Hans Hermann: Welcome to Critical Window, a podcast from the Alliance for Excellent Education that explores the rapid changes happening in the body and the brain during adolescence, and what these changes mean for educators, policymakers, and communities. This week on Critical Window, we’re learning about the Pedagogy of Confidence and how educators use it to support adolescent learning.
Our guest today is Dr. Yvette Jackson. She’s internationally-recognized for her work at assessing the learning potential of disenfranchised urban students. She applies her experience in neuroscience, gifted education, literacy, and the cognitive mediation theory to develop integrative processes that engage and elicit high intellectual performances from under-achieving students.
She’s the author of many books, including her book on our topic today: The Pedagogy of Confidence. Dr. Jackson currently is an adjunct professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia University and a senior scholar at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education. She previously was a visiting scholar for the Panasonic Foundation, and a consultant for the Brazilian Department of Education.
She’s also been a visiting lecturer at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Columbia University, and Stanford University, and has served as a member of ASCD’s Differentiated Instruction Cadre. Welcome to the show, Dr. Yvette Jackson.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Thank you very much.
Hans Hermann: Before we dive into our conversation, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment just to describe for those listening, the concept of the Pedagogy of Confidence.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Okay. Well, it all started with my own experience in being able to work with the same group of children for three years, and getting more and more confident about the intellectual ability they had by watching them grow through that time. And realizing that when you have confidence about the potential of students, you help to push them to the outskirts, the limits of their mind.
And what goes with that is a pedagogy, the art of your work and instruction that helps students feel, I can do this. Then they become more confident. And so I went into this work to show that when you take this kind of pedagogy, a lot of which I borrowed from gifted education because in gifted ed, they believe that students are coming to you with a lot of potential, they have confidence in those students.
And so I wanted to prove that same point that regardless of the child, regardless of where they are from, if you had this kind of gifted education mentality, you will walk and be more confident; the students will pick that up, and all of a sudden, learning becomes something that pulls their potential to the next level.
Hans Hermann: So then you started to describe what the Pedagogy of Confidence is. Are there some key components of it that people should be aware or?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: The first key component is what I call the high operational practices. And those are practices that I called from research, again, a lot from gifted land that said what are the kinds of things that move intelligence? The first is identifying and activating student strengths. Right. We know that we do that in gifted land, but we don’t do that anywhere else.
And the question is why? In a Pedagogy of Confidence, we do. Building relationships, that a lot of people understand. But what they don’t realize that I’m not just talking about social-emotional relationships, but students also want to know what does what I am learning, what is the relationship to me, as an individual, to my role, to my life from one subject to the next? They need to have those ideas.
The other one is the idea of focusing on high intellectual performance. Again, in gifted land, that’s what they think. And in a Pedagogy of Confidence, high intellectual performance should be the target for everybody. Then there’s the idea of enrichment. Once again, what do you do to cultivate the frames of references of students so they have strong ischemia, so they have been exposed to things that will peak not only their existing interests but maybe create more interests.
Then there’s the idea of prerequisite, including prerequisites in the learning. You know, it’s really interesting because I started as an early childhood teacher, and they always talk about readiness skills. What do you do to prime the brain for learning? And then you don’t have here, prerequisites here again until college. You know, you have to take a prerequisite course.
And all in the middle, I am saying in order to move kids to the next level, what are the prerequisites? What’s the kind of background knowledge they need to have? What are the kinds of skill-building they never to have? And the two last ones that are still part of the high operational practices is how do you situate learning in the lives of kids?
How do they see the connection between what you’re teaching and what’s happening in the world? What are the issues that are going on in the world? What are the trends? How come we’re not talking about that? We want them to leave us and be able to thrive and flourish, but we don’t talk about that. And the last is, we call it, student voice, but it really should be called student agency. So that’s a main component.
The other two components I would talk about is the impact of culture, the idea on the learning process. Culture language and cognition, and how they become the real fundamental ischemia-buildings for students, but they can also be the kinds of things that can hold children back even in school. If the school culture doesn’t represent the culture of the students, then you’re going to get all kinds of dysfunction. So that becomes another part.
And the last part of the pedagogy of confidence is making every learning experience an opportunity for assessing a learning growth, and giving students the feedback on that learning growth so they’ll go to the next level.
Hans Hermann: You’ve already mentioned it a couple times in different parts of your answers, but what was your journey to this concept and to writing this book? How did you get to this place?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Well, my journey started as, like you said, as I had in teaching, teaching the same group of children for three years in a row, and just seeing, firsthand, the kind of learning growth and obvious high intelligence that these students have, which wetted me, first, to the belief that all children have high ability. But then in the school that I was working in, there was a psychologist who was telling me that he didn’t believe that everybody had the same potential. That, in fact, in this school, there were no gifted children.
So, now, I felt I had to write a book, not at that time because I didn’t write it. This was many years ago. But I just knew that during my journey, I was going to have to put the kind of knowledge, the epistemology behind my work that would lead me to defend what I was saying about not only these children, but all kinds of children. Then I got into deeper studies about gifted education, literally. And during that time, I also met my teacher, whose name is was Reuven Feuerstein. And Reuven was a cognitive psychologist who really taught me that there was a science to the belief and this idea of unfettered type of possibilities in the mind of children.
And I started studying with him. What was so incredible that was he is known for his work, especially, with students who have down’s syndrome. And his whole comment was if we can work with these children to bring out such high levels of work, there’s not an excuse for that for any other child. And that is where he kind of dared me to put the rest of the research behind what I was saying and what he was exposing to show its applicability, especially for students of color.
Hans Hermann: You mention him often in your book…
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Yes, I do.
Hans Hermann: …as a source of inspiration.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Absolutely.
Hans Hermann: And it seems that Dr. Feuerstein not only was a source of inspiration, but he embodied many of the principles of the Pedagogy of Confidence and how he worked with you as a young scholar. So if you could talk – you’ve already spoke about him a little bit, talk a bit about how he did that, and also were there other individuals that served as sources of inspiration as you were putting this all together?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Yeah. How he really did that, the interesting thing about his work was he started, as I said, as a cognitive psychologist who was in charge of assessing the learning potential of children who were coming out of WWII, specifically Jewish children, who had been either in concentration camps, lost their parents, or whatever.
And he came up with a learning potential assessment device that actually said that you cannot test students without actually introducing them to the cognitive tools or the content that would allow you to assess how they’re taking this information in and being able to apply it. So his whole work was around what he used to call a test learning test situation.
But, really, it was starting with an assessment of where children are in their cognitive background in terms of their training, introducing new higher levels of those cognitive functions to students, meaning adding analogies, adding things like syllogisms, similes, and metaphors into the learning process because then you could assess how students were making meaning. And then you would assess them again to see how far they had come.
And when I was watching his work, really with students, like I said, either who had down’s syndrome or not, who had other kinds of cognitive impairments, I would see, in one setting with him – one sitting, I should say; in one sitting with him, how it seemed like miracles were happening. All of a sudden, students were talking at a higher register because he was introducing new language while he was assessing the language that was connected to the content or to the type of thinking.
And I was mystified. I really was. And I said, all right, I have to try to do this within my work, and of course, I still had him in my life so I could go back to him and say am I approaching this the right way? How do you get more enrichment? That led me, also, to when you were saying who were some other people who impacted me, a man named Joseph Renzulli, who is out of Storrs, Connecticut, who had come up with something that was called a schoolwide enrichment program.
And Joe’s belief was that when you take students and expose them to high levels of content that challenged them and gave them the tools they need but really put them in opportunities for moving this kind of information into real life experiences, then you would see incredible growth. So, now, I had this one man, Reuven Feuerstein, I had Joe Renzulli.
My third teacher, who was actually a best friend of Reuven Feuerstein’s, another cognitive psychologist, whose name was Asa Hilliard. Asa’s work took Reuven’s ideas, but added a frame of what is the impact of culture on cognition, very much like Vygotsky, but really using a culture from more of an ethnic perspective, meaning looking at African-American students or other students of color. But they were very impactful.
In terms of women, who affected me, Linda Darling-Hammond’s work. She was at Stanford for a very long time. But she was always bringing forward the idea of how do you look at the data, but not data just being numbers, but identifying student’s strengths, identifying how they’re thinking from a cultural perspective as part of data. And last is a Barbara Sizemore, who is very well-known for just this belief in changing schools to look at potential of students as being so important.
The last one I’m going to add in my journey, though, is James Comer. A lot of people know James’ work. He was an EL, and he was one of the people who really talked about the need for community schools that had all the services students would need to be supported right there in the institution. So all of those people together are part of what is behind a Pedagogy of Confidence.
Hans Hermann: A central component of the Pedagogy of Confidence is this intersection between environment, culture, and the brain.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Right.
Hans Hermann: Could you take a moment, before we dive into that intersection between culture and the brain, could you take a moment to describe what you mean by culture, and how culture and environment relate to one another as terms?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Sure. Absolutely. Well, culture, for me, is whatever is meaning and relevant to an individual. Culture does not come in a color. Culture comes in how people take in interactions in their lives that become so powerful that they’re usually associated with the group with whom they’ve grown up, or their families, religious institutions.
But that is not the end of culture. Culture is then whatever else you bring into that frame that has become so meaningful and relevant, that it affects how you see the world. That is really critical. And, again, that’s not even something that I’ve made up. It’s very much Lev Vygotsky talked about this in the last century, the importance of looking at how culture affects not only our language, but how we’re making meaning.
Where environment comes into that is culture is directly related to an environmental situation. So my culture, if it’s things that are relevant and meaningful or have impacted me, very much get affected by the environment within, or within which either I grew up either outside of a school. And this is where we get more specific, or what’s happening inside of a school that means that environment, the kinds of experiences that I am having, how they can affect me on a cognitive level, meaning how I’m making meaning or how it’s holding me back from learning.
Then I learned from a neuroscience perspective that there is a real deal about how those experiences can affect either neurotransmitters in my body that really – in my brain, I should say, that are affecting the neural connectivity, or those could be stressors that are coming from my environment that are now neuro-inhibitors. They are depressing my learning. They are adding this vicious cycle of habitual behavior that could really be impacting my academic performance.
So the culture can be the culture in a school. It can be very positive, like an oasis, where I see that I belong and that I fit in, or it can be very negative that, in fact, is inhibiting how I grow.
Hans Hermann: And you started to get to there, and that’s where I wanted to go next, which is it’s not necessarily intuitive to people how the environment, especially culture, shapes the brain. So could you describe it in, detail, what that looks like, how culture is shaping the brain?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Right. Well, culture – because I mentioned that culture affects how you’re making meaning, the way that you make meaning, the way that you your brain makes connections, literally affects the synaptic wiring or the wiring across neurons. So another words, if I’m working with information that I am familiar with, and my environment happens to be a place where I am not in stress. It’s an environment where I am feeling comfortable.
And there are things called endorphins and neurotransmitters that are helping the connectivity in my brain. Then the structure of my brain, really meaning the connection across neurons becomes fitted in a particular way and particular patterns, literal neuron patterns, or being constructed. The reverse could happen. I could be in a situation where there’s so much stress, as I was talking about before, that it breaks down the connectivity across the neurons, which means there’s a whole different structure to how my brain is working.
And I really mean that a neurological basis and how the neurons are not firing across themselves. Which means if I looked at those neurons in my brain through an MRI, I would see, in stress, a different structure, and especially if it’s perpetual stress like post-traumatic stress disorder I’m looking at adverse childhood experiences. There are lesions that can actually form up across the layers of the neural connections that are going to affect how I’m thinking and then how I’m seeing the world. So literal lesions are going to affect how the brain looks.
Hans Hermann: Would you say – its accurate for me to say then that the neuropathways are formed by cultural experiences and create almost an architecture for the brains that serves as a foundation of learning then throughout our lives.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Absolutely. And that’s a really good way of describing it. So when you look at different cultures and the way they transmit information to their young children can vary in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, the culture is a much more visual culture, meaning that it’s more about observation. Sometimes, the culture in terms of the transmission, is more through narrative, through story, through ideas like that that cause certain images to come into the mind of students.
Then there are cultures that are just totally verbal. It’s all about just how you give directions how you’re moving a child to be pushed to boundaries or held back from boundaries. All of those things are culturally transmitted meaning they are seen in their values and different kinds of traditions, the activities of the engage their children in, that are really going to affect that how children are not only making meaning, but how they are showing the impact in terms of the actions that they’re taking.
Hans Hermann: So some researchers talk about cultural mismatches in schools.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Yes.
Hans Hermann: So, now, we’ll take it the school environment. And they’re talking about this idea that a student’s culture doesn’t necessarily match the culture of the school or a background. Your book specifically focuses on African-American age adolescent students, although I do want to emphasize that the ideas that you put out in the book are for all students not just African-American adolescent students.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Hans Hermann: I do want to ask, though, how does being a low income student or student of color, or any type of historically-underserved student lead to cultural mismatches in schools. And then beyond that, do all students experience cultural mismatch in school to some extent?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Very good question. Well, let’s start with looking at it in terms of ethnically. I’m not gonna say that racially because, first of all, the whole idea of race is such a social construct. That’s for your next podcast, we’ll talk about that. [Laughter]. But, ethnically, and I say that because you can be a person of color and your ancestry is really Jamaican, as it opposed to it being from Georgia, very different kind of cultural experiences that they have.
But the problem in the United States is when regardless of what your ethnic background is, you’re looked at as a person of color, and especially if you have some African dissent, you know, they will look at, well, this person looks like they are of African dissent and so they all must have the same cultural background, and that’s not true at all. But the question is where is the mismatch?
And the mismatch is often if I’m defining culture as being what’s really relevant and meaningful to me, how I making meaning in the world, and I go into a school where teachers are using experiences or talking about information from just their perspective, then what happens is there’s this mismatch so I can’t literally make the same connections that I could if somebody was using more of the experiences that I had.
Now, notice, I keep saying experiences. So you can just pick up a book and say I’m going to now read about African-American kids, and now I’ve learned. No, because again, here you go, we have different kinds of cultural experiences. What I’m talking about is how a student shares those things that are meaningful and relevant.
So in a classroom where a teacher really wants to do a cultural match, all they have to do is really elicit from the students when they’re introducing new concepts, what do these concepts mean to you? Where else do you see them in your life? What kind of connections can you make around this concept? Is there anything else this concept reminds you of? Just me listening into that allows me to get into the cultural head of students.
When I don’t do that, then there is a cognitive misfire because my brain is trying to look for the file folder that it has that says, oh yeah, I got this. I can relate. So I’ll give you an example. So I was working in a particular city and they were trying to do this thing about African-American males, and they were bringing boys of color into work. And tried to – they were eliciting from the boys what is that you would like teachers to I know about what is important to learning for you?
And it was so interesting. I won’t go in through the whole story. But one of the little boys in the group, and I should shouldn’t say little because their adolescents, so you have to get the image. They’re not four year olds. We’re talking about 12 to 13 adolescents. And he said well I wish my teachers would know that sometimes they have to go slower for me because we don’t get it as quickly.
And I was so disturbed sitting there because that’s not the issue at all. It’s not that they are not capable of getting it quickly. What the child was experiencing as one of the only children of color in the room was that the teacher wasn’t making connections that were pivotal for this child. So it’s not that they need to go slower. What the teachers needed was the strategies that would elicit those kinds of connections from the student.
So, again, if you don’t have it, it looks like they’re not getting it. But it’s not because structurally their brain is impaired. It’s because, cognitively, they’re looking for the connections that allow them to make meaning in the way that processes much more deeply.
Hans Hermann: So when students experience a cultural mismatch in their learning, and you started talking about this a little bit in response, what’s happening in their brain? And when there isn’t a mismatch, when there’s a match, what is happening in there brain?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: So let’s start with the match. Okay. What’s happening there brain is, as I was saying earlier, is they already have ischemia. They are background that allows to make the connection to not only think more deeply about what’s going on, but then to even do things like forecast further, to look at things more critically because there’s this match between experience and what exists in their brain as background. So now they have a deeper foundation for moving to deeper levels of thinking.
When those kinds of connections cannot be made, then what happens is, first of all, the brain actually goes into stress. Which means when you’re going into stress, cortisol gets put out your body because your brain is saying I don’t get this. I don’t get this. Why don’t I get it? Is it because I’m dumb or is –? The brain is never thinking, well, it’s not me, it’s a teacher. You know, the brain is saying I need to have these connections.
I’m not finding them so I’m not going to make the kind of higher levels of thinking, let’s say, in terms of, as I was talking about earlier. I’m not gonna make the mental analogies. I’m not going to be able to find the kinds of pushes that allow me to then forecast, as I said before, and comprehend more deeply. So, again, it looks like there’s a cognitive impairment that’s going on because the connections are not being made. And impairment is just that what they were given to use as data, as information, as content, just didn’t connect for them.
Hans Hermann: At All4Ed, we focus on the developmental period of adolescence. You talk about, specifically, about adolescent culture and your book. What is the difference between adolescent culture and culture as we’ve been talking about it so far?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Well, one of the biggest differences, adolescent cultures goes totally across ethnic lines. It goes across ethnic lines, across not only ethnic lines, but if you look at it across-country. You know, in other words, you can pick up something that is geared on adolescents, whether it’s clothing, a show, a song, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, the children who are adolescents can relate to it.
Why? Because they’re looking for things that engage them. They’re looking for the idea of challenge. They’re looking for a certain kind of feedback. They’re looking for connections, as I said earlier, that is so profound that they look for those experiences that bring them together that way. That happens to really adolescent. Now, the interesting thing about it it’s not only adolescents. But in adolescent, they are really thriving or I should say striving to try and find the kind of relational experiences is that allow them to fit and make them feel that they belong, that they fit in.
That’s really, really important to adolescents. We really all feel that but they live it. And when the reasons they live it like that is because during adolescence, their bodies really crave a neuron transmitter that’s called oxytocin. That, your body lets off when you are feeling like you’re in a strong relational kind of a situation. We all kind of love that oxytocin, but they really crave it. So when they say we really want to work in cooperative groups, they’re not kidding.
What they don’t understand is that’s because there’s a neurobiological connection to that. So what I’m saying to you is that in adolescent culture, The idea of relationship is both cognitive and it’s physiological. It’s social, emotional; it’s all those things connected. So an adolescent like I said, craves to be with other adolescents. And a good example as an adolescent cannot walk around without being in a posse. They got to be with four or five other students or other children, right. That is a cultural thing that is really reserved for adolescents.
And, you know, in other kinds of cultural experiences, is about traditions and rituals, the thing is, the interactions that an individual has grown up through that has affected them. But, again, they’re not craving it the same way as adolescents crave to be together.
Hans Hermann: So you talk about as far as the Pedagogy of Confidence, as it relates to adolescents, these ideas of mediated cognitive formal connections and relationships with teachers. And these are two contingent factors on adolescent engagement. Can you take a moment describe what each of these are, and then why they’re so critical to adolescents? And you start to talk about a second ago, especially with relationships.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Right. Well mediation is the interaction between a child and another adult, or an adult. It doesn’t have to be a parent. It could be a teacher. But where that person is purposely setting up experiences that can help a child work through the thinking that they might have to go through, but by helping them be able to isolate a problem, to be able to use visual transport.
Help them use their brain to figure out images that we’re going to move them forward. Help them connect ideas they’re trying to teach to some personal kinds of experiences. That’s what a mediator does. So a mediator is an intervener. A mediator becomes between the child has to learn, the stimulus, and how they process information. The thing about mediation is always interactionally and it’s very purposefully. But mediation doesn’t only have to be verbal. Mediation can be by example.
Students are always watching an adult, especially adolescents. Even though they might not be even be conscious what they are picking up. But a mediator is very intentional about if this is where a student is, this is where I want them to be able to say, I get it; I’m going to pick out all those kinds of connections experience that are going to give students the frame of reference to make that connection.
That’s what I mediator does. How does a teacher become a mediator in a classroom? It’s going through and thinking about if I’m going to teach this new content what some background experience I have to give to these students that put some on the same playing field by having that background experience? So to give you an example. Something like that like an electronic field trip.
You’re teaching something on social studies and it’s going to be you’re studying Paris, that’s going to be because you’re going to be looking at the continents, and Europe, and you’re going to go to France. Before I introduce that, I could take students literally into France or an electronic filed trip that will give them the ideas of what does it look like in Paris, What does it look like in France? What are the different geographic areas? In other words, I’m giving them – I’m building their ischemia.
So as a teacher, before I teach something new, what is going to need to be introduced that will help students say I got this. I can make a connection to it. What are the kinds of higher levels of thinking that they might need to go through the experience I’m about to give him? Is it more where it’s going to be categorical thinking? Will they have to do more in terms of, as I mentioned earlier, the idea of forecasting or isolating problem?
I do that all before the new content comes in so that students can be familiar with the skills and have some frame of reference before something new is introduced to them. That is what a teacher there who is mediational will do to get students ready.
Hans Hermann: I’d like to dive into a specific topic that you talk about in the book around adolescents, which is autonomy. Particularly, you have two examples in there, a punishment, and you talk about voice. You use punishment as example of how we misdiagnosis adolescent behavior and then we react to it. Can you walk us through that?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Right. Well let’s start, usually when we talk about behavior, we talk about some discipline that then is going to be enacted as a result of some behavior that is isn’t considered the way we do things here. The problem is that in so many experiences, see, adolescents are at a point where they are thinking at high levels of reasoning
Except sometimes the reasoning is making them question authority because what they’re either being asked to do, or expected, or how they’re being expected to ask – act, I should say, doesn’t reflect what they’re seeing authority doing. So now with the discipline, the teachers are saying I’m going to discipline you because you did XYZ, or speaking loudly in the class. And then you go in the halls, and you’ve got teachers who are yelling to students, or yelling to each other, that kind of thing.
Now, you’re saying, wait a second, the disciplinary actions to the student is so negative. And the student is saying this is not fair because their reasoning is saying that’s not what I’m saying. And they’re trying to infer why are the teacher saying I should be acting one way; they’re acting another way. They’re not being authentic with me. They’re not making it so that I can really feel that what they’re expecting, I’ve been led to get that same reality in my life because I see them doing the same kinds of things. It’s that kind of thing.
So that becomes a really critical piece. The other is why not include students then much more on discussing discipline, in the sense that discipline is about order; making order so things can be safe. If that’s the case, kids want to be safe. They like order. They really do like order. But they need to feel that the order makes sense and that the order is mimicked across the school send them up to whoever the adults are in school.
So that’s why I talk about this idea of a discipline, especially with adolescents, and especially adolescents of color who are saying, Wait a second, this is not fair. And they were articulate that. And, all the sudden, because they said it’s not fair, guess what? Go to the office. Go out. I’m dismissing you. So discipline becomes a real issue. The other issue, I forgot exactly how you stated this part of that. It was discipline and –?
Hans Hermann: And student voice.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: And student voice, which goes together because I just said it’s very interesting. If you’re going to cultivate students to feel it they can have voice, then you, first of all, have to be ready to hear their voice and they have to feel that they can hear their voice in a safe space. That you’re not going to then be punishing them because they said this is not fair, what you’re telling them. But the other thing that I mean by student voice is just not how they articulate.
It’s really giving the students the opportunity to make decisions in school, to help meet with teachers and have a relational conversations about how we live in this school, the kind of rituals we put to practice. How we communicate in a way that shows that we belong together. That’s voice where teachers and students or co-learning.
I have been in school where teachers and students work on projects together, not just peer-to-peer projects, the teachers are doing part of the project the students are doing the other part of the projects. They come together and really put this work as a collaborative piece. That’s a whole level, a different level, of how we are communing our cultural relationship within a school.
Hans Hermann: You are talking about amplifying student voice within the decision-making process, and that’s a big topic today in education. So my question for you is, and I think you used the term agency earlier, is voice enough? And I think the examples you were giving go beyond voice.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Absolutely.
Hans Hermann: But I guess is voice enough and in adolescents, especially, should we be talking more about agency?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: We should be talking about agency. And when I first wrote this book, I have been working with an organization. It’s called National Urban Alliance. And we were just trying to come up with titles for the work, we were really looking at it in terms of where do you start? You start by allowing students to give their perceptions about things vocally, and surveys, in conversation.
That’s why it started with voice, but it really should be about agency because, so what, they have voice. Now what? And how do they develop to see their voice is going to matter? Well, they have to be in authentic situations where they’re asked their opinion. Their opinions then get used to make decisions about the school, about the functioning of it, about what’s being learned, about how they learn together, I go on and on. But that’s agency.
So, first, you hear their perceptions. That would be a voice, but the purpose is agency and get students to self-determination and to see you are so valued that you have a space in making a contribution here.
Hans Hermann: So you’ve given many examples throughout the conversation about how teachers can – in the book, you call them Islands of Confidence, where they’re enacting in the Pedagogy of Confidence in their classroom. What I want to take in now is how can these Islands of Confidence that teachers are creating the expanded school-wise or district-wide? What should school leaders, superintendents and principals be doing to create what I might call an archipelago or a continent of confidence
Dr. Yvette Jackson: That was good. That was good. First of all, it all starts with a vision meaning the superintendent has to be very clear on what is your vision for the students because the vision is totally reflective of belief, right? Whatever your vision is, it’s based on your philosophy or your belief. But for a superintendent, it’s saying because we have this vision and philosophy, I have certain expectations that the way curriculum is written, the way instruction goes, the way we include families, the way that we include students in terms of agency, all should be reflective of this vision statement.
So I would say the superintendents, go back and look at your vision statements. Are they vision statements that exude belief in the innate ability of all students? If they don’t, if they really say things even like we believe in equity and excellence. How come it’s not equity through excellence? How come is it’s not excellent through equity? The idea of putting excellence in equity as two sides means that one is not the other but they are parallel tracks.
And I am saying that is part of the problem because people will say, well, there’s excellence here, but then, oh, that’s right, there’s also equity. No, in a vision statement, we talk about that idea that we go for excellence by having this kind of equitable understanding that all students have is kind of innate potential. Now, what that has to happen with superintendents, based on that as being the vision, let’s look at language that we use.
Let’s look at the way that we write literature that gets transmitted through the district. Literature goes to parents. How students are given disciplinary actions. The other is how do we set up the experiences that are either enriching or the opposite? In other words, with this vision of innate potential, I’ll give you an example. So there’s one particular school district that a superintendent really is committed to equity. He or she has changed the vision statement.
And then the summer comes, and it’s time for summer school. All the kids that – I’m talking adolescents, all the kids that are going to go to a summer program go into the same building. The bell rings, all the kids who are now going to be in remediation, usually they’ve identified kids for remediation because there have been these kind of mismatches and then students really don’t need remediation because they never got access to begin with.
But all these kids are going in one direction in the high school, and the other students are getting real enrichment. They’re going to do drama. They’re going to –. My issue is through the lens of our superintendent, that practice, the way I just described it, does not reflect the vision of belief or this vision that all students have. How comes everybody is not going to enrichment? And, yeah, there might be some other kind of supports that are needed, but you don’t do that kind of a separation. So I would say the superintendents, let’s look at the practices that you have going on in this school that are practices of belief. Where are the practices of disbelief? And how do you bring adolescents to the table to get their perceptions about these practices? How that starts getting this about equity.
And the last thing I’ll say is let’s look at assessment. Does the type of assessment you’re using, I’m not talking about the federal assessments or the state assessments, I’m talking about how are students access within my school? Is it really part of the learning experience or is it the traditional way that just is another mismatch with them? That’s what I would say as a beginning part. You could do a whole podcast and just what do you tell superintendents. And there are many superintendents out there that are doing phenomenal work and using these visions as a way to change the architecture and culture of their district
Hans Hermann: So then the last question we have for you today is what do you see the next steps for implementing large-scale policies and practices, and infuse the Pedagogy of Confidence throughout the US education system?
Dr. Yvette Jackson: That is such a great question because what do I see? I see possibilities. When I say that I mean the government is the one that comes out with its own vision. What are we going to be focusing on as a country? So as a country, I’m saying, we have incredible potential. We have students with all kinds of strengths.
The next level of policy is how does the government come out and say because we want to be the best out there, we’re going to put forward this opportunity that really means the kind of enriching experiences that we would usually give when we’re only labeling gifted. And what I’m saying is they have a different philosophy about the way we educate and bring forward the belief in the potential of our students.
So where do I see do I see – do I see that that’s happening tomorrow in the government? Absolutely not. But I think the more that we realize, as a country, that our best resource is our children. And there’s all kinds of things happening in the world. If we’re going to stay ahead to really lead, we’ve gotta change how are presenting our ideas about our children.
Hans Hermann: Thank you so much for joining me today. It was a pleasure having you.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Thank you for having me.
Hans Hermann: Our guest is Dr. Yvette Jackson, who is currently an adjunct professor at Teachers College at Columbia University and a senior scholar at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education. She is the author of many books, including the Pedagogy of Confidence, which we spoke about today. And she had an upcoming book.
You can catch more of her thoughts on education and everything else that we talked about today. It’s called mindfulness practice. If you also enjoyed this, you can check out our webinar we recently had with Dr. Jackson highlighting a third report that came out from the Alliance For Excellent education on this same topic and same issues. Thank you, again, for joining us.
Dr. Yvette Jackson: Thank you very much for having me.
Recording: Thank you for listening to Critical Window, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s podcast on how the research from the science of adolescent learning can inform middle and high school design and the work of school leaders. Tell your colleagues, friends and families about Critical Window and please subscribe on iTunes to Stitcher to make sure you catch future episodes. This podcast was produced by Aharone Charnoff, Hans Hermann, and Robin Harper. To learn more about the science of adolescent learning visit all4ed.org/SAL.