Jessica Lahey, a high school teacher and writer, argues in the Atlantic magazine (February, 2013) (that introverts should be required to speak in class. She claims that classroom participation grades are not only fair; they are necessary. Drawing on recent work on introverts (e.g., Susan Cain’s popular new book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking), she suggests that in order to be successful in today’s world, it is imperative that introverted students be taught and coerced through grades and expectations to participate in class.
I disagree. Lahey paints students who are quiet in her class with a broad brush, calling them all “introverts.” The truth is that there are many reasons students may choose not to verbally participate in school. Some students are painfully shy and perhaps even introverts. Other students choose their moments to speak carefully, participating in silence for long periods before they decide to speak aloud. Some are quiet in school and loud in other contexts. Sometimes a student’s silence protects her from ridicule or bullying. In many cultures, silence is a sign of deep respect and more highly valued than talk. I would argue that Lahey’s advocacy for grading or counting classroom participation ignores the value and uses of silence in the classrooms, overlooking the myriad of other ways students participate.
Lahey also locates students’ silences in individuals rather than understanding them as a product of group interaction and situations. The students she worries about are ones she labels as “introverts”, assuming it is a characteristic of the student rather than the circumstance that creates the silence or reticence. I would suggest, instead, that it is useful to look at how classrooms and other contexts create silences in youth. Rather than punishing the so-called introverts for their silence or forcing them to speak by grading their classroom participation, teachers like Lahey might inquire into the silence of certain students in their classrooms, looking into the reasons for their silence, the places where are they more vocal, and imagining other ways they might be encouraged to participate.
In my own work, I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.) But can students participate without speaking out loud? Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participation? It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak. Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion? How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms? Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.
Lahey claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success. I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences. I want us to remain cautious about labeling children as introverts, rather than understanding the larger contexts of how and why they choose to participate in certain ways. Otherwise, the particular contributions these students make to the classroom community may be unheard, unrecognized, and discounted. The absence of talk might lead a teacher to assume the absence of learning. It may be difficult for a student to escape the label of the “silent” student or the “introvert.”
There are potentially grave consequences for students when teachers do not understand their silence as a form of participation. Narrow interpretations of the meanings of silence can lead to false assumptions about student participation in classroom activities. For instance, students who are silent might receive low grades for classroom participation, when in fact they are actively engaged in learning. Rather than working to fix or change “introverts” I suggest we understand the various reasons students choose to participate verbally in classrooms or to refrain from such participation. Shouldn’t our goal as educators be to rethink our classroom as places that support all students to learn?
Note: I elaborate these ideas in my book, Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices, Teachers College Press, 2009.
This originally appeared on the Washington Post’s education blog: The Answer Sheet on 2/12/13.
“What does a successful science journal look like in second grade?” … “What do I hope this partner reading conversation sounds like?” …
“What data would indicate that my students have really internalized the science concept we are studying?”
These are the kinds of questions that our teacher scholars grapple with in their collaborative Mills Teacher Scholars work sessions. On the surface, these questions may seem straightforward. But in practice, seeking thoughtful answers to questions about student understanding of content involves delving in to messy issues. Perhaps the most common struggle our teachers scholars face is teasing apart evidence of student understanding from evidence of a student’s ability to follow directions. Upon looking closely and reflecting with colleagues teachers discover that an assignment with very clear and complete directions may yield more data about students’ ability to follow directions than about their understanding of the key concepts. So how can we figure out what students really understand?
In a Mills Teacher Scholars session facilitated last month by teacher scholar leaders from Oakland Unified, I listened as teachers went around the circle sharing the focus of their inquiries and what data might provide useful information as to how their students were, or were not, progressing towards the learning goal each teacher had established.
Several teachers shared that they changed their routine data source from their initial idea. In each case, the teacher wanted to know what the students were thinking, and which concepts the students understood. And they realized that when their assignment provided teacher-created sentence frames, and teacher-designed structures for thinking, the results didn’t show student thinking. Rather, they showed successful completion of a carefully designed task. But whether the student really understood the ideas they were expressing was not at all clear.
