Education Perspectives

EP 22 Justin Reich Associate Professor at MIT Author: Iterate

November 25, 2023 Liza Holland Season 1 Episode 22
Education Perspectives
EP 22 Justin Reich Associate Professor at MIT Author: Iterate
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Show Notes Transcript


Justin Reich
Associate Professor at MIT
Author: Iterate 

Quote of the Podcast – 

For 20 years, I’ve worked in schools on all kinds of projects: transforming curriculum, integrating technology, re-engaging students, and making school meaningful and relevant to young people and families. Whatever you are working on, every successful school improvement effort that I’ve been a part of has one thing in common: they all improve one step at a time.

Introduction of Guest BIO – 

Justin is an associate professor of digital media in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department at MIT and the director of the Teaching Systems Lab. He is the author of Iterate: The Secret to Innovation in Schools and Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, and he is the host of the TeachLab Podcast. He earned his doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow. He is a past Fellow at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society. His writings have been published in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other scholarly journals and public venues. He started his career as a high school history teacher, and coach of wrestling and outdoor adventure activities. Follow Justin on Twitter or Google Scholar.


Agents of Change: Leaders/Innovators

  • 30,000 ft. view – Why do we, as a society invest in education?
  • Tell us about your education journey?
  • How would you like to see school change?
  • Iterate: The Secret to Innovation in Schools
  • Tell us a story or favorite memory about your time in school?
  • What are the biggest challenges or obstacles you face?
  • What would you like decision makers to know?


Podcast/book shoutouts

Iterate: The Secret to Innovation in Schools

Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education

TeachLab Podcast


Support the show

Education Perspectives is edited by Shashank P at

Intro and Outro by Dynamix Productions

Liza Holland [00:00:02]:

Welcome to education perspectives. I am your host, Liza Holland. This is a podcast that explores the role of education in our society from a variety of lenses. Education needs to evolve to meet the needs of today and the future. Solving such huge issues requires understanding. Join me as we begin to explore the many act is of education. Justin is an associate professor of digital media in the comparative media studies and writing department at MIT. He's also the director of the teaching systems lab and the author of iterate, the secret to innovation in schools as well as failure to disrupt, why technology alone can't transform education.

Liza Holland [00:00:51]:

And not only that, he is also the host of the TeachLab podcast. He earned his doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Anne was the Richard l Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow. He is a past fellow at the Berkman Klein Center For Internet and Society. His writings have been published in science, proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington Post, The Atlantic and other scholarly journals and public venues. He started his career as a high school history teacher And coach of wrestling and outdoor adventure activities. Follow Justin on Twitter or Google Scholar. So, Justin, welcome so much to Education Perspectives.

Justin Reich [00:01:36]:

Thanks for having me.

Liza Holland [00:01:39]:

Absolutely. I'm so excited to talk about your book, but I have to ask you the big question that I ask every guest to start out.

Justin Reich [00:01:46]:

Let's do it.

Liza Holland [00:01:47]:

From a 30,000 foot view, just really, you know, big picture. Why do you think that we as a society invest in education?

Justin Reich [00:01:55]:

Well, we originally invested education as the bulwark of our democracy, To have a civil society where people can govern themselves, you know, pretty closely at the local level and through representatives at at the state and federal level, We need an educated public.

Liza Holland [00:02:10]:

Absolutely. So you have had a a neat and interesting education journey. Tell us little bit about how you came to be where you are today.

Justin Reich [00:02:19]:

Yeah. Well, I actually started my career teaching wilderness medicine. So when I started teaching, I worked for the school called SOLO, and we taught 2 courses. 1 was called wellness first aid, and it was 2 days. And one was called Wilderness first responder, and it was 10 days. The courses were incredibly fun. We had very diverse students, so we would have kids who are getting to lead their college orientation trips and doctors and nurses that were getting ready to go on international missions and special forces soldiers that thought that we could give them a little bit more information on what they're doing. Just all kinds of outdoors people.

