collegial connections

reflections and musings from the School of Education at Mills College

Archive for the ‘Higher Ed’ Category

My View from AERA 2013 | Derek Fenner

leave a comment »

Derek Fenner is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at Mills College.

Derek Fenner is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at the School of Education at  Mills College.

It feels like forever ago that I found out that my proposal to present at AERA 2013 was accepted. The excitement had worn off by mid-winter. It rumbled back when I registered for the conference in March and began combing through the 2,400 sessions offered from 6,000 presenters. The theme for the conference this year was Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis. It’s now been just two days since the conference ended and I’m still running on the shot of oxygen the whole experience provided. I took the time to sit down and type up some of my notes to reflect on the many-layered voices that arose throughout the 4 full days I spent in over 15 sessions. I’ve utilized the poetic method, I Remember, made popular by the artist/poet Joe Brainard.



I remember the excitement of finding out that my proposal, Art Unbound: A System’s Change Effort to Keep Art in the Conversation, was accepted.

I remember telling myself to write shorter titles.

I remember walking into a packed house at I-SEEED in Oakland on Friday night and catching the crazy-inspiring energy provided by Young, Gifted, & Black’s performance.

I remember how proud their teacher Hodari B. Davis was and how it lit up his face.

I remember my jaw hitting the floor when youth from East Oakland’s Step to College and Pin@y Educational Partnerships presented their rigorous community research projects.

I remember noting the names of some of the students. I want to be able to say that I saw them when they were young researchers.

I remember how their teachers and mentors, including, Antwi Akom, Jeffrey Duncan Andrade, & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales were happy to let their students have the spotlight.

I remember thinking YPAR is important because it reverts the gaze outward from the community and because it is the renewal we need.

I remember running to the Exhibition Hall first thing Saturday morning with my adrenaline pumping.

I remember spotting the Routledge booth and all those books and then finding Culturally Relevant Arts Education and thumbing to Chapter 6 to find my name.

I remember holding my breath, telling myself to remember this moment.

I remember passing Peter Mclaren in the hall and wanting to give him a fist bump when I realized he reminded me of a blonde Ozzy Osbourne.

I remember that panel celebrating the Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education and thinking, “Who can afford $600 for those 2600 pages,” and then making a note to ask the Mills College Library to order it.

I remember that panel had James Banks holding the following people to exactly 10 minutes each: Prudence Carter, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Sonia Nieto.

I remember that moment when Curtis Acosta told us, commenting on what it’s like inside Tucson Unified after the ban on ethnic studies, “I’m in jail every day at school. I can’t touch my curriculum, a curriculum that works. I have been turned into an instrument of hate.”

I remember to note that Curtis Acosta’s statements are his alone and that he does not speak on behalf of Tucson Unified. His Superintendent asked him to make that very clear. He told us he was using personal time to be in San Francisco.

I remember that seeing Curtis again makes me want to show the film, Precious Knowledge, to every class I teach.

I remember Shawn Ginwright’s discourse on radical healing and wanting to reread, Black Youth Rising.

I remember Julio Cammarota asking us to challenge colorblind politics by using the more nuanced terms of “alienation and isolation” as a way of “lifting the veil of colonizing knowledges” through the “decolonial imaginary” (Emma Perez).

I remember thinking how lucky I felt to present with the brilliant scholars, Patty Bode and Christine Clark.

I remember that Pedagogies of Love session and Antwi Akom, quoting Van Jones, “What if we built a movement at the intersection of the social justice and the ecology movements, of entrepreneurship and activism? What if we didn’t just have hybrid cars — what if we had a hybrid movement.”

I remember “diff in diff” and Greg Tanaka’s warning of the coming economic collapse.

I remember writing down, RENEWAL NOW.

I remember Pedro Noguera. And who doesn’t.

I remember that I can’t remember it all.

I remember to keep commitment at the center of all pedagogy and to always look my students in the eyes when they ask, “How down are you for my liberation?”

Written by collegialconnections

May 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Around the World in an Hour and Thirty! | Kula Addy

leave a comment »

Kula Addy, MBA/MA in Educational Leadership Student

Kula Addy, MBA/MA in Educational Leadership Student

The MBA/MA Huddle skipped through three continents in ninety minutes. How? Keep reading.

The idea of global citizenship is the foundation for bringing more international and comparative education opportunities to the MBA/MA in Educational Leadership program. In defining this unique type of citizenship, attendees at the first discussion on February 14th were presented with a tangible pathway to secure it; a new course set to begin spring 2014.

True to the dedication Mills has to their students, we were given a direct line to voice our opinions, and leadership answered—on the first ring. The Huddle hosted a discussion with Dean Deborah Merrill-Sands of the Graduate School of Business and Dean Kathy Schultz of the School of Education. The deans shared their international history in their fields, and ping-ponged plans for future coursework.

