Rebel With a Cause: Help Teens Resist the Pull of Social Media

By: Brian Galla

How do you convince a teenager to kick their Instagram habit?

You might point out that cutting back on social media may help them sleep. Or that what they post in private might become public later.

But as a rule, teenagers don’t enjoy adults telling them what to do or think—so this approach can backfire.

Here’s an idea that new research shows can be effective: harnessing a teenager’s need for independence.

Recently, my colleagues and I showed teenagers the many tricks social media companies use to make their platforms irresistible and how this scheme drives their advertising revenue. For example, the pull-to-refresh design mimics slot machines, and the thrill of someone liking a post keeps people coming back for more.

We also shared national data showing that half of American teenagers report feeling addicted to their phones. Armed with this information, the teens could see controlling their own social media use as a way to reclaim independence from these companies—and to demand less-addictive technology.

…half of American teenagers report feeling addicted to their phones.

Brian Galla

Compared with teenagers in a control group who were encouraged to avoid social media because it would be better for them in the long run, those who got the inside scoop on social media trickery reported greater motivation to cut back. They also said they’d be more willing to use apps that monitor their time on social media and to join a social movement dedicated to humane technology. Three months later, they were still more aware of these addictive designs.

Of course, social media has benefits. It allows for creative expression, for example, and enables social connections. Beyond cutting back, then, we want to help teenagers maximize “time well spent” on social media in a way that nourishes their values and leaves them feeling fulfilled, not addicted.

Don’t lecture teens about the consequences of too much social media use. They likely already know, and it doesn’t change their behavior.

Do help kids understand how social media platforms hook you. Consider watching the documentary The Social Dilemma together on family movie night. Let kids see how changing their social media behavior is an act of autonomy that can contribute to a more just world.

With mindfulness and gratitude,


Brian Galla is an associate professor of applied developmental psychology in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Code Day: How to Build Creative, Collaborative, Computer Programmers in less than 24 hours

By: Elio Grieco

The mismatch between the way jobs actually operate vs. the kind of talent that conventional education aims to produce is glaringly apparent. Working with creative and passionate people is something that everyone should be able to experience. The best way to give others this opportunity is to ensure there are plenty of talented people with which to work. As we enter the dawning age of augmentation and automation, workers need to be creative, collaborative, attentive to details and self-motivated enough to solve a new set of problems with every project.

CodeDay is a 24-hour introduction to that kind of problem-solving through computer programming, where many participants come with little if any background in computer science or programming.

Pitches and Project Scope

Shortly after check-in there is a pitch period where anyone present can propose a project idea.

While it’s possible to narrow the scope of the projects on which teams will work, keeping CodeDay as open as possible allows for ideas we would never have dreamed possible- like The Turing Test (pitched at the time as a “boyfriend simulator”). Any attendee can pitch an idea around which teams can form.

The biggest challenge during open pitch sessions is ensuring that the scope of the project pitched is realistic. Too simple a challenge and the event will be boring, too complex and few will get anywhere near completion.

While choosing and evaluating project ideas seems like it would be straightforward, accurately assessing the scope, and thus difficulty, of a project can be far more difficult and error-prone than it would seem. This is due to an analog of Moravec’s paradox (things that are easy to do as a human are hard for a computer to do) and due to differences in experience for each team and team member.

Project Management

Events tend to run more smoothly if immediately after pitches, kids are rotated through three 15 min mini-lessons about project management, online research methods, and basic programming concepts. These skills help them transition seamlessly to the next step…

After the pitch and intro talks, attendees form groups of their choosing. It’s strongly encouraged to work in groups of 2-5. Larger groups of up to 8 have been tried but they tend to have too many issues with delegation of work, communication within the group, and final integration of the project materials. Not surprising as the same dynamics are at play in tech companies.

Mentorship, Volunteers, and Speakers

Most of the event time is taken by working on group projects and one of the biggest factors that affects the quality and enjoyment of the event is the quality of the mentors. Because of the limited time frame (24 hours) students need to be quick at figuring things out or have access to mentors that can effectively communicate their knowledge in a way that attendees can immediately put to work to solve their current issue.

Mentors must also have a good rapport with attendees. A big part of the outcomes Code Day achieves is due to mentors coming from local companies, and thus being potential future co-workers for the attendees. In this way, they have ‘skin in the game.’ Getting time to casually socialize with the mentors also gives attendees a view behind the curtain of what it looks like to work at various tech companies.

In some cases, attendees were actually in the same building at which they might work in the future once they got hired. It doesn’t hurt that in tech there are ping pong tables, cereal bars, and slides built into such workplaces.

When we had out-of-state mentors for CodeDay that didn’t interact much with our attendees, the event went very poorly and we had few returns for the subsequent event.

Where to find mentors?

I started attending almost every technology meetup I could find in the valley (about 2-4 per week). As we pulled in engaged members of the local tech community, the quality of the mentorship and thus the events themselves increased dramatically. We have repeatedly seen mentors spend 6-12 hours working with a single team to complete amazing projects. These partnerships are usually followed up with internships, job offers, and occasionally, former attendees that end up guiding the whole community.

Tips and techniques for finding, engaging, preparing, guiding, and retaining high-quality mentors could fill a small book. We’ve instituted a number of different practices over time to make this process as smooth as possible. Mentor support consists of pre-event, mid-event, and post-event activities. Comfortable, confident, and engaged mentors are key to a successful event. Finding the right balance between not enough support and too much guidance/mentor time taken is a subtle art that varies with each mentor.

