Episode 4 – Equity and Voice, A Call for Change

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Episode 4

This episode of COVID Collaboration we talk with three educators that share their experiences and advocate for change. Coronavirus has made us question the way we teach students, the way we grade them, and has challenged us to connect and communicate with all families. The guests paint a picture of equity issues that have arisen long before COVID-19 but have become more apparent, and push us to give voice and opportunities to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What is your equity stance?
What lines do you connect with?
What questions come up for you?

If you are new to thinking about equity on a deep level or have already begun the journey, join us in conversation on twitter @covidlearning or comment below to join the movement. Let’s rethink education during COVID and build systems grounded in communities that can commit to providing all students the tools and opportunities they need to flourish.

Related Content:

Highly recommended is another perspective from Stanford University professor Jonathan Rosa on the podcast School’s In: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/equity-in-school-communities-during-coronavirus-guest/id1239888602?i=1000470142943

Apps for communication and outreach to families.

WhatsApp: used by many families and communities with ties from outside the United States.
WeChat: the main social-media/ communication platform from China.

Music Credits:

Episode 3: How to Grade During the Coronavirus

Home: COVID Collaboration & Giving Back To Schools

Want to donate to schools? Check out this page!

How do we grade?

What does equitable grading look like? Some districts suggest grades should be pass/ fail. Others say we should continue grading as usual. Others say we shouldn’t grade anything new at all and keep the old scores.

If you are looking for the easy answer to grading, this isn’t the place. What we offer are some unique perspectives from the book “Grading for Equity” written by Joe Feldman and couple of unique perspectives from educators that have grappled with the way we can give students and families feedback instead of or in addition to traditional grades. How are we communicating what students know to families?

Are grades just getting in the way? Let’s just give all students an A? Talk to the families and communities you serve – their voice is often missing!

Hear the thoughts, share your voice, share your story of teaching and learning during the COVID-19. Thanks for being here.

The three featured voices of Episode 3:

  • Melissa Hills – special educator from Wisconsin. (@hills1106)
  • Rori Abernethy – middle school math teacher @ Denman MS, SF, CA
  • Lizzy Dutton – high school math teacher @ Mission HS, SF, CA. (@erdutton)
Recent blog post by Joe Feldman, author of Grading for Equity.

Music Credits:

  • Intro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music
  • Transition 1& Outro – Shook Twins, “Shook Twins-Dec2016-LIVE”
  • Transition 2 – Radical Dads – “Recklessness”, Live at WFMU.

Episode 2: Allow Yourself Grace When Teaching

See other episodes: Podcast Home

Hello educators! How are you doing with teaching? What are you excited about and with what are you struggling? How do you allow yourself grace?

In episode 2 we look at a few examples of teaching in the first weeks of distance learning. Some teachers use more traditional methods of making videos for students to complete homework and some are ready to try out new online applications like Nearpod, Seesaw, and Padlet. Comment below or let us know on Twitter @COVIDlearning – what are your favorite resources and in what ways are you collaborating with others?

As always, we pause to think about the perspectives of educators serving traditionally under-represented students and remind ourselves the permission we have to allow ourselves grace. Here is a list of resources you can use and share.

Thanks for being here.

https://medium.com/@erinraab/best-of-kid-centered-resources-for-parents-educators-at-home-b7cc3ce8eb62

a big red heart

Music Credits:

  • Intro/ Outro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music

Episode 1: Where do we even begin?

See other episodes: Podcast Home

In March, 2020 we got the news that schools would be closed, first for a few weeks and now it seems, indefinitely. We relive the first days and hours of getting the news by talking to educators about their initial thoughts, experience, and wonderings.

Hear the stories of administrators and teachers as we begin the conversation about what school looks like in the time of COVID-19. If you have a story to tell about your experience please comment below or reach out on Twitter @COVIDlearning.

We may be isolated at home but, as always, we are better together.

Let’s collaborate.

Stack of binders and papers teachers packed up to transition to distance learning.
Teachers packed up curriculum, printed work packets, and prepared for distance learning.