Dean Schultz described how her partnership with the International Rescue Committee led her to teacher education initiatives in Southeast Asia and curriculum development in Lebanon. Collaboration with the existing culture was paramount to the group’s learning and development. Dean Merrill-Sands spoke to the importance of the “deep dive”; practical and principled immersion in another culture to help understand your own. As an agricultural scientist in Mayan villages to countries in West Africa, Merrill-Sands emphasized leading by inquiry and participatory action.

Both narratives echoed a complete reframing of how each work in the world today. The new international course will encourage the same transformative critique on how we work in relation to others.

International and comparative education encompasses a wide variety of points in education and humanities, but especially in business. It is neither limited to studying abroad, nor confined to exchange, but is synonymous with one of our favorite phrases at Mills, “multiple perspectives”. Participation in international discourse enhances soft and hard skills promoted in any career field. For MBA/MA students, many of these educational entities are looking for astute financiers and program managers to strategically advance their global mission.

The proposed course will include anthropological insight, case studies on key issues (foreign and domestic), and perhaps a trip for field experience, which garnered the audience’s applause. This course, matched with others currently offered by the GSB, like Multinational Business Strategies and International Finance, may eventually become a concentration in International Education or Relations.

During the huddle, we started with a definition. “A person entitled to the rights and privileges of a free man, loyal to the state or nation to which he was born.” A citizen.

In recent exposure to Michael Foucault’s ruminations on power, I fell upon his description of a “free man” or, the state in which one is free. Freedom, he says, is a “field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions…may be realized.” Foucault sees freedom and power in mutual existence, that where possibilities abound, action does too.  Now think of where you live, of where you have lived, and where you would like to live. Did you consider yourself a citizen of your home address, or of a city in the Bay Area of California? Did you consider yourself an entitled free (wo)man who had a field of possibilities to behave in a way that was loyal to herself, as well as her larger zip code? Did you consider yourself a tool in a box of Pandora proportions, where the way the mundane choices you make in life directly affect your next door neighbor?

Today, we find that we are increasingly interconnected and must address different realities in the world around us. We are free women and men engaged in power relations that require us to talk, think, and act with multiple, global perspectives in mind. To build bridges and fill gaps across national borders, creating a more culturally-competent, socially just, and economically equitable world. To be global citizens, a seemingly cursory term, that has true meaning to students here at Mills who plan to take that meaning around the world and back. Join our class in the spring 2014 and stay tuned for more updates on our efforts!

Are you a global citizen? Tell us more about your citizenship here:


The MBA/MA Huddle is a graduate group that offers a platform for action-oriented exploration of the intersection of business management and education, with a focus on innovation and reform.

Written by collegialconnections

March 22, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Social Media & The School of Education | Rachel Lefkowitz

with 2 comments

Rachel Lefkowitz
Special Assistant to the Dean of the School of Education at Mills College

Once, when I lived in Massachusetts, the gas company sent me a flyer with three images on it, asking me which one I thought I’d seen before. I was pretty sure I’d never seen any of them, but I liked the image of the person trudging through the snow, so I checked it. A year later, that image appeared on a notice about how important it is to shovel your sidewalk after a snow storm. I remember this in part because I was right: I had never seen any of the images before; they had been doing market research. But it was also the first time that I saw the results of a survey. Too often, our careful work and deliberate thinking on surveys just fly into the stratosphere of survey-land, never to be heard of again.

Not so at the School of Education. Because of the input we received from faculty, staff, and students to a survey, we have actively changed what we are doing with social media. For example, we learned that more people used LinkedIn (60%) and Google+ (40%) than we had guessed. We’ve increased our posts to LinkedIn, and hope to start a Google+ page soon. Respondents asked for timely event announcements: Now, our Facebook page and Twitter feed should keep you pretty well in the loop. Most importantly, we found that people want to learn more about us on Collegial Connections (42%) and a website (78%). You are here, so you’ve probably already noticed that we are posting more frequently, and Marketing is working with us on a new website.

Everyone who responded stressed that social media at the School of Education should be about promoting what we do and think about professionally –whether that’s professional achievements, links to interesting articles, or events. Social media helps spread the word about what we do at the School of Education, and how we use our degrees or credentials once we leave. It’s how we recruit new students and how we stay connected with each other.

Everyone can help keep our social media vibrant. You may think that your work isn’t newsworthy. But if you let us know that you were just elected your school’s union rep, that you just moved to a new school, or that you got a new job at an agency or hospital, we will share your joy and current and prospective students will see what they can do with their Mills education. If you write a blog post about your work, you may help others with your good ideas. Tell us about an article you just read and loved, with a one-sentence frame about why you found it interesting or helpful. Send us an inspirational quote. Everything is important!

