Archive for the ‘Alumni’ Category
We are continuing our series of speeches given at the 2014 graduation of multiple and single subject credential students from the Teacher’s for Tomorrow’s Schools program.
The speech that follows was given by Lauren Foos, who completed a 4+1 multiple subjects credential program with a BA and MA in Education. Lauren was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in 2013. She is excited to be starting her first year of teaching 2nd grade at Montevideo Elementary School in San Ramon Valley Unified School District next year!
Hello Class of 2014! Congratulations on your exciting day! This is a very exciting day for all of us here, yet it is truly an even more exciting moment for the six of us in the 4+1 program. Hello family, friends, and all the teachers who are here to celebrate with us as well, thank you for all that you have each done to support us in our journey!
It was this time last year, when I graduated as an undergraduate, that I realized how lucky I was to have attended Mills College. I recognized then how fortunate I was to be able to spend an additional year to receive both my teaching credential and Masters in Education at such an amazing school: It was a chance to really appreciate the school, and faculty, I had around me.
Without realizing it, we all fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the peers who study with you at the Tea Shop or the lounge, the professors who push us to think outside the box, and all the unnamed staff who make the School of Education an unforgettable place.
Remember when, in kindergarten, you were given a tiny Styrofoam cup, some soil, and a seed? You talked about giving the seed plenty of water and sunshine so it would grow. You learned that from this tiny seed a beautiful plant would emerge: The stem grows upwards towards the sun and the roots grow down, deep, into the ground. And that without the roots, the beautiful plant would be nothing. All of this from one tiny seed.
Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. In much the same way, what goes on inside all of us is like the roots of a tree…unseen.
The six of us chose Mills College because it was the perfect planting ground for our actively growing roots. The nurturing, diverse environment protected our fragile optimism while challenging any narrow thought processes we may have been tempted to cling to. We have blossomed and thrived in the rich soil of the Mills School of Education experience for many, some of us many, many, years now.
I think this is one of the greatest strengths of this school. Not only do the students go on to achieve great milestones in their own lives, they never forget their roots and the school that gave them the chance they needed to improve their lives and the lives of everyone around them. It will be painful for each of us to be uprooted and yet our continued growth demands this.
The traditional graduation speech would now urge you, having built strong roots, to fly. But we, as future educators all know that the business of building roots is a glory in itself. The true challenge of growth begins when the formal curriculum ends. It’s easy to stay on top of the new educational philosophies when your teachers assign, what can feel like, 5,000 pages of readings a week.
For example, when we all came together to study for Anna (Richert)’s midterm, there was an energy of excitement as we imagined what innovated teachers we will all be.
And, the six of us, I will never forget the tight bonds we have built throughout the years and this year as we worked together through the academic rigor of writing our individual Master Thesis paper while crafting our unique vision of ourselves as future educators.
The real challenge begins when we are left to our own devices to continually explore a better way to educate our students. The School of Education did its part by developing the strong roots that will see us forward.
As we leave here today lets make a vow to keep one thing in mind, we as teachers are committed to continually growing the healthy roots the School Of Education has so carefully nurtured. Thank you.
This spring we had some terrific student speakers at the School of Education’s Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools credential graduation. The speech that follows was given by Alessia Cook, who completed the multiple subjects credential program and received an award for Reflective and Integrated Teaching Practice. She is excited to be teaching 4th grade at Hesperian Elementary in San Lorenzo Unified next year with a wonderful team of teachers.
My parents always thought I should go into education. Many years ago, when I was freshly out of college, we sat together at the dining room table and I rebuffed my mom’s suggestion. I remember the exact words I used: I told them, laughing, that “I wasn’t ready” to become a teacher. I wanted something else -‐ I wasn’t sure what -‐ to happen first. Maybe I resisted because I sensed that they knew about some part of me that I was only just discovering. Ten years later, however, here I am: looking with some trepidation about that first year on my own, but mostly great excitement, toward a career I can’t wait to begin. Turns out they knew me pretty well.