Music Credits:

  • Intro/ Outro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music

8 ways I am using this time to grow and learn

As teachers, we get so much of our purpose from pouring ourselves into others – our students, their families, our colleagues. All of a sudden everything grinds to a halt and we find ourselves dropped in this unknown area of working from home with the expectation of helping from afar – through online classrooms and resources. I am a teacher, as is my partner, and it already feels different.

For teachers, we are used to making hundreds of decisions in mere minutes as we orchestrate the learning needs of our 20 or more students. And now, we are deciding if we should put on pants for the day or just stay in bed to read that book or watch one more Netflix episode before we check on our students’ progress. I predict it will be easy to fall into habits of summer or maybe unhealthy, sloth-like moods, but for my mental health and physical well-being I have chosen to frame this time as an opportunity.

I know there is plenty to be worried about and this situation is by no-means something to wish for, but since we find ourselves in this moment (quarantined or not) we need to reframe the moment into one where we have time to learn, to grow, to challenge our minds and our bodies in ways that we normally do not have with the traditional pace of life. It is also time to slow down and reflect about our lives and our dreams. We will come out of this on the other side and how we use this time could be the difference of setting us up for the next great thing or returning us to the same place of stress and anxiety we currently find ourselves or have found ourselves. Here are a few things that I am committing to during this time away from school:

1.) Don’t stay up late. Wake up early and exercise.

Gyms are closed and I’m definitely not getting in as many steps as I would be teaching! It would be easy to use “closed gyms” as an excuse to not work out but, physically and mentally, I know that I feel more refreshed and happy when I exercise. That means going to bed by 11PM and up by 6:45AM so I can start working out by 7AM. It’s only push-ups, dumbbells, squats, and planks but it’s something. Also, once my foot heals I’m hoping to get out running.

2.) Organize all the reading and professional development I’ve learned or am learning.

I’m in the middle of reading a really thought-provoking book right now, Grading for Equity. I think what I am reading is really powerful and wonder how I could have conversations with my peers about what I’m reading. I have started to summarize the chapters and questions posed by the author to make a “learning guide” I could use in the future with teachers to help them think about the author’s arguments without the need to read the whole book. I am also interested in organizing what I’ve learned about race as it pertains to teaching and thinking about how I can organize the different things I have read into something coherent to share with others. I’m not sure what either will look like or how they will be used but they are both things I find valuable that I would love to incorporate more in my teaching and share it with my peers.

3.) Make a calendar!

In addition to the things on this list, I have regular teaching duties that I need to perform. To motivate myself and have something to look forward to @sivanichalebra inspired me to make this and fill it in. I have my exercise on the calendar and my mornings are dedicated to school work of one kind or another. The afternoons and nights are more open which I am choosing to fill with things from this list!

4.) Learn and practice a new language!

There has never been more time to learn a new language than now! I have used Duolingo for over a few years now (on and off…) but my new plan is to spend 20 minutes a day learning Mandarin (I already speak decent Spanish). A good chunk of my students speak it and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time! It is important to remember that you’re not going to master it by using Duolingo but maybe listening to a podcast (like the Duolingo podcast) in addition to practicing on the app would help you become a stronger understander of a new language!

5.) Listen to podcasts.

I’ve been listening to podcasts whenever I have some downtime. I’m not someone who can work productively and listen to a podcast, but I enjoy doing dishes, folding laundry, going for a walk and listening to a podcast. I find it interesting and engaging which is something that may be lacking these days without school or work.

What I am currently listening to: This American Life, Dave Ramsey (new to me as of two days ago), The Moth, and Fish Nerds. I’m open to other suggestions! 🙂

6.) Play guitar, learn banjo!

Besides blogging, my mind needs some kind of creative escape. I have a guitar that I don’t play nearly enough and a banjo that I don’t really know how to play. This is the perfect time to sit at home, watch a videos, and start strumming along. Music can be soothing and I’m hoping this acts as a creative outlet and a way to bring peace to my mind as I wake up each day reading the newest terrible news.

7.) Reach out to friends and family!

I have finally had time to call my family. As I have more time at home I hope to call more people in my life and catch up with them. I might not be able to be with them but we can still hang! Tentatively planned this week is a virtual game night with my family (located in three different states) and a virtual party with games (my friends located in the general area).