One second grade teacher initially used, as her routine data source, student science journal entries written using teacher-designed sentence frames. This teacher changed her routine data source to be interviews with focal students in which they talked about the conclusions they had drawn and the evidence they had used that supported those conclusions.
Another teacher began her inquiry by using, as her routine data source, information about how many students had completed their learning center written work. Now she has moved to using recordings of partner conversations at the reading center to find out what kind of learning conversations partners are (or are not) having.
Yet another teacher began by looking at Accelerated Reader test scores. (Accelerated Reader is a computer based reading assessment widely used for monitoring reading progress.) She realized that the scores were not telling her much about how the students were interacting with the text, and she changed her routine data source to book talks with her focal students.
Each of these teacher scholars went beyond checking for completion and recording numerical scores to implementing practices that allowed them to find out how their students are thinking.
Through their Mills Teacher Scholars work, teachers consistently create new opportunities for students to express their understanding of the key concepts. Teacher scholars then use these powerful data to guide their classroom instruction. Creating time and support for teachers to collect, analyze, and share these real-time data is an essential component to transforming classrooms into places where a diverse group of students find opportunities for deepened learning.
Occasionally, we are lucky enough to meet colleagues or participate in programs that help us to look at familiar problems with new perspective and new insights. I recently had the opportunity to re-examine an issue I’ve considered for many years: How can we help young men of color to succeed in school and thrive in the world beyond school?
As an education funder and philanthropy consultant, I’ve spent the last decade confronting this problem. The statistics are grim and familiar. On a variety of standardized tests, African-American, Latino and Native American males achieve at significantly lower levels than their white and Asian-American peers. Fewer than half of black males graduate from high school on time.
I just attended an urban education study tour sponsored by Grantmakers for Education (GFE), a national association that promotes learning, networking and reflective practice for education funders. These tours allow funders to visit school districts that are facing tremendous challenges and responding with energy and creativity.
Our agenda included a visit to Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School, where we met Chris Chatmon, Director of the Oakland Unified School District’s Office of African-American Male Achievement, and his colleague, Jahi, who leads an after-school manhood development program.
I was inspired by Chris’s commitment to helping young men of color overcome the barriers that inhibit their social development and academic achievement. I was impressed with Jahi’s use of simple homemade drums to teach problem solving, teamwork, pride and discipline. And I was taken with the middle school students who described their own goals with maturity and poise.
Much of what I saw at Edna Brewer was familiar— I’ve met many other inspiring teachers and impressive students. Here’s what was different: In Oakland, the district leadership, beginning with Superintendent Tony Smith, has made the achievement of young men of color a tangible, explicit, measurable goal for the school district. Tony told us that one of his goals is to reduce the proportion of young men of color from Oakland who end up in the adult corrections system by 50 percent in the next decade. He sees efforts to promote manhood, responsibility and good judgment as essential components of the school district’s mission. He’s made it an imperative for the Oakland schools.
Helping young men of color to achieve their full potential is difficult work. It will take more than a few talented educators reaching more than a lucky few students in one program or one school. In Oakland, I saw the vision, commitment and district-level leadership that real change requires.
Founded in 1998, BTW is a woman-owned strategic consulting firm that partners with foundations and nonprofit organizations to improve their effectiveness and inform organizational learning. Their information-based services include evaluation, applied research, and program and organizational strategy development. BTW’s work is guided by their core values—integrity, intelligence and compassion—and their experience extends across diverse contexts, populations and content areas, including education, health, youth engagement, leadership and philanthropy. To find out more about BTW and their services, visit www.btw.informingchange.com
Thinking Outside the Box: How One School Is Going To Do Things Differently | Laurie Grassi-Redmond ’02
When I was taking graduate classes at the Mills School of Education over ten years ago, Anna Richert challenged me and my colleagues to “imagine schools otherwise”. Our student teaching placements left us with many questions, and when we met with Anna on Wednesday afternoons, our frustrations and concerns often bubbled up and out. We questioned standardized tests, teacher to student ratios, school schedules, moral dilemmas, content standards, prescribed curriculum, assessments, and more. Anna would listen to us, facilitate our discussions, and then push us to imagine what schools could look like, if we took the time to imagine them otherwise.
Years later, having taught at the Mills College Children’s School and in public elementary and middle schools, and having stepped outside of the classroom for five years to raise two daughters, I am now in the process of founding a school. Holding in my heart and mind what I know to be best for children, I developed The Mill School.
The Mill School will help children tap into their capacity for learning so that they are confident and successful while maintaining a true sense of self. Located in Freedom, Maine, The Mill School will serve children ages six to ten in a three-day program. Academics will be taught through integrated projects. Assessment will be on-going and authentic. Through place-based learning, The Mill School will advance environmental stewardship and foster the growth of children who view themselves as participants in the life of their community. The Mill School will prepare children to be valued members of society by emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, curiosity, and imagination.
At The Mill School, children will spend half of each school day outside. The outdoor environments will provide the roots for the curriculum at The Mill School and they include the falls, stream, pond, forest, wetlands, and adjoining family farm. Snacks and lunches will be made from whole, local, organic foods and served family style.
The Mill School will partner with families to educate children. Constructivism and place-based learning will guide the curriculum. One day we may offer a five-day program so that we can try to become a “school of choice” – that means that families in the surrounding area could attend the school for free. For now, we will actively work to keep tuition as low as possible while still valuing our teachers and providing a safe and enriching learning environment where children can thrive.
I would like to thank all of my Mills professors for preparing me for this venture. Collectively, they planted a seed ten years ago that has now blossomed into one school where things will be done differently: a school rooted in what is best for children.
To learn more about the school, please visit www.themillschool.org
In The Principalship, Thomas Sergovanni defines culture as the beliefs and values that underlie and direct the actions of faculty. Ideas such as “all children can learn” and “the whole child should be educated” fall into this category of thought. The importance of cultivating a healthy school culture cannot be understated in school leadership. The ability to effect positive change in the program, operations, and political dimensions of school structures rests on having a strong, coherent culture that supports faculty in modeling the foundational values, and holds them accountable when they move away from those. This is why I identified improving the culture of the elementary division at The Berkeley School, where I am Associate Head of School and Elementary Division Head, as one of my foci for the current school year, and made it the topic of my project for my NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring Heads of School.
Because school culture rests on abstract ideas such as beliefs and values, changing it requires surfacing those values in ways that can then be directly applied to the curriculum, traditions, and other facets of school life. While I would have loved to set aside time for faculty to discuss their core values and beliefs about education in the abstract, to do so would take their most precious resource – time – without providing a pragmatic connection to their work, and my experience is that teachers prefer their time be spent talking about substantive matters, rather than process-related ones. My approach, therefore, has been to identify ways in which the values and beliefs in our culture can be named within the context of specific program-related work.
One way in which I have worked to shift school culture is through a year-long examination of our curriculum. One strand of this has been to begin a curriculum mapping process that gives teachers time to plan, reflect, and revise their own curriculum, as well as significant opportunities to work with faculty at other grade levels to understand the knowledge, skills and understandings that are being taught to students throughout the school. Another strand has been working closely with our Curriculum Coordinator to implement a design thinking process for examining our balanced literacy program. This initiative has involved defining the components of the program, training faculty on implementing a consistent word study program across the grades (since one was missing), providing regular opportunities to implement the Looking At Student Work Together protocol developed by David Allan and Tina Blythe at Harvard’s Project Zero Institute, and more.
My second approach has been to increase the role of teacher leadership in defining specific aspects of our program. I formed small working groups to examine our shared traditions, such as holiday celebrations and our curriculum sharing events, and I pushed those small groups to be explicit about the values behind our work. For example, one such group at the beginning of the year met to rethink our assemblies, which were previously bi-monthly sing-alongs of old folk songs. By starting with sharing the reasons we value assemblies, we were able to then move on to identifying the goals we wished the assemblies to meet, and thus come up with a structure that could achieve them. When this group of teachers suggested a structure to the event that involved students sharing their learning, and the reporting out of the work of our newly-formed student council, the faculty as a whole was excited to take on the added burden of preparing their kids to present, precisely because their peers had taken the time to ground the approach in their values.
I have used one other strategy to increase the coherence of our division’s culture, and that is to attempt to become a better cheerleader and recognize what is going right in our classrooms. I have found several avenues for this, including offering a sincere and authentic appreciation to a different faculty or staff member each day for some aspect of their work; being sure to notice, comment on, and inquire about the new displays and documentation that appears on the walls of the classrooms each time I enter a room; and to publish an internal division newsletter in which I pick one thing from each class, and write about how I see it connecting to our mission, learning outcomes, or pedagogic approach.
Peter Drucker, an influential scholar of management theory and practice, once wrote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Understanding the history of a school site, the personal narratives of the faculty and staff, and the context, constraints, and conditions that a school faces are essential in effecting culture change. It is time-consuming work, and one that I find presents me with new and exciting challenges every day. I share my approach in the hope that it provides others with a foil to consider their own critical work in this area, and I welcome anyone who would like to have a dialogue on this topic at to contact me at email@example.com.
Disruptive Leaders and Game Changers: Notes from the Independent Sector 2012 Conference | Sarah Garmisa
In November, 2012 more than 100 of this country’s social-sector leaders under 40 gathered in San Francisco to discuss the practice of Disruptive Leadership. Jeffrey Lawrence of Cambridge Leadership Associates addressed the group at the Independent Sector’s NGen (next generation) annual conference for nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and agents of social change. As an MBA/MA in Educational Leadership student at the Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Business and the School of Education at Mills College focusing on non-profit management and social change, I was thrilled to volunteer at the members-only conference, and be welcomed as an NGen participant. For the entire group, Disruptive Leadership was an apt topic. In line with the conference’s “Game Changers” theme, Lawrence’s presentation on Disruptive Leadership introduced a management theory favoring progress and social evolution over maintaining the status quo.
The title of Lawrence’s seminar was “Leading from Center”. In small groups, participants explored the myriad pressures, motivations, and expectations central to their own careers and personal missions. For many, the pressures and expectations were internal because of a common desire to achieve significant social impact. But Lawrence challenged the group to think about external forces, asking, “How do the relationships you develop at work propel your professional goals forward?” Speaking about the need to maintain strategic partnerships with colleagues, he proposed new ways for us to imagine ourselves as leaders of social change.
For trailblazers from the Millennial generation, finding a greater purpose is central to career decisions. Lawrence had us ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to be able to sleep well at night?” We took a few minutes to reflect on two things: first, our greatest joys and second, the world’s greatest needs. Our work, Lawrence said, should be at the intersection of those two things.
All organizational leaders balance expectations from multiple constituencies. To maintain authority as leaders, we must regularly meet those expectations. But change-agents, Lawrence posited, must also learn to disappoint expectations. “If you are only doing what is expected of you,” he cautioned, “then you are preventing things from moving forward.” Rather than leading from the top, disruptive leaders lead from the center of their organizations, managing themselves as much as their surrounding relationships. But “if you’re not getting any pushback,” Lawrence warned, “you’re not doing anything important.”
At the same time, disruptive leaders must find the right blend of purpose and meeting expectations. “Authority,” Lawrence warned, “is given, not taken.” Mission-driven leaders trying to make change from within an organization must learn when it’s necessary to step back to maintain authority, and when it’s possible to make progress by pushing unpopular ideas forward. “You must dance outside the scope of your authority,” he advised. If you want to be an agent of social change in the world, you have to be a disruptive leader.
Based on the above ideas, one might ask, “How does a disruptive leader make change from the middle?” According to the laws of physics, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Many make the mistake of reaching out to their opposition first, but a better plan is forge coalitions. Pass your idea through a supportive “warm gate,” as he calls it, to drum up applause from champions of your idea. This provides momentum, and when leaders have that momentum, it’s a game changer. Opposition forces with less conviction often melt away.
Lawrence outlined six key relationships that disruptive leaders must foster:
1) Identify your partners. Know the difference between a partner and an ally. A partner will risk something for you or your idea, while an ally will only provide support without taking any personal risk.
2) Understand your opposition. Those are the people who have the most to lose if you succeed.
3) Know yourself. This critical self-awareness will be the number one cause of either your success or your failure.
4) Channel the “troublemakers”. They are the voices of leadership from below. Find a way to direct their voice so the organization does not expel them.
