School Leaders: Beware the Traveling Medicine Doctor …and some website, book and blog suggestions

IMG_0493              ¡Saludos desde Perú!

I’m working with some highly talented colleagues from an NGO who want to make schools better places for children. Work doesn’t get any better than this!

Since we created this website last March with its weekly blog, many colleagues around the world have asked me to share some of my observations and favorite websites, blogs, books, etc. related to school leadership in underserved communities.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider. I will end the blog on a positive note, but first let me begin with something that I find far too common and troubling….

Perhaps you’ve seen movies or heard about the traveling medicine shows of the nineteenth century in the US. These ‘doctors’ (usually a man posing as a doctor) promoted miracle cures for whatever aliments where popular at the time. They told people who attended their ‘shows’ that these medicines could cure baldness or a disease, remove wrinkles, prolong lives or get rid of that nagging cough. They authoritatively said that these medicines were patented (not!) in order to make them sound official.

Well today, as I work in low and middle-income countries I am meeting the 21st century version of the traveling medicine doctor! They claim that if you follow what they are selling (their consulting services), learning in your school will improve. In most cases they are hired to do one workshop, but more and more frequently these slick, well-dressed consultants are selling the notion that you need them throughout the school year. When you remind them you are a school struggling financially, they say they will give you a ‘special rate’ for their services since schools and children are so important to them.

First, they may tell you they have an advanced university degree (it seems to impress people more if it’s from the US, UK or any ‘western’ nation) and many list their names as Drs. So & So. Far too often they either started taking courses in a doctoral program and never finished, or they bought their degree(s) from a ‘university’ selling degrees or they may have an honorary doctorate. Beware the honorary doctorates since they are often given by a ‘Theological University’ or ‘Bible College’ that also is likely to be a college their cousin created after starting his own church. And, the worst part is, many of them want you to call them Doctor. It is not acceptable for a person who has an honorary doctoral degree from an unaccredited university to call themselves ‘doctor’; yet, people uncritically accept these titles.

These traveling medicine doctors tend to have attractive PowerPoint presentations filled with animations, quotes from well-known scholars in education or leadership and they tell you what they are promoting is ‘evidence-based’ (i.e. comparable to ‘patented’ like our 19th century traveling show doctors!).

Sooner or later these Medicine Doctor Consultants will fade away like the US traveling Medicine Doctors, but how much money will be wasted before that happens? How many teachers will be taught to use strategies that have no evidence behind them?

I’m thrilled to see some changes taking place. Some staff in Ministries of Education are asking tough questions and wanting to see the evidence behind an intervention. And, many donors are asking for more evidence on the impact of interventions.

So, friends let’s do our best to uncover the snake oil doctors and destroy the idea of miracle elixirs! Education is hard, messy work—it’s not about calling in an expert “doctor.” There are no magic tricks to improve learning in your school.   It takes instructional leadership…so…follow the evidence!

Now for a few websites, blogs, articles and books for you to consider.

Three especially good education websites:

One of the best websites for evidence about programs is Robert Slavin’s– Best Evidence Encyclopedia   Using rigorous standards they identify ‘proven’ programs and topics at all levels of education.

Edutopia

The Hechinger Report

Here’s a book for you to consider: Urban Myths about Learning and Education (2015) by Dutch authors Pedro De Bruyckyere, Paul Kirschner, & Casper Hulshof.  The book debunks many of the (“Medicine Doctor’s”) claims, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of frequently cited educational research.

If you have a general interest in the African continent you may want to subscribe to Jeffrey Paller’s newsletter: This Week in Africa. It contains dozens of timely links to events and topics on the continent. And, if you are interested in development in general take a look at Duncan Green’s Oxfam blogs: Poverty to Power. Both sometimes have articles/links to topics of importance for those of us with an interest in school leadership.

There’s a newspaper that often has articles on education topics from around the world. It’s the Guardian and it’s free—but, if you find yourself reading more than more or two articles, please make a regular donation!

If you have an interest in Early Childhood education there’s an interesting audio recording (and transcript) from National Public Radio (May 30, 2018). It’s short and definitely worth listening to! Preschools in Ghana’s Capital Challenge Call-And-Response System

If you ever plan to write about Africa then this is the article for you: Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa.

Finally, if you haven’t yet signed up to receive our weekly blogs delivered directly to your mailbox, here’s the link to Global Ed Leadership. Under the heading “Resources” we include lots of books, websites, blogs on different topics in education, learning and leadership about different regions around the world.

Time to stop and get ready for a leadership and learning training I’m doing tomorrow. Saludos!

Paula

 

 

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