This means, if you are lucky, one day I’ll write a post about the intricacies of databases. In the meantime, please send your ideas to

Written by collegialconnections

October 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

Hip Hop & My Mills Experience | Nolan Jones

with 2 comments

Nolan Jones
Educational Leadership Doctoral Candidate

When I enrolled in my first course at Mills College, I had no idea that it would be a course that explored the intersections of Hip Hop, higher education, and first generation college student narratives. Secretly, I was excited about the course because it had the words Hip Hop in the title, but I dare not tell my family and friends that it was my first doctoral course. Why? I had no idea how to articulate Hip Hop’s relevance in education, and I knew some people had skewed perceptions of Hip Hop as that rap music that only promotes violence, misogyny, and conspicuous consumption. For the uncritical consumer of popular culture, this is a logical conclusion. After all, these images are in regular rotation on the radio and in the videos, but my experiences at Mills College provided me with a more critical look at Hip Hop in its proper context.

Is Hip Hop rap music? 

Hip Hop is more than rap music, and superficial sensationalism. Rap music is one element of Hip Hop, an artistic culture created by African American and Latino youth in the 1970s as a creative outlet to cope with oppressive socioeconomic conditions in the South Bronx of New York. Other elements of Hip Hop include graffiti art, break dancing, and deejaying  (Chang, 2005). Later, Hip Hop evolved and became an essential part of American popular culture with a burgeoning international community in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Central and South America.

Does rap promote violence and misogyny? 

No. Large profit driven corporations such as Clear Channel, “MTV, Viacom, AOL, Time Warner, cocaine, and Hennessey” promote and distribute media that perpetuate these messages (Asante, 2008, p.102). Yes, some rappers have written and perform songs that perpetuate monolithic stereotypical images of African Americans even though they do not believe nor live them in real life. However, many rappers have written songs about love, education, family, resilience, and social justice. But those songs rarely get commercial airplay because of the perceived lack of profit potential, corporations desire to reinforce negative stereotypes, or the lack of danceable beats behind the lyrics of well-intentioned rap artists who some times occur as preachy and self-righteous.

Hip Hop Enrichment Opportunities at Mills

Mills College reintroduced me to Hip Hop in an academic setting. I had always been a fan of Hip Hop, but I wasn’t sure how to share my Hip Hop passion in the workplace or in higher education. Then I heard one of the guest speakers in my first Mills course refer to herself as a Hip Hop administrator. I was shocked. What she said resonated with profound authenticity. Her words described my work experience in so many ways: using Hip Hop sensibilities in educational leadership. Since that first class, I have attended two annual Hip Hop conferences, hired an instructor to teach English using Hip Hop pedagogy, and presented six workshops on using Hip Hop in the classroom. As a fan of Hip Hop, I was happy to know that this community was alive and thriving at Mills.

In addition to my Hip Hop immersion at Mills, I enhanced my intellectual and academic bandwidth by getting involved. I not only attended special events featuring contemporary scholars such as Jeff Duncan-Andrade and Gloria Ladson Billings, I also attended readings and performances by my peers, organized a dissertation writing group for doctoral students, and performed at the Mills East Bay Boogie Café, an end of the year showcase of music, dance, and spoken word performed by students from Mills and the Oakland community. Each of these events enriched my graduate experience and provided me with a strong sense of belonging.

The old biblical adage, “seek and ye shall find,” could not be truer at Mills. I was seeking an opportunity to develop my speaking, teaching and presentation skills, and during the first two years I was given multiple opportunities to do so. During the first year, I was invited to present a workshop on Hip Hop and Higher Education with one of my professors and two peers at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE). During my second year, I was invited to teach a course, sit on an administrative search committee, present on several student panels, and facilitate a Hip Hop pedagogy workshop at NCORE the following year. Each of these experiences affirmed my Hip Hop educational leadership and my pedagogical voice. But Mills provided the constructivist education that valued this voice.


Asante, M.K. Jr. (2008). It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post- Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Chang, J. (2005). Can’t stop, won’t stop: a history of the hip-hop generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Written by collegialconnections

October 8, 2012 at 11:02 am

A Public Proving Ground for Standards-Based Practice: Why we need it, what it might look like.

leave a comment »

Catherine Lewis
Distinguished Research Fellow
School of Education at Mills College

As states and school districts across the country embrace common-core standards, U.S. educators are in need of a public proving ground where standards-based instruction can be enacted and studied. What might such a proving ground look like?

In Japan, changes in national education standards cause ripples of activity across the country, as practitioners and researchers collaborate to bring their ideas to life in “public research lessons.” Here’s a simple example of how this process works:

When the topic of solar cells was added to the Japanese elementary curriculum, national guidelines specified only the basic objectives for student learning, not the specific teaching methods. Teachers and researchers, working collaboratively in dozens of small groups across the country, studied the available research and curricula (much of it from the United States). These teams then tried out their ideas in a local elementary school, progressively refining teaching materials and approaches based on student responses. After a year or so of experimentation, they opened up their instruction to others in large public research lessons.

