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:
This month, our focus is on restorative circles. Each member of our equity team shares their experiences and insight.
From Dawn Bjoraker…
Everything we do is in a circle. We are born, we turn into youth, we turn into elders, and then we pass. Spring, summer, winter, and fall. Usually, around mid to late February we begin to wonder if the snow will ever stop and if spring will ever arrive. Without fail, it always does.
We have four parts of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. Mind, heart, body, and spirit, it is all connected. We are all connected. Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all related / all my relatives). One cannot function properly without the other. Much like a circle where there is no beginning and no end, it is a process. Instead of top-down, it goes around and around. We are responsible for and to each other.
In south Minneapolis, I coordinated an after-school group. All of the exercises and activities were conducted in the shape of a circle. There was no teacher and no student. We mutually taught and supported each other. We were able to see faces instead of the back of someone's head. Our sessions always began with an icebreaker. One of our most engaging activities involved The Medicine Wheel, also referred to as the Four Directions.
The Medicine Wheel (or Four Directions):
- Each participant receives a large sheet of paper.
- On this paper, they draw a big circle and divide it evenly into four parts. Each part contains one part of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual/mental, and physical.
- Participants then use a marker to fill in each part with words about themselves that describe each area. (I would also bring in magazines that the students would use to find words that would explain parts of their being. They would use scissors to cut those words out and then use glue to paste them into whatever part they felt best described those words.) We then discuss why some parts contain more words than others.
- Discussions then turn into ones of balance and the importance of maintaining it.
- This entire activity takes place within a circle.
"In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new "tribes" for all of our children so there will be no "psychological orphans." -- Dr. Martin Brokenleg
From Willie Tipton…
Group Norms or Guidelines are based on the values identified by circle participants. Guidelines are not rigid constraints, but supportive reminders of the behavioral expectations the participants in the circle share. Typical norms or guidelines are as follows:
- Remain in the circle
- Use talking piece
- Be honest
- Speak from the heart
- Trust what you need to say, no need to rehearse
- Listen with respect
- Speak with respect
- Honor confidentiality: what’s said in circles stay in circles
An environment of trust and safety allows group members to share more deeply with others. In our circles, the teacher cannot guarantee students will protect each other’s privacy, but can explain and discuss the issue with students and work toward establishing norms that specify the importance of privacy, while defining the expectations we have about confidentiality (keeping in mind that educators are mandatory reporters).
From Martine Haglund…
I have brought restorative practices using circles at my feeder schools following two themes. The first one is relationship-building where students and teachers practice forming positive connections with each other. This theme creates the space where participants come as they are so to receive from one another kindness and support around authentic dialogue regarding conflicts or classroom issues. The second theme uses specific questions to engage participants in discussing and processing a challenging situation so they arrive at making things right. In either theme, as a facilitator, I remain consistent in the sequence of events and outline the steps. I open and close with the bell. I do a check-in rounds to establish connections. Then, I dive into the restorative content. Each circle step is intentional, yet is presented as effortless to participants.
There are various types of circles that teachers can use in their classrooms to connect relationships with high-quality learning consistently. Brief description are listed below:
- Basic Circle -- Everyone faces the center and the talking piece is passed around clockwise, making sure that everyone gets a turn to speak.
- Popcorn Circle -- Teachers employ a Basic Circle format and use this type when it is not necessary for everyone to speak. In this case, they can either use or forego the talking piece
- Fishbowl / Witness Circle-- Teachers use Basic Circle format for opening and check-in, then invite a volunteer group to form a smaller circle on the inside. While the inner circle discusses the restorative content, the outer circle listens until it is asked to comment on the inner circle's dialogue.
- Spiral Circle -- Uses Fishbowl /Witness Circle guidelines, but an empty seat is left in the inner circle to encourage one outer circle listener to come, sit, and participate when they want to contribute.
- Feedback Circle -- This circle applies a Basic Circle format but limited time is allotted to the person speaking, and the next speaker is responsible to keep the time.
- Wheelhouse Circle -- Chairs are placed to form an inner and outer circle where participants sit facing each other, forming pairs to talk. At the sound of a bell, students in the outer circle move seats clockwise to interact with someone new.
- Small Group / Student Circle Leaders -- Teachers can use this type if they have a large class. The idea is to break into smaller Basic Circles with student-leaders who can serve as facilitators.
