There is an old adage that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This year, I thought I’d try and grow the population of the specific village raising ‘my children’ (or, in my case, the 174 students I taught first semester) by widening the access my students have with adults in our community.
The First Community Collaboration
Some might assume—because I’m married to a social studies teacher or because I once had a job supporting social studies teachers—that I am well-versed in all things historical. This is far from true. While I love reading historical fiction and I’m well versed in certain literary and philosophical movements, that’s where my historical expertise ends. For this reason, when a colleague of mine pointed out that a local expert on the orphan trains of the early 1930’s was going to be giving a Community Education Class on the topic, I decided to reach out—see if she’d come in and work with my students.
My sophomores and I had started the school year off reading the novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Not only do students love the snarky zest of the protagonist who happens to also be in high school, but this character’s world-view ties in well with our Native American Indian Literature state standards. Simultaneously, however, the other protagonist navigates a part of history my students and I knew very little about… So why not bring in a community expert?
My students loved Dorothy Lund Nelson’s visit. She had done a lot of research and was passionate about her topic. She had students wear name tags and she talked to them as if they themselves were orphans in the early 1900’s. For the rest of the book, and occasionally throughout the rest of the year, students would reference her visit. Plus, she left a copy of The Home We Shared: History and Memoir of the North Dakota Children’s Home at Fargo, North Dakota behind for our students to share, and when we were still together in the classroom it was checked out often.
The Next Community Collaboration
Working with Dorothy Lund Nelson is what got me started—and it led to a community connection that just keeps on giving: our Mayo High School collaboration with the Rochester Public Library (RPL).
We stumbled into this collaboration naturally because every Tuesday, when I would meet one-on-one with roughly a half-dozen students throughout the period to talk about what they were reading, I kept finding myself recommending audiobooks to my more reluctant readers and to my students struggling with fluency when reading aloud. Personally, being addicted to audiobooks, I was surprised by how many students were not aware of the audiobooks they had access to for free via our school library and via RPL. This prompted me to reach out to RPL and see if they’d have any interest coming and getting my students connected with library cards. Sarah Joynt, their librarian who does student outreach, was instantly on board.
Joynt spent the day with me and my students. Each period, she shared with students some of the many online resources RPL provides, discussed some of the in-person opportunities that teens often enjoy at RPL, answered a wide variety of questions that students had, and then got those who wanted them set up with library cards (which she delivered to us about a month later). A high-energy presenter, students leaned in and listened to her every word. They ask questions about the Bookmobile and the BookBike, they wanted to know how to get jobs at RPL, they even wondered aloud if there were ways to get overdue fines waved (yes, by the way, there is). In fact, this collaboration went so well, that now all 10th graders at Mayo High School—not just those who have me as a teacher— have had Joynt come into their American Literature and Composition classrooms to share about RPL’s free resources.
Here are a few snapshots of the magic that Joynt brought into my students’ lives:
Future Community Collaborations
There was a time in my teaching career where I though bringing in community members wasn’t worth the effort it would take. Well, color me a different color now. In both cases this year, reaching out was fast, easy, and simple. The benefits far outweigh any negatives that came with scheduling these visitors. In fact, I’m already making plans for next year—and I’m not just planning to bring back Lund Nelson and Joynt: I’ve already started lining up community experts in the field of writing to work with my Creative Writing students in the school year 2020-2021!
If nothing else has been verified by the pandemic, it is indeed that it does “take a village to raise a child.” I am heartened by, and lucky that, this year I took the time to expand my students’ village this past fall, because it certainly made this pandemic-spring a bit easier for them to navigate. We never know what the future has in store, so why not give our students as many connections as possible? And those connections can easily extend far beyond our classroom doors.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, English Teacher, Mayo High School
Let’s talk about SEL for adults. According to the Panorama website, adult SEL is defined as “the process of helping educators build their expertise and skills to lead social and emotional learning initiatives. It also involves cultivating adults’ own social and emotional competencies.” I interpret this to mean, in order to teach it, we have to live it.
I have been working with children, adults, and families for fifteen years, both in the field of education and in the world of mental health. The longer I do this work, the more I understand that, in order to be an effective professional, I need to focus just as much time on my own wellness and competencies as I do on the populations I serve. I believe that this is just as true for educators.
