Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.26.24Look Mom, I’m a Podcaster


That’s not really me; and that’s not really my vibe.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” my 15 year old daughter said, pressing pause, “But I really expected this to be boring. I’m kind of pleasantly surprised.”

We were in the car. “This” was an interview I’d done with Amy Forrester and Adam Boxer, two teachers from the UK whose help I’d asked comparing the school systems in the US and the UK. They were crushing it.

Very cautiously this year I’ve taken up podcasting. It’s let me have conversations with people I find super-interesting about topics I think are especially important. On the heels of the unexpected thumbs-up from my daughter, I thought I would maybe share a bit more about the conversations I’ve been having…just in case my daughter was right. And because some of my guests were pretty great and their insights immensely useful to folks who work in schools.

So below you’ll find a summary of a few episodes I’ve done that i think are especially relevant in thinking about schools and where they are in the world.

On ‘Trauma’ with George Bonanno, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia Teachers College, author of The End of Trauma.

What and Why: You can’t walk into a school these days an not hear someone use the phrase “trauma informed teaching,” and to be honest that always made me uncomfortable. When people said the kids who’d been through pandemic were traumatized as I heard on more than one occasion, that bothered me. That was often a big presumption made about kids with very little backing. Was there a diagnosis? By whom? If there wasn’t one people were likely misappropriating psychological term to argue for actions (lower expectations) that could be harmful to the young people. And it seemed really reckless to for adults to act as if–or tell kids that–they were fragile or broken. So I read George Bonanno’s book. He’s spent his life studying trauma. He knows more about it than almost anybody. And reading his book made me even more aware of the potential to do harm to young people while meaning to protect them.

On Teamwork and Group Formation with William Von Hippel, professor of psychology at the University of Queensland, author of The Social Leap.

What and Why: If you’ve been to any of my workshops or keynotes you know that I talk a lot about the science of evolution and how much it can teach us about how and why we form groups. And how profoundly group-ish we are wired by evolution to be. After reading Bill’s outstanding book–i generally tell people it’s one of the best 2 or 3 books I’ve read in recent memory–I finally got to sit down with him and ask him all my questions. If you want to understand why we do a lot of the things we do and how to build a stronger sense of belonging in classrooms Bill’s insights will be on-point for you.

On the Similarities and Differences between our Educational System and England’s, Amy Forrester and Adam Boxer, teachers extraordinaire and eminent podcasters (“They Behave For Me“)

What and Why: There have been a couple of really great books in the genre of comparative educational anthropology lately. This is a genre name that I’ve made up to refer to books that study and compare school systems around the world like Lucy Crehan’s Cleverlands and Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World. Given how important schools are we really ought to be doing a lot of this what do other countries do and why business. But weirdly no one’s done it for the US and the UK, and the UK’s school system is the closest and most accessible proxy for our own. Want to hear about a plausible alternative to the SAT? England’s GCSE system is a good starting point. Plus Amy and Adam are lively and fun.

On Parents and Schools, Robert Pondiscio, author of How the Other Half Learns?

What and Why: Robert’s book is or should be required reading. He asks some pretty challenging questions about the interaction between schools and parents. What should parents expect and be able to influence in what schools do? What are the limitations and benefits of choice. It’s a timely issue and Robert is blunt when necessary and insightful throughout.

On what cognitive psychology can tell about how we teach and how students learn. Carl Hendrick, author of How Learning Happens.

What and Why:  Carl’s book goes deep into specific research studies on learning and what they tell us.  As he says in the interview: “Things that seem improbable are probable, and things that seem probable are improbable.” In other words our intuition about what causes learning is often wrong and we are poor judges of whether we or our students are in fact learning.  Carl describes key studies from the field  some of their unexpected implications in the classroom.

I interview my own kids about 1) My own parenting and 2) Grade inflation, stress and what they think as students.

People often say to me: would you want your kids raised like that? [THAT being I guess TLAC techniques and strictness generally]. And actually the answer is” yes. I have three kids, I adore them and I tried to raise them according to the principles I write about. Now that the older two are off to university I asked them to review my wife and my parenting: were we too strict? what didn’t they like? what will they do with their own kids. It was so fascinating I had them back on to talk about grades and grading and stress from a student’s perspective. Did they like it when teachers “took the pressure off” by de-emphasizing grades for example.


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