Inside the Bureaucracy (Jonathan Tobar)
Are we seeing the problem from all sides? We hear often from parents and teachers, and from nonprofit reformers. Today we discuss the view of education at an administrative level.
Jonathan Tobar is Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Learning at Livingston Educational Service Agency. With nearly 20 years of experience in the classroom and district offices, his vantage point provides a unique perspective on the problems facing education today.
John Pottenger: Welcome to the Path to Learning podcast where three ordinary guys explore the world of education,
Jay Irwin: what's working, what's broken,
Scott Bultman: and what we can do to best advocate for children.
John: I'm John Pottenger.
Jay: I'm Jay Irwin.
Scott: And I'm Scott Bultman. And you're listening to the Path to Learning.
John: Hey, everybody, we have a ride for you to ride today. This is going to be a fast one, a fun one and full of lots of energy, fast in pace, but chock full of really amazing information. So we're talking with Jonathan Tobar today. He's a vice superintendent of a district here in Michigan, several district districts, I guess it's how they work. But yeah, Scott, what do you think about it?
Scott: Well, he's got a vantage point that I don't think a lot of people get a chance to interact with, you know. He's got a responsibility for a large county-wide, you know, multi-district, multi-community group of children. But he's also interfacing, you know, with all the administrators and superintendents the state, and really trying to wrestle with this, the system cap of the bureaucracy and all that, how it gets in the way and, and I was really impressed with, you know, his take on the kind of struggle they've been having over the last nine months, and the, you know, the hope that it's actually generated.
John: It's not all doom and gloom, there's a lot of good hope in this one.
Scott: No, but I think he gets into some of the issues. And I, you know, I think there's a lot there to unpack. So hold on, there's this one's a long one. But I think there's some good stuff in here.
Jay: Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up for Jonathan Tobar.
John: Let's do it.
John: So Jonathan, thanks for thanks for joining us today. We're really excited to talk to you we haven't really heard a perspective of not you know, we've heard about the teacher level and the parent level, but we haven't seen or heard what it's like, from a higher district level. So maybe for our listeners, could you give us a little bit of a background of how you got to where you are just a really quick snippet of your career and kind of what your position what your role is, and then we can jump into some of what you're seeing with the pandemic?
Jonathan: Yes, so I am very fortunate to be the place that I am right now I get to serve as assistant superintendent for secondary learning at Livingston Educational Service Agency, or as we call it, "the agency." But we're in a great county. I keep saying that. One of the things about our county is we're the right size, we have only five districts. You know, one of the things that are unique about Michigan is the size of the number of districts and I say I got to be here because I got to work in a number different context. I started off as a teacher, I was an ESL teacher, Spanish teacher, drama teacher, friend some years doing that. And then I got to work in a career preparations job. I was a career preparation services coordinator, and which I was working with employers partners, getting into the career development, was working with students with teachers, principals, on supporting them as they were developing each student's educational development plans. From there, I got a really unique opportunity to serve as principal of an Early Middle College, which had just started. I mean, it was a it was a school that had gone through three principals in three years, three staff. And so I say a lot of my best learning happened there. And in the classroom, because in the classroom right up close as close as you can get to to the students a challenge that had some of the most at risk populations, transient populations. Then with the end, the principalship is really where I got to design a school got to recreate rehire staff start over in a way that we could do what was best for students. So that was a really great experience. From there is where I say this is really where my lens got to kind of zoom out a little bit more. And I started to understand systems. I got to work as a regional evaluation director for the six County area here in Southeast Michigan. And so I was in one year I was in 74 different school districts. Wow, I can't even tell you how many schools, schools, individual schools I got to be in, but I got to work with all these different school districts at the different levels, elementary, middle school, high school, and sell through that tons of perspective. And the beautiful part is that through that I got to interview and meet a lot of people right that it it was that the whole like, I got to see where I wanted to be. I got to see in this region in Southeast Michigan, the best and the most challenged areas across the region. And I said this is where I would like To be and you know, I keep saying that this one, you'll hear me say throughout this thing, we're at a place in Livingston County right now where the pitches right down the middle, we've got the leadership in a great place, we've got great teams, we have resources, you know, we're the one of the lowest economic in the state, we were the lowest, you know, Kids Count said, We are the number one place to raise a child in Michigan last year. And so early, and lots of reasons for that, we can talk about that. But that in a short, as short as I can be a little bit about my background, they got me to where I am today.
John: Fantastic. What do you do and your role? Primarily, I remember you mentioning that earlier that you do some mentoring with teachers and some coaching, but there's so much that you do what's the kind of a general job description?