Justin Reich [00:02:55]:

People who are incredibly invested in they paid for the course. They almost always wanted to be there, so they were great students. And then The curriculum was such that we would teach a unit on something like what to do if somebody breaks a bone or sprains an ankle or what to do if somebody has a soft tissue injure injury. And we give a little lecture about how your musculoskeletal system works or how your soft tissue is constructed and what happens when those things break. And then we teach people how to fix those problems with the stuff that they could improvise from their backpack. And then once they practice a little bit, you know, building a splint For an ankle out of stuff that you have lying around the backpack, we would take stage makeup, and we would bring people outside, and we would sort of dress them up as if they had injuries And have small groups of people come and take care of them, which was both a great learning experience and very immersive, incredibly fun, and also just had a lot of great evidence for assessment, you could sort of see right in front of you. You know? If someone builds a splint that would actually hold a leg stable, then they were successful. And if you pick up with an improvised splint on and it falls off, then you are you know, they were unsuccessful at learning, and I was unsuccessful at teaching.

Justin Reich [00:04:02]:

And then the other unusual thing about That job is because we only taught 2 classes. I just taught these lessons over and over and over again. I could teach them 20, 30, 40, 50 times in a year. And if you're deliberate when you teach something that many times about introducing a little bit of systematic variation each time, say, oh, I'm gonna do a I'm gonna do a schematic of your skin a little bit differently in the lecture. I'm gonna demonstrate how to make a splint in a little bit different way. I keep getting this question from people, so I'm just gonna work that question Into the demonstration, you can make your teaching a lot better. It struck me that, you know, I was 22, 23 when I was doing this, and people would commonly say, you know, you're the best teacher I've ever had. And a lot of that was just I was teaching the same thing over and over and over again and could get really good at it in a way that, you know, if you're History teacher, you might teach a lesson, you know, on the causes of the civil war, like, once or twice a year and then you know, for 1 or 2 days a year to your 4 sections or whatever.

Justin Reich [00:04:58]:

It could take you a whole career to teach that lesson as many times as I taught improvised splints in a year working for solo. So then I went and I became a high school history teacher. I started a consultancy that helps schools integrate technology. I became a researcher, did a bunch of teach I now teach at MIT, bunch of different things, but learned a lot from those early experiences teaching wilderness medicine.

Liza Holland [00:05:20]:

You know, I loved reading that part in the book. It took me back too when I was a kid, my dad was a he was working on the ski patrol. And so every year when they did their refresher courses, I was, like, a dead body that needed to be brought down the hill. But, you know, I lived in Western New York.

Justin Reich [00:05:36]:

Okay. Yeah. So if you had been in Colorado or the West, then the other fun thing about that is they probably would have buried you, Under piles of snow to practice avalanche recovery kinds of things. That's

Liza Holland [00:05:47]:

another fun. The most dangerous I had to deal with was being rescued off of a a stuck chairlift. But

Justin Reich [00:05:54]:

and lowered lowered down and all that? Oh, yeah. That's great. That's really cool.

Liza Holland [00:05:58]:

That was that was great memories. But, you know, the as I read that whole piece, it really is like the ideal case for project based learning. It was so hands on and practical application and all that kind of thing, and we're we're trying to bring that into school now. So I thought that was a wonderful way to start. But, obviously, one of the biggest challenges is we don't give our teachers time to iterate. So this is kind of the transition into the rest of your book. Tell us a little bit about how we can pull that into school to really make teaching and learning or maybe even learning and teaching more effective.

Justin Reich [00:06:40]:

Sure. Well, time is definitely the great currency of an educator's life. I've had former students write poetically about the experience of watching the clock tick down in their class on their prep periods that being a sort of ever present part of their working lives. And we have big ambitious goals for schools. There's also something about the structure of schools that makes us Think about learning and change over long periods of time. We have students in our class for a year. They're in our buildings for 3 or 4 or 6 years. They're in our system For 13 or 14, 15 years, things stretch a long time.

