Coaching Letter #90

Thank you for the feedback on the last Coaching Letter, about white privilege, I am glad so many people found it helpful. Of course, when I wrote it, I had no way of knowing that one of my fellow citizens would drive for 10 hours across Texas to kill “Mexicans” peaceably going about their business in a Walmart in El Paso. Judging by the content on my social media feeds, “white privilege” became, all of a sudden, a more overtly political, and much more negative term than it was, at least to me, just the week before. So the construct of white privilege has become both less contentious (in the sense that it seems to have become reified) and more contentious (its meaning is more polarizing, more political, more contested), both at the same time.

Anyway, thank you to everyone else who shared reflections and/or additional resources on white privilege:

And here, again, is the flyer for the Center’s Equity Institute, with a focus on art and story-telling as a way in to talking about equity and equitable classrooms.

This summer has not been too intense, work-wise, and so I have been reading a lot—about white privilege and other things. There is one book in particular that I want to draw your attention to, and that is Where Teachers Thrive, by Susan Moore Johnson. Johnson is a professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and former dean), and I have this picture in my head of her leading a phalanx of researchers, equipped with pens, notepads and laptops instead of spears and shields. The book is the product of a series of studies that were done in low-income, urban schools in Massachusetts.

Instead of focusing on the individual teacher as the unit of study, the book considers the context in which the teachers operate, and what they have to say about what matters to them and what support makes them successful. In other words, there is nothing about the characteristics of high quality instruction; rather, each chapter considers one of the conditions that impinges on teacher success and tries to get underneath the usual assumptions. For example, we (I mean the education profession writ large) operated (and perhaps still operate) under a theory of action regarding teacher evaluation that says, at its most simplistic, that if teachers are evaluated (i.e. given a rating that tells them how well they are doing and gives them feedback on how to improve), then they will become better teachers. But how does this theory of action truly play out, from the teachers’ perspective? And at what point do we talk about the organizational circumstances that enhance or impede teachers’ chances of improving? This chapter held the most surprises for me.

The chapter on evaluation was of particular interest to me because it is a topic that I have followed closely for years. But the other chapters were also fascinating, concerning teacher teams, teacher leadership, student behavior, teacher pay, choices about what and how to teach, and optimizing teachers’ time. The chapters are packed with a ton of information, and I learned a lot. But what really stands out to me is that we so very rarely have the chance to contemplate a nuanced portrait of how teachers see issues that are of major concern in education, but affect teachers most acutely. I think a lot about teacher leadership, because I have come to believe that most of the approaches that we have to teacher leadership underleverage teachers. I’ve written about that in several Coaching Letters, including #84 and #65, and at some point I need to pull all these ideas together… Anyway, I think anyone who is interested in organizing schools to maximize support for teachers and the improvement of teaching should read this book; it provides a huge amount of material from which to script leadership moves.

Finally, and in response to the questions about whether it’s OK to share these Coaching Letters, the answer is always yes, with the proviso that you keep the attribution intact; in other words, please include all the contact information at the bottom of the email. And yes, there is a repository of past Coaching Letters, at, and the link to subscribe is

Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Any and all feedback gratefully received. Best, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Cell: 860-576-9410
Twitter: @IsobelTX
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