Jonathan: Yes, well, and a lot of that is shifted right with within the, within the pandemic in the last few months. So, but our priorities are still the same. I get to work with all the superintendents across the county, the assistant superintendents, curriculum directors in Livingston County, I work with those folks closely on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. I support all the secondary principals in our county, to some capacity with assistant principals, but mostly the principals. So as a county, one of the things that I get to lead is I get to lead the curriculum council, which is composed of all the superintendents with my counterparts, I should say that I have a counterpart who is assistant superintendent for early learning. And her and I are like Batman and Robin. As a matter of fact, her name's Shaun. I'm Jonathan, people know as Shaun-athan, because she does what I do with secondary with Elementary, we lead those groups, we facilitate those conversations. And so we focus on these three things, social emotional learning, literacy, and leadership development. I say all that kind of long winded to say, What do I do? My focus is that to support all those things, so again, we're equipping them, where the skill set ends where the frustration begins. And so a lot of the frustrations that we see in teachers and principals, it's because the skill set has ended. And so they're doing what the best with what they have. And so our job is to identify those to be really closely connected and in touch with what their challenges are. And we were solving problems. We're driving initiatives around those three priorities, social emotional learning, literacy and leadership development. Yeah.
Scott: So you're just for the people that are listening that aren't from Michigan. So you're north of Ann Arbor and west of Detroit, but you're part of this sort of gigantic metro area that dominates the eastern side of Michigan. There's a lot of diversity there, financially, and otherwise, what what what do you consider to be the biggest challenge to do what you're trying to accomplish?
Jonathan: Well, you know, anytime you deal with people, right? I think the greatest challenge is, growth happens, right? When we recognize where, where our strengths and our constraints impact us, we like to say, leadership is a set of behaviors that influence others, and produce outcomes. So as we're working with leaders and teachers and all these people, right, we're looking to see, where are your limitations? So to give you an example, as a teacher, right, if I'm a low nurturing teacher, my students aren't feeling loved, supported, welcoming. Now, for the most part, teachers are really high nurturing. So then what's the opposite, right? So we have, if teachers, they naturally come high nurturing, they come with it with this big heart into into the classroom, then they struggle to demand more right to speak some truth, because it's, it's so sugar coated, or it's so loving that that truth that message never comes through. And so I think the heart The biggest challenge is growing people. Now, that's, I would say, from my individual now, as a system, I think the greatest challenge that we see now, and we will see in the foreseeable future is poverty. Right. And that's coming through right now in education, we're gonna, I'll tell you, a lot of things that we're seeing labeled as byproducts of poverty, we'll see a lot of things labeled like racial, or some of these other things, but it all comes down to stems from from poverty, not having is not having right we could you could have the best curriculum, the best teacher, the best instruction in the classroom, the most engaging, but if the students don't have their basic needs met, they're not in a place that they're ready to learn. And so the poverty problem, fortunately, I was fortunate in Livingston County, you know, that is where that that is our biggest challenge, because we are as a general rule, we're a very affluent County. So that's a small demographic. And we don't do poverty. Well, because of that, right? We don't do poverty. Well, and so that's a system problem that we're challenged with, again, and this is these are the efforts that we're working on but the collective efforts in sharing resources. One of the things one of the reasons I you'll hear me say all is we are the right size. One of the challenges for folks who are tuning in from across the United States are like, okay, help me understand this. One thing that I'm not sure how completely unique it is to the United States, but to Michigan is certainly one of our greatest challenges. Is it kind of taboo, right? Some folks are gonna be like, Tobar you're going there. I'm gonna, I'm gonna go there. One of the challenges is we have the counties, right. And so when you look at a Florida to compare, you have county based school systems. And in Michigan, we have multiple school districts within one county. To give an example, I worked in Hillsdale County, prior to coming here 5800 students at the time, county wide, we had 10 school districts. So imagine 10 superintendents, 10, high schools, 10 prints, I mean, like, scale, right? Then I was in Lenawee County, we had 11 school districts for, you know, 15 16,000 students. So I keep saying that we're the right size to try to get to get 10 superintendents to agree. So to get to your question of like, what are some of the challenges the people, right, you get 10 superintendents to agree, trying to get 11 superintendents to agree, set priorities. Common common focus is challenging, right, everyone's at a different place than equity and the resources, the opportunity gap. So going back to what our challenges, opportunity gaps, opportunity gaps among students right now, amongst families access, those are the greatest challenges that we're facing. And I go back to RSP. And the right size, because we have five school districts, we have roughly about 26,000 students and good size districts, because I mean, when I went to Hillsborough County, we had a school district with 240 kids, you know, we had one with with 180 kids. So the number of students and the resources to support a whole school district. I mean, they're still running transportation. So a lot of unique things I could share that we're doing, but I hope I answered that question. without going too much of a rabbit trail.
