Oakland International High School is a public school situated within the quieter streets of the Temescal neighborhood. Here, newly arrived immigrant children, 25% of whom are in refugee status, are offered an education that supports their English language development as well as preparation for college. The school is founded on a strong culture of emotional development amidst incredible cultural diversity and tough immigration experiences: circle ups and restorative justice practices are an important part of the community's toolkit.
I had bicycled over to interview Mallory Moser, an 11th grade arts and digital media instructor at the school, about thought leadership and education. She generously gave me a tour of the colorful campus, stopping on multiple occasions to answer gleeful calls of "Miss Mallory!"
We visited her classroom, where a class of 12th graders were putting finishing touches on video projects. I stopped to watch Nabil's video, in which he talked about coming from Yemin and his favorite American activity - basketball. I also swung by another student's desk, Pedro, who smiled shyly as he mentioned in choppy English that he comes from Guatemala and loves playing soccer. We walked by a class acting out a literary script in the courtyard, and passed a student who was clearly playing hooky and thus received a gentle chiding from "Miss Mallory."
KF: Okay Mallory, what does thought leadership mean to you?
MM: To me I think thought leadership takes some knowledge of a field, some previous knowledge, and the integration of that. It takes reflection... really thinking about what is a precise need at a precise time. There are so many needs all the time, I think it's easy to jumble that. When I think of a thought leader it's somebody who, first of all, really knows what they're talking about and can hone in on that one moment or that one thing that actually really matters and ask different types of questions about that thing. So, it's not giving answers. It's not giving a sermon from the mound. It's thought provoking questions and applying those at a critical time for a critical need.
Thought leadership is..."not giving answers. It's not giving a sermon from the mound. It's thought provoking questions and applying those at a critical time for a critical need."
KF: Which thought leaders have influenced you personally and how?
MM: It's hard - I can think of thousands of authors. I think of political leaders, I think of people you might commonly hear of, more like philosophers, I think of Gandhi...nonviolence. People who want to create a different type of paradigm. I think of Freire (editor's note: Paulo Freire) for education. But I also think of people in my own life - I think our principals are incredible and really hire smart people. They're always just right around the turn. Right when you're arriving at "maybe we should deal with this, or maybe we should be focusing more on that," they've anticipated it 3 months earlier and have a professional development that is geared towards that. So yeah, it's just being ahead of the curve, anticipating challenges, and also identifying that growing edge for everyone. It's hard.
KF: What do you think education will look like in 10 years?
MM: (Laughter) I mean I could wax eloquent and say all of the crazy awesome things out of my imagination. I guess my fear is that it will be exactly the same, (laughter). Right now there are so many interesting models happening. There are so many components to this question. We need experts teaching. We need people who are passionate and know about their field to be in the classroom and to also be able to connect with students. I used to work in tech, and coming up with the latest app, or this and that, needs to be student-centered and teacher-centered. It really needs to come from actual needs and not just people brainstorming what would be cool or what might be nice. It's such a critical field. If you lose 6 months with a student, you lose those 6 months forever. Eight, or ten, or fifteen years old... 6 months for them is a lot of learning potential. It's a common theme, but teachers need to be treated as professionals and paid as professionals. We need intelligent people in the classroom. I think our school is a model of hiring very passionate and good teachers, and you just see a difference in learning outcomes and what's possible.
(Solutions for the future of education)..."need to be student-centered and teacher-centered. It really needs to come from actual needs and not just people brainstorming what would be cool or what might be nice."
I could say there will be these cool apps or gizmos (and not to take away from technology, I'm a technology teacher), but I think teaching needs to be based in learning sciences. It needs to be based in research. It needs to be based on what works with kids. A huge component of that is 'What works with kids with relationships?' What does that mean? We need smaller class sizes. My ideal would be 12-15 kids in a class relating to a teacher through a positive interaction. If that's through an app or through a website that would be great - to have more individualized instruction that way. But we're still human, we need human relationships, and there's the whole "affective domain" that impacts students, especially teenagers - The room needs to be warm. It needs to be well-lit, there need to be colors. All of those things really matter. I'd like more diversity in terms of high quality apps or websites if that's where the world is going. Rather than just having Kahn Academy, we need Kahn Academy that's accessible to English language learners. We have a huge population of people who don't speak English in this country - what are we doing about that?
A lot of kids are disengaged. School doesn't match up with jobs at all, or the market. Until we know what the jobs or market is doing in this country , which we don't (is it going to be manufacturing, is it going to be tech?) until we know what those things are, education is just kind of lagging. We're just kind of treading water. It's like...Do we still teach Algebra II? I don't know. Skills-based learning environments are really interesting to me, and just teaching kids skills that apply to all jobs - we call them 21st Century Skills, or the 4 C's, (creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking). If you can teach them those things then you know that they can learn new jobs and work wherever they need to go.
But I do worry about that. I don't want my students to be strapped by student loan debt, and not have a job, and, and, and. And I don't want them to work some shitty menial job where they're not intellectually challenged. I'm an educated white woman from Marin and I have a hard time finding a job. What are my students going to do?
"I don't want my students to be strapped by student loan debt, and not have a job, and, and, and. And I don't want them working some shitty menial job where they're not intellectually challenged. I'm an educated white woman from Marin and I have a hard time finding a job. What are my students going to do?"
KF: What role do you think corporations should play in education?
MM: Fork over the funding, man. No strings attached. Okay, that's a simplistic answer. Something that I benefit from is having a board of advisors for our media academy. We have a bunch of different people who are from different industries who are able to inform me, as a teacher. They're able to look at my curriculum and let me know if it's aligned with industry standards - that's very helpful. We've talked about field trips... job opportunities...we have internships and job shadowing, which is really important just to get students out and seeing how many types of jobs there are. A lot of schools do know what they need - they know if they got $100,000 what they'd spend it on, if they got $500,000, what they'd spend it on. That's where the money comment comes from. If corporations want the next generation to contribute to their bottom line, they have to train those kids. If they can train teachers about what's relevant in the job market, what they're looking for, what their biggest issues with incoming employees might be, we can help with that. I don't see school as just an incubator for future employees. I don't see my students that way, but I do want my students to get jobs where they're engaged and they're actually able to work in the world.
KF: Do you have any other thoughts? That was my last question - This is a lot of really great information!
MM: Autodesk and also Adobe are so awesome when they give free software to schools. It makes so much sense because students build those skills, they learn about those careers, and they'll just have more future employees - It's a mutual thing. I do think that's important. Teachers are not paid, we know this, our time is limited, we know this. I mean, you bought me lunch, that's so wonderful. There are so many times where that doesn't happen, and my time is not paid for and I need to get trained on how to teach something. What are best practices for teaching CAD? I have no idea. And for me it's going to be really different than for other teachers who are doing similar things with different populations. It will be different for middle schoolers than it will be for college kids.
I think it's great that you guys have education teams like you do. There's still a disconnect right now, and I think something will come along that I can't think of...I spent many years of my life trying to think about what that next thing in tech will be. There's still a divide between the human and the technology, and how we integrate those things and how we support humans to teach that technology. We're still figuring out that relationship and our relationship with that. I know that my students can't take an online only class, but then I'm also not getting training on how to teach something. I don't know - It always comes down to time and money... it's boring talking to teachers (laughter).
But y'know it's not the worst constraints to have - because yeah, we do have so many resources.
KF: Alright, thanks Mallory.
This interview was organized by Autodesk Education in an effort to learn from diverse perspectives about visions of the future of education. We have sought several voices to join in the conversation with their insights and inspiration. These voices will be instrumental in providing rich texture and guidance as we continually strive to better serve teachers and students.