Good morning, I hope you are having a good week. I’m writing this between days one and two of the Center’s annual Equity Institute, which is fabulous and a total emotional overload. Yesterday morning we spent time in the galleries at the Wadsworth, where we hold the institute in partnership with the Amistad Center. Last night we watched I Am Shakespeare, Henry Green’s story, told on film by Henry, a New Haven man who was shot and critically injured, who recovered for a while, and during that time found himself. The director was there to speak and answer questions, which made it particularly special and even more emotional. (My colleague Kerry Lord wrote the facilitation guide.)
There are so many cool things that I’ve been involved in lately that I’ve been kind of paralyzed trying to decide what to write about. It finally occurred to me that I could write about them all. So here’s what I’m particularly excited about. Buckle up.
There’s the Equity Institute, obviously, which is special and unique not just because we host it in an art museum, but because we do a couple of things particularly well. First, we use the art to create what is often called a “third space”—a time and a place to talk about images or text which are not ostensibly about you or me. But in providing us a safe and respectful opportunity to talk, we bring our own funds of knowledge to the conversation, to reach insight about ourselves and each other, and construct meaning about the topic at hand. (If you want a more research-based discussion of third space, check out Leslie Maniotes’ work—I recommend you scroll down and click on chapter two, the lit review.)
Conversations about race are often charged and easy to screw up, so the construct of the third space is particularly helpful. Second, equity institutes similar to ours are frequently about raising the issues and where we stand in relation to them (power structures, white privilege, institutional racism, etc.). We believe that’s crucial, but we also believe it’s just as crucial to position ourselves as actors—to think deeply and strategically about how we can work to bring about positive and long-lasting change. As my colleague Kerry says, there is human being and human doing, and we understand the need for both. If you want to see what we’ve been up to, you can follow the Twitter hashtag #equitableclassrooms.
I’ve been working with teacher leaders in several districts, and I’ve been reading a lot about teacher leadership, as it seems to me that we think of teacher leaders in a limited way. The rhetoric tends to be about teacher retention, professional development, and decision-making on a technical level. The most useful thing I’ve read so far is this study by Jennie Weiner, who was at Harvard when she wrote it but is now at UConn (yay!). I think anyone who has any direct or indirect involvement with teacher leadership should read this, ESPECIALLY the part on vision starting on p. 12. I created a PowerPoint slide with just a couple of sentences plucked from that section, attached. I think the next level of work is to connect the work of teacher leadership not to the ability of individual schools to use teacher leaders well, but to the district strategy for improvement. I see too many situations in which teacher leadership is not explicitly or strategically connected to the district approach to improvement. I am grateful to the school districts that I work with for their commitment to support teacher leaders and teacher leadership—a big shout out to Milford, Groton, and Region 14.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Center’s work on portrait of the graduate, equity, and strategy, and how those strands of work intersect and reinforce each other. We have become fluent in our language around developing a portrait of the graduate as merely step one in the development of strategy that will create those graduates. I worry that we have not yet figured out how to see equity as integral to the development of strategy rather than as a separate body of work. This is our ongoing problem of practice—mine, the Center’s, the state’s, and nationally.
I’ve talked to a lot of people about Thinking in Bets—so many useful ideas from a leadership point of view. In addition to my earlier injunctions to read the book and join the discussion on Google+, I’d like to also recommend following Annie Duke on Twitter, and checking out the hashtag #ThinkingInBets.
And also—big drumroll—the Center’s new web site is live!!! Please check it out and let me know if you have feedback—it’s a huge improvement on our previous one—huge shout out to Bridget!. Best of all (from my very selfish point of view), the Coaching Letter has its own page, so you can access it from our web site under blogs, or you can just type in stevensoncoachingletter.org . All previous letters are there, although not yet searchable or tagged—that’s a big project all by itself. If you want previous letters as PDFs, you can still get them in this Google folder. Happy reading! If you are not yet signed up for the Coaching Letter, click here.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you. Best, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106