school auditorium

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (and Neither Will the P.D.)*

Author: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.
From the Leadership + Design monthly newsletter

Students arrive in dribs and drabs for the assembly with an outside speaker and fill up the back rows of the auditorium. Some may venture half way down the big space but no one opts for the first 20 rows, until teachers come in and make the students move closer. Come on, guys. This is our invited guest. It’s rude to sit in the back.

Adrienne Rich understands that education is something you claim, not something you “get,” yet even she might only choose the 12th row. Because when the grown-ups become the students for professional development programs, many quickly lay claim to tables in the back, the seats closest to the exit. And when the guest cajoles them to move closer, some refuse!

Enter Parker Palmer, a candidate for the open position of Professional Development Fairy Godfather (PDFG). Several on the planning team are not in favor of candidate Palmer. Skeptic 1: Doesn’t he talk about spirituality and inner wisdom? Skeptic 2: We need practical recommendations, not touchy feely visionary crap. Skeptic 3: This is about relevance and take-aways. Tools we can use tomorrow.

By a L+D miracle, Parker Palmer gets the job, and the first question he asks is “What is the current condition of your teachers?” He then hears about a dedicated, hurried, overworked, underpaid, hurried, stretched-thin, undervalued, hurried community of adults who want the very best for their students. Skeptic 2 tells him: We believe that student learning has to be engaging, relevant and meaningful; we work hard to provide that every day. Palmer observes that their working conditions sound stressful, and Skeptic 1 reminds him that this is a dedicated group of educators.

Any of this sound familiar? I know many teachers who feel overwhelmed by all they are expected to do but assume that there is something lacking or not up-to-snuff about themselves. They feel powerless to suggest (except for some faculty lounge carping) that the system, as constructed, produces this emotional state. The state of overwhelm is not due to an absence of individual grit. The anxiety wells up when there is an institutional illusion that the condition of the spirit is irrelevant to the real-world problem of producing successful graduates and robust bottom line.

Understanding the experience of the learner—and the collective of learners— is critical to any educational enterprise, and we need to pay far more attention to the condition of the adults who attend professional development (PD) programs. The parallel process between the experience of the K-12 student learner and the grown-up teacher learner couldn’t be clearer. We are all human beings who wish to succeed, and to be successful in the current over-scheduled, performance-driven, let’s-add-one-more-program-but-not-take-anything-away condition of our schools, efficacy matters most. But effective is now code for shorter, faster, immediate, measurable.

Anxious Student 8: Just give me the answer so I can finish the project and turn it in on time because I have another paper due tomorrow that I haven’t even started.
Anxious Teacher 5: Just give me the right tool or tell me what to say or provide a ready-made lesson because I have 22 students who needed this yesterday.

The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness the smaller the tasks we’ll take on, because they are the only ones that get short term results…care about being effective, of course, but care even more about being faithful, as countless teachers do— faithful to your calling, and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care.

PDFG Palmer is talking about faith and calling. This is exactly why the planning committee was afraid of hiring him! Gil Scott-Heron intones, repeats: the revolution will not be televised. But that was back in 1970! In 2019 the revolution will not be texted or tweeted or shared in a Google Doc. The revolution, the transformation we yearn for in education will only happen in real time, with real people who trust each other enough to risk the vulnerability inherent in learning.

Relational trust has been and always will be at the heart of any teaching/learning effort. So when the skeptics sit in the back of the PD program, it’s because they do not trust that the teacher who has been invited to work with them understands their real needs, their true condition. That is why attending to and building trust is the first step. In our privileged, resource rich schools which would you prefer? The working group that has all the latest educational technology, full of members who mistrust each other; OR the group that has scrapped, collaborated, disagreed, failed, laughed and succeeded its way to mutual trust, yet only has some paper and a bit of scotch tape?

My favorite sage at the moment is Margaret Wheatley; she points to the passionate potential that lies in successful PD. There is no greater power than a community discovering what it cares about. However, let’s be clear. This kind of learning and discovery takes trust and TIME, which is, hands-down, the most precious commodity in modern educational life. No surprise then that it is with a scarcity mentality about TIME that schools repeatedly make mistakes by creating/offering the

  • one-and-done professional development program (PDP)
  • 75 minute after school workshop (often on a Friday!)
  • voluntary 2 hour session in August before school starts
  • all-community summer read on unconscious bias that is discussed in small groups for 30 minutes at opening faculty meetings, never to be mentioned again

It’s not that any of these opportunities is necessarily a bad idea, but none of them can stand alone pedagogically. We forget that adult learners need scaffolding and repetition and practice just as much as their students do. Fortunately the content-learning, repetition, synthesis and practice opportunities also just happen to be relational, emotionally rich, trust-building opportunities as well. And for those still skeptical, I invite you (a) to a look at the Lake Michigan size quantity of research that demonstrates how attention to emotions is fundamental to good pedagogy or (b) read the 20th Anniversary Edition of Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. Better yet, make the book this summer’s faculty read.

 

* apologies and thanks to Gil Scott-Heron, 1970

Letting Go of the Binary

Executive Summary: Letting Go of the Binary

Letting Go of the Binary: Comparing Categorical and Continuous Measure of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

Authors:

Jennifer S. Bryan, Ph.D.
Joseph D. Mangine, Ph.D.

This Executive Summary outlines the (1) methods, (2) results, (3) conclusions and (4) implications of two studies of sex, gender, and sexuality undertaken by Team Finch Consultants (TFC). Building on a model originally called the Diagram of Sex and Gender, TFC developed a more inclusive schema called the New Diagram of Sex, Gender and Sexuality (NDSGS, Bryan and Barr, 2015; see final page). TFC adapted the NDSGS to use as a measure and administered it to two different demographic groups, analyzed the data, and presented the results. The paper Letting Go of the Binary: Comparing Categorical and Continuous Measures of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality (Bryan, J, Barr, S, Overtree, C, & Mangine, J., 2016) is being submitted for publication in its entirety and is available from the first author.

Elementary school students

What Makes Schools Lifeworthy? Simple Answer: Loving Relationships

Author: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.
From the Leadership + Design monthly newsletter, November 2016

True love is a mixture of friendship, appreciation and like, happiness. – Ben, 8 years old

Freud said work and love are the two primary endeavors for human beings, and it turns out that our youngest students have all kinds of wisdom about love. If you love someone, you should share and be kind. The Jubilee Project, a non-profit that produces videos for social change, interviewed early elementary students about love, and the  Love Lessons the kids shared are worth paying attention to. Love feels sort of like you’ll never be lonely. Loving someone is like a lot of eye contact. Love makes me feel warm and cozy inside, like a pillow.

Tending to, nurturing and teaching about loving relationships shapes the heart of a lifeworthy community. Yet schools invest a great deal in preparing students for work and too little in preparing them for love. In my corner of the collective effort we call Education, I help administrators, teachers, parents, board members and students understand the role of Gender and Sexuality Diversity[1] in school life. These days, more than ever, I find myself encouraging educators and parents to think about the capacity to love as a critical 21st-century skill.

Instead of harnessing the burgeoning relational wisdom of our young students, regrettably, we gradually turn away. Kids get busy memorizing state capitals, conjugating verbs and writing term papers. At each consecutive grade level, content wins over social and emotional learning (SEL). Meanwhile, online relationships via social media leave students increasingly void of the skills needed for real-time connections with three-dimensional people. The older students get, the less time schools devote to explicitly cultivating robust, nuanced relational skills.

At the same time, many schools hold “respect for others” as a core value and aspire to build diverse, inclusive communities. Our preK-12 educators scaffold all manner of content learning and conceptual understanding for students in every subject. We expect teachers to know their content and teach it well. What we overlook is that creating truly inclusive communities also requires our very best pedagogy. Teaching students (and adults!) about diversity, equity and inclusion requires pedagogical integrity. Diversity Day assemblies and a sprinkling of Health classes are cursory attempts to enhance the lifeworthy potential of our schools.

Acceptance of others, empathy for someone else’s experience, curiosity about those who are different from us are capacities that must be cultivated from seedling to sapling to senior in high school. When I put elementary teachers and high school teachers together for small group work, they commune in unexpected ways. Turns out our youngest and oldest students need to develop the same skills: share with others, use your words (not texts!), listen, compromise, keep your hands to yourself, empathize, make sure someone wants a hug before you give it, accept differences, be kind. Forgive.

I’m reading Jacob’s New Dress to a group of kindergarteners who are wiggling around, getting settled on the rug. I notice that they are all chewing gum. (The gum is green so it’s hard to miss.) Are you all chewing gum? I ask. A fuzzy-haired boy who hasn’t found a seat yet says, “Yes! This is our focus gum.” Okay! The story is about Jacob, a kindergarten boy who likes wearing a dress to school. His classmate, Christopher, is struggling with this and teases Jacob about his dress. The semi-circle of green gum-chewing listeners is attentive, following the narrative with their eyes and ears. At the end, we discuss the story and the students point out details and offer comments that range from “My brother’s name is Christopher!” to “I like wearing dresses sometimes.”

How might you help Christopher be a better classmate to Jacob? I ask. A child sitting off to the side raises his hand. “I would tell Christopher about the 3 C’s, because he is not caring for himself, not caring for others, and not caring for his community.” As this student speaks, several of the other children nod, make the letter C with their hands and in solidarity, place the C over their hearts.

Seeing Everyone

Once everyone is present and accounted for, then we can tackle the work of understanding, appreciating, and loving others. Helping schools comprehend the non-binary nature of human identities is currently a crucial part of this accounting for everyone. Adrienne Rich reminds us of the particular power teachers have in this regard. When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Teachers need to describe a world in which every student, colleague and parent exists. To that end, we must understand that biology is messy, identity is complex and behavior varies from person to person. Christopher wears pants to school; Jacob likes wearing a dress. This more expansive way of thinking about who people are leads to less judgment and more acceptance, greater connectedness.

And teaching students how to care and love needs to happen at every developmental stage from preK-12! Most schools adopt a “drone” approach to health, wellness and sexuality education, dropping a little hygiene into fourth grade, a bit of reproductive anatomy in fifth grade, drugs and alcohol in seventh, before moving into full-fledged disaster prevention from middle school on: Just say no! Watch out for sexually transmitted diseases! Don’t get pregnant! While our middle and high school students are deeply involved (consciously and unconsciously) in their gender identity development and sexuality identity development, many schools mistakenly move away from relational skill building at this age and instead, rail against the perils and pitfalls of adolescence.

Teaching Love

Rick Weissbourd, co-director of the Making Caring Common project at Harvard Graduate School of Education, is currently researching young adults’ attitudes towards love. Weissbourd pulls no punches when he talks about “our miserable, epic failure to prepare young people for love.” We fuss a lot about the sex talk; we do not fuss about a far more important talk, which is how do we talk to our children about the courage, and subtly, discipline, and tenderness and tough-mindedness it really takes to love someone else. He assures us that students desperately want to talk and learn about love, not on the internet, but in real time with important adults in their lives. It is just these kinds of conversations between students and teachers that support connectedness and contribute to the lifeworthiness of school.

 


[1] To learn more about the Gender and Sexuality Diversity paradigm, see Beyond Tomboys, Sissies and ‘That’s So Gay’; New Ways To Think About Gender and Sexuality in PreK-12 Education 

toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox?

Author: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.
From the Leadership + Design monthly newsletter, March 2018

These days it is difficult to find an independent or innovative school that doesn’t tout the inherent value of Diversity (capital D). Diversity is central to our missionWe celebrate diversity of all kinds. Yet when Ito and Howe recommend Diversity Over Ability in Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future, it’s likely that many of their readers aren’t sure (a) what exactly “diversity” means, OR (b) whether diversity is truly the be-all-and-end-all of successful outcomes 12.

Diversity is a modern day Rorschach. The inkblot looks like gender to me, race to you, socio-economic status to your colleague and sexual orientation to your department chair. We think of diversity in terms of various identities. However, when Ito and Howe recommend diversity over ability, “the claim is not that identity differences produce benefits directly but rather that they do so through the diverse cognitive tools that the various identities foster.” The idea is that your life experience— which is profoundly impacted by your identities— contributes to how you see and interpret the world. Experience determines what ends up in each person’s toolbox of capacities.

More tools, different tools, better toolbox, right? That depends.

Thirty years ago one of my professors in graduate school invited me to join him on a consulting job. The client, a huge global advertising company, wanted help training middle managers to lead their teams more effectively. There were 60 participants from around the world, representing multiple nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, languages, races, genders and ages. We randomly assigned people to small groups,  gave them a 20 question multiple choice quiz on principles of leadership, and videotaped them working on their task.

When the groups convened, participants quickly recognized the quiz as one they had completed individually the night before and had handed in at the beginning of the day’s session. The familiarity of the task elicited laughter and an easing of anxiety. Several groups finished the task in just 10 minutes, though others complained that 30 minutes allotted was not enough time. Regardless of how quickly or slowly they worked, most groups were dominated by 2 or 3 participants (typically white, American or European, English-speaking men) while other members were ignored or remained silent.

Click here to read what managers learned from this experience.

Beyond Tomboys Sissies and That's So Gay

Beyond Tomboys, Sissies, and ‘That’s So Gay’

Beyond Tomboys, Sissies, and ‘That’s So Gay’: New Ways To Think About Gender and Sexuality In PreK-12 Education

About: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.

We nurture our students and help them grow intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally

PreK-12 educators make this promise at the beginning of every school year and hope to succeed with each and every student in their charge. Yet Education’s outdated understanding of what healthy identity development looks like in relation to gender and sexuality for children and adolescents is a fundamental obstacle to this goal. Teachers are hampered by a paradigm that predicts a “typical” profile for boys and girls, and sets narrow expectations about who students can and should be in the world. This paper offers a different paradigm. Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) is an inclusive, theoretically grounded, and now empirically supported framework for understanding these essential parts of human identity in our students and ourselves.

With politicians, the Supreme Court, social advocacy groups, medical professionals and scholars driving the gender and sexuality discourse, it is easy to lose sight of the practical and pedagogical imperatives of PreK-12 schooling. We aspire to (1) nurture the whole child, (2) cultivate safe, inclusive learning communities, (3) foster curiosity and a life-long love of inquiry, and (4) develop the critical thinking skills students need to navigate our increasingly complex, rapidly changing global world. By making the Gender and Sexuality Diversity paradigm shift proposed in this paper, we will substantially enhance our ability to attain each of these fundamental educational goals.

We nurture our students and help them grow intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally PreK-12 educators make this promise at the beginning of every school year and hope to succeed with each and every student in their charge. Yet Education’s outdated understanding of what healthy identity development looks like in relation to gender and sexuality for children and adolescents is a fundamental obstacle to this goal. Teachers are hampered by a paradigm that predicts a “typical” profile for boys and girls, and sets narrow expectations about who students can and should be in the world. This paper offers a different paradigm. Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) is an inclusive, theoretically grounded, and now empirically supported framework for understanding these essential parts of human identity in our students and ourselves. With politicians, the Supreme Court, social advocacy groups, medical professionals and scholars driving the gender and sexuality discourse, it is easy to lose sight of the practical and pedagogical imperatives of PreK-12 schooling. We aspire to (1) nurture the whole child, (2) cultivate safe, inclusive learning communities, (3) foster curiosity and a life-long love of inquiry, and (4) develop the critical thinking skills students need to navigate our increasingly complex, rapidly changing global world. By making the Gender and Sexuality Diversity paradigm shift proposed in this paper, we will substantially enhance our ability to attain each of these fundamental educational goals.

The Different Dragon

The Different Dragon

From the Dress Up Corner To The Senior Prom

From the Dress-Up Corner to the Senior Prom

Embracing gender and sexual diversity

Embracing Gender and Sexuality Diversity: A Paradigm Shift that Can Help Students Thrive and Schools Succeed

Author: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.
Excerpt from article in Independent School Magazine, Winter 2017

Given how pervasively political, cultural, educational, and religious institutions are built on a foundation of stereotypes and binary assumptions, it is easy to understand why people find the current reassessment of all things gender disquieting and disruptive. The consequences of this upheaval can be found in all corners of pre-K-12 schooling, from the first-grade boy who wants to wear a dress to school, to the middle school girl who wants to play football, to the genderqueer high school students seeking affirmation and inclusion.

When I began working with independent schools on gender-related issues 16 years ago, the goal was to open educators’ hearts and minds, and help them understand children and adolescents who were diverse in terms of their gender and sexuality. At the time, using the LGB (and reluctantly, T) framework was the standard approach. Even if teachers weren’t comfortable saying the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender out loud, LGBT was a recognizable acronym that organized thinking and actions. Over the years, however, this narrow framework has perpetuated a focus on “gay kids” or students who are “different.” As a result, we have missed the broad impact of sexism, homophobia, and heteronormativity on all students, of every age.