In part 1 of this 4-part series, Edthena CEO Adam Geller interviews Pedro Noguera, USC Dean of the School of Education, about how self-reflection is a key driver for teacher growth.


Here is the transcript of the interview:

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk I’m Adam Geller, Founder and CEO of Edthena the video observation platform for streamlining feedback and observations for teachers. Today, we’re joined by Pedro Noguera He’s the Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education and a scholar that’s an expert in issues of equity in education. Pedro, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thanks Adam, great to be with you.

– Let’s start it off with some good news. Tell us about something that you’ve heard about recently or experienced personally that’s given you some energy and optimism in the world of education.

– Well, two things that come to mind immediately are the ways I see school districts around the country stepping up to feed kids. You know, people don’t think that feeding children has been the primary responsibility of schools but right now with so many families experiencing job losses and food insecurity many districts, LA they’ve just recently, I mean they’re feeding, I think 75 million people since the pandemic has started 75 million meals rather since the pandemic started and they’re feeding not just kids in school but anybody needs it and that’s happening around the country so I really applaud that. I also have heard a number of districts that are stepping up with ways to personalize learning for kids which has really been helpful and I’m encouraged by that because we know a lot of kids have experienced learning loss as a result of the pandemic too.

– Yeah, it’s definitely an important call out. A lot of folks think about schools as delivering knowledge but there’s so much more that schools are providing to their communities, food being one of those examples.

– Let’s start our conversation today, talking about teachers and, you know, just thinking of it through a professional learning and professional development lens and, you know, I’m curious, you know, as you think about teachers and as they conceptualize what their role is right now, like why should they be kind of recommitting to the idea that self-reflection is important for them as a professional?

– I think it’s always important you know, we’ve focused so much on at least in recent years on the evaluation of teachers and I think there’s good reason to make sure that teachers are effective in what they’re doing. That they’re really meeting the needs of kids but evaluation starts with the individual with the teacher themselves, reflecting on what they’re doing after each lesson. But even more importantly when they look at their student work and they see what the kids have turned in. What does that tell you about your effectiveness as a teacher about what’s getting through what’s not getting through, which kids are getting it, which kids are not. I think when teachers build that kind of reflective exercise into their practice and what it allows for is constant growth which is what we want teachers commit to. Growth in their craft as a teacher, growth in their professionalism and so I think reflection is an essential part of that.

– You know what I like, what you did there is you actually, I guess like a good teacher, you started with the end of mine and you kind of reminded us that look the idea that evaluation not that it’s the end goal but thinking about where we do want to be and using that as it sounds like your kind of day-to-day personal lever and motivation for all the work that you’re gonna need to do to continually increase your effectiveness for your students. You know, I’m curious, you know thinking about what teaching looks like today and even just trying to remember what it looks like you know, and the before times before the pandemic, I mean has the pandemic given us more opportunities to stop and reflect that maybe we didn’t have before and we may not be appreciating?

– Unfortunately, not enough. I think we were caught off guard by the pandemic, you know so we didn’t have time to even prep teachers on how to use zoom much less how to deliver great lessons through zoom but we’ve had time over the summer and hopefully we move beyond the logistical challenges to start to really get at the substance of teaching and learning. But I’d say that I don’t see enough of that happening I’m seeing a lot of reports of kids who are now losing motivation, teachers saying that they’re, you know, stressed out from zooming all day and so I think the, what, what worries me is that if we don’t start to think now about how education can be different and better after this pandemic, after we return, then we’ll miss out on the opportunity that this has created.

– I guess maybe I’m hearing you say that we ideally would have had more time to reflect or ideally would have had more time to prepare and, you know, I’m imagining being back in the classroom myself or just kind of thinking through some of the things I’m hearing from educators I know and it echoes that kind of feeling of stress and pressure and, you know we’re all headed forward at what still feels like a 100 or plus 100 plus miles an hour, right? But that’s, you know, in some ways we’re kind of victims to the external circumstance. So I’m curious, like, should we be thinking about how life has changed and carving out new ways to stop and reflect, you know maybe life has a slower pace and we should, you know savor that and use those opportunities. You know, I’m not assigning homework for teachers to go home and reflect I guess there are many of them are already at home but you know, they’re already consumed by what’s happening in their classrooms, even on a Saturday or Sunday. But I guess I’m curious, like how do we make lemonade out of the lemon of the situation here, which is, well yeah would have been more ideal to have more time or more capacity or more resources like how do we make some lemonade in this situation from the perspective of self-reflection?

– I think we do it by drawing on the resources that are out there. One of the resources I often refer educators to is Edutopia. They’ve got good, very hands-on videos for teachers for example how do you do a mental health check-in with a student, how do you work on building relationships with kids, how do you design really stimulating lessons or even Socratic seminars. So you bring kids, so your kids are engaged I would encourage people to look for tools like that. What I worry about is that teachers are under pressure to cover material and so they’re spending time talking at kids when in fact we know that’s not how kids learn kids don’t learn just by like bike sponges absorbing information that you, you know just say to them, it has to be much more interactive. We need to give kids time to process, to try out what they’re learning, to get feedback from the teacher to post questions. Learning is best when it’s interactive but I think when you are doing it through this kind of a medium, like we’re doing this conversation and you have 25 or 30 kids, it’s hard to pull that off. So we, I think we need to step back recognize for example that too much time in front of the screen is not good for anybody, give people regular breaks so they have time to maybe write or reflect or exercise or meditate, do something to break up the zoom time and do that throughout the day so that people can bring their best to the work both the students and the teachers and I think that that’s much better than what I’m seeing where the emphasis is on covering a lot of information.

– Sounds like you’re hinting at something I’ve heard before from someone else that we need to do some curating of what content we’re covering this year. Like maybe we need to decide what the most important things are, the biggest things ’cause we can’t cover everything like we would have done it before. One other thing…

– That was true when we were in school, right? There’s always a debate but it’s a debate we should have about depth versus breadth. You know, we wanna cover all expose our students to the entire curriculum, but where do we need to go deeper? What are the essential skills kids must have if they’re in fourth-grade math so they’ll be ready for fifth-grade math or so they will know social studies or science at that level. We need to be clear about what’s most important and then we need to think through, okay, what’s the approach that allows kids to acquire the knowledge, the skill that’s necessary and for us to give them the feedback on what they’re doing.

– One of the other things that I’ve heard you talk about a little bit is the kind of context of uncertainty that we’re all in and I’m curious as you continue to think about how uncertainty, you know kind of puts keeps us on edge maybe it’s the right way of saying it. Like, do you have any ideas on how teachers should be dealing with some of that uncertainty, any pearls of calming wisdom?

– Not really, I think just to acknowledge it acknowledged the moment that we’re in that this is a period of great uncertainty and that sometimes our fears are legitimate, you know telling people not to worry when they know that, you know, they may not be able to, they might be evicted from their home or they may not know if they’re gonna eat tomorrow or if there’s gonna be a curfew because they’ve shut down your community because the pandemic there are so many things outside of our control that we just need to acknowledge and so even as we acknowledge, yep this is a challenging moment we’re in there are still some things we can do to take care of ourselves, to take care of each other to prepare for when things get better and that’s what I would focus on, but I would not tell kids or teachers not to simply, don’t worry. I think that that’s not realistic when people are faced with so much uncertainty.

– A healthy acknowledgment of what’s really happening in the world it sounds like. Pedro, thanks so much for joining us we’re gonna have to take a break here. If you’re joining us for this conversation and wondering where to hear the rest of it head to for the rest of this conversation as well as conversations with other education leaders. Pedro, thanks so much for joining us we’ll be right back.

– Alright.