is a series where we feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!
“I never identify myself as a scientist. It’s the teaching that comes first.” Ellen Faszewski, Chair and Associate Professor of Math and Science here at Wheelock is a passionate, fun-loving science geek who could and would love to speak with you about frogs, birds, marine sponges and the Muddy River.
It is clear from Ellen’s enthusiasm and career trajectory that she is whole heartedly committed to sharing knowledge, developing leaders and fostering informed, active citizens. “The first thing I say to my students is ‘if you hate science, I want you to like it a little bit more and understand how it impacts your life when you leave my class.’”
Having grown up in western Massachusetts, Ellen developed an early appreciation for nature and the environment. Romping around in the woods with her two older brothers year round put her face to face with different animals, vegetation and seasons, resulting in an unshakable interest in inquiry. But it wasn’t until a college microbiology course that she realized science was where she wanted to invest her time and energy. She particularly attributes her success in college to a special mentor.
“I had a nun with a research lab for a mentor. That’s how I got into studying frogs. She gave me the opportunity to spend a summer doing research and to publish a paper. That’s what I want to do with my students, especially women and science – give them any opportunity I can to help them succeed.”
This ideology is at the heart of Ellen’s role as a scientist and educator. And being in the classroom means being engaged in the world and understanding how scientific issues, like autism, stem cell research and genetic testing interact with society – in our schools, businesses and government offices. What’s more, Ellen is bringing her students and Wheelock as an institution into these important conversations. When asked the most important lesson she’s learned from driving scientific and environmental impact, she had one word: communication.
Now in its seventh year, the Muddy River Symposium was Ellen’s brainchild. Located adjacent to Wheelock’s Boston campus, the Muddy River carries political, economic, and health implications for the local community. Partnering with the Muddy River Management and Maintenance Oversight Committee (MMOC), the Symposium brings together the numerous stakeholders and Wheelock students to share information and work together to drive towards mutually beneficial solutions. “People won’t understand if you can't educate and communicate effectively.”
Ellen’s desire to engage in the community is what led to her involvement in the Aspire Institute. Through Aspire, she explains that she’s been able to connect to, impact and learn from Boston’s vast education world.
“Aspire is a great bridge to the community. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet these amazing educators in the local school systems. Working with in-service teachers provides me with a different lens of what my teaching should look like here at Wheelock.”
Who inspires you?
My colleagues inspire me. They are people I look up to because they’ve been doing this work for a long time.
If you could meet anyone (dead or alive) who would it be?
Charles Darwin. I just want to ride around with him in the Beagle and go to the Galapagos Islands.
What’s your motto?
Work hard, play hard.
Ellen Faszewski is a cell and developmental biologist whose primary research interests are amphibian development and sponge immunology. She is a Co-Pi on an NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S-STEM) Colleges of the Fenway STEM Scholars Grant. She was a Co-Pi on a grant received from NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (NOVA) to aid in the development of Wheelock's Clear Sky Program, a Science for Teachers Pathway for students who wish to make science a core component of their elementary classrooms. She has also collaborated with the Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) community to aid in the development of the Environmental Forum course. She is currently a Leadership Fellow and member of the SENCER New England Center for Innovation Leadership Council. In addition, as a recent director of the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) Environmental Science Program (now the COF Center for Sustainability and the Environment) and current member of the Steering Committee, she co-organizes annual events including the Muddy River Symposium and Muddy River clean-up.