From Toby Taylor…
I have used Restorative Circles for the last eight years. They have become part of any group work I’ve done since my training here in Rochester. I have found that through Restorative Circles students and staff have found a sense of community through commonalities and vulnerability. I have heard stories of depression and others of hope, which has often propelled me to action or simply allowed me to appreciate my own life a lot more. Students have talked about topics of handling school, mental illness, mass shootings and the state of our country. I have learned a lot by listening as others have given their viewpoints about these touchy subjects.
Last year, I had the opportunity to do some Restorative Circles at ALC that had a great turnout and response. These Restorative Circles were centered on three simple questions, those I call the “Big Three”:
- What is your inner struggle? This questions ask for the members of the circle to look within to reflect on the main struggle that one should have a grasp on but has yet to conquer. This could be procrastination or lack of trust for others.
- What is your outer struggle? This question asks for the members of the circle to reflect on the main outside distractor to their well-being. This could consist of a person, place or thing such as a parent overwhelming academic expectations or babysitting siblings.
- What is your worldview? This question asks for members of the circle to be completely honest about their view of life through their eyes. One’s worldview could be from the standpoint of an individual living in his home to a community member of a neighborhood.
No matter the type, teachers should maintain classroom circles as an activity to acknowledge the unique voices of students, focusing in on the quality of the process and not immediate results.
If you have a question about the resources available for students or staff or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to our team.
For more information in the ideas touched above, consider the following:
- Clifford, Amos. “Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles.” Center for Restorative Process. San Francisco Unified School District. San Francisco, CA. 2013.
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools;
and Martine Haglund, Willie Tipton & Toby Taylor, Equity Specialists for the Rochester Public Schools.
Feel free to connect with them here.
When asked why this works for him Sam says, “When I have to talk about what I was thinking it helps me to understand it better. I also like hearing what other people think about things that I might not have thought about.”
We’ve all heard the adage, “More student talk, less teacher talk,” but why is this so critical in learning? Vygotsky (1962) suggested that thinking develops into words in a number of phases moving from images to inner speech to inner speaking to speech. Following this theory, talk is really the representation of thinking. We want our classrooms to be filled with talking because this means they are filled with thinking.
So, how can we build purposeful talk into the classroom and ensure that it really is deepening thinking and not just a recap of Friday’s football game?
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Ensure that everyone answers every question.
- T: What was today’s reading mostly about?
- S: The Cold War
- T: Yes, and the events that led up to the Cold War. (The teacher then summarizes the reading and students know they are off the hook )
Imagine flipping this scenario with the following moves:
- T: In your notebook write down what today’s reading was mostly about. Jot down at least three ideas.
- S: All student write in their notebook. (The teacher notices those who are struggling and provides some key words)
- T: Now, turn and talk with someone near you about what you wrote. Pay attention to what you have in common and what was different.
In the second scenario, all students had to write, talk, and summarize. In other words, all students had to think. (For two other strategies that help avoid the teacher-pivot, check out this post on spider-web discussions and this one on fishbowl discussions.)
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Ask open ended questions.
Seven Open-ended Questions for the Classroom:
- Would you explain that to me?
- What reasons do you have for that?
- How is that different from your classmates' idea?
- What do we know about this?
- When wouldn't that happen?
- How does that fit with what we said earlier?
- Can anyone think of how that might happen?
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Increase your wait time.
Vygotsky (1978) observed that “Children grow into the intellectual life around them” and that cognitive growth is “more likely when one is required to explain, elaborate, or defend one’s position to others as well as to oneself; striving for an explanation, often makes a learner integrate and elaborate knowledge in new ways.”
Our Rochester Public Schools classrooms should be filled with thinking and that means they should be filled with student talk.
A mere two minutes later, I head those dreadful words… “What now? We’re done.”
After multiple tweaks and failed attempts, I went to my Instructional Coach, Ellen Harford, looking for help with making these discussions work. She said to me, “I have this book that relates to your problem. Look at this...”
Enter: The Best Class You Never Taught by Alexis Wiggins.
I love trying new things; I’m usually up for anything. I read this book over winter break--it was fast and easy to read. I came back from break ready to plan out my implementation of Spider Web Discussions (SWD).
