Month: July 2022

Brave Space to Talk about Race and Racial Justice Teacher Development: Innovative projects to improve outcomes highlight strategies for all

Posted on Updated on

How do you engage your teaching community in racial equity?
How do you engage your teaching community in racial equity?

“It only takes a moment, all you need is one partner, you can do this work on your own, it’s hard but you can do these things from the bottom up” – Emily Portle, Racial Equity Teacher Development 

“People always object. I listen. I make myself available to talk.” – Jon Jagermann, Brave Space to Talk About Race

Educators and districts around the country have been working to take a hard look at racial equity; from discipline policies and dress codes to school climate and instructional methods, a re-examination of schooling has been underway. Addressing systemic racism is challenging and also controversial. Still, innovative educators have been seeking out ways to positively impact their students and communities.  This blog highlights two of the courageous efforts awarded funding through the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation’s annual grant program.

Awarded in 2020-2021 school year, the Brave Space to Talk about Race project and the Racial Justice Teacher Development project were both able to create opportunities for leadership, educators and staff to engage in a closer look at racial equity in their work. These projects are important to highlight, not only because they took on challenging topics but also because they help demonstrate how these efforts can be impactful. What can we learn from these efforts?

Instructional leadership takes on a new meaning 

The Racial Justice Teacher Development project took multiple approaches to engaging the whole staff in professional development which would lead to a school wide vision where children on the edges became a central point of focus. The teachers shifted from focusing on the feedback from PTO to looking closer at conversations with parents who weren’t coming to PTO, but it wasn’t a journey that happened overnight – instead it grew over time through an instructional leadership perspective.

This project started by sending a school-based leadership team to attend summits and conferences where they could immerse themselves in learning about race and equity. They established a plan to engage the educators and staff. A cohort of educators planned yearlong strands of racial justice learning for their peers to increase their capacity as teacher leaders, including an equity strand for staff focused on increasing cultural competence and becoming an anti-racist educator. As part of their professional development staff also received The Racial Healing Handbook by Dr. Anneleise Singh and participated in their choice of book studies with a selection of books.

The Racial Healing Handbook cover photo
The Racial Healing Handbook cover photo

As a result of the professional development in the Racial Justice Teacher Development project, project leaders reported strengthened classroom communities and a decrease in behavior incidents. Through their professional learning efforts, they were able to begin redesigning instructional models and systems at their school toward a student-centered, restorative, inclusive school for all of their student body. Leaders in the school have also developed new ways to address equity in class placement, identification of students with advanced learning needs, and changes to instructional blocks that are more responsive to all students. The equity strands were impactful and will be a continued effort in the future.

Not a “Safe Space,” instead a brave one

Brave Space to Talk About Race is a project in Milwaukee Public Schools created to increase staff member conversations about race. The goals were to help identify actions the district could take to address issues of discipline disproportionality and school climate and to develop antiracist educators who could increase school capacity to maintain and sustain the work of having these conversations.

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools
Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

The project incorporated ways for staff members to engage with these topics through reading groups, by creating book study guides, participating in Jamboard reflections, offering viewings of the documentary “Pushout,” and offering programs for educators who were interested in participating . These included offering a Race Practitioner’s Cohort and planning a three-year program called Courageous Conversations about Race Exploration. In addition, the team worked to integrate action steps into school improvement plans for the coming year. At the end of the year project leaders shared cohort action steps with the district leadership and participating school-based cohorts had action steps to continue these conversations in the next school year.

Challenges along the way

Of course one of the major challenges for both project teams was COVID-19 and its impact on schooling. Some schools taught the first part of the year online and had a phased re-opening in the spring, which made it difficult to sustain professional development. Some schools were entirely virtual. This made book studies more challenging, but also opened up some virtual learning opportunities which can be useful in multi-school or district projects.

Recommendations for educators

Conceptual illustration of equity shows persons of different heights standing on boxes which level their height.
What does equity look like in your teaching community?

Both of these projects took on challenging topics and both offer examples in their approach that could be beneficial to others who are working to improve racial equity.

  1. Getting buy in at all levels by building relationships
  2. Creating norms for conversations
  3. Engaging in reflection on policies and methods
  4. Facilitating conversations around meaningful texts, media and/or events
  5. Allowing people to engage with the project at their own comfort level
  6. Developing action steps for the next year

While the work of racial equity is not easy to do, it can be done by small groups of educators working together. These projects have shown some impactful ways that educators can develop projects that can grow to serve these communities over time, supporting the leadership and staff in an ongoing effort to support racial equity. As Emily stated, the message is: Don’t wait! Start Now!