Justin Reich [00:07:15]:

A lot of schools organize themselves around 5 year plans and those kinds of things. And a big part of Iterate is encouraging folks to do something that industry many different parts of industry, but Any piece of the industry that are touched by software have really adopted over the last 20 or 30 years, which is to try to think about change As a series of smaller, more modular steps. And these smaller, more modular steps can lead to really big changes, But they're done in you know, the industry term for it in is in sprints when people are trying to change software. I mean, there's some projects that you do that you map out over a year or 2 years or things like that, but the software industry really got burned by doing that a lot because you'd spend a whole bunch of time Building software for bank tellers, and then ATMs would be invented and spend a whole bunch of time making great websites for desktop computers, and then all of a sudden everyone has phones. And so thinking about how you can drive change through small modular steps is really at the heart of Iterate. One of the ways that I express it in the book This is the Sunday, Monday dilemma. So there's all kind you know, you just articulated this change of wanting to see progressive project based learning happening in schools. Well, we're not gonna send all kid's home for October so the teachers can write new lessons and practice project based learning.

Justin Reich [00:08:33]:

The what's gonna happen is on Monday. Any given teacher is gonna have a prep period, little bit time in the morning, little bit time in the afternoon to make step towards that work. And so we have to we have to imagine our chain it can be very powerful to imagine our change processes saying, You know, what is the smallest version? What is the minimum viable prototype of something that I could put in my classroom, in my learning context On Monday, to help me take 1 step towards this thing that I'm trying to work for. Sometimes I another I'm a former history teacher, so One of the ways that I like to liken this change is in the 20th century when we, as a nation, wanted to generate vast quantities of new electricity to win World War 2. We said, what's the biggest river we have in the country, and what's the largest dam we could put in it? We built this giant Hoover Dam, a sort of huge, massive project. In the 21st century, we need to generate massive amounts of electricity, and the way that we're gonna do it is take these little 3 foot by 2 foot solar cells, and And we're gonna cover the surface of the earth with them. And every year, the little solar cells are gonna get 1% better at collecting materials or 1% electricity or 1% cheaper. The software that gets the electricity actually in your house is gonna get 1% better, and all those little changes are gonna add up.

Justin Reich [00:09:52]:

And so I think if you look at schools, The way we make schools better looks a lot lower more like solar panels than like the Hoover Dam. There aren't many places where you can say, this is the one big moment where we ripped everything and changed it all. We're much more likely to see change in growth through an iterative process of modular change.

Liza Holland [00:10:10]:

That is so insightful, and I think that it really helps educators who are already feeling a little bit overwhelmed to think about starting small that way and being able to slowly integrate different types of things into their process. Is I'm doing some work in deeper learning and talking to teachers about helping to bring those how they teach Into a more process based as opposed to content based approach, and that's what I think has been the biggest key is Even though you have your early adopters that are ready to go and jumping all in, yay, the rest of them are kind of like, okay. One more thing. What can I do? What little thing can I check off as a success here?

Justin Reich [00:10:58]:

Yeah. We, my colleague, Peter Sanjay, calls those folks patient pragmatists. In In any given school community, there are a small number of people who are always excited about jumping on to initiative. Or for any new initiative, there's a small number of people who are really excited to jump on. And most people are sitting on the fence. They've seen a lot of things come and go in schools, and so they're protective of their time. They don't wanna invest a lot of energy in new initiative, which is either not gonna work or not gonna be supported. But if they can see evidence that things are working, they're willing to jump in.

