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Lindsay Lyons: This episode was recorded August 16th, 2021 and in it we are talking to Colin Hogan. Colin is head of school at Learning Community Charter School and has been since 2013 in Jersey City, New Jersey. From 2010 to 2013, he was the social studies coordinator for the Highland Park School District. Mr Hogan began his career in education in 1999, teaching in Chicago. He has won numerous awards for teaching and was recognized as New Jersey History Teacher of the Year in 2013. In 2017, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association named him Administrator of the Year. He currently is a faculty member at the New Jersey EXCEL program, teaching aspiring school administrators and teachers leaders. He is the proud parent of two wonderful young men and is married to an incredibly kind and understanding husband in New Jersey. Let's hear from Colin Hogan.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality, and sustain an inclusive, anti racist culture where all students thrive.
I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, If you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in
Hello and welcome to the Time for a Teachership podcast.
Colin Hogan: Hi there. Nice. It's nice to meet you.
Lindsay Lyons: So nice to meet you. I just read your amazing bio and I'm wondering if there's anything that you want to say to either add to that or frame the episode, anything you're thinking about lately just to start us off.
Colin Hogan: Yes. So we are very excited over at learning community because, we were just named a Lighthouse School by the state of New Jersey. And what the Lighthouse Award is, it's an award that focuses on issues of equity and education.
And there are three areas where you can win the award. You can win the award for, equity in regards to student discipline, course enrollment or diversity in staffing. Now it was funny when I heard about this award because I was very excited about the first two because those are things that are really in our wheelhouse, but we actually were for diversity and staffing. So we're really proud. I think this is actually something that we're not only proud, we're very excited about that. As we return to school, we know that we have one of the most diverse faculties and we are the most diverse school in the state of New Jersey. So I feel that coming back to full instruction with all the students, we will have a school where our students can find an adult that will serve as a window and a mirror to their own experience. And I think that will be essential as we sort of embark on the, as we enter into the unknown of returning after a year and a half of a, you know, pandemic-based education.
Lindsay Lyons: Yeah, that's such a powerful point. And it connects so much to students needing to feel a sense of belonging and all of that good stuff. So, I love that, and I think we'll return to that point later in the conversation, because that is that is a powerful statistic that you just shared and a powerful award that you won. So, as we kind of get into your thoughts for education, your dreams for the field of education, I love using Dr. Bettina Loves' words around freedom dreaming, and she says, you know, their dreams grounded in the critique of injustice. And so I'm curious to know what is the dream that you hold for the field of education?
Colin Hogan: Well, first of all, I want to say that I'm so excited about the Bettina Love quote, because she's been someone that has been really guiding a lot of our thought process. We read her book last summer as a faculty group of people that were really engaged with it, and we love how she doesn't give anybody any easy outs at all, which is great. So I would say that I was thinking about this, and, I think that what really matters in terms of that big dream would be true equity for everyone in education. And what that means is that we can envision an educational experience that really meets the needs of every single learner,
and that's a really huge undertaking, and it's a huge commitment.
I think that sometimes what exists instead is, and I can say this as a school leader and I can certainly say this as a parent. That what schools do is, a lot of the time they will provide an education obviously within the means of what they could do. But if we're talking about dreams, it would be incredible to be able to create an educational experience that could meet the needs of every single learner within a school system around the country and potentially around the world, I guess. What that's going to take? A lot of money and a real issue and a lot of wrestling with a lot of other things that people would need to think about because, you know, we know now that so much of what education is, it's about those people that have the most access and the loudest voices and the most resources and that often can lead to other people not getting as much as what they need. Or sometimes almost because that system exists,
I feel like when you work in a place that especially doesn't capitalize on that vision of an education that really would empower everyone and a lot of times what will happen is that, we'll do what we've always done and that will be fine. And if it's not working well, that must be you, not us. And so creating more of just in terms of that is part of it too.
So I think that it's really about envisioning, re envisioning everything about education. How do we not lose people? How do we empower people? And how do we, and how do you create the time to make that happen? And the support, build the supports to make that happen.