I’ve spent the last week thinking about my experience at Mills, trying to decide what to say tonight. I wondered if there was a way to represent this group of extraordinary people with whom I have shared the journey of the last year, even though we’re all different in any number of ways. So I decided to begin by sharing a few of the things I’ve learned from my colleagues in the last ten months.
I’ve learned when to stop pushing, and that sometimes being too forward can make someone suspicious. That the absence of some of our classmates here tonight speaks to how much more we have to do in order to be truly inclusive and live a social justice stance because there is no neutral. That even though I didn’t feel my own authority when I was 23 and couldn’t imagine holding the responsibility of a classroom, some people seem hold that presence from birth. That most elementary school teachers, other than me, really do have mountains of art supplies in their homes, and probably in their bags right now. That you can live and breathe being a teacher and it doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your time working. That there are games I actually like, like eyeball tag. That there are infinite configurations of insightful, fierce, generous and inquisitive personalities. That my own questioning of how I could have done something better is exactly what I need to keep doing. And to the secondary folks, I’ve learned that even though you still sometimes feel like the cool, older, more rebellious kids who smoke in the parking lot and collectively might have more tattoos and piercings, that you’re still part of the same web. You help all of us question the status quo, and we can’t do any of our work without each other.
This was the year when I learned that one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received could turn out to be a particular student telling me, “That was kinda interesting, I thought it was gonna be boring, but it kind of wasn’t.”
I’ve learned that we all came here for different reasons.
My dad was a career educator, first as a classroom teacher and later as a math-‐ science program coordinator and teacher of other teachers. He loved his work. He once came home at the end of a day at school, and keep in mind this was about 35 years into his career, and said, without any sense of irony, “I have the best job in the world.” He was the epitome of an enthusiastic lifelong learner. I always knew how admired he was by both students and other teachers, but truthfully I didn’t pay close attention to that when I was growing up. I just loved him because he was my dad.
I didn’t decide to become a teacher until after I lost him three years ago. One of the most difficult parts of the decision to become a teacher was regretting that I had lost the greatest model and mentor I could have hoped for before I even began my career. What has been so extraordinary for me about the community at Mills is that it has fulfilled what is otherwise an incredibly painful gap for me. Our professors, supervisors, and my colleagues have enriched my life and widened my perspective in ways I didn’t know were possible.
When I tell people I’m going into teaching, they often respond with some version of, “Good for you! Thank you. I could never do that job, but we need more good teachers in the world” and to be honest, this response drives me insane. I’ve struggled to figure out exactly why it bothers me, but I think it’s mostly because I don’t consider teaching a sacrifice and I don’t want to be treated like a martyr. I’m becoming a teacher because I want to use my strengths and my interests to do something I truly enjoy. Every time I walk into a new classroom, I can’t wait to get to know the students in there. That is my touchstone and the feeling that I know will sustain me when I face the challenges and moments of self-‐doubt that are sure to come.
As you can see, I learned a tremendous amount this year. And one of the people who taught me the most was Vicki [LaBoskey]. I learned from her that even without my dad here, there are models of everything I aspire to be as a teacher, mentor, and a human being, and that can include going on a passionate rant in the middle of class and making sure your students know exactly what you value.
“Teachers must recognize in a conscious and deliberate manner their own worth as an interpretive community” (Fecho 1993).
Somehow, the pervasive and ridiculous saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” had escaped my ears until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember hearing it in a movie while working on my credential at Mills and couldn’t believe that this quote could possibly be so widespread. I knew at that point, from first hand experience, what a complex art it is to be a teacher, how deeply one has to know one’s subject, students, and self in order to teach well. This quote seemed profoundly mistaken to me.
