Tag Archives: Educational 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.

 

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It Can’t be Done Alone: Course Reflection for Professional Issues and Abuse

This fall quarter in Professional Issues and Abuse, EDU 6134, we have explored the practice of teaching and followed it outside of just the classroom walls and into the community at large. There, we have had the opportunity to give thought to the educational community and all its integral parts.

Program Standard 8, Professional Practice, calls for teachers to participate in the educational community around them. It asks teachers to collaborate with coworkers, administrators, families, professional groups, labor organizations, and much, much more in an effort to improve instruction and foment a strong educational community in the public school system.

Teachers can and should seek out (and give) professional guidance from (to) other teachers and administrators. They can and should partner with families and community members to improve student education. And they can and should join professional organizations and advocacy groups to defend and advance our nation’s public school system.

This quarter we explored many different types of professional issues. We started locally and slowly extended our purview. First we looked into the classroom itself, and investigated trouble areas for new teachers, technology-policy, student confidentiality, and appropriate student-teacher relationships. We then shifted our gaze into the school building and local community as we considered strategies for promoting effective relationships with other teachers and with families. We then looked out even further and considered professional organizations and advocacy groups that could offer important resources.

As a new teacher myself, Moir’s (2011) phases for first-year teachers really resonated and got me thinking about how essential it is for the new teacher to create a strong professional community to help them through each and every stage. To do our jobs well, it is important we as new teachers know about mandated professional guidelines, and this course asked that we read up on professional issues and abuse in state guidebooks.

We also focused on how partnerships and collaboration can also help us navigate the teaching world more effectively. Epstein (1995), for instance, showed us the multitude of reasons that we must develop “school, family, and community partners,” emphasizing that “they can improve school programs and school climate, provide family services and support, increase parents’ skills and leadership, connect families with others in the school community, and help teachers with their work” (p. 82). DuFour (2011) demonstrated that teacher collaboration that focuses on department and school-wide strategies is similarly essential to improving instruction and promoting a positive school environment.

Later, this course brought us to research professional organizations that help teachers along in networking and teacher development. In an effort to begin by concentrating on the local and then extend my purview — much like the format of this course — I started by researching organizations close to home and then considered national, and even international, organizations. I took particular interest in the Washington State Council for Social Studies (WCSS), the Washington State AFT chapter and its national AFT affiliate, and Teachers without Borders. Lastly, we researched the mission and accomplishments of the WEA and NEA, which only affirmed my resolve to become an active member of my future professional teachers’ union. These unions defend the merits of public education while protecting its most important advocates, we as teachers.

Ultimately, Professional Issues and Abuse showed me that teaching is a whole lot more than the curriculum we design. It is a profession, complex and multi-dimensional, that depends on collaborative partnerships in and outside of the school building. I learned teachers would be remiss to discount how essential professional protocol and communities are to the teaching profession. Should teachers really come to rely and collaborate on others in the schoolhouse, the community around them, and the local and national organizations founded to protect and serve them, they will find that they have incredible resources and support at their fingertips. These same resources will make them far more effective educators, and the implications of this for student learning are profound.

Well-supported, protected, and resource-rich teachers simply teach better. Fostering positive relationships with families and communities is particularly important to student learning, as students would see that all of those around them who care about them most are allied in their efforts to promote their ongoing education.

In terms of moving forward, I know that I personally want to begin establishing contact with parents, even as a student teacher. I want to design a final project that calls for community participation in some way. Perhaps I will invite community members to watch or judge student presentations. And although I have already met a few times with WEA representatives to talk about membership responsibilities, I want to think more about how next year I can take on some leadership roles for them in the teaching community. I also intend to continue to research and find inspiration from professional organizations, like the WCSS.

My next steps are simple: remember that the teaching profession extends beyond the content of the classroom and into the very fabric of our communities and society at large.

 

References

Defour, R. (2011). Work together, but only if you want to. Kappan Magazine, February 2011 ed., pp. 57-61.

Epstein, J.L. (2010). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Kappan Magazine, November 2010 ed., pp. 65-96.

Moir, E. (2011). Phases of first-year teaching.

Teacher Evaluations: The Case for Some Subjectivity

Despite our best efforts, no evaluation is ever completely objective. This is the case for both student and teacher evaluations. Assessing student work, particularly student writing, is invariably subjective. We as teachers consider individual student growth, motivation, and even “grit.” There is no way to perfectly grade student work, and no perfect rubric could possibly exist to eradicate that problem. But then again, is it a problem? Honestly, genuine evaluations necessarily incorporate subjectivity.

The same goes for teacher evaluations. There is no full-proof way to objectively evaluate teacher performance. If teachers are grading in subjective ways, we can hardly use their grades as an objective determinant in deciding how well they are doing their work, right? Grades, I will also mention, can be easily manipulated and basing a teacher’s performance on classroom grades could actually lead down a dangerous road. Assessing teacher performance on students’ performance on standardized tests could be arguable too objective. As in, these scores do not incorporate student socio-economic obstacles or learning challenges. Again, subjectivity is a natural and integral part of evaluations.

Grades and standardized tests should be incorporated into teacher evaluations, but they themselves should be considered subjective components of that evaluation. Other subjective factors should also go into this — administrative observations, department reviews, student surveys. Adding up several subjective sources will never get us to our desired objective evaluation, but it gives us a great deal more evidence to work with. We should always be asking questions about our evidence, and openly admitting their subjective nature will bette equip us to ask the questions necessary to evaluate their validity. Let’s not, then, depend on any one objective measurement, because it just doesn’t exist. Let’s rely on a compilation of subjective evidence, and question it to piece together a more cohesive, though still complex, story about a teacher and their performance in the classroom.

The Foundation of Community Building: Course Reflection for Introduction to Teaching (EDU6918)

This summer quarter in our Introduction to Teaching course (EDU6918), we learned a great deal about program standard number 8, Professional Practice. In my view the Professional Practice standard asks that teachers work collaboratively and in an educational community to think of and implement strategies to improve their own instruction. In particular standard 8.1, “Participating in a Professional Community,” asks that teachers develop relationships with colleagues that are mutually supportive and invigorating. Teachers are active in their school communities, offering constructive feedback and helpful suggestions to colleagues, and asking for the same in return. This productive exchange is what makes our nation’s classrooms all the more enriching.

In our classroom this semester we worked closely together, discussing pedagogical concepts and learning from each other. We spoke, for instance, about the distinct teaching methods detailed in Miller’s (2011) article and beyond, including constructivism, theory of mind, socio-cultural learning, information processing and so on. Coming into class I was most intrigued by educational theories with a “progressive edge” that allowed for direct student agency, communal cooperation, and questioning the traditional ethos of education and knowledge (Hoyt Blog Post, June 2015). What I learned, however, in cooperation with my colleagues, is that there is a place for linear thinking (Miller, 2011, p. 34) and information processing just as there is for the holist approach (Miller, 2011, p. 34) and investigative/student-centered learning (Turner, 2011, p. 125) to which I found myself initially far more drawn. I learned that mixing and matching pedagogical methods, and using all in moderation is key to a dynamic classroom.

As an MA in History, our class’s discussion of educational history (Denton, N/A), education reform (Hunt, 2005) and shifting paradigms (Mehta, 2013) were of particular interest to me. I noticed some of my colleagues needed support in understanding how and why the past and present stories of the educational movement in our country were so important to learn about. I explained to my blog-post “buddies” that to become active members in our own educational communities, and actively practice program standard 8, it is essential we know about our professional history and the contemporary issues that challenge the integrity of our profession today. As comrades in the educational world, we find ourselves entrenched in a battle for the maintenance and revitalization of the American public school system, and it best we know what it is we are working to defend – mainly, continued public access to quality education for all.

It was my turn to look to my classmates for support, however, when our discussion turned to the educational system in Washington State. I grew up in Illinois so the educational system out here in the PNW was all pretty new to me. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s report (2011), although intended for laymen, detailed the complex roadmap of the state’s public school system and its financing in too dense of detail, and, quite honestly, didn’t clear up any of my doubts. My classmates helped me navigate the roadmap of Washington state school districts and property taxes as well as negotiate differences between my home state’s educational structure and that of Washington.

After these big idea sorts of discussions, our cohort had the opportunity to turn to each other and begin to assess our particular program’s standards and expectations. We thought up questions together that we still had about the ARC program at SPU, and investigated what was coming our way – from our edTPA portfolios to our upcoming internships to the future professional certificate we were bound to someday need. Although I could sense a bit of frenetic energy around this whole discussion – my colleagues and I wanting to know exactly what we were getting ourselves into and just how it would play out – I also felt my classmates had a way of calming me down. They insisted that they were in the same boat as I and that the faculty and staff at SPU would guide us through every step of this fairly overwhelming process towards certification. They were absolutely right, and I was wise to listen to them (and breathe again).

I felt our classroom this semester was colored by this type of mutual support, the same type of support described in standard 8 of SPU’s teaching program. In class, Dr. Denton often had us turn to our neighbor to discuss reflective prompts, and I always came out of those short discussions knowing a lot more than what I had going in. As a result of the collaborative experience in this course, I feel the educational community within our program and cohort has grown significantly stronger. We looked to each other to investigate the big – such as educational theories, strategies, and history – and the proximate – such as program expectations and assessments – and realized that a great deal of the resources we need were seated right next to us.

This collaborative design for the course will certainly benefit our future students. Our classroom techniques and educational ideas will be informed and changed by our classmates, and our teaching will be better for it. Our students will enjoy the benefit of not just one well-trained professional, but all of the collaborative learning and support that same trained professional received from others equally passionate about teaching in the American educational system.

I think in moving forward, our cohort must remember the collaborative lessons learned in our Introduction to Teaching course, and continue to look to each other as resources in our teacher education. If we want our future schoolhouses to be characterized by faculty collaboration and community, it best we keep practicing this within our own small and talented program. If we want our students to reap the benefits of more dynamic and experimental lesson plans, it best we continue to look to each other for ideas, inspiration, and feedback. We have set the foundation for a professional learning community in this course, and we must continue to build on it for the rest of the year and beyond, bringing this sense of foundational community to all of the future schoolhouses and educational communities of which we find ourselves a part.

References

Denton, D. (N/A). Crisis opportunities and perspectives on American Education. SPU Blackboard Portal Site.

Hunt, T. (2005). Education reforms: Lessons from history. Phi Delta Kappan, September 2005, pp. 84-89.

Mehta, J. (2013). How paradigms create politics: The transformation of American educational policy, 1980-2001. American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 50 No. 2, pp. 285-324.

Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum theory and practice: What’s your style? Kappan Magazine, April 2011 ed., pp. 32-39.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (2011). Organizing and Financing of Washington Public Schools. Seattle: OSPI.

Turner, S. (2011). Student-centered instruction: Integrating the learning sciences to support elementary and middle school learners. In Preventing School Failure (pp. 123-131). Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.