At this point, you may be wondering just what this "SWD" is. Here’s the gist: it is a whole class discussion guided only by the students with no input or direction from the teacher. The entire class gets the same grade (in the gradebook, but no count) based on pre-established criteria and post-discussion debriefing. What does the teacher do? Write all the students’ names on a paper and note where they are sitting, listen to the discussion, and draw lines from one speaker to the next.
I had two different sections doing the same discussion that day, and both can be described as…rough (to put it nicely). Both classes received an 'F'. They filled the 20 minutes, but did not meet almost any parts of the grading criteria.
Here’s why it was still incredible: we debriefed after. I took a picture of the diagramming I had done, put it up on the board, and let the kids take a look. It took a minute for the kids to understand what they were looking at, but when they did and they compared it to the criteria… light bulbs went off. They all had instant, individual feedback.
We did SWDs four more times for the book Night, plusI brought it into my writing class. We evaluated sample essays based on the essay rubric. The SWD had the same criteria and was graded every time. The kids flowed naturally into it in writing class because we’d had such consistent exposure to it in reading class while we were building the skills.
We just finished our final SWD for the year. The question? Who’s to blame for the death of both Romeo and Juliet? Both classes earned their first 'B' on the SWD and there were cheers by all.
SWDs have changed the landscape of my classroom. The students know what to do for each discussion now, they enjoy having so much time to talk and debate, and they get the academic speaking practice they need in an authentic way. I have never read a book about my teaching practice that I could literally implement the next day until The Best Class You Never Taught. If you think it can’t work because Javier never talks or Samira never stops talking, Wiggins problem-solves that with you and it works! If you think it can’t work because the kids might miss the big ideas, the group grade forces them to be prepared, which allows them to reach the big ideas.
I’m telling you, this will be one of the first strategies I implement next fall because we’re going to do it all year long.
Feel free to connect with Bordelon via email
I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a biology teacher who was having his students investigate the contribution of scientists who helped to discover and reveal the structure of DNA. We decided this activity could best be assessed using the Biology Proficiency Scale for "Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information." In order for students to be considered 'proficient' in this Prioritized Learning, they would need to meet the following criteria as listed in the Proficiency Scale: "Students can evaluate and interpret the validity and reliability of claims, methods, and designs. Then they can synthesize a synopsis of the material and communicate that information (eg. orally, graphically, in writing and/or mathematically)."
This Proficiency Scale is at the 'Apply' and 'Evaluate' levels of Bloom's Taxonomy and thereby requires a different type of assessment than a multiple choice or short answer structure. In our planning sessions for this activity, we found that we would have to tailor our assessment strategy in a way that is different than the traditional objective type questions that are often asked of our students.
In the article "Three Key Questions on Measuring Learning” (Education Leadership 2018), Jay McTighe attends to the idea that as educators change their focus from knowledge based assessments to skill based assessments, they need to adjust their measurement tools from objective type questions with simple point values to subjective questions that level a student along a proficiency continuum. To show proficiency in a skill, students need to use knowledge to perform that skill and show their understanding. In this particular activity, students would need to show that they could communicate both orally and in writing that they are able to synthesize the information about our understanding of DNA. We decided on the following structure for the lesson and assessment:
The Lesson Plan for our “Jigsaw/Gallery Walk” Framework
Students were assigned to a scientist and given one of three questions to answer about the scientist's contribution in the discovery of DNA. The students were informed that their contribution was critical for their group's success.
Day 2 | Research Group - Synthesize ideas, evaluate information, and create the poster:
Students brought their research to their group for a collaborative poster design project. The groups were given a criteria for questions that needed to be answered on the poster. Students were encouraged to be creative in their poster design.
Day 3 | Research Group - Finalized the poster and presentation:
Students polished both their poster and planned how they would present to their home group.
Day 4 | Home Group - Gallery Walk Communication:
The home group consisted of six students. Each student had the opportunity to present their own research and poster to the other students in their home group. The presenter was given a feedback template consisting of four parts:
- Things to polish
- Questions you have
- Tie presenters research to your own research
Day 5 | Individual - Assessment:
The students were asked to communicate in writing a synthesized synopsis of the material.
In summary, one can see that this lesson pushed students to move beyond knowledge acquisition into synthesis. The use of a Jigsaw/Gallery Walk where the students could get feedback from peers and the final written assessment where the teacher could give feedback helped to drive student learning and move the students toward proficiency on the Prioritized Learning.