Over the years, as I have talked about my work with friends and family, I have been struck by their common misconceptions of what teachers do. When I arrive at a dinner date with friends and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was at work until six today,” I am often met with inquiring gazes, and sometimes asked, “so…what do you all afternoon? Don’t the kids leave at 2:15?” I am continually surprised that many people do not know a teacher’s job goes on long after the bell rings. And so I bring my busy and yet unseen afternoon into the light, telling them about the thought and preparation that goes into each lesson, my assessment of student work, collaboration with colleagues, and communication with parents. Amidst these daily components of my job, I may also share about the unexpected challenges that have arisen on that particular day, working to get Medical set up for a family, keeping a student late to re-teach an important math concept, or gathering classroom materials for a newly admitted student. In telling these stories of what it truly means to be a teacher, I can do my part to slowly debunk the oppressive and mistaken portrait of the teacher that has been drawn in our minds.
So often teachers are overworked and have little extra time to be involved in the creation and critique of education discourse. It is a marginalization cycle that perpetuates itself: policy-makers are removed from the classroom and so do not seek to change the circumstances that teachers face, and since the public is not familiar with the reality of teaching, many continue to believe stories about the lazy or ignorant teacher. Seeing themselves reflected as such in the public eye, teachers often internalize these erroneous concepts, and then remain further silenced. If we are to break out of this system of teacher marginalization, we as teachers must recognize our own worth. Our voices must extend beyond our classroom walls, as we confer and deliberate within teacher communities. We must share our stories with others and develop a language for challenging misconceptions when we hear them. By bringing our expertise into the formal and informal arenas of education discourse, the meaningful, difficult, and activist work that we engage in daily can be more publicly seen and understood.
Six years ago I found myself packing one bag and moving from North Carolina to California to experience the life of the west. I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina. As I began to search for careers, I quickly realized that I needed more experience and education to pursue my passion of working with children, aged birth-3 years, and their families. I had always had an interest for the developing brain and its fascinating ability to rewire itself based on environmental input. In my undergraduate studies, I had had the opportunity to intern in a hospital with a developmental specialist in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,(NICU), follow-up clinic, helping the specialist conduct developmental assessments on premature infants post-NICU through age 3. I knew then, the hospital population, particularly the premature population, was my passion.
After years of searching and narrowing my focus of study for graduate school, I came into contact with Dr. Kathleen Vandenberg, the west coast Master Trainer of the NIDCAP (Neonatal Individualized Developmental Care Assessment Program http://www.nidcap.org/). During a 2-hour conversation with her, a light bulb went off and I knew I had tapped into something that would change the course of my life. I once again packed my bags, moved to San Francisco, and began a Master’s program in Early Childhood Special Education at Mills, while simultaneously interning at UCSF Medical Center with Dr. Vandenberg . However, in between my 1st year of grad school and 2nd, the 14 year old west coast NIDCAP program was cut due to lack of funding. But luckily, another door opened up for me, allowing me to intern at Oakland Children’s hospital with a NIDCAP trainer as well. There, I learned developmental interventions along with infant massage techniques to help foster a better developmental outcome for these fragile infants despite the unnatural environmental surroundings of a NICU.
Although my journey began with a narrow focus for the premature population, Mills’ graduate program quickly expanded my knowledge immensely, and gave me opportunities to work with all types of children and families including both those with special needs and those with typically developing children. Mills taught me to look at the child as a whole and meet the family where they are emotionally. Professionally, I am now seeing how the information I attained at Mills through the Children’s School, lectures, and field experiences have prepared me, and my classmates, to be leaders in our field. We learned to manage almost any situation, and to know quickly how to respond sensitively to the family’s needs in that moment. Mills taught us to see the big picture, the whole child, and how every factor –financial burdens, parental stress, behavior concerns, speech delays– of that child’s life is important to consider when working with the family. Mills taught us to see the whole picture and how to support the whole family through the journey.
