Leading Today, Envisioning Tomorrow: Leveraging Current Systems to Cultivate Adaptive School Cultures

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Join us for a Live Stream on February 12, 2:00 pm MST in the USA (February 13, 8:00 am AEST in Australia) as we speak with Jen Buchanan and Brittany Hinyard about their work on education and supporting teachers and schools. While they neither work together in the same context nor even in the same country, we at Talking About Design are interested in hearing how their ideas and research about adaptive school culture intersect. 

Read on for short bios and a preview interview with our speakers:

Jen’s Bio:

Jen Buchanan is a future-focused educator with a vision to make schools better. She has forged a career as an educator in progressive schools around the world including Green School (Bali), Think Global School (USA), and more recently Preshil School in Melbourne, Australia. 

Jen is a convenor with Future Schools Alliance (FSA). The FSA is a global collaboration of innovators, transforming learning communities and co-evolving the future of education. Jen partners with school leaders to co-design their evolving futures by facilitating opportunities for collaboration and engagement across the alliance. 

Having completed her Masters of Education at The University of Melbourne, her research looked at increased opportunities for students to engage in states of Flow. Jen is a strong advocate for student agency, igniting the creative potential in each young person as they navigate their education path. Jen’s experience “on the ground” in trailblazing schools has given her a deep understanding of the mindset needed to implement change (and some of the challenges this presents). Jen is deeply committed to working with schools and educators to build innovative education opportunities.

Brittany’s Bio:

Brittany Hinyard is a third-year doctoral student at Southern University – Baton Rouge. Her research interest focuses on critically examining teacher collaboration in STEM education for early career educators. 

Brittany is also a middle school science teacher. During her tenure as an educator-leader, she has partnered with colleagues to develop problem-based learning units and has led teams of educators to support student learning through various collaborative approaches. 

Her overall goal as an educator is to provide opportunities for all learners to increase their analyses of the natural world. She obtained her MS in Natural Science Education and her BS in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University. Brittany is currently a CADRE Fellow.

Interview question 1: Please tell us a little bit about your work with educators and schools. 

Brittany: Currently, I am a middle school science educator in a public school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Since beginning my career as an educator, I was fortunate to have mentors and leaders to guide me through my educational journey. My mentors provided me with various innovative opportunities to engage in reflective practices and support my unique educator experiences as an alternative certification teacher. As an alternative certification educator, I received a short 6-week intensive general education training and worked with a content-specific cohort prior to teaching independently. 

With the vital support I received from my mentors early in my teaching career, I eventually ventured into a formal education mentor as a Teacher Advancement Program mentor teacher and as a district beginning teacher mentor. In each role, I worked with teachers and groups of teachers to support, coach, and develop practices to encourage teacher confidence and growth. However, a mentor’s role is a team effort built upon collaboration between various educators and administrators.

Besides being a mentor, I have led accountability teams centered around curriculum and grade-level outcomes. These collaborative opportunities are rooted in my need to grow as an educator, see others grow, and increase teacher retention and commitment to the educational field.  

 

Jen: Holding strong to our belief that educational change comes from finding the green shoots of innovation, sharing experiences, and collaborating to amplify the impact of initiatives, my work with Future Schools Alliance involves partnering with educational leaders in schools to look at opportunities to evolve the future of education. Specifically, we partner with schools to evolve towards their aspirational vision through three areas of Culture, Innovation, and Strategy. 

Culture, Innovation, and Strategy work together to guide how a school might evolve from their current school culture towards their aspirational vision. From a Strategy viewpoint, we look at the idea of crafting an evolving narrative that better reflects an aspirational school vision. Strategy gives us direction; it allows each of us to tell the narrative, the story of yesterday, today, and tomorrow that will create the shared vision for the future of a school. 

Although we might have a story and hold an image of our desired future, it can’t be separated from the cultural work required to realise an aspirational vision. This is where Culture comes in – a deep dive into the behaviors, the beliefs, the values, the symbols that define a group of people. In particular the FSA partners with schools to build an adaptive school culture – having the capacity and flexibility to respond to challenges and opportunities as they present.

And finally, when we refer to Innovation what we are asking of our school leaders is how do we ensure that education is relevant (in a time of unprecedented change) and best preparing our young people for the future.

 

Interview question 2: How do you leverage current educational systems in your work?

