New View EDU Episode 54: Creating Climates of Care

Available April 2, 2024

Find New View EDU on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify, and many other podcast apps.

Well-being. Engagement. Belonging. These three values are the “trifecta” of attributes for healthy and productive learning, according to this week's guest. But how do we design learning environments that put the focus on that trifecta, without diminishing the educational achievement, challenge, and rigor we believe our students deserve? 

Denise PopeDenise Pope, the co-founder of Challenge Success, returns to New View EDU to help host Tim Fish unravel the tricky issues around creating climates of care in our classrooms while also upholding academic standards. First and foremost, Denise says, we must stop thinking of “building community” as a box we’ve checked when everyone in a school is nice to each other most of the time. True community-building, in a way that will benefit students long-term, is a process of teaching students to work with others in meaningful ways despite different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. When students feel needed as part of a group, and see the value each person brings to the work, then the pathway to an authentic sense of belonging opens.

The “what,” Denise says, is not nearly as important as the “why,” from the standpoint of curriculum development. In a rapidly changing world, we can’t always predict what content students will need to master. But we can predict what skills will help them succeed in any content area. Denise points out that education has evolved from a hands-on, community-based apprenticeship model to a passive, content-delivery system with desks in rows. She asks us to consider what’s been lost in that shift—daily engagement in meaningful work, community support, and instruction in the skills and mindsets that are needed to belong in a society. 

How can we reclaim those aspects of belonging and engagement within modern schools? One solution, Denise says, is to much more deeply involve students in designing their own educational paths. Without offering students agency and the opportunity to experiment, fail, and try again, we are creating systems where we “underestimate and infantilize” young people. If schools are for students, she says, then we should allow students to have a real say in what school is like.

That doesn’t mean we can’t teach rigorous content, but it does mean we should construct schools where the content is taught in service of the meaningful, engaging work students want to do. Denise walks Tim through several examples of how Challenge Success works with schools to help them make small, incremental changes that infuse school with joy and ambition and help them pursue the trifecta of well-being, engagement, and belonging for every student.


Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Denise explore in this episode include:

  • How do we design schools for intentional community-building and belonging?
  • What does pursuit of the “trifecta” do for rates of depression, anxiety, and burnout in a school community?
  • What is the role of curriculum design in a well-being-centered model? How do we choose what to teach and when to teach it?
  • How do traditional practices like homework and grading detract from belonging, engagement, and well-being? What can schools do to correct their course over time?
  • What does “healthy striving” look like, and what contributes to building healthy strivers?

Episode Highlights

  • “When you throw kids into groups for group learning, I think there's an assumption that they know how to do that well, and they don't. And even my kids will say, oh my gosh, don't tell people to do more group work! I get stuck with the slackers, or I hate that because this person's not pulling their weight and I have to do all the work, or whatever. Right. We have to actively teach how to work in community.” (8:54)
  • “And here's the thing, we undervalue students, we underestimate students, and we infantilize them. And then we're surprised when they get out that they can't do things, right? That's on us. That is on us.” (21:14)
  • “Grades are heavily related to cheating, right? You don't cheat when you're doing a project that you're really excited about. When you're putting on a play, when you're putting out a yearbook edition, when you are studying a new move in a dance class or on a football team, you're not thinking about a grade. That’s not why people do things.” (24:57)
  • “We've put these boxes around learning. We have other crazy things where, even though you're really excited about what you're doing on this physics project, you have two other things that you have to do by tomorrow because you get penalized for turning in something late. There's just things that don't make sense. A student needs to talk to a teacher, but there's no time or place to do that in a confidential way. We just start to see these obstacles that get in the way. And then you say, does that have to be that way?” (34:04)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

Related Episodes

About Our Guest

Denise Pope specializes in curriculum studies, service learning, student engagement, school reform, and qualitative research methods. She is particularly interested in student voices and the students' perspectives of school. She focuses on academic stress and its consequences for students' mental and physical health, engagement with learning, and integrity.

She co-founded Challenge Success to partner with schools and families to implement research-based strategies for student well-being and engagement. She is the author of "Doing School": How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students (Yale University Press, 2001), which was awarded Notable Book in Education by the American School Board Journal. She is co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids (Wiley, 2015). She also co-hosts the podcast School's In on Sirius XM radio.