I have learned more than I could have ever anticipated from this graduate program. The rich amount of hands-on, reflective practice that Mills provided is something that you cannot get anywhere else. I don’t think students realize the richness of the program until they begin their career. You may feel engulfed with so much work that you don’t realize the implication of that 25th reflection paper until you step into the work force. Then you realize that reflection of practice is the gateway to confidence and leadership in any profession.
Currently, I am a Developmental Specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in Oceanside, CA. I provide developmental assessments for children from birth to age 5. I also provide one-on-one consults with parents and children, providing educational play opportunities and information on how to stimulate language/development at home. I teach infant massage classes to families at the hospital and to mothers attending a substance abuse recovery center that are being reunited with their infants. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local Early Childhood Mental Health Conference in San Diego, CA about the “Fussy Baby,” where I presented NIDCAP’s philosophies on helping the infant self-regulate. In addition, I am currently mentoring undergraduate interns. Following your passion pays off in the end. I credit Mills for where I am today, and will forever be thankful for all the experiences it gave me. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth every lost hour of sleep.
I came to the San Francisco Bay Area to further my education and discovered my passion for working with children and families. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a BA in Child and Adolescent Development, I worked as a full-time Infant/Toddler teacher. I enjoyed my work but wanted to pursue something more and find another way to serve the families in my community. Through volunteering at UCSF’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, I discovered a field called Child Life. The child life philosophy emphasizes play as an integral aspect of decreasing the stress that comes with hospitalization. Child Life was perfect for me because of my degree in Early Childhood Education and interest in science and medicine. Studying Child life and Early Childhood Special Education at Mills College has been a rewarding experience for me. This past summer I was fortunate to intern in the child life program at Kaiser Permanente Oakland. This internship was intense, but an important part of my journey to become a child life specialist. I was constantly reminded me of why I love the child life philosophy.
During my last summer as a graduate student I balanced being a live-in-nanny while interning full time at Kaiser Oakland. On a daily basis I met children and teenagers who were admitted for anything from swallowing a foreign object to scheduled chemotherapy. I ended most of my days by picking up from school two of the children I cared for. I then took them home and sometimes cooking dinner for the family. Many times I told myself that balancing a lot is great practice for the real world. Though stressful, it felt good being busy and always on the move. That being said, throughout my internship I often strangely felt that I was not doing enough. I had many moments when I felt joy in knowing that I had made a child laugh or smile or was able to give them something that would at least briefly take their mind off of their pain or illness. However I also had moments when I did not want to be that other person that a child felt that they had to interact with while dealing with the trauma and stress of hospitalization.
All this time caring for others often caused me to lose track of caring for myself. I balanced the stress by marathon training and distance running with friends as a way to do something completely selfish yet physically and mentally beneficial. In order to keep running as a way to decrease my stress, I had to balance my time being active while still having time to read and write reflective journals for my internship. This was difficult. These journals allowed me to write down my thoughts, address biases I did not know I had, while absorbing and questioning the new knowledge I was gaining. Reflecting on paper and reflecting while running really caused me to face the choices I was making in life and reflect if I wanted to follow the path I was on. The reflection could be scary because I questioned my worth and wondered if I was making a difference in my community. I also questioned if the time I was putting in was making me selfish –I took out more money to pay for my education while my parents struggled financially. Of course, my parents are my #1 fans and completely support my academic pursuits, but as I struggled to provide for myself, I hated not being able to give them financial support. They are the reason I am here and the reason for the path I chose.
One day I hope to be in a position that would allow me to practice the child life profession in Africa. My roots are in Africa, as are many of my family members. With the high childhood mortality rates in parts of Africa, I see child life as a great profession needed. I know I still have a long way to go but I feel that having a goal or multiple goals are worth the time and energy. Just like marathon training, you get out what you put in.
