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Curriculum Opinion

‘Building School 2.0': An Interview With Chris Lehmann & Zac Chase

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 03, 2015 5 min read
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In a few days, I’ll begin posting responses to this week’s “question-of-the-week” on “grit.” Today, though, is the latest in my authors series, and I was able to to interview Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase about their new book, Building School 2.0: How To Create The Schools We Need.

LF: When many people hear “2.0,” they think of social media and content creation on the Web (as in Web 2.0). What exactly do you mean by “School 2.0"?

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase:

It is the evolution of how we think about school. 2.0 is meant to help people consider how they answer the questions What’s next? rather than the What’s new? that’s drawn the attention of so many as of late. The 2.0 is also a nod to the incredible work of the educators who came before us, to indicate iteration and improvement over eradication and replacement. At the same time, the title is meant as a challenge to actually build school better. So much of reform has ended in deepening school’s commitments around outdated or inhumane practices dressed up in technology or confusing efficiency with betterment within schools. Part of 2.0 is a signal of doing better by the adults and kids in our schools.

All of that said, there’s certainly a great deal of common cause between what is going on with social media and content creation and what we think our schools can become. The new technologies at our disposal can create a more democratic world where every voice is valued, where information is instantly accessible, and the people in the system can reuse and make what they find into solutions for the problems facing their communities. At its best, that’s what School 2.0 can do as well.

LF: You model the book’s structure loosely on Luther’s “95 Theses,” with each “thesis” a short recommendation followed by practical next steps to initiate conversations about the topic. Ninety-five is a big number. What are one-or-two that have particularly impacted your lives - and how?

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase:

“Care For And About” is one of the theses at the heart of the book. For both of us, it’s about the ethic of care -- the idea that, as educators, we must care for the kids. We don’t do that “so the kids can learn,” but rather we do it because it is the way we should act as people and as teachers. It puts humanity at the heart of the proposition of education.

Another one that is more conceptual, perhaps, but still one that we try to remember almost every day is “Consider the Worst Consequence of Your Best Idea.” This was and is a mantra for us at SLA that has allowed us to thoughtfully develop as a school community without abandoning good ideas just because they weren’t perfect. By asking this question at the top of any major initiative or idea, it helps to prevent being sideswiped by diversions and negative consequences. At the same time, it helps us avoid falling in love with an idea because of the shiny. Everything remains complex and multifaceted.

LF: I was struck by your policy recommendation of “Disrupt Disruption.” Can you talk about that one a bit?

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase:

We’ve seen such incredible upheaval in education for the past decade or two, and we are now starting to see that much of that upheaval hasn’t made things better for kids. We both believe - as is pretty obvious from the book - that schools need to evolve and change to better serve children, but we have to be really thoughtful about how we do it, and about how every change we make affects kids. Too often, the “Disrupt Education” crowd can be far too cavalier.

A constant state of change is another way of saying a state of constant stress. You don’t need to be a health care professional to predict the negative health effects this can have. And when we talk about scaling disruption, we must be mindful of how we are also scaling that stress, often in systems and communities that are already feeling attacked on all sides.

LF: I also appreciated the section on “Assume Positive Intent.” Combining that one with your discussion of “We Don’t Need Martyrs” could be critical concepts for any teacher to keep in mind and avoid burn-out. Could you talk about those two suggestions and, specifically, strategies you’ve used successfully with teachers so they really “get” it?

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase:

The most important strategies aren’t strategies. It’s honest talk. We have to talk about these things with our teachers. We owe it to the people who work with us - we owe it to the kids - we owe it to the profession to talk honestly and openly about how to make this job livable and able to be done well - at the same time.

Beyond that, teachers and school leaders have to make a commitment to the ideas. Principals can walk their buildings at 5:00pm and see which teachers are there every day and send them home. Teacher colleagues can gently redirect those colleagues who would presume a negative intent. School communities can find reasons to share meals together, and every school should find a reason to celebrate success and joy every day.

In the moment, it means asking, “What is it this student needed or was looking for when they did or said the thing that set off a situation?” Sometimes, the answer will still lead to the realization a student was trying to get under your skin. More often, though, asking this question can open a teacher’s eyes to the fact a student did or said something as an act of advocacy using the only tools at his or her disposal.

LF: Is there any “thesis” you’ve thought of since you submitted the manuscript that you’d have added?

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase:

I think we keep playing with variations on the ideas of the book. The interesting thing about writing this particular book is that we really pushed ourselves to create a full picture of what we believe. But of course, so many of the theses really just present ideas that can be thought about much more deeply. That, more than anything, is what we’ve been doing.... we’ve been writing and talking about these ideas and continuing to deepen our understanding of what we believe.

One possible idea or thesis we didn’t get to capture that’s been bouncing around in our heads is something along the lines of Let the Experiment Run. People and organizations are innovating all over themselves in education. Often, these innovations are put on a timetable that fits the schedules of the innovators, but don’t take into account the time necessary for a rich and varied system to adapt to a new element such as an advisory system, an open curriculum, a mentorship program or any of the other pieces we’ve seen bring such deep learning to SLA and schools like it around the country.

LF: Thanks, Chris and Zac!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.