Justin Reich [00:11:28]:

They're willing to step into those processes and participate. You know? And so, again, one way that you could think about trying to get a whole bunch of teachers to change their practice is to spend a whole bunch of time talking with everyone about what you wanna change and making a big plan and have everyone everyone doing it together. Another way you could think about change is like finding the coalition of the willing, getting them to start doing some things and putting them into practice, and then sharing what they're learning with their colleagues so that their cog oh, that's kinda neat. I wanna give that a try and saying, you know, for any of the things that we're working on, you know, of course, If we want to project based learning and everything else, it would be great if we change the schedule and the curriculum and all these other pieces to make it work. But, you know, what are the parts of this that we can get started Without making all those big changes I mean, a really hard thing about education is that to make important changes, it feels like you have to be able to sort of pull 9 levers at once. You have to be able to change the staffing and the classes and the curriculum and the The pedagogical strategy and student expectations and family communication. And it's really hard to pull 9 levers at once in school. So you you sort of have to get used to being like, are the 2 that we can pull right now and have a little bit of success that gets us the capital to be able to pull 3rd and pull 4th.

Justin Reich [00:12:42]:

And then eventually, We can make some progress towards changing all of those kinds of things. You know? And I want I don't wanna be pollyannish about it. There are lots of efforts that take this sort of stepwise approach, and stepwise can fizzle out. But I think for a lot I don't know. I was just working with a bunch of educators to the Boston Teacher Union, which is this really cool grant program in the district where they give, small teacher teams grants to do teacher leadership projects to try to implement new things in their schools. And their, You know, traditional practice had been in the grant writing process to map out a year long plan, you know, that would proceed in kinda stepwise fashion. We'll do a. We'll do b.

Justin Reich [00:13:18]:

We'll do c. Will do d. And part of what I try to say to them is, like, do the very smallest version of a, b, c, d, e that you can do next week. Put that into your field, see what you're learning, see what you're growing, and then kinda spiral up and grow from there. And I think, you know, For that group of educators who are the who are the kind of teacher leaders in their communities, it helped them take, you know, big, bold, someday kinds of ideas and be like, oh, we could you know, we don't have to wait till April to deploy our prototype. In fact, we should deploy our prototype next week. Get the smallest version of this weekend and and get it in front of people and start learning. I mean, another thing I try to tell folks is, you know, these ideas that I'm suggesting, If you came and worked with me at my lab at MIT, you know, if if if your students graduate and they come and they make their way here and work with me, this is what we're gonna do.

Justin Reich [00:14:06]:

We're gonna say, like, If we're building online courses or something like that, we're not gonna build the whole giant course. We're gonna build 1 crucial interaction you know, 2 learning objections, 1 crucial interaction, one part of assessment. Put Put it in front of people. Get some feedback. See what how we should build on that, how we should grow, and so forth. It's not any different if you went to the Sloan School of Management, if you went to the mechanical engineering department, my in biological engineering, just this kind of sometimes it's called an agile approach. This idea of we're gonna define a sprint. It's gonna take a couple weeks.

Justin Reich [00:14:35]:

We're gonna, you know, build a prototype, get some feedback on it, and move on to the next, you know, and either throw bad ideas away, is a really easy thing to do if it was cheap to generate those ideas or extend and grow on those things.

Liza Holland [00:14:48]:

I love this approach For there's 2 things that really come to mind for me is, 1, having a short, very concentrated effort in one particular area. It's people have bandwidth for that. You know? It's not this huge concept that needs to change, like you say, the Hoover Dam, but it's something that they can put short concentrated energy towards, and then maybe take a break a little bit. And the the other piece that I really loved about it is that ability to fail. That okay. This isn't working quite right. Let's go ahead and tweak. Let's try the next iteration, and maybe we'll try something a little bit different, and maybe that will actually get it to work.

Liza Holland [00:15:29]:

And I think that that has been taken out of our education system to a great degree. It's all been, you know, you gotta get an a, you gotta get an a, you gotta get an a. And the skill sets that they need in the work world today match what you're talking about is the, you know, that agile format and constantly tweaking and making sure it's a little bit better and and, like, constant improvement.