I arrived home one day after class in 2009 and sat in front of my computer to begin my schoolwork as I had done for months on end. In fact, being in the Education Leadership doctoral program at Mills, that was all I did for months—no, I take that back—years!! Like all the other days before this one, I first opened my email longingly, yet not expectantly, to see if there were any messages from anyone anymore. (The first thing I learned in my doctoral program was that I no longer had any more friends outside of school who emailed me—in fact I didn’t really have a life outside of school.) Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. That was my interaction with most of the email that I got those days. And that was my interaction with the email that I received from Teachers College Press. Open-peruse-delete.
What a joke. Yeah right—like Teachers College Press wants me to submit a manuscript. I knew better. I had just presented a workshop on resilience (the subject of my dissertation) at the ASCD annual conference and was so certain that what I received in my email was just a form letter sent to all presenters to see if they wanted to submit a proposal for a manuscript that would possibly be published by Teachers College Press. This is of course what all publishers do after a big conference—right? They mine the total landscape and send queries to all presenters in hopes that a good proposal may present itself. I was not going to get sucked in and spend my time responding. Besides, it also crossed my mind that someone might have even been playing a really bad joke on me—a joke that I was not going to fall for. Yeah right—send the student who is up to her eyeballs in writing a dissertation a query to see if she would be interested in writing a book. That email was now history and I never mentioned it to anyone. I just took care of it by bringing one little finger to one little key. Delete.
Fast forward two months…
Like all the other days before, I got done with school, sat in front of my computer and opened my email before knowing that I was in for a long night working on some chapter of my dissertation. Geesh…not another form email from Teachers College Press. There must have been another conference somewhere and they are mining the crowd—or once again, someone was playing a bad joke on me. Oh well, just open it, read it, and then delete it—I knew the drill. So I opened it, read it, and—oh my God!—went into convulsions! This isn’t verbatim, but the email started something like this:
Dear Dr. Truebridge,
I contacted you earlier to inquire whether you would be interested in submitting a book proposal to Teachers College Press. I understand your work focuses on resilience and we are interested in publishing a book on this subject. I never heard back from you so I am inquiring once again.
…and it was signed by the Executive Acquisitions Editor of Teachers College Press.
Yes, I was now in convulsions that lasted all night into the next day. You can ask Diane Ketelle and she will verify that I am telling you the truth, for I was hyperventilating the next day as I ran hysterically into her office. “Oh my God! Oh my God! I received this email—the first one I deleted—this email—this email—oh my God—it is from Teachers College Press—actually it is the second email I received from them—did I mention I deleted the first one?! Oh my God! Oh my God, and look…the salutation on the email says ‘Dr. Truebridge!’ He thinks I have my doctorate and I am still in the process of getting it—oh my God—how do I respond???”
Now I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this was not the first time I had run into Diane’s office in a manic hysterical state. Diane was often the one who, when she was not challenging me as a doctoral student, was able to smile her smile, hold my hand, and help me through some tough times. This time was no different. On this day, she held my hand, calmed my nerves, and helped me craft my response to the email that I received from Teachers College Press. That was in 2009. That was also the year when I signed my contract with Teachers College Press. I graduated the doctoral program in 2010. My book, published by Teachers College Press, Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School, will be out in December 2013. Needless to say, looking back to 2009—finishing a dissertation and beginning a book at the same time—was quite a humbling spin on the “doctoral dance floor.”
*Just a little side note…it has been three years since I have graduated the doctoral program, and I still am getting used to being called “Dr. Truebridge.” However, I am no longer thrown into convulsions and hysterics when I receive an email that begins with that salutation. Oh…and one more thing: I am a lot more careful these day about what emails I delete. That’s no joke.
For information about the book: http://store.tcpress.com/0807754838.shtml
Find it on Facebook: (Please visit and “like”):https://www.facebook.com/pages/Resilience-Begins-with-Beliefs-by-Sara-Truebridge/669217006423284?ref=stream
Three years ago, I found myself completing a grant report where I became intrigued with one of the questions I was required to answer: “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?” After thinking for quite some time, I realized that I was unable to answer the question. As I drove home that night, I sat with the tension of the empty answer box on the report, and my knowledge of the importance of providing alumni with sustained opportunities to continue the learning and intellectual growth they started in graduate school.