8.) Be nice to people.

We are all in this together. Our county, our state, our nation, our world. Wash your hands, keep your distance, but don’t lose sight of the human dignity that each and every person deserves in person or online. Respect the authorities as they help in these crazy times, buy a gift card from a local shop that is going to be struggling, and look out for one another.

This will be a formative moment for all of us and the mindset we have will go a long way toward making it out the other side stronger and prepared to tackle the challenges that await us. Stay safe everyone!

Clear Expectations and Direct Feedback

February is has always been a difficult month for me.  It always has been, and I predict it always will be (at least in the current system as a teacher).  It is cold; it is dark; it is that perfect sweet spot where the beginning-of-the-year expectations have seemed to be forgotten, energy is drained, and the end of the school year is too far away to smell hints of its sweet release.

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 7.31.54 AM

Although, I probably could write about the coping strategies needed to get through these difficult weeks, I’d prefer to share something I’ve been thinking about in regards to classroom expectations during this time.

For framing, this past week was one of the more difficult weeks of the school year.  A 1st period class was nearly empty one day, one third of another class was consistently late to each day this week, and larger relationship issues between students and between individuals and myself seemed to escalate to more than the normal level.

As a teacher, it is easy to get angry at students.  They are late, they are playing, they are misbehaving, and they don’t seem to want to give any respect to me or the other students in the class that are on-time and prepared, ready to learn.  I tried all the stages of “pre-anger” as I’ll call it:

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 9.33.10 AM

These are my go-to moves, but they just weren’t really addressing the root cause of why these students consistently were having trouble following these expectations.  Sure, kids had bad days and needed to check-in about big things happening in their life, but it was clear that the problem was larger than that.  It was a good chunk of students in a good chunk of my classes. I’m not a fan of blaming the kids or writing them off as “lazy” or “unmotivated” or even using the crazy things that are going on in their life as an excuse.  Instead, I looked inward at the ways in which I set clear expectations in my classroom and communicated my needs with students.

To help frame my thinking, I reflected on some work I studied from David Bradford, a researcher and professor in the business school at Stanford University.  Bradford talks about the deep need for clear feedback on behaviors.

“All feedback is positive if it is regarding behavior because we can change our behavior.” (Bradford, 2017).

Bradford writes about the interpersonal cycle in which between two people there are actually three sets of realities.  First, the reality of person A, who has their own needs and personal motivations; second, the behavior by person A which is a shared reality between the two people; and third, the reality of person B who receives, interprets, and responds to the action.  It is important here to note that the intent of person A can often have a different effect what was intended.  Without direct and clear communication and feedback person B is left guessing.

“When we don’t know why the other acts the way they do, we start to guess. This is a natural tendency because we want to have some sense of how the other person might act. We believe that if we understand motivation that it will reduce future uncertainty. (Bradford, 2017).

(Bradford, 2017)
(Bradford, 2017)

Based on these thoughts, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I present myself as person A.  In teaching, I have my motives of encouraging all students to learn English (I teach emerging multi-lingual students) and math.  I have the needs of sleep and more time, often worn from meetings and other responsibilities held as a teacher-leader.  And, I have the situations of tardy students, students talking over other students, and the larger issues of support I face each day in my classroom.

In my mind, I am being reasonable, and it’s the students that are unreasonable.  But, Bradford’s work makes me question whether I am actually clear with students.  Are my motives clear?  Do students understand my expectations?  Do they understand why those expectations are important to me, to them, or to the learning process?  Are students left to guess what is expected from them or how I will respond?

I reflected on the things that I wanted to see more consistently in my class and focused on the positive things I was looking for, avoiding the negatives.  For example, instead of saying “don’t throw things”, I wrote “respect the space and property of others”.  These were the five expectations I created:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Sit at your table. 
  3. Use professional language.
  4. Listen to others. One mic.
  5. Respect the space and property of others and Mr. Casey.

Finally, I thought about the ways in which I exert my pre-anger strategies.  As a teacher, I have become skilled at remaining calm even though I am severely frustrated.  Are the students aware that I am feeling frustrated as I go through those steps?  Are they aware that I am getting more frustrated by the moment and their behavior is contributing to the frustration?  How can I be more clear about how I am feeling before I reach step 4 or worse?  I decided to make it as clear as possible.

IMG-0738

Along with my expectations, I plan to post a “mood meter” in the front for all students to see.  My hope is that if students have the information they will be able to make better decisions and lessen the need for pre-anger steps one, two or three.

“Feedback is information that gives the recipient options. What they do with it is their choice. They might accept it now or there might be other things they work on.  People will change when they are ready to change – not when you are ready for them to change!” (Bradford, 2017).

I’ll try it out starting Tuesday when we are back to school.  Wish me luck and feel free to share other expectations/ strategies you use to make things clear for students. Teaching is a process and reflection is key.  We can’t make February less cold or less dark, but we can be clear in what we expect from students.

My challenge for others is to think about the interpersonal cycle in your own life with friends, family members, co-workers, or students.  How can you be more clear about your own needs and motives in order to more meaningfully connect, inspire, and influence those around you?

Reference:

Bradford, D. (2017). Effective feedback and the developmental process.

Using Video To Improve Math Explanations

I work with emerging multi-lingual students every day.  The importance of focusing on content language as well as other language structures are at the forefront of how my lessons are planned and enacted.  One way to challenge students’ learning and improve the use of language having students make math videos explaining their thinking.

It’s a simple idea with powerful advantages.  I’ve found that holding students to a high level of explanation (written and verbal) and use of content language has actually helped students make better arguments and even understand the math more deeply.

The project was simple.  (1) Choose an equation from this list.  (2) Draw the idea using algebra tiles.  (3) Explain your solution mathematically (with algebra tiles, a picture, or with numbers and letters). (4) Write a script and make a video explaining your solution (the script is super important for students new to the English language; different levels of structure and supports can be changed up to support the students with whom you’re working).  Here’s an example of a video from our latest project.

Using Charts to Model Student Progress

Since my first year of teaching, I have thought about the many different ways I could help to demonstrate a growth mindset to my students.  You can read some of my thoughts elsewhere in my blog but wanted to share an example of something new I am trying this semester.

As our school has focused more on formative feedback I’ve made it my goal to give more exit slips.  First, I found that I was doing it just “because”.  I claimed it would help my practice and I would make changes based on the feedback but the reality was that it just didn’t happen.

Then, I tried experimenting with tracking this data.  Below is what I put together this fall.  For each student, I tracked their progress and updated it as I gathered more feedback: exit tickets, classroom conversations, or projects.

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.20.22 PM

The problem I faced with the spreadsheet was that it was a lot of work on my end (valuable and meaningful data but a lot of work).  However great it seemed I did not share with students and it did not give them ownership of it.

I decided to go another way.

Currently, as you can see below, I am using sticker charts to map the progress and understanding of my students.  It is similar to the spreadsheet except it is more simple and student-facing.  If you’ve shown you understand a standard, you get a sticker.  The students see it every day, and it has been a regular conversation we’ve had in class.

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 9.25.11 PM

The picture here shows student understanding after Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday or the same week. The week following this data collection we had a short project before we took a group test and individual test.  The conversations around these charts consist of:

(1) Look at how you’ve grown!  Your hard work has been paying off!

(2) If you have three stickers, you should act with empathy and help others so more students can earn stickers.

(3) You should come in at lunch so we can talk and you can earn stickers by showing me you understand.

Looking forward, I want to reflect more on the student buy-in that this brings and think about even more effective ways for my students to own this information. I want them to actively reflect on how they are doing and what they need to do to continue on the path of understanding, despite struggles.

In the mean time, I will continue and be content with how much kids of any age love earning stickers.

Pay Attention to Patterns of Participation

In 2012, as a new teacher, I still remember my first staff meeting.  I was one of many new staff members, including our new principal.  As a staff, we took a moment to think about the vision of our school.  What should a thriving high school look like? Feel like? Sound like?  I was unafraid and raised my hand.  “Every week should feel like Homecoming week with all the excitement and energy it brings”.  The principal was quick to reply with a smirk, saying “spoken like a true rookie.”

I bring up this story because I believe the way voice and participation patterns exist in adult spaces greatly affects a school and organization.  Creating equitable learning spaces in classrooms begins with an equitable learning space among adults.

Thinking back now about that first staff meeting, I wonder how I had the nerve to raise my hand in front of nearly ninety staff members.  Where did I get the nerve?  Part of it, I would argue, is the fact that I was truly clueless and didn’t know any better.  But more than that, I think a large part of that nerve was because of my identity.  As a white male, society had always told me that my voice carries weight and there would be less judgement toward me if I was wrong.  I did not feel afraid or fear being judged.

That was then, in a staff that was almost completely white.  Now, I find myself working at a school with about half of the staff being people of color.

Staff meetings, both large and small, are noticeably different.  Agendas are carefully crafted with a lens toward equity:

  • all staff members taking turns facilitating meetings
  • creating small groups
  • giving time for each person to write first before sharing with a partner
  • giving each person to a minute to share their thinking, not more
  • providing sentence frames to shape the conversation

Most importantly, each meeting is shaped by the norms of our school, one of them being “step up, step back” and another “pay attention to patterns of participation”.  As a staff, a department, or a working group, we consistently monitor our participation.  It is expected that those of us that could have more status – more experience, more expertise, male, or white – become aware of our participation and do what we can to allow more voices to contribute to conversation.

Second, we process-check each meeting in our closing moves.  We reflect on whether we met all of our norms and values including leaving space for everyone’s voice.  Did anyone talk too much?  Did any specific group talk too much or too little?

There is no perfect answer to creating equitable voice in adult spaces, but I am really proud of the work my school does to move toward more diverse participation.  Next time, you’re in a staff meeting or department meeting pay attention to the different people and groups that are talking.

  • men/ women
  • white/ non-white
  • new/ experienced
  • content area

Create a conversation, establish a set of norms, check yourselves every time.  The process is never done.

Living Your Values

After graduate school, my goal was to teach at a school in which I could learn from and observe amazing leadership.  My advisor connected me with San Francisco International High School.  I knew it was an interesting opportunity because the school was committed to educating recent-immigrant students and had a unique model of distributed leadership.  I had met the principal in one my classes and was impressed.

I just started my second year teaching at SFIHS, and I have to say, I am amazed at how much I learned about myself, about teaching, and about leadership in the past year.  My learning did not come from an amazing curriculum or even an amazing principal; it came from the amazing leadership that emanated from all of the staff.  Everyone was a leader that challenged themselves, each other, and the status quo.  We learned together and supported one another in order to create change in our school and in the lives of our students.

This did not happen by accident.  What I admired most about the school is how deeply it lived its values.  Day 1, we teach the students about the values – what they look like, what they sound like, and what they feel like.  Living the school values isn’t an option, it’s what we do.

Almost more importantly, these are the values by which the staff operate as well.  Each staff meeting we start by drawing attention to a few and end every meeting with a process check to see how well we followed the norms.  Did we honor our time and show up to the meeting on time?  Did we assume positive intent even in those with whom we disagree?

The school values hang in every room and are printed on every agenda.  It’s the common language we all speak, even as students arrive from different countries with little to no English.  We learn together, we act with empathy, we challenge ourselves, and we create change.  These values define us and our students.  They drive us in our work and keep us in check when the workload is large and time is limited.

  1. Learn Together 
    a.) Celebrate success and opportunities for growth.
    b.) Seek resolution.
    c.) Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.
    d.) Be fully present. Honor our time.

2. Act with Empathy
a.) Assume positive intent.
b.) Communicate honestly about your needs and perspective.
c.) Seek to understand others’ needs and perspective.

3. Challenge Yourself
a.) Take risks and allow yourself and others to grow and learn.
b.) Step up; step back.

4. Create Change

I’m curious what values drive your work or your school?  Do you have a common language and method to keep yourself and your school’s many personalities in check?  Define your values and create a school where everyone leads and grows together.