Justin Reich [00:15:52]:

It is a funny experience that we have teaching MIT with and MIT is not a great example because our are weird and we're weird and all those kinds of things, but we recruit these students who throughout their school experience really feel like, man, I just I can't mess it up At all, I you know, the only way to get in, and then when they come here, we're like, what we do all day long is fail at stuff. Like, we write papers that don't get accepted. We write grants that don't we write we make experiments that don't work. And one of the most important things that we need from people Who come and work with us is a resilience to be able to try something, recognize that it does not at all work, and then be willing to, You know, get back in it and make version b and c and d and e and f and as many as it takes to start getting something right. But I do think, you know, one of the risks of the kind of Long everyone consensus, lots of planning kind of processes if you spend 6 months developing or whatever, And then, it doesn't work. You just feel a huge sense of ownership. It feels really painful to, you know, throw those kinds of things away. But at by the same token, If you spend, you know, a weekend trying a little thing and it doesn't you know, developing a little thing and then putting in practice on Monday, and And you're like, yeah.

Justin Reich [00:17:04]:

That didn't land the way I thought it does. And then you throw it away, and you go, oh, you know, I'll be I have I have time and energy to make another thing. It can be helpful too when you're not sure how to problem. You know, you've got 2 or 3 groups of people who've got, you know, different approaches, who have some disagreement. You know, it can be a way of saying, oh, well, let's see if we can get some evidence to instead of just, like, sitting here and kinda theorizing what would be the best approach, like, let's build Little versions of each of them and put them out into the world and see if, you know, putting them into the world gives us some empirical evidence that we can use to Make deeper commitments to things that seem to be working a little better.

Liza Holland [00:17:38]:

So it sounds like you're doing a lot of that within MIT and with your students and that sort of a thing. Have you kind of sent it out into the wild, and how is this type of approach being received by folks maybe further down the chain?

Justin Reich [00:17:53]:

Yeah. I think I mean, you know, the initial reception from a lot of people who read the book is, oh, these are things I can use. I've been doing this little 3 unit mini course, of 3 webinars once a week for people who, preordered the book. And after week 2, we talked a little bit about the Sunday, Monday dilemma. People came back at week 3, and they were like, I It's working. You know, same thing with these teachers and the Boston teachers. You know? They're you know? I mean, I'm not I don't wanna say that, like, I'm a person who's invented all these ideas. There's of stuff in iterate that has, that draws from many, many sources.

Justin Reich [00:18:26]:

There are lots of folks who've been implementing design thinking in education In all kinds of ways. And we've you know, actually, the book came out of 2 online courses that we created, which are freely available as courseware online. One's launching innovation in schools, and one's called design thinking for leading and learning. So we have lots of examples of, all kinds of students who've taken those court you know, students who are Practicing educators participants who are practicing educators in all kinds of places, who's taking courses with us and gone and and put them into practice in the real world. I have a nice discussion on the TeachLab podcast, which is a podcast I hope with, Eric Burmeister who, was a superintendent in Menlo Park Public Schools Who talks about and and he had worked his way up from a teacher to a principal in the middle school to the superintendent, how, you know, they as a district really embrace design is kind of a shared language for improvement in instruction and, how it served them well over the variety of challenges they've had over the last 5 or 6 years.

Liza Holland [00:19:22]:

Absolutely. That was a good transition because I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your teach lab podcast. And if people are gonna tune in, which I rec highly recommend that they do, what type of focus are you taking? Is it mostly, kind of design thinking and how that applies, or what, what's the premise of the podcast?

Justin Reich [00:19:40]:

We do series, so we pick topics that we're interested in. The last topic that we did a series on was iterate because the book that came out, But the the series that we had before that was called teacher speech in the new divide, and the idea was we've just heard from a lot of educators, Very concerned about divisive concept laws, about book bans, about all kinds of threats to teacher speech. And so We talk to lawyers to get a better sense of the jurisprudence that governs teacher speech and some of the legal principles that are at play. We talk To librarians and to people who are presidents of library associations, we've talked to teachers and preservice teachers Who had encountered really difficult situations, had lost their jobs, had been transferred, other kinds of things like that. Folks like those from Pan America That, are working to defend books and authors and teacher speech rights. So it's a incredibly important topic right Now it's a topic that's if we're gonna change the direction of book bans and divisive concept laws and things like that, it's gonna require a lot of citizen activism. So and the stories in it are just sort of heartbreaking and maddening and incredibly important.