Want an activity any substitute teacher could easily facilitate? Have her show a video!
Want a way for students to review an idea outside of class? Link a video to class website!
Does that mean video has no place in the classroom? That’s not at all what I’m saying. Rather, we need to be intentional about why and how we use video as an instructional tool. We need to ensure that our students are thinking about what they are watching.
With each video you show in your classroom, there are some key things to consider (1) before, (2) during, and (3) after you hit play.
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Before the Video
Students are more engaged with a video’s content when they know why they’re watching it.
The first year I showed the first fifteen minutes of the video Grand Isle (the film version of the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin), my students who had already thoroughly read the opening chapters of the book tuned out: feeling as if they were getting the same material in video form as they had just read, they disconnected from the video. Whereas the next year, I took a few moments to explain that the Creole culture of Louisiana is hard to understand on the page, but hearing the way the characters shift from speaking in French to English and then back again is critical to understanding why the main character—who only speaks English—feels isolated. Suddenly, with just a sudden explanation of why the video mattered, almost all students leaned in, took notes, and stayed engaged.
Many students need to know the purpose of an activity before they will devote their full attention to it.
Use an Anchor Activity
Grounding students in the topic of the video before you begin will often increase student understanding of and engagement in the video’s content.
Consider trying the following anchor activities with your own students:
- Predict — Have students predict the video’s content by giving them only the title, a few screenshots, and/or a 20 second snidbit. Then, also have them predict how the video will connect to the current unit of study in your classroom.
- Connect — Help your students understand how the video is associated with ideas already explored, books already read, and/or units already studied by having them complete a K-W-L chart or an Anticipation Guide.
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During the Video
When a narrator or character talks too fast, in an accent, or uses words that are new to the viewers, Closed Captioning can be a lifesaver. Especially for our EL and DHH students, Closed Captioning is a must for any video watched in class.
Stop, Rewind, and Re-watch
Some videos are fast-paced, introduce complex ideas, or have a lot going on visually. As adults, we know we can always pause, backup, and watch a section over again; however, this is not intuitive to many of our students. This is a skill we must model and teach.
In all of my English classes, I commonly used various Crash Course Literature videos. The students found John Green, the narrator of this YouTube Channel, to be funny and enduring; but, his delivery is so fast that students often missed key pieces of what he was saying. For this reason, we often stopped the video, skipped back to each of those key moments, and re-watched them. Sometimes, we even watched an entire video twice. Knowing this would be my approach, I would always tell students ahead of time that we would stop, rewind, and re-watch as needed: this helped reduce students’ anxiety levels, because knowing that all key ideas would come around again, they did not panic whenever they missed pieces the first time around.
Monitor Student Understanding
It is critical to stop a video from time to time to ensure student understanding, especially with videos that are longer than a few minutes, quickly narrated, or that contain new information. If students do not understand the information, they most certainly will not retain it.
Consider trying the following activities with your own students to ensure understanding during video viewing:
- Complete a graphic organizer — While watching the video, have students finish the ‘L’ of their K-W-L chart or complete an Alphabet Chart while they watch the video.
- Do a formative check-in — See what students grasped from the video by doing a quick format assessment with students after the video. Something as simple as an Exit Ticket or a Quick Write will help you know if there are parts of the video that students were inspired by, confused by, or that they missed all together.
- Insert questions mid-video — Stop a video from time to time to ensure students are fully grasping the content: ask them questions, have them jot items in their notes, or talk with a partner. A tool like PlayPosIt (a personal favorite) makes it easy to insert moments for students to stop and take note of key terms, turn and talk to a partner about a particular idea, or participate in a quick full class conversation about a key point. (See an example below.)
The video in not optimized for playing on a small device, such as a cellphone.
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After the Video
It’s a simple thing, but when a video is available online why not link it somewhere so students can re-watch it later? Linking videos used in class to your class website or Google Classroom, means that students then have a way to re-watch the material if they are still struggling with the content, to watch it if they were absent, or to review the material later prior to an end-of-unit assessment.
Connect to future learning
Just because the video is over, does not mean the learning is. As you teach future lessons, connect them back to the material watched in the video. This increases the importance of the material learned, which will not only help students build connections but will also help them pay closer attention to future videos, as they will now understand what an important role each video plays in your classroom.
So, while video commonly seems like an easy lesson enhancer, remember that while a video used well is wonderful, a video used without purpose and planning can end up being a waste of class time. For each video used, there are things to consider before, during, and after we share it with our students.
If you would like to tweak how you use video in your classroom, consider reaching out to your instructional coach or one of us on the C&I team; we would love to help you enrich your lessons with video. Or, consider diving in to some of the additional reading suggestions noted below.
Suggestions for future reading on this topic:
- Heick, Terry. “40 Viewing Comprehension Strategies: Watching Videos Like You Read A Book.” TeachThought, 22 Feb. 2018.
- Miller, Michael V. “Best Practices for Using Video in the Classroom.” The Sociological Cinema, 7 Nov. 2012.
- Serrato, Mariana Garcia. “'Watch-Think-Write' and Other Proven Strategies for Using Video in the Classroom.” KQED Education, 23 Aug. 2016.
- Truxel, Nick. "Instructional Videos: A Tool." Secondary Curriculum and Instruction. Rochester Public Schools, 27 Sep. 2016.
Many science teachers find that it is easier for students to follow prescribed procedures to "carry out investigations" as all they need do is follow the steps to obtain the results that confirm a scientific concept or theory. The same science teachers often ask, "How do I afford students the time to practice the planning part of this prioritized learning?" Teachers often skip having students plan the investigation because of the very real possibility that the student ideas for procedures will be impossible to implement due to time, materials, safety, etc..
Teachers often find that by sacrificing the planning part of the investigation, the students are more likely successfully complete the lab and see that the science works. Experience has shown us that students often contrive a procedure that will not work or cannot be competed in the school environment. When students do not come up with a workable procedure, we teachers feel that the students will be devastated by a failure.
In reality, much of the research on brain development suggests that by not allowing our students to learn from their mistakes, we are inhibiting their learning. What we need is a way to give students practice in planning experiments in a manner that is not impeded by time, materials, and/or safety.
An intriguing idea to increase opportunities for students to plan experiments is described in the book Academic Conversations-Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understanding by Jeff Zwiers & Marie Crawford. In the chapter "Academic Conversations in Science," the authors lay out a reading activity that fosters scientific thinking, inquiry, and communication skills. The authors contend that much of what students read in science textbooks is written as statements of fact and advocate that educators use these statements of fact to increase student investigative skills. The authors suggest that student pairs design a lab experiment, or research project to support the claim(s) made in the text. The students should look for statements in the text that are testable through experiment.
For instance, two excerpts from our current high school science texts are given in the table below:
- What could scientists have done to come up with this?
- What could we do to confirm that this is true (if we had all the money we needed)?
- What tools and materials might we need?
Many constructive conversations may arise through comparison of the students own invented procedures and the prescribed procedure. Who knows, the students might come up with a better procedure with more consistent results than the one prescribed. By having students read our textbooks we can, with multiple opportunities, help our students to become proficient in the Secondary Science RPS Prioritized Learning of "Planning and Carrying out Investigations."
- Every student is engaged – even the shy ones. It is easier to read and discuss what someone else has written.
- It provides the opportunity to think, write, and discuss open-ended questions. The instructional dialogue that ensues leads to higher levels of analysis and inquiry.
- It validates and affirms sociocentric, cooperative, and relational cultural behaviors.
- Finally, it is very versatile. You can have each group grapple with the same question or prompt for 10 minutes and move on with another aspect of the lesson. Several teachers have assigned each group a different question or prompt, and then had groups get up and move to a new campfire. This adds the element of movement as well as diverse perspectives.
Stop and Scribble
- Every student is engaged in answering the questions.
- Students can choose to answer the questions they feel confident about.
- The anonymity of the answers on a student’s sheet makes it easier to discuss and pose questions about whether or not it is correct.
- This activity addresses multiple cultural behaviors: (1) sense of immediacy, (2) spontaneity, (3) dynamic attention span, (4) musicality, (5) sociocentric, and (6) communalism.
As always, if you want to try one of these, or any new activity, just ask an Instructional Coach or an Implementation Associate to come and help. Together you can make it work for your students’ benefit.
Connect with Ellen via email or by calling 507.328.5376
Hollie, Sharroky. Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning. Shell Education. 2015.
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