After thoughtful conversations with Dean Kathy Schultz and with my colleagues, I collaborated with Professor Linda Kroll and Mills alumna Jennifer Kagiwada to launch the “Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project.” Now in its third year, we invite alumni four times each year to the Mills campus to enjoy the opportunity to engage in deep and engaged conversations about the rich and complex work of early childhood professionals over a pizza dinner. At each meeting, a presenter courageously opens up her/his professional practice by sharing a dilemma she/he currently confronts in the workplace.
The professionals who participate in the Inquiry meetings represent a very diverse group: family child care providers; infant/toddler/preschool, elementary, and special education teachers; preschool directors and site supervisors; family engagement coordinators; resource and referral specialists; subsidy administrators; philanthropists; experts in policy and advocacy; early interventionists; college instructors and researchers. Some have been in the field for decades, while others graduated from Mills only last year. Each inquiry varies according to the participants in attendance, the dilemma explored, and even the environment where it takes place. Yet common across all of the inquiries is the collaborative production of complexities that participants (especially the presenter) had not previously understood.
We have been very inspired by the rich conversations and the strengthened relationships that resulted from the first three years of the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. This past year, we decided to expand the Inquiry Events to include community partners beyond Mills ECE graduates. We are interested in sharing this model of inquiry with our valued colleagues in the larger field. We also had the wonderful opportunity of having one of our meetings filmed by West Ed for the California Department of Education. They plan to create a 5-7 minute video segment of the meeting included on a DVD linking the new California Early Childhood Educator Competencies (http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/ececomps.asp) with contextualized examples of how the competencies can look when authentically embedded in professional practice. The Mills Inquiry Event will exemplify how leadership can be developed in the early childhood field and linked to the leadership competencies used for professional development for teachers and administrators across the state. We were honored to be part of this important project.
Thinking back to that grant report three years ago, I can now reflect on what a tremendous gift it has been to work with such an engaging and thoughtful group of professional colleagues to collaborate on the development of this professional learning community. “What are you doing to support leadership development for your alumni after they leave Mills?”
Thinking Outside the Box: How One School Is Going To Do Things Differently | Laurie Grassi-Redmond ’02
When I was taking graduate classes at the Mills School of Education over ten years ago, Anna Richert challenged me and my colleagues to “imagine schools otherwise”. Our student teaching placements left us with many questions, and when we met with Anna on Wednesday afternoons, our frustrations and concerns often bubbled up and out. We questioned standardized tests, teacher to student ratios, school schedules, moral dilemmas, content standards, prescribed curriculum, assessments, and more. Anna would listen to us, facilitate our discussions, and then push us to imagine what schools could look like, if we took the time to imagine them otherwise.
Years later, having taught at the Mills College Children’s School and in public elementary and middle schools, and having stepped outside of the classroom for five years to raise two daughters, I am now in the process of founding a school. Holding in my heart and mind what I know to be best for children, I developed The Mill School.
The Mill School will help children tap into their capacity for learning so that they are confident and successful while maintaining a true sense of self. Located in Freedom, Maine, The Mill School will serve children ages six to ten in a three-day program. Academics will be taught through integrated projects. Assessment will be on-going and authentic. Through place-based learning, The Mill School will advance environmental stewardship and foster the growth of children who view themselves as participants in the life of their community. The Mill School will prepare children to be valued members of society by emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, curiosity, and imagination.
At The Mill School, children will spend half of each school day outside. The outdoor environments will provide the roots for the curriculum at The Mill School and they include the falls, stream, pond, forest, wetlands, and adjoining family farm. Snacks and lunches will be made from whole, local, organic foods and served family style.
The Mill School will partner with families to educate children. Constructivism and place-based learning will guide the curriculum. One day we may offer a five-day program so that we can try to become a “school of choice” – that means that families in the surrounding area could attend the school for free. For now, we will actively work to keep tuition as low as possible while still valuing our teachers and providing a safe and enriching learning environment where children can thrive.
