Commitments and questions for confronting the oppressor within

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I want the world to be more equitable and just. Upon reading George Packer’s recent piece in The Atlantic,When the Culture War Comes for Our Kids,” I felt the need to get specific about the internal battles I needed to fight for equity and justice, rather than focusing solely on the external ones. I found that, while they can bring moments of turmoil and emotional challenges, these battles within also bring joy, peace, and fulfillment.

Sexual orientation, race, and gender do not define who we are as people. How we value one another and our capacities for love and…


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No one is coming to save us. Our greatest opportunity for change lies in focusing on our practice. Here’s the guide to get it done.

I don’t know a single educator who doesn’t want education reform. The context in which learning and teaching happens matters. From funding to curricular standards to school structure to professional development models, it all shapes the purpose and potential of our work.

But, here’s the hard truth: No one is coming to save us. No presidential candidate, governor, or district superintendent is going to swoop in with a cape and make it all better. …


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Why celebrating the process of learning is more important than celebrating the outcomes.

I wasn’t present when my daughter took her first steps. She was sixteen months and had been flirting with walking for quite a while. She was born premature, just early enough that there was a small but lingering possibility of developmental challenges. Walking was the first really complex neuromuscular task we’d be able to observe. As the days and months ticked by, we watched her learn to stand, balance, and start to move her feet. We held her hand as she practiced her steps and coordinated her movements. We celebrated her improvements to encourage her learning process. …


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Photo by Meor Mohamad on Unsplash

We achieve greatness when we hold high expectations for learning communities, not just students.

Once upon a time, I lived the educator’s dream. Together with a team of passionate teachers and incredible students, I helped create a learning community that was truly transformational. As students and educators, we took a deep dive into our values and found purpose. We each came to own the learning process and give it meaning. The educators reflected deeply on their practice and wielded their pedagogy intentionally. We all grew as people, coming to better understand ourselves, the world, and our place within it. We achieved greatness.

This greatness was the result of high expectations. Every stakeholder involved held…


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Teachers aren’t responsible for their students’ learning. Their responsibility is to create the opportunity for learning.

I feel enormous shame for a particular moment of my career as an educator. I was running an academic after school program in a Boston public high school. One afternoon, I sat down with a student who was struggling with grades and attendance. I didn’t know the student well, but we had a basic rapport. I asked what his plan was for getting back on track. He looked at his hands, at the floor, at the walls — anywhere but at me. I told him he was smart and capable, but this was a crucial moment as a 16 year…


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Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

Teachers want to control student learning. But, they can’t. And when they try, they hurt student learning. Letting go takes work and faith.

After spending nearly two decades in classrooms as a student, educators enter the profession with a well established vision for their role and responsibility. We are to ensure every student succeeds. More specifically, we are to move through the course curriculum and standards, engage students as much as possible, then assess their learning. This is a serious responsibility. We’re preparing our students for careers, citizenship, and life.

At some point along the way, many teachers begin to doubt this framing for our work. While some students “succeed,” others don’t. It isn’t because they can’t learn. In fact, those who don’t…


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Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Like it or not, teaching is a political act. The question is: What politics are you teaching?

Tears fell and my chest heaved as I sat, head in hands, on a stranger’s stoop in the early evening light. I was trying to run from the pain, confusion, and deep sense of loss that had enveloped me. But, the 14,000 feet of altitude in Potosi, Bolivia stopped me in my tracks. Thankfully, there was no escape, because it was a transformational moment in my life.

Over the preceding four years, I had educators and experiences — like my study abroad program in Bolivia — that challenged me to question the assumptions that shaped my world-view and sense of…


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Photo by Bruno Scramgnon from Pexels

Asking questions of ourselves and the world can open the door to powerful learning and growth.

Prof. Muldavin stood at the front of the lecture hall the first day of class and asked “What is international development?” I was a frustrated philosophy major, tired of memorizing theorems from distant times, places, and people. I wanted to know why humans act the way we do. My philosophy courses weren’t helping with that question.

Prof. Muldavin’s geography course was different. He spent ninety minutes facilitating an exploration of international development. Most students offered answers related to reducing poverty, building infrastructure, and meeting basic human needs. Prof. Muldavin probed our responses. What soon became clear was that our perspectives…


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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

There is a way to counter a culture of fake news and false narratives: Teach the skills to understand the underlying truths.

In this age of fake news, I’ve sought out different media outlets and political messages. While I lean into the perspectives that align with mine, I also listen to those that espouse wholly different views. When I stumble onto fake news, it’s hard to listen to. It grates on my sensibilities, feels like an offensive distortion of reality, and ultimately comes across as threatening.

But, I continue to tune in to fake news because it gives me a window into the truths of other people. The “facts” that are offered may be verifiably false, but underneath there are truths about…


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From policy makers to classroom teachers, we would benefit from a more robust conversation about how we support learners.

Professor Duckworth asked for a volunteer who didn’t feel confident in math. The course was “Learning and Teaching” at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was legendary for its ability to transform educators’ understanding of learning and the pedagogy that can positively shape it.

Ali took a seat beside Prof. Duckworth on the floor and was introduced to her task: reshape a chocolate bar (in the form of wooden blocks) to specific dimensions that contain the same amount of chocolate as its previous shape. This was a volume problem. While Ali is among the most brilliant educators I know…

Robin Pendoley

Social impact educator, with expertise in international development, higher education, and the disconnect between good intentions and meaningful outcomes.

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