Sample Projects

Though CodeDay projects tend toward video games, projects have included:

  • Video Games
  • Community Reporting/Improvement Apps
  • Finance Software
  • Neural Network (built from scratch)
  • Hardware Projects Utilizing IoT Devices and Neural Control

The Transformations

While we do offer prizes, we’ve decided to keep them quite modest; small, laser-cut wood trophies. We could go the route of offering TVs, game consoles, tablets and computers, but intrinsic motivation is critical to STEM work. Having the “prize” be the event itself and the time you spend with teammates and mentors leads to far better outcomes, especially in the mid to long term.

We’ve seen increased involvement in the community as attendees maintain connections to the companies, meetups and mentors that they meet at the events. In several cases, kids that really have drive and a bit of talent have been offered internships and jobs applicants.

As we enter the dawning age of augmentation and automation, workers need to be creative, collaborative, attentive to details and self-motivated enough to solve a new set of problems with every project.

Elio Grieco

One attendee ended up becoming heavily involved in the cybersecurity community and was even brought on to a federal grant as project manager. The work had a lasting impact on the Arizona cybersecurity community, increasing collaboration between companies, schools, and the state and federal government. Those collaborations lead to events that improved access to Cybersecurity education and jobs for disadvantaged communities and the larger community.

Key Takeaways

For anyone considering taking on a ‘CodeDay’ in their community, here is a checklist of the three ‘A’s’ to consider:

Accessibility and Location

  1. Events should be held at places of business, never on a school campus. We wanted the kids to experience what it’s like to be in an entrepreneurial setting and be in total control of a project. Agency over your work leads to better outcomes and dramatically improves morale.
  2. Events must be accessible. We strove to hold events along Phoenix’s limited light rail system. Co+Hoots was located along this line at the time and worked very well as a venue until we simply outgrew the space with attendance into the hundreds of kids.

Having a strong commitment to accessibility meant that we had to turn down multiple excellent venue options. Though the upside is that we gained access to some phenomenal talent that most initiatives miss due to their inaccessibility. Being truly accessible is hard, much harder than it should be. If you think you are accessible it’s worth asking a few questions:

  • Who can get to the venue?
  • Can attendees get there by themselves or do parents need to take time out of their day?
  • Can parents and students attend given the day and time over which the event is held?
  • Who can get into the venue? Ramps, narrow passages, etc.
  • Do attendees need any expensive gear e.g. computers?
  • Are there mentors available that can help all attendees?

Agency: Project Planning and Collaboration

Some of the most successful projects have occurred when students were given brief training in project management and tutorials with tools such as Git, that facilitate combining all of the digital pieces that make up a project such as code, and both visual and auditory art assets.

Autonomy: Don’t Over-Structure

While having absolutely no structure will lead to a bad experience, ‘hack-a-thons’ thrive when the participants have higher amounts of agency and autonomy. The more it feels like a small, scrappy startup and the less it feels like spending time at school, the more successful your hack-a-thon will be.

CodeDay is a great intro to STEM but it doesn’t occur frequently enough and the event isn’t long enough to really get kids into coding in a serious way. Moving forward, the organizers have agreed that we’d like to pull together a broader community initiative to help kids find their way into tech.

Learn more about CodeDay and how you might start your own by visiting CodeDay Phoenix or

Elio Grieco is the Founder/CEO of EGX and partner for CodeDay Phoenix. Learn more about Elio at

The Benefits of Play-Based Learning For All Ages

Play-based learning is getting more attention all the time – and maybe rightly so. Research has long demonstrated the importance of play and its connections to learning, brain development, skill acquisition, and social-emotional learning. Indeed, play has really become vital in the individual development of not only children but adults as well. According to play-based learning researchers, this is really a matter of health and wellness.

With the current pandemic and alongside a host of other global challenges, play-based learning is key in addressing feelings of loneliness, vulnerability, social deprivation, isolation, and trauma, according to Dr. Angie Nastovska of The Playmakers Institute. “Focusing on just playing and embracing play is a sure and fun way to fuel our imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and emotional well-being,” said Nastovska. “As a comparison, the okay for adults can mean relaxing, setting work and commitments aside, and just enjoying socialization in an unstructured, creative way.”

The concept that this is not just for young learners is vital, according to Nastovska. She said we are born with an innate desire and need for play. “Play is a way of knowing and a way of being. It’s an essential means for exploration, inquiry, learning, socialization and ultimately understanding our societal and cultural norms and patterns,” said Nastovaksa. “It is important for everyone because with playing, we nurture and foster personal expression, exploration and creativity. The benefits of play, said Nastovska, are that it can add joy to life, help relieve stress, supercharge our learning and also connect all of us to others and the world around us (See this Help Guide for more information).

Play is also an important part of our professional lives as well, said Nastovska. “Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable,” she said. Since play is so vital to emotional and physical well-being, researchers are now studying how it influences our career success and literacy. The world of work is experiencing deep fears and trauma related to workers being displaced by automation, artificial intelligence, and pure skill misalignment. Solutions are often focused on re-training and educational efforts, as well as newer concepts such as Universal Basic Income.

Play nurtures and fosters all things related to this ability to connect and relate to one another.

Dr. Angie Nastovska

But one group of corporate CEOs is looking deeper and offering research-based connections to career success and the concepts around play. “Helping kids play more will equip them to be relevant to the workplace and to society,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the Lego Foundation and the former CFO for The Lego Group. According to the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies, collaboration and teamwork are the most important workplace skills of the 21st century. Our ability to connect and relate to one another – across all backgrounds, education levels and personalities – is the means for future success, said Nastovska.

“Play nurtures and fosters all things related to this ability to connect and relate to one another,” she said. “So, if you want your child to get a good job, let them play more.” So, ultimately, this is a literacy that becomes part of the literacy lexicon of educators and our schools. Nastovska advocates that we have to adopt a systems thinking approach to this challenge of play literacy.

