Education Reformers Don’t Really Listen

Rick Hess with American Enterprise Institute made an observation in an op/ed in Education Next. Education reformers don’t really listen. Parents who have attended public feedback sessions on education matters can confirm this. Rarely does our feedback even register with those who implement reforms, it’s just something they check off on their PR to-do list so they can say they offered a public forum.

He writes:

The education space has been gripped by a newfound love of listening. The same advocates and funders who, a few years back, were exhorting us to embrace a pretty specific slate of Big “R” Reforms (like test-heavy teacher evaluation and the Common Core) are now eager to listen and are busy exhorting others to join them. Meanwhile, those who felt ignored, slighted, and locked-out when Big “R” Reform was flying high are snidely pooh-poohing all this ostentatious listening as a dollar short and a day late.

I find this “we’re ready to listen” meme a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s healthy. I mean, over the past decade or more, education policy did become increasingly disconnected from—or even hostile to—the concerns of many families and educators. And far too many advocates, funders, and policymakers have seemed deaf to the resulting complaints.

On the other hand, this enthusiasm is more than a little discomfiting. After all, many who insist that they’re eager to listen have proffered little evidence that they’re actually listening. Indeed, having already moved on from yesterday’s agenda (and pivoted to personalization, social and emotional learning, career and technical education, research-practice partnerships, early education, et al.) the complaints they’re hearing feel like old news. More tellingly, when it comes to critical feedback on today’s agenda, the listening—especially to criticism—is markedly less receptive.

If educrats really want to prove they are listening then they need to positively respond to criticism: jettison social-emotional learning, return to classical education instead of the hyperfocus on STEM, address data privacy concerns with real solutions.

They lost trust when they responded to calls to repeal Common Core by providing a rebrand and, in some states, just changed the name. Real listening will result in real changes and revisions to their agenda not just a pat on the head.

Read the rest.

This Made Me Roll My Eyes

There have been many, many articles I have read that caused an involuntary eye roll. This article has to be the first that I’ve felt compelled to address.

Education Week found a way to spin social-emotional learning into the government shutdown story.

Evie Blad wrote “Social-Emotional Learning for Senators: This Elementary School Exercise Helped End the Shutdown.”

U.S. Senator Sue Collins’ talking stick saved the day!

She wrote tying this into social-emotional learning:

The experience illustrates something school leaders have told Education Week in the past: It’s wrong to assume that adults have social-emotional learning all figured out. We all need help with skills like social-awareness and relationship skills, and some tools and scaffolding never hurt anybody. Many school leaders who’ve put social-emotional learning plans into place have later said they should have started with adults, like teachers, who are crucial for modeling respect and healthy interactions to students.

It’s amazing to me that these folks seem to believe that educators, youth workers, parents, etc. did not teach or model social skills like listening before.

No, this is a “new thing,” and even U.S. Senators are trying to figure it out!

“Now we need to wrap it up with a bow into a new fad.” Let’s “be intentional” about teaching it and let’s assess it as well!

She continues her consideration of the talking stick and how things like it can help the educational process:

But young students don’t always recognize how they communicate with body language and facial expressions. So some schools use the same kinds of “scaffolding” exercises when they teach listening as they do when they teach traditional academic subjects, like writing. That might be posters with sentence starters that help children reflect what they heard back to their peers, or objects like talking sticks to make the roles of speakers and listeners more deliberate.

A few years ago, I watched a group of fifth-grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area known for gang violence and poverty, complete a listening circle. To help listening become more deliberate, their teacher had created a routine. First a classmate led them in some mindful breathing to “inhale the positive and exhale the negative.” Then they went around the circle answering questions from their teacher: What is something they’ve said or done that made someone happy? What’s something they’ve done that made someone hurt? How could they “set an intention” to fix it?

Mindful breathing? Is this a 5th-grade classroom or yoga class? Perhaps Senator Collins’ needs to introduce this into her meetings.

Look, I don’t have a problem with things like talking sticks. I’ve employed ideas like this myself as a youth pastor (and *shocker* I didn’t need training on social-emotional learning). Teaching kids to listen was the secondary outcome. The primary focus was discussing content I wanted them to grapple with.

That is where teachers’ focus should be as well. If teachers have an opportunity to model listening and find teaching moments when students are not listening well then great. What Senator Collins did was help her group not to talk over one another. Teachers (and anyone who has led meetings) have been doing that for years.

Ok, I need to stop rolling my eyes otherwise they will be permanently stuck there. Thanks for letting me rant.