Liza Holland [00:20:58]:

Yikes. Yes. Massive issue, and I'm actually glad you mentioned that because now I've gotta go back and and, listen to those particular episodes because that If

Justin Reich [00:21:07]:

you wanna start with 1, start with, Katie Rinderly, who is a teacher in, Cobb County, Georgia who was recently fired. She went to her school book fair And purchased a book. She read that book. She actually gave that book and several other books as options for her students to read. They voted on the book she bought at the school book fair, And she was fired for reading it. And it's really a pretty remarkable story. It ties in a little bit with I don't some of your listeners may know that Scholastic has just started modifying their book Fairs basically to remove books with, black and gay characters from book fairs in certain places. In Katie Brindley's case, you know, presents some of the extraordinary complexity of navigating these things in schools right now.

Justin Reich [00:21:49]:

And then the earlier episodes Try to explain, you know, why Katie's district can fire her and the real limits to teacher speech rights and how they have Grown and shrunk, over time with various Supreme Court and other cases.

Liza Holland [00:22:04]:

Boy, that's really interesting. Teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure from all different sides and so many different perspectives. It's hard to be able to free yourself to to do the iterating and the trying new things and all of that that's there. Touching back to your book just a minute, I know you've got it broken down into 3 kind of sections. You wanna give us just a little overview before I encourage everybody to go by the book because it is cool.

Justin Reich [00:22:35]:

Yes. The first part of the book so the book is organized around 3 cycles. In some ways, you might say iterates through 3 cycles To give which are related to each other, but they give you a little bit different perspective on thinking about making change in schools. So the first is the cycle of experiment and peer learning. And the idea there is that you know, I think there's some pretty strong evidence that there are 2 really key ideas for how schools change. The first is that Instruction really only changes because of teacher leadership. You know? Superintendents, principals, other people can suggest you know, they can bring new curriculum. They can bring new practices, but the actual adaptation of those practices in the classrooms is almost always actually conducted by teachers.

Justin Reich [00:23:18]:

And then when you interview teachers About why they choose to change their practice. The number one answer is other teachers, the people who have the most influence on teacher practice around pedagogy of their peers. So it really helps you understand that instructional change is a peer learning problem. The we have to create the conditions where teachers can adopt Ambitious new practices with all kinds of help and support. And then we need to create the conditions where they can share what they're learning with each other. That can be a little frustrating if you were Like me, a school consultant who's coming in from the outside or principals or coaches or superintendents or things like that. But once you sort of recognize those 2 realities, you can realize like, oh, my job is to help spin this cycle of experiment and peer learning and planning And make it as joyful and collaborative and efficient as possible. So the first part is describing both the model for how schools change And then the role of teacher leadership and other kinds of leadership in making that happen.

Justin Reich [00:24:15]:

The second is some of what we've talked about so far, design thinking for leading and learning, Which is a flavor of human centered design that's particularly kinda targeted at helping people think through challenges in schools, both for students applied to the design thinking for learning is helping students be able to use these tools, and design thinking for leading is having adults in the community be able to do those things together. And then the 3rd part of the book is and you might say that what designed thinking for leading and learning does is it teaches folks how to do the experiments in the 1st part in the cycle of experiment and pure learning. So there's a cycle that really depends upon teacher leadership and experimentation, design thinking for leading and learning is kind of a playbook for doing that experimentation. Now if in schools, everyone experiments in wildly different directions, then at At worst, the experience for children can be chaos. That's a little bit what happened in March of 2020 and April of 2020 when schools shut down. Individual teachers ended up concocting their own online learning environments, and parents had these, like, impossible lists of 18 different logins and passwords and different routines for each class and things like that. That was a particularly stark example. But even when things are not that bad, if everyone is innovating in their own individual direction, classrooms can get better, But schools can't get better.

