pedagogy

Joining in the Present to Build an Equitable Shared Future: A Collaboration of Teachers to Study How they Embody the Principle of Equity

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Photo of fists in circle as in representing coming together
Teachers collaborating helps address inequities in student achievement

Adam Kinory at the School of the Future in New York, NY and his colleagues are educators who sought to reconstitute the long dormant New York City Chapter of the New York State English Council and National Council of Teachers of English. The chapter will be open to any teacher, across content areas, that seeks to improve their instruction of reading/writing, with the nucleus of teachers being from their school. The process of forming a chapter, will provide a vision around which teachers at the school can unite, learn to improve their ability to collaborate, while also address inequities in student achievement. By coming together in service of starting a NCTE chapter they hoped to prioritize creating a shared, preferred, vision of the future over of the self-flagellation and critique that too often results in pessimism and disenfranchisement.

What is the project and their goals?

 Join in the Present to Build an Equitable Shared Future is a collaboration across teachers to look at how they embody the principle of equity in interactions with each other and students they teach. To accomplish this, they had two goals.

  1. They wanted to read a shared text, using protocols, and rotate the role of the facilitator. They sought to create a sense of “equity” amongst teachers and empower them with the tools they needed to take charge of their own professional development.,
  2. Using this core group of educators, They wanted to form an affiliate chapter of the national council of teachers of English (N.C.T.E..)to plan a conference, where participants would have a shared experience of creating something new. Through their new chapter creation, they could adjust social norms and reflect on how equity informs decisions that are made.

What did they accomplish?

The project goals were met and new a project was created.

Photo of the book Community by Peter Block
Community by Peter Block

Using the teachings of Peter Block’s text Community, they rotated the role of the facilitator, and used the protocols of the National School Reform Faculty, and ensured that everyone was “equal” in the control they had over the destiny of the group.

In re-starting the New York City chapter, Adam joined the board by request and attended board meetings regularly. They learned that the United Federation of Teachers (U.F.T) already had an existing New York City affiliate of the N.C.T.E., however the affiliate was dormant. The N.C.T.E wanted to restart the chapter but did not have a point person to do this for them. Adam worked with the representatives of the U.F.T to restart the committee and held two committee meetings.

Shared read became a separate project. Teachers across grades 6-10 met and engaged in a shared read of professional text, and used it to explore how to improve equity in teacher-teacher and teacher-student relationships. In creating equity by conducting a shared read at school, they established a common vocabulary as to the characteristics of an equitable community and have taken steps to integrate those characteristics within their pedagogy. Teachers have reported that their participation has led them to re-conceptualize how to interact with their students, reconsider curriculum, and clarify their own sense of mission and purpose.

What challenges did they come up against?

Trust was the most basic challenge. Building trust was a challenge in reinstating the affiliate committee with the U.F.T. Trust was a challenge that made it uncomfortable to collaborate with people that Adam had not worked with before and to make sure people felt free to talk. Participants did not immediately take to the text of Community.

Exciting Projects

The committee has less than dozen people from across New York City.  They hope to grow the committee over the new few years. 

Photo of the book freedom and accountability at work by Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block

They are considering two specific protocols to utilize within their practice.

They are considering a shared read of Freedom and Accountability at Work by Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block. By having a shared read of this text, participants will have the opportunity to explore how to deal with the anxiety that comes from having choices and control over our own lives and dealing with the denial that those choices exist as such denial often leads to hierarchy as people trade their freedom for certainty. If we accept our anxiety and explore the root of it, we can create equity in our relationships with ourselves and others.

The Second consideration for a shared read is Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane.  If this shared read is chosen, participants would explore how to build equitiy and agreement even when they fundamentally disagree with the most basic assumptions of those they engage with. They want to move from the broad sense of “equity” by design to choosing and usingPhoto of the book collaborating with the enemy by Adam Kahane specific protocols to evolve the way they structure interactions that address the following questions: How do we maintain a stance of equity when interacting with those who seem to diametrically stand in opposition to us? How do we clarify the choices before us so that we do not blame some outside force (other teachers, the principal, parents) for our own disappointments? What does equity look like when we are attuned to our own neurosis?

