“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.
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.
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
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.
Getting buy in at all levels by building relationships
Creating norms for conversations
Engaging in reflection on policies and methods
Facilitating conversations around meaningful texts, media and/or events
Allowing people to engage with the project at their own comfort level
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
“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.
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?
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.
Learn more about supporting digital literacy for learners who are refugees:
As indicated by test scores, Utah high school students struggle with proficiency in math and science. HawkWatch International (HWI), a non-profit organization based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has found an innovative way to reinforce state STEM concepts being taught in Utah classrooms by involving high school students in their study of cavity-nesting birds and the environmental impacts leading to their declining population. With the support of the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, the Cavity Nester Citizen Science Study continues to provide a fun and engaging way for students to gain a deeper understanding of the scientific method through hands-on experience with ecological data collection, analysis, and interpretations.
What were the goals of the project?
The goals of the “Cavity Nester Citizen Science Study” fall into four categories:
To improve science proficiency in local high school students by giving students the opportunity to participate in real scientific research.
To get students outdoors as part of their education.
To support the community and create community awareness of cavity-nesting species.
To learn more about the movements, environmental impacts, and causes behind declining populations of local cavity-nesting birds and what we can do to conserve these species.
How were these goals achieved?
The project team hosted professional development workshops for teachers to introduce them to the project and explain how it supports the state’s curriculum. Lesson plans in biology, statistics, and environmental science were created. The lesson plans are shareable so the project can be replicated in other schools.
Students were trained how to properly monitor next boxes and cavities. HawkWatch International led trips for students to learn about and assist with banding birds. Utilizing their new skills, students monitored nest boxes and cavities near their school, conducted weekly habitat assessments, and recorded their data observations in field journals. They formulated hypotheses, analyzed the data collected, and formed conclusions about the birds being studied. Students presented their findings in a symposium open to their peers, families and the broader community.
What challenges were experienced along the way and how were they addressed?
Like most organizations, HawkWatch International was deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the four schools originally involved, two had to drop the program and the remaining two temporarily closed. Since they were unable to physically visit classrooms or take students out to check nest boxes, they were forced to pivot to virtual visits. The project later transformed into a hybrid approach, providing a mix of virtual and real-life visits to classrooms.
Exciting plans for the future:
HawkWatch International hopes to eventually pilot this project outside of the Wasatch Front in Utah to reach more students and transform them into conscientious environmental stewards eager to take an active role protecting the habitats of cavity nesting birds.
McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation extends funding opportunity deadline to address educational enrichment for a generation impacted by the pandemic.
The Foundation website https://www.mccartheydressman.org includes information about eligibility requirements, program overviews, and previously funded projects. The extended deadline for applications is May 1, 2022.
Over $197K in funding was awarded by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation for the 2021-2022 school year. According to Sarah J. McCarthey, Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, grants and scholarships awarded by the Foundation serve as a catalyst in maximizing the skills and creativity of educators at the K-12 levels and in cultivating pioneering approaches to meeting the needs of a generation impacted by the global pandemic.
“We are looking for proposals geared to enrich the education of a generation of learners who have survived the multiple years of dramatic educational change. We know that there are many demands on educators the past several years. Grant submissions have been lower than average and we recognize this as an outcome of the many issues impacting districts, schools and classrooms” noted Professor McCarthey. Successful applicants may receive funding of up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of three years by proposing a project, completing an application including letters of recommendation to show evidence of project need and possible impact.
Individual and small teams of teachers may apply for Teacher Development Grants to fund projects that provide groundbreaking K-12 classroom instruction. A recipient may receive up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of three years. Funded projects will impact unmet needs for students and encourage professional development in innovative areas for teachers. Applicants are not required to have a signed contract for the 2022-2023 school year as the funds are disbursed in the following school year when teaching assignments are in place.
Full-time students specializing in elementary or secondary education and who are in their final year of teacher education programs at New Mexico State University, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Texas at Austin, and Steven F. Austin State University are eligible to apply for one-year Student Teaching Scholarships of $6,000 each. “Our objective,” commented Professor McCarthey, “is to help scholarship recipients acquire and strengthen exemplary teaching practices that inspire learning.”
