Episode 20: with Principal Gallagher on leadership, supporting teachers, and creating a safe environment for kids
Episode 20 with Principal Gallagher on leadership, supporting teachers, and creating a safe environment for kids
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00:12 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 20. In this Episode I talk with Jason Gallagher who is principal of Harvard Kent Elementary School in the Boston Massachusetts Public School District. I have had the good fortune of working with Jason in a research-education partnership for the past 6 years and I wanted to talk with him about his leadership, wish I have seen first-hand and it’s stellar. Jason’s school has the highest level of children in poverty in the Boston Public Schools but also has the best reading scores.
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01:27 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See, Hear, Speak Podcast. Today, I have Jason Gallagher. And he's the principal of Harvard-Kent School. I'll let him start by introducing himself.
01:35 Jason Gallagher: Hi, I'm Jason Gallagher and I am the principal of The Harvard-Kent Elementary School here in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Thanks for having me on.
01:44 TH: Great. So tell me about the school dynamics and what you're most proud of in your tenure principal, how long you've been principal, and what you're most proud of with the school.
01:53 JG: So this is my ninth year of being principal at the Harvard-Kent School. One of the best things about our school is we are an incredibly diverse school. We have students from every possible subgroup that you can think of, and none of our groups are more than 30% of the school. Our largest population would be our Latino students. It's about 29% of our school. Black and Asian students are about 23%-24% of our school, and white students are about 20% of our school. So, we have a great mix of kids. About half our students are English learners. Their native language is something besides English. About a third of our students are students... Well, it should be under a third. About 30% of our students are students with learning disabilities or other various disabilities... And as far as social-economic background, we do have a high number of kids who are considered high-need. About 80% are economically disadvantaged.
02:55 JG: We do have the highest percentage of kids living in public housing of any school in the Boston Public Schools. So we have a vast array of kids who come from a lot of different backgrounds, but definitely a lot of kids with a high level of need. But they're a great group of kids. We love having them. And our school's a very active, happy place to be. I think that we're really proud of making sure the kids feel like they're in a great school, families feel like they're part of a great school, teachers and students feel the same way. So we’re really proud that we've been able to build the type of a school where our kids are happy but also that they're doing really well and making really solid growth in their reading, in their writing and in their math, on MCAS, and all of the measures that we're asked to measure kids by.
03:36 TH: What do you say to educators, I imagine you might encounter this, that will say, "Wow, that school has children who are struggling in many ways. They are living in poverty, and they may have food insecurity, and home abuse situations, and different things that come with public housing." So, what do you say to educators who maybe are even surprised at some of the good scores that you receive?
04:04 JG: Yeah. So all those facts you talk about, coming from public housing and maybe living in a situation where a family's living paycheck-to-paycheck, or having food insecurities. Those are all things that we have to recognize and realize that they're part of the puzzle of the students. But they don't tell their whole story. So we recognize the fact that it's important that our kids every day, get to school on time to eat breakfast, that we serve them a good lunch, that there's opportunities for them to do different things around eating healthier foods. Oftentimes, we have a lot of community partners who will donate things to the school, so we can send families home with bags of vegetables, of fruits, or anything we can do that will support families with eating healthier foods. Those are all things that are important to us. But really, the number one thing we do is provide them with a safe and welcoming school where they can still learn so that they can eventually become college and career-ready. So that maybe the trend for the rest of their lives is that they're able to go on to college, and get great jobs, and move to a situation that's better than their current one.
05:08 TH: I'm so lucky to get to work with you guys.
05:10 JG: Yeah. We love having you guys down there. [laughter]
05:10 TH: I love being over there. It's such an honor to work with you and the kids there. It does strike me that the school is more like a community center. Did you intentionally set it up that way with all these partners, the community center? What has that done for the school?
05:25 JG: Well, we've been very lucky being here in Charlestown. A lot of folks from the community have been really good to us. The MGH IHP, one of those places, Boys and Girls Club, RSM, that's a company here in town, the YMCA. We could name all the groups here in Charlestown. They're very good to us. They recognize the needs that our families have. So when a community partner comes up that says they wanna do something to help our kids, I always thought, "Well, yes," and then we'd figure something out. Our kinda strict line on that is, if it's gonna help our kids and our families, then we'll do whatever it takes. We could take care of the reading, writing and the math. But a lot of the other things that we do, whether it's hats and coats over the winter, t-shirts during the summer, school uniforms, buying computers for the school... Our community partners are great to us. They help us make sure we're meeting the needs of our kids. Where, especially the things that might cost families a lot of money.
