It’s June: a month full of farmers’ markets, graduation parties, and Rochesterfest events. It’s also the month of Pride (read about the origin of Pride and other such details here in this CNN article).
Summer is a great time to reflect on our educational practices. Combine that with Pride Month, and it’s only fitting to reflect on how our practices specifically impact our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families. How can we as educators work toward a space where all—including our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families—feel safe and welcome in our classrooms and schools?
To compile a list of ideas on this topic, I anonymously surveyed three dozen LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies, many of whom are current or former students of the Rochester Public Schools and some of whom currently work in the district. I looked for what themes arose from their feedback, and resoundingly these were the four key takeaways:
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SOME COMPLETED STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
- An online survey. At our final 2017-2018 new teacher training session, Heather Willman shared this online version, created by teacher, author, and speaker Pernille Ripp, who uses a Google Form to collect her data.
- An essay reflection. I have personally used this type of end-of-year data collection as well. (An added bonus here is that I was able to give them feedback on their writing, while simultaneously collecting feedback on what they took away from the course as a whole!) Here is the prompt I used a few years ago with my juniors in AP Literature & Composition, along with a few examples of student responses:
SOME STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
- Small group reflection. Vanderbilt University recommends using a small group approach to collecting end-of-year feedback from students. You can read more about this method here.
- Explain the purpose of the survey to your students. If they know that you are going to use the data, and how, they often take it more seriously and provide you with more precise examples. In the past, I have gone so far as to share will students how I have adjusted which texts I use in the course, how much homework I expect students to do over long breaks, and how I no longer expect all assignments to be typed—all decisions made based on feedback that students shared in the end-of-year surveys in years past.
- Share examples of helpful vs. obstructive feedback. Sometimes students need a quick reminder of what constructive feedback looks and sounds like. If a student writes, “Your class is dumb,” not only does that hurt my feelings as the instructor but it also does not help me make changes for future students. However, if that student instead writes, “I don’t understand why grammar matters, so I hate our Tuesday grammar lessons and find them boring”...well, now that’s information that I can work with. Making students aware of this difference seems to help them weave more constructive criticism into their answers.
- Ensure students have enough time allotted. When students are rushed, they may skip an open ended question or two, misread a question, or even circle answers at random just in order to be done in time. This type of inaccurate data is misguiding later on when you go to reflect on the responses.
- Consider anonymity. Some students will be more honest with you when they know their name is not attached. Then again, without names it can be hard to follow up with any personalized feedback that should be addressed right away. Again, consider what your goal is in collecting the data, along with when you’re giving the survey (if it’s the last week of school, for instance, you might not have time to follow up on responses so names would not matter anyway).
- Look for trends. Sometimes you will have data outliers, but as soon as you have three or more responses that send similar messages they deserve our time and our attention (sometimes the outliers do too, for that matter). Once you notice trends, record them.
Ask yourself hard questions. Take a look at your trend data. What does it say about your classroom, your course, your own instructional practices, the demographic of your students? Frankly, this part of the process can be hard. In the past, trend data has made me turn inward as I wrestled with a wide variety of issues, some of which included:
- Many students indicated not having computer access at home. Can I continue to expect students to type everything?
- Multiple students noted that they struggled with Cold Mountain as their book group novel. What could I replace it with? Could I just eliminate this title and make groups a bit larger?
- Too many students noted that this is the first English course that they’ve taken where reading Spark Notes wasn’t enough—they had to think about the texts. What (likely hard) conversations can I have with my co-workers to ensure that we’re all asking students to think about their reading, not simply recall plot/characters/etc.?
- Make a list of intentions. Data collection often isn’t worth the time it takes unless it helps you in some way. To ensure you take action on what the data indicates, make a list of intentions and then save that list in a place where you know you will reference it as you lay out your plans for next year.
- Share your intentions with your PLC. Ideally, others in your PLC gave the same (or similar) survey, which allows you to share the trend data and merge your list of intentions into one unified set of goals. An added bonus is that when you share your intentions, research shows you are more likely to act on them.