The tens of thousands of educators, researchers, and policymakers who attended these public research lessons could see and discuss live instruction designed to enact the standards. They were able to question the teachers and researchers about the rationale for their choices, scrutinize the entire unit plan and records of student learning across the unit, and offer their own ideas and critiques. Each team focused on the needs of their own local students, but also drew on work by other teams when useful.

Over the first year or two of public lessons, information on how to teach about solar cells spread rapidly. A store of shared knowledge developed about practical aspects of teaching the subject—for example, which solar toys were inexpensive and made important ideas visible—as well as about the kinds of student thinking to expect, how to handle it, and the subject matter itself. One teacher observing a public research lesson, for example, asked about the scientific significance of some student strategies, including moving a solar cell closer to a light source, adding a second light source, and using a magnifying class to “concentrate” light.

“I want to know whether the three conditions the children described—’to put the solar cell closer to the light source,”to make the light stronger,’ and to ‘gather the light’—would all be considered the same thing by scientists. They don’t seem the same to me. But I want to ask the teachers who know science whether scientists would regard them as the same thing.”

The Japanese system of distributed, local, collaborative lesson-study work, culminating in public research lessons, enables educators to develop and share the many intertwined types of knowledge needed to implement standards well in the classroom—knowledge of instructional materials, teaching strategies, student thinking, and content. Such a public proving ground has several advantages over the processes of standards enactment currently familiar in the United States.

First, it recognizes that translating standards into practice is demanding, important, intellectual work. The final product of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, now being adopted here, represents an enormous accomplishment. But the standards are only splotches of ink on paper until a teacher brings them to life in a classroom. Their enactment in the classroom requires continuing experimentation, intense scrutiny, and the development of shared knowledge about what works and does not—in many different settings.

Second, it allows teachers to take the initiative in the implementation of standards and to bring their own important knowledge to bear. Public research lessons provide a natural incentive for collaborative between teachers and researchers, who share the desire to create effective lessons and document them in ways that enable others to learn from their work.

Third, it places students and student thinking at the center of reform. Although U.S. policymakers talk about “a marketplace of good materials,” how well can materials be judged without actually seeing students and teachers use them in diverse settings?

Fourth, it recognizes that the knowledge needed for standards-based instruction cannot be captured entirely in written documents such as frameworks and teacher manuals. Much of the knowledge for teaching is embodied in the instruction itself, and is spread and refined as teachers watch each other teach.

Fifth, it recognizes that improvement needs to be continuous. A static set of “best practices” on paper or video is insufficient because students are not static.

Sixth, it exerts much-needed pressure on textbook content and design. In the work leading up to public research lessons in Japan, teachers and researchers together review existing textbooks and research and choose what they believe to be the best approach. Plans written by lesson-study groups explain why they chose—and rejected—various textbook approaches.

Japanese publishers notice the conclusions emerging from public research lessons and revise textbook content to reflect what is being learned. That may explain why our recent study of two U.S. and two Japanese elementary textbook series found that the Japanese texts use the same four models to represent fractions, while the U.S. texts use 15 different models.

Finally, public research lessons provide an opportunity for policymakers to see how teachers and students actually respond to the standards in a best-case scenario in which teachers have adequate time and support to enact them. Because the policymakers who write the national standards attend public research lessons and see what aspects of the standards need further support or revision, the lessons also allow formative research on policy.

Moreover, policymakers, teachers, and researchers develop a shared understanding of the standards, based on instruction they have all seen and discussed. For example, after a recent public research lesson in California, something startling happened. While many of the nearly 100 observers thought that the mathematics lesson they had seen brilliantly realized the mathematician George Polya’s ideas about problem-solving, a few, including some influential state policymakers, could not see any relationship between the lesson and the state’s problem-solving standards. This gap in perception sparked useful conversations about the meaning of “problem-solving” in the state standards, and helped lead to eventual consensus: that solving novel problems—not just solving word problems with known procedures—was an important facet of the standard.

How feasible is such a public proving ground in this country? Experienced lesson-study groups already exist over most of the United States, and some of them hold regular public research lessons one or more times a year, using video and audio projection to accommodate large audiences. Many of these groups center on close collaboration between classroom teachers and university-based subject-matter specialists. And evidence is accumulating to show that the groups help their members build content and instructional knowledge, enhance student learning, improve collegial work, and spread teaching knowledge across the boundaries of schools and districts.

In the quest to bring common-core standards to life, we should consider the power of public research lessons. In a recent Education Week article on the implementation of common standards, a researcher described the process of developing curriculum frameworks this way: “When people go into a room and come out with solutions, it’s typically about money or politics. … So the question is, why are people going into that room? What are they after?”

