This past September, I had the opportunity to work with and hear Mark Perna speak about "Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations" as he addressed Career and Technical Education staff from all over southeastern Minnesota. Since then I have had the opportunity to read his new book Answering Why, and I continue to be amazed at the connection between what he talks about in his book, the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile, and the opportunities that students at CTECH have each and every day.
As a staff at CTECH we are still working hard to establish, develop, and communicate who and what we are to students, colleagues, parents, and the community. After working with Mr. Perna and reflecting upon our primary goals, it became clear that our curriculum and our instruction focus on three main areas:
I talk at length about these three areas of focus each time I lead a tour of our facility and programs and over the course of this year it has become very clear to me the connection between our focus and RPS Graduate Profile. Specifically, I see direct correlation to the following domains:
We are very proud of the progress we have made in promoting not only Career and College Readiness, but Purpose, Professional Skills, and Competitive Advantage and we are grateful that these efforts are reflected in the qualities of a graduate that our community has identified as the most important.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
As the district wide Equity Implementation Associate, my role is to help support teachers as they both implement equitable (particularly Culturally and Linguistically Responsive, or CLR) instructional practices and reflect on the why behind these practices. This work isn’t black and white. It isn’t easy and teachers have questions. Lots of questions! And to be honest, it makes my heart so happy that there are so many questions. Questions mean that we are taking our work seriously; that we recognize we need to do better, even if we don’t know how to do better…yet!
In this post, I wanted to take some time to address one of the most common questions I am asked in regards to Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching: “What’s the deal with these call and response protocols?”
I have good news friends…you aren’t the only ones asking that question! There is so much wonderful literature out there that addresses the call and response conundrum.
Why does everything come back to call and response?
When our community members identified traits that they wanted to see in graduates one of the top characteristics was that students are ethical contributors. It is impossible to go to any of our high schools in the month of December and not notice the focus on contributing to others. Each of our high schools engages in fundraising for the following organizations in our community: Christmas Anonymous, Santa Anonymous, Bear Creek Services, Brighter Tomorrows, Dorothy Day Hospitality House, and the Women’s Shelter of Rochester. You will find students and teachers selling homemade baked goods, students paying money to stop the annoying passing music, and events like 'Breakfast with Santa' and a joint Drumline Showcase. While the competition is fierce among the three high schools, the goal is the same: contributing to the larger community. I am so proud that this is a focus for our students and staff.
Critical thinking was another characteristic our community wanted to see in our graduates. Here are ways I saw students demonstrating critical thinking skills in their classrooms.
In every classroom I observed students were asked to effectively communicate with their peers as part of their learning process. Some highlights included:
Many of the classrooms asked students to collaborate with one another as a part of their learning process. Employers agree with the RPS community about this being an essential skill for our graduates. I saw collaboration happening in the following contexts:
Another one of our hopes for our RPS graduates is that they are resilient learners. I saw evidence of this resiliency in classes in the following ways:
You see, as a kid I didn’t have any tangible women in my life with whom I really identified—at least not holistically. My day to day life was filled with men—my father, my older brothers, and most of my friends. And then there was my mom: my mom, who was 100% sugar, and spice, and everything nice—while I, on the other hand, was mainly spice. Unlike my mother, I enjoyed changing the oil with my dad, going fishing with my brothers, and shingling roofs with my guy friends. However, I wasn’t ‘one of the guys’ either: I had a Caboodle full of banana clips and Bonne Bell, Yankee Candle was my favorite store in the mall, and I wore Love’s Baby Soft every day of junior high. So, instead, I found kinship in Mallory from The Baby-Sitter’s Club series, in Jo from Little Women, and in June Osborn [Offred] in The Handmaid’s Tale.
The thing is, each of these friends were introduced to me by teachers. I met Mallory at Jefferson Elementary when Mr. Vanort pointed out the series to me one day in the Library. I met Jo at Kellogg when Mrs. Ollenberg noted in the margin of one of my journal entries that I might enjoy it. And, I met June at Mayo when Ms. Evans set her own personal copy on my desk and said I should read it over winter break (I still have that copy, by the way: if you’re reading this Ms. Evans, let me know if you want it back).
But the other thing is: I’m white and cisgender. I was also born in the United States and raised middle class. These factors made it easier for me to see myself in the books I read growing up. It also made it easier for teachers to put the right books in my hands.
Unfortunately, for many of our students, it’s uncommon for them to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and while the diversity we are seeing in children’s and young adult literature is on the rise, it still doesn’t match our student population. It only takes one look at the numbers to realize how true this is:
Statistics for “our RPS study body” (above) were pulled from Rochester Public Schools’ Student Management Systems on 12.10.2018 and from this 2017 MN State Health Assessment. Statistics for “books published for young readers” (above) were pulled from this 2017 study done by Lee & Low, this 2018 study done by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, and this 2014 independent study done by Melinda Lo.
As BJ Epstein, Ph.D., noted in The Conversation, “we know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life.” Knowing this to be true, then as educators it’s important we ensure students have opportunities to see characters who look like them, share similar backgrounds, and have comparable personality traits. Simultaneously, it important to ensure students are reading books that provide insight into worlds different from their own.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her 2009 Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” sheds light on how her personal view of how she saw herself and who she could aspire to become someday was inaccurate and thin because of the limited types of novels she’d had access to. In other words, the mirror she had access to—the one she was able to hold in her hands—didn’t give her a clear picture of herself.
Adichie goes on to talk about how the books one reads can also create windows into the lives and worlds different from one’s own. In fact, reading literary fiction helps build empathy.
For me, this was certainly true. My world view expanded greatly through literature. Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of being black, poor, and female in America. Cisneros' The House on Mango Street helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of poverty and immigration. Dorris's A Yellow Raft in Blue Water helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of holding on to one's heritage when one is Native American and/or biracial.
No matter our cultural backgrounds and experiences, reading fiction “can usher us into other worlds—it can make us step into other realities” (Elemans).
When it comes to surrounding students with literary mirrors and windows, one of the first steps is accessing the right titles and then getting those titles into students’ hands. Below are a wide variety of resources that can help you find texts to then share with students.
Book List Resources:
- American Indians in Children’s Literature “Best Books” list
- IRIS Center’s “Children’s Books: Portrayals of People with Disabilities”
- National Public Radio’s “Book Concierge”
- When applying the filters ‘Young Adult’ and ‘Identity and Culture’ to the 2018 books, this curated list is created.
- It defaults to the 2018 list, but one can always go back to explore books published in previous years
- The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Blog, Literacy & NCTE—specifically these posts:
- “Build Your Stack: Widening Our Lens by Bringing Books from around the Globe into K-12 Classrooms”
- “Diversity in Graphic Novels”
- “Culturally Sustaining and Inclusive YA Literature: Valuing the Knowledge, Stories, and Truths of Adolescent Life”
- “Book Recommendations for the African American Read-In” (scroll toward the bottom for YA texts)
We Need Diverse Books’ subsite “Where to Find Diverse Books”
- Also, explore more suggested titles on Twitter: #WNDB
Reading Challenges that Honor Diversity in Literature:
- Rochester Public Library’s “Open Book Challenge”
- MacMillan Publishers’ “Reading Without Walls” challenge
The Academy of American Poets subsite “Teach This Poem”
- Educators can also sign up to receive a weekly email including one poem and supporting resources
National Education Association’s subsite “Read Across America”
- Also, explore more suggested titles on Twitter: #ReadAcrossAmerica
No matter what your role in education, you could be that staff member who hands out mirrors to and opens windows for our students. It’s important that we all work together to guarantee our students are able to see themselves reflected in the books they read and ensure that they’re able to build empathy for those who are different from them.
My childhood would have been rough without characters like Mallory, Jo, and June. My worldview would have been much thinner without authors like Hurston, Cisneros, or Dorris. To this day, I am grateful for those teachers who introduced me to these close friends and who showed me more of the world.
These protagonists taught me that being smart and outspoken, being strong-willed and brash was admirable—even if I was a woman. These authors taught me to empathize with others different from myself. Now, imagine what lessons our students will learn if we just introduce each of them to a wider array of books.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
- She comes to school every day talking a mile a minute about everything from the latest episode of her favorite show to who was sitting next to whom at lunch yesterday. She is bubbly and bright and loves school.
- First hour she walks into a classroom where there are opportunities for her to verbalize her thinking and to work in small groups and talk with her friends about her ideas.
- Second hour, she heads to a different classroom where she is expected to sit quietly and work independently.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
- What does her home culture value about orality and verbal expressiveness?
- What does her gender group or age group value about it?
- What experiences has this student had that have informed her approach to learning and being in the world?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Is this behavior cultural or not?
- What experiences have my students had that inform their learning styles?
- Similarly, how do my own cultural experiences impact the way I view my students and their learning styles?
- How can I validate and affirm my students’ learning styles and am I providing opportunities for them to practice other learning styles so they can build up their cultural dexterity?
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
Sometime last winter Superintendent Munoz bumped into a gentleman by the name of Ed from McKinstry Engineering at a conference. They began talking about how to engage students in hands-on, real-life engineering and exchanged contact information. This led to a meeting between Ed and myself during which he explained his story as a student and why he was interested in creating this partnership. He also mentioned that his hope was to create a partnership template that his company could use in other areas of the country. Fast forward six months and Ed’s willingness to drive from the Twin Cities every Thursday for a 70-minute class and his ability to secure guest instructors from all over the area have created an unprecedented opportunity for twelve Rochester students, four from each comprehensive high school. These students come to CTECH once a week and learn directly from Engineers in all different areas of the profession.
Every year our district partners with the Rochester Fire Department on fire prevention education at the elementary level. This year a spin-off conversation started about a possible collaboration at the high school level that would prepare interested students for the statewide firefighter certification exam. Over the course of several conversations we were able to create an opportunity through our existing mentorship program that will allow students to complete the bulk of the learning online and combine that with five days of onsite skills training with the Fire Department. As a result of this collaboration we are able to provide this opportunity to our students at minimal cost.
Just over a month ago one of the owner/operators of the Chick-fil-A Ear of Corn quick serve restaurant accidentally stopped into CTECH as she was looking for the Workforce Development Center located next door at the Heintz Center. We informed her that we were a public high school facility and that we don’t post flyers, etc. for job openings. As we chatted and exchanged niceties as typical Minnesotans do, it became clear that an opportunity to collaborate existed. We ended up scheduling a follow-up and, after a quick email introduction, our Business Education instructors were able to have these franchise owners speak to their students. Within a month, this chance opportunity provided a learning opportunity for each of our three high school Business programs and even resulted in, at last count, two students receiving job offers from Chick-fil-A.
These represent just a few of the many collaborations we have within RPS and there are more in the works!
Paul Parisi does a great job outlining the parameters that surround a solid business collaboration and it is my belief that these can be directly applied to the business and industry collaborations we continue to seek as a district. I encourage all educators to keep your eyes and ears open for possible partnerships and when you recognize an opportunity remember the following:
- Identify the specific challenge you can solve together.
- Think outside the box to find unexpected expertise.
- Start with a shared goal.
- Lean into each other’s strengths.
- Place an emphasis on clear communication between partners.
And always remember that strategic partnerships benefit everyone involved!
From Whitewater to the Classroom
Every now and again, I take a class because I like to be reminded of how it feels to be a student. And as soon as I sit down in a desk, the questions start:
- “Will I be clock-watching all hour?”
- “Will I be given clear directions or will I have to muddle through to make my own understanding?”
- “Is this learning relevant—something I can actually use in my life?”
It’s a Metaphor (which is a strategy you can use . . .)
As you consider these two seemingly unrelated stories, there is a theme with one common burning question between them: WILL I BE ENGAGED?
Dropping Out: The Unengaged
In chapter one of Total Participation Techniques-Making Every Student an Active Learner, authors Persida and William Himmele cite the number one reason for dropping out of high school: BOREDOM (5). These dropouts are disengaged. Further, seventy-five percent of prison inmates are dropouts (5). The deleterious effect of disengagement in the classroom could mean a lifetime behind bars. Of course, this is one of many factors that may lead to incarceration, but it is worth investigating.
We Just Can’t Chalk and Talk Anymore
“If we want our students to actually learn the facts and concepts and ideas we’re trying to teach them, they have to experience those things.... They have to process them. Manipulate them. To really learn in a way that will stick, they have to DO something” ("To Learn, Students Need to Do Something", Jennifer Gonzalez, 2018).
To combat BOREDOM and to truly TEACH our students, we must engage them.
Quick and Dirty: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
“Thumbs Up if this speech is protected by the First Amendment. Thumbs Down if it isn’t.
- “Burning the flag.” [Thumbs Up]
- “Burning a draft card.” [Thumbs Down]
- “Hate speech.” [Thumbs Up]
- “Falsely yelling fire in a theater.” [Thumbs Down]
While engagement is high, this strategy falls under what the Himmeles call “Low Cognition/High Participation” (15). Everybody is engaged, but what higher-level thinking is going on? If we want “High Cognition/High Participation” (15), we’ve got to level up, but how?
Try Lighting a Fire
I have used this strategy in my sociology class as we discussed the very sensitive topic of Rape Culture. Because my students were allowed time to read an article, digest a quote, and respond to a question on their own, our conversation was deeper and richer than a whole-group discussion would have been. Every student participated and every student benefited from hearing the thoughts of those 3-4 around them.
There are hundreds of ways to engage students; I highly recommend what I referenced above: Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. It's full of quick and dirty methods to engage your students.
Now, it’s not WILL I BE ENGAGED? But, HOW WILL I ENGAGE?
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