Read the full transcript of Episode 16 of the NAIS New View EDU podcast, which features Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, joining Tim Fish to talk about academic stress and its consequences for students’ mental health and physical health, engagement with learning, and integrity.
Tim Fish: Today on New View EDU, we are excited to welcome Dr. Denise Pope, a speaker, author, and senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Dr. Pope is particularly interested in student voices and the student's perspective of school. She focuses on academic stress and its consequences for students’ mental health and physical health, engagement with learning and integrity.
These are incredibly timely topics for us to be talking about today. She co-founded Challenge Success to partner directly with schools and families to implement research-based strategies for student well-being and engagement. She's the author of two books: Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out Materialistic and Miseducated Students, and she co authored Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. And if all of this wasn't enough, she also is the co-host of the podcast Schools In on Sirius XM Radio.
I remember my first meeting with you, Denise, how we were going to get together for coffee in Palo Alto when I was there visiting schools, and my friend Kauai Lai introduced us and we showed up and we ended up talking in the parking lot. We ended up starting our conversation there. And if memory serves, we actually never made it to coffee. We just talked for like an hour in the parking lot, if not more, about schools and about where we are going. And so, as I was thinking about this conversation, I was thinking this episode should be called Parking Lot, Part Two, with Dr. Pope. So welcome, Denise, to New View EDU.
Denise Pope: Thanks, Tim. Yes, this is definitely Parking Lot, Part Two. I love it. I vividly remember that. We were standing outside in front of the cars and we didn't move from that spot. It was great.
Tim Fish: So much fun. You know, I first also got to know you before. I actually had a chance to meet you through your books, Doing School and Overloaded and Unpacked. Your writing had a huge impact on the work we were doing at McDonogh school in Maryland when I was there. You forced our teams to take a hard look at the machinery of the designed experience for students.
I just want to thank you so much for that work early on. You had a huge impact on us. In Doing School, you paint a picture of schools where teachers and students are largely just kind of going through the motions. They are just doing school. You know, when students are “doing school,” their engagement is down, their boredom is up, compliance and control is the name of the game.
I'm curious. Since writing the book 20 years ago, how have things changed? How have they stayed the same? What excites you about school today? And what do you think is emerging or needs to emerge from the pandemic?
Denise Pope: Hmm. Yeah. Great question. Right. 20 years ago. And I would think that it would get so much better by now, right? We've been working so hard for 20 years and, and I did see before the pandemic, before March 2020, we did see many schools who were focusing on getting engagement up, on working on that “doing school” problem, to get kids excited, to get kids motivated, to bring joy into the classroom.
And then we got hit, right? March 2020, not just the pandemic, but everything that was going on in our country with climate issues and politics. And everyone had to pivot to remote learning. And unfortunately in our research, and we studied schools, we studied 86 high schools during the pandemic, 75,000 kids, public, independent and charter, a big mix. Right?
And we saw “doing school” go up again, disengagement go up. Right. About 53% of the students were "doing school." And it's just so hard, right? You're, you're on a computer. You're, you're trying to learn. They took—one of the kids said, you know, they took all the fun stuff out of school. The lunch, the recess, the meeting with your friends, the getting excited over something. And the hands-on experimentation. So, you know, I'm a glass half full kind of person. Right. So I'm going to say, we can, you are too, I know. We can get this back. Right. We know how to do this. But you know, so that– that's a problem. The engagement and the stress. Right. Lots and lots of stress. And I feel like right now kids are saying, now that they're back in person, you know, with masks or without, whatever, right.
That the sort of the problems of load and stress have come flying back at them. And they're not over what happened in March 2020. So it's, it's sort of all together. So that's a little bit depressing. But you also asked what excites me, and what really excites me, and I think is a bit of a silver lining, and I know it's cliche to say that. I think people now know how important mental health is in schools. I think social-emotional learning and belonging and mental health are now more than ever on the forefront of people's, you know, work and experience. And I think that's really exciting because that's really foundational.
Tim Fish: Yeah, one of the questions we've been asking since the beginning of this podcast is this idea of like, what's the purpose of school? Like, why do we have it? If you go all the way back to like the committee of 10, 1892, people getting together and forming this notion of public school, what public school can be. You know, I would say that curricular learning was in the center of what school is, right? It's the place you go to learn the stuff you need to know, and the things you need to know how to do. And I'm not suggesting for a moment that that learning is not essential and super important, but I also think we know a lot more about the conditions for learning now.