She sees this as both a literacy and priority challenge for educators and parents alike. Nastovska said that we have to get all adults in our kids’ lives to realize that play is not just fun and games, but rather as a vital aspect of our overall health, well-being and lifelong success. “Play might be one of the most important concepts and activities that we can impart on our children in order to prepare them for success both personally and professionally,” she said.

Nastovaks is challenging all parents to become more aware of the importance of play and to consult resources designed for parents and families as well. As one example, she cites the joint work of Playworks and the Alliance For A Healthier Generation who have compiled a list of helpful tips for planning and prioritizing play for parents and families who are interested in integrating more play into the routine at home. They are:

1. Create a Game Plan

Just like schoolwork and mealtime, we can plan ahead for play. As a family, discuss your goals for play time and establish a basic framework for how, when, and where play occurs (e.g., in the family room after dinner).

Short on time? Consider ways you can add movement and play to your regular routines like trying these Go for a Walk Games.

2. Engage the Whole Family

One of the best ways to encourage play and physical activity in children is to model those choices as an adult. Caretakers and older siblings can inspire younger children simply by engaging in play or movement themselves. Some of our favorite games to build connections are I Love My Neighbor and Charades Relay. Find more games that the whole family can enjoy in the Playworks Game Library.

3. Use Your Whole Space

Whether indoors or outdoors, make the most of your play space. Get started by mapping your space to establish boundaries and identify any potential safety hazards. To do so, draw out all of your space with your child on a piece of paper. Identify which zones are off-limits for safety (ex. kitchen or bathroom) or because other people need to be safely moving through the space. Your kids might be able to help you identify new small or large safe spaces to play, and establish what types of games they’d like to play where.

When playing games with tossable objects, it’s safest to find a space without much furniture, unless you get creative with a game like Popcorn. Outdoor space near the house might be better for games that use equipment, such as balls, frisbees, or hula-hoops. Be sure to always have kids point to the boundaries of the space before they start playing to establish and re-iterate expectations.

Get creative and modify game rules to fit your space. If you are playing a tag game, for example, include touching some of the walls or furniture inside of a room as an added step.

4. Reflect

Play can stir up a lot of emotion. When we pause to reflect after an active game, we offer ourselves and others an opportunity to process these emotions and communicate our needs. At the end of playtime, pause as a group to debrief or identify feelings so that everyone can leave the play space feeling heard and happy.

Here are a few of our favorite Playworks Debrief Questions:

  • What was challenging about playing these games
  • What would you like to do differently next time?
  • How did you practice (insert skill, ex. Physical Self-Awareness) while playing this game?
  • How did you communicate with others during the game?
  • What is a creative way you’d like to change the game next time?

Become part of the PlayMaker Play Initiative, which is a quarterly series around different topics of play. This quarter, the focus is on Play-Based Learning For All Ages. 

Let’s Not Return to School, Let’s Move Beyond It

By: Tony Jackson and Jordan Shapiro

Across the United States, children are returning to school. For some, it will be their first time since March 2020. The past year and a half has been a challenging, if not devastating, disruption for families, teachers, and administrators. Now we’re all hungry for a return to normal.

But at what cost? Normal, for vast numbers of American students, is not something to which we should aspire to return. For too long, our society has been willing to ignore persistent inequities—specifically, the lopsided distribution of education resources that the pandemic amplified so clearly. We’ve seen the disproportionate suffering of youth who were already marginalized by poverty and systemic racism. We’ve watched as schools literally became the means of survival for the most disenfranchised children.

Still, many pundits, education journalists, experts, and thought-leaders have already returned to a perspective that reifies the past. When they’re not writing about mask mandates, they offer a steady stream of op-eds about learning loss and the need for remediation. This is precisely the language that has long framed an ineffective, paternalistic approach to education inequality.

What they’re missing is that, for underserved youth, returning to these conversations means the same old discrepancies in achievement and the diminished futures they foretell. For all children—regardless of their race or socio-economic status—it means a school experience that fails to adequately prepare individuals to survive and thrive in a world threatened by a climate crisis, rising authoritarianism, partisan political division, misinformation, tribalism, and nationalism.

In April, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Center for Global Education at Asia Society convened more than 40 top education leaders—including researchers, administrators, reformers, philanthropists, policymakers, EdTech developers, and more—to identify priorities for establishing a new education mindset for the 22nd century. But we wanted to avoid the old debates, which have defined the conversation about teaching and learning for more than a century: “hard” vs. “soft” skills, rigorous vs. playful, STEM vs. SEL. Instead, we wondered: What education system do we need not only to prepare for the future but also to ensure the human race has a future?

…it is time to rethink the ways we center young people in their education.

Tony Jackson and Jordan Shapiro

Key to this conversation was the idea that it is time to rethink the ways we center young people in their education. How can we reframe the conversations about learning, community support, and policies that will really allow our children to flourish and reach their full intellectual and human potential? We established three recommendations to help teachers, parents, caregivers, administrators, funders, and policymakers think differently about what normal can and should be.

First, if students don’t understand themselves, they can’t understand others. And without empathy, there is no working together, no collective prosperity. Let’s move beyond the tired question of skills vs. personal development. Education should not be premised on a view of the child as either a future worker or an individual in need of social and ethical development. We all know that a fully realized human being is both. Skills and values are interconnected. Productive civic engagement and economic contribution require autonomy, agency, and reflexivity.

Second, we should embrace the notion that learning happens everywhere, all the time. Recent research on youth during the pandemic shows that given the opportunity and the right support, kids take learning into their own hands—when kids use technology and digital media, they often choose how-to videos on TikTok or deep dives on YouTube. There’s an alternative to the “pandemic learning loss” narrative, a narrative that relies on a narrow and problematic understanding of what constitutes “learning.” The new normal needs to move beyond the false division between formal and informal learning, school-based and self-directed learning. Let’s replace this outdated way of thinking with a new model of education ecosystems which embrace, rather than avoid, nonlinear and connected modes of communication.