Let’s look at the statistics. According to the ACEs study, more that 60% of adults will have experienced one of the 10 adverse childhood experiences listed in the study by the time they are 18. According to NAMI (the National Alliance for Mental Illness), one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. This means that the majority of us have experienced some level of childhood adversity, and a fair amount of us are experiencing mental illness.
Even if you are someone who hasn’t experienced either, you bring with you a specific series of circumstances that has shaped who you are and what you believe. And we all work with students who have not had those same set of circumstances. Adult SEL means that, along with working with students’ social and emotional competencies, we acknowledge that we also have our own social and emotional competencies that are continuously developed and refined during our practice as educators.
Again, according to Panorama, “a study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that teachers who were mandated to teach SEL, but did not cultivate their own practice worsened their students’ SEL skills. However teachers who developed their own SEL skills, not only improved their own well-being, but improved the social, emotional and academic development of their students.”
Some ways to develop and refine your own SEL skills:
“What was my best moment today, and how can I have more moments like it?”
“What was my most challenging moment today, and what can I learn from that moment?”
“How are my students reacting to my lessons, to me, to my classroom? What can I learn from their reactions?”
“How did my mood today influence my interactions?”
“Are people responding to me in the way that I would like them to? What am I doing that influences those responses?”
“What feels uncomfortable to me to think about? What does that discomfort tell me about myself and my interactions?”
“Am I living the skills and values I am trying to teach? If not, why?”
“How am I caring for myself, so I can arrive as my best self?”
“If I’m not caring for myself appropriately, why not? What assumptions can I challenge, so I can start caring for myself?
In this unpredictable world of political divides and pandemic illnesses, our social and emotional competencies are what will help us understand ourselves and each other. Adult SEL is one important way that we can build ourselves up, so we can continue to build up our students.
This post brought to you by Sarah Clarke, RPS Social Emotional Learning Lead
Before we dive into this idea of translanguaging, it is good to have an understanding of what bilingualism is. According to the Linguistic Society of America, “A bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages.” A more in-depth explanation of bilingualism and the benefits of it are explained in this TED Talk by Mia Nacamulli.
So what is this translanguaging thing all about?
Translanguaging is the process bilinguals use of drawing upon different resources (linguistic, cognitive, etc.) to make meaning and sense. For example, a parent could watch TV in Spanish, but talk to children in English about school and family in Spanish. The children might speak Spanish at home and English at school. The children might develop literacy and speaking skills in English at school. The language practices each individual uses varies based on the context.
Translanguaging does not separate English from the home language or vice versa. Rather, it views them as a whole. The children are bringing language skills in both languages at varying levels and abilities. They might have a higher proficiency in reading in the school language, but a higher proficiency speaking in the home language.
How is this an asset?
First, this is a great opportunity to build a home-school connection. Imagine a classroom where students are reading, creating projects, and talking in multiple languages. The students can bring work home in multiple languages and the family would be able to connect with the children more easily than if homework is only in the school language. The family has access to their student’s education. The educator is validating the home language, which is very important when engaging families whose first language is not English. The inclusion of a translanguaging space legitimizes a role for the home language in school, leading to students’ increased self-esteem and investment in learning.
Second, translanguaging is what emergent bilingual children do naturally. They might use skills from one language in one context and skills from another in a different context. It is unnatural for bilinguals to try to compartmentalize language skills. The purpose is to use certain features to communicate effectively. Translanguaging practices are the norm for bi/multilingual children who come from homes that use multiple languages.
Another reason developing other languages alongside one another is good is that it does not create hierarchies. It does not place native English speakers as being superior to those that are learning another or multiple languages.
Fourth, by honoring translaguaging, you develop children who become global citizens. They will be able to build community with and learn from people that they see in society who are different from them. It would show them not only cultural, but linguistic diversity in the classroom.
Metalinguistic translanguaging space in teaching also allows bilingual students to compare and contrast the different ways in which the home language and the school language are used, building their metalinguistic awareness.
How we can create a space in our classrooms to allow for translanguaging to take place?
This post brought to you by Brian Durgin, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
The words “Grading for Learning” resonated in my ears. My first reaction was, “Oh no, what is this?” to which my psychology teacher, Mr. Lunde, would point out was an example of classically conditioned resistance to new and unfamiliar things. But now I have applied “semantic meaning” to this grading and teaching concept, and I’m here to share that with you all!