What would happen if “that room” were a classroom? By using classrooms all over the United States as the public proving ground to enact, analyze, and refine standards-based practice, we could come out of the room with solutions that are not about money or politics, but about what and how students are learning.


This post was originally published in 2010 in Education Week (Vol. 30, Issue 03, Pages 28-30).

Written by collegialconnections

October 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

A New Year | Vicki LaBoskey

with one comment

Vicki LaBoskey
Professor of Education

And so we begin again. In many ways the start of this new academic year is very much like every other year—the same excitements and the same hesitations. But there are two key differences that stand out for me—one personal, one public. What I just realized the other day is that I am embarking on my 40th year as an educator! Certainly not something I imagined would ever happen when I entered my third grade classroom in East Los Angeles for the first time in the fall of 1972—and certainly not so quickly—in some ways it is forever ago, of course, but in others only yesterday!

I also cannot help but think about the fact that this is an election year—an election year that seems very significant to me in many ways, but then, aren’t they all? The combination of these two circumstances has given me pause to contemplate, even more than usual, what matters most in this work that I/we are doing? How should I spend what must surely be one of the final years of my life’s work, especially given the times in which I am doing it? What should my focus be?

I wish I had something more grandiose to offer up, something more innovative, cutting edge, technological, specific. But I am afraid that after all this time—all this practical, theoretical, empirical work—all that I have experienced and read and heard in and out of the educational domain, I am more convinced than ever that the answers, the solutions are much more basic. I truly believe that the only things that can save us and our planet are human connections—connections that embrace, nurture, and embolden the inner spirits, joy, creativity, courage, care, and multiple intelligences of every child and adult with whom we make contact, and certainly with those whom we presume, at whatever level and in whatever context, to educate.

One of the reasons I am so committed to this right now is that in the forty years I have been teaching, I believe that we have gotten further and further away from this, which is especially tragic at the elementary level. An over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing via agendas/laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have caused us to rigidify, dehumanize, and narrow the elementary curriculum. Children are being forced to learn to read and compute at earlier and earlier ages, often at the expense of everything else, and in more and more mechanical ways.

As a result, my personal aims for this year and the remainder of my career are to emphasize, even more than I have been, creativity, care, critical thinking, curiosity, initiative—the joy of learning.  As children learn and develop the knowledge and skills they must have, they can and should do so through hands-on/minds-on curricula that is engaging, enriching, and responsive to the learning strengths and needs of the particular children with whom we are working. We have to observe and listen carefully to what they are actually doing, saying, and understanding, and then respond appropriately, over and over again. And we have to let them know every day and in every way that they are wondrous, brilliant, and beautiful—our one true hope.

Written by collegialconnections

September 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Admissions, and Social Media

leave a comment »

Susan Christopher, Director of Enrollment

I was asked to reflect on what I’m thinking about this fall as the Director of Enrollment in the School of Education at Mills.  In this role, I serve as a resource and advocate for those who are in the process of applying to our programs.  I enjoy the opportunity to meet undergrads just starting to explore careers in education as well as experienced professionals; I hear from teachers in local schools as well as from international scholars.  The diversity in interests and backgrounds of our applicants is impressive.

Throughout the admissions process, I get to know some of our applicants quite well, so it’s a pleasure to hear that they’ve decided to enroll and to know they’ll become part of our community.  And each August, it is rewarding to welcome the new student cohorts as they arrive on campus to begin their studies at Mills.  But after that first week of orientation, I’m not likely to see these new folks very often. I’m saying “good-bye” just as others are saying “hello.”

During the fall, when other staff and faculty are starting to forge relationships with these new students, I turn my attention to meeting our future students.  At a time when faculty and staff are engaged in new projects and new classes are underway, I am answering questions from those who are inquiring about the following year and beyond.

So as I shift my attention to Fall 2013, I hope to find new ways to communicate what’s special about the School of Education with a new collection of future students.  In my phone conversations with prospective applicants, I sometimes wish I could better capture the wisdom and enthusiasm of our students, the dedication and vitality of our faculty, and the commitment to equity and social justice that all of us share in this unique community.

It can be quite daunting to serve as the first point of contact and to adequately describe all that our programs have to offer.  I have lots of material to draw from, of course, and our visitors are always impressed when they take a campus tour, sit in on a class, and/or meet with faculty and students.  Our monthly Information Sessions will soon be under way, and I know they will continue to be a highly effective means of introducing someone to the School of Education.  But I wish we could provide this experience to a broader audience.

In the coming year, I want to explore how technology might help us replicate what happens at these monthly events.  For those who cannot attend in person, it would be helpful to provide a digital version, but I don’t want to simply convey factual information with talking heads.  I want to capture the feelings that are expressed, the passions that are shared, the warmth of the faculty and staff who welcome our visitors.

So, here’s one of the things I’m thinking about this fall: how can we best use technology, including new social media, to most accurately and effectively communicate who we are to prospective students?  More specifically, how do we use platforms that may be viewed as impersonal, anonymous forms of communication, to portray the warm, personalized, and undeniably human forms of interaction that characterize this community?

I also hope to broaden the audience itself.  Many of the new students who were welcomed to campus in August initially found their way to us through friends, family members, or colleagues who recommended Mills.  These personal and professional networks will continue to serve as the primary means by which new students discover us.  We now have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and applicants use our website to learn more once they’ve heard about us. But do those platforms best represent what we’re really about?  Under the leadership of our Dean and with the guidance of our new VP for Enrollment Management, I hope to find ways to expand our networks and identify prospective students who might not otherwise find their way to our website.

I invite anyone reading this to participate in these ongoing conversations about recruitment and admissions. I’m reachable by phone (510-430-3170) and email (, so please be in touch if you have any suggestions.

Written by collegialconnections

September 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Thoughts and Hopes

leave a comment »

Dean Kathy Schultz asked everyone at the School of Education to think about what they would like to accomplish this year –big dreams, small goals, or something else entirely. Below are some of our faculty’s and staff’s thoughts and hopes.

Kathy Schultz. This will be my third year as Dean of the Mills College School of Education. No longer new, there are many projects I’m excited about as we deepen our programs and expand our horizons.  At the college, I’m advising an LLC (Living and Learning Community for first year students) focused on Social Justice. Our goal is to provide opportunities for Mills students to learn more about Oakland and to find ways to contribute to the community. I’m also excited about our continuing projects with the Oakland Unified School District, which includes my involvement with the preschool and transitional kindergarten programs, my planning for a STEM-focused teacher residency program, lesson study with teachers of mathematics, English, and History, as well as various other professional development programs and research projects. We have plans to extend The Center for Urban Schools and Partnerships (CUSP) to broaden both our reach, and the number of students across campus and colleagues across the Bay Area who are involved in our programs.

Currently, education is threatened by many forces, including deep budget cuts, and there is much work to be done. As a school of education, I look forward to our continuing to take a lead in this work through our deep and considered belief in equity and social justice.

Susan Christopher. One of the things I’ll be thinking about this fall: how can we best use technology, including new social media, to most accurately and effectively communicate who we are to prospective students?  More specifically, how do we use platforms that may be viewed as impersonal, anonymous forms of communication to portray the warm, personalized, and undeniably human forms of interaction that characterizes this community?

Susan Marchant. As part of our School of Education curriculum, Child Life graduate students engage in revolutionary research in an effort to continue to uncover the intrinsic value of child life services in the healthcare environment. This research demonstrates the positive impact on the overall quality of care for children and families receiving these services.  Additionally, during times of shrinking resources and limited budgets, Child life services have been shown to minimize anesthesia costs, resulting in cost savings.  I hope that this valuable research will continue to be developed and submitted for publication and for workshop and conference presentations in order to educate not only healthcare providers but healthcare consumers as well.

Julie Nicholson. I am going to work on so many things this year, but among the most interesting to me is strengthening my use of social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, and Edmodo) pedagogically in the policy, leadership, and play courses. Tomas Galguera and I are writing a paper about how we are integrating these tools into our classrooms and it has inspired me to go deeper, truly thinking about the use of social media as requiring new literacies and how we can support the development of these literacies into our coursework in meaningful ways that strengthens students’ facilities with digital communication and supports such skills as efficient information gathering, professional networking, and coalition building.

Greg Tanaka. I continue to harbor a strong hunch that the next 12 months will bring with it a collapse of capital markets and with that, a rare opportunity to remake the social infrastructure of the U.S. like never before. What role, then, might education and education research play–in renewing the democracy, connecting individuals to each other, and providing a wonderful space and era for humanism and the arts? Just my gut sense.

Tomas Galguera. Jennifer, a graduate of our Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools program, sent an email to Anna Richert and me at the beginning of the summer wondering about the possibility of finishing the work she had been doing toward her Master’s degree in Education with an Emphasis in Teaching (MEET). Her partner was completing a residency in Washington DC, and Jennifer had obtained an internship in the US Department in Education. Her original plan was to spend her summer in Washington and then return to the Bay Area to finish her degree while teaching. As is often the case in life, Jennifer’s plans no longer fit her needs and desires, and she decided to stay in Washington DC. In her message, Jennifer asked about the possibility of continuing her research and work and meeting all the requirements for her degree without having to return to attend courses. Unfortunately, after some consideration, Anna and I decided this would not be feasible.

I have thought about distance learning for some time, especially since I rely on a web content management tool (Tiki Wiki) and wikis to teach. However, with the combination of Jennifer’s request and several recent publications regarding distance learning, my goal for the next academic year is to come up with a model for distance learning that builds upon and contains the features that make programs so unique and special for just about anyone who attends our School of Education and Mills College. I realize that the very notion of learning from afar runs counter to what many current and former students value about Mills: the time and space to discuss important issues and build lasting relationships with colleagues; small groups where everyone’s voice contributes to the discussion; a place to venture guesses, try ideas, find one’s voice while feeling supported by the Mills community of students, instructors, and staff.

