GOA's Summer Playlist 2020: 13 Resources for Educators Navigating Challenging Times

How do we find our way through crisis and uncertainty? What is the role of education during times of social change?

This year, as educators have faced a pandemic, issues of racial justice in the United States, and long-term changes to how schools might operate, we at GOA have found ourselves returning to core questions about learning and education. Revisiting foundational resources and ideas helps ground us in research and well-established theory. It also reminds us and others to use what we know to help us navigate situations where so much is unknown.

Every year, we publish a Summer Playlist for educators about to embark on a well-deserved break. In 2020, the GOA team gave itself a challenge: What is a resource published before 2010 that can help educators process and use all the new information that’s flooding their inboxes and social media feeds? What are resources that might help an educator use this summer to step back, revisit core ideas, and tackle pressing problems with new eyes?

Here is our list of 13 recommendations:

The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters (2001). Author and leadership consultant Peter Block guides companies and organizations to define priorities through mission-driven values and beliefs rather than “what sells.” He posits that organizations set themselves apart when they make decisions and manage companies and organizations by acting on what matters most. By working together to define values (i.e. what matters), organizations can thrive during times of great uncertainty and ambiguity. He also offers specific ways in which you can transform all of those “how” questions to “why” questions. Example: The question, “How long will it take?” shifts to “Why is this worth doing?”

Bird by Bird (1994): Used as a primer in many English classes to guide the writing process, readers do not have to consider themselves writers or teachers of writing to discover that Anne Lamott’s “instructions on writing and life” are far more about learning, creating, discovering, and thriving than about words put on a page. For educators seeking to cultivate curious and empathetic cultures that dig deep into endeavors of cognitive challenge, Lamott serves as inspiration. Her irreverent and humorous chapters cheer on what we know is foundational in the lives of learners: feedback, process over product, community connections, and joy. And more than ever, learners need opportunities to tell their own stories. Lamott invites truth telling and encourages us to lean into our narratives as revolutionary acts.

“But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy” (1995): Education scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings explains why and how our pedagogy should rest on three pillars: academic success, cultural competence, and critical consciousness. In this article, she lays out the theory of culturally relevant pedagogy, the research that supports it, and its implications for teacher practice. At the center of Ladson-Billings’ argument is that the most effective teachers believe deeply in their profession and transfer that belief into practice that prioritizes knowing, supporting, and nurturing a sense of agency in students.

The Danger of a Single Story (2009): Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, acclaimed author of Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, and We Should All Be Feminists, shares in her compelling TED Talk, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Adichie challenges listeners to invite perspectives and to take action. “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” She offers inspiration for educators striving to create empathetic communities of critical thinkers who are empowered by their own narratives to thrive in this complex world.

Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out Materialistic, and Miseducated Students (2001): Denise Clark Pope of Challenge Success and Stanford University follows a group of high-performing students as they play the game of school. These are portraits of good, well-intentioned students who routinely sacrifice their health, relationships, and character in order to succeed in the system that adults have designed for them. Pope’s work is always a great reminder to keep our students’ wellness and learning front of mind and to rethink systems and structures that compromise those fundamental things.

An Ethic of Excellence (2003): Ron Berger’s short, powerful book on how to create a culture of craftsmanship in schools is almost defiantly analog in a digital age: he never mentions “innovation” and is generally indifferent to the use of technology in the classroom. Yet, his core argument is deeply relevant at this moment: no matter where, when, or how students learn, we should assess their learning based on the quality of the work they produce. Berger wants his students to do complex, challenging work that matters to them and to their communities. This entails learning beyond the classroom, engaging in deep research, and building networks of mentors and partners from the world beyond school. In so many ways, planning for the long-term presence of online learning in the school experience involves the kind of work Berger advocates for: networked, relevant, and learner-driven. Read more about An Ethic of Excellence.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1991): Author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being completely present and absorbed with an activity for its own sake: “Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.” We live now in an era where information is constructed faster than we can comprehend and we have the ability to nearly constantly be “on.” This book serves as a reminder that we are more creative and productive in a flow state. Ready to do deep(er) work? This could be just the summer escape book you’re looking for.

“The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything of Importance” (1989): Grant Wiggins’ essay was published pre-internet, and his argument against allowing content coverage to drive curriculum has only strengthened over time. Wiggins is trying to redefine rigor: properly developing lifelong learning skills in students requires sustained study of complex ideas. Attempts to organize or distill ideas into tidy lessons is an indication that those ideas might not belong in school at all. Rather, deeper learning leads to a greater awareness of one’s ignorance and comfort with that ignorance. As Wiggins says, Education “hinges on enabling students to learn about their ignorance, to gain control over the resources available for making modest dents in it, and to take pleasure in learning so that the quest is lifelong.”

The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture. (1983) Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, professor of sociology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education asks, What makes a good school? This question won’t ever expire, and it seems especially valuable to consider now, when the approaches and structures of schools have shifted. What are the core values of good schools and how do you live them? What actions do you take to keep them alive and to nurture the culture of your school community? One idea in the book stands out: good schools admit weaknesses and respond to them. The last three months have provided a lot of information to all of us, especially in regards to what is hard for our people and our institutions; how might we use that to respond to our new reality and move ourselves from grief over what’s been lost to shaping and reimagining good schools that inspire learning and growth for students (and for faculty)?

“James Baldwin: How to Cool It” (1968): This Q&A on race was republished in Esquire in 2017. More than 50 years ago, Baldwin’s assessment of race relations in the United States, social justice movements, and politics is deeply and sadly resonant in 2020. His analysis of the civil unrest of the time as well as the absence of political will in the government is important, as is his repeated and necessary reframing of the interviewer’s questions to properly explain core ideas and highlight systemic inequities. As he says, “I have a vast amount of determination. I have a great deal of hope. I think the most hopeful thing to do is to look at the situation. People accuse me of being a doom-monger. I'm not a doom-monger. If you don't look at it, you can't change it. You've got to look at it.”

“Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media” (2009): danah boyd, the founder of Data & Society and the author of the excellent book It’s Complicated, used this speech to explain how social media and other networked technologies have transformed how we absorb, process, and communicate information. For educators, boyd’s distinction between “broadcast” and “networked” media is particularly relevant (and, perhaps, poignant): we no longer rely on single, authoritative sources of information. Instead, in our online lives, we are navigating many powerful different streams of content. Learning how to filter, organize, and prioritize that information—in other words, how to curate—is a skill that will define success in a modern world.

The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract (2000): Nancy Faust Sizer and Theodore Sizer’s book argues that students learn as much—if not more—from a school’s rituals, routines, and other cultural norms as they do from academic experiences. Through research, school-based visits and interviews, and historical analysis, they explain how schools can implicitly and explicitly create psychological safety, communicate belief in all students’ success, and nurture cultures of fairness, justice, and belonging. You can read the first chapter for free here.

Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969): Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s classic is as relevant as ever, particularly as we think more and more about the intersection of teaching, learning and media (Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, while not related to education, is also timeless). The thesis of the book is “that change - constant, accelerated, ubiquitous—is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in and that our educational system has not yet recognized this fact.” To be sure, there are turns of phrase in the book that harken back to the late 60s, but the underlying themes and the forcefulness of the arguments are as exciting today as ever.

To learn with GOA this summer and beyond, explore our educator courses and intensive programs. We have gathered resources on high-quality online learning on our COVID-19 landing page.

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