Lindsay Lyons: I love that, and I love that you were talking to about, you know, having to really shift from prior ways of doing things and making that the dream right, is that it doesn't need to be the way that we've always done things.
And I'm curious to know what are some of the shift away from traditional mindsets that you see as really required for people to teach in that way, to educate in that way, one that is pursuing equity and advancing equity. Are there particular mindsets that people should be giving up or or switching over to?
Colin Hogan: Well, I think that you have to kind of begin to really rethink a little bit about your relationship to student achievement and the student experience overall. What's explore, what is okay with you and what will keep you up at night. So I think that's the big question.
When I was teaching, I used to always think a lot about this, is that I would every time a student would get a D or an F, and I was a middle school teacher, so every time you have like a D or an F, these were alarming to me because I felt like these were my own grades and because it seems that I had failed. I personally believe that was the case.
How is it that a student should be in my class and fail? It was simply I had to decide that that was unacceptable for that to happen. And that's even saying that making that statement is for anybody that's been in schools. It's fairly radical because there are a lot of people that say, well, you know, some kids deserve to fail. Now that's a really complicated thing that we need to unpack because we need to understand a little bit about what are the reasons that are causing failure and why are people not being successful.
So I think that it goes into the re envisioning the concept of the classroom. I mean, I found when I was in, sort of getting my administration certification, I read a lot of Carolyn Tomlinson and what was very powerful for me, was it really changed me a lot because of her ideas about differentiation in the classroom and I started to really realize that through differentiating instructions, I could empower my students on levels that I never had before. I could give them choice, which is something that's a high leverage factor for anybody, but especially for early adolescence, but I could also ensure greater levels of success and mastery and learning.
And so I feel like looking at education from a very different lens in terms of what people's proficiencies are and where their comfort level is and helping people build, is really key to kind of employ those practices. So I feel like that's kind of where it begins and it's a great template for kind of expanding outward and looking at institutions.
Like at LCCS, my learning community where I'm at, I have the honor to lead, what we try to think about a lot is how we can have every student have moments where they truly shine and are celebrated. And so there are traditional places where that happens. Through academics, athletics and the arts, those are huge things that our schools'. So that happens. But I knew that wasn't enough. And so one thing that we started to do was just, we started to think about how we could recognize kids in other ways because there are, you know, you hear about students and everybody's met, that student with that incredible heart, but maybe that student is not somebody that we've recognized because they don't fall into one of those categories.
And so we actually kind of combined two things, we created a house system based on our school's core values. And what it did was it provides an opportunity for older students to mentor younger students. It also creates an internal faculty based family for our faculty because teachers can sometimes be in little silos. Maybe you're, if you're teaching kindergarten, you might never interact with the eighth grade math teacher. But now you can, because you're all in this house together, they're all mixed up.
And then what we saw was there was a student, and I remember this so vividly. She was in eighth grade and I've known her for a long time and I want the kid with the great heart and you know, she wasn't someone that, she was on our basketball team, but she wasn't the star basketball player. She was a good student, but not the top student. And what we saw though was when we were in these, when they had their first house meeting and she was an eighth grader. She was with a group of kindergarteners. All of a sudden she was organizing them, she was leading them, and she was so engaged with it.
Who know that this is probably a potential future educator and we arranged for her to assist in a kindergarten with one of our other teachers. So she would go up during her lunch and recess about once a week and she spent time with the kindergarten. And that was something that we were able to create for her. But we would have never seen that if we hadn't looked to create this kind of experience first.
Lindsay Lyons: That is such a powerful example and I love that you're already taking it from, you know, not just the mindset of rethinking, but how do we do the actions we can take, how do we actually do this as a school? And so much of, I think what people are hungry for, that are listening to the podcast or like what do I do, what do I do as a teacher? What do we do as a leader. And so I love this house idea. Could you explain a little bit more about if someone's listening and like, you know, a leader of a school or an educator out of school? I was like, oh, I kind of want to do this in my school. What did that look like to, to set that up or how does that operate in your school?
