Compassionate Listening: Your Homework for Education Transformation

“When you listen, you become immersed in the loved experience of others. And if you listen with compassion, you get it. And THAT leads you to solution.” — Dr. Folami Prescott-Adams IF YOU’VE SPENT MORE THAN five minutes around schools, you’ve probably got a reflexive reaction to the term education reformer. The very phrase tends to spark either cheers or catcalls. You’ve seen the effusive profiles of heroic charter school leaders who are working wonders. And you’ve perused the bitter blogs attacking those same leaders as “deform- ers” bent on destroying public education. Education is brimming with passionate people who see schooling as a way to make a difference. Most of the time, passion is a wonderful thing. It lends us energy and gives our work meaning. In school reform, though, I sometimes think we suffer from a curious malady: too much passion. — Excerpt from the Preface of Letters to a Young Education Reformer  by Frederick M. Hess. The words from the excerpted Preface above spoke to me (and I hope they speak to you, too) as Hess tries to break down what it means to be an education reformer. He summarizes what I see as a daily struggle. If we are to move beyond a set of reforms to a true understanding of why our schools need transformation and what that can look like across charters, neighborhood schools and every other attempt made to get it right – then we will have to listen to each other. When a passionate parent speaks at a Board meeting, how compassionately are we listening to their concerns and frustrations? When a new teacher shares both the challenges and small wins they experience in the classroom, are we listening to their joy with compassion? If we can find the compassion and listen to their joy in their own…

Wanted: Black Mothers for APS Board of Education

Almost two years ago to the day, a colleague said to me “There are no Black mothers on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education.” At the time I thought it was an unusual observation with little meaning. After all, we have Eshe Collins, the only African-American woman on the Board. And she has worked in early childhood and at GSU where I’m sure she has taught, influenced and learned from many student teachers. She taught in Atlanta Public Schools through Teach for America and has even been a policy clerk at The Children’s Defense Fund. That was good enough for me. And we have three white mothers and two Black fathers, one of whom just became a father since being on the Board. Two of those mothers have adult children who have graduated from APS and of the three current APS students remaining, two attend charter schools and one attends Maynard Jackson HS. —————————- Fast forward to yesterday when I had a discussion about what we want and need on our Board as we move swiftly into campaign season for ALL 9 SEATS! I reflected on the Black mother comment and we collectively realized that the Black mother is the number one constituent of APS. She disproportionately sends her children to the city schools, volunteers in the school, anguishes when her children are not doing or being served well and ends up running the PTA only after being begged and convinced nobody can lead it like she can.   And she is most affected when schools close, merge or are transformed with new staff and new ways of building culture and teaching both sets of 3 R’s (relevance, rigor and relationships AND reading, writing and ‘rithmetic). {Side note – why do we call them 3 R’s when only one of…

Adult Learners

Adult Learning: My “AHA” Moment

The thing I love most about learning is there’s always something new: a perspective, idea or technique that gives way to a different level of understanding. This happened recently as I attended a training on the principles of adult learning. During the day-long session, participants were taught various steps for designing learning opportunities for adults as well as principles that, when adhered, lead to valuable and productive time spent.   As I prepared for the session by reading an assignment, I had an aha moment. Whether I am preparing to work with educators, youth development professionals, leaders, volunteers or parents; the same principles apply. Even though these ‘students’ range from GED students to Ph.D. students, they have incredibly similar needs as adult learners.   I want to share four assumptions about learners and the learning process from Jane Vella who has made critical contributions to the field: 1. Learners arrive with the capacity to do the work involved in learning. 2. Learners learn when they are actively engaged – cognitively, emotionally, and physically in the content. 3. New content can be presented through learning tasks. 4. Learning tasks promote accountability.   Do you share these assumptions? While no one can make you believe in these assumptions — I promise you — your learning experiences for adults (whether you call them training, workshops, seminars, classes, courses, etc.) will be enhanced by your belief and commitment to them.   You can read more of Vella’s seminal work on her website. I suggest you start with the first chapter of her book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults in which she presents Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning.   For now, design your adult learning experiences with at least some of these four assumptions in mind. And expect improved…

Buildings Don’t Make Schools

By Folami Prescott-Adams Jr. Academy Principal Greg Leaphart of Drew Charter School conducted a tour with a visiting charter school leader, 8 student teaching residents and myself. We all ooh’d and ah’d at the rolling chairs and the hangout-steps (complete with electrical outlets – 2 per step) made out of the wood from the trees that were cut down to build the school. And solar panels that generate 30% of the electricity in the building. And a 1-to-1 for google chromes. (education speak for every student has their own computer. One computer for every one student.) The theatre with awesome acoustics. The gym with a running track. A 2nd practice gym. A makers space with 3-d printers and a full wood shop. Collaborative spaces for students with lockers, movable smartboards, more rolling chairs, screens and outlets everywhere. And yet the most riveting thing we saw on the tour was an 8th-grade teacher digging in and challenging her students to articulate the difference between reciprocal and opposite. The students were learning about the reciprocal of an exponent. The teacher refused to give up when one student just could not easily articulate the meaning of opposite. Even with her own presentation of hot and cold as an example of a pair of opposites, she could not explain what that relationship was – conceptually. She used no smart board, computer or even white board. Five of us sat in the back of the room literally star struck. One visitor was dying to chime in and fought the temptation (hate she felt she had to – but that’s another topic). At the end of the tour, no one’s most compelling observation had anything to do with all of the building features that produced all those oohs and ahs earlier in the visit. What struck…