- Preserve surveys that will help you refuel when running on empty. I have a “Why I Teach” folder. I borrowed this from a mentor of mine, Sandy Nieland (teacher at John Marshall), who shared that she uses this as a way to refocus when she starts to get distracted by negative forces. For this reason, I pull surveys that have particularly kind comments, insightful reflections, or purposeful remarks and hold on to them. In times of high stress, I pull these out and remind myself why all the stress is worth it in the end. In recent years, I’ve shifted to an electronic version of this folder, taking pictures of such reflections, as you can see here:
For the sake of context… I was a high school German teacher for five years, then a building administrator for nine years, and then a district-level administrator for three years. The closest I ever came in those 18 years to Career and Technical Education (CTE) was as a building administrator, but my level of understanding of the depth and importance of these program areas was limited at best. Additionally, it is safe to say that I was blissfully unaware of the workforce needs that currently exist within our region or the amazing opportunities our students have to gain valuable knowledge and skills that don’t require a four year degree (I recently came upon this MPR article that speaks directly to this very issue).
Fast forward one year and I count myself lucky to have been selected to work not only with our outstanding CTE instructors, but with a growing group of business and industry partners committed to the success of our CTE programs. As the cherry on top, I get to work each and every day in a facility that serves as a statewide model for innovation and collaboration within CTE. This school year alone we have facilitated over 30 tours of CTECH, from middle and high school student groups to statewide CTE administrators and other Minnesota and Wisconsin school districts looking to replicate what our community has created for our students.
Here is just a taste of the opportunities our students have within RPS career pathways:
Students can take coursework in both plant and animal science as well as biotechnology. Plus, in 2018-2019 RPS will be offering a second level Veterinary Studies course designed to prepare students for an entry-level position in a vet hospital and to take the certification exam for veterinary assistant.
Our students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with basic engine systems, auto repair and technology, as well as in-depth vehicle repair. Just last week students visited the Minnesota Department of Transportation to learn about transportation careers and earlier this year, as a result of a teacher externship with a generous business partner, several automotive students received job offers as well as post-secondary scholarships.
Courses offered focus on both finance and marketing, including a Sports and Entertainment Marketing course. As a capstone course, students can enroll in Entrepreneurial Strategies, working directly with industry partners to solve real-world business challenges.
Computer Science and Information Technology
Students have the opportunity to take coursework related to both programming as well as infrastructure. Newly added are courses that allow students to earn concurrent enrollment college credit in Mobile App Development and Java Script.
RPS Construction students complete their coursework alongside post-secondary students in the RCTC carpentry lab, accessing two levels of coursework focused on residential construction. Currently our construction students are working on-site at Mayo High School to complete a shed construction project.
Available courses cover the areas of Robotics, Civil Engineering, and Architecture and culminate in a capstone course where students engage in a comprehensive research and design project. In 2018-2019 we will be introducing an Apprenticeship with a national engineering firm that will provide a first-of-its-kind learning opportunity for a small cohort of students.
Effectively our first official career pathway, existing for nearly 20 years, Health Sciences offers students the opportunity to study Medical Lab Science, Pharmacy Technician, Therapeutic Medicine, and Certified Nursing Assistant. We are currently exploring the addition of a course in Phlebotomy in partnership with the Mayo Clinic where over 400 phlebotomists are employed in Rochester alone.
Student interested in Culinary Arts have the opportunity to take a menu of courses the expose them to international cooking, commercial culinary skills, baking, as well as employment in the restaurant industry. Starting in 2018-2019 students at the capstone level will have the opportunity to complete ServSafe certification, required by most restaurants as a basic credential for restaurant management staff.
Two distinct pathways exist within the manufacturing program, Welding Technology and Machine Technology. In machine technology students work closely with CNC mill and lathe machining while welding students learn and work with multiple forms welding. Students who complete both levels of welding are eligible for a tuition credit through RCTC for their one semester welding certification program.
Through the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program, we now offer two courses for students interested in becoming teachers. These courses are a combination of classroom as well as practicum experiences within RPS schools and programs.
- Gage Elementary Community Schools Collaboration – connecting students in grades K-5 with career pathways through enhanced curriculum, CTECH visits, and business and industry guest speakers.
- Aviation Collaboration – discussions with RCTC, Rochester International Airport, and private flight instruction partners on a secondary > post-secondary > workforce pathway.
