Strength in Numbers: WomenEd blogging on #IWD16

15 Mar


I recently had the good fortune to participate in a global conversation about women in education through the grassroots group WomenEd. Their work caught my eye through Twitter and I reached out to them, interested to see what their presence is here in the US or Canada. I was later asked to participate in the blogging event, to which I was honored to contribute.

For my entire professional life, I have worked among mostly women, be it in philanthropy or education, as well as in many of my volunteering activities, where I find myself surrounded by interesting and driven women as well. And whether I was in the break room at the United Way office, the staff room at St. John’s school, or around the table of the MOMS Club meeting, I have found that women progress and learn through their conversations.

The quiet strength of the #iwd16 event sponsored by @WomenEd came from the variety of voices and perspectives the contributing women offered. What if schools held such events on their own, where their staff and faculty members shared quick and pithy blog posts about their professional lives? Perhaps it would be risky, providing a space for critiques and complaints, but it also could be productive and beneficial; a metaphorical breaking down of the classroom silos. Perhaps this could be a goal for #iwd17.

Shorten the School Week, Grow the Town?

8 Feb

It’s no surprise to most folks familiar with Texas that football is a major part of the local culture. Much of Texas’ image includes the Cowboys and Friday Night Lights. Even the smallest towns have 6-man teams, an adaptation of the game that most outside of Texas, or even in the major urban centers of the Lone Star state may not have heard about previously. The smaller team is intended to keep the team going, so the villages of west and southwest Texas can still participate in tpress releasehe time-honored tradition of high school football. The NFL QB Colt McCoy is from such a small town (Tuscola, Texas).

While Texas continues to grow faster than the rest of the country, (Texas’ Growth in Population), the state isn’t growing evenly. There are many small towns and villages in the western part of the state (which is larger geographically than many regions in the rest of the country), where the population is dropping. The boom and bust cycles of oil, as well as the changes in the agricultural industry, have resulted in young people moving away. They take their knowledge and families with them. Thus schools struggle to fill the roster of the 6-man football squad as well as the 10th grade pre-calc class.

One district has taken matters into their own hands. The west Texas town of Rowena (population 714) has one school that served 56 students from preschool to grade 8 in the last school census in 2014 (Olfen ISD). District Superintendent Gabriel Zamora saw the decline in both his student population, and potentially, the town and decided to think creatively.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, Olfen Independent School District will offer a 4-day instructional week, the 5th day as an outlet for tutoring and enrichment activities. Promoting their school as a ‘small school with a big heart’ and recognizing that not all districts would find this arrangement appealing, Zamora explained in a recent press release that the community came together to reach this compromise. “It also means that on the optional day we will be able to better involve members of the surrounding communities in providing enrichment activities such as: karate, leatherworking, pottery, tumbling, etc. These types of enrichment activities are difficult to implement for a rural district such as ours, but now the possibilities are unlimited.” Zamora has taken a gamble, perhaps the first in Texas and certainly one of the few such arrangements in the country. Rural schools across the US will be watching with interest.




Seeing is Believing: The Impact of Visual Messages

22 Jan

A child is impacted within minutes of seeing an image of a woman in a position of power. The same can be said of a man working as a nurse, or woman as a CEO. This according to behavioral economist Dr. Iris Bohnet of the Harvard Kennedy School and the Women and Public Policy Program. She was interviewed about her work this week while she attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

One of the most striking piece of data Bohnet shared was the near immediate impact seeing someone working outside gender norms can have on the viewer. The work becomes normalized to the viewer. While she did not speak of classrooms directly, Bohnet’s analysis can influence the way teachers set up their classrooms. Both boys and girls would benefit from seeing female scientists, male caregivers, female athletes, male craftsmen and other roles. We decorate our classrooms with drawings and photos of accomplished individuals and people of influence, such as US presidents or famous entertainers on posters with affirmative statements. “Read!” a poster shouts, as a celebrity holds a book while smiling at the camera. Yet, we educators might be missing an opportunity to project other messages to our students.

What if Mariam Mirzakhani adorned our classroom walls instead?



Testing More Does Not Make Children Better Students or Citizens

18 Jun

I had the privilege of writing a guest blog with Andy Hargreaves and my colleague Shanee’ Wangia for Diane Ravitch’s consistently thought-provoking blog. In it, we argue that high stakes testing is not the catalyst that has lead to New England’s educational dominance. Rather, we need to consider the costs our schools incur, both fiscal and social, that continuous testing can cause.

Getting Back In The Saddle

18 Jun

I feel a bit like this horse rider today, looking down tentatively on the hill below me. It is inviting but potentially difficult. After all, it has been several months since I last ‘rode’ this horse.

For personal reasons, I had to take a break from the blog. We often talk about reaching one’s cognitive load in education research, that point at which a child cannot take in any more information. There is just too much going on for the child to process anything more. I was definitely at that point. Torn between my responsibilities to my young family, my graduate program, and my family in the Midwest, I found myself having to give something up. Unfortunately, the blog had to go.

Yet, I have to get back on the horse, have to get back into writing for myself.

Thanks for sticking with me. Let’s ride.

When A Suburban School Closes…

2 Jan

Once named one of America’s most desirable communities, my hometown of Solon, Ohio has had some challenges in 2014.

From sexting at school to layoffs at Stouffer’s, Solon has faced some bumps and bruises this past year.  Many of these highlights of the year came from a news report on Solon in a local paper for the region: ( American journalism continues to thrive in local markets.

One item in the list of Solon’s 2014 events is the decision to close Arthur Road School in 2016. “Solon schools announced that Arthur Road elementary school would close in 2016 because enrollment has declined.” 