Colin Hogan: Well, so the house system, the way it came to be was, we were very intrigued by the idea of enhancing culture and climate.
We, the school is, our school is very teacher led and run and, but the school, it's since we were a charter school, we grew over time, but as a school. So what happens in charter school in, like if you look at, if you talk to anybody that's involved in a charter school from its inception, to maybe, now we're about 26 years old. There's a real change in an organization over time as it grows and reaches its full potential. So what wound up happening was, is that the people loved the small, intense experience of starting the school. But when the school grows to what it fully is, it's a very different thing than it's no longer that small, you know, kind of thing that it used industry that it used to be.
So one of the things that we tried to do with the house system was to recapture that, to create more of that sense of family within, with, to make that small feeling again and to create that sense of connection. I wanted,
I hoped I envisioned that our older students would have tight connections with our younger students and, they could serve as mentors and role models. And they could also, this would also be a place for student voice and leadership. We really wanted that to be a main component of this process. And then for faculty members, this could be another place of support and connection. So you could potentially develop partnerships between people. So we know that we had two teachers that they described, that they had two kind of quirky classes and they decided they would get them together on a regular basis, and that came out of the house system.
So we really feel that we wanted to make that a place where there would be sort of a family. And then we've kind of continued to build on it as time has gone on. So now we have a teacher that actually focuses on coordinating our house system. It's a real passion of hers and she does an incredible job. And we also want to, we also have the, a faculty member that's interested in leadership development from each house work with student leaders in the house, so that the student leaders are essentially running all of the house meeting.
We want the faculty members to get the benefit of the collaboration and the joy of the support, but we don't want this to be one other thing that we're doing. We want this to really be something that students owned and led and really something that they're proud of. So we still have a ways to go. I think what was really interesting though is that we, this past year because of Covid, we had to actually do this virtually to some degree. So we had to have these, you know, house meetings in zoom rooms and things like that. But it totally worked.
And I had this very profound experience because the teacher that we were working with, who was the house advisor, she was moving that day. So she said, I can't lead, and I said, okay, well I'll lead your house meeting, no problem. She said, that's great, you really don't have to do anything aside from admitting people into the zoom room. That's all you're gonna be doing, because the two students that were running the house meeting, they had everything, they pretty much ran the whole thing. I was just basically their tech support, and this was really profound, and those were 2 six graders, no less.
So that's ultimately a sign of success and what we hope to see in the future. But I highly recommend it because doing something like this creates a greater sense of family and ownership and home at school, and we really want to capture that as much as possible.
We want our students to feel that they're seen and loved and cared about and challenged all the time. And that's something that we really feel.
I know that when people come into the building, they always comment on how much they love being at our school. It has that feeling when you're there, it feels kind of like, I like to say, it feels like a hug, I guess, or something along those lines. It's a very warm place, and I think that is a lot to do with the original vision of the school of being that kind of a place. So the house system just complements that and enables us to have more of that intimate platform. So that's why we looked at the Ron Clark Academy House System, which is kind of the most famous of all of them, which they kind of based a little bit of Harry Potter. and we definitely use that as our initial platform, but it was very easy for it to, once it got going and once we really kept moving with it, it's really become something quite different.
Lindsay Lyons: That's amazing. And I'm just out of curiosity, how big are each of the houses?
So there is like one faculty and then a set number of students?
Colin Hogan: That's a good question. So we have a little bit of a problem there because we did random sorting. So what wound up happening is that you wound up having these huge houses and then these small houses, houses that were heavy with younger students, houses that were heavy with older sisters. But you know what, I personally don't mind that because I think it creates diversity in terms of that and that I think that gives you a lot, it's very interesting, like are we definitely have two big houses that have quite a rivalry? But then we have some, but some of our smaller houses do such interesting work and are really because they're smaller. I feel like they have even a tighter connection, so that's awesome.