Justin Reich [00:25:31]:

Grade level teams can't get better. Departments can't get better. We can only improve as a collective when we're doing that together. So the 3rd cycle in the book is the collaborative innovation cycle, which says, how do you have there be innovation, autonomy, buy in, but also the sense that we're rowing ores in the same direction. And so that's a cycle with these 4 steps of bringing people together around ideas they care about, making sure that our innovation efforts build on our strengths and our values, Refining a vision and getting to work, which is where tools like the someday Monday framework come in. Working together through ups and downs, I would say one through line of the book is that people participate in these kinds of change efforts because they're joyful, they're important, they help kids learn, they're energizing, they can be fun, But every and and I think all those things are true, but, also, every change effort involves loss and conflict. There is no way to get towards improvement without creating conflict, without ruffling feathers. It's just a natural part of collaboration.

Justin Reich [00:26:30]:

Even when we move to better things, we often have To say goodbye to older practices that were sunsetting, and that can generate feelings of loss. And so Managing the kind of what Robert Evans called the human side of change is part of that framework. And then the last piece is measuring progress and adjusting, Thinking about how we use evident how we can generate evidence about our efforts to be able to guide, you know, the the next steps in our cycles. So those 3 pieces, cycle of experiment and pure learning, design thinking for leading and learning, and the collaborative innovation cycle are the 3 sections of the book. And then for each section, there's 1 chapter which is kind of like an explainer, a theory, a framing kinda chapter, And then there's a 2nd chapter, which is much more how to that includes things like this is exactly what I would do if I came to your school and was working with your leadership team or your faculty, other kinds of thing. Like, here here's an exercise. Here's what I would say. Here's what they would do.

Justin Reich [00:27:26]:

Here's what I would say next. Hopefully, giving people some tools that they can just jump right in with their colleagues and teams and and get going.

Liza Holland [00:27:33]:

Lot of good practical application kinds of things and and frankly, I really enjoyed. I found myself tight for time, and so I was so excited to be able to jump right to that community collaboration sort of section because just because that's what resonates with me first, and then I went backwards and picked it up. So lots and lots of really good meaty stuff in there.

Justin Reich [00:27:54]:


Liza Holland [00:27:54]:

Thank you. And for anybody who is interested, we have links in our show notes to be able to order the iterate book as well as failure to disrupt and also a link to the the TeachLab podcast. So getting back a little bit to Justin, tell me a favorite memory that you have about your time in education.

Justin Reich [00:28:14]:

What is a favorite moment that I had in education? When I was in high school, I took a history elective with a friend of mine. And before class, we would go and we would buy A cow stick, which is like a caramel candy that has caramel, with, like, some kind of marshmallowy thing in the middle. And Well, 1 person each week or whenever we did it would buy 1, and then they would sort of bet the the the other person had to pick a sort of unusual phrase, like up and down like a Ferris wheel. And the task of the other person was to somehow work this phrase in a sensible way into the conversation in class kind of regardless of what the discussion was, and then you would win the cow tale. And, I don't know why that came up, but, that was one of the most fun games that I played with my with my peers as a student.

Liza Holland [00:29:03]:

You know, that totally points to the value of student relationships and giving them a little bit of time even if it's, to make a little bit of good trouble there.

Justin Reich [00:29:12]:

That's Yeah. I I don't know. I it's not clear to me whether or not our teacher ever caught on, but when somebody was successful working in there, it was Pretty enjoyable. It it also was not that disruptive. Part of the game was you you couldn't just blurt it out. You had to, like, plausibly find some way that you could that You could say this thing. It probably wasn't any weirder than the things that, kids just normally say in class.