And I've wondered if that content, I think at one point was very much in the center of what school was, the curriculum, the stuff. I wonder, is that what should be in the center today? Or should we be rethinking in fact what we put in the center? In other words, how we describe what is the purpose of school?
Denise Pope: Yeah, so you don't know this, but right now, this very minute, I'm teaching a class, Introduction to Curriculum. And my essential questions in that class are basically the why, what and how. And why is what's the purpose of school? Because you can't design curriculum if you don't know the why, if you don't know your particular why. The what is what should be taught once you figure out that purpose. And the how is how you teach it. Again, has to be aligned with that purpose.
And so we read all sorts of theorists and ideologues. Dewey and Bruner. Freire, Noddings. Right. And if you think about the why, what should the purpose of school be? Noddings has this beautiful concept. That the purpose of school should be to create better adults. And if you combine that with Dewey, who says what we're learning is now, that the kids are experiencing experiences now. We have to make them right. We can't just say you have to know this for the future. If you put Noddings and Dewey together, we need to create schools that allow for really amazing, joyful educational experiences that help prepare our kids now. And for the future.
And content! Content, this thing that you look up on the internet, that you can look up anything on the internet these days, right. Content in and of itself, can't be the center of that equation. But it's tricky, because every community then has to decide what do we mean by better people? What do we mean by civic oriented, you know, wise human beings to help us run our democracy? That's not easy. And then you have to figure out, okay, if that's our purpose, well, what is important for people to know?
And it takes you out of kind of facts and chronology and mathematical equations and puts you more into: What do we need to know about this? We need to know how to take all this information and think critically about it. We need to know how to balance really difficult decisions and tensions and how we decide on policies and practices in this world.
This is tough stuff. Not easy.
Tim Fish: Yeah, it is. It's a lot more complex. You know, one of the things that I've often wondered about, I would love your thoughts on this, is this idea that okay, when we start moving away from the center being content to being more, what you refer to us as critical thinking, dealing with complexity, wrestling with hard challenges, working, working with a team in an interdependent way, that often people will think, oh, well that means where did the rigor go?
Right? Schools. What, what happened to like, I want, I often hear families or boards speak, and they'll say, you know, at the heart of our school is an excellent education. And often when I work with schools, I'll say, what do we mean by excellent education? And often that's code for rigor. And often rigor is code for traditional content.
Not always. But certainly sometimes. And I'm curious what your thoughts are on that, that ability to sort of help us transition out of this more narrowly defined understanding of what excellence and rigor might look like.
Denise Pope: We hear this all the time, Tim. I feel like we lead parallel lives. So I have this line, right. That rigor is not the same thing as load. So rigor versus load. And what I see with schools, and they, it's exactly what you're seeing. They say, academic excellence, academic excellence. That's what our parents are sending their kids here for. And that's what we say we're going to promote. And academic excellence can very much be in the definition that, that you and I just set out, around critical thinking, around the skills they need, around teamwork, around cooperation, around weighing really challenging issues. And they need to see that that is not just piling on more stuff. And it's not the traditional way that they've been teaching, which is scary. Change is scary. Remember, a lot of independent school educators are, you know, of an age where they learned how to teach based on how they were taught. And right now, this is not the way that we know how to educate kids in that traditional way, with traditional content, with traditional tests and quizzes and papers. Right? So this idea of rigor, I'm all for rigor, right? I want kids to think hard. I want this to be challenging. I also want it to be joyful and I also want it to be pointed in the right direction. That's the problem, the definition of rigor.
Tim Fish: Well, it's, you know, in a couple of other episodes of the season I've talked about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work of Flow, and how I sort of dug back into my graduate school books from 19, the early nineties and pulled out Flow and was just, I went back through it and was like, this, man, is it relevant today.
And, and what he talks about, in my mind, is this sort of the way, the part that really gets me and that I had not got when I read it 25 or 30 years ago, was this notion that being in a state of flow also contributes to the formation of a healthy self image, positive psyche, sort of positive interactions with others, that well-being is connected to being in flow. And the other part that got me was that flow isn't easy. That a necessary component of being in a state of flow is that you're really challenged. You're sort of reaching yourself, you're pushing your own expanses and you're dealing with ever increasing levels of complexity. Right?