Solon Schools have tried to maintain neighborhood schools as best they can, given the demographic growth and shifts in the town’s population in the past few decades. The wealthy, but economically diversified district expanded when needed, adding the infamous pods and then additions and new buildings over time. The town has continued to grow in population and resources. Its tax base continues to fund some of the best schools in the state, and its graduates typically go on to four year universities and become professionals. New residents are drawn to the large town recreation center with climbing wall and outdoor pool. New shopping districts have been added down the street from a large new library. So where is the decline?

The decline is found in the numbers; Solon isn’t growing in a way that supports another elementary school: . As the Census number show, Solon’s overall population has slightly declined and its child population is below that of the state.

Why does this matter? Perhaps Solon is being efficient and prudent to close a building that cannot be supported? Perhaps the faculty and staff members could be moved to other schools in the district?

A closing suburban school in a relatively wealthy town outside a significant American city matters because it is indicative of changes to the region. Families in Solon, and other similar towns, aren’t as large as they once were. The large new colonials popping up around town are enjoyed by smaller families. Increasingly, new Solon residents are retired individuals moving into senior apartments.  Such changes will impact voting patterns, funding choices, and the atmosphere of the town, let alone the schools.

As educators, we must know our communities as well as we know our lesson plans. We are our communities.

My 6 Year Old Cried During a Math Practice Test: Why This Might Be A Good Thing

30 Sep

Now that I finally feel like my little family and I have our school ‘sea legs’ again, that we have finally figured out our routine a bit, I feel better about returning to the ol’ blog. And I have so much to discuss, but I must start with something about this little family of mine.

This past week, my daughter, who is in first grade, shared over breakfast that she had a couple of tests coming up in class. She knew they were practice tests, but she wanted to get ‘it right.’ I tried to reassure her, as my husband and I always have, that she just needed to try and we’d be pleased. Our daughter, A, is a strong student, especially when it comes to numbers. I wasn’t too worried.

Despite my reassurances and relaxed (or so I thought) approach, Miss A apparently started to cry a bit during the test. She came to a multiple choice question, “Which is 10 less than 37?” and she panicked a bit. “I didn’t understand the question. I didn’t know what it was asking. So I guessed and got upset.” She guessed 27, figuring the others didn’t make sense. The teacher apparently recognized A’s anxiety for what it was, explained that her educated guess was in fact right, and got her to smile. Just what a first grade teacher should do.

So why aren’t I up-in-arms that my first grader is already upset by a test during the first month of school?

I’m not thrilled that my kid is already having to handle the onslaught of the American testing machine, that she is already associating school with tests and not creative play. However, a few gems emerged from this incident.

First, my kid hasn’t been defeated just yet. Don’t let those tears confuse you. She was frustrated, worried about getting it wrong because she so dearly wanted to get it right. “I cried because I didn’t know if it was right,” referring to her guess answer. A’s drive to succeed is strong, it is a force to be reckoned with, quite literally.

Second, the teacher stepped in, supported A, and got her back on track. In this, our family’s first potentially challenging interaction with the teacher, I find myself comfortable with the teacher’s approach. She has gotten to know our A a bit and probably learned from last year’s teacher that A can veer toward perfectionism in her desire to get things ‘right.’ Perhaps the teacher has learned that redirecting that desire has made A a bit of an athlete, as she earned an all-school bronze in the running race last year and has been taking tennis lessons for three years now.

And third, I know now what to look out for, as A does head into the gauntlet of standardized and formative tests. I may have gotten a glimpse of the personality that is forming. I suspect we have an opportunity as parents to provide A the emotional and mental tools to steer her away from crumbling under the pressure and instead to thrive in a competition against her greatest rival: herself.

So yes, tears during a test could be good, for a little while at least. 

Boston College and the CSTEEP Speaker Series

30 Sep

Tree flyer

Secrets and Lies of International Performance in K-12 Education

3 Sep

An exciting lecture series will kick off at Boston College next week, sponsored by CSTEEP, the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy. 


BC logoCSTEEP logo

2014 Fall Seminar Series:

Secrets and Lies of International Performance Comparisons in K-12 Education

*Inaugural Seminar*

Exploring Performance in Education Internationally: Where the Data Come From and Why it Matters

Presented by

Dr. Henry Braun and Dr. Laura O’Dwyer

Tuesday, September 9


Campion G16, the ERC Classroom


Should We Be Our Own Gatekeepers?

3 Sep

Journalist Dana Goldstein, recipient of numerous accolades and fellowship for her writing on education, has just released a new book on teachers, titled The Teacher Wars. I look forward to reading it, in hopes that teachers are finally portrayed not in an Eve/Mary dichotomy, not as superheroes capable of instruction as well as community salvation, or even as the warm, understanding teacher/parent/psychotherapist/social worker. Instead, I hope teachers are shown as the professionals they are, well-trained, informed, and hard-working. 

Like any profession, teaching is not immune from its faults or weaknesses. We who have had the privilege of working in classrooms know the shortcomings far too well. I imagine we all can think easily of a teacher or two who had no business in the classroom, individuals who had no patience for children or the work of teaching. 

I would also venture to guess that we can also think of individuals who did too much, teachers who took on all the extra projects, stretched themselves thin in order to provide the students with the best possible schooling experience. These individuals too also characterize the profession in a detrimental way. 

When we as a profession fail to ‘police’ or create our identity as a field, but instead allow the outliers in our group or society itself to define us, leading to these extreme characterizations of teachers as either saviors or sinners, we are lost. We are no longer professionals who develop instruction and curriculum based on research and sound pedagogy. Rather we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by others, many of whom seek to place blame on us for things beyond our control. 

Perhaps Dana Goldstein will change the tone of this discussion, and remind us of who we are, and where we stand as a profession.