Valid concerns and criticisms have been raised about distance learning, such as Mark Edmonson’s op-ed in the NY Times. Yet, the world continues to change, especially in technological realms. For this reason, Stanford’s President John Hennessy, in a New Yorker article by Ken Auletta, used the word “tsunami” to describe the magnitude and speed of the trend toward distance learning in higher education. Schools and universities are institutions in which change moves ever so slowly, especially with instructional practices –notice how many overhead projectors are still used in classrooms, including here at Mills. But even though pitfalls exist in distance learning for all involved, it also has the potential to transform teaching practice for the better, especially because of the capacity to utilize media of various kinds to achieve a particular learning outcome. And because so many people interact with others from afar via Facebook and other social media networks, we need to recognize this norm and align it with what we do when we teach.

So, my goal is to map out the set of outcomes, tasks, and endeavors that make the MEET experience successful for students and us, and to consider ways in which some of these might be carried out online. There may be some features of MEET that may not lend themselves to an online environment, which may suggest instead a blended program, combining distance learning with concentrated, in-person experiences. Regardless of the outcome, I am excited about the possibility of spending next academic year figuring out something new. Look forward to a report on this blog of my progress.

Annie Neves. I want every student in any of our programs this year to have a wonderful experience, connect with classroom colleagues in interesting and exciting ways, and really be an active participant in our School of Education community. I will do whatever I can do to help any student achieve this goal, whether it is lending assistance, listening, offering suggestions, kindness, or hospitality.

Rachel Lefkowitz. I realized recently that when I go over to friends’ houses, I never notice if the place is sparkling clean or really dirty unless I reach down to pat a small dog, only to find that it is, in fact, a large dust bunny. So much of what we do every day is like that –it goes unnoticed if it’s done well, and demands our attention only if it’s done poorly. This year, I would like to help us all notice the things that we do well, whether that’s recruiting excellent students, generating ideas that lead to a new research, or completing paperwork for field placements. We are constantly seeking to improve what we do, but we start with amazing strengths. We should revel in them.

Written by collegialconnections

September 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Mills Teacher Scholars in Oakland Schools

with 2 comments

By Anna Richert, Claire Bove and Carrie Wilson

Anna Richert

Anna Richert
Executive Director
Mills Teacher Scholars

Claire Bove

Claire Bove
Associate Director

Carrie Wilson

Carrie Wilson
Associate Director

In April, the Oakland Unified School District administration convened teachers to discuss plans for the future, including professional development. Among the messages the teachers conveyed was the need for teacher-directed professional development. They argued that for too long teachers have been “talked at” by outside “experts” brought in to tell teachers what and how to teach. The time has come for teachers to claim their own expertise and chart their own learning path.

What examples do we have of this kind of professional development for teachers to use as models as they design their own? What does teacher professional development look like when it comes bubbling from the ground up? One example is the Oakland-based Mills Teacher Scholars Project — a group of teachers who have been leading their own professional learning by framing questions about their students’ learning and their teaching and spending a year pursuing answers.

Recently, two groups of teacher researchers participating in the Mills Teacher Scholars project showcased their new understandings to their staff at New Highland Academy in Oakland Unified School District and at Roosevelt Elementary in San Leandro Unified. Teachers in both settings identified questions about their students’ learning and their own teaching practice to help them better address their diverse students’ learning needs. The process supported the teacher scholars to develop ways to “make their students’ learning visible,” which gave them a window into their students’ thinking.

Aija Simmons, a fourth grade New Highland Academy teacher explained at the outset of her project, “What I’m trying to figure out is: ‘what’s happening in a child’s head?'” Working with the Mills Teacher Scholars, Aija and her school colleagues met monthly in cross-grade level teams at New Highland Academy, a QEIA school (Quality Education and Investment Act) in the East Oakland flatlands. Each teacher selected a small group of focal students to focus his or her investigation. They systematically collected “real time,” everyday classroom data that they then analyzed with colleagues. The methodology allowed them to witness change over time.

The teachers reported that slowly and carefully over the academic year they developed a deep understanding about what their student know and are able to do. Working across grade levels brought insight to the progression of the students’ thinking not only over the year, but also across the grade span. Aija’s study provides a good example of how the inquiry process works. Her research focused on helping students make their reading process visible through the use of clarifying strategies, which she documented as part of her study. Designed to help students build their comprehension she introduced a set of strategies for students to engage with the texts they were studying. Her goal was to understand if, and how, these clarifying strategies affected her focal students’ ability to make sense of what they read. Throughout the process she monitored her students’ learning by routinely collecting various forms of data in the form of student work. She also interviewed students to hear their stories about what they were learning. These data, which Aija was able to collect as a routine part of her teaching day, allowed her to see what her students were doing and learning–and what challenges they encountered along the way.