And so it's, it's not watering down. In fact to get flow, you got, it's embedded in it. It's only through challenge and complexity do we really develop that self-image. And so what it makes me wonder about is like, how do you think about well-being? Because my, my fear sometimes is that what we're going to do is we're going to make a course with tests and quizzes on well-being.
Right? And so like, how do we enable it? How do we build it in? How do we create it? Get it into the soil of school.
Denise Pope: I mean, that's the million dollar question, right? So, how do I, what's the connection between well-being and engagement? Everything. They are fully connected. So you're spot on when you talk about flow. We talk about flow in our books as well. For me, flow is the equivalent to what I call full engagement, where you're effectively, behaviorally, and cognitively engaged.
That means it's joyful. Right? Let's bring back the joy in learning. The joy in discovery. When you're in flow, you are so focused that you, you love it. You're doing it because you love it, right? You're behaviorally engaged. You're doing it. And you're cognitively engaged because you're challenged and you see the value and meaning in what you're learning.
And when we can make that happen for kids in a way that allows them to lose track of time, which is part of the flow. Like they look up and they can't even believe that the period is over because they were so involved and excited and loving what they were doing. That's a goal. Right? But right now there are a lot of things inside the classroom and around the classroom and the structure of how we run schools that get in the way of flow, that get in the way of well-being.
And that's part of what we do, right, at Challenge Success, is help make those structures work, to promote that flow and well-being.
Tim Fish: So it makes me put a challenge out for our listeners, right? Like in the next week, go on a flow walk and just walk around your school for an hour. And ask yourself, where do you see places where students are in flow? And I absolutely think there are places where our schools have kids in flow. Without question.
And I think there are plenty of places where they're not. Right? And it would be interesting to look at that and just sit back as a committee or as a team and just say, what did we notice in this? Because I think you're spot on. You know, it also makes me, Denise, think a little bit about parents. And as you may know, at NAIS, we've done this research on why parents choose to enroll their kids in independent schools, and the jobs to be done research.
And we essentially ended up with four jobs. Job one is help me help my kid. I'm worried. Job two is help me make sure that my child really realizes their full potential in a community that I agree with. Job three is help me have my kid have impact on the world. I care more about the kind of person my child becomes than I do about their test scores.
And then job four is, look, I've got a talented kid, I've got a real plan. Help me enact my plan. And by the way, it's a narrowly defined, hard to achieve next step. And I'm hiring you to help me get there. And the part that really gets me on that, and I think that's been so powerful, is that parents come to school with different perspectives. When we've done research in the past, and we've asked parents what's the most important part of school for you? They always say excellent teachers. But the jobs research teaches us that “excellent teacher” means a whole different thing to a whole bunch of different kinds of parents. I'm curious from your perspective, what you've seen in your work with parents. And in particular, are there some parents you've come across that you say, wow, you are a model of what parenting can look like.
Where are those positive signs? Because I know we've all seen some of the negatives.
Denise Pope: Yup. Well, I mean, you're getting at sort of why we called the organization Challenge Success, right? Because everyone has this vision of success, and we start out most of the work that we do with parents with how do you define success? And what we hear is kind of similar to the jobs, right? We're hearing I want my kid to be happy. I want them to be healthy. I want them to be fulfilled. I want them to go on to, you know, be independent and go to college and get a job. And, what they say they want for success is not necessarily translated to their kids. So when we ask the kids how they define success, it's often money, grades, test scores, college, popularity. And so when you put that out to the parents, you say, look, this is what you say you want for the kids. This is the job you want the school to do. But this is what the kids are hearing from you. And when we survey parents, this was during the pandemic. 64% said they set very high expectations for their children. In the middle of a pandemic!
66% expect kids to maintain a high GPA. And 46% of the students say their parents want them to be the best at everything. The best at everything, Tim, the pressure!
Tim Fish: There’s no pressure there. Oh, and by the way, get some good sleep while you're at it.
Denise Pope: Exactly. Right. So, so I feel like there's so much pressure out there that parents are putting on the kids, that the peers are putting on one another, both parent peers and kid peers, right? Around this sort of elusive notion of success as being perfect at everything, right? The best academic, the best sports person, the best musician, the best kid, you have to be healthy, look the best, et cetera, et cetera.