I would like to thank all of my Mills professors for preparing me for this venture. Collectively, they planted a seed ten years ago that has now blossomed into one school where things will be done differently: a school rooted in what is best for children.
To learn more about the school, please visit www.themillschool.org
In The Principalship, Thomas Sergovanni defines culture as the beliefs and values that underlie and direct the actions of faculty. Ideas such as “all children can learn” and “the whole child should be educated” fall into this category of thought. The importance of cultivating a healthy school culture cannot be understated in school leadership. The ability to effect positive change in the program, operations, and political dimensions of school structures rests on having a strong, coherent culture that supports faculty in modeling the foundational values, and holds them accountable when they move away from those. This is why I identified improving the culture of the elementary division at The Berkeley School, where I am Associate Head of School and Elementary Division Head, as one of my foci for the current school year, and made it the topic of my project for my NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring Heads of School.
Because school culture rests on abstract ideas such as beliefs and values, changing it requires surfacing those values in ways that can then be directly applied to the curriculum, traditions, and other facets of school life. While I would have loved to set aside time for faculty to discuss their core values and beliefs about education in the abstract, to do so would take their most precious resource – time – without providing a pragmatic connection to their work, and my experience is that teachers prefer their time be spent talking about substantive matters, rather than process-related ones. My approach, therefore, has been to identify ways in which the values and beliefs in our culture can be named within the context of specific program-related work.
One way in which I have worked to shift school culture is through a year-long examination of our curriculum. One strand of this has been to begin a curriculum mapping process that gives teachers time to plan, reflect, and revise their own curriculum, as well as significant opportunities to work with faculty at other grade levels to understand the knowledge, skills and understandings that are being taught to students throughout the school. Another strand has been working closely with our Curriculum Coordinator to implement a design thinking process for examining our balanced literacy program. This initiative has involved defining the components of the program, training faculty on implementing a consistent word study program across the grades (since one was missing), providing regular opportunities to implement the Looking At Student Work Together protocol developed by David Allan and Tina Blythe at Harvard’s Project Zero Institute, and more.
My second approach has been to increase the role of teacher leadership in defining specific aspects of our program. I formed small working groups to examine our shared traditions, such as holiday celebrations and our curriculum sharing events, and I pushed those small groups to be explicit about the values behind our work. For example, one such group at the beginning of the year met to rethink our assemblies, which were previously bi-monthly sing-alongs of old folk songs. By starting with sharing the reasons we value assemblies, we were able to then move on to identifying the goals we wished the assemblies to meet, and thus come up with a structure that could achieve them. When this group of teachers suggested a structure to the event that involved students sharing their learning, and the reporting out of the work of our newly-formed student council, the faculty as a whole was excited to take on the added burden of preparing their kids to present, precisely because their peers had taken the time to ground the approach in their values.
I have used one other strategy to increase the coherence of our division’s culture, and that is to attempt to become a better cheerleader and recognize what is going right in our classrooms. I have found several avenues for this, including offering a sincere and authentic appreciation to a different faculty or staff member each day for some aspect of their work; being sure to notice, comment on, and inquire about the new displays and documentation that appears on the walls of the classrooms each time I enter a room; and to publish an internal division newsletter in which I pick one thing from each class, and write about how I see it connecting to our mission, learning outcomes, or pedagogic approach.
Peter Drucker, an influential scholar of management theory and practice, once wrote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Understanding the history of a school site, the personal narratives of the faculty and staff, and the context, constraints, and conditions that a school faces are essential in effecting culture change. It is time-consuming work, and one that I find presents me with new and exciting challenges every day. I share my approach in the hope that it provides others with a foil to consider their own critical work in this area, and I welcome anyone who would like to have a dialogue on this topic at to contact me at email@example.com.