First thing’s first, I will outline why I believe this concept is beneficial to students. Throughout my academic career, I have been involved in many social justice causes. One underlying theme of my involvement and advocacy is reaching equity for everyone, especially for marginalized populations. It is the responsibility of those in power to take action in reaching that said equity. I believe as an educated, able-bodied, U.S. born citizen, it is my responsibility to contribute to this fight for equity. I also believe that as educators, it is your job to do the same! And one step you can make to reaching that equity for everyone is adopting the concept of Grading for Learning into your classroom. The whole idea behind this new grading and teaching style is to make learning accessible and fair for each student. For so long there have been practices that have made it difficult for some students to succeed; before or after school make-up times, extra credit that involves access to transportation, homework that requires access to wifi or external support… you get my point, right? There may be a small population of students that this applies to, but I guarantee 9 times out of 10 that they are also facing other hardships. So why not make it easier on them? I am one of those students and I will tell you how this grading and teaching concept has changed my path of success.
Back in junior year is when I first experienced what Grading for Learning really is. I signed up for the rigorous AP Calculus BC. (In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea without having had Calculus AB, but the more you know!) I had no idea what to really expect because I hadn’t known anyone that had already taken the class—my usual method of gauging my success in a class! My fear and anxiety were elevated from the very idea of taking that class, but I was committed to the challenge of “all APs”—for students, specifically sophomores, reading this, don’t do this! (I’m warning you!) The first day of class rolls around and our teacher, Mr. Wagner, makes a surprising announcement to us: “There will be no graded homework assigned for the year.” My internal thoughts went from shock to confusion to pure excitement! No homework for the entire year? Sign me up! I hadn’t known the “why” at the time, but that didn’t change the positive effect that it had on me. In that class, I was able to truly learn without the fear of failing because our teacher allowed us to work and learn at our own pace. Yes, we learned lessons as a class, but he worked with each individual student to find out how he could best support them. We were able to retest and prove our knowledge of those monstrous standards, which personally did a lot for my self-esteem. That year was really tough for me; I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety due to outside forces, so his effort in supporting each and every student’s learning was greatly meaningful. The impact that Mr. Wagner had on me was immeasurable and I will forever be grateful for experiencing such an equitable and supportive model of grading and teaching. And I can guarantee your students will feel the same way as you ease your way into Grading for Learning!
This post brought to you by Kashanti Taylor, RPS Student, Class of 2020
Rochester Public Schools is no stranger to the term, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching, or CLRT. We’ve spent the last few years engaging with the work of Dr. Sharroky Hollie and the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. Many of us have been to trainings, have engaged in one-on-one coaching, and have poured over the pages of Dr. Hollie’s binder and book in order to become culturally responsive educators. This has been a very impactful learning experience, but we must also remember that Culturally Responsive teaching is but one facet of achieving educational equity. In this post, I want to share four overarching characteristics of culturally responsive teaching in an effort to paint a broader picture of culturally responsive teaching and how it fits the overall goal of educational equity at RPS.
Characteristic #1: Learning Within the Context of Culture
Many of our marginalized students’ home cultures and languages do not closely reflect the mainstream school culture. Students can feel pressure to assimilate and give up aspects of who they are, creating tensions that impact classroom relationships and student engagement. Luckily, much of our work with Dr. Hollie has focused on understanding the juxtaposition between common cultural archetypes and mainstream school expectations. He and his coaches have trained us to stop and recognize how behavior is cultural and how we can better validate and affirm cultural behaviors while building and bridging students to success in the mainstream school culture. We have learned how to recognize common cultural archetypes and plan instruction that honors the cultural behaviors that each student brings to our classroom so they can create deeper connections to the content and build up their intellective capacity (Hammond & Jackson, 2015).
Characteristic #2: Positive Perspectives on Parents and Families
Culture is the way we interpret the world. The culturally responsive teacher understands that each student comes to school with abundant knowledge that is rooted in their family’s culture. They also know that when instruction is rooted in these Funds of Knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González, 1992) we create more meaningful relationships with our students and they can make deeper, relevant connections to academic content.
Characteristic #3: Communication of High Expectations
The culturally responsive teacher creates a rigorous and relevant learning environment that is rooted in relationships. They are warm demanders (Kleinfeld, 1975), communicating outrageous love to their students, while pushing them to be excellent. As Zaretta Hammond (2015) puts it, “Personal warmth and authentic concern exhibited by the teacher earns [them] the right to demand engagement and effort” (p. 98). This is different from the authoritarian teacher who simply demands compliance or, at the other end of the spectrum, the permissive teacher who is often overly sympathetic, accommodating, and inconsistent.
Characteristic #4: Relevant Curriculum
The culturally responsive teacher creates integrated, cross curricular, rigorous, student centered learning experiences. Such curricula allows students to apply their skills to situations and problems that occur in the world beyond the classroom. It demands all students develop higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and provides students opportunities to be self-reflective and hone their communication skills. This is precisely what the RPS Graduate Profile is about! Culturally Responsive educators recognize that such a curriculum requires a learning environment that supports risk taking and assessment policies that allow for authentic growth. They also recognize the importance of diverse perspectives and provide materials that authentically reflect the cultures of their students.
So now what?
Take some time to reflect on these characteristics and how they may look in your classroom. You may be surprised to see how many ways you are already engaging in culturally responsive practices. Then, choose a couple more to try. If you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to your building’s instructional coaches and CLRT Teacher Leaders. Reach out to C & I and lean on your IAs. We are here for you! The journey toward educational equity is challenging and complex but also affirming and hopeful and we don’t need to walk the path alone.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83, 301–344.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31, 132-141.
This post brought to you by Kimberly Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Teachers in Rochester Public Schools are engaging in a learning year around the Grading for Learning principles which will be implemented district-wide next year. So why shouldn’t we grade homework? Stef Whitney, Secondary Implementation Associate, compiled some data which helps explain the inequity involved in grading homework.
Why not grade homework?
1. Grading homework perpetuates Institutional Bias, which are procedures and practices that operate in ways that result in certain groups being advantaged or favored and other groups being disadvantaged or devalued.
2. Grading homework/daily work is rarely a motivator for many of our students.
a. Extrinsic motivation (grades, money, rewards, punishments) only work when the stakes are low and the task is simple.
b. Intrinsic motivation occurs most often when humans feel autonomy, purpose, and the potential for mastery
How do I get students to do homework or practice without grades?
We know that feedback and reflection are keys to high levels of learning. If you have additional examples to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
"Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."
The beginning of a new year reminds us how quickly time passes. It echoes how rapidly each minute really moves…. there are 60 minutes in an hour… 1,440 minutes every day …. Over 10,000 in each week…. About 525,000 per year. It’s easy to become complacent as minutes pass by so consistently and quietly. The launch of a new decade is a good time to stop and evaluate if you are just allowing time to pass by or growing deeper in skill and character with the passing of time.
Let’s get started investing in time.
List 10 ways that you have grown deeper in the past decade.
Identify 3 areas of your professional life that you would like to expand and grow in the coming decade.
From this list, what is the most important to you?
Map out smaller, incremental steps that can be taken to make this goal attainable.
Blessings to you throughout 2020! I look forward to hearing about your professional plans and attainments by 2030!
This post brought to you by Heather Holtan, Elementary Implementation Associate
What is going on? Why are my students acting this way? Have you ever caught yourself justifying why the way students (and maybe the adults in the building) are acting a certain way at a certain time of the year? Like: “Oh, it is a full moon”, “The barometer is dropping”, or “We haven’t had a break in a while” or “You can tell a break is coming up”. I know I have and it wasn’t until recently I started to ask myself why was I feeling that way and were my students also feeling that way?
At a recent New Teacher Training, a colleague shared the following graphic with new teachers.
It made me think that it may not just be new teachers who feel this way. It is also true for veteran teachers (at least I know it is true for me) and I am guessing it may be true for our students as well.
I think if we know this and think about which phase we and our students are in, we can approach these times of year differently than we have in the past. One thing to think about as you look at the graphic of how teachers/students feel during the year is, “What would I like/need from my colleagues to help me deal with how I am feeling?” I am a true believer that many times, what we need from those around us, is the exact same thing that our students need from us and their peers.
It could be as simple as a kind word in passing, a note given anonymously, time to talk with others, one-on-one time with a friend or colleague, the sky's the limit and it doesn’t have to be anything huge or spendy. One area I know that I turn to when I hit my lows, either in teaching or life in general, is plugging back into relationships with my colleagues, friends, and family. I think we also need to do the same with our students because, let’s face it, the relationship-building we do with our students doesn’t end after the first week of school. Just like the routines we use in the classroom that need to be revisited and retaught, the relationships we build with our students need to be nurtured throughout the year.
