Tag Archives: School Culture

“That Would Never Work Here”: Overcoming Context Paralysis on Behalf of Gender & Sexual Minorities Worldwide

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

The title of this blog is the same as the that of a book chapter I wrote, published last month in the Annual Review of Comparative & International Education 2018. In it, I coin the term context paralysis, a reluctance to engage with issues when the cultural context may make doing so difficult. I challenge educational researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to consider how they can leverage their understanding of local context to safely and respectfully improve rights and protections for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students where they live. I invite you to read a lightly edited excerpt from my chapter:

The dominant perspective, worldwide, is that heterosexual, cisgender people fulfil the natural, normal, and correct version of gender and sexuality. In my studies on the topic, I have encountered no culture that treats GSM (gender and sexual minority) people equally to their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Those who claim equality usually point to the “elevation” of GSM people through “positive” stereotypes, fetishization, or hypersexualization. Proclaiming gay men to be inherently fashionable is a “positive” stereotype, for example. these instances still highlight an atypical, non-normative status, which is not the same as equal. To exist outside of the heterosexual, cisgender norm is to be “othered.”

School policy, practice, and climate can dramatically impact the educational experience of GSM students. GSM children who attend schools that are inclusive, supportive, and protective of GSM people are more likely to see positive results in terms of their attendance[1][2], grade point average[3], and emotional wellbeing[4]. While not all studies explicitly factor in the cultural context where the school is located when analyzing results, some that do show that protective school climates, regardless of locale, are significant influencers of GSM student wellbeing[5][6]. That is to say that it appears to be the actual school policies and practices, not the local social norms influencing them, that makes the impact on students. I cringe at the cliché, but schools do make a difference.

Furthermore, schools are in a unique position, with access to large numbers (usually majority proportions) of children during their developmental years. Schools, therefore, are exceptionally poised to shape the perspectives and futures of entire generations of young people. This power can be used to reinforce a dominant and discriminatory perspective but may also be leveraged to support more egalitarian practices. To unequivocally state to a class of students that gender and sexual minorities are valid and worthy people, deserving of equality, is not only an extension of support to the GSM child listening in the room, but may also change the social context that this child grows up in by influencing the biases of their peers.

To address systemic discrimination and marginalization, it helps to look at the actual systems involved. I would wager that no other government system, world-wide, has quite the same impact factor on the biases and perspectives of future generations as the educational system. For this reason, schools are a fitting point of intervention to address this prominent inequality of systemic discrimination against GSM people.

Excerpt taken from:

Meadows, E. S. (2019). “That would never work here”: Overcoming ‘context paralysis’ on behalf of gender & sexual minority students worldwide In Wiseman, A. W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2018 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 37), 287-305. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

How have you overcome context paralysis to support LGBTQ+ students where you work?  


[1] Jones, T., & Hillier, L. (2013). Comparing trans-spectrum and same-sex-attracted youth in Australia: Increased risks, increased activisms. Journal of LGBT Youth, 10(4), 287–307.

[2] Ferreyra, M. E. (2010). Gender identity and extreme poverty. In Dubel, I. & Hielkema, A. (Eds.), Urgency required: Gay and lesbian rights are human rights (pp. 207–212). The Hague, The Netherlands: Hivos.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School climates and reduced risk for suicide ideation in sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279–286.

[6] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 161–174.

The Tao of Escalators: A Culture Story

Two things fascinate me about the institution of schooling: 1) How the environment around the school impacts the culture of the school and 2) The structure of the school management and how it makes decisions.

I went out for an alumni dinner from my alma mater last week and had some fascinating conversations with people that had very different careers from my own. One, a fresh graduate, was a management consultant for Ernst & Young. He told some stories about the cultures of certain businesses and how it was his job to realign them to be more purposeful. “The oil industry is all compliance driven,” he said, “So it’s tough to build in any creativity or things out of the norm. It was my job to untangle their complex and clogged systems of compliance to allow more flexibility in a rapidly changing market to allow for adaptations before things went into the tank.” Schools hire strategic consultants to come up with all sorts of things like new technology programs, NGSS, literacy initiatives, accreditations, and so on. A few take symbolic gestures at governance structures but they are mostly compliance driven and address things like whether or not the procedures for updating the policy manual have been reviewed. Very few allow someone to come in and look under the hood to see what’s really driving the work flow. (or not).

A second man, a Singaporean who had attended my university for banking and commerce, told an equally fascinating story when I complained about how awful school mission statements were. “Did you know,” he said, “that the MRT in Singapore supposedly had the fastest escalators in the world? It was part of their mission to grow the fastest and most efficient economy on the planet.”

“Really?” I said. “Faster than now because they’re really fast.”
“Oh, way faster. This is nothing.”

“So, what happened?” I asked. “How come they no longer have the fastest ones?”
“Too many older people were getting hurt. They would hesitate at the top and be afraid to get on like a carnival ride. And a lot of times when they stepped on they’d fall or something would happen. It was like an out of control conveyer belt.”

“Wow, that’s fast.”

“Yeah, they only go about half speed now.”

It made me reflect on what a critical thing such as cultural attitudes towards work can impact something so operational as escalator speed. When we work in a hyper competitive environment, we don’t pay attention to the big picture, whether we are ‘compliance driven’ as the management consultant described, or even the people trying to step onto a whizzing escalator. We pay attention to the output, the outcomes, and the pressures that force the escalator to move faster or the oil company to be more compliant.

The young graduate told me that he simply crunched a lot of data and pointed things out for them to decide. He’d highlight the time for supply chains to reach their destinations, for invoices to be approved, for policy decisions to be made, all of the meat and potatoes of managing large companies. It was fascinating to think about the similarities to schools. And the escalator speed? Fascinating parallels. I know a lot of people (including myself) that have gotten tossed from that high speed staircase.

There are actually some really bold attempts to break down the compliance driven, top down, creativity, risk averse, and fear driven hierarchies that many educators work in now. One is The Mastery Transcript Consortium, (mastery.org) which is looking to redefine the way we think about and record high school academic work, and the other is the ACE Accreditation from NEASC, a bold initiative that is going to reshape the entire structure of oil company compliance that drives many schools.

So, whether you’re working in a bureaucratic and inefficient environment such as one where the post office closes during lunch (a very maddening experience) or one that is so efficient it is tossing retired folks off the conveyer belt like potatoes, you have to acknowledge and accept that the culture that surrounds you will have a direct impact on the place you work and the expectations placed on you, regardless of how high your gates are or how bold you believe your mission to be.

Think culture. Think mission. Think environment. And most of all, think relationships, they are the root of everything we do.

Right Before My Very Eyes

So, I was reading through my copy of The Straits Times the other day on the way to work in the best underground transit system on the planet. It’s clean, always on time, and it tells you where you are and where you’re going. It even has air-con and wifi. Yes, I said wifi. In the subway. And it never drops.

The MRT in Singapore is so good that it’s easy to look past it, kind of like it’s easy to look past the world right in front of us as we set our mind on the gates of the international schools waiting for us. After all, what could be more important?

What I learned from the paper was that the community outside my door was struggling with the same issues we often face as international school leaders. It’s just that we rarely take the time to compare.

On page six, I learned that in nearby South Korea, government and industry was perplexed by the lack of productivity and high burnout due to people working long hours but not necessarily in a healthy or productive way. They were taking measures to explore the impact of a top-down culture and ways to improve employee voice to enhance the worker climate.

On page one, the Singapore Ministry of Education was making plans to shakeup the testing environment that determined a child’s future in a high stakes tests at around age 12. Instead, they have decided to ‘increase the bandwidth’ of the acceptable range of talents and skills that each child may possess, so that more students will focus less on an outcome number and more on outcome talent (sort of).

And at a local school I have been in contact with (how many of you know where the nearest local school is?), I found out that they are struggling with the same issues around developing innovative practice and managing stress and wellness as we are at our school. And they’re right down the street.

And a week ago, I was lucky enough to host a local performance poet artist for lunch who happened to be featured on Tedx in 2013 and asked the question whether or not the people in her native country were dreamers. Aren’t we asking ourselves the same questions?

So, before you swipe your card at the security gate and whisk yourself to that all important meeting about IB courses or the next maker space or data driven decision, take a look around you and think about why you’re in international education.

You’d be amazed at what’s right before your very eyes. (It’s old school but still sweet).

And to get you feeling stronger every day through these last few weeks, play this next one loudly. The horns are amazing. Who knew that guys with cheap plastic headsets and a high school recording studio could create such a classic?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgo3KVk8wvU

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to save a life? The culture of school management

How to save a life?

Okay, so I worked the title of this entry around one of my favorite songs of all time. Maybe understanding school culture isn’t life or death, but it may be a sort of professional suicide if you don’t understand it. So, maybe the tune is relevant.

By far the hardest part of my job as Principal is managing human conflict and drama. Add a boarding school environment and it can be turbo-charged. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Peter Drucker who said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” I could write ten blog entries on that alone. Rob Evans, author of The Human Side of School Change, told me at a meeting that one thing you need to understand about working at a school is that “everything is personal.”

But how much do we explore this fundamental phenomenon in schools? We talk and talk about the I.B., cultural diversity, innovation, global citizens, collaboration, technology. But all of this work is ham and eggs (see Drucker quote above) if we do not understand the culture first. One of my favorite ‘teacher’ books of all time is Talk it Out by Dr. Barbara Sanderson. One of the chapters I’ve read several times is called “Unproductive Triangles in the Workplace.” I really don’t like math, but I quickly calculated the sides of this geometric figure: the villain, the victim and the rescuer. Ever been in one of those? And you don’t need to be a mathemetician to understand that the victim and the rescuer are usually aligned against, you guessed it, the villain (insert Principal).

The point I am trying to make here is that we must add how we design the management of schools to this exciting dialogue around the future of schools. I was passionate about what I did as a teacher because I had so much autonomy and impact on kids. I feel much less so as a Principal. Why is that? One of the best things I have done as a Principal is to teach a class. Besides the obvious part about being connected to students, it has disarmed a lot of the unproductive triangles I have had with teachers who think I am out of touch and don’t know what I am talking about. (Actually, some still say that). But that is not the solution. That is just tinkering. Just as the industrial model of teacher in front of class is outdated, so is its model of management. In these environments where, as Evans says that things are so personal, there will always be the triangles, and that is not productive for anyone, especially students.

I really don’t have the answer. Maybe that is the beginning of solving the problem!

I guess at the end of the day, I realize that I will never be able to Fix You. But at least you could Talk to Me.

Bonne Chance