Right? And it's just too much. For all of us. So what makes a great parent is someone who loves the kid before them, who really thinks about the best interest of the health and well-being of the kid first. So, you know, let's go back. You had talked about going back to your, your grad school books. I just gave a talk where I talked about Maslow's hierarchy.
Right? So go back to that psychology, right? At the core base, at the foundation of being human, you have to have these three things or you cannot learn. You cannot be successful. You have to have health. Right. You have to be healthy enough to get out of bed in the morning. You have to have mental health and physical health.
You have to have safety. That safety is literally safety. Like COVID safety, but also safety in terms of do I feel like I belong? Do I feel like someone's gonna yell at me today? Do I feel like I can bring my whole self to the table? And that third step is relationships. You have to feel connected. To an adult, right? We, one question we ask on our survey at Challenge Success, it's a very common question around suicide prevention, is, is there an adult at the school you can go to with a problem? And the good news is about 72% of the kids said yes, even through COVID, even through the pandemic, but that's a big chunk of kids who don't have an adult who they feel comfortable going to.
Right? And that was a whole mix of schools, small schools, big schools, that that was the average amongst them. So I think when we look at parenting, you have to ask yourself as a parent, what is this definition of success that I'm holding for my family, for my kids, for myself. Is it healthy? Is it really the definition that I'm also messaging to my kids? And what can I do to really foster that foundational Maslow's hierarchy, health, safety, and relationships first and foremost, above anything else, which translates into everyday behavior. So if the first thing you say, when your kid walks in the door is, Hey, how'd you do on the history test? Or worse, you've already looked at the grades, which I have no idea why the parent would have done that. But you already say "Hey! I saw that you got a C on the history test. What the heck happened?" Right? You're messaging to your kid, that the most important thing that you care about in life, in that kid's life right now, are their grades. And that's not healthy.
So we have a little mnemonic aid at Challenge Success, called PDF. There's something called protective factors, a protective factor – and this is, you get this through the CDC or the American Psychological Association, Academy of Pediatrics. We all agree. Protective factors are what keep kids safe in the long run.
And we have come up with this little mnemonic aid to help parents really remember what keeps kids safe, and it's PDF: playtime, downtime, family time. Playtime means joyous play where they're leading the way. That might be social with teenagers, that might be free unstructured play, where they go out and shoot hoops with their buddies, where they're tinkering on the piano. With little kids it's like, you know this, like throw a bunch of Legos out there and throw the little, the instructional manual away. Right? Let them play creatively. That's really genius time. That's really where they're learning. That's really where they feel they have agency—we're going, well, we can talk more about agency in a bit.
The D is downtime. These kids are over-scheduled to the max. And after the pandemic, it's like a box was opened. And parents were like, oh, my gosh, things are happening again. I'm going to sign my kid for everything known to man. One, I need them out of my house because I'm still working at home and I've been, and we've been cooped up for a year, but two, they want it so badly. They've missed out. I'm just going to say yes to everything, right? So there's over-scheduling happening, not enough downtime, not enough sleep. We know that sleep really correlates with mental health. Really, I mean, if you want to do one thing as a parent, that's going to make a huge difference to your kid, absolutely after you hear this podcast, put them to bed so that they get the eight to 10 hours that they need every night, make sure that happens. And then the most important protective factor is the F. PDF. The F is family time. And that means bring back some of those things that were happening in the pandemic, like family dinners.
Right. We know that five times a week for about 25 minutes duration, if your family is together with the TV off and the phones off, and really either having a meal or taking a family walk or doing service or doing chores, making the meal together. We know that that actually is connected to better health and better academics.
So good parents PDF every day.
Tim Fish: I love it. You know what? And PDF doesn't cost anything, right? It's not a program. You don't have to sign up for it. You don't have to be accepted to it. You just do it.
One of the pandemic things we were doing, my daughter was home from college and we were looking through old photo albums. My wife and I happened to have met in college. And we were looking at pictures from college. And my daughter said to me, and we went to this little tiny college in Western Pennsylvania, where there was nothing going on. And she said, man, it looks like you guys had so much fun in college. And she said, you know, for us, everybody's always got their face in their screen. And I'm curious about the D, the downtime part and how we've become a society, me included, where D is equivalent to on screen. And how do we create that space, where we bring in the P and we bring in the D because we can get the screen out of here and what role does it play? And sometimes it can be really positive, but that, that whole balancing tech, she was like, you guys didn't have that. What a gift that you had. And it really struck me as I was thinking about the world our kids are living in today.