Brittany:  As a researcher and educator, I leverage change by eating the elephant a bite at a time. My current impact is not broad or expansive, but my goals are always focused on the big picture, helping teachers help students. Within my school, I use our current mentoring program to ensure new teachers have a support system to engage with a myriad of communication pathways between mentor and mentee, mentee and mentee, and mentee and expert educators. I create unique opportunities for teacher accountability, using book studies and monthly mini-active research tasks. These ideas were shared with the district’s program manager and with other mentor teachers within my school district. A lack of a complete science curriculum has allowed the science team to work collaboratively to develop, revamp, share, and critique grassroots, teacher-created problem-based learning curriculum tasks to meet our advanced student population’s needs.

 

Jen: Before I delve into an answer for this, I want to share with you two pictures… 

Students in a classroom at desks working.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The picture on the left is of a school in South Australia in 1945. The picture on the right is a school in Melbourne, Australia in 2020. In both images, a teacher with a class of students,  grouped according to age, all following the same lesson. I’m not trying to be too cynical here, but for many young people, the basic structure of school has not really changed.  School is predominantly a place for knowledge acquisition… knowledge that is then able to be measured and tested. And we do this by grouping students according to their age into subject areas that have content that is generally dictated by a curriculum that is pre-designed.

Essentially, what we do is manufacture experiences for students.

And yet we know our students are part of a future that does not place value on being passive receivers of information. As we enter our third decade of the 21st century we see schools increasingly see the need for schooling becoming a future-orientated and responsive to exponential change.

However leading change can be an isolating experience. As a leader, it is very hard to make decisions on the unknown and much more comfortable to operate in existing paradigms. This is where our work at the FSA steps in. Our work designed to guide leaders and orientate their school transformation journey by increased collaboration across the Alliance – not only increased collaboration with member schools but also with our global education partners. We leverage the knowledge of leaders in the current education system to look at where opportunity exists to evolve education. The Covid Pandemic has resulted in much of our work moving online which has actually been quite a blessing in terms of equity for all our members. No matter where you are in the world, opportunity presents to contribute to one of our virtual think tanks or join a webinar conversation.

 

Interview Question 3: What do you envision as the next step in your process with schools and educators?

Brittany: My passion for productive and effective teachers who return to teaching year after year is critical for students and our future. Teachers and administrators are influential to the success of students, even more so than their environment. In memory of John Clark, who recently passed away, his contribution to East Side High School demonstrates the impact teachers and administrators can have on students to project positive change.

Therefore, I envision the following next steps in my process to promote collaboration within schools and for educators:

  1. By promoting STEM across the curriculum as a means for all teachers to collaborate. This may help students who are “stronger” in one subject area but not another subject area. Last school year, the science team created networking opportunities with the English Language Arts team by working on student’s Science Fair research papers and projects collectively. I want to expand on this idea with other subject areas for teachers to understand STEM is not a bad four-letter word, even though it may be overused.  
  2. By partnering with other local school districts to determine their school culture needs and most significant challenges. Then, developing practical solutions and approaches to promote collaboration using the school’s “DNA.”
  3. By developing a hub for STEM teachers. Providing resources, expertise, and engagement opportunities to increase collaboration, STEM educators across my region will be knitted together using a mini-systemic approach to demonstrate that teaching is not an isolated field but a community of experts with varying levels of knowledge and experience.

Jen: Before I unpack this question, I just want to share some statistics that come out of Australia (although I am sure they are reflective of many countries in the world).

  1. The Black Dog Institute reports that one in four young Australian’s aged 15-19 years meet the criteria for having a serious mental illness  – and this is increasing.
  2. The Grattan Institute reports that About 40 percent of all students are regularly unproductive in a given school year.

 And finally

3. Workcover in Australia reports that mental stress claims are highest in education – higher than any other industry in our country… with 40% of new graduates leave the profession within the first five years. WOW!

So in envisioning the next steps, what if we could move towards reducing some of these statistics? Schools are often portrayed as being resistant to change, unwilling to teach new material or organising new ways of doing things. However, 2020 demonstrated that schools and educators are able to change and respond in times of unprecedented change. How do we continue to evolve in response to increasing change due to advances in technology, post-industrial economies, and globalization? 

2020 was a year of historic importance because around the world we were given a unique opportunity to take a collective pause. COVID-19 resulted in schools being shut all across the world. At different points in time, Globally, over 1.2 billion children were out of the classroom. And depending on where you are in the world, remote learning may still be a reality. Envisioning the next step in our process with schools and educators we often start with the question “what is the purpose of schooling?”. We’ve seen over the past 12 months we’ve seen an acceleration in the shifting roles of the educator, the physical change of learning environments, and the question of what is the purpose of schooling brought in for debate. 

Join us as we continue this conversation live on February 12, 2:00 pm MST USA (February 13, 8:00 am AEST in Australia). The link to join is bit.ly/TADLiveStream (no need to RSVP) or watch for the recording on our website after the event.

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