Before using this data-driven approach to her practice, Aija felt her understanding was random at best. She explained:

My analogy is that I’m throwing darts at a target trying to hit it but I have no idea where the target is. Because unless you help the student to figure out how to make their thinking visible to you, you just keep giving reading lessons aimlessly throwing these darts out hoping you meet the target. So this research is an attempt to figure out where the target is.

In presenting her work on May 18th to her colleagues at the New Highland Scholars presentations, Aija explained how routinely collecting and analyzing student learning data allowed her to teach with intention. “[This year] I was never trying to figure out ‘what should I do for a reading workshop,” she explained. “Every time I looked at a data set and looked at what was emerging I knew exactly what to do for what kids…”

After the presentation to the staff, Aija wrote up her study to share to share it with others who were not at the presentations. She concludes her write-up by describing her classroom as a place where reading comprehension is a shared norm and her teaching moves are based on a clear understanding of what students need to encounter next. In comparing her teaching now with her approach before her research she writes:

My reading classroom is alive with clarifying conversations between my whole class, small groups, and even individual readers. Students are developing identities as comprehenders and clarifiers of text. I am teaching more targeted and strategic reading lessons. We are developing into more powerful readers. I say we because as this process happened I was becoming more aware of my own reading identity. Do I think I have the solution to my troubles of teaching reading comprehension? Not exactly. What I do have is a way to communicate effectively with my students about what they were thinking about a text and how they came to their conclusions. What I do have is a community of readers who no longer leery of saying, ‘wait lets use a strategy because, I’m not understanding.’

What I have is a reading space alive with possibility and students who are now saying to me, ‘we need more lessons on this because when I read that story, I couldn’t figure out this strategy.’ We have a process where I can guide the skills needed to help student comprehend and no longer just say sorry but ‘that’s not the main idea.

Teachers like Aija and her teacher scholar colleagues who are provided the time, space and support for pursuing questions they have about what and how their students know, are better prepared to help those students become the powerful learners they are capable of being. The responsibility for teaching all children well is then located in the hands of those who have the best chance of making school “work” for the children they serve. Let us draw on them to frame their path to building their professional expertise. Our best hope for improving student learning outcomes for all students is to create opportunities for their teachers to pursue what they decide they need to know to do their important work. The Oakland teachers have spoken up. Let us make this moment of change a reality.

This post was also published on May 25, 2011 in Anthony Cody’s “Living in Dialogue” blog.

Written by collegialconnections

June 1, 2011 at 7:08 am


with one comment

Kathy Schultz, Dean
Mills College School of Education

Today we launch our Mills College School of Education blog, Collegial Connections. We’re excited to have a place to discuss critical educational ideas that we all struggle with as we negotiate the many challenges and opportunities in the education field today.  As faculty and staff at the School of Education, we spend most of our time focused on teaching, mentoring, and research. At the same time, we understand the importance of taking a public stand on educational issues, especially as they relate to our focus on the preparation and on-going support of teachers, leaders, and early childhood professionals who work in urban settings.  Our perspectives are shaped by our individual and collective experience and expertise, as well as a shared and deep commitment to access and equity,

Our plan is to use this blog to share our informed viewpoints and experiences about critical educational issues that we, and we suspect you, encounter every day.  We invite you to speak back from your own experiences and informed opinions so that we can generate a local and far-reaching dialogue.  We believe that it is vital that we contribute to the large public dialogue that is currently filled with controversy and the voices of individuals who may have little experience and knowledge of the field of education and, in particular, the experiences of public school teachers.

We plan to address a wide range of issues and invite you to add to this list:

- What are our responses to local events in Oakland and the surrounding communities?

- How do we address the violence children and teachers encounter in their schools; where do we see hope and possibility?

- Where do we stand on issues around documented and undocumented children and youth in our classrooms and communities?

- How can our knowledge about issues such as school readiness shape current policy in the Oakland Unified School District and the surrounding areas?

- How is the current focus on testing shaping teaching, leadership, and policy decisions? What are the challenges and opportunities for using value added metrics to make decisions about teacher hiring and retention?

- Who are the children and youth in our schools? How do we address their needs and support the teachers and leaders doing this work?

- What do we need to know to take leadership roles in policy decisions addressing the birth to five age group?

- What are the educational issues that matter the most to you?  What do you feel most strongly about?

We live in a world filled with violence and hate, but also hope and possibility. We want to use this blog to bring together our experiences and ideas, to generate conversations and action, and to continue our learning from one another. We invite your responses and contributions.

Written by collegialconnections

February 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers

%d bloggers like this: