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Dr. PJ Caposey is the Illinois State Superintendent of the Year and a Finalist for the National Superintendent of the Year through the American Association of School Administrators. He’s a best-selling author, dynamic speaker, and a transformational leader and educator with an incredible track record of success.
The Tension Between Pragmatism and Idealism + The Big Dream
Dr. Caposey first poses the question: Is our purpose to design a system that absolutely best serves kids and gets them ready to be critical thinkers and contributors to ever-changing society and democracy or…are we designing schools to…be of service to society and the community and to support parents and to prepare kids for (the best that we can) for tomorrow?
He believes geography shouldn’t determine a student’s access to high quality education.
Dr. Caposey does a senior exit interview with every senior. One result has been replacing all of the water fountains. Another result has been helping students see the behind-the-scenes realities of decision-making and the complexity given the rural district’s resource constraints.
Currently, students may perceive their voice and impact in the school/district is limited to less consequential organizational decisions, but that they do have more agency in their own futures.
Whatever a “student’s tomorrow” is, Dr. Caposey believes it’s their school’s job to get them there.
Identity and Justice Conversations in a Predominantly White District
Elementary teachers are less fearful. Our community is perceived as being unwilling to engage in these types of conversations.
There’s a large difference in reacting to individual students than a justice or identity-based concept. Because when it’s a kid, it’s “Do what you need to do for the kid.” When it’s humanized, our community’s been pretty awesome. And we still tiptoe into justice-based conversations.
Students of color have reported a different experience than white students in senior exit interviews. It feels harder to change the overall experience than to change a policy.
In the last two presidential elections, half of the staff was in a day of mourning the day after (with different groups being in mourning each time). We have to have the conversations. It’s always a consideration of will we open a gaping wound if we just start the conversation and talk about this on one staff PD day? It feels scary to not feel like an expert in this area. It’s also important to consider who can facilitate a helpful conversation in our community.
One Step to Get Started
Talk to kids and figure out what their experience is. And if it’s fundamentally different [from what we want all students to experience], then we have to act.
You can find this week’s guest on his website: www.pjcaposey.com and on most social media platforms @MCUSDSupe.
To dig further into Dr. Caposey’s ideas and experiences, he’s sharing his popular TED Talk with you for free. And, if you’re looking for more details on the ideas in this blog post, listen to episode 111 of the Time for Teachership podcast. If you’re unable to listen or you prefer to read the full episode, you can find the transcript here.
If you enjoyed this episode, check out my YouTube channel where I lead you through a series on unit design:
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.