Third, let’s rethink where the power and responsibility for education lies. We need a rigorously inclusive model of “local education authority” that enables kids and their communities to determine their future. Let’s move beyond school district bureaucracies and the massive disparities based on property tax revenues they represent. The governance of education systems is not just a safety net accounting for individual achievement, but also as a springboard for the kinds of action that today’s kids innately know they want to take: to make the world safer, healthier, more embracing of difference, and more equitable. Only by sharing power and responsibility for education, in a radically cooperative fashion, can we transition our children to be the makers of a 22nd century worth living in.

Taking the comfortable path of least resistance back to normal imperils our future. We need a new, inclusive approach to education for the 22nd century. Our children’s future and the future of the human race depend on it.

Tony Jackson leads Asia Society’s work in education which strives to enable all students to graduate high school prepared for college, for work in the global economy, and for 21st-century global citizenship.

Jordan Shapiro is a Senior Fellow with Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Equity and ESSER: Why You Should Prioritize Supporting Students With Disabilities With Your Federal COVID Relief Dollars

By: Sheryl Gomez and Jasmine Tucker

As school leaders welcomed students back to the classroom for the 2021-22 school year, they began to determine how to spend the more than $190 billion in federal COVID relief dollars for K-12 including the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. (Find out how much your state is getting here.)

Today, school leaders are probing how they can spend money to support the unique needs of at-risk and low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, racial and ethnic minorities, and systems-involved youth.

At Brooklyn Laboratory High School (Brooklyn LAB), we serve all learners and prioritize those who are historically underserved in our school system, especially students with disabilities. At Brooklyn LAB, we’ve learned that when schools prioritize the students most at the margins they can create an equitable school community.

Federal COVID-19 relief funds offer a historic moment for America to create schools that work for all. Schools have the potential to transform education—during the pandemic and beyond—if educators and school leaders continue to place historically disadvantaged students at the core.

How Schools Can Support the Needs of Students with Disabilities

Many school leaders see COVID-19 federal relief funds as an opportunity to build equity into their education budgets. This process is an acknowledgement that our school system wasn’t perfect before COVID-19: It too often marginalized students with disabilities, students of color, and students economically disadvantaged.

The need to create a more equitable system is even more present in the wake of COVID-19 and remote learning. The pandemic exacerbated social-emotional and academic learning gaps for students with disabilities. In fact, parents of children with individualized education programs (IEPs) were more than twice as likely to say their child was doing little to no remote learning, according to a survey from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Brooklyn LAB has always worked to reimagine a broken education system—rethinking an entrenched and inequitable system is at the core of our work.

Sheryl Gomez and Jasmine Tucker

Brooklyn LAB has always worked to reimagine a broken education system—rethinking an entrenched and inequitable system is at the core of our work. At Brooklyn LAB, complex learners make up 30 percent of the student body. Our school never had the option to overlook these students. Our experience working to help and prioritize students worst positioned to succeed gives us unique expertise in guiding the use of COVID-19 federal relief dollars.

At Brooklyn LAB, the principles of human-centered design guide our approach to education. We often collaborate with partners and invite our community to share their needs and experience. To inform our approach—and gather insights for this article—we reached out to our colleagues at Educating All Learners Alliance (EALA) and other partners to capture how they think we can continue to work to center students with disabilities with our use of these federal dollars.

Three Ways Federal Covid Relieve Dollars Can Help Students With Disabilities

1. It’s time to invest in learning—for teachers. 

Historically, we ask children with disabilities to adapt due to inadequate support and resources at our schools. One of the best ways to change our approach is by building the capacity of our teachers to meet the needs of children with disabilities better.

“Funds should develop the teacher capacity for accelerating learning, personalization, and differentiated instruction,” said Monica Martinez, director of strategic initiatives of the Learning Policy Institute. This includes embracing the evidence-based pillars for community schools. In a recent article on how to prioritize diverse learners, the Diverse Learners Cooperative also emphasized the need to target the best diverse learner-focused training and organizational capacity.

Lauren Rhim, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Learner Equity, outlined how prioritizing teacher capacity with COVID-19 federal relief could address short-term gaps in the learning continuity for students by training general education teachers to differentiate instruction within inclusive classrooms. To lay the foundation for long-term change, schools can also use the funding to support new approaches that address the backlog of special education referrals and provide specialized therapies that students missed out on due to school shutdowns.

2. Partnerships are paramount. 

The pandemic revealed that community is an essential support system. As we look to build equity into education, we should identify partners who share goals of equality and who have the expertise we may lack within our schools.

For instance, schools, districts, and community organizations can partner to offer extracurricular activities and summer programs for students. These could help students receive mentorship, express themselves creatively, and reconnect after a traumatic and isolating year.

Lisa Thomas, associate director in educational issues with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), suggested partnering with local community colleges who are training paraprofessionals. These students need professional development experience, and local schools could use their skills to work closely with students with disabilities and other high-need students. The federal relief funds are an opportunity to strengthen those connections.

“Those types of partnerships and collaborations are absolutely essential to helping bridge that gap between higher education and all of the credentialing processes” that allow community educators to gain access to the teaching profession, Thomas said.

3. Every Dollar Matters.

It’s not enough to spend more. School leaders need to spend smarter by taking a holistic, integrated approach to the budgeting process and planning for long-term sustainability of the funds. Resources like KnowledgeWorks’ common sense guide to using federal education funds provide practical ideas and examples of district funding to promote more equitable learning environments.

Additionally, Tamara Mitchell reflected on equity in school districts for ASBO’s School Business Affairs magazine. She explained that data-driven budgetary decisions as well as collaboration with education and community stakeholders and partnerships with marginalized populations can address equity issues in schools.

Investing in lasting change

By spending smarter and investing in teachers, the COVID-19 federal relief funds give us an opportunity to embrace longer-term thinking—to transform education with equity at the core. These funds are required to be spent within three years, but, used wisely, the windfall can help change the education system permanently.

To invest in lasting change, we want to prioritize the students least set up to succeed. By creating an education system that works for the students most at the margin, we create an education system that will better support all learners. Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, recommends that schools focus on three key levers: high-quality, accessible, and inclusive academic instruction; effective progress-monitoring and accurate evaluations for specialized instruction; and meaningful family support and engagement. This will help ensure that approaches are high-quality and accessible to every student.

After 18 months dominated by COVID-19, schools have a chance to consider where they want to be in three or four years. As David Rosenberg, partner at Education Resource Strategies mused “It can’t just be recovery and pullback, it has to be recovery, redesign, and shift.”

For more recommendations and resources for how to leverage federal COVID relief dollars to fuel transformation in service of equity, see: 

The article was originally published by XQ on Rethink Together.

Sheryl Gomez is the Chief Financial Officer at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools and Jasmine Tucker is the High School Director at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools.

Black Men Educators Conference Recap

The Black Men Educators Conference (BMEC) 2021, produced and hosted by the Center for Black Educator Development, brought together black male educators and those who support them. This included school and district leaders, superintendents, nonprofit education leaders, higher education leaders and administrators, education advocates, secondary and post-secondary learners, and education policy leaders focusing on deeply provocative and empowering live sessions, workshops, and keynotes delivered by distinguished speakers from across the United States.

Why the emphasis on black-male educators? Emir Davis, a former teacher, principal, district administrator, and the current Director of Black Male Engagement at the Center for Black Educator Development, served as the conference emcee and opened the conference with daunting statistics. “The problem we face is that 2% of educators were black men before the pandemic (2019), and that number has declined to 1.6% in 2021.” These abysmal numbers shed light on a profound lack of inclusion and access that black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) have to the education profession in general, while pointing to the specific impact of this systemic issue on black men. The two-day conference was a tour-de-force in awareness, advocacy, and renewal for educators and leaders, laying the foundation of its vision and mission by two deeply impactful keynote speakers.

Curtis Valentine delivered the first keynote address. Valentine is the Founder of Real Men Teach, a national campaign to recruit and retain male educators of color by reimagining and reinvesting in the profession. He also serves as Co-Director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools Project, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is in his third term as a Prince George’s County (MD) Board of Education member.

Valentine spoke about the importance of creating equitable access to a high-quality, world-class education for learners of color. He discussed how black parents, educators, learners, and leaders came together historically (and contemporarily) to provide access to the education their children deserve and the abject hurdles intended to squelch and suppress access that accompanied the work. “Black-led schools controlled the education of black kids,” during de jure educational segregation, black parents and leaders came together to build and donate school buildings, supplies, and all other resources to educate their children, which occurred even in schools that sought to integrate, physically, but not curricular-ly.

The aforementioned is a nod to the “false promise of integration,” a particular fact more properly elucidated by a workshop presented by Dr. Jarvis Givens in his deeply relevant and provocative new text, Fugitive Pedagogy, Carter G Woodson, and the Art of Black Teaching (Harvard University Press, 2021). Dr. Givens is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Faculty Affiliate in the African and African American Studies department at Harvard University. He specializes in the history of education, African American history, and theories of race and power in education.

Dr. Givens’ workshop explored themes of resistance in the history of black education, focusing specifically on Dr. Carter G. Woodson and African American teachers through the Jim Crow era. As previously mentioned, this text implicitly discusses arguments apropos the false promise of curricular integration by elucidating examples of black educators in the Jim Crow south that taught texts by Carter G. Woodson in classrooms in defiance of anti-black curricula and other educational resources. Dr. Woodson, the second black man to graduate from Harvard University with a Ph.D. and a lifelong educator, was a central figure in what Dr. Givens terms a fugitive pedagogy that existed for generations among black educators and still impacts education today. Fugitive pedagogy seeks to provide a definitional understanding of “African American physical and intellectual acts that explicitly challenged anti-black protocols of education and domination…”

The problem we face is that 2% of educators were black men before the pandemic (2019), and that number has declined to 1.6% in 2021.

Center for Black Educator Development

Dr. Woodson founded black history month to celebrate blackness, culture — across the diaspora, and so much more. Black educators would surreptitiously teach black history and texts in integrated school buildings, often with the door open because of racist monitoring protocols as an act of defiance, revolution, and epistemic disobedience. “To survive, we have to grow our own. Grow our schools, curriculum, and yes, educators,” Curtis Valentine’s words saliently encapsulate a central point, that the work of educating BIPOC students in a society that seeks to marginalize, erase, and ignore them, their histories, and access to a lever of true liberation, i.e., education, requires the entire community to come together to do everything necessary to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status.

Lorenzo P. Lewis delivered the second keynote address; he is a behavioral health expert who has used his testimony and experience as a foundation for challenging the stigma of mental health issues. Lewis is the founder of The Confess Project, in which the organization facilitates conversations in 13 US cities, specifically for boys and men of color, in barbershops around mental health awareness. Lewis, during his keynote, entitled, “A letter to my younger self,” offered the following, “…We gotta take care of our kids. Them our boys and girls. The village gotta step in — the revolution must go on. How will you be able to go and support and render our young brothers that need us?”

Lewis, as a mental health expert and advocate, does not simply speak of education revolution as the curriculum or hiring and retention practices. He explicitly wants it to encompass mental health for BIPOC learners and educators. Through bold, honest, and deeply personal storytelling, Lewis tells his story of being born in jail to an incarcerated mother, his struggle with depression, anxiety, and anger throughout his youth, to the point of being at-risk for recidivism. This compelling narrative serves as the catalyst and bedrock for The Confess Project, an initiative that confronts the stigma around mental health for men of color.

Isaiah R. Walker is principal at KIPP Philadelphia Preparatory Academy where he manages and mentors multiple Principals in Residence (PIR) in Philadelphia. Most recently one of his PIRs has become a school leader this year at one of the KIPP elementary schools. Why does the problem of educator diversity exist? This query posed by Walker is relevant to understanding the issue as a whole and the subtle or siloed elements such as traumatic experiences faced by educators and learners of color.

Walker brings in James Baldwin’s magnum opus, The Fire Next Time, to lay bare his response to anti-black racist education practices and its once de jure and now de facto structural and systemic existence and lingering residue. “The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not justify your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear (The Fire Next Time, Baldwin).” The quotation, albeit a fragment, served as the framework for Walker’s workshop on Strategies to Support and Retain BIPOC Educators by Emphasizing Instructional Expertise.

At Walker’s school, he starts with the fundamental belief that their educators – particularly their BIPOC educators – want to be true experts in their craft to provide the very best to their students. They believe – as a leadership team – that their educators are the most dedicated and driven people. Thus, they have a manifest commitment to provide the most comprehensive and robust professional development to their faculty. Walker developed and released a survey for BIPOC male educators at his school to understand their needs and aspirations to provide the most relevant and optimal professional support through the explicit identification of individual developmental needs of its black male faculty. From this, Walker and his team set a standard for professional growth in the building. Walker developed an 80-90-100 model for task planning and learning design, which inherently builds expertise by setting and raising the bar higher (graphic below). Additionally, they held school-based events with families and the broader community about emphasizing high standards of professional growth and instructional expertise to get the whole community involved to ensure the most optimal results for all learners.

The goal of BMEC 2021 is to continue the work of building a national multigenerational network of black male educators as a response to historical and contemporary structural and institutional educational inequities and outcomes. The upshot is to rectify academic and socioemotional outcomes for all learners through enhanced and sustained exposure to high-quality, diverse educators, especially black-male educators. And the buck does not stop there; the organizers and attendees believe that mental-health care is inextricably bound to the overall progress of this movement. “Teaching is a revolutionary act…education is the purest form of activism” perfectly sums up the conference as it denotes the revitalization of “fugitive pedagogical” practices during a time when Critical Race Theory (CRT) is the piece de resistance on the proverbial legislative chopping block across state legislatures in the southern region of the US. More disparagingly, male educator statistics are in a deep declination. So the question is, what can we do to fix the problem?

Leading Together Toward Healthy Learning

By: Mark David Milliron, Suzanne Elise Walsh, and Richard Rhodes

Whether it’s preschool, grade school, high school, or higher education, there is not a privileged parent on the planet that is not careful about ensuring that their child is entering a healthy learning environment. Moreover, they are often willing to pay a lot of money to ensure it. And healthy does not mean easy. It does, however, mean a situation where a student can rise and thrive; a place where their academic, physical, psychological, and social selves can be better formed and effectively developed.  

It is painful to note that for far too many low-income students, first-generation students, students of color, and returning students entering institutions committed to access, their experience feels far from healthy. It’s often Darwinian. By Darwinian, we do not mean in an academic survival of the fittest sense. What access institution leaders and student-success champions have learned over the last decade or more is that students are more often weeded out because of basic needs and life-happening challenges, such as housing insecurity, food insecurity, textbook costs, transportation costs, family dynamics, work responsibilities, sense of belonging, and mindset challenges. While academic issues do play a key part, they are so tightly tied together with these other elements, it’s hard to argue that Maslow does not trump Bloom.

Committed educators, policymakers, and leading student voices have called for change as a result. Exciting work has been undertaken and policies championed by the Hunt Institute, the Hope Center for College, Community, and JusticeAchieving the Dream, the University Innovation Alliance, and a host of other foundations, associations, and community organizations. We wholeheartedly support their work and offer here a focused extension and integration concept that we think has the potential to drive important conversations and shape needed change as well: Healthy Learning.

It is our contention that access institutions across K-12 and higher education need to commit to braiding related initiatives together to make our learning environments healthier. Moreover, this braiding process and the healthy-learning frame itself can help start vital dialogues and shape strategic policy and practice around curricula, learning models, institutional finance, facilities, educational ecosystem partnerships, and more.

Through our catalytic conversations and concentrated work, we aspire to move K-12 and higher education in the United States toward a less “Darwinian” feel, to something more equitable, particularly for low-income, diverse, and first-generation students in institutions committed to access and success.

Mark David Milliron, Suzanne Walsh, and Richard Rhodes

Recognizing the importance of building robust communities of practice that provide the greatest positive impact through deep and sustained work across the education spectrum, Western Governors University’s (WGU) Teachers College is catalyzing this work by supporting the creation of a virtual Center for Healthy Learning. The goal is to create a center of gravity for pulling energy and expertise together around the needs of students and educators as it relates to five primary critical healthy-learning focus areas that are key drivers of student academic, professional, and personal success. While we fully realize this list may expand, we are beginning our work with this set. We believe these five pillars are essential for supporting successful, equitable, and thriving environments of healthy learning. While each of these is a powerful concept alone, it is through the collective strength of these pillars that we will see the most stabilizing, supportive, and positive impact on healthy learning environments.

  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
  • Character education
  • Mental health
  • Basic needs

To begin this work, we will bring together Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), community colleges, access-focused universities, and public-school districts committed to this work. The founding partners in this work will have demonstrated success in at least one of the five pillars that comprise the Center, and each has strong leadership dedicated to advancing this work. Going forward, The Center for Healthy Learning and its member institutions will strive to catalyze research, reflection, policy, and practice in these five areas to help ensure that more students in access institutions can flourish in their education and as a result, in their lives. (Figure 1.1 below).

Diagram  Description automatically generated

With the support of the Trellis Foundation, the founding group will hold an initial convening In February 2022 to share programmatic strategy, enabling policy frameworks, key learnings, and questions for further exploration and research in each of the five focus areas. We will produce a synthesis document based on the convening and follow-on discovery. This synthesis document will include recommendations for next steps in the work. From this foundation, we will map out a crawl, walk, run plan to scale the center, build assets, catalyze continued learning, and invite more institutions into this dynamic coalition.

We believe that as this work progresses, the Center will provide institutional leaders, policymakers, and front-line educators with the tools, techniques, policies, and practices that they need to effectively inform and better integrate their healthy-learning-related innovations and help ensure their students can flourish on their educational journeys. At the core of these efforts is our theory of change: by bringing together and better braiding related initiatives, healthy learning environments can be intentionally designed, cultivated, and championed in a way that can help (1) access learning environments be more attractive to and inspiring for increasingly diverse students; (2) improve student success outcomes; and (3) help close attainment gaps.

Through this work, we hope to bring together an array of deeply committed and well-informed teachers, leaders, administrators that can model and teach these pillars together, advocating for healthy learning at their institutions and beyond. Most important, through our catalytic conversations and concentrated work, we aspire to move K-12 and higher education in the United States toward a less “Darwinian” feel, to something more equitable, particularly for low-income, diverse, and first-generation students in institutions committed to access and success. Indeed, if we have the privilege of serving these striving students, they should have the power of choosing healthier learning environments. They too should have access to an educational environment where they can rise and thrive, a place where their academic, physical, psychological, and social selves can be better formed and effectively developed. It seems not only healthy but also fair.  

Mark David Milliron, Ph.D. (Twitter: @markmilliron), is Senior Vice President of Western Governors University and Executive Dean of the Teachers College. Suzanne Walsh, J.D. (Twitter: @BennettPres_SEW) is President of Bennett College. Richard Rhodes, Ph.D. is Chancellor of Austin Community College (Twitter: @accdistrict).


Connecting to Nature is Essential to Our Well-being

Our world appears painfully divided, and yet, when we ask educational visioning workshop participants around the world what is most important to them, a connection to nature consistently rises to the top.

While engaging a group of elders regarding the design of the Piqqusilivvik Inuit Cultural Learning Center in Clyde River, Nunavut, I asked them: “what was most important to you?” Given the harshness of the Arctic Circle, I assumed that the answer would relate to shelter.

To my surprise and delight, the answer, in Inuktitut, translated into English, was an enthusiastic “being out on the land!”

We were meeting inside a conference room, and I asked if they would like to finish our meeting at the site. The agreement was unanimous, and as we got into pickup trucks and headed out into the forest, I sensed a powerful feeling of purpose and joy in the group.

We stood in a circle on the site for the new Cultural Learning Center and school, and talked about what was important. Because of the mist, we couldn’t see far. We were in a kind of misty wonderland. Slowly, in a lovely natural rhythm, the elders shared their thoughts about wind, snow and sun.

Providing leadership in the alignment of the vision, educational program and physical environment is our most essential role at Fielding International, but at that moment, I didn’t feel like a leader, but a much-humbled listener. Each design idea that I had carried to the project, including the location of the entry, use of windows, the outdoor animal skin processing area, and main utility connections proved to be ill-suited.

For the Inuit, the connection to nature is a foundation of the past and present culture.

Randy Fielding

“Mr. Fielding, your sketches are very nice, but it’s best not to put the entry there, because of the wind, for much of the year, the entry will be covered in 3 meters of snow.”

“Mr. Fielding, your ideas are very smart, but it’s best not to put the outdoor tanning area there, because of the wind, the smell will be very bad inside.”

“Mr. Fielding, we appreciate your good thinking, but it’s best not to put the heating gas line feed there, because of the wind, the smell will be bad inside.”

After their gentle feedback, the elders proceeded to describe a vision and educational program that included Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional Inuit values, knowledge, behavior, perceptions and expectations), child-rearing, throat singing, and drum dancing.

To close our meeting, we held hands and ended with a prayer for the project, feeling embraced and blessed by the forest around us.

For the Inuit, the connection to nature is a foundation of the past and present culture. What does it mean for their future? If we circle back to the top skills identified by the World Economic Forum from the initial blog, which include complex problem-solving, working with people, self-management, innovation, originality, and critical analysis–where does a connection to nature fit in? This is a design challenge that local communities can wrestle together, and outdoor learning Design Patterns can be a tool to help in that process.

Find Indoor-Outdoor Connections and many other related ones at

Elevate Your Craft With Drip-Fed Evidence-Based Practices

By: Matt Piercy

Schools are no strangers to gathering data. Standardized test scores, student to teacher ratios, and enrollment trends are but three examples. Data is ubiquitous and likely will only increase. Yet, journalist Amy Burroughs suggests we adopt an approach that fits with what the experts are saying, “the essential ingredients for a data-driven culture have little to do with data itself. The real shift occurs when everyone in the educational community starts to change what they talk about and how they respond to conversational outcomes.”

It’s not the numbers or even qualitative data that matters most. It’s how we use it that makes all the difference.

Many schools have turned to dashboards in an effort to improve the visibility of student learning and academic achievement. Evidence-based practice (EBP), though not a new approach, appears in a position to revolutionize the traditional narrative. Also known as the “what works” agenda, EBP is about merging research and contextual evidence. The contextual evidence is resultant when there is honest engagement in conversations around the data. This helps inform so standardized protocols can be developed and transparent pathways for improvement might be articulated. Further, forming an alliance between all constituents is pivotal, as planning the implementation of strategies and advocacy. Optimal educational attainment is the goal.

A Seemingly Transitory Time

While schools continue to be situated on political grounds and the pandemic is not yet in our rearview mirrors, one certainty remains; the lifeblood of education and a common yearning to support all students. Administrators, teachers, parents, and students alike share in this and without a doubt, EBP has a role to play in this support.  

The real shift occurs when everyone in the educational community starts to change what they talk about and how they respond to conversational outcomes.

Amy Burroughs

In Walks MARIO

The MARIO Framework came about as a result of a commitment to improving learner outcomes. Leveraging robust research, MARIO positions students for success as personalized learning experiences that are:

  • Measured
  • Ambitious
  • Research-informed
  • Innovative
  • One-to-one learning structure

Through MARIO, students are being empowered by sustainable and personalized learning approaches in over 15 countries. Founder of the MARIO Framework, Philip Bowman imparts, “The primary focus isn’t actually on MARIO. Rather, the focus is on privileging what matters most to each individual learner. It’s time we, as educators, listen more and talk less.” And Universal Design Learning (UDL) principles are woven into the fabric. “UDL strategically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s goal of ultimately creating successful, self-directed, expert learners,” shared Dr. Katie Novak, one of the leading experts in UDL.

The Humanity Behind MARIO for Me

Clearly, the pandemic has helped shine a light on some of education’s darkest issues—one frontrunner being the need to focus on social and emotional learning (SEL). MARIO for Me, a cutting-edge software solution, connects students, teachers, school leaders and families. The software suite features a much more organic way of gathering meaningful data and then utilizing it in a purposeful way. For example, sleep, mood, and friendships are a few data points that may surface in one-to-one learning conversations. The evidence-based MARIO Approach shows the efficacy of highly targeted 5-7 minute conversations twice a week, which can improve the overall grade point average for neurodiverse learners. “Some data is quantitative, while other data is qualitative. Regardless, it all helps paint a more accurate reflection of who the learner is, where they are, and where they want to go,” suggests Bowman. MARIO for Me permits all stakeholders the opportunity to peer into a student’s life and leverage personalized tools to empower how the learner meets their goals, academics or otherwise.

Free Access to the Latest Research

MARIO Framework’s recently launched MARIO Memo seeks to inform, empower and inspire educators worldwide, bridging the gaps between researchers, academia, and our classrooms. Best of all, it’s free to all readers!

Memo’s are:

  • focused on neurodiverse learners but the information and research applies to all educators.
  • published by a team of more than 15 dedicated educators from around the world.
  • delivered to your inbox twice a month.
  • available as a downloadable audio file.

The regular review of current and relevant educational literature ostensibly has the power to elevate a teacher’s craft with drip-fed evidence-based practices. In the end, the hope is to improve learners’ experiences, but also for teaching to be more effective and equitable.

Matt Piercy works at the International School Bangkok. You can follow him on Twitter @mpiercy35.

No Two Alike: The Surprising Variability of Brothers and Sisters

By: Kathryn Paige Harden 

I know a family where neither parent could read music or play an instrument. But that didn’t stop them from buying a piano. “With eight kids, at least one person was going to be musical,” the mother predicted. She was right: The sixth child became an avid pianist.

Most of us don’t have eight children, so we might not be confronted quite as starkly with the incredible range of traits and talents that can pop up in a single family. Shrinking families have shrunk our imaginations about the sheer magnitude of genetic diversity that is lurking within our bodies.

But consider this: Every time a pair of parents conceives a child, there are 70 trillion different combinations of DNA that they could pass on to that child. That’s more than the number of stars in the galaxy. Although you may know your partner intimately, you can’t predict what’s going to happen when your DNA recombines with theirs. The possible outcomes of the genetic lottery are too myriad to be fully knowable.

As a behavioral geneticist, I study the effects of that genetic lottery on how children grow and develop. And it turns out, genetic differences between siblings influence nearly every aspect of how they think, feel, learn, and behave. We see evidence even for things like how well children do in school, their tendency to spend or save money, and how happy they are with their lives.  

Every time a pair of parents conceives a child, there are 70 trillion different combinations of DNA that they could pass on to that child. That’s more than the number of stars in the galaxy.

Kathryn Paige Harden

Of course, genes don’t determine these life outcomes. The environment—ranging from access to clean drinking water to having a close relationship with a teacher—has a profound influence on a child’s life, regardless of their genetic makeup.

Nonetheless, as a mother, recognizing the power of genes can be unnerving: My children’s genetic uniqueness is one vitally important aspect of their lives that I couldn’t predict or plan for. At the same time, I get to be curious about the people I gave birth to. Who are these people, and what singular gift and talents might they have that no one else in the family shares? Being a geneticist reminds me that my children are not mini-mes; they are fully their own people.  

Don’t assume that your children will be just like you, their other parent, or each other—especially in their personalities. In fact, scientific evidence shows that siblings are as alike in personality as two people randomly picked out of the population—which is to say, not at all!

Do think of parenting as going on a treasure hunt. If you stay curious and open-minded, you may discover your child’s unique talents—and then you can provide an environment to help them flourish.

With curiosity and gratitude,


Kathryn Paige Harden is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directs the Developmental Behavior Genetics lab and codirects the Texas Twin Project. She is the author of The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality.