Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Beth Holland

March 15, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 2 Episode 22
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Beth Holland
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Beth Holland talks to us about experiential learning, empowering students, and creating equitable learning opportunities. Beth is known for her work in educational leadership and digital equity. She has over 20 years of experience working as an educator and researcher examining challenges of equity and communication within K-12 public school systems. Beth is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national nonprofit working to ensure that every child receives the engaging, equitable, and effective education they need to reach their full and unique potential. She leads the organization's research and measurement initiatives. You can connect with Beth at brholland.com and learn about her work at learningaccelerator.org.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Mar 15). A conversation with Beth Holland. (Season 2, No. 22) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests. DOI: 10.5240/4728-1E81-4568-8D89-CFB5-0

Lindsay Persohn:

Education Research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. But the questions and challenges from teachers practice sometimes don't become the work of education researchers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In a new episode every other week, I talk with an education researcher or a classroom teacher about what they have learned from their work in education, and what questions they still pursue. In this episode, Dr. Beth Holland talks to us about experiential learning, empowering students, and creating equitable learning opportunities. Beth is known for her work in educational leadership and digital equity. She has over 20 years of experience working as an educator and researcher examining challenges of equity and communication within the K 12 public school systems. Beth is a partner at The Learning Accelerator, a national nonprofit working to ensure that every child receives the engaging, equitable and effective education they need to reach their full and unique potential. Beth leads the organization's research and measurement initiatives. You can connect with Beth at brholland.com and learn more about her work at LearningAccelerator.org. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite morning drink and join me your host, Lindsay Persohn, for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Beth, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

Beth Holland:

Well, thanks so much for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

From your own experiences and education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking?

Beth Holland:

Now, this question had me going back and forth because I was thinking what informed my thinking when I was a classroom teacher. And then I've also was thinking about, like what informs my thinking where I am right now in the

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, to me, both of those things are research space. And so as a start, I think there is a there's a pattern that's going to move forward. So my first classroom was actually a 50 foot sailboat, where I was working actually very connected, as you said, they don't necessarily for an adventure learning summer program. And so it was very much an experiential education program. The whole idea is that we'd have about 12 Teenagers and 50 feet of space for three weeks, which if for any of you who've taught middle and high school can think about the ramifications of having 12 Teenagers and 50 feet for three weeks in the Caribbean. And the goal at the end of it was to have guided those, you know, we call them shipmates, but to guide them to a point where they were running everything. We were pretty much there as like safety support, you know, make sure that they don't do anything that totally detrimental. And what I really learned from that experience, was the idea of how do I be a really effective educator by empowering my students, but not doing it for them. You know, one, a great piece of advice I got early on was great leaders in that program never touched the wheel. But you're never the person driving the boat, you're always the one that's bringing somebody else along. And so when I sound to be all that connected. But I think it really is all transitioned into, you know, a traditional classroom, and I started out a really long time ago, as a ninth grade English teacher, one of the struggles I had was how do I bring that essence of, you know, experiential learning and active learning into a very traditional classroom. And so that piece is really what drove me into many years of working in education technology, because I saw that as an avenue to bring experiences into a traditional setting that had nothing to do with computers or the internet, or I think I'd only seen the internet twice when I graduated from college. I was not a computer person. But I was really desperate to find these opportunities where I could create more experiential learning. So that one always comes to mind when I think about like what shaped me as an educator, and it was this constant. How do I create these experiences that are unique to the kids and that put them at the center of everything? And where that transitioned into me as a researcher is knowing that I took that path through technology. And I did my masters in Technology, Innovation and Education. I graduated in 2002. I have had colleagues who asked me if technology existed in 2002. And I can tell you that it did. I've been told oh yeah, I was in middle school, but I don't remember technology. It did exist; it was there. One of the classes that I took, we spent the entire semester talking about this idea of a synthesis between theory, design and practice. So there's that researcher pedagogical theory that should be driving, why different things are designed the way that they're designed. And then we think about the different technology. There's a design aspect, right? Usability, accessibility. And then there's that reality of practice. And I can say, as someone who spent six years teaching with technology to elementary school students, I mean, I know that there is that challenge between, it's on a screen, your shoes on tied, your feet don't hit the floor. Someone asked to go to the bathroom, like, there's a lot of reality of practice, and how do we really hold that synthesis as central? And I think for educators in the classroom, how do we start to become really critical consumers of the materials and the resources and the things that are available? So that we're saying, Okay, what's the reality of my classroom practice? What do I know about great teaching and learning? And do those things seem to be aligned? And whatever this thing, is this tool, this software program, this book, because there is that relationship? And as a researcher, I'm always asking that question, too, because we're doing a lot of work with a lot of different programs. And it comes down to, you know, what's the underlying theory? How was this thing designed? And then what's our reality? And is it really starting to create the types of instructional practices that we think are super value to have in a classroom, to really lead towards a more like equitable and engaging and effective education for our students. And so those two pieces that which I realize are pretty extreme opposites, but you know, a theoretical classes a master student, and life on a boat with a bunch of teenagers. But I think those two pieces really do lend a lot towards the ways in which I think about things right now. about practical application of sound theory, right? And what it how does that actually translate, because certainly, that's the best of what experiential learning has to offer. And hopefully, that's also the best of what technology in education has to offer as well. So I think that's actually a really strong connection that helped me to make some connections around technology, not only in schools, but I think also in life, as well. Because, you know, we I think we've grown so accustomed to all the technologies around us that sometimes we don't think about them, and we don't think about the ways that they shape our realities and in a practical sense.

Beth Holland:

Yeah, one of the pieces if you don't mind, my adding, I guess a little segue into I know, your other question, but one of the things that we've been working on for the last year or so at the Learning Accelerator, is when we think about technology through a lens of digital equity, that we're not just asking, do our students have access to devices, but we really want to ask the question of when our students are engaging with these tools and these resources, you know, first off, like, is it targeted and relevant? You know, is it at grade level? Is it offering acceleration or remediation, but just as important? Is it relevant to the learner? Do they see themselves in the content and the material? You know, in the I had a fit over icons a couple years ago, where I started realizing like, every icon that I look at as, like a white gender stereotyped individual, like, do you see yourselves in these tools? And then we ask the question, Does it create an actively engaging experience? You know, are students creating their own knowledge? Are they having opportunities to engage in deep reflection? Or is it something where they're just like, passively consuming the information? Is it creating opportunities for social learning? You know, are they connecting with their peers and their teachers and outside the walls of the classroom? And then, you know, how's it really supporting their growth as learners? And, you know, when we start to think of these things, through these lenses, it gives us a much more rich and meaningful view of what we think of technology and what could be in because I think back to my years 2002. You know, a lot of infrastructure has advanced, but maybe not always, the thinking has. And at one point I was, I was actually frustrating. Like God, there was some really great technology developed in universities in the early 2000s that are no longer in existence. But man, I think he was phenomenal. And the infrastructure was lousy because it was dial up and client server and like all these things that probably most pre service teachers have never heard of before. But the thinking behind it was amazing. And so how do we come back to those ideas and make sure we're really designing these meaningful learning experiences for our students?

Lindsay Persohn:

That's funny, you should say that because I do think there are probably some listeners out there who never do the pain of having to ask a family member to hang up the phone so you can use the internet. But that certainly was the reality of it. And you know, something you said there Beth really struck a chord with me that the infrastructure has advanced, but maybe the thinking hasn't. And I think that has been my experience in schools is sometimes technology feels like, yes, it could be so useful. But somehow we we never quite get there because it feels like this thing that's been added on dictated to us probably isn't going to work very well. Anyway, there's lots of nuts and bolts to figure out, and maybe we never come back to it again. So I think that that really does resonate with me, that's that sometimes, you know, we have all of this infrastructure. But sometimes it just doesn't quite match up to the way that we're thinking about presenting that opportunity, that learning opportunity to a student. So I'm hoping that you'll say a bit more about that, in response to my next question, what else do you want listeners to know about your work?

Beth Holland:

So I'll back up and kind of talk a little about The Learning Accelerator. So I'm with The Learning Accelerator, I lead our research and measurement work. We're a national nonprofit, for a super lean group of people who move incredibly quickly to identify interesting challenges in the field and help create networks of support. So we call ourselves an intermediary. We think there's enough silos and education. And so what we try and do is bring the right partners together to solve the right problems. And so, right now, I'm doing some really fascinating things working with our colleagues where, at times, we're providing direct support to districts. So they have distinct research and measurement challenges. Usually, it's associated with a grant or right now with some ESSER [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funding, where, you know, it's really

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, I think, in my experience, at least more of a consultative relationship where I'm partnering with their research team saying, How can I help you solve these problems? So it's not me coming in and saying, I want to measure x, y, and z, it's how do I help you clearly define what you're looking to study and we co create research questions, we co create designs, I work with their data teams. So that's exciting work. And then also, we have a project right now called our Strategy Lab, which is still actually open. I think we're still taking in districts. You know, it's a philanthropically funded project, where we're looking at this idea of how can we use virtual and hybrid models to increase equity for students? So there's so much talk right now, like, oh, virtual didn't work, oh, hybrid didn't work. Well, didn't work for who? And under what context? And in what culture? And for what reasons? And instead, we're working with districts who said, Yeah, we're standing up these virtual and hybrid models, and we want to make improvements. And so we're essentially building networks of districts that come together in a cohort model, and are working on making measurable improvements. And we have our own change process that we call the Real Time Redesign process. And so I'm working right now on, you know, measurement plans and supporting districts through that process, which is really exciting, because it's, it's an interesting kind of research where we have, yes, there's a measurement plan, it's very fluid, because it's very adaptive to meet the needs of the cohorts. And it's a lot again, of this co-designed research work. So, I mean, those are the bulk of things. And I have some other projects, which are very much in the works, and will be announced shortly. But it's, you know, it's all very much aligned to you know, how do we work with districts, and work with different groups to come up with measurable ways to improve the student learning experience? That's what I'm working on. Right now. There's a lot going working with technology is messy. I think we expect it to on. It's a little messy, but it's exciting. be a very kind of scientific and linear process or something like that, and get discouraged when it isn't. But it is an iterative learning kind of process. And I think that, as you said, you know, whenever we think, Oh, that that didn't work, we have to poke it out a little bit. And is there a way to take the best of what we ended up with and redesign it or remix it with other ideas or technologies or practices in order to make that work better? And it sounds like that is a lot of what you're what you're doing at The Learning Accelerator.

Beth Holland:

It's definitely a component of what we're doing. I think we're really trying to make sure we're focused. It's interesting that you focus on the technology, or one of the pieces that we're really trying to focus on is what is the practice? And the technology will follow. That even within this idea of looking at virtual and hybrid models, we're really asking this question of like, what are the practices and the experiences of students? Because I'm sure some of your listeners, you know, I've been both a virtual professor and a virtual student. I did my whole doctorate online. For me, virtual learning is fantastic. I didn't want to be in a face to face setting, right? So we have to think about, well, how does this really work? How is this great for a lot of students? And how do we make this better? And so we're asking these questions, you know, how do we better engage students in online environments? How to create more meaningful in a group work? How do we create more authentic opportunities, say with a career technical learning? So there's a lot more questions that we're digging into around that. And even absent that one project, you know, what does personalized professional learning look like when it's blended? You know, there's synchronous and asynchronous components. That's some work that we're doing right now with Lindsay Unified School District in California. And we're extending, we've been working with them for several years now to look at what are the effects of personalized professional learning? And how does technology, you know support that level of personalization? Because some participants, I've really liked being online and some haven't. So what can we learn from that to design better experiences for our students?

Lindsay Persohn:

So if listeners go to to the website, what might they find there that would inform their practice?

Beth Holland:

Oh, so if you're on our Learning Accelerator website, we actually have like, there's a second tab, and it says Visit Resources and Guidance. And we have hundreds of strategies, examples of what things look like in practice, everything, from documents, to videos, to podcasts, we've got a number of different guides that are actually a little bit more toward school leaders, but are certainly still applicable to educators. There is a research section of the site, which I will admit is under construction right now. But I would say we're a very practitioner focused site. And so a lot of times, there's this question of like, Oh, I really wish I knew what this looks like, in action. Well, you know, we have a strategy for that. And, you know, with it probably comes, you know, here's a planning document. Here's an example in the classroom. So I would say educators, please come over to our website. And, you know, I know it's always kind of tricky, but we are a philanthropically funded organization. So everything is completely freely and openly available. There's no logins, there's no forms to fill in. It's just, it's all out there for the taking. So we hope that more folks will take it. So we have one of the things we call it our Problem of Practice series. So we hear from the field that there's a problem of practice. So for example, you know, how do I teach in a virtual and hybrid environment? And so we just launched a few new series related to that. And so it will take you through essential questions. And then, okay, here's our problem. Here's what the research says, here's our solutions. Here's some really tactical things that you can implement right now. So I will make sure you have that link, we have some brand new resources that just went off with lots more coming.

Lindsay Persohn:

Fantastic. Yeah, I think that will really come in handy for lots of listeners, who are, who are still navigating some of those big questions, because we know that not everyone is back to 100%, in person education yet. And I think it's fair to say that in some places, we may never go back to 100% in person education.

Beth Holland:

And I think there's coming back to that equity question, how do we really think about harnessing virtual to create new opportunities? So instead of it being an either, or how do we really think of it as both, and? You know, where do we create opportunities for kids to be able to do things, whether it's outside of school, or switching schedules around or, you know, sometimes I always think about, especially when I taught some of my younger students that there would be those days when I was in a computer lab, and they would walk in, and I would look at them and say, you need to take a lap, like, go run around the lunch room, which was the next room over and come back when you feel better, because sometimes, like we're just not ready to learn. And so how can we give kids that grace? And then take, you know, take advantage of having virtual opportunities and say, like, you know, you need to go sit in the library, this class period, go for it, and then just do it online when you're ready. There could be some really interesting both ends that come out of this.

Lindsay Persohn:

I love that. I think that's such an important question that I don't think we've heard very often, how do we find the best of both? How do we keep the best of both? And how do we continue to improve upon the best of have multiple ways of experiencing education and providing equitable educational opportunities in our communities? So I'm really glad you all are working on this and continuing to develop those ideas, and what a wonderful asset to have, have those resources freely available to the public as well, which I'm sure you know, is also a mission of this podcast is to make education research more freely available to anyone who has an internet connected device. So yeah, there are lots of I think, untapped opportunities. And I think there are also a lot of counter narratives that have not yet been explored around different ways we can provide equitable opportunities that aren't behind paywalls and you know, that aren't aren't closed down for some segments of our population. Beth, is there anything else you want to tell us about the work that you're doing at the Learning Accelerator?

Beth Holland:

I think a really important piece that we're looking at right now is first is how do we bridge that research practice gap? Like how can we make sure that we're clearly communicating what we're doing in a way that's really accessible to practitioners and not just to researchers, and, you know, my colleagues often tease me, I'm still too academic at times. And I understand that. And so it's a language, you have to make sure that I'm writing for real life, people who would actually want to read this and not like the four scholars who might find it in a journal. So we really are actively working on that. And I think another piece too, and we were just having this conversation in a team meeting, right before we hoppped on, is how do we make sure that when we're doing research, so we're making sure that we're really elevating a lot of voices in the field, and that we're acknowledging lots of narratives, because I have a colleague, Dr. Gillian Joe, who did a phenomenal keynote, almost two years ago now for the Aurora Institute. And it's always in the back of my head, where Jillian talked about the fact that like data is not neutral. The field of research, if we dig way, deep down, you know, it's a very white field. It comes from a very specific perspective. And I'm always trying to hold that in terms of, you know, I look at a references list, I look at how we phrase survey questions, we did a report which is available on our website about adult wellbeing in schools back in the fall, and we looked at the literature, we did focus groups and interviews, and we were very conscious to make sure that we were centering voices, versus leaving them on the edges. Because I think a lot of times, it's like an afterthought. And instead, we started at the very beginning of saying, we know that different groups of people are having different experiences. And we need to center that right from the start. And the literature that we looked at, and the people that we talked to. And so you know, we're being very conscious in our research team, and in everything that we're doing, to make sure that too often, you know, communities that have historically been marginalized, they're the afterthought. And we're really trying to lead from the perspective of how do we make sure that this is an inclusive study? And that voices are, you know, are relevant, and it I'll circle back to question number one, I did a lit review when I was a postdoc. And I was going through my references list, and I had that moment of going, Oh, my God, these are all old dead white guys. Like there's got to be another narrative. And sure enough, I reached out to a lot of different scholars and double my number of references. And man, that changed my report a lot. And I think that's something that we're very consciously doing. You know, we all have lots of room to grow. But it's something that I know, I'm working very hard to make sure that we're trying to do as much as possible.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, that reminds me of several conversations I've had recently in my personal and work life, but in particular, Rob Tierney, just a couple of episodes of Classroom Caffeine ago, he mentioned the same thing that if you if you look through reference lists, it is mostly white, and it is mostly male. And it is also mostly US centric. We, you know, we particularly I think in the Western world, tend not to cite scholars from the other side of the globe. And we really are missing out. We're missing out on a lot of, as you said, other stories, other narratives, new ways of thinking, or at least new to us, because clearly, they're not new to everyone. So the idea of breaking down these siloed conversations, I think is critical, and particularly as we live in a world that is increasingly global. And, oddly, I think we are increasingly connected and also disconnected simultaneously through the ways we work, right, because information can travel so quickly. But in that haste, I think we also lose a lot of the stories. Beth, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Beth Holland:

I think one of the most important parts right now for teachers and given the fact that the world is so, I mean, I think about how different it is from when I grew up. And I'm probably a fossil at this point. But I think even for, even for you know, younger teachers, but to really make sure that you put yourself in the shoes of your learners and don't forget what it means to learn. Also that realization of like what worked for you may not work for everybody. You know, I fell into this my first year as a teacher where I'm like, Well, this is how I learned it. So this is how I'll teach it. And, you know, most of my students had no idea what I was talking about. And it was, you know, as a typical first year teacher where I had way more failures than not. And so then to really start to think about like, what are the different patterns and avenues and opportunities and to ask the students, you know, what works for you? Because I think the world is a different place. And I think lots of kids have got some really creative ways to be learners, and they're learning so much outside the classroom. So how do we tap in to these amazing learning opportunities outside the classroom, and have them acknowledge the positives of what they're doing so they can apply it inside the classroom. So keep learning and learn how your students are learning, there's probably a very concise way to sum that up.

Lindsay Persohn:

I really love that I think that all too often, it can be so easy to get caught up in the lesson planning and the state mandate. And the must do must do, must do kind of tasks. And we forget that, that the students in front of us have so many assets that they can share if we just give them an opportunity, if we just ask the question. So I really appreciate that reminder. And I think that's such an important thing for us to keep at the forefront. We may always be thinking about our students, but sometimes I think we're thinking about what we want for our students rather than what they want out of the lives they have ahead of them. So that's a great reminder. Thank you. Beth. I have really enjoyed talking with you and learning from you today. And I appreciate the work that you're doing in the world. So thank you for your contributions to education and education research.

Beth Holland:

Well, thanks so much for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

Dr. Beth Holland is known for her work in educational leadership and digital equity. Beth is a partner at The Learning Accelerator, a national nonprofit working to ensure that every child receives the engaging, equitable, and effective education they need to reach their full and unique potential. She leads the organization's research and measurement initiatives including evaluations of programs to support student centered learning and the building of research practice partnerships, and supportive Systems Improvement and Innovation. Her work has appeared in EdWeek, Edutopia, Getting Smart, Mind Shift, and EdSurge. Beth has over 20 years of experience working as an educator and researcher examining challenges of equity and communication within K 12 public school systems. Prior to joining The Learning Accelerator, she led the digital equity and rural initiatives for the consortium of school networking, and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship on a project funded by the US Department of Education's Ready to Learn initiative at the University of Rhode Island. She's also worked as a teacher, administrator, and professional learning developer in schools across the country. Beth holds an Educational Doctorate in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Education from Johns Hopkins University, a master's degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University. You can connect with Beth at brholland.com. That's B R H O L L A N D.com and learn more about her work at LearningAccelerator.org, that's L E A R N I N G A C C E L E R A T O R dot O R G. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. Listeners are invited to respond to an episode, learn more about our guests, search past episodes, or request a topic or conversation with a specific person through our website at ClassroomCaffeine.com. If you've learned something today, or just enjoyed listening, please be encouraged to talk about what you heard with your colleagues, and subscribe and review this podcast through your podcast provider. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.