- Post-secondary Scholarships – working closely with RCTC to increase student opportunities to earn credit and/or tuition credits for work completed in high school.
- Mayo Clinic Partnership – exploring opportunities for students in Health Science Careers to transition from RPS coursework into Mayo Clinic job-specific programs such as Phlebotomists and Pharmacy Technicians.
- Core Content – an ongoing goal of eventually providing CTE students with the opportunity to earn core content credit as part of a career pathway.
I fully acknowledge that my blog post comes across as an advertisement for the CTE pathways and CTECH, but I believe that when we find and experience something as powerful and meaningful as I have this year it only makes sense to share it with others. I would strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t previously had the opportunity to see firsthand our CTE facilities to reach out and schedule a tour. It is truly amazing what our students are doing on a daily basis and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.
- Children will always need significant adults to care deeply about them. We need to protect them, guide them, celebrate them, and open up their world through our teaching. Nothing will ever take the place of a student coming to school and knowing that someone cares.
- Every interaction we have matters. We only get so many days each year to influence those around us. We never know which lesson, which interaction, which comment will make the difference for that one person we encounter. Nothing brings me more gratification than when a student, a teacher, a para, or a colleague tells me that something I did or said mattered to them.
- With rare exceptions, people become educators because they want to make a difference in students’ lives. I have worked with countless teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, and administrators. Whether you are in a school building or work “down town,” you find honorable, dedicated people who truly care about students.
- Integrity matters. No matter what another person chooses to do or say in a given situation, you can choose to respond with grace and integrity.
- Amuse yourself and at least one person in the room is having fun. I often tell people this is my “educational philosophy.” After I became a teacher, I ran into my fifth grade teacher who I credit with changing my life forever. I asked about her teaching philosophy. Her response? “A day without a good laugh is a wasted day of school.” Humor builds relationships, lightens our hearts, and promotes learning.
- I know for sure that I have LOVED being an educator in Rochester Public School. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I have had and the amazing people I have known. This is a special place and I was most fortunate to be part of it.
In her first book, Carla Shalaby, a former elementary teacher, introduces us to four “troublemakers”: Zora, Lucas, Sean and Marcus. Her book causes us to question how we identify and understand students who experience school differently. These memorable children allow readers to see school through the eyes of those who are sometimes considered 'problems'.
This book definitely caused me to think about our school structures and what we value in the world of education. Although the children in this book are elementary aged, there are many lessons to be learned within any level of K-12 education.
This book was recommended by Dr. Sharokky Hollie at our last professional development session. The authors of this book explore the hidden biases we carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes on race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality. This book is for those of us who want to align our behavior with our intentions.
Full disclosure, I have not read it--yet--but it is on my short list and has been highly recommended by those who have read it already.
"This book is for teachers who have good days and bad — and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts, because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life." These words, taken from Parker Palmer’s introduction, speak to the message of this book. Palmer boils things down to this one sentence: good teaching cannot be reduced to a technique but is rooted in the identity and integrity of the teacher. He says good teaching takes many forms but it shares one thing: good teachers are authentically present in their classrooms and in community with their content and their learners.
JJ Abrams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and co-creator and producer of the tv show Lost, said in a review that, "This extraordinary, wildly entertaining book sheds new light on the Age of Disruption. What does it take to make a meaningful difference? How can you apply this insight to your own life? By debunking myths of success stories, challenging long-held beliefs of process, and find commonality among those who are agents of profound change, Adam Grant gives us a powerful new perspective on not just our place in the world, but our potential to shake it up entirely."
Lately, we have been working hard on social-emotional learning in the Rochester Public Schools and how we might best help every student succeed. Although this book is from outside of the education sector it has great ideas for how we can support every student, no matter their background, to be successful in college, career, and life.
I was introduced to this book through Mayo High School’s “ Best Bits of Books” Staff Development Series facilitated by Peter Dodds. The main premise of this book is that if we are engaged in creative tasks (like teaching) the elements that people need in order to feel job satisfaction are threefold: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Pink gives readers examples of how organizations can cultivate these elements.
What’s on your summer reading list? If you are interested in discussing some of these great reads or others that you plan to delve into consider attending Pages on the Patio, which begins this June (sign up here).
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