Lindsay Lyons: Wow, that's so fascinating. I'm so curious to know more about that. So we talked about actions. The house system is one type of action. I didn't want to preclude you from sharing any other type of action. I think your school is so unique in so many ways.
And so if there's anything else that, you know, maybe a person at a traditional school, public school, you know, is thinking, how could I bring some of this creativity over to my school or create something like this? Is there anything else you think that is unique and in what you all do, that allows, you know, for that equitable dream to come true, that maybe public schools or traditional methods of schooling, don't do as much?
Colin Hogan: You know, there's nothing that we do that no one else cannot do. I I, and the things that we're doing are not even things that cost any money. It's just simply a mindset shift, I think in terms of, you know, why not? Or let's try it and you know, why we want to, you know, we think of always why we want to do this for our students. So that really is a, you know, we're always looking to see how we can do something really important that obviously matches our core value because we don't do everything. But what we really do try to do our things that empower our students, to be people that will make a difference in their own communities and beyond, that's kind of the mission of the school.
And so whatever we do, we think about how these are new opportunities. So we start by always, you always start by thinking about like, how could you create more of an opportunity to enhance the student experience and to increase student voice, to increase student mastery of learning and to, you know, help capture what a student will, how a student will sort of be engaged and seen, and I think that's something that is really important.
And there's lots of different ways to do that. I mean we have things like from, you know, even our physical spaces, we try to transform them as much as possible. Like I have a lego wall on my wall in my office that I built with students that I knew we're the kind of kids that would like to build that. I only got to that one because you get to build it once, but it was really special and experience. We have a school dog, we have all sorts of things that we try to do that, we want to make sure that people want to come to school.
And I think that's something that we all learned about this past year is that some kids don't want to come to school. And I think that's something that you have to think about a lot in terms of, and we thought a lot about that about like sort of looking, we looked at a lot at the work of Fisher, Fry and Hattie, that they had done a lot, they've done a tremendous amount in terms of, they sort of guided us through this whole process and they're guiding us out, but sending sort of norms and developing strong relationships with the students. But we already, we did a lot of things that were recommended, but because these pieces were already in place, I think it was easier to move in and out of virtual learning to hybrid and beyond because we had established these really close relationships.
You know, the greatest story that I can think of in terms of this is that our music teacher who is quite a genius, but not someone tech savvy at all. But she decided that, she said, well we're going to have a concert and she got some, you know, we had these concerts with these kids would, you know, they would, they would submit, she got them to submit all their, their sound videos and stuff like that ahead and edited and they killed themselves at home.
And then she told me we were going to have a musical. And we did Aladdin, but not a single one of the kids ever met each other in practice in person. I mean you had the magic carpet ride, you have everything. So it's all about just kind of having that kind of relationship and vision, and just really wanting to see what you can do for kids and just being unencumbered by that. I think that's really the key to a really powerful experience and it's also really empowering for teachers as well because our teacher, what we do ever do are, whenever we do our faculty surveys, people always say that autonomy is the thing that they value the most. And I think that's because they feel people feel very trusted to really do great things for kids and we worked very hard and
Lindsay Lyons: I think that's so important to name too because when we're having, you know, a lot of student voice, a lot of teacher voice in terms of leadership, that's so critical that the autonomy is present, the trust is present. Because to say, I mean I have seen schools that say they are teacher led and don't trust the teachers, and that creates a different dynamic that really impairs a lot of that forward progress.
So I love that you named that specifically and also I'm so curious your school was founded initially by parents and so I think that origin story, I'm sure must impact and influence, you know, the way the school operates and has kind of come to be, like you were saying there's so much stuff that was already in place as you create some of these new practices and habits that were just part part of the core of the mission of the school initially. And so I'm just curious to know like how have you seen that kind of evolve or how was the origin kind of influenced where you are today?