It’s true that we start the year getting to know our students, but there are many ways to keep building upon those early steps. Some ideas can be found at the following links:
To sum it up, do for your kids what you want others to do for you: make you feel special and loved.
This post brought to you by Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associate and STEM Village Director
As I think about the “busy-ness” that is a part of the teaching profession, the time and energy it takes to be well-prepared and organized for each day and the necessary professional development to stay up-to-date on current practices, it all seems next to impossible. It may be tough to get to a training session before or after school or there may be a topic of interest that has nothing available for training when it is needed or wanted.
I have come to rely heavily on my phone or device to access credible articles, information and professional reading. This generally happens while sitting in my chair in the evenings.
Below I share with you some of my favorite learning sites on both Facebook and Twitter.
Edutopia/@edutopia (Helpful ideas and great learning)
MCTM/@mctm_mn (Excellent book studies and conversations)
NEA Today/@NEAToday (General information regarding the teaching profession)
Minnesota Weather/@NovakWeather (Weather forecasting-Used a lot last winterJ)
Trauma Informed Positive Behavior Support/@ti_pbs (Insight into what some of our students are experiencing)
Fawn Nguyen/@fawnpnguyen (Excellent, insightful math teacher)
MindShift/@MindShiftKQED (Explores the future of learning)
Principal Kafele (Baruti K. Kafele)/@PrincipalKafele (School leadership thoughts and ideas)
Danny Steele/@SteeleThoughts (Culture, leadership, education thoughts)
WeAreTeachers/@WeAreTeachers (Ideas, inspiration and support for educators)
Share ideas that you learn and sites that you find with your colleagues. There is a lot of wonderful learning at our fingertips.
This post brought to you by Ann Miller, K-8 Math Specialist
Take a moment to imagine the following classrooms . . .
This classroom is focused on procedures and routines. Students come into class and check their homework for the right answers. The teacher records homework in the grade book (could be a score on the number of correct answers or could be for completion). Students do an opening activity for the day's lesson, the teacher teaches the lesson/concept, and students get some work time on an assignment until the class is done.
This classroom is focused on what the students know/don’t know. Students come into class and immediately star two problems from the homework that they want to discuss with their table group. Table groups work together on the problems that each starred, sharing how they solved/attempted the problem. The teacher asks groups to share out with the whole class any problems that are still unclear. The class works through these problems, and then the teacher gives a formative assessment with similar problems students were just doing to check for individual understanding. The teacher collects and sorts the formative assessment as students work on an opening activity for the day’s lesson. The teacher introduces the lesson/concept for the day and then, during work time, meets with groups of students broken into groups according to the formative assessment sort.
After reading about these two different classrooms, what do you notice? What do you wonder?
I know when I think about my own education, I had many classrooms that were exactly like classroom A and very few like classroom B. I also know that when I started teaching, I ran my classroom very much like classroom A; it is what I knew and was successful in. I wonder: If I had learned in more classroom B experiences, would I have started running my own classroom that way?
Academic Safety--encompasses the social and emotional safety of the student and the student’s perception of his/her ability
The classroom scenarios above have different levels of Academic Safety. Some may think that students in classroom A have more academic safety than classroom B. However, after reading the book as well as these articles (see below) it becomes evident that it is actually classroom B that has more Academic Safety.
Alber, Rebecca. "20 Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment." Edutopia. September 2011.
Gonzalez, Jennifer. "Is Your Classroom Academically Safe?" Cult of Pedagogy, October 2, 2016.
Dance, Rozlynn & Kaplan, Tessa. "Talking in Math." ASCD Express, July 26. 2018.
A closer look suggests there is more academic safety in classroom B. The book and the articles, mentioned above, summarize key ideas teachers should think about to foster academic safety in their classrooms. Below are seven ideas to try in your classrooms to build academic safety for your students:
By incorporating even one of these ideas into your classroom, you will be helping to support the social-emotional well-being of your students and as we know, this is huge undertaking. If we build trust among our students and ourselves, we instill the importance of being ourselves, in both the good and the bad moments. By teaching and showing students that it is okay to vulnerable and take risks, we are providing them with the academic safety they deserve. This can lead to empowering them to achieve to their highest potential and lead to better life long outcomes. What are you willing to try this month to build academic safety in your classroom?
This post brought to you by Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associate and STEM Village Director
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