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  • The Power of Student Voice

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    I’m so excited and honored to be able to take on the responsibility of working with an amazing group of high school students who are designing and delivering professional development in our school district. Yes, you read that right—students delivering professional development.

    I believe that the student voice is one of the missing pieces in all of the discussions about educational reform.

    In the spring of 2011, Graig Meyer (director of the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, or BRMA) and Bonnie Davis (educational consultant) began working with BRMA students to teach them research-based strategies for culturally proficient instruction. The BRMA students identified a set of six strategies they believe to be most helpful to students of color.

    In the fall of 2011, the School Improvement Network came to film the students and teachers—whom the students identified as exemplars of these practices—for a one-hour video professional development tool. You can access those videos if you're subscribed to PD360.

    Graig and I have worked with student facilitators to develop a student-driven professional development model in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools using the six strategies:

    Definition of Strategies:
    1. Visibility: Making every student feel acknowledged and included in the classroom.
    2. Proximity: Using physical space to engage students and reduce perceived threat.
    3. Connecting to student’s lives: Making linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.
    4. Engaging students’ culture: Incorporating positive elements of students’ culture into classroom learning and community building.
    5. Addressing race: Talking openly about racial dynamics and how they impact the student experience.
    6. Connecting to the larger world: Helping students identify their future paths and using classroom experiences to guide students towards their personal goals.

    We had 35 educators and 10 student facilitators work together this semester in four 1.5 hour workshops. Words can't describe how powerful it was. It's a big step to involve students in: essentially, teaching teachers. The educators (teachers, administrators, support staff) who attended weren't even fazed. Like the true professionals they are, they dove in and weren't afraid to ask their facilitators questions.

    The talk around the tables was rich and challenging. Several of the students facilitators came up to me afterwards to share their excitement. One student said, "Mrs. Bunner, there was a teacher and she wasn't sure how to use one of the strategies in her classroom, so we brainstormed and I was able to help her find a solution!"

    Another student shared: "I told the group about a time a teacher asked me a question which I didn't realize was rhetorical. In my culture, when an adult asks you a question, you answer. So I did. And the teacher thought I was trying to be a smart-aleck. So I went to the teacher and explained my view and apologized. A teacher in my group shared that she had a student do the same thing and she thought they were trying to be smart. She hadn't even thought about that being a cultural difference."

    There is such power when we hear directly from students how what we do as teachers affects them. My goal is that in our second year of implementation, we can emulate the National Urban Alliance's Student Voices Program where students completely run the PD time for teachers. I'd be thrilled to work myself out of a job!

    We are working towards this goal by recruiting more student facilitators, including some of our middle school students, and meeting together as a team over the summer to plan out seven professional development sessions for the year. I’m excited to work with the students and to see where their leadership takes us.

    Where are the places in your school or district you could invite student voices to effect instructional change?


  • Testing Tips to Share with Your Students

    Thursday, May 16, 2013

    You and your students have been doubtlessly working hard all school year to prepare for the material presented in your state exam.

    Every state has its own testing schedule—your state may have already completed testing, or it may be still gearing up for the big day.

    Whatever the case may be, we've rounded up some helpful testing tips to share with your students for your their next big test.

    Even if your school has already taken the test (phew!), keep these pointers in mind when your students' next major exam comes around:

    • When studying, it’s important to find a quiet place with good lighting and few distractions. You’ll want to avoid studying on your bed—it’ll be too tempting to take a nap.
    • Between study breaks, use these helpful tips to stress less from the Huffington Post, including meditation and listening to relaxing music.
    • Prepare your book bag the night before the test. Be sure to pack all testing materials that are required, including pens, pencils, calculator, or whatever else you may need. This will save you time and alleviate some anxiety in the morning.
    • Even if you're feeling too nervous to eat, have a light breakfast the morning of your exam. Protein-rich foods like eggs, yogurt, and cottage cheese have been shown to increase mental alertness. Other brain-boosting foods are blueberries, walnuts, and dried fruits.
    • On test day, remember: You have the skills to succeed! After working through lessons with your teacher this school year, you’ll have what you need to do well on any kind of test. So relax and show off your skills.
    • Pay attention to the directions. Read all the directions in your test book, and listen carefully to any instructions your teacher reads out loud.
    • When you answer an open-response item, show all of your work. Write neatly so that your work is easy to follow. Make sure your answer is clearly marked.

    And from all of us at Triumph Learning, good luck!


  • Can Public Schools Take a Lesson From Private Schools?

    Thursday, May 9, 2013

    I was in a private school last week that made me feel as if American education has nothing but hope on its horizon. The school impressed me at every turn, and stirred a deep feeling that our greatest challenge in schooling is not to “invent,” but rather to “transition” to a way of learning that already exists.

    Yes, the place cost nearly $30,000 per year in tuition. And yes, they self-select their student body. But to put those two issues on the shelf for a moment, and to take a look at how they operate, what they believe, and the means by which they implement and execute their aims, I believe…

    Well, it reminds me of a quote I once heard attributed to Winston Churchill:

    He was speaking about how much he admired America because it was, “a land where they always did the right thing… after they exhausted every other option.”

    (Guy was so witty, huh?)

    Yet, Mr. Churchill’s sentiment is too true. I do think we know what to do—and we know how to do it—when it comes to educating the kids of our nation. Herding the political cats with so many self-serving interests is more of the problem than is determining the direction we ought to lead the students. That was a huge take away for me.

    I’d even posit that we don’t need “inventors” cooking up a magic blue pill that will lead us to the promised land, as much as we need “executioners” to take us there.

    We can start to look at the differences between public and private schools for answers. How about we begin with a letter circulating to parents as issued by a private school? (Warning: this is sort of tongue-in-cheek and sort of not.)

    Dear Parents,

    Enclosed are the results of your child’s standardized test scores. This is a nationally normed test used by private, public, and charter schools across the country. We want to point out that these results represent only a snapshot of your child’s development. It is important to realize that tests do NOT include an assessment of the following skills and character developments:

    Leadership
    Curiosity
    Self-direction
    Responsibility
    Caring
    Respect
    Resourcefulness
    Empathy
    Imagination
    Artistry
    Perspective
    Concentration
    Grit
    Honesty
    Flexibility
    Humor
    Sacrifice
    Attention
    Self-discipline
    Grace
    Inquisitiveness
    Courtesy
    Playfulness
    Honor
    Altruism
    Perseverance
    Planning
    Spirituality
    Awareness
    Athleticism
    Charity
    Bravery
    Integrity
    A love of reading, calculating, discovering, sharing, teaching, listening, and an appreciation for the miracle of life.

    To make it easier to grade the tests by computer, we have focused only on small slivers of those subjects for which questions can be manipulated into a multiple-choice format.

    Continue racing to the top!

    Your Administrator

    Pretty funny, right? Yet, doesn’t it illuminate how testing madness isn’t entirely corrupting the mindsets of private schools in the way that it has far too often polluted the education that’s taking place at many public schools?

    Or what if we look at this question: How do we elevate the skill sets of our nation’s teachers?

    The answer: Provide high-quality professional development and give our nation’s teachers time to collaborate, confer, comprehend, and plan.

    The people at the front of our public school classrooms are all too often under a time siege where there’s simply too much being asked of them without the requisite amount of time being allotted for them to tackle all the tasks.

    It’s not that the lion’s share of public school teachers are unable to do the job being set before them. It’s that those teachers are unable to do the jobs being set before them in the time frame that these jobs are expected to be done.

    Private schools see high-quality professional development as essential to the process of being (and remaining) outstanding academic institutions. Far too many in public education view high-quality professional development as some sort of expensive indulgence they can’t really afford. Private schools recognize the critical importance of ongoing learning. Public schools prioritize other things (like testing).

    Affluence will always afford more to the “haves.” No one disputes that. However, this is a question of schemas and the mindsets of those in charge at public schools versus private schools that are miles and miles apart.

    The question is: Can we take a free lesson from those who are “doing it right”?


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