06:22 JG: But yeah, we do. We try to make the school feel like a community. A lot of the community partners use our gym, like the basketball programs in Charlestown, the soccer program, the cheerleading, the football. They all use our gym, which is great. We wanna be a part of the community. We want the school to see us as part of the community. And they do. But then our kids also take part in those events. So it's like, we wanna be a center of the community for our kids and our families. And we're close to being that.
06:50 TH: Yeah. And it seems like that just, it's so great how it creates this sense of safety. Because it's not just for the kids.
06:56 JG: Right.
06:56 TH: It's also for the adults to be and feel comfortable going in.
07:02 JG: Right.
07:02 TH: It seems like in the schools I've worked in, and especially working with families who have maybe negative school experiences themselves. You know, there are the parents who might have had negative school experiences, and they don't wanna go to the school.
07:14 JG: No.
07:14 TH: And they don't feel welcome, but that's different at your school.
07:18 JG: We try to be a safe and welcoming school for all of our kids and families. And we believe that our families feel comfortable coming up to talk to us at any time if there's anything going on or even just to stop by, or to talk to a teacher, or to be a part of our events or part of our parents' association. We really do believe that we need the kids and families to feel like they're in a great, and a safe school in order for them to be successful. Having all those things in place, is paramount to kids being able to learn how to read and write and do math and all those things that they have to do. So if a kid feels safe, you've taken the biggest step you need to take in order for the kid to be successful.
07:57 TH: When you think about the community aspect, how transient are the kids that you have? Is Harvard-Kent a pretty stable group of kids, or do you have them coming in and out?
08:14 JG: We have a fairly stable group. We're at the point now where we actually have waiting lists for most of our grade levels, which is a good thing. Because it means more families want to come to our school. We do lose a couple kids every year, not as many as we had in the past. In the past, we would have kids transfer out to an advance work class, if they were eligible. That's not really a big factor anymore. But oftentimes, we do have families who move out of the city of Boston; obviously, the price of housing is incredibly expensive in Boston. We don't have much of a middle class anymore. So we do lose families who, if they're renters here in Charlestown, or even if they live in the housing development across the street, and they're looking to move to somewhere else, it's really hard for them to buy something in the city of Boston. So they end up leaving the city. Then if the family leaves, then we always have the new student coming in.
09:05 JG: So the transient population is not as large as it used to be, but we still do see some turnover. Then when new families come in, it's welcoming them. We don't know what their previous experiences were. Sometimes it's a great experience, other times maybe their child hadn't had success at the previous school. So we want to let them know, "Hey, this is a chance for a fresh start. Here in our school, you're gonna be happy, you're gonna make friends, and you're also gonna learn. You're gonna work hard, and you're gonna be proud of yourself." But it's a conversation that we have relatively frequently. We do get disappointed when a student leaves, because we've worked together for a while, and we wanna see them have success. But we know that sometimes it's part of the life of being in a school in the city.
09:46 TH: Yeah. What's the structure like? I think for the listeners who don't know about the Boston system, what's that infrastructure like; central office versus individual schools?
09:56 JG: Right. So there are approximately 125 Boston public schools. We have a Superintendent and School Committee who kinda oversee all of the schools. Then within the central office, there are elementary superintendents, there are different departments who help us and supports with our work. That could be human capital, budget, academics. They're all operations, and they help us. They have their silos that they work on to support the school. So all that work is done centrally, and then they support the work we do in the schools.
10:33 TH: It seems to me, from the outside, that it almost feels like the way Boston Public Schools is set up, it's almost like they're the federal government, the administration. And they give you your budget, but can spend your budget kinda how... You have some flexibility there, is that true?
10:47 JG: Well, it's interesting, the budget we are getting. We are given a base budget, and then your school's given funding based on the number of students that you have. They have a weighted student formula. But then with the funding, you have to make sure that you have the number of teachers you need to have. You know, there are class sizes that we need to follow, a certain amount of specialists we need to have, substitutes, things like that. So we're able to use our money to set that up. And then what additional funds that you have, any money that's left, you have some discretion on.
11:20 JG: We usually don't have a ton of discretionary funding, which is why our community partners are so important to us. But what we do have a discretionary funding we really do put into teaching staff. Which, again, isn't a lot of discretionary funding. But our personal thoughts are that we want to hire people who are hands-on with our kids in actually teaching, whether it's additional ESL teachers or teacher specialists who can do additional reading supports or math supports. Our school would rather do that something else. There are other schools that make choices to do things like have directors of instruction or math coaches. Our thought is we'd rather have teachers who are in the classroom and working directly with kids. That’s just kind of what works for us.
12:06 TH: I really appreciate how open you are to the partners, and I like how you start with yes, and then you shape it to get what you need.
12:13 JG: Yeah, we figure it out. Yeah. As long as it's good for the kids, we want to do it. And I know sometimes the teachers get a little bit like, "Oh, what’s this one now," but they know that if we bring something in, it’s good. If it's not good for the kids, we wouldn't do it. It gives them lots of opportunities to do things that otherwise they would never be able to do. Sometimes, it's a crazy, unique idea, and you hear it, you're like, "Oh, we could figure this out, right?" And then the kids end up loving it. It makes a difference in them coming to school every day, and being happy in school, and doing something different. But it also matters because they want to be stronger in their reading, writing and math. They wanna be a part of all the great things that are available for them, so yeah.
12:53 TH: How do you... If you are describing to your parents, educators, and even just your community at BPS, what do you say about our partnership with IHP (Institute of Health Professionals)? How has that been beneficial to the kids?
13:09 JG: Yeah, you know, it's interesting. That's a good question, because when people ask about it, the first thing I say is, "I don't know, but if you walk around the school, man, I guarantee you're gonna see someone from IHP somewhere here in our building doing something." Luckily, we have a coordinator helps us to coordinate a lot of the work. But everything from supporting us with data, helping us read our data so that we're providing the right interventions to students, to providing our teachers with professional development so they understand the kids who are in front of them and how they're learning language. There are folks from IHP who do things with our nurse, and we're looking at kids for their heights and weights and vision screenings. They’re working with kids at recess. So they're down in the gym, and they're doing fitness camps with kids, or they're painting bird houses.
13:54 JG: There are so many things that the students from the IHP are doing. It’s pretty amazing the breadth of stuff that goes on, and the kids really benefit from it a lot. Because again, they’re doing things that otherwise they wouldn't be able to do. The teachers like it, too because again, it's different things that they might not have expertise in. But they know our kids benefit from so there are just so many things going on and it's been great for our kids.
14:20 TH: It was interesting. I never thought about this as a by-product, but I was talking to a nursing student. He said that one of the Harvard kids students said, "Oh, what are you doing ?" And it was a male so, "I'm becoming a nurse and this is what I would do." And he was a Latino male and the student said, "Maybe I could do that some day." And the student said, "Of course, you can."
14:38 JG: Absolutely.
14:38 TH: So it's almost this by-product of exposing them to different career opportunities.
14:43 JG: Oh no, absolutely. Exposing kids to a career is actually really important for us, and is actually a focus in fourth grade. One of our teachers, Ms. McDonough, does a careers in the community group. I know they've worked with some folks from the MGH IHP in the past. When kids get to meet adults or someone older than them who are doing something different, they wanna know what's going on. It's like, "Wait a minute, you're a nurse? What do I have to do to be a nurse? That sounds like something that I would like to do. I'm good at this, I'm good at that." Those conversations happen all the time down at school and having the young adults around who can talk to the kids about that makes such a difference. Beause think about when you were younger, you know what your family does. You know policemen, you know firemen, you know doctors. But you don't know about all the different careers that are out there unless someone talks to you about them. So, exposing kids to all these things is incredibly invaluable.
15:37 TH: Great. So now you've been there nine years, and your school goes to fifth grade?
15:41 JG: We go to fifth grade, yeah.
15:41 TH: Yeah, so if you can... Do you know where your students go after fifth grade?