Scott: Well, yeah, so what I'm trying to get to is you, you inherited this system, right? So you're trying to make it work within some constraints that are kind of arbitrary, that aren't necessarily, you know, focused on outcomes. It's just kind of how it how business is done in education in Michigan. So I was glad that you did go there. And so now I'm going to see that and raise you by asking you what your view is of the human resource, the human capital that's coming into the system? Are they prepared for what needs to be done? Had they had the training to accomplish? I know, that's kind of what your role is? So I'm just wondering, how do you feel about the raw talent that's kind of coming into that system?
Jonathan: Well, and that's where I would say, you know, not all districts are created equal. And that is a challenge that, you know, we talked about the opportunity gaps, the equity problem that That is, until we can address that. And I think that some of that will might drive to an effort where, you know, I dropped the Big C word, right? That that's really controversial. The the consolidation right of school. But when you think about that, right now, I that's why I say if we can't do it here in Livingston County, it cannot be done. Right. Because we collaborate, we work together the focus to share of resources, but I came from, from other communities, other counties where you couldn't do that you couldn't focus in on three priorities, and say, we're not going to make everything but we're not going to do 100 things, we're going to be this focused, we're going to do these three things. And we're going to do them collectively, we're going to share expertise, we're going to share resources. And and so, you know, tearing down those silos is is how we how we do it, you know, but there are so many pilots. So it's such a complex question, you know, because there's so many things at play, right school of choice. When you think about, well, I can offer 20 AP courses, you can only offer to come on over right now we're seeing some of that reality where we had students who were doing virtual classes in the fall, right. And they failed all of the virtual courses. And so the district is saying this delivery mode is clearly not working with you. You know, so you cannot do online classes in this next semester. All right, peace out, I'm out. I'm going to another school district. And they are going to let me do a virtual virtual learning, right, because they don't know me because, right, and so then the money travels with the students. So there's some really, really deep funding issues and challenges and it comes down to not every district is created equal. So you say what's the human resource capital mean? I look at what our people here at Livingston say, get to experience from an onboarding standpoint to the today. One In the job, it's phenomenal. They're set up for success. I look at other communities and districts I was a part of. And, you know, they were set up for failure. But not because somebody was intentionally trying to set them up for failure. But because there weren't the resources to have somebody designated to make sure that all your needs are met to give you a welcome package to build that culture. And so, as a culture right now, you're seeing people tapped out, you're seeing people who don't have enough resources, they don't have curriculum, they don't have the textbooks, they don't have the human capital to, to educate large classrooms. And, and so there's just a lot of not halves right now.
Scott: So why why is it so controversial? Why is the C word of consolidation? You know, I understand everybody would love to have a small district where they feel they're getting more attention. But if there is some equity issues there, where's that pushback coming from?
Jonathan: You know, it's easy to, to kind of make a judgment from far away. But it's really, really hard to make a judgement from up close. And one of the things that when I got to be up close with some of these districts with 180 kids, 240 kids, one of the things I learned was that school community is the community. Right? That is the gathering place. It used to be member I don't remember we used to have community centers. We have churches that fill that kind of that role that social role and families used to gather. Well now like when I was in Hillsborough County, I came in with kind of an ad you like, man, like this is crazy. What a gross misuse of funding and debt at the depth. But then as I got up close and saw the grandparents and the parents, who were like they had a reason to come together on a Friday Night Lights, and they were tailgating before the football game. And there's only two stoplights or one stoplight in their community. And this you know, this name Waldron. And I think of specifically if the district Waldron, because they were losing students to Ohio, to every surrounding district in Hillsborough County, to districts in Indiana, I mean, just like location, right? Where that where they're located on the map. And they were holding on the community because of so much identity, so much community value that is served through that. And that's where you get into that. Okay, well, what do I Why do schools exist? What is the purpose, and then we can go much, much more controversial topics as we go down that path,
Scott: let's do that.
Jonathan: But really, you know, that's the heart of that. That's when I realized it's not as easy as it seemed from far away, because you don't see that what that is doing for that community. And it may not be reaching its educational outcomes, or achieving what, as taxpayers, we say, this is what we expect out of our funding. This is the type of the level of education that we that we expect for our kids. And we hope them to be able to do the same thing as somebody who, who gets way more money and has, you know, has a lot more access and opportunity. That that's that's the dilemma. That's the moral dilemma, the social dilemma, the the financial dilemma that is not is not as easy as it seems, from the outside or from far away.
John: I'm curious, the pandemic has obviously been a huge disruption. And sometimes those disruptions are really amazing times to be able to reevaluate what's been going on. What have you seen? What are some things that you've noticed that you're really missing? You want to keep? You want to bring back? And what are the things that could go away and never come back?
Jonathan: Well, you know, I'll be I'll be honest, the probably the biggest silver lining that I've seen, has been a focus back on the well being of the whole child. Where for so long, social emotional learning was kind of like a, it became a tagline, right? And education, where we're saying, Oh, yeah, social emotional learning versus emotional learning, whole child, and nobody really knew what that meant. Until go through something like a pandemic, where everybody's impacted at every level. You know, I remember we brought all the principals together just a couple months out after you know, all the shutdown all those things. And we did this protocol where we asked them, we said, you know, please stand if, and then we listed a number of statements, you know, if your sleeps been disrupted, if you've not been able to see a loved one, if you started drinking more like and we just went through a number of different things. And in an era that especially right around that June may time we're living we're you know, fake news, fake news. Everything's fake news, fake, fake, fake fake, like, okay, what's real, you know, we were fighting be like, is this virus real is this, you know, is what's really happening. You're trying to discern this and we said, just stop and look around. Everything you just saw right here. That's real news, right? That is really what you're, every single These are the people you do life with. And this is how they've been impacted. And people started to reconnect with new values and values that I, again, I John's gonna be like, you're never coming back, man, you're bringing up all the controversy, all the controversy. But I keep calling it the burden of capitalism. And it really is when we, when we think about an individualistic society, right? Some of those values that come from that burden of capitalism is we get lost in that. We get lost in that. And we saw, it was amazing how we saw in families and educators and non educators just reconnecting to like the value of family time of this, like face to face time, like we're doing right now, you know, of, you know, people like oh zoo, I can connect with my family, I'm gonna talk to them, I reconnected with somebody I haven't talked to in eight months. And so brought us back to that human value and that human connection, and that was always there, that was easy to lose, right. And the example I think that could best use to help you kind of visualize it is imagine what has happened in education for the past 100 years,
Jonathan: the system's going right, the system has never been, you've never paused, never said, timeout, let's reflect on the system. It's been kind of like, Oh, we need to change this, let's add this program, we need to do this initiative, we need to address this little problem, we're going to react to this thing. We weren't very good at prevention. And it was because we were living like this. And this is the visual budget we're living with everything was like one inch from you guys. Right? Whether it be a parent, a student who, who doesn't have their basic needs met, whether it be a fight with whatever it that thing is that it's in from your face, you can't get much perspective, because you're moving so fast. And so the beautiful thing of the pandemic is it caused everybody, and for the first time in my experience, the schools to just come to stop. Yeah, yeah, come to a halt. Like where we're shutting down the doors. We don't even know what to talk about. We're sending emails, you know, we don't even know what are we gonna do is this, because because think about the timing, right? It's going to be just for a couple weeks, We're shutting down, we're going to spring break every like, cool. We got an extra break a spring break. Yeah. Awesome. And actually, because then we get to spring break. And it's like, it's going to be Easter, it's going to be Easter before we like like, okay, like, so schools went into what they knew, right? What did most schools, I'm not all for sure. But most schools knew snow days, right? School got canceled because school got closed because of snow. So your first go to within the system is not learning. The first go to is Oh, I know what we do. When we can't go to school, we closed school. Right? We shut down learning, we shut down everything. And so then now it's like, Okay, wait a second. Easter. Now we got to think about, we can't go months without we know already what happens in summer regression. But we come to a halt. Right, we come to a complete halt. And people are starting to now think like, Wait a second. What about the kids? What about the kids who get their food from school? What about the kids who get their emotional bucket filled from their peers, from their teachers, they have an unhealthy, they have an unhealthy setting at home. And so at that point, we were able to pause and start thinking and reflecting. So one of those things that like to carry forward is that notion of making and creating margin within education. And when I say margin, here's what I mean by margin. That margin is a place from what you do from what you can do. Right, that's your margin, what you do from what you can do. And a lot of times schools, because of limited staffing because of limited resources, were running and doing everything that they could do. So there was never any margin, there was never that space, to sit down as a team and just reflect on like, what did we do differently? Hey, why did this work? You know, there are small instances of that. But it was all so focused on academics, we're going to do data review teams, we're going to do you know, school improvement goals, and, and there was these processes and procedures that were in place that were really focused. And then now they're saying, like, wait, what about this kid, we need to check in on them, we need to find out what they're doing well, and so the shift to that human side, began to move into that collective value. And to that collective value, which was counterculture. Again, that's why I call it the burden of capitalism. We were moving so fast things were here that, that we were just becoming a byproduct of the system. You see people have had a taste it's it's, you know, some of the neuroscience on this is that that belief theory, right, if you can see somebody fly, then you'll believe that somebody can fly. But your brain is more likely to say hey, we could we That that is doable. And so I think there's been a lot of firsts for for a lot of educators, folks who have been in the system for 30 years, folks who've been in the system for one year, for the first time, they saw, oh, this is what a pause looks like, this is what reflection, this is what going back to the student level really looks like. And you begin you're able to abandon things. And I'm getting into another thing, right? The the the ability to abandon because before you'd say, Well, we'd ask this, we would ask this of administrators, hey, what can you abandon? Like, we need you to be really focused? What can you abandon? And people are just like, nothing? Like I mean, I've got my to do list, I've got this whole thing I there's nothing I can abandon? Yeah, we talk this way we see things like how do you focus on the things that are your highest and your best? Right? How do you focus on things that give you the greatest return? Not just the things that give you the greatest reward? Right? What does it truly mean that these things are required of you before you're like, nobody else can do this. And then the pandemic happened else, and you found people who could do it, you're, and you're creating that margin for yourself within your system, to be able to reflect to innovate, to be more creative. And sadly, I know, a lot of people would, would disagree with me here. But I think a lot of the creativity in education was stifled because we were running with an empty fuel tank. And so in some ways, we still are right. We were running without margin. And that's the way I keep framing it for our leaders like you have, you've seen a dose of margin. Now. That's what we've been talking about. Because a lot of things, folks didn't connect until now, you know, like, I hear some administrators say, now we're meeting with our administrative team every week. And we're checking in on our teachers weekly. And I'm like, guys, we've been teaching this for a couple years now. Right, right. We've been saying this, like, these are best practices. And so so some of the things that were research based that were best practice that we had evidence for that before just seemed like we'll get to those were suddenly pushed to to a practical place.
John: I have a question for you, you are in a position where you can actually not just interface with the people who you're mentoring and working with, but also interfacing with the state in the state level. Could you talk about that relationship? What that looks like? What kind of how things work?
Jonathan: Oh, man, gotta be real careful here.
John: Where's that a whole other podcast?
Jonathan: Well, that could be another podcast, but Well, I'll tell you some of the hope that's there. Okay. Right, some of the hope that's there. Because there's a lot, there's a lot of wrong, right? There's a lot of systemic change that we need. Our system has been operating like this for a long time. And, you know, we do what we what we know until we know better, and then we can do better. And I think there's some things that we know better now. I think there's a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of red tape that that keeps the system going how it was created to do right, it pulls it right back. So I don't want to get into some of those specifics. Because, again, that could be a whole other podcast. But one of the things I see great hope in is this blurring of the lines, we operated in the islands in silos and and I remember this when I was working that regional job I said to you, I'm just thinking, Wait, you guys are struggling with this implementation. I just came from Ann Arbor public schools where they had this, they've got a phenomenal protocol and framework for implementing this just 20 miles that way. You know, and so we used to live within these borders, and we wouldn't talk we wouldn't share. I see now, collaboration, we have a network that I get to be a part of, which is our General Education Leadership Network. And I gather with 55, because there's 56 of us 56 ISDS, in Michigan. So essentially 56 counties, right, with 55 other colleagues who are in the same position as I am, and we meet monthly, we collaborate on task forces. And this is a, I would say a structure that has, if you're familiar with the with the read by third grade and essential, essential practices, yeah, this is a group that's tackled a lot of those things that that have impacted the system. And we've put out the essential practices for literacy. And this is a group that is now working closely with the Department of Education, and informing from a practitioners standpoint, here's what's happening at the frontlines. Because one of the things I keep saying, and I keep going back to because it's it's truly my soapbox is, a lot of times what Well, everybody wants to get closest to the kid. Right? But who's truly closest to the kid is the teacher. But who makes the decisions, right? The folks who are almost most removed, or at least four or five, six layers removed from the from the kids, you know, you think employers want to get to the Kids, right? families want to get to the kids. This is you know, social circle churches, everybody wants to get to the kid level, but there's so many layers, and between the kid and the policies that are that are put in place. And so one of the challenges that we're doing is really thinking about when you think about integration or adoption of, of a program, a curriculum, a initiative, what role should the student play? Should the principal play? Should the teacher play should the parent play? Right? So the church play the community partners? And we're framing it like this? Who should be the author? Who should be the editor? And who should be the influencer? Right? Who should be offering this initiative? Right? Who needs to be at the table? That needs to be the person designing it? Should it really be the person who's seven layers removed? Yeah. whose kids whose kids have graduated? Who This is a retirement gig? Should that be the person designing? Should they be the author, I mean, I don't disagree that they should have some influence. And they could be the editor, but certainly not the author.
Scott: One of the interesting things about the state is, is you know, a lot of people when they think about education, they reduce it down to money. And obviously, the money comes through the state taxes and the state. And, as you said, just a little bit ago, you know, they're removed from the child. So in order to manage the system, financially, they have to work exclusively off of data, data that has to come from testing and testing is its own its own issue. So so but I know you and I feel this, I feel that we have an opportunity now that this this pandemic had there's a silver lining here, and there is some hope. But how can you break through that basic structure where the people who are up at that level making decisions can only really make them on data, since they can't know all of the children? Right that are underneath that?
Jonathan: We'll see. That's, that's when we really get into, you know, some philosophical beliefs. Because when we talk about assessment, right, because that's where the data comes from assessment data. And there's a million different directions, I could go with this. But But the thing is that the research shows that if you change the test design, you change the outcomes, right? Our testing systems are designed for folks who are rich in language, and great memory. If you're good with language, and you are good with memorization, you're going to test well, right? So what about the kids who, you know, I'm thinking about, like, if you have testing based on visual identifiers, or physical tests to show your competencies and capabilities, the outcomes change. And so until we can change the assessment, we're not going to get different outcomes. Because when we think about poverty, and I'm telling you this is the gap right here, right? What do we know about poverty in language? Right, students, lower socio-economic, less language. I mean, they start at a deficit, less number of words coming into kindergarten, significantly exposure. And so when we've got a system, that we're using assessments and measurements to, to fund and to, to determine good from bad, and again, that's why I say philosophic, I could go in a million different directions with this. But there's also that that attitude of good and bad things are just good. or bad is a good school, we saw that in the in the report cards, right? We're gonna give grades out to schools, and we brought that back and good or bad. And then we've lost that shift from like, better. You know, imagine if with your family, your kids, you said today, son, you're a good kid. Today, you were a bad kid. Yesterday, you were a good kid, right? Like that classification to say, hey, our goal is to be today better than we were yesterday, and to monitor tomorrow better than the day before. And so shifting that mindset to a growth approach, and recognizing that our assessment systems are again in we can go into million rabbit trails here. But there's that whole lobby and how those are being designed and who's pulling behind them. And how are those coming to be? Those decisions are being made? It is not up close to the CAD right. It's not looking at understanding the different levels and the different learning modes. So I guess, I don't know if I answered your question.
Scott: Yeah, that was amazing. Yeah, no, absolutely.
John: I had a question about, you had some inspirational reflections with some teachers that you kind of got a bunch of teachers together. And, you know, you examined kind of some of the things that they This is kind of going back to we talked about, you know, the innovation and the opportunity that comes from a pandemic. I wondered if you would be willing to share some of those reflections with us.
Jonathan: Yeah. So we pulled together all the county council right so the our leaders and asked, What are the things that you've learned through the past few months that you want to carry forward? Some of these you'll say oh my word like You're kidding. But I look at it as how, you know affirming it is to know that now we're here, right? Again, the goal is better. We're at a better place today than we were six months ago. We don't we don't get in life do overs, but we get do betters. And this is one of the things that chances that we get to do better. So a student Focus, focus on students and student voice. I mean, how beautiful is that? Yeah, that that we're recognizing as a system saying, students need to have more voice. Students need to have more input. And they are valued. You know, you that's it's sad, but it's rare. Yeah. You know, folks say student voice, but it's kind of again, but it goes back to are they influencer? Or are they really author? You know, I can say, well, we value student voice, we survey we ask everybody, right? I get that voice and they get to influence but I get to make that decision. But then where does the power lie? What if you give the power truly to the student to the parent who is closest to the student than anybody? Right? In most instances, right? You give it you give that to them and say, now you author, what are you offering? And how is that different than our so that I am encouraged by the fact that here, student voice to infocus, again, things like we were forced to be innovative. And these are things that you'll see happening again and again. And it'll be interesting to see six months from now 12 months from where it goes. Because remember, the system is designed to bring us right back to what it was created to do.
John: Which is a bummer.
Jonathan: Which is a bummer. Right. But then you think about what happens. So some highlights, you know, some of our leaders in our calendar saying we were able to put together a block schedule in a day and a half. Normally, that would have been committees and surveys and inputs and looking at what are the benefits? You know, what are the risks associated with this, that that that that, and it would have been a year if not more, to implement something like that. Yeah. And you think about what happened the pandemic, right, we need to keep minimize the amount of time that kids are moving, we need to maximize the learning time they have in the classroom, because we don't know if we're going to be able to be online very much longer, we need to get that we alter the number of days minimize the number of people in the cafeteria is how can we do this? Here's the solution. Bam, let's implement it. And that's what we we don't do well, in education. We don't do well, with rapid fire learning trial, recalculate, right plan, do check act, we spent a lot of time and education plan, plan, plan, we might do something, we might do something, but then we go back to plan it right, that the checking and the acting takes a long time. And as much as we like to say, as a system. And there's again, a lot of reasons for that. So I'm not not trying to paint a rosy picture for listeners, we're like, Yeah, well, you make it sound really easy. No, I trust me, I'm loving it. It's not easy. It's slow, incremental systemic changes by building the relational capacity and, and the belief in folks right with because and that's why I'm encouraged that there's belief that we can be innovative, we can do this a lot faster, we can collaborate across county lines, you know, people had to share resources, we didn't have time, we had to work in Fs. So people says on here, we've learned to be more flexible and adapting. And this is a beautiful one more forgiving of students. A core belief of mine, is that school is that time in your life, for you to make mistakes, to grow, to learn from those mistakes, it is, in my opinion, the one time in your life, k 18 or pre k 18, where everybody around them wants to be successful. Parents want them to be successful. teachers want to be successful, right? The minute you leave high school, everybody now becomes a competitor. Yeah. And we talk about, you know, everybody's competing with you for the same job. If I need to tear you down and get ahead, I'm going to tear you down and get ahead. Now, you might say I'm not that type of person, but there is that type of person out there. You know, and, and we, as we look at policies, practices and procedures that we need to change within our school systems, we look at that we say, okay, in five years from now, what do we want the kid to remember from this? Right? What What is the harm that is done right now, from this consequence, versus what is the harm in five years? And by being able to pause and reflect on that we can begin to look at and see, well, if this student was successful under these conditions, how do we replicate these conditions?
John: That's beautiful.
Jay: So I'm curious. Let's say the masks are gone. We're past this thing. What are you hopeful that we could see moving forward?
Jonathan: So I do want to say, you know, we've been ... I'm pretty sure one of the only counties I know there's been a couple others but our county has been open for in-person learning since August 17. We the times we've shut down, we're when the governor shut our high schools down in December. And when we've had some contact tracing and things like that, but otherwise as a whole county ...and that's a story that doesn't make the headlines. So I want to make sure I say this year, because it's been frustrating for us a little bit to say, we hear all these stories of all the shutdowns and all the scare stuff. But we're like, we've made it work. We've found ways to make it work. And the reason has been, because in our county, we have been unwilling to accept the trade-off.
Jonathan: You know, I shared with John the other day, we asked ourselves, "what's going to kill you first? Right? What's going to kill us? First?" It might be COVID. Let's see where COVID ranks. But what about the opportunity gap that exists? What about the equity? What about the true equity gap that exists for kids by not being in school? What do they get from school from the routine, the structure their learning? And so we've been unwavering on that, and unapologetic, and we've felt pressure from parents, from businesses, from government, from health departments, I mean, you name it, we've been in pressure because because like you need to shut down. So when you ask, what do we do when we when we unmask, we do better, we are able to better connect with kids again face to face. We take the things that we've learned through this and make them systemic. we tackle the problem, the things in the system that we realize now that we thought we were we were bound to that we realized that we quickly could relieve we work to rebuild new relationships with unions and and local government partners and folks that want to do this with us. And we have a newfound success. And we can show that success as a way to reach compromise and agreement on some of these things, conversations that are more more challenging. So we come back to better.
Jay: That's great. It seems like a perfect opportunity for some really huge change. So I hope you're right, I wish you well.
Jay: Well. And thank you, you know, and here's what I where I would challenge you to really think about the leaders, because it takes the folks in the driver's seat to that's going to be what determines because at the end of the day, when you look at across our systems in Michigan, especially if the superintendent says we will do this, everybody follows that right? You will do this. And so it comes down to the leadership Are we willing to be bold, courageous, unapologetic, unwavering to the pressures that constantly push against us and pull us competing priorities to say, do this status quo this, follow the system, it's easier, it's more comfortable. So it's living in a place of discomfort until we can become comfortable with being uncomfortable. We'll come back and have this conversation, you'll be like, what's better? And you won't, we won't see much better. And so that's kind of where I'm like, in some ways, I wish the pandemic would stick around. I like don't like, not, not from a health standpoint, like yeah, I don't like you know, no one take this out of context, in a cruel or in any way. But I'm thinking from that, from what it's caused our system to do. I wish the pandemics would stick around for a while because it really is causing people to rethink assessment. You know, I hear those conversations every day, folks are saying like, how what do grades really mean that? Well, now we're really thinking about grades, like, we're thinking about delivery modes and assessment, right? What the assessments that we've designed this way, they're really aren't working, and now in a virtual context. So all those things that before seem to be like we'll get to when we get a chance. So I'm excited for the work that we're doing. And we're excited to share that and excited to collaborate with our neighbors to keep doing the collective work across Michigan.
Scott: Yeah, I just really appreciate you taking time, but my mom was a public school principal. So I A lot of what you're describing, I've seen from the inside. But I don't think a lot of people out there a lot of listeners, a lot of parents really know, all the levels that go up, you know, beyond their child's teacher. So I really appreciate your taking time to kind of share that perspective, that view that you have. And I think we share the feeling that there's an opportunity now. I think that's why we want to do this podcast is right documentary series is because I think there's an opportunity here to make some difference.
Jonathan: And and to our listeners who were saying like, Okay, well, what you said that about leadership and you talk about your, your mother being a principal, one of the things that I think hopefully folks as they're listening can understand and give a little grace to what is being asked of school leaders and principals to do now is totally different than what they were equipped for, or what was modeled for them. I'll end with this. I had a story with a principal that I had I had met with and we had been having some you know, some challenges. I said to him, like man, what's going on? Like, let's let's just be real, you know, we've got great relationship from a personal level, but like, let's just be real about what's going on here from How are you doing? And I'll never forget what he said. He said, Listen, Jonathan, I'll be honest, if you would have told me that this systems work and all these things that you're talking about instructional frameworks, instructional design, is what I was going to be having to do as a principal, I would have said, "Hell, no, I don't want to do this. That's not what I'm signing up for." But what I signed up for my favorite social studies teacher and football coach was the principal. And man, he was motivating. And he kept everybody in line. And he really managed our building really well and, and expected us to do this and made sure that everybody was safe. And that's what I wanted to do. And so, and not that folks have been sold a bag of goods, but the role has changed significantly. And what's being asked of our principals today ... I mean, I cannot give enough grace and love to them. It's the toughest role in the in the school district by far. They they're being asked to do more than they've been prepared for. And we know, right, self confidence is skills based. So a lot of skills aren't in that tool belt. And so that's why I go back to that line, always that frustration begins where the skill set ends.
Jonathan: So you hear these stories of this principal that did this or made this bad choice? Well, there wasn't a skill set somewhere, that that that kept them from being able to respond appropriately. So I share that with with our listeners here, with your listeners, because give some grace to those leaders that this change isn't going to be fast. And in we're not going to see us because there's so much personal learning that they have to do. And they have to be led to do what in our county, we're very fortunate where that is our work. And we've got a superintendent who's got that vision and says your priority is them, supporting them and growing them and forget all the other noise. Be laser focused on this because we know the direct impact that that has, and the research reports that we look at school culture, right? school culture is what you teach, tolerate, and celebrate. Right? Well, we're tolerating a lot of things that we shouldn't be tolerating. So we're getting, we're getting a culture that we don't, we're celebrating some things. And we need more of those, right. And we need to teach some more of the things so folks can feel equipped to do the good work that that now is required of school leaders.
Jay: Wow, I think that's a, that's just a great reminder that through this really tough time, we can choose to view this as an amazing opportunity to make some massive changes.
John: For me, there's a lot of stuff that we say when we're not in the podcast. We've set it in several car rides to go film a lot of things. And we've been trying to phrase it in certain ways. And he just really had a way of putting it all in context and really giving an honest behind the scenes view of what is happening and what could happen. And it was just refreshing to hear that.
Jay: Really gave some new language to ...
John: ... some of the stuff we've been saying. Yeah, but yeah, he just it's it's encouraging to know that there are so many people out like him, I hope out there doing that kind of work.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. And that's the thing about it that for me in the way that I want to make sure the story comes out is that there's a lot of disagreement. Obviously, there's a lot of inequity, and nobody is arguing that. But there are a lot of passionate people in the system trying to fight the fight every day. Like Jonathan, you know, who who can see, yeah. But they're wrestling with this massive system that we've put in place that has a tendency to want to reinforce the system and not necessarily support the children. And I think we we don't want to mistake the results that we're getting necessarily from the education system from the really great people that are in it and working to make it better. So you know, that's the one thing I came away with from Jonathan's thing is that the focus is on just better. Make it better. Yeah. Every day. And that that's a good, good way to proceed. So hopefully, we can use that same idea for the podcast and that, yeah, we keep making it make it better too.
John: Yeah, and how we can best advocate for children, which was our tagline.
John: So if you're a parent, you know, if you're inspired by this, do what he said and support your your leaders see how you can support them. They're trying their best. Yeah. And support your child through that and pay attention to them.
Scott: And take this opportunity to step back and take a look at it from from a different perspective.
John: Well, we hope you join us on this journey on the next podcast episode, and we hope you've enjoyed this one.
Scott: Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks.
Jay: Thanks, everyone.