Improving the human business of education
Jennifer Abrams has made it her life’s work to educate practitioners of education on ways to communicate and interact more effectively. As a world traveler, she has made an impact in schools, hospitals, and not-for-profit organizations; giving seminars and workshops to leading minds in the education space. Overall, educators leave inspired, ready to communicate and further improve learner outcomes.
My conversation with Jen illustrates a unique perspective on how education is treated differently in other parts of the world. There are lessons to be learned in the United States by shaping our teaching practices to be more global in their approach.
Jennifer is a strong proponent of initiating healthy dialogue and cites a plethora of research which shows that if we ignore the importance of improved communication in education – and life – there is a financial price to be paid. Making an effort to lead positive conversations and meaningful staff development effects overall student achievement. There is value to funneling resources into evolving adult skills so that students can benefit from improved teaching environments.
To put it plainly, a failure to improve communication skills will cost a district – both literally and figuratively – in the long run.
Please enjoy the refreshingly honest, insightful and eye-opening interview with Jennifer Abrams below.
Dr. Berger: Jen, I’ve had the privilege of talking to people all over education and around the world around their specific roles, which is fascinating because we learn about amazing innovation and leadership.
You travel far more than I do ─ even if I’m traveling virtually to meet these people ─ and you’re having really interesting conversations, meetings, and opportunities around things in education that we’re not privy to as the general public.
Let’s take that as a frame from the international perspective. A lot of times people are looking at the U.S. as a beacon. You get to go outside of the U.S. and have conversations on behalf of the U.S. in some form or fashion. What is it that you’re able to share with them about the challenges we’re facing, the benefits of our educational system, and some truths?
Jennifer Abrams: I do get a chance to work internationally. It’s a wonderful opportunity. I want to say that education in the U.S. is wonderful. We are here for public education. We are here to be innovative and to work with charter schools and to make things great.
I want to also caution everybody that if we consider ourselves only the place to look at or look to for information, it’s a disservice to us. I think we need to get out.
My opportunities in getting out and working in Canada, in European schools, independent schools, and in Asia have allowed me to see what our strengths are when it comes to creativity, empathy, and social-emotional awareness in the classroom. Our equity in the social and emotional might be really important and something we can highlight from the States.
But we need to look at other places for opportunities as to how they’re meeting the needs of English learners and how they’re meeting the needs of their students in so many different ways. And it’s important that we get out and we also highlight ourselves. I think it’s a balance.
DB: Are you finding that the topics of interest are very similar around the world? Are we more similar than not when it comes to the challenges that we face in education?
Data is data. Technology is technology. But as human beings, we’re very fluid in our development, in our relationships, and the challenges that we face. Are you seeing any similarities in some of the topics that are discussed or inquired about regarding your experience in the States, maybe that they learn from outside of the U.S.?
JA: I think that data is data and technology is technology. If you’re going to Asia, you’re going to see just the immediacy and the quickness of data, and the quickness of technology happens instantaneously. Their phones are faster than our phones. They’re keeping up with things technologically that we’re starting to do. And it depends on where you are in the U.S. as to whether technology has come in.
I also see them interested in our student voice, the fact that students are agents in their learning, the fact that we’re modifying things for people. That we are offering to them and they’re offering things to us.
I think that human beings are human beings. But culture makes a tremendous difference in what people value, in what people consider to be the places of emphasis in their teaching, and where they see their students and their citizens going, and in what they want to teach.
So I think we can’t say everything is the same. I think cultural filters make a very huge difference in what they do.
DB: They do. It makes me think about an overused term and I want to ask you about this: Where should we place the pause button?
To me, one of these is around personalization. We’re sort of hell bent on personalizing learning for the learner but we don’t often talk about the impact of that from a cultural perspective with regards to faculty or educators and building leaders or designated leaders.
If we sort of fly in, metaphorically, to the U.S. to talk about that, where do we place the pause button on efforts that we have for students that we also should be thinking about with regards to our staff development and support of that. Then we can learn something and, in tandem, be attacking both challenges?
JA: I think personalized learning is where it’s headed in a lot of schools across the world. I think that more independent schools ─ just to bring them up, GEMS schools, Cognita schools, other for-profit schools ─ have a lot of resources. They can provide that personalized learning to the students.
There really needs to be a conversation about what we can do and what is doable financially. I get that we’re going in that direction. I am all for personalizing and coaching toward the leaders that we’re working with.
What do different people need in order to grow themselves? I don’t think we have taken that differentiated mode, and that optimal learning experience concept from the student work, and moved it to the teachings in terms of PD, in terms of coaching, in terms of creating just-in-time learnings.
Technology has helped, but I really think it’s a human endeavor and we’ve got to work on trying to figure out how to support each teacher where they are.
DB: I think that becomes the challenge. There’s a discussion about resources regarding public versus pr