15:45 JG: Well, the really exciting news for us is that this current fifth grade class is gonna be sticking with us, and we're adding sixth grade for next year. So next year, our fifth grade is going nowhere. Which is awesome.
15:56 TH: Oh, that's great.
15:57 JG: Yeah! So, we're gonna have sixth grade for the '20-'21 school year. Yeah, so we're excited for that. Yeah.
16:02 TH: That’s amazing! Will you hear from some of your old students?
16:07 JG: Oh my goodness. Yeah, it's like the best problem that we have. On a daily basis, we have a doorbell ringing with kids who went to the Harvard-Kent, and they wanna come visit and tell us how they're doing. We are drawn between the line of letting them in to say hi to everyone, or going down to talk to them and say this isn't a great time. Because all the teachers are teaching and they want to see you too, but now is not a great time. But kids come back all the time, and they wanna tell us how they're doing. They might not realize it when they're in their fifth grade, they tell us that they miss us, and... But yeah, we do keep up with a lot of our kids and make sure that they're doing well. They stop by to let us know how they're doing. The good thing is they're pretty honest. Most of them are like, "I'm doing great. I'm doing this... And everyone's probably saying, "Well, I'm doing good at this, but not at this." So sometimes I feel like they're coming by to get a little bit of encouragement or something like that.
16:55 TH: Yeah. That's nice. So they continue to see it as a family unit?
17:00 JG: Oh, absolutely, yeah.
17:00 TH: It's already a community place for them?
17:02 JG: Yeah, for sure. And a lot of them have younger brothers and sisters, so they come by and pick up all the time. So we see their faces a lot, too.
17:08 TH: Yeah, so you said you have a wait list. So tell me, how is the Boston school system set up? It's not a community school per se? Would they automatically get into the Harvard-Kent if they are in the housing?
17:22 JG: No. So families have to register for school and when they register, they have a group of schools that they're eligible to apply for based on where they live.
17:30 TH: Okay.
17:30 JG: Yeah, so it's based on where you live, and then there's a certain amount of schools that will be on your list. Then you rank-order them, and then there's the kindergarten, there's a lottery process to get seats. Then in the other grades, if there's seats available, you can go in. If not, then you go on the waiting list, but there's no guarantees for anyone getting in. That can be a tricky challenge for families to navigate, particularly in the K1 and K2 grades. There was a thing called sibling preference. So, if there is a sibling in the school, you have a better chance of getting in, but there's still no guarantee.
18:09 TH: And why does Boston do that?
18:11 JG: Well, because I think that some schools are more highly chosen than others, and there is a limited amount of seats. So they can only fit, if you have 60 first grade seats, you can only fit 60 kids. If you don't get in to one of those 60, then you're placed somewhere else, so they want you to make multiple choices. Hopefully, you'll get one of your choices. You may stay on the wait list of your first choice while you're in school at another school. So it's a challenge that BPS has in a lot of neighborhoods. I know that there's a lot of work going on right now to try to figure out how to make sure as many families are in the neighborhood schools as possible. And then also to expand the number of schools that are higher performing, as well. I know that's the work that all schools and all school leaders are doing right now. So that's the vision of our new superintendent, and we're feeling really good about the future for Boston Public Schools.
19:05 TH: That's great. I know you do a lot of training of principles, and you have someone shadowing you now. What do you give them as the most helpful advice, or some advice you give them about going into schools that are more inner city and diverse. What advice do you give them?
19:22 JG: Yeah, so the last few years, we've had a fellow from Winch Leadership, which is a great program over at Boston College. They do connect with a lot of public charter and Catholic schools. And the first thing that we do when we have our fellows assigned to us in August, is we just talk about kids. A lot of conversation about kids, it's getting to know kids. Oftentimes, our fellows come in and they understand the curriculum. They've been teachers before, they know good instruction. Operationally, there's some things they need to learn. So, our thought is, and this is something my assistant principal also helps out with this a lot is, let's get to know our kids and our families. Take the time over the first couple of weeks to get to know a bunch of kids' names, learn their strengths so that when things start... Maybe if have kids start having, a little bit of trouble with things, you know their strengths and how to use those strengths to help them come back, right?
20:17 JG: And generally, our fellows do a really good job of that. It's like within a couple of weeks, they have relationship with tons of kids, they've gotten to know a lot of the classrooms. Which makes it a lot easier when you're going into classrooms to observe instruction and see students learning. When you know more about a kid than just their reading level… If you know that they play softball or that they're a cheerleader, or they love art, or that they read books, or this is the music that they like, or they love to dance, or their father does this, or their mom does that. The more you know about a kid, the better it is for that student, and the more likely they are to be successful because when you see them, you're talking about more than just school. You’re talking about other things and the kids really like that, you know. And we love it, too. It's good to be able to know our kids well.
21:06 TH: Yeah. I think that personal relationship and seeing them as a whole child, as opposed to a data point, makes it so critical.
21:06 JG: Oh, absolutely.
21:07 TH: You're really teaching that I think to your fellows. I saw that right away for sure. Now let’s have a little shift of topic. Thinking about the science of reading, how to keep up on all the trends. And now, it's been nine years. I know, obviously, before that, you were in education. So you've been here a long time. How do you balance making sure the kids are getting the best instruction, but also just what's happening in the world?
21:33 JG: You know, that's a good question, and I think that you have to have teachers who know how to have that balance in their classrooms. And we have, in my opinion, we have the best group of teachers in the Boston public schools. Probably anywhere, we have the best group of teachers. With everything that's going on in the world, it's important for our school to be a safe place where kids can learn, and teachers know that. If there are things that we have to address, we'll address it, but that doesn't take the place of learning, right? The most important thing that we do is we teach the kids how to read and write and do math and make friends and all those things. But if we leave any of those parts out of the puzzle, then we're not doing right by our kids. So teachers really know, this is sometimes going on and that we have to address, well, here's how we'll plan to address it. Then we're gonna move on and continue on with our work 'cause this is what we have to do. This is what the parents are expecting from us and this is what the kids need from us, right?
22:28 TH: Well, I have to say, working with your teachers, I think they are the best group, too.
22:29 JG: They're amazing.
22:32 TH: They're amazing. They're open-minded and they're thoughtful and critical in a great way. They're always thinking about the kids first.
22:40 JG: Yes, they are, yeah.
22:41 TH: And it really shows, it's really so helpful and I can see why.
22:44 JG: And they trust each other. They're really close on their teams. They trust each other, and plan together, they know their kids like together. They share a lot of the work together, and then they're almost like a family. It’s like they're so tight together do a lot together. Yeah, I didn't have to hire a single new teacher this year. It was great.
23:10 TH: Wow. It really is...
23:12 JG: But next year, we will be hiring because we're adding six grade, we have to hire teachers. And that's really nice that they wanna stay, and it's because of how they work together, there's no doubt about that. They've set it up so that they have to work hard. Our teachers work so hard, they really do. They know that from the second we start school to the second we end. They have to be 100% on the whole time, and they know that. So that when the end of the day comes, and that last student has walked home and that bus is gone, they can take that sigh and you can look at them and "Boy, you guys had a great week." Like they're exhausted, and it's because they work so hard and they really do. They make me look good, there's no doubt about that, they do, they do.
23:49 TH: Well, they're well respected by you. I think that makes a huge difference because you create that environment where their voices are heard and I think that's so critical. I definitely have seen more two-way communication, right, because it's not like... This is an outside view, but I don't think you tell them what to do… You talk with them.
24:06 JG: Yeah.
24:06 TH: And that's really so nice. And the teachers say that.
24:10 JG: Yeah, most of the time, they're stronger at instruction. They know what's right for their kids, they know that a lot more than I do. I just wanna try to clear a path so there's nothing in the way of them doing their jobs well. If they need help with something, just to let us know so that we can support them with it. Oftentimes it's like, we'll go to like a common planning time and I'll start the meeting, and then 40 minutes later, I haven't said another word and they have everything all planned and done or... And it's like, alright, thanks guys, thanks so making me look good.
24:40 TH: That's great. Well, Jason, what's your background? Are you a special education background?
24:44 JG: Yeah, yeah, I actually taught at New England Center for Children. I worked with students with autism while getting my master’s at Simmons. My teaching experience, I started as a special education teacher. I was a special education teacher in the Boston public schools, then I was a general education teacher. Then I went to the Special Education Office of Boston for a few years, before coming back to the Harvard Kent, because I taught at the Harvard Kent. Then I came back as a principal nine years ago.
25:12 TH: And you're of the community, too.
25:13 JG: Yeah, I live here in Charlestown, I'm a townie. Oh yeah.
25:16 TH: That's great. I think that also adds...
25:20 JG: I have the best commute, no doubt about it.
25:22 TH: Right? Totally.
25:23 JG: I walked here.
25:25 TH: All the partnerships too because you live there so you can see, you're not just leaving, you actually are there, you can see the partnerships that matter.
25:33 JG: I think that's been really helpful with a lot of our Charlestown like partners. Because we've always been a school here in the community, and it's always been a good school. I think what happened when I became principal is there are people who otherwise had no connection and saying "Hey, I know the principle down, there, I'll give them a call and see if they wanna do this, if they wanna do this... " and if it's a friend of me, "Sure, let's do that, yeah absolutely let's do that." So people in the community have just been really good to our school. And I don't think it's a coincidence that our school keeps getting stronger. I think the community's a huge part of that.
26:08 TH: And how do you think your background as a special educator, helps you as a principal?
26:11 JG: Well, I think what I was taught from the beginning, is that teaching's really hard. You have to know your students to do well. And one of the things about students with disabilities is every single student is different. They might be identified as having the same disability, but it doesn't mean that their needs are the same. So I've always looked at as we can never look at kids in whole groups. It's like, "let's look at kids individually", which when you have a bigger school, it's hard to do. But it's really what our teachers, it's really what our teachers and our staff do. Yes, we might group kids by like needs to provide interventions, but we really know the individual needs of those kids as well. I think the background in Special Education was helpful in helping me determine that.
26:55 TH: Mm-hm. I feel like when I work with special educators, they all have that background of diagnostics. What I mean by diagnostics, is the individual differences of kids. Just what you're saying, because you have a sense. You sit down individually with each kid, and you really start to look at them. I always think, in research, we have this concept of clumpers and splitters. So if you're a clumper, you kinda clump everyone together and look for patterns. Splitters kinda split out the individual differences and, of course, we have to do both, like you said.
27:23 JG: Yeah, you do, right.
27:25 TH: But special educators tend to have that splitter part which I think is so valuable if we're thinking about individual kids.
27:32 JG: Yeah, and that's what our teachers do, that's what our staff does. It's getting to know the individual kids, and what their needs are. Like we might say, "Oh, these kids all have a language-based learning disability." Okay, but more specifically, this student here struggles with this, and this student here has a strength with that, and this student has a strength with that. Then you can address their individual needs, which is hard, but it's also helpful to know what their needs are.
27:52 TH: Yeah, and another shift. I just want to get your advice. I work with a lot of researchers who wanna work with schools, and they feel nervous, like, "How do I approach schools? How do I do this?" What has been your view in terms of what are the key ingredients to having a good research partnership with a school from your view?
28:19 JG: So, if we're talking to researchers, the first thing is you have to think of how there's value in this for the students and for the school. If there's value in it for the students or for the school, then schools are more likely to wanna partner with folks to do research. If it's just research to write a paper, and it's not thinking about what's good for the kids, then schools will be less likely. They have to understand what the value is to them. While teachers always love, like, "Oh, I'll get a $25 gift card to Target if you do it... " That's nice, but teachers would almost rather hear, "After we do this research, you're gonna know each and every one of your students and where they are as far as comprehension on grade level text," or anything along those lines. It just has to be specific, like what are the students gonna get out of this and how is it gonna help the students, rather than just, "Oh, you'll have some data" and that's it. You know what I mean?
29:11 TH: It does seem like, too, the listening phase of going in and not just saying, "Okay, here's the research we're gonna do," but saying, "Here's what we offer. Is something of this of interest to you?" Like maybe that listening part...
29:26 JG: No, absolutely. Instead of coming in with the idea 100% solid, it's like, "Here is something that we wanna do. How could we partner to figure this out so that it will help your kids, but then we can also get some research and data that will help other schools as well?" Then it really becomes more of a partnership, than "we need to use you for research" and if it becomes a partnership it's a lot better. I can almost say that most school leaders would say, "If it's helpful, if it doesn't take too much teachers' time up, and it is valuable to the kids, then we're crazy not to try to figure something out."
30:02 TH: Right, but it is interesting, because I think because, and I speak for myself too, we're not trained in how to do that. We're almost trained the opposite. Like go in, "Here's what we have to offer." It's so stringent. What I've learned over time is that you do have to be more flexible. You might have a research idea, but it has to be something that is still amenable to what's gonna help. And I think some of it, too, is just even how you think about what you're doing. Because you might, just as a researcher, think about the paper. But really, there's so much more than the paper. You can get the paper too, but what, on top of the paper, what are you doing to really be a partner?
30:42 JG: Yeah I think the our summer program over the last few years is a prime example of that. It's like we know we're running a summer program for kids so that we can push literacy over the summer. So kids don't, they don't have the summer slide, and maybe even make progress over the summer. We know that there's not a lot of, as much research as we had hoped on that type of work. Well, we're gonna do this, someone needs to research this. Why can't we work together to figure this out? That's been really a good thing for us over the last few summers, because we have the support of MGH and the IHP folks. Our own teachers are working and doing a lot of instruction. We have some of the grad students in doing instruction, and work with kids, and it's a really nice collaboration. But it's definitely a collaboration. Matter-of-fact, Joanna, called yesterday. "Don't forget the early proposals are due November first." And I'm like, "I already have it on the calendar."
31:31 TH: Yeah, yes, right. That communication part. But I do think that I've appreciated that the institute also is willing to put some skin in the game by. Like you mentioned, that they're paying the salary of someone who's the liaison.
31:50 JG: She's the liaison between the school, yeah, Diane.
31:53 TH: Which makes a huge difference. Speaking of Diane, so she is an SLP, and also has training in literacy. What do you see, as a principal, is a way the SLPs can really show their value for literacy? What's your experience there?
32:11 JG: Well, so Diane was our speech and language pathologist for years down at the school. She's retired from that, but obviously still working with us and she really is almost like a, she's almost like a ground breaker in understanding that there is a strong correlation between reading and language. Oftentimes SLPs are stuck in a spot where they have so much testing they have to do, and compliance-base support of kids. Things, you know, "He has 30 minutes in his IEP everyday. I have to do that", which are all really important things, it's not that they're not. But it's also great if SLPs can see the connection between that and reading. And, in all honesty, it's not something that everyone sees. It's actually almost, I don't wanna say it's unique, but the MGH IHP SLPs are more grounded in reading than SLPs from just about anywhere else.
33:07 TH: Right, you know and they really are, because all of the SLPs here, their first year, have to see a child who has a written language difficulty regardless. So, I mean that's...
33:15 JG: Oh, I didn't know that.
33:16 TH: Yeah, it's really unique that way. And they see a child who has more of the spoken language too. More of the speech sound. But I think it forces them to see that connection, even if they wanna go into medical fields at some point, they have to see that connection. That is very unusual, and I think my experience has been, some speech pathologists feel, like you said, overwhelmed.
33:37 JG: Yeah, it's a lot of work.
33:38 TH: And it's just like, "Oh, I have to do my case load and try to do this.” But it seems to me that Diane, because she saw that, was able to then build a relationship with you and the teachers, that showed her value too.
33:50 JG: Yeah, because there are times that SLP’s are really working one on one with a student with some sort of, whether it's a speech delay, or whatever. It's very valuable. There are other times that that service being provided in a group while reading instruction is going on can be supportive. It can be even more supportive of what the child needs. So it's a broad statement to say, "Oh, they should all be doing reading work." It’s, find the opportunities to get connected with the school, and to be a part of the literacy work that everyone's doing. I think that SLPs who do that find themselves as a really engaged valuable part of the school, rather than just delivering skills in isolation, right? While, again, some of those skills in isolation have to be done for certain reasons, like specific student needs. I get that, but being a part of the whole community, and bringing some of those supports into the classroom can be really valuable as kids are learning how to read too.
34:45 TH: Absolutely. Well, it is those kids on the case load, they're the ones. So it's like you have overlap.
34:50 JG: Oh, yeah, it's a lot of the same kids.
34:53 TH: I'm gonna be mindful of our time, I really... This has been such a great conversation.
34:56 JG: Oh, good questions.
34:57 TH: But I do always ask my guests two questions at the end. So one is, what are you up to now that you're most excited about?
35:04 JG: Well, we're really excited about adding grade six next year, so we've been doing a lot of planning with that. We have a great group of teachers who meet every other week to do some planning around that. so that's very exciting. We're also excited that on Halloween, the 31st, is the School on the Move breakfast. So we're up for a big award on the 31st with Edvestors, so we're finalist for that.
35:27 TH: Oh, congratulations!
35:29 JG: No, it's exciting. You're nominated based on improvement data over the last few years, and we're one of the three finalists with a couple of really nice Boston public schools. The Kenny and the Bradley, two other great schools. So we're excited for the breakfast next week to find out if we are the winner of the School on the Move.
35:46 TH: And what does that mean if you win?
35:47 JG: It means money!
35:50 TH: Money, I was hoping you'd say that!
35:52 JG: Yeah. We would win $100,000, which is great. Yeah, Edvestors supports it, and they've been a great organization to work with. So we're excited about that. But it's also one of those things that the teachers we're all very excited. Do we wanna win? Of course we wanna win, but just being nominated where we are, it feels good. We're nominated with a couple of really good Boston public schools. So we're excited for that next week and then to see, hopefully, some really good news then.
36:20 TH: That's fantastic. That's really great.
36:22 JG: Yeah. It's kept us busy in the beginning of the year, so, yeah, we're excited for it.
36:25 TH: Well, I can't wait to hear.
36:27 JG: Yeah. Oh, yeah, you'll hear, oh, for sure.
36:29 TH: A breakfast you said?
36:30 JG: Yeah, they do a breakfast on Halloween morning. Yeah, over at the InterContinental Hotel. Yeah, pretty good.
36:35 TH: Oh, well, congratulations again. The other question I ask is, what's your favorite book from childhood or now?
36:42 JG: All right, so this is a tough one. I was trying to think of my favorite childhood book. But because I got the email today, because I go to Barnes & Nobles all the time. I'm still a hard, like pick up the book and buy it type guy, and I just went this weekend to Barnes & Nobles. I used my card, or whatever. So I got the email today that my favorite author, his name's Harlan Coben, he just writes mysteries. So being in education, when I read at night before I go to bed, I have to read books that are easy to read and great, great story lines and good characters. So I like all the Harlan Coben books. He’s got a new book coming out so I have to pre-order that because I read his books in a week.
37:18 TH: Oh, I love those books too.
37:21 JG: They're like the grippers, the ones that you can't let go of, right, they're mysteries, yeah.
37:21 TH: Yeah. Yeah, I love those.
37:22 JG: So I love reading those books. And then I always alternate in, and there's always one sitting next to my bed, next to my alarm, something that has to do with work and school. Whether it's something to do with education, or something about school. So the book that I have right now is actually a book that I'm reading with a group of principles called The Multiplier Effect. It's about having multipliers in your school who help make the school stronger versus diminishers who could take the energy away. So it's an interesting book that I'm reading with a group of other principles. Those ones are a little bit harder to read. Sometimes you read like half a chapter, and your brain's drained, or something like that. But it's a really good book. So I kinda alternate back and forth between those two. The fast ones that I know I really like that... Yeah, yeah.
38:08 TH: That's really cool. That's great.
38:09 JG: But that's kinda like what we try to teach the kids at school too. It's like, what do we want them to read? The answer's, we want them to read at grade level, so they understand what they're reading. But to choose books that they like, because we choose books that we like. And that's what kids could be doing as well.
38:24 TH: And that's the joy of reading, right? That keeps them going.
38:27 JG: But that's not always the case. I know there are mandatory books that we have to read, especially in high schools, there's a lot of mandatory. And I get that, but giving kids more choice of what they're reading, it helps kids become better readers. I know if I pick up a book and I don't like it, I stop reading it. And we can't tell our kids to stop reading books they don't like, we just have to give then the opportunities to read more books that they like, so that's tricky. Yeah.
38:50 TH: Jason, thank you so much for coming on the podcast!
38:52 JG: Thanks for having me here. This is cool, this is cool.
38:55 TH: Yeah! Thank you!
38:58 Tiffany Hogan: Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.