Colin Hogan: Well, it's funny you should mention that because we, when we celebrated our 20th anniversary, but we want to do all sorts of special things. Like we've made a time capsule. We had a very special, we have a special gala evening for the parents. But one of the other things that I thought would be really amazing was, is I wanted to find the founding principal of the school and you know, have him come visit the school and talk to the students a little bit about what it was like, because obviously none of the students were there anymore. And it was really a special experience and we took him to the fourth grade, he wanted to visit the fourth grade and he told them all about how he became the principal of the school and what school was like and the kids were kind of amazed because a lot of what he said was still there. You know, that it was still a place where, you know, kids were very valued and loved and it was a very exciting place and it was a very fun place to learn. And there was a lot of laughter.
And so, that I think really captured a lot of the experience and it was, it was a very special, I was one of, it was a very, very special experience for all of us to have that happen and so we were really pleased to meet one of the school's founders and to hear those stories.
Lindsay Lyons: I love how it stayed true to its mission and also evolved and like added on to it. I think that's such a beautiful blend. Another thing that I'm fascinated by in terms of historical context here and there and where the school is now, is prior to becoming a teacher, you are a community organizer and I find that so powerful as a history of in terms of influencing your leadership in terms of influencing, you know, the skills that you bring and bring out in people in your school community. How do you think those, those two things are related? You know, community organizing and running the Justice Center School?
Colin Hogan: You know, it's funny that you picked up on that. I think a lot of it is about envisioning the power of what people can do and really putting that what you said before, about trusting people and really trying to see possibilities and taking risks, I think is part of it. And then also really trying to see what everyone can contribute has been really helpful. Those are things that I learned from those previous experiences. And we're really, you know, emphasize, I mean it was, I think that was always what I wanted to do personally as just. Even when I was in high school, I started to think about like that, I wanted to make a real difference in the world, this was something that was very important.
And I didn't really know what that was going to be, but I knew that was really essential. So that was something that I think really stuck with me even into this,
Lindsay Lyons: That's beautiful and your story kind of parallels mine as well. I never actually wanted to be a teacher and I was just like, I want to do justice work and I'm not sure what that looks like, and then here we are in teaching and you're like,
Colin Hogan: Right, right, right.
Lindsay Lyons: The other thing I think is such an interesting point and you brought this up at the very top of the episode is that your school is the most diverse school, ethnically in New Jersey in terms of student population and faculty. And I wanna like point out too that it truly is the most diverse school. Sometimes people use the word diverse incorrectly. And so they'll say it's, you know, the most diverse when it is, you know, predominantly students of color or faculty of color, and, but it's not actually diverse, right? It's just predominant students of color. Your school is actually the most diverse in terms of I think the way that they calculate it is if you randomly sample any two students or faculty members, there's a high likelihood that they will be from a different ethnic background.
And so I'm so curious about what that means for your school in terms of, you know, maintaining and sustaining that diversity, but also honoring and affirming that diversity is a value and it is of value to have a highly diverse school.
Colin Hogan: Yeah. You know, i, it's something that we're really, really, really, it's the thing that we love the most. I'm certain that is, my parents were the most popular K through eight, a pre K through eight option for parents in the city. And I know it's clearly because of this because people know that their children are getting a huge advantage. How else can you say it? I mean, there's no way that's not happening because our students really develop a deeper understanding and sense of empathy. And really the, you know, urban areas are very, you know, they are sort of different. They are segregated. So I think this is one of the few places where people can come and that's not the situation.
In fact the school even moved to our current location to avoid some of the sort of, not to, to maintain its diversity. That's how, what a strong commitment the school has to it. And it's, and we introduced a weighted lottery a few years ago to give greater preference to people that were in section eight housing or free and reduced lunch so that we could maintain our diversity because it's so essential, you know, Jersey City, because we're right across the river from New York is gentrifying like crazy. And so you have to work very, very hard to think about strategies to maintain your student diversity and your faculty diversity.
We're really excited because we're launching like a bypath leadership committee this year. And we feel that that will be really helpful for being a place where our faculty are bypath-ed faculty will have support and be a forum for them to, express concerns, ideas and really and create another internal family and network at school, which we think is really essential.
You know, because a lot of the times, if you don't work to develop strategies to maintain your and sustain your diversity, you will lose it. So that's something. And I would say that at the school, we spent a lot of time being a conscious effort to really do deep dives into things and not sort of a surface area look.
So, we are, we just read that our, our school read this year was the undefeated, like Kwame Alexander, and we really spent a lot of time unpacking what that would mean for us to read that book pre K through eight because it's not the easiest book. There's some really difficult stuff in there because it tells the story of the black experience, the United States and it's great, but it's also a lot. And we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can do this, you know, from all ages and having a really good, intense conversation about this allowed everybody, and for people to also say, I don't know how to do this and having a space where people could say that and feel safe saying that, is also really important because that way we can do a better job, we can help each other.
So that's why I think kind of where we are with that.
Lindsay Lyons: That's so incredibly well said, and I love that you're modeling all of the things that go into it. It's not just, we read this book and that's it, you know. There's so much, you know, culture work or agreement building that is involved in that to do it well. And so I really appreciate not only that, but also that you're like, it can be done K through eight, right? Like some people might argue that it couldn't and I agree that it absolutely can and should be. And I love that you're doing that and having those conversations about the how, not debating the why or should it be? So that's beautiful.
We've talked about so many things in this episode and so I'm curious to note for the listener who's feeling excited but also may be overwhelmed by all the things. Where's one place they could start or one action that they could take as their kind of closing the episode and ready to go put something into action.
Colin Hogan: Oh, well, one thing I would say is I would have two recommendations. Is one is don't forget that the most important thing our relationships. So you know, making sure that you start the year, we always have our faculty start with something we call the significant 72, which is a very common concept of spending the 1st 72 hours of school focused only on building student relationships.
We really, really want to. And you can obviously get and listen, I know because I'm a middle school person. That you can get your routines in, you can get all that stuff in through building relationships. So don't worry, you can get, you can make that all happen, but really making sure that you have those relationships in place are very important.
And then I think the secondary thing is I remember this so vividly from going back to what Carolyn Tomlinson said, that she said, you know, when you think about differentiated practice, you don't think about when you start to cook, you don't make a gourmet meal every night. You might make something ambitious once and then, you know, you start to build your repertoire. So doing something at least one less than a week that you can differentiate or focus on, is a great start. And it will be very empowering for your students. And there will be times when it won't work and that's ok, and you will try it again and you'll think about that and take some time to reflect. So I encourage both those practices because I think they're very, very powerful and will set up any students that you're serving with for success.
Lindsay Lyons: I love those and I loved to that there is a phrase I never knew, it's called the significant 72. We always did that when I was teaching, but I never knew there was a phrase to it, so that's awesome.
One of the things that I asked just for fun at the end of episodes are, you know, we've all kind of been saying all of the guests on the podcast. We've been saying in this episode, you know, the things that we've been learning and kind of growing our practice around. And so I'm curious to know what is something that you have been learning about lately and it could be education related or otherwise, but anything that you've been learning
Colin Hogan: Well, I've been spending a lot of time thinking a lot about PLCs because we are revisiting that concept for the fall. So I'm spending a lot of time really working on that. So that's something and I'm also trying to figure out, I would like to be able to braid bread a lot better than I currently do because it's not going so well. I try and I'm told by my family oh that looks nice, just being sarcastic.
Lindsay Lyons: I love it. I love that there's an education one and then a home one. So great and then finally, I'm sure listeners are going to want to connect with you, follow your school and find you guys online. So where can people go do that?
Colin Hogan: Sure. So you can follow me at @Mrcolinhogan on Twitter, and I've been a little bit taking a little break but I'm getting back on it. And then we can be found on Instagram and Twitter at, let me just LCCS. It's @lccs_jerseycity. And then our website obviously is another place to find us as well.
Lindsay Lyons: Perfect thank you so much. This is a great conversation and thank you for being on the podcast Colin
Colin Hogan: Thank you so much. It was wonderful.
Lindsay Lyons: Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsaybethlyons or leave a review of the show, so leaders like you will be more likely to find it. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave and be your best self.
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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.