5) Expect casualties. You cannot make significant change without the inevitable casualties. Think of them as learning experiences.
6) Study your authorities. They have a lot to offer. Learn to develop authority for yourself by partnering with someone who already has it.
Perhaps most importantly, disruptive leaders in business, non-profit, or government positions must always be curious observers of themselves and others. If there is a change we want to see in the world, we must remain inquisitive. Directly after Jeffrey Lawrence’s seminar, at the Independent Sector Conference keynote address, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom was on the same page. He declared, “If you don’t like the answer, ask a better question.”
My mind was alight with inspiration and excitement both days I attended the conference. This seminar—as well as other sessions and conversations with attendees—mirrored topics we are currently studying in classes at Mills. Other major themes included the role of data in assessing social impact, alternative funding sources for the social sector, non-profit/for-profit partnerships, and the power of social media. Even days later I am filled to the brim with insights, questions and curiosity about these subjects. It was incredibly inspiring to engage with so many successful change-agents nationwide, from every sector with a social purpose. By provoking questions of myself, and prompting me to ask questions of others, this conference was a game changer for me. It opened my eyes to new ways of achieving impact, and I’ve subsequently gotten more specific about my own mission and goals for achieving impact in my career.
For students at the Lorry I Lokey Graduate School of Business, which is uniquely dedicated to sustainability and socially responsible leadership, this practice of inquiry is essential to our educational mission. As Mills MBA/MA candidates we are learning to become disruptive leaders by promoting change and empowering ourselves to be socially responsible leaders in the for-profit, non-profit, education, and public sectors. Though I am still in my first semester as a Mills graduate student, I hope to be a student always: asking better questions and looking for the best game-changing answers.
What has 80 arms, can be natural, be flat, be sharp and makes a beautiful noise?
The Mills College Choir, re-established this year after a 22 year absence from the campus!
Last spring, I saw emails inviting the Mills community to join. I fondly remembered participating in the University of New Mexico Community Choir over ten years ago and thought, “Why not?”
The choir has 40 members; undergraduate women, graduate women and men, faculty, and staff. The School of Education is tunefully represented by Elizabeth Baker (Visiting Assistant Professor) and me.
Sopranos, Altos, and Tenors. The voices….ah, the voices! The director, Cindy Beitman, makes each week’s two-hour practice in the chapel fun as we tune up our voices and practice, practice, practice. Early in the semester, some members were unsure of which singing range to belong to. Cindy’s acute ear placed people in the section best suited to her or his voice. For years, one woman was convinced she was an Alto. Cindy heard something different and placed her with the Sopranos – the Soprano 1 group with voices so clear and high that at times, we expect to see glass shatter! I found myself with the Alto 2 group – very low range, perfect for someone’s vocal chords that prefer Tenor and Alto 2 tones.
There is something wonderful when you are in a large group, singing parts and ranges, having a piece come together with rich harmony and sound. The chapel walls literally vibrate with glee. It is energizing, it builds a different sort of confidence, and it is invigorating. There are times we complete a piece and are in awe how the bits come together to produce an amazing effect.
Earlier this fall while we were working on a piece, President DeCoudreaux was walking past the chapel. The sound and her curiosity pulled her in. We stopped, Cindy introduced the Mills College Choir to her, and she asked to hear a song. Forty-strong, we delivered four-part harmony that left her applauding and excited to get back to Mills Hall to tell the folks there about the harmonious sounds of the choir.
Besides our weekly Wednesday practice, some of us practice with other members or outside Mills. Whether we sing with our choir or to our friends, our pets, in the shower, or to the dishes in the kitchen sink, the exhilaration of the simple act of freely singing gives pleasure to the soul.
We have sung at this year’s convocation. Standing next to the robed and capped alumnae women, we sang Fires of Wisdom. Some of the alumnae were misty-eyed as they sang along with us, and several expressed their appreciation for a song well executed in prosaic solidarity.
The Mills College Choir will hold its Winter Concert on Sunday, December 9, in the Music Building’s Littlefield Concert Hall, at 4 p.m. (If you are on campus on Wednesday, December 5, and happen to be at the Tea Shop at 12:30 p.m., you might get a preview of the concert!) Come hear us! It will be music to your ears!