Category Archives: 7 Families and Community

Community on Strike: The Alliance Between Educators, Families, and Community Members

Seattle Pacific University’s Program Standard 7, Family and Community, stipulates that teachers should seek to collaborate with families and other educational stakeholders in order to promote student learning. My internship this year reminded me that the community is one of these hugely important educational stakeholders, and by forging meaningful partnerships with it, we can better serve the needs of our students and their families.

I realized how important the local community was to my students’ education very early on in my student teaching — before I even began, in fact! My student teaching career kicked off with the Seattle Education Association (SEA) strike over the parameters of an unfair teachers’ contract. During the strike, I forged connections with coworkers, students, community members, and activists alike and learned a great deal about Roosevelt’s educational vision, the fervor of its faculty and staff, and how to initiate and maintain positive relationships with families and community members that would serve me through the rest of the academic year.

While not part of the union myself, I came to Roosevelt for five days decked out in red and holding a “Support SEA” sign to walk with my unionized colleagues. Every day we walked in circles for ten miles. My dog even joined in the collective spirit!

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My dog, Willy, photographed with the picket line signs in front of the football field.

Community members came by each day to offer support, supplying snacks and reinforcements, and marching along the block with us. Several spoke to the press as well. My brother-in-law covered the story for Reuters’ News, and interviewed several community members, including an 8-year old boy, following along in the march as he dribbled a soccer ball. See one of his articles here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-washington-strike-idUSKBN0ND16Q20150422

I agreed to an interview with KUOW, explaining why I believed the contested labor contract expanded beyond just bread and butter issues and into a comprehensive educational vision for the state itself.

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A poster I hung on my wall during the strike

As community member joined our ranks, I took it upon myself to begin conversations with them. Many were parents of Roosevelt students, but some had simply come to support the local school. I asked them about Roosevelt’s place in the community, and they spoke with pride about its reputation for academic achievement. The relationships I forged through these marches served to put me at ease in front of parents soon after at parent-teacher night when I had the opportunity to introduce myself and establish contacts with student families.

When I wrote my first email to all the parents in my class following parent-teacher night, I spoke of my time getting to know parents and community members during the strike and thanked them for making me already feel a part of the school and surrounding community. I told them of my educational background and my hopes for the academic year, establishing positive contact very early. Several responded, commending how involved I already was. These positive interactions would serve me well later in the year when I looked to parent support for behavioral or academic issues that arose.

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Teachers on the picket line outside of Roosevelt High School

On the second to last day of the strike, the Washington Education Association (WEA) and its labor choir came to join us. We had advertised to the community through phone calls and flyers that we were looking for more help, and they showed up in droves, singing along with us to the tunes of the labor choir. I have maintained contact with the WEA representatives I met that day. Faculty and community members alike then walked around the school, singing and chanting still. There must have been 800 people that day outside of Roosevelt between the staff from a handful of schools and the community members themselves!

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Community members out to support their teachrs

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The Seattle Labor Choir leads us in song.

The evening before the strike’s end, I went to a city council meeting to talk about the contested contract and teacher and community concerns about it. The city council meeting was an open forum in which people could come up to speak about the issues at hand. It was thrilling and inspiring to discuss these issues alongside concerned community members and activists.

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City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant leading City Hall Meeting.

Once the strike had come to a close, I felt a sense of unity not only with the staff at Roosevelt, but with the community around me. I recognized faculty and student faces the very first day I actually got to walk through Roosevelt’s double doors, and I felt far more comfortable and at ease knowing I had spent a great deal of time with these incredible people already.

To me, this strike was demonstrative of the support for teachers felt throughout the Roosevelt community. Known for its academic excellence, Roosevelt truly inspires a sense of trust and confidence in the community around it. As such, the strike showed me that community members were willing to work with faculty and teachers in order to protect our school’s academic distinction.

I learned too that showing the community and families that we care about the education of their children, and have devoted our lives to it, instills a trust essential to establishing a safe school environment. Teachers, community members, and parents are allies, all working to better our families, community, and world; we are all part and parcel of that village it takes to raise a child.

I know now that I want to get more involved in the teachers’ union so I can work more closely with the local community. Teachers’ unions need community partners and families to support their efforts. To engage in local politics, one has to know local politics, and care about them deeply.

Knowing and recognizing the importance of the alliance between educators, families, and communities is essential to establishing the partnerships needed to make a schoolhouse more than just a schoolhouse, but the bedrock of the community – one committed to communal development and familial involvement. I know I have learned a great deal about this expansive alliance through my internship this year, and through my involvement that very first week in the SEA strike.

 

Concerns about Multiple-Choice Assessments? Let me help…

A great deal of what we do in our AP U.S. History class depends on the students’ motivation outside of classroom time. Students are expected to teach themselves the barebones of U.S. History through their reading of America’s History textbook, written by James A. Henrietta, David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. Each Friday, after ample review, students are expected to take a 20 question multiple-choice test to prove their reading and comprehension of the textbook.

This is probably our students’ first high-school level course that assesses student’s knowledge of information perhaps never even mentioned by the teacher. The idea is that they are learning a great deal of the historical information, some of the dryer stuff, outside of the classroom, so that inside of the classroom we are able to delve into its meaning. Together as a class we ask the big questions about the information they have gathered in their own readings of the textbook: Why did this happen? What was important about it? What are the essential questions surrounding it? What do primary and secondary documents say about it?

Parents are well aware of the structure of the course. We send students home with a letter for their parents to read and comment on, and introduce the format of the course in the beginning of the year at parent-teacher night. If one were to take issue with the concept of multiple-choice assessments, however, claiming such assessments not to represent their child’s capabilities or performance, I’d respectfully address their concerns in a couple of ways. First, I would explain why the multiple-choice assessment is the best to check in on whether or not a student is keeping up with the textbook readings. These are really information-based assessments, and so multiple-choice is a fine way to check in on student informational retention. I would also remind parents that students are expected to hand in “Key Terms” before taking these multiple-choice quizzes each week, and that these Key Terms allow the students to focus their readings and reflect on all that will be covered on the quiz through meaningful, short-responses that ask students to identify the terms and reflect on their significance. Next, I would explain that we make sure to allow for several other types of activities and projects that allow the students who are less apt to perform well on multiple-choice quizzes to better demonstrate their capabilities and understanding. We assign several debates, presentations, interpretive art projects, discussion reflections, notebook checks, and essays throughout the year, for instance. Each of these projects, that allow for more student voice, are allotted more points than the multiple-choice quizzes given each week.

I would also make sure to send the concerned parent examples of the other types of point-allotted projects and assessments we cover throughout the year. Through these, the parent will be able to see the amount of time, effort, and creativity students (and teacher alike) need to put into these activities and projects, and how they get to the essential skills needed to be successful in the course, and beyond. Ultimately, our multiple-choice tests assess students on informational knowledge and the rest of our activities and projects assess students on their conceptual and evaluative knowledge.

That informational knowledge, however, is quite essential to develop the conceptual and evaluative skills necessary to meaningfully explore historical themes. Through this class, the student learns the skill of taking the responsibility of learning into their own hands. They teach themselves the information to we can teach them the skills of how best to apply this information to explore history, society, and the mind more profoundly.