Denise Pope: Absolutely. A hundred percent. I mean, nobody has that downtime, ever. Right. I'm waiting in line at a supermarket. I'll take out my phone. Right? Remember like long car rides, long airplane rides. I mean, we used to talk, we used to play make believe games. We used to do things. Now you just like, you know, throw the iPad back there.
So I do think there's a lot that's lost, and I don't want to sound like a Luddite. I absolutely understand the benefit of tech and the creativity that happens from tech and also the connection that kids who really don't feel like they belong, do sometimes find their people and their community through tech. But I think that balance, we know how important face-to-face interaction is. We know how important—kids need time and space, particularly teenagers, right? To think about who am I? What kind of person do I want to be? What are, what's the big picture in my life? And we need to carve out that time in schools and outside of schools to allow kids to really fully develop to their potential, which is one of the things that the parents want them to do.
Tim Fish: Right. But it's these simple things, right? It's less is more, it's this idea of just, it's just simplicity, removing things, not adding things.
Denise Pope: Parents will say, we'll try to do that, but the schools are loading on more. They're doing homework all the time. There's more tests, there's more books. So it's a partnership here. The parents have to do their jobs, but the school has to do their job too. And that's one of the main things we talk to schools about. Less is more. What's going on with your schedule, what's going on with your homework policy. What's going on with the fact that they have to take so many classes at a time, or so many advanced placement or honors things happening at the time, right? Less is more.
Tim Fish: You know, it reminds me, on our team at NAIS, I work with the strategy lab team and we are like framework junkies. We love finding ways of thinking and finding ways of working with teams. And I love the way that the team at Challenge Success has developed the SPACE framework. And I was wondering if you might just, I think that relates to what we've just been talking about, but how you might want to just kind of share a little bit about that and more about the work that Challenge Success does with schools.
Denise Pope: Sure. So yes, we like mnemonic aids. That's how we do our frame. So PDF for parents, and SPACE for schools. And the idea is every kid needs their space in school every day.
The S is about the schedule and how students spend their time. And it turns out that that's a really important lever at school. And we can talk more about that. But everything from late starts, longer periods, fewer periods a day, periods that don't meet at the same time each day, really changing the pace of the school day is a huge, huge lever for health, well-being, and academic engagement.
The P and the A go together. That's project-based learning and authentic assessment, which you and I have talked about a lot, Tim, and how to really, you know, if the why is better adults, better human beings who can deal with complexity, you know, you can't lecture, have them take notes and spit back what they know on a test. That's, that's not modeling the kind of real world work that we're expecting them to do and need them to do well. So the P and the A is project-based learning, really changing the way you assess kids.
The C is probably the most important, which is creating a climate of care. That's where the belonging and the mental health and the well-being, and we don't teach a class on belonging. It has to be infused throughout the entire school, throughout every classroom. And every experience that kids have.
Tim Fish: It's that Maslow's hierarchy piece you were talking about, right? The essential ingredients.
Denise Pope: It is. And then the E is educating the whole community about the developmental needs of kids, where parent education has to come in, where student education has to come in, where teachers have to understand, you know, how much sleep kids need and what's going on around belonging and authenticity, and who feels like they can bring their whole selves to school.
Right? So we do a lot with schools. Schools come to Challenge Success with a problem that they want to solve. Usually around stress, health, well-being, disengagement. And we work with them. We put them in a team, right? So on your team, you have to have administrators, teachers, parents, and students. It's a community-wide solution to a community-wide problem. We give you a coach and we give you lots and lots of opportunities, what we call listening in opportunities. So we survey the kids, we survey the faculty, we survey the parents. We also have people shadow kids. So you said go on like a, a, a walk looking for—
Tim Fish: Flow walk, yeah.
Denise Pope: A flow walk. We have them shadow kids from the minute they get on the bus to the minute they get off the bus. We have all sorts of ways to sort of get at what is the experience that the kids are having at the school, and help to come up with an action plan to change that. And that action plan is usually based on the SPACE framework. So you'll pick, we're going to work on the schedule. Or we're going to work on our policies around homework. Or we're going to work on increasing project based learning. Or we're going to work on creating time for advisory and really looking at how belonging and SEL are our through lines throughout the school. And we help you really enact a plan to make some changes. And then we follow up to say, is it working? And what else can we do? What can we do next? It's an ongoing process.