Liza Holland [00:29:33]:

No. That's a great story. That's a great story. So change is like you were talking about, it it is messy, and sometimes it can be a real challenge and whatnot. So in your pursuit Of trying to encourage this kind of change, what kind of challenges have you faced?

Justin Reich [00:29:52]:

I mean, there's zillions of challenges right now. The, You know, teacher morale is a huge issue to be reckoned with right now. The combination of The extraordinary efforts that teachers put in during the pandemic and the sense that they were not only not appreciated, but perhaps attacked By even if it is relatively small portions of the public, those attack, I think, hurt. I think, You know, the both the combination of school closures, a strong job market, and just like the unusual period of the pandemic disrupted one of school's most valuable features, which was its routine. I think many there have always been some students that have discovered like, Oh, wait. I don't have to go to school, and nobody can make me do anything. Like, what are they gonna put me in jail or something like that? Like, I'll do whatever I want. And, You know, a certain number of young people had discovered that every year, and many, many more discovered it in the last few years.

Justin Reich [00:30:53]:

And our schools are not designed To be able to support that number of students who, who, you know, discovered kind of the illusions of our routine. So that I think is a huge challenge that educators are dealing with. I mean, hope I think is I think an extraordinary thing about the last 5 years is that educators recognized How so many things that we saw thought in schools were fixed are in fact flexible. That's the sort of other side of this that, you know, I I interviewed a group of, educators in Madison, Wisconsin, and one of them said, we know how to change. We've been changing every 3 weeks for the last 18 months. We know how to change. I think many educators feel that way, and so part of what I hope would iterate is to build on those muscles that were vigorously exercise during the pandemic, perhaps in a moment, you know, the last couple of years have been incredibly difficult for educators. 2 years ago and particularly last year too, I'm getting some anecdotal evidence That school just feels a little better this October.

Justin Reich [00:31:50]:

A colleague of mine in Worcester is a school board member, was talking to a principal or superintendent who in late September said it feels like October, and she meant that in a good way. It feels like the school year's gotten underway. We've got some routines. We're getting things under our belt and things like that. So I'm hoping that as those, as morale improves, As the challenges of operating schools feel at least a little bit less daunting that people have more energy to try new things and that hopeful, it iterate gives them a framework To approach those challenges in a way that feels that feels doable and, like, small small steps can lead up to big change.

Liza Holland [00:32:28]:

Absolutely. So my final question is, what would you like for decision makers to know?

Justin Reich [00:32:35]:

I would say a big part of my work over the the last number of years is to really help school leaders take seriously The importance of listening to teachers. The teachers are not widgets that deploy our master plans. They are professionals with autonomy, With the capacity to make extraordinary things in the classroom and also the capacity to resist efforts in which they are not included. I mean, especially this notion that if you want big changes to happen in schools, you can't script them. The only people who can adjust them for For an 11th grade Mandarin classroom, for 6th grade earth science classroom, for a 2nd grade reading classroom, for a kindergarten executive function kind of classroom, The only people who can do that are teachers, partnering with them, listening to them. You know? Of course, their their mo our systems are complicated. There are 3,500,000 teachers in the states, many of them are extraordinary. Some of them are not.

Justin Reich [00:33:35]:

And so it's not like we have to listen to all of them and do what they say all of the time. There are, You know, we always need to be be humble, be be pushing each other, challenging each other, all that kind of thing. But systems that get better are ones in which Teachers are partners, and they're brought in as partners, and they're listened to, and they're respected, and their wisdom about what's happening on the ground in the field Guides the the directions that schools and school districts go.

Liza Holland [00:34:02]:

What a fantastic answer. Thank you so very much, and that's a a great wrap up to our conversation today, and I wanna thank you again for taking the time to, to be a part of education perspectives.

Justin Reich [00:34:12]:

Thanks for having me, Liza.

Liza Holland [00:34:15]:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of education perspectives. Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Let us know which education perspectives you would like to hear or share. Please subscribe and share with your friends.