About the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation (501c3)
The mission of McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation (mccartheydressman.org) is to serve as a catalyst in maximizing the skills and creativity of educators at the K-12 levels and in cultivating pioneering approaches to teaching that result in dynamic student learning. The Foundation sponsors proposals that enhance student learning and educational quality, paying particular attention to those that best serve under-funded schools. Only 350 applications will be accepted this year. The application deadline is May 1 for proposals with significant potential to enrich the educational experiences for youth, but the application will close before that date if 350 submissions have been received.
School aged children have experienced growing up in a world where we discuss and hear the current status of the global climate. What if we empowered our students to find solutions to protect the planet? The project team at South Plantation High School in Plantation, FL did just that through their Environmental Science Pathway project. With the support of the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, they sought to develop a curriculum that is guided by the themes of reducing the carbon footprint, water issues, and human population issues.
What were the goals of the project?
The project team wanted to instill environmental stewardship in their students through their comprehensive Environmental Science Pathway Curriculum. In doing so, students will become more engaged in their coursework and gain industry-identified content knowledge and employability skills. To accomplish their goal, the team recognized their teachers needed time to work collaboratively to identify and address student challenges, develop shared goals for the pathway, and gain the skills necessary to implement the developed goals. They planned to continue with the Environmental Science and Everglades Restoration Professional Learning Community (PLC) and to collaborate with the Environmental Advisory Committee to train and support teachers.
What progress did they make to their goals?
Even with schools going virtual, the project continued on.
The PLC met virtually and in person on a regular basis. Members of the community were trained in new software and e-learning platforms and supported each other by sharing their new skill sets. Chemistry and Environmental Research teachers joined the magnet team.
The PLC team hosted monthly campus beautification days where the school’s outdoor classroom gardens and green spaces were maintained while providing training for faculty and teachers.
Teachers participated in professional learning by attending virtual workshops and on campus events. Students were provided with opportunities for community and civic engagement outside of the classroom through virtual symposiums and conferences.
Cambridge courses that are in alignment with the Environmental Science Pathway were infused into the magnet course selection. Environmental programs/ lessons and field trips were executed virtually, on campus, and at home with the help from their Environmental Advisory Committee across all grade levels. Most programs included an outdoor learning component. Teachers provided hands on learning opportunities that exceeded curriculum standards for in-person and virtual students.
What challenges did they face and how did they address them?
The greatest challenge for the project team was learning how to use the online learning software in which all school operations had to take place. The grant team learned a new set of tools and a very high level of patience as technology is a great educational vehicle until it doesn’t work or students cannot access.
The team also recruited an alumnus to provide additional technology support. The Environmental Advisory Committee shifted their work from the field to a virtual Environmental programming for students and teachers. The traditional Magnet Open House was in the style of a drive-thru using QR codes.
Another challenge the team faced is not being able to implement the PLC’s common research paper and lab report format due to teachers working in isolation and science labs being limited.
What will they do next?
The PLC teachers have collaborated with the Environmental Advisory Committee to come up with ideas for infusing the newly created virtual programming into their traditional project based learning and field trips. Cross-curricular connections, science research, and hands-on lab investigations will be part of the Environmental Science Pathway Curriculum.
The Everglades Foundation’s literacy training is being planned as professional development for all magnet teachers. In doing so, the project team hopes to become an Everglades Champion School that showcases the project’s success!
Just as we learn through experience, multi-year projects learn from previous years implementations. The Best of Buena Vista is a multi-year project that continues to build momentum each year it is repeated. Project leaders built on their success, addressed past challenges, and incorporated new opportunities and ideas.
Located in Buena Vista, VA, the project team at Parry McCluer High School sought to collaborate with their community to create optimism by celebrating the The Best of Buena Vista.
The goals of “The Best of BV” were to expand the current program of weekly video announcements made by and for the PMHS student body. In the second year of the project, the team built on the excitement and eagerness of new and returning students in their Blue Library and Film/TV classes. At the request of the their students, they sought to provide additional inter-generational opportunities and experiences utilizing film and written media.