Tim Fish: Hmm, you know, it reminds me of one theme that has come through almost in every single episode we've done of this, has been the presence and the essential nature of agency. Of student agency, of faculty and staff agency, in sort of getting to that place. I think the ingredients, I think, SPACE unlocks agency. What I was thinking about when preparing for this was SPACE equals A, right? It was kind of the thing that was banging around my head. And I was wondering if that, like, when we see that, I've seen it in schools, you've seen it in schools. It's magical. There's so many schools that have said to me like, oh, you got to come see our robotics program or our documentary filmmaking, because it's like amazing.
And in every case, when I walk in, what I see is an essential amount of structure. Designed structure that creates the challenge that introduces complexity. And a whole lot of agency. Right. And it's the mix of the two of them, I call structured agency, that creates the context for that really good stuff to happen. But I also have seen schools—they see it, and they go like, we can't do it more. Like they're stuck. They get, they get stuck in this challenge of like, well, that can't be all school is. Right? Like we also have to have all these other things that we've always had.
I'm wondering from your perspective, as schools journey toward bringing SPACE in more, where do they struggle?Where do they run up against the wall? And any advice you might give them for thinking about moving forward?
Denise Pope: Yeah. It's so, oh, so many things went through my mind when you were talking. If you look at some of the best places at school where kids are taking the lead, where teachers feel like they're guiding, but they're not in there doing for the kids, where real challenge is happening, real joy is happening. Real flow is happening. They're often at the edges. It's the robotics team or it's the debate club. Or it's what happens after that class, where the kids are getting together and talking about it in the hallway. And what we're trying to figure out is how to get those edges to be the centerpiece of the school, because there's so much learning going on there. There's so much joy. There's so much challenge. There's so much learning. How do we do that? And that means thinking really, really differently. And it's really hard for schools to think differently. And particularly, you know, we work with public schools too, so we have all sorts of other issues around unions and school boards and all of that. Right? Independent schools are usually more nimble, but, but oddly, they're also sometimes more stuck in the tradition, you know, we've been doing it this way for a hundred years. Right. So where they get stuck is, they try to do that and the normal.
They'll say, oh, we'll have this amazing capstone experience on top of your normal full load of senior year classes, or we'll have this amazing class where kids are building and making and doing, but that's the Makerspace. And so that's different and separate from their, they still have to take their six AP classes or whatever it is. Right. So it's the “yes and” problem that I see with schools. And, and we have to say, no, no, no, no, no, no, it's not “Yes And” with that, we're trying to make that be the school. Right. That's school, but to wrap their head around but then when do they take Calculus? Or wait a minute, but we have to have three years of Spanish, right? How can we actually really re-imagine the learning experience so that the students' experience of flow and the whole community's experience with flow is at the center.
That's what SPACE is, is helping them do. And that is really hard. And so we go with small little wins, baby steps. Or big, huge transformations. We’ll help you wherever you're willing to go. But sometimes you need those small little baby wins to get the buy-in that change can happen.
And we need many, many more models of schools that are doing this well, and I am seeing them, right? They are out there, but it's a heavy lift. You know that, Tim. It's a heavy lift.
Tim Fish: It's a heavy lift.And in so many ways, because I think one of the things that's so interesting is we have these remarkable cultures, we have these cultures where I do think we, we care about individual students. I think we see individual students. I think this whole notion of the relationships we develop are powerful. And so that culture that is fundamentally about care also can be one of the things that really does hold us back from embracing, I think, an element of real change, substantive change.
You know, it's the sort of Atul Gawande quote from, from the book Being Mortal, where he says, you know, what is it? “Culture strangles innovation in the crib,” is the quote. Right? When he's talking about what, in this particular case, I think he was talking about nursing homes and how they were, they had these ideas of what they wanted to become, but they just couldn't let go of some of these deep seated rules that they had about things they believed.
And again, it gets back to less is more. It gets back to just letting in simplicity. Right? And not having to add it all on, it's just do that thing. And it can be, it can be really challenging. I think part of strategy work for schools is to align with your SPACE framework and say, where do we really need to focus our energy? What's the good work we need to do there? And how do we tell that story? I think school leaders need to be the chief storytellers to help parents and students and others overcome that sort of, that bridge to see the power of what school can be.
And we need our friends in higher ed, to also help us talk about what they want to see from their students. That idea of what we want. It needs to be on both sides of the equation.
Denise Pope: Yeah. Well, what's so interesting about that is higher ed, which is traditionally like the most traditional pedagogy. Like literally people stand up, spit at you and you spit back at them. Right.
But higher ed now is going through a transformation where there's much more project based learning. There's much more interdisciplinary work happening. And they want to see kids come in with the ability to think critically. And with the ability to self care. And with the ability to self-advocate. Right? And here's what I hear from K-12 schools, you know, is we can't do it that way because they need to know this when they get to college or they need to know this for you know, the SAT or the ACT, which now you don't even have to take anymore. Right? Or we can't do that because our parents have this expectation of what real school is. And our parents will march with their feet.
And I think the storytelling is so important. And right now, during a pandemic, there is this sort of devolving back to the old norm because you're so tired. You're so exhausted as an administrator, as a teacher, as a parent, as a kid, you're still living through a crisis. To ask people to innovate in a crisis, which is exactly like when we should innovate, right? Like this should be the thing that helps us and propels us to do different things. And we have seen some amazing things. We've seen some schedule changes. We, we've seen people pivot in a way, like one school eliminated homework altogether because they said if you're with us online from nine to three every day, you're done.
And can we now weave that back into the normal life of the school? Can we keep that innovative schedule? Can we keep that more office hours and one-on-ones? Can we keep these things? And people are so tired, and people are craving the old, that we're seeing a lot of backsliding. That worries me. The backsliding worries me. And we can't, you know what? We were all excited to try this, but right now I just, the administrator will say, I just can't do this to my staff right now. They just need to go back to what they know. It's too hard. It's too scary. They're too exhausted.
Tim Fish: Yeah. My fear, Denise, is we're going to get stuck there, you know, even when this moves on. And I do see a lot of schools that are doing amazing things, and I agree with you. And the teachers and everyone are exhausted. And I don't know what it's like to be in their shoes right now. But I do look out to the future. Right. And my, the question we've been asking this this season to everybody is what are your hopes for education? So we look at the next kind of five years or more, where do you hope we go?
Denise Pope: I hope we go to flow. Right? I hope we—
Tim Fish: Go to flow.
Denise Pope: Go to flow. I hope we really re-imagine how we spend our time each day. Our goal at Challenge Success is to transform the student experience and make it one of well-being and joyful, meaningful, engaged learning. And we know how to do that. We know the science, we actually have great models. We see it every day in the fringes, or sometimes in our own classrooms. How do we make that and make it explode so that every kid is having that experience. Every kid feels like they belong.
I mean, let's go back to Maslow. That is foundational. First of all, let's work on that. Right? So before we do anything at the school, we help schools capture sort of the student experience through these listening exercises and the surveys. And we say there's a problem here. There's a chunk of your kids who don't feel like they belong. They are the students of color who are traditionally on the margins. They're the students from the lower income families or the first gen. They are the LGBTQ plus kids who don't feel like they can bring their authentic selves to school. That has to be fixed first and foremost. Right. You've got to fix the relationships happening at school first and foremost.
You've got to make sure that kids are sleeping, that they have room for mental health, that they are not going, you know, 24-7 like chickens with their heads cut off. And then when you've created that space of belonging and health and safety, let's go to the next step on Maslow's hierarchy.
Let's go to enlightenment through flow. That's my vision.
Tim Fish: I love it. Wow. Denise, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. You've helped us. You've helped me in particular, really paint a picture of what school could look like as we emerge. And I hope we are emerging from the pandemic. And you know, it's a bright future and it's one where we can build on everything we've learned over the last two years.
And we can keep that well-being of the student at the center of the experience, and we can continue to develop communities where that flow is happening. I look forward to that. I look forward to continuing to work with you all at Challenge Success as you help to make that happen in schools. And just want to thank you for what you're doing for educators and schools and parents and students all over the world, every day. It's been such a joy having you here.
Denise Pope: Thanks, Tim. So great to talk with you. I always get excited. I feel like we have very compelling visions and together we can make it happen.
Tim Fish: That's right. That's right. Thank you so much. All the best.
Denise Pope: Thank you.