Learn more about Racial Equity and Teacher Development

Where the Light Travels: Creative Media Builds Confidence and Digital Literacy

Posted on

Student animation reveals a hooded character on a turqoise background. The text reads "I am good at coding"
Students explore their academic and creative identities as part of Where the Light Travels. The assignment asks students to create an animated self portrait, answering the question: what are three things you love about yourself? (Project photo)

“Soon the digital divide will not be between the haves and the have-nots. It will be between the know-hows and the non-know-hows.”

– Stanford lecturer Howard Rheingold

Where the Light Travels is an after-school enrichment class designed to integrate photography and digital media into core areas of learning such as English Language Arts and Social Science. This project supports refugee youth in San Diego, creating engagement and connection by bridging hands-on creativity with technology and art.

The need for technology​ and visual communication has never been more important. This was highlighted as the world was sent into isolation with the impacts of COVID-19. “We use digital photos and videos to share our understanding, to connect with our communities, and to express ourselves,” stated Jana McBeath, Media Educator and Youth Council Coordinator with Outside the Lens. Receiving a three-year grant from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is allowing McBeath’s project, Where the Light Travels, to transform an elementary after school digital media class into a safe space to build confidence while increasing digital and media literacies.  She has seen firsthand how having media skills to use in life can change a student’s focus from self-identity, to family, community and eventually become a new language to use worldwide.

What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?

Where the Light Travels was implemented virtually in partnership with the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program as an after-school class with goals to:

  • integrate ELA and core academic subjects using photography, videography, animation, and mixed media
  • build confidence and engagement in students and their academic subjects
  • create a safe space to encourage storytelling, identity and creativity
  • showcase projects at a community exhibit honoring student work from throughout the year

Craft boxes with various art supplies and props were provided, as well as sealed envelopes with project materials. iPads loaded with apps for animation, photography, digital art, film editing, and other resources were also given to each student. To help combat screen fatigue, now that all of the students were learning online every day, the focus of the projects relied on the incorporation of tactile and hands-on activities, even though the project was designed to enhance digital literacy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Consistent engagement became one of the major components of success. This was achieved in many ways. In addition to opening the sealed project envelopes online together each week, an emphasis was put on daily connection, using digital tools like Flipgrid and Google Chat for sharing jokes, art and ideas separate from the specific project.

Students were encouraged to experiment, explore and create in their free time in whatever interested them most and report back with self-directed projects. This was an opportunity to see what interested each student most, and reinforce the ELA and Skill standards in the discussion and evaluation of each student’s work. The consistent engagement, paired with the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to address varying curiosities, concerns and interests made the pivot to a virtual afterschool program arguably more successful than originally envisioned.

What progress did they make to their goals?

Credit: Brad F Image: student_ipad_school - 131 License: CC by 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/b9wAtF
Student Ipad School – 131 // Credit: Brad F  License: CC by 2.0 

The projects created by the students really speak to the progress made in this program. The confidence of the students shines throughout and the results were far reaching. From comedic YouTube videos to dance performances and tactile science experiments, all of the projects incorporated some form of digital media problem solving, verbal and written communication, which addressed the crucial ELA, 21st Century Skills and digital media literacy needs.

What challenges were experienced along the way and what are the ideas for improving the project?

The onset of COVID-19 changed the goal for creative outlets to a necessity and was the biggest challenge for the project. What was meant to be an engaging in person experience now had to be redesigned to an accessible virtual setting that still allowed for meaningful connections for students who were already spending the day learning online. A lot of inventiveness went into pivoting this project to be something joyful for the students to look forward to during what ended up being a very difficult year for them in so many ways.

How has Where the Light Travels affected the learning of students and/or teachers?

Based on feedback from the students, parents, tutors and partners of the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program, the effect on students was solidly positive. Engagement was achieved, as well as a returning student base. The students were truly able to nurture and develop their identity using their own passions and hobbies to explore interests and curiosities using the iPads and craft kits.

Exciting plans for the Future

As the project entered its second year, still virtual, the number of participating students doubled and included all previous students from the first year. Whether the program continues online, in person, or possibly even as a hybrid, the plans for the future include continuing with the student-led curriculum, utilizing techniques to stay highly adaptable, focus on mixed media projects, introducing advanced photographic processes, and keeping the asynchronous work and connections between classes.

Additional Resources

Learn more about supporting digital literacy for learners who are refugees: