Archive for the ‘Practice’ Category
The Mills College Children’s School as Urban Teacher Preparation: The Antithesis to Teach for America | Sara Sutherland
Teach for America is a program rife with good intentions: students in inner city schools will have the benefit of fresh blood and new perspectives in their classrooms, beleaguered schools will have the gift of idealistic new staff, the young TFA participants will be exposed to the realities of urban inner-city schools, which will hopefully broaden their perspectives. These are well-intended goals, and there have certainly been positive outcomes. I have several friends who are TFA graduates, and they speak of the horizon-expanding experience that Teach for America offered them, and how the program offered them a landing place when they were at an impasse in their young lives. Did any of these friends go on to teach beyond Teach for America? Not one.
Despite the intentions to improve the lives of students in urban schools, it would seem that the primary beneficiaries of Teach for America are the program participants. The students are exposed to yet another teacher that will leave them, if not due to burnout, then due to a planned departure, when, do-gooder vacation over, their teacher moves on to the next step in their “real “ lives.
What do we want for students in urban schools? I think we want what we want for all children: teachers who are devoted to children and the craft of teaching, who are committed to making this practice their “real” lives. It seems to me that a critical component for success for these teachers is adequately preparing them to be thoughtful practitioners in spite of and because of the very reality of the schools and lives of the children they serve.
I am a Head Teacher at an independent private laboratory school committed to a lens of social justice and preparing thoughtful teachers. I oversee a classroom of children with a staff 100% comprised of students preparing to become teachers, special education professionals, and Child Life practitioners. My top priority is providing safe, thoughtful early education and care to my young students – but a VERY close second is providing a laboratory for learning for my adult students to prepare them for thoughtful practice, wherever their careers will take them.
The Children’s School, my professional home for the past eight years, at times receives criticism for not being “real” enough for student teachers aiming to teach in urban settings. The teacher: child ratios in our classroom are excellent, even if most of the teachers are students themselves, here to learn. We have the luxury and the challenge of partnering with the School of Education on a college campus, and are tasked with ensuring our teaching of all constituencies is research-based and context-appropriate. We have something that many schools are not fortunate enough to have: time. Each day we can debrief with our student teachers to discuss the daily experience, provide support, offer feedback, assist in formulating questions, and model reflection. Perhaps this luxury is the other side of the “real world” coin flipped nonchalantly by speed teacher education programs. However, I would argue that our model of teacher education provides an immersive context for teachers learning to be reflective practitioners. As a Head Teacher, I am incredibly intentional of ensuring that my students be exposed to and allowed to practice reflective teaching so they can develop highly personalized modes of reflection and resilience – so that these can be taken with them as part of their bag of teaching tricks into settings that do not – cannot – offer this luxury of time.
The Urban Teaching Education Consortium recently published a thought-provoking position paper in the Washington Post that critiques the speed teacher-preparation programs and posits a set of recommendations for preparing teachers for urban settings. I was struck – and professionally inspired — by how many of their recommendations for urban teacher preparation we are addressing in our practicum setting for teachers. I am gratified to teach in an environment that places such emphasis in preparing teachers to be deeply thoughtful; that encourages them to know their students and themselves and use this knowledge to create learning communities; that encourages novice teachers to question the why’s of teaching mandates; that models inquiry as a stance. It is gratifying to read the Consortium’s recommendations and know that my work in my context is serving children in more “typical” urban schools through the teachers I am helping to prepare.
Sara Sutherland, MA, is an alumna of the Masters in Education program at Mills. She has been a Head Teacher in the preschool program at the Children’s School since 2007.
The menu changes every time they open, and specialties range from turkey pozole to hearty fish chowder, quinoa salad to broccoli pasta, and blueberry scones to cheesy pigs-in-blankets. They use only organic, low-sugar ingredients and sustainably-raised meats or vegetarian alternatives. But this is not a fancy, five-star restaurant. It’s an elementary school, and all the chefs are fourth and fifth graders.
Anne Malamud’s 4/5 class at Mills College Children’s School, the laboratory school for the School of Education at Mills College in Oakland, California, is learning how to run a successful business and to make a difference in their own community. Calling their entrepreneurial venture the Happy Eating Place(HEP), the students originally set out just to prepare healthy snacks on campus and raise money for a yet-to-be determined nonprofit organization, but Malamud saw the opportunity for a service learning initiative with broader goals that would include social justice issues within our society. Now in its second year of operation, the HEP’s mission has grown to include educating others about nutrition, the importance of sustainable farming, and the roots of hunger in America. This has included writing pamphlets, giving talks, and creating a presentation.
Service learning projects can be developed at any grade level. It may require extra work when teachers alter their plans to integrate student-driven, hands-on lessons in their math, writing, social studies, and science curricula, but that work pays dividends in student engagement. Here are five easy steps to start a service learning business model in your classroom.
1. Find an Entry Point That Excites Students
Fresh off a nutrition unit where they learned about digestion in the human body and picked up a few simple, healthy recipes, the class became enthusiastic about the idea of using food as a basis for a service learning project. Malamud saw an opportunity to teach basic economics in the context of running a business, and brought in a financial planner (one of her parents) to explain about initial investments, gross and net profits, and how to price items and predict sales.
2. Give Every Student a Stake in the Project
In order to run a successful classroom business, every student needs to have a job — cooks, servers, cashier, accountant, marketing team, even dishwasher. A range of jobs can accommodate the range of abilities in the group. Artists who like to draw and make posters are great on the marketing team, those who like to move around can make great servers, and those who like to cook can cook! Students learn that every job is important, and they see the interconnectedness of each job. They are more invested in the project, and more excited about working together toward a common goal.
3. Incorporate Daily Curriculum into Business Lessons
While cooking, students practice multiplying and dividing fractions to increase and decrease their recipes. To drum up interest in their healthy bake sales, the marketing team writes and maintains a blog and visits other classrooms to talk about their mission. This year, HEP expanded to include a restaurant, where students served a four-course meal to families and staff, researching recipes related to their current social studies unit (i.e. Old World vs. New World foods). Students are more engaged and excited about doing class assignments when they relate to their business model.
4. Look Beyond the Classroom
Since HEP is centered on a cooking model and the class had already studied a unit on nutrition, Malamud had an idea to incorporate a particular service learning component within their business project. She asked her students, “What happens when people don’t have access to good nutrition?” To answer the question, she showed a documentary called A Place at the Table about hunger in America, organized a field trip to a local sustainable farm, and set up a volunteer partnership with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Students decided that they wanted all of their HEP profits to go to the Food Bank, and over the course of two years, they’ve donated close to $1,000 to that cause. And because each dollar raised for the Food Bank has the buying power of four dollars, students can use the Food Bank’s online shopping cart to see just how much their donation is buying.
5. Let Them Make Mistakes
After their first few initial successes, students voted to make organic fruit smoothies for one dollar each at their next bake sale. Malamud knew that the ingredients would be expensive, but she let the students learn their own lesson and lose money on the sale, prompting the team to think about whether they could serve smaller portions or charge more. Another time, a measuring error resulted in salty scones, and the marketing team went class to class talking to their fellow classmates about the error and rebuilding trust in their product. In their second year as a business, HEP added a new job — a Satisfaction Manager who interviews customers after each sale so that the team can discuss what worked well and what they might do differently next time. Sometimes, this requires changing the recipe, increasing advertising, or surveying their clientele. Even if the only solution is to take an item off the menu, the students learn an important business lesson.
The Happy Eating Place is an unusual leadership opportunity for fourth and fifth graders, and perhaps that is the reason for its success. Even young elementary students can excel when given the hands-on experience of running a business, and also seeing how they can effect bigger change in the world.
Please tell us about any service learning or student-driven nutrition projects at your school.
Whitney is the Admissions Director at MCCS and has been a professional journalist for 20 years. She enjoys working with the 4/5 class’s marketing team to maintain their Happy Eating Place blog.
This article was originally posted on Edutopia in July 2014.
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 wrote a post for this blog back in February, when I was planning to open a new school in Freedom, Maine. Shortly after writing the post, I held some informational sessions at local public libraries in the area. I wanted to see how many families might be interested in this type of school. It’s really outside of the box: three days a week, half of every school day spent outside, a truly multi-age setting of 5-10 year-colds all together, two full-time teachers, preparing and eating meals together made from local, organic foods… I just didn’t know if there would be enough interest to make a go of it.
At the first information session, one person showed up.
Three came to the second, and three came to the third. I paused to reconsider the idea. I thought deeply, talked to all my people, and decided in the end to go ahead with it. Even if I could get ten children, I figured, at least I would have a wonderful school environment for my own two daughters, and I would be able to provide what I feel is the best that education has to offer to another eight local children.
Well, The Mill School opened its doors on September 10th, fully enrolled with twenty local children, ages five to ten, and another eighteen on the waiting list. As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in exactly this kind of school. And so far, things are going as smoothly as can be expected at a brand new school. My colleague and I have changed the daily schedule about five times already. But the children are relaxed and happy, the parents are so supportive, and we have time to really get to know the children, as people, and as learners. Our first place-based curricular unit has begun, our food is delicious, and we are spending a lot of time outside, building strong bodies and connecting to the natural environment. The children are learning the daily routines. It feels to me as if this outside-of-the-box school is blossoming. As one student said to me yesterday, “It’s so weird. At my old school, the teacher was the enemy. But here, you’re just not. You two, like, seem to really care about us.” I smiled, and she paused before she added, “And the food here is so good too!”
I am always interested in hearing about other schools where things are being done differently; please let me know if you have a story to share. You can contact me, and learn more about The Mill School, at www.themillschool.org
This July, I went with five educators—including Linda Kroll, Fredi Breuer, Serena Clayton and Regie Stites—to Haiti to work with teachers from three different schools supported by Sionfonds [http://www.sionfondsforhaiti.org], an NGO founded by Annie Blackstone. Sionfonds works with local communities to construct buildings for schools in locations with few, and sometimes no, educational opportunities. Once the schools are established, Sionfonds pays teacher salaries and provides medical and dental care for children and families in the school community. During the past two years, the organization has also provided professional development to improve teaching, a crucial matter in Haiti where literacy rates are alarmingly low among children and adults. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Haiti]
We spent a week at the Sionfonds school in Cavaillon, a small rural community about four hours from Port-Au-Prince. Together with 25 teachers from the three schools, we ran a week-long summer school for about 190 children that focused on community building, reading, writing, and bookmaking. Our goal was to introduce collaborative methods while teaching the children and teachers. We first spent the first day working with the teachers. For the rest of the week, the teachers spent each morning in classrooms, teaching in teams of two and three; in the afternoons, they met with us to reflect on their experiences and learn new methods for collaboration and teaching literacy. They used this knowledge to plan the next day.
We wanted the teachers to be captured by the excitement of collaborating with one another to learn new methods of teaching. We also wanted them to learn new ways to talk about reading, writing, and making books. We knew they would learn differently if we set them up to learn with and from each other. We hoped teachers would then bring these same methods into their classrooms, so that students could learn with and from peers as well as from teachers. We also wanted teachers and students –many of whom live in homes with no books—to feel that they were readers and writers. Overall, we wanted to convey that school is much more than preparation for tests, and education can allow children and adults alike to dream and imagine new possibilities.
We were pleased to find that there was already lots of collaboration in the school. The classrooms were partitioned off by small poles and narrow strips of canvas, with as many as five classrooms in a single open space. The voices of teachers and children from all the adjoining classes mixed together, sometimes creating so much noise it was difficult to hear. Great teaching ideas traveled between classes along with and through the sounds.
We built on this collaboration as we paired teachers from different schools to teach in a single classroom and then introduced literacy practices that could be taught using collaborative methods. One more formal collaborative practice is called “collaborative mentoring,” and we introduced it to the teaches as a way they could observe and provide feedback for each other’s teaching. Teachers shared their classroom experiences and observations in powerful conversations, and over the week we saw them try out practices they observed in their partner teachers’ classes.
Similarly, although the children often worked together informally, we showed the teachers several formal strategies they could use to help students collaborate. In Haiti, as in much of the world, teachers ask questions and the whole class responds – hopefully with the answer anticipated by the teacher. We showed teachers how they could instead engage the students by having them turn to a partner to discuss the ideas in the book rather than by searching for a correct answer. We suggested that they ask students questions to elicit more details in their writing, rather than simply demanding that they fill a page. Further, we encouraged them to teach pairs of students to try this same process with each other. During the week, each teacher and student made two different kinds of books, one for poetry and one for narrative writing; at our celebration at the end of the week, younger and older children shared their stories with one another, illustrating another form of collaboration.
A week of literacy and collaboration was a powerful experience for the teachers and students. During the time we were in Cavaillon, we saw so much change. We saw adults and children learn the pleasure of reading stories with unexpected endings and of arguing about their meaning. We saw them experience the delight of seeing poems and stories unfold, of writing in books they made themselves, and sharing those books with their families and friends. They learned to view themselves as readers and authors. On the last day, a fifth grade teacher told us, “We know a lot of stories but I never decided to write them down. Last night I wrote a beautiful story in French. I will ask the children to make predictions when I read it in September. I think the story will go far and I am very happy.”
Our work in Haiti illustrates how important it is to create opportunities for teachers and students to work together and learn from one another. In the United States we have largely eliminated such opportunities for collaboration in our relentless push to raise test scores and close the so-called achievement gap. We forget how important it is for teachers to learn from one another and share their expertise, which reinforces the professionalism of teaching. In a world consumed by high stakes educational reform, we have become blind to how collaborative practice improves the quality of teaching. I suggest we pause, reflect, and learn from efforts such as our work in Haiti, where we saw teachers and children learning from and with each other, and joyfully and proudly changing their practices.
Katherine Schultz is the Dean and Professor of Education at the School of Education at Mills College.
In my last blog, I introduced the Inquiry into Leadership for Early Childhood Professionals Project. Now I want to take you inside one of these meetings…
Each time we gather, a presenter courageously opens up his or her professional practice for public discussion sharing a current dilemma she/he is facing in the workplace. We use the Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review (DR) of a Professional Dilemma of Practice, a structured inquiry protocol. The DR process uses thick description of “the particular”—e.g., individuals, relationships, communities, and contexts—as methods for strengthening equity (El Haj, 2003; Himley & Carini, 2000), a stark contrast with approaches that minimize human variation through top-down universalist interventions (Himley, 2000).
The DR process models how leadership can be strengthened through collaborative inquiry as new layers of understanding emerge when groups engage in sustained conversation around a shared topic. Early childhood professionals are able to put the world “out of play” for a moment with time to pause, reflect, reframe and return to their professional world to “act in it in wiser ways” (Himley, 2000, p. 200).
The dilemmas we have explored to date are wide-ranging. Two examples of guiding questions include:
- As a program manager at a family engagement non-profit agency, how can I leverage my position as a trainer/consultant to support the schools, teachers, and families I am working with to strengthen family engagement within the program?
- As a special education preK teacher in an urban school district, how do I remain true to my teaching practices when given inconsistent resources and support?
To provide a window into the types of discourse that emerge, I share brief moments of Natalia’s dilemma [2nd question above] about working in a public preK special education class in a low income urban school district. She explained the daily challenges presented by a lack of resources:
“For example, I don’t have a telephone in my room and I’m way across the field from everyone else and yet I have a child with a seizure disorder and so I have my cell phone with me in case I need to call 911. I’m supposed to have an aide but she went on break one day and never came back. I park in a parking lot that is gated and I need to leave at 3:30pm every day for safety reasons, which leaves me with no time to prep for my teaching. I’m all alone for most of the day as some days the transitions are so hard for the children to get to the playground that we don’t even leave the classroom. The bathrooms in my classroom are filthy, the window is broken and there are very few toys or materials for the children. The physical environment is INCREDIBLY challenging to navigate for children with developmental challenges. I was trained to see quality environments as the right of every child. It has been very hard to have that here.”
Natalia’s colleagues asked 30 minutes of clarifying questions to help everyone understand the dilemma in more depth inspiring her to reflect on her relationships, her purposes, and goals for teaching, and the agency she had to influence positive change. For example:
- How much freedom do you have to create your own curriculum?
- Could you be written up for licensing violations?
- What have been your successes? What are you proud of?
- How did you make the decision to teach at this school?
Next, the group offered Natalia 22 recommendations. She listened but was asked not to respond. This helps the presenter learn to quiet her/his habit of ‘reacting’ to feedback. It also recognizes that the recommendations could be helpful for other participants as the dilemmas are acting as collective texts that everyone can use for strengthening practice. A more experienced colleague working in the same district encouraged Nalalia to go over the IEP rights every time she met with families and encourage them to contact the district office. Others reminded her that relationships, not things, are at the heart of teachers’ work. She was also encouraged to be strategic with her ‘asks,’ to decide on two she really wanted, allowing her under-resourced district a way to meet her needs.
Natalia’s colleagues encouraged her to reframe the situation and see herself as the primary resource for her students, to focus her energy on building strategic relationships with others in her district and to focus on the successes and changes she could make. Natalia reported having new ways of considering and responding to her dilemma and a renewed sense of what she called “unity and support” to inspire her. Other participants reported that the process helped them to learn to listen to others, to value collegial relationships, and to understand the courage that leadership required.
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?”