What I've Learned and What I'm Learning Next

So it's almost February? 2012? Whoops.

December flew by. Finals, a trip home to California and an amazing week in New York City. January hit and I took two intensive courses as part of Harvard's J-term.

The courses were Leadership for Instructional Improvement and Designing Effective School and Community Interventions for At-Risk Children. They were great complements to one another, helping me think about what schools can and cannot do to impact learning. The first class helped me think about what is called the instructional core, the intersecting relationship between a teacher, a student and the content. Any reform that hopes to change schools for the better must keep this core in the center. It's an idea I alluded to in my last post, but one that has gained a lot of clarity thanks to my J-term learning.

The course on interventions for at-risk children taught me a great deal about risk and resilience and the many factors beyond a school's control. This was an important course for me, because its content strikes right at the center of the debate surrounding education reform right now. Can we expect schools to overcome the effects of poverty? Or is ameliorating the effects of poverty a prerequisite to educational success? The answer is more complicated than most people seem willing to accept.

Schools and quality instruction can be powerful factors in building resilience in young people. In fact, the presence of a caring, supportive adult (yes, even a teacher) in a young person's life is the single most powerful factor in developing resilience. That said, there are a lot of factors outside of the classroom that are vital to healthy psychological, social and cognitive development. Schools cannot do this work alone, but neither are they powerless to help children living in poverty. Unfortunately that kind of nuance isn't popular or common in the education reform debate.

Once J-term ended it was time to pick classes for my second and final (!) semester. The kid in a candy metaphor was thrown around a few times when we first got here, and it's all too true. I had about a dozen classes I was interested in for the spring, not including classes offered at the Kennedy School or the Business School.

After a lot of thought I opted to stick to ed school classes, rather than taking a business school class just for the sake of taking a business school class. We've just started our first week of the semester, but I'm already incredibly excited for the learning ahead of me. I'm enrolled in four classes:

Understanding Educational Testing with Dan Koretz
The Why, What and How of School Family Partnerships with Karen Mapp
Building a Democratic School with Linda Nathan
Universal Design for Learning: Meeting the Challenge of Individual Differences with David Rose

Each of my professors is an expert in their field. Each of them have literally written the book on the topic of their course. It's hard not to feel like I'm missing out when I'm only taking four courses, but at the same time I cannot wait to dive into the content of the four classes I am taking.

Hopefully I'll do a little bit better sharing it this semester.


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