The project aspired to disrupt the negative small-town mindset as their students engaged in interviewing adults about their positive contributions to the community.
The team also wanted to allow their students to benefit economically as they increased their communication, writing, and storytelling skills, while practicing responsibility and accountability.
What progress did they make towards their goals?
The project continued to make progress towards all of their goals. They Best of Buena Vista established and produced a regular pattern of publication which included promoting student achievement.
The negative small-town mindset continued to be disrupted as students connected with community members and created platforms of growth for both students and elders. PMHS students have a stronger connection to their school and community though the deep and meaningful relationships they have created with the community elders. Project lead, Rishi Richardson, reports that every experience has been richly rewarding as each interview and interaction is met with surprise and delight by all the participants.
Academic opportunities for their students have expanded while the students and community members are empowered was a new, positive perspective. Students are becoming progressive story tellers of their communities’ rich and complex history. Furthermore, the elders in the community also learn as they are excited to access their interview on social media and share with others.
What did students learn while participating in and producing The Best of Buena Vista?
PMHS students learned how to use camera equipment and practiced being in front of the camera. They increased their communication skills, writing skills and confidence through mentoring, interviewing, filming, creating content, and successfully producing film and writing products for “the Best of BV”. One student who needed help to write a paragraph when she first started the program is now completing rough drafts on her own! Another student with developmental challenges has gained confidence and improved his ability to share his ideas in front of the camera.
What challenges did they face and how did addressing these challenges shape future plans for the project?
From slowing down the project to a snail’s pace to stopping the project in its tracks, COVID and COVID related restrictions continued to be a major challenge for the project team Addressing these challenges head on, the project leaders rethought and reorganized how the project moved forward. They consulted closed with the communities’ elders and created contracts with students to complete the unfinished work from this year’s project.
After meeting with the communities’ elders, the project team revised their methods and took two directions towards completing their project goals. After all, “the Best of BV” was contributing to an optimistic mindset for the community, they could not let COVID hinder the momentum. The first direction was to continue interviewing elders as they have done in the past. The second direction was to create teams of students who would study one aspect of the community more deeply and for a longer period of time. Aspects of the community that have been studied thus far include the Buena Vista Colored School (a place where African-Americans attended school under segregation) and the Paxton House (a home built in the 1800’s which has been restored).
Both directions have been successful. In the first direction, community elders stepped forward to share their experiences with the students. In the second direction, student commitment to the project increased. So much so, project leaders have decided to expand the project into the summer months and the students are excited to participate!
Plans for the future
As students take on more responsibility, become more courageous, and find their inner voice, they are beginning to look for ways to shape the town’s future. With COVID restrictions starting to relax, community elders have once again come to the school to have conversations with the students.
The program is looking forward to the next school year and anticipate that the students will continue to grow and succeed in their participation. We at McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation are excited to see how “the Best of BV” continues to positively impact the students and community!
The project team is thrilled to share this video describing their accomplishments.
As students attend school during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to support learners in thinking “outside-the-box” and practice problem solving skills. Young children often engage in pretend play, acting out observations and experiences they have. Educators know children learn through play and the importance of providing children with interdisciplinary learning opportunities in languages they are familiar with. Through, her project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project, veteran CentroNía staff member and theater artist Elizabeth Bruce, developed and published a bilingual STEAM curriculum enhancement for Pre-K children to “become science problem solvers who remedy science problems through hands–on simulations of real phenomenon. They are experts who solve the problems and emergencies presented in each journey.”
The concepts presented in The Journey Playbook are valuable to educators as The Journey Playbook provides fun opportunities to guide young children through play as they learn STEAM concepts and develop problem solving skills to become experts in solving problems most children experience regardless of socioeconomic factors and educational setting. Located in Washington D.C., CentroNía overwhelmingly serves low and moderate income and immigrant families, a majority of whom are Latino, African, African-American, or bicultural. CentroNía’s holistic approach provides a bilingual, multicultural environment where children and families they serve receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed.
What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?
Elizabeth Bruce wanted to support the expansion of the strategies presented bilingually in the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Young Children through Pretend Play to scale by expanding a previously funded Teacher Development Initiative locally, regionally, and internationally through CentroNía’s Institute. To reach her goal, she created the project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project.
As one can imagine, with the undertaking of her project, there were many steps Elizabeth Bruce needed to accomplish. She planned to produce and translate The Journey Playbook, train educators, collaborate with educational and community partners and disseminate The Journey Playbook.
She planned to :
Embed the Journey Project Teacher Development with CentroNía Institute’s Development of Laboratory Pre-K classrooms led by Master Teachers, who will become Trainers of Trainers with Four CentroNía Sites.
Have participation from Pre-K Colleague Centers through linkages with DC Public Schools, Public Charter Schools, and Early Childhood Centers.
Collaborate with the CentroNía Institute to present about The Journey Project’s methodology within the Early Childhood Education, STEM + Art =STEAM, or arts education sectors, locally, regionally, and/or internationally
Create and distribute low-tech teaching tools for Journey Kits for participating Lab Classroom Master Teachers.
Partner with CentroNía’s pro-bono partners, including engineering professionals to conceptualize/design low-cost, multi-use, inter-changeable, space-saving devices as Journey teaching tools.
Print and broaden promotion of The Theatrical Journey Playbook and Teacher Development Program through press, social media, and professional networks.
What progress was made toward her goals?
Elizabeth completed final production and translation of The Journey Playbook! She co-facilitated in Spanish with CentroNía’s Food & Wellness staff, providing Professional Development/Teacher Training Workshops with CentroNía Teachers through a bi-weekly series of workshops on The Theatrical Journey Project to Early Childhood Educators. Educators participated in either the English or Spanish cohorts. The workshops/training included The Theatrical Journey Project content and process and integrated nutrition and wellness content explored through the journey process. She also provided bi-weekly Journey Project demo/training workshops with all Pre-K Lead Teachers and Assistant Teachers at CentroNía Maryland and co-facilitated (with Robert Michael Oliver, PhD, of The Performing Knowledge Project) workshops on Creativity and Dramatic Engagement for CentroNía Early Childhood, StudioROCKS, and Family Center teachers and staff. Here are a few other highlights from the project efforts:
Presented bilingually with Spanish translation workshops engaged in 1 ½ hour hands-on demonstration of The Journey of the Sick Teddy Bear, complete with teddy bears, stethoscopes, thermometer, vocal/physical warm-ups, etc. Explanatory debriefs followed each section of the workshop, with a Journey Project one-pager, sample journey, and curriculum methodology handouts were provided. Through this experience, Elizabeth received “Excellent engagement and feedback!”
Presented a Training of Trainers on the methodology and pedagogy of the Theatrical Journey Project for Early Childhood Home Visitors.
Facilitated a collaboration between CentroNía Family Center and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
Nurtured additional elements of the Journey Playbook/Project Teacher Training Project including:
Disseminating mini Journey Kits to Early Childhood Classrooms.
Planning CentroNía Family Center parent-child journey workshops.
Developing new journeys with CentroNía Food & Wellness , specifically on topics of hydration, circulation, vitamins and nutrients, and oxygenation.
Highlighting Journey Project techniques and methodologies
during teacher assessments using the “CLASS” assessment tool.
One bilingual Journey Project collaborating teacher, Phoenix Harris, previously adapted her own variation of a Teddy Bear Journey as a final project for her Masters’ Degree at Trinity Washington University.
Exciting plans for the future
Project leaders participated and networked extensively at conferences and submitted proposals to continue to present, disseminate, and train teachers on The Journey Playbook.
The Journey Project is collaborating with the “Changing the Face of STEM: A Transformational Journey” event targeted to under-represented communities (Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans) at the National Academy of Science in June 2018.
Elizabeth Bruce and others within CentroNía leadership have engaged in/are pursuing extensive and accelerated outreach to educational colleagues and organizations (nationally and internationally) receptive to Journey Project/Playbook teacher training, project collaboration and replication including English-language cohorts and one Amharic-language cohort (with translation). Additional plans include continuubg to facilitate workshops at CentroNía with Kinder/1st Graders; having weekly Journey workshops with CentroNía Universal Pre-K Classrooms, and continuing with fundraising for Journey Project Replication/Video Tutorials.
How has The Journey Playbook affected the learning of students and/or teachers?
The learning of students and teachers has been deeply affected both directly, through the extensive hands-on Journey workshops, hands-on teacher trainings/professional development, conference presentations, and indirectly through the production, promotion, and dissemination of the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Early Learners through Guided Pretend Play, as well as promotion of the Journey Project introductory video, webpage, and promotional materials.
Extensive outreach to major educational partners, schools, and institutions has been and continues to be underway, with projects for teacher training/project replication or adaptation with educational colleagues and Journey Playbook distribution to at least 135 educational colleagues and targeted teacher training/project replication, funding, or other support activities.
PreK/Early Childhood Educators/Teachers engaged directly in collaboratively journey workshops, collaborations, mentoring/modeling, and other teacher training. The Journey Project began working for the first time with younger children, ages 2 ½ to 3 years old, with remarkably successful results when the project was adjusted to a slower pace with fewer activities per journey, plus repeating the same journey from week 1 to week 2. This addition allows the Journey Project at CentroNía to engage the same cohort of children for a full three years.
What challenges were experienced along the way and ideas for improving the project?
Elizabeth states, “I have learned that the process of engaging educational colleagues and their organizations as
targeted teacher training/project replication collaborators is a longer, more gradual process of deepening relationships and inviting educational leadership to observe/engage with the Journey Project, and especially to commit to teacher training/project replication. Colleague educational organizations, like most nonprofits and schools, are deeply engaged with their ongoing operations and missions and extensively committed to operationalizing, maintaining and funding their organization’s endeavors. Hence, learning about and embracing a new, even highly simpatico, methodology or pedagogy calls for a strong relationship and decisions by leadership to advance mutual commitment to in depth teacher training and project replication. Laying the groundwork for such partnerships, however, promises to come to fruition within a time frame of 1-2 years. Reaching critical mass for project replication/teacher training, thus, is anticipated once extensive ground-laying has been done.”
Educators are on the front lines in addressing the low levels of student academic language literacy resulting from the phenomena of modern family life: both parents working full time, limited oral language acquisition in the home resulting from the economic pressure on families, and increased student screen time.
Ellen Guettler at Irving school in Bozeman, MT is implementing The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) to improve the instructional competencies of district teachers via intensive professional development to better serve two identified district populations at risk: low income/low literacy English-only students and English Language Learners(ELLs), for whom English is not their primary language. As such a project has many components, The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) is a three year project.
What were the goals of the project?
The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) is a three-year project aimed at improving the instructional competencies of District teachers via professional development to shift the ‘culture of instruction’ to better serve two identified district populations at risk:
low income/low literacy English-only students
English Language Learners (ELLs).
Their goal is to increase student knowledge of academic vocabulary via explicit vocabulary instruction in Tier 2 critical thinking vocabulary like ‘evaluate /classify / infer’ and Tier 3 content specific vocabulary like ‘perimeter / figurative language / hypothesis.’ This explicit instruction, coupled with the use of language frames, visual aids, and graphic supports, helps low literacy / EL students acquire and comprehend the academic vocabulary they need to be college and career ready.
How were these goals achieved?
ELL staff members,Ellen Guettler and Kathleen Johns trained K-8 ELL teachers on explicit vocabulary development and provided comprehensive data folders on each individual ELL student’s needs, using STAR reading and math data, WIDA ACCESS scores, a writing sample and a summary report from the previous year’s teacher. Teachers were allotted time during the trainings to analyze their ELL student data files in order to plan individualized sheltered supports for academic vocabulary development for their ELL students.
At the trainings, teachers learned about the stages of primary and second language acquisition, explicit vocabulary instructional strategies, and the importance of using graphic organizers to teach Tier 2/3 vocabulary to low literacy students in order to contextualize academic learning.
Teachers were allotted time during the trainings to analyze their ELL student data files in order to plan individualized sheltered supports for academic vocabulary development for their ELL students.
17 (K-12) district teachers attended a two-day WIDA training titled, “Scaffolding Learning Through Language”. Twelve of those teacher participated in a two-hour online follow up with the WIDA workshop facilitator and Ellen Guettler to share their scaffolding implementation strategies.
ELL staff developed 1-1 sheltered instructional supports for teachers districtwide with the development of an online resource page to support teachers in implementing explicit vocabulary development through the use of graphic organizers, Tier 2-word lists, YouTube instructional videos, literature support materials, and strategies to help teachers make the content more comprehensible for the district’s low literacy and EL populations.
In this first year, what progress did they make towards their goals?
The entire first year was about creating an infrastructure to address the numerous existing programmatic holes in serving the district’s ELL students. The following processes and procedures were developed:
An ELL Pathway teacher list is being compiled and computerized so that ELL student placement is formalized at each site to build teacher/site competency in addressing literacy needs of ELL and low language students.
Online professional development supports were developed so that academic English literacy supports (Tier 2/3 vocabulary sheets, graphic organizers, language function charts, etc.) are all available via one website. Professional development instructional videos on effective vocabulary development are also listed.
A VISTA application was submitted and approved to support 3 sustainable ELL program goals:
With the ELL program growing by 50% in the first year of the project and no bilingual materials available, time was consumed by translating forms and supporting ELL families in accessing community resources. To further the VISTA goals, teachers, administrators and area agency leaders met twice at ELL working group meetings to identify the needs in the education and community agency arenas. Issues, goals and next steps were identified. As a result of the UBD work, a lack of explicit phonics instruction districtwide for late arrival or low level EL students were identified as a roadblock to acquisition of academic vocabulary. As a result , a pilot program was planned. The pilot will include all K-3 students in a predominantly ELL Title 1 elementary school, all late arrival ELLs, as well as ELLs scoring 3 or lower on the reading portion of the ACCESS 2.0 exam district wide. The curriculum of the pilot phonics program will be the Imagine Language and Literacyprogram. to address the identified need for explicit phonics instruction and remediation of their K-2 and late arrival ELL students who slip through the cracks and never master the requisite phonics skills to read fluently. With this additional instruction, they hope that students can engage in Tier 2/3 vocabulary development they need to access college and career readiness. With 152 students in the Title III program and only two staff members, the online curriculum will ensure every student receives the phonics instruction they need to proficiently read in English so they can access the core content standards equitably.
How did their project affect the learning of students and/or teachers?
Their project objectives were the catalyst for systematic ELL program improvement via professional development of teachers and infrastructure development. Their mentor continually focused on the conversation of creating program sustainability and on the importance of establishing procedures that ensured that end, regardless of who was at the helm.
The steps they took in the first year moved the ELL program in the right direction. Over 65 district teachers understand the vital importance of vocabulary development and sheltered instructional strategies to ensure ELL and low language students have access to the academic vocabulary they need to be successful in school and beyond. As a result of the PD trainings, district teachers are more receptive to ELL supports and accommodations than ever before. They are much more cognizant of the role that academic English language development plays in the success or failure of a student, because they have a clearer understanding of second language acquisition theory and the role that Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary acquisition plays in student achievement. For the first time in the district’s history many teachers actively referred to the WIDA English Language Proficiency Standards and the “Can Do” Descriptors in their lesson planning. Although there is still much work to do in this area of instruction to maximize Tier 2/3 vocabulary acquisition, the groundwork was laid, and their teachers are receptive to this instructional paradigm shift.
What challenges did they experience and how they are addressing the challenges to improve the project?
Ellen reported, “this project was full of unanticipated challenges and roadblocks. As the adage goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you do,” definitely applied in this project.” Due to addressing the need for shifting negative teacher attitudes toward time set aside for professional development in a year when they were piloting a difficult new math curriculum, addressing a 50% increase in EL enrollment overnight, and realizing the myriad of social and procedural issues that were impacting the project implementation and EL achievement in school, they redefined the year 1 goals of the project.
Although there was a significant focus on teacher professional development and training, Ellen’s mentor quickly shifted the focus of her energies as EL Coordinator to address the infrastructure issues that were preventing her from dedicating the time she needed to the project goals of providing ongoing teacher support of effective vocabulary development strategies in teacher classrooms. By addressing the EL program infrastructure in the first year and part of the next year, Ellen will be better able to meet the time commitment and PD goals of the project, which focus on facilitating teacher engagement and reflection on their instructional processes throughout the year. In this way, teacher competencies in academic language and literacy instruction across content areas will be developed.
To improve the project, in addition to providing face-to-face trainings, Ellen is eager to create screencast trainings that will be accessible 24-7 online. The resources will be available to all district teachers to better meet the professional development needs both in intensive trainings and bite-size chunks for teachers to watch and utilize when they have specific EL questions and instructional needs throughout the year.
Ellen plans to utilize and share with parents the easy-to-access curriculum provided in the Imagine Learning and Literacy program her school is piloting. Ellen plans to continue ELL Family Literacy Nights but with a new focus on family engagement using the Imagine program. The Imagine program, offers a preview of all instructions for the English phonics and academic vocabulary curriculums in 26 different languages. This easy-to-use literacy tool will be supportive in engaging entire families.
As Ellen states, “diving in this project has been a bit like opening Pandora’s Box” due to discovering the layers upon layers of “missing” procedures. With the steps they have taken to address the “missing” procedures and by building a sustainable infrastructure, we at the McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation are excited to see how this project progresses
At many schools with a large bilingual population, student’s cultural and linguistic resources must guide instruction in order for children of color to find success in the current educational system. Caroline Sweet and her colleagues at Perez Elementary School in Austin, TX hoped to develop on site a model of writers’ workshop that embraces bilingualism and incorporates students’ cultural backgrounds. They believed that what is developed at Perez can guide other campuses desiring a high-quality bilingual writers’ workshop as a model for developing students’ written expression while simultaneously giving students agency in their learning.
Implement a writers’ workshop model in language arts instruction across the campus in Kindergarten through 5th grade.
As Caroline’s school has a strong dual language program, they needed to merge their dual language program model with the tenets of writers’ workshop to reflect the biliteracy development of their students as readers and writers.
Caroline also wanted to ensure their students develop a positive self-identity throughout their school experience. To accomplish this goal, they used culturally-relevant literature as mentor texts throughout writers’ workshop.
What was their process to accomplish their goals?
They consulted with the Heart of Texas Writing Project (HTWP) at the University of Texas to train K-2 teachers on the foundational concepts of writers workshop.
They partnered with the Austin Independent School District to provide, two full-day professional development sessions to where their consultant from the HTWP and a language arts curriculum specialist from the district trained K-2nd grade teachers on writers’ workshop as this method of teaching was new to most of the teachers in the sessions.
The trainers of the professional development sessions modeled lesson ands and teachers watched writers’ workshop mini-lessons conducted by their colleagues.
Caroline co-taught with a first grade teacher for a week long unit.
Their consultant from the HTWP co-taught with a first grade teacher once a week for 6 weeks.
Their first grade team members provided peer observations frequently.
What did they accomplish?
They have helped teachers change their mindset about what is writingthrough lengthy conversations among colleagues about how letter formation and handwriting is an element of instruction outside of the writers’ workshop. They are working on valuing the production of our emergent writers.
They celebrated the writing products of their youngest writers with writing displays and held celebratory publishing parties in K-2 in which parents and community members were invited to read students published work
The built a community that continually supports teachers
Caroline has planned a full day planning session with their constant from the HTWP.
Caroline and their consultant from the HTWP have invited all K-5th grade teachers to attend two trainings in which the goal of the trainings is for teachers to create at least a two week unit based on a genre study framework.
Some of the teachers at Perez Elementary school submitted proposals to present at professional conferences regarding the writers’ workshop methods they are using their classroom. They hoped they will grow many teacher leaders.
Several of the teachers have been accepted to the Heart of Texas Writers Project Summer Training Program, which is part of the National Writing Project to further their knowledge and training in the teaching of writers.
What are their ideas for improvement?
Peer Observation: continue more focused peer observations in K-2nd grades that include debriefs to allow for support especially in content focused coaching and utilize explicit protocols that involve pre-conferences, observation, and post conferences
Evaluation of Student Products: Allow for planning time to continue to create and improve the rubric for K-2nd grades and then create the differentiated rubric for 3rd-5th graders. Further discussion and planning should occur regarding language of choice and building opportunities to create variety in audience choice.
Buy-in: some teachers were ready and willing to try new ways of teaching based on the training they received. Some teachers had more difficulty understanding the need for writers workshop in their classroom. They would like to create a shared mission to allow students to guide learning and implement responsive teaching practices.
Planning: More planning time was needed to create units with culturally relevant texts to give students experience in a variety of genres. They are thinking the planning component with culturally-relevant texts might need to occur as part of their professional development days.
Collaboration with Biliteracy Committee: They will work with the biliteracy committee to add writers’ workshop into the biliteracy framework as an essential pedagogical element in each classroom whether the classroom is a dual language classroom or not. They would like to define how they use language in the writers’ workshop that promotes biliteracy.
As students embarked on “the Best of BV” they strengthened writing skills, practiced responsibility and accountability. Their plan was to work with the arts council to empower students to cover local sports, art, academics, business, city government, events, nature, hiking, and personal topics on social media. This program set out to expand academic opportunities for students while improving community relations. As the students become progressive storytellers, they would also examine their community and their assumptions about it.
What were the goals of this project and how were they achieved?
The Goals of the Best of Buena Vista were to expand the current program of weekly video announcements made by and for the student body of Parry McCluer High School (PMHS). This goal was met through the Facebook edition of the Blue Library. It is where the Best of Buena Vista stories are published, read, and commented on by the school and local community. The project team created opportunities and experiences for the students to interact in an intergenerational setting allowing them to learn from community elders. Student led interviews allowed for interaction with community elders.
The team also wanted to disrupt the negative small-town mindset by engaging students in interviewing adults about their positive contributions to the community. This goal was achieved in every single story published.
The project also aimed for students to benefit economically by increasing writing skills; exercising responsibility and accountability; and improving their storytelling and communication skills. They were also very successful with this goal as students wrote articles, met deadlines, mentored one another. While doing this, they managed coordinating interviews and and publishing articles. The program was successful despite interruptions due to COVID-19.
What did the project participants learn?
The team determined students were successful with little assistance from the mentors. Since the students were prepared with questions and knew what to do it was clear that eliminating this role would help the program. They reevaluated and began using student “assistant editors.” Their main responsibility was determining what stories should be written and which students would write them as well as working with the “reporters” to edit stories turned in. They oversaw the entire process for one week’s worth of stories.
With this new plan and practice in place, they began to present to the entire student body. During presentations to individual English classes, there was a need to combat some students’ negative points of view. but many offered the response, “I didn’t know that about Buena Vista.”
What was the impact of this project?
Despite COVID-19 challenges there was overwhelmingly positive feedback about the program, from students and community members alike.
One student interviewed the town historian. He was so impressed by the experience that he chose to donate his payment to the scholarship fund in the historian’s name. Many students acknowledged how nerve wracking it was to talk to the person they were assigned. Whenever they finished, they always had a smile on their face and pointed out several things they had learned. The intergenerational interactions were key to the success of this program. Students, parents, and community members consistently liked and followed the page when each story was published.
A local supporter of the program, Dawn Dickinson, wrote about the community’s response in this way:
“The Blue Library has been a meaningful, informative asset to our school and community. Stories of people and local memories have served as a bridge to the past and allowed our student body to react to our city’s strong heritage. Student interaction with people who can share local history and lore has given our young writers a new perspective on what’s good about our small ciity…..
This grant, coupled with an enthusiastic leader, has awakened a new generation to the positive aspects of our beautiful city. The timeliness of this positivity is perfect!”