 

Further Reading

 

Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Investigate and Improve Digital Learning Across Contexts

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It’s easy, as an educator, to feel like an unmoored ship in a vast sea.  Pricks of light in the distance indicate other ships, largely unreachable.  Even though teachers in the same districts and schools work closely in a physical sense the gulf of communication can be vast and many good ideas and techniques are not shared and refined amongst a larger pool of minds.

Teacher Inquiry guides exploration of new ways of teaching. Still from project video.
Teacher Inquiry guides exploration of new ways of teaching. Photo from project video.

This is what Elizabeth Homan, of Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, MA, is changing with her program Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Improve and Investigate Digital Learning in Urban Settings.  While the name is complicated, the aims are simple. This project proposed to bring together a small group of teacher leaders from across an urban school district to engage in collaborative inquiry and teacher-research related to the integration of digital technologies in classroom practice. The goal of this project is twofold: (1) research the challenges and possibilities of digital integration in a high-needs urban school district, and (2) increase the capacity of the district’s digital professional learning opportunities for teachers.

How can collaborative inquiry for teacher development work?

By keeping research at its center, engaging teachers in conversations about “what works” for their digital learning, and helping teachers support their colleagues in reinventing their teaching to meet the needs of today’s very “plugged in” learners. The first year was largely preparatory with an articulation of goals and a formulation of an action plan that would turn into quarterly meetings.

Project Website - walthamintegrationnetwork.org
Project Website – walthamintegrationnetwork.org

At the start of the project, cohort members worked to identify the student learning goals for the year and articulate how their goals could be measured using qualitative or quantitative classroom data. These goals could be as simple as learning how to create and fully integrate a new tool, such as a classroom website, or it may involve an entirely new approach to instruction, such as “flipping” the classroom.   Later in the year, team members shared classroom artifacts, lesson plans, and examples of videotaped practice from their classrooms with other team members in quarterly face-to-face workshops, connecting their practice with research-based approaches and examples.

The project will continue to meet these goals through recruitment of additional teachers, teacher mentorship of new recruits, sharing teacher work through the blog and, in the summer, development of video evidence of teacher practice with technologies.

How can collaborative inquiry impact educators?

Classroom video helped teachers better understand the impact of new teaching strategies. Photo from project video.
Classroom video helped teachers better understand the impact of new teaching strategies. Photo from project video.

The educators at Waltham Public Schools have been busy.  In their first year they have recruited research assistants to help mentor teachers at the middle and elementary school levels.  They have also developed a number of #WINproj spaces for sharing practice. From their blog (walthamintegrationnetwork.org) to their twitter hashtag (#WINproj) and Facebook page, these educators have worked this year to foster a digital voice for the network and to develop consistent expectations around the content and design of their website/blog and social media interactions.  The teachers have worked throughout the year to archive photos, examples of student work, or videos of their practice, which they will use this coming summer to develop video reflections on their experience and what they have learned.  And because the project and leader are new to the district, much of this year has been about building relationships, learning what’s happening in the buildings, and building excitement for the project.

How can collaborative inquiry improve instruction and pedagogy?

Teacher blogging strengthens teacher collaboration.
Teacher blogging strengthens teacher collaboration.

The first and most obvious benefit is a larger network of teachers and educators who have bridged the communication gap.  Partnerships between teachers have formed both online and in person.  The teachers are also becoming increasingly proficient with web writing and familiarity with the online tools such as the blogs and message boards.  It’s clear they’ve been doing something right as they’ve been asked to present at the National Council of Teachers of English in November which will serve to get the word out about the program and widen the network of the educators involved.

How could this program be improved?

According to the team, the biggest challenge the program participants faced was that of time.  Not expectantly they had trouble with the temporal logistics of getting so many teachers in the same space physically.  More support and training for online meeting spaces is paramount for the growth of this project.

On a lesser, but no less important note, they found that some teachers needed to get acclimated to blogging.  While they’re perfectly proficient in the classroom, the public articulation of methods of pedagogy doesn’t come easy for everyone.  More support for first time bloggers would have a large impact on the productivity and communication between all parties.

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