Unprepared for What We Learned

Six Action Research Exercises That Challenge the Ends We Imagine for Education

by Tim Kubik (Author)
©2018 Monographs XIV, 194 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 519


Unprepared for What We Learned: Six Action Research Exercises that Challenge the Ends We Imagine for Education explores how twentieth century models of education are not delivering on their promises, or helping to deliver the promise of the next generation. We hear that our students are not prepared, and that our teachers must not be prepared to teach those students. Managing preparation has become an obsession for policy-makers who claim that national competitiveness is at stake. After more than one hundred years everything is well managed, yet no one is prepared.
This preparatory mindset presumes that learners must be prepared before they can participate in society, and that this preparation must be managed intentionally using models, an implementation plan, and a system for assessing and evaluating the impact of those models. It’s biggest failing is that those with the greatest stake, our young and adult learners, no longer recognize it as an effective model. Empowered by digital technologies, learners today are no longer willing to wait to be prepared. We seek experiences for which we are unprepared for what we’ll learn.
Unprepared for What We Learned: Six Action Research Exercises that Challenge the Ends We Imagine for Education shares six exercises drawn from students, teachers, and school communities wrestling with problems of practice for which they were unprepared. Readers will question standards, outcomes, and global competencies; negotiate personalized learning; and ultimately co-create innovative school communities that disrupt the preparatory mindset. Together, these young and adult learners participating in the authentic work of their school communities will challenge the ends we imagine for education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Unprepared for What We Learned
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Are We Prepared?
  • Begin Where You Are!
  • The Problems with a Preparatory Mindset
  • Part I: Are There Better Outcomes?
  • Questioning Standards, Outcomes, and Competencies
  • Exercise 1: Learner Questions
  • Exercise 2: Community Questions
  • Part II: How Personal Is the Pedagogical?
  • Negotiating Personal(-ized) Learning
  • Exercise 3: Personal Negotiations Toward Better Outcomes
  • Exercise 4: Pedagogical Negotiations
  • Part III: Whose Schools Are We Building?
  • Co-Creating School Communities
  • Exercise 5: Co-Creating Standards for a School Community
  • Exercise 6: Challenging Identities
  • Reflection: Is Your School Community Open for Negotiation?
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


I’ve been prepared for a lot of things in my life. Life rarely provided the opportunity to rely on those preparations.

I attended a good public school when Iowa public schools were among the best. Great teachers, such as Brian Schlofeldt and Amy Ray/Kanelils, prepared me as they thought best. They did well, but they couldn’t prepare me for what I had yet to learn when I went off to Yale. Based on those I met there, however, I’m not certain the best preparatory schools did any better.

At Yale I learned a couple world languages, a little bit about mediaeval romance literature, and a whole lot about Soviet naval policy. My advisors, Bruce Russett, Paul Kennedy, and Brad Westerfield were some of the best there were. None of them could prepare me for the collapse of a regime we all assumed would keep my generation employed in what was then known fancifully as Sovietology. Nor was I prepared for what came after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I moved from teaching in Liberia on the eve of civil war, to a whole lot of international relations theory and German history. I started my preparations at American University, and ended with a dual Ph.D. ← ix | x → from The Johns Hopkins University. History and Political Theory were in significant transitions in the 1990s, and I was prepared to be on the interdisciplinary cutting edge by the likes of Nick Onuf, Georg Liska, Kirstie McClure, William Connolly, J.G.A. Pocock, Mack Walker, and Nancy Struever. Yet none of us were prepared for the structural changes that rippled through higher education in the 1990s, leaving hundreds of Ph.D. candidates for every available job in the humanities. Facing similar odds my incredibly supportive wife, Dr. Nancy Matchett, and I became a pair of pathetic peripatetics. It’s been a wonderful adventure.

I certainly wasn’t prepared to teach in 1998 when I accepted my first full-time secondary school teacher-leader role at the Ross School in East Hampton, NY. Nothing could have prepared me for the people working at, or with, the Ross School between 1998 and 2002. Think of a name disrupting education at the end of the millennium: that person likely led professional development sessions over our month long August retreats. I’ll always be grateful to the school’s founder, Courtney Sale Ross, for all I learned there, but none of it prepared me for what came next.

I went to teach in more traditional institutions like Kent Denver School, the University of Denver, and Colorado State University from 2002 to 2009, believing that, for the first time in my life, I was actually prepared. I wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the students, the curriculum, or my colleagues to be exactly as I expected them to be. There were extraordinary young and adult learners in my life from 2002 to 2009; they just weren’t taking many risks. I wasn’t prepared for that.

So toward the end of 2007 I felt the need to do something for which I was completely unprepared. I left teaching, joined a presidential campaign and started consulting with the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network as a favor to a former Ross School colleague, Jennifer Chidsey. The campaign turned out to be a winner, but politics remains more an avocation than a vocation. Instead my life has been ten years on the road working with teachers as an unaffiliated scholar and educational consultant, and nothing could have prepared me for these years. That’s ironic, because the question I encounter most in my travels is: “How do I prepare to do what you do?” You don’t. ← x | xi → You participate in the work with others. My time with Jennifer Chidsey, Shari Becker Albright, and Marjorie Larner at the Asia Society; Thom Markham and David Ross, Anthony Cody, and Suzie Boss at the Buck Institute for Education; and now with my Project ARC partners Jill Ackers Clayton and Dayna Laur has been as much a learning experience for me as for those I have been asked to help rethink their instructional practice.

And that’s the point…of this entire book. This is not a guide that will teach you to teach like anything other than yourself, and there are no three, five, or seven point plans. That’s because I’ve come to accept that we’re unprepared for what we have to learn about learning in the 21st century. After all, the 21st century is 20% history. If we keep trying to prepare for it, we’ll miss the chance to live in it. Indeed the most dangerous phrase in education may no longer be “we’re/they’re not prepared for that,” and instead may be: “but first, I have to teach….”

None of us knows what the future holds for learning, but my hope is that there will be educators like Andrea Zaph, Mary Jo Scalzo, Diane McInturff, Jonathan Johnson, Daniel Wolfskehl, Tony Monfiletto, Tori Stephens-Shauger, Nancy Black, and Hope Kitts, all whom you’ll meet in this book. These educators understand that the professionalization of our work—with young learners or as adult learners—comes from participation in building a future we can share, not from preparation for it. If you fear that admitting you’re unprepared might make the exercises in this book too hard, I’ll leave it to my friend and colleague, Dr. Katrina Kennett, to remind us that: “Our job is not to make the hard work of teaching easy, but to make it easier to do the hard work.”

Tim Kubik, Ph.D.
Berthoud, CO
← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →

Are We Prepared?

If you work in, with, or around an American school today, I hope you know a teacher like Dan Goldner. Dan is a young father who teaches pre-calculus to 11th and 12th graders in a Boston public school. Like many other American schools, Dan’s school serves a population of young learners rich with diversity but poor in economic resources, both at home and at school. The adults in Dan’s school, and in his district, and perhaps in his state house and the federal government, are deeply concerned about whether his students will be prepared to live in the highly competitive world of the 21st century. This means they’re also likely to be concerned about whether teachers like Dan are prepared to do that.

Dan wants to get better at his chosen profession. We met in January of 2016 at Educon 2.8, an annual student-led conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I didn’t know Dan at all before his two-hour session: Defining Prepared, and neither one of us were prepared for what happened there. Dan’s session wasn’t an opportunity for him to define the word “prepared.” Indeed, Dan wasn’t prepared to teach us anything about preparation. Instead, his ← 1 | 2 → session was an opportunity for all forty of us in the room to collaborate around preparation as problem of practice.

Dan opened the session by asking big questions to help us engage one another. His first question was: “Consider a significant experience from your youth that helped prepare you for later in life.”1 We talked at our tables, and we shared our thoughts on a Google Doc he’d created as a space for us to capture those thoughts. Responses from those in the room included…2

“persistence, passion, joy, something I could do independently”

but also…

“hard work, teamwork, doing what it takes to be good”

and finally:

“It redefined my idea of power. I got an early glimpse of how being willing to think differently from preconceived obstacles could open-up unseen opportunities.”

That last one is deep, but we were just getting started. Next Dan asked us to: “Consider a time when a student had the experience that you became an educator to help students have.”3 Answers included:4

“Learning persistence and the value of figuring it out,”


XIV, 194
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles,Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Tim Kubik (Author)

Dr. Tim Kubik graduated Yale University and taught in Liberia before earning Joint Ph.D. in History & Theory from The Johns Hopkins University. He has designed and taught courses from elementary to post-graduate levels as a teacher and as a consultant for the AS/ISSN, BIE, WLS, and Project ARC across 19 states and six countries.


Title: Unprepared for What We Learned
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209 pages