Reflection

The Power That We Hold

Lacey Robinson, Chief of Program and Engagement at UnboundEd, joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share a version of her influential keynote, “Footlocker and Fridays.”  During the 50-minute address, Lacey shares the story of Shiloh, a former student of who dreamed of being a teacher. Past tense.

Using Shiloh’s story as an anchor, Lacey unpacks the systemic roots of oppression and racism that limit the opportunities of students of color and students in low-income environments. She challenges educators to understand their role in creating reparations in our schools through rigorous instruction.

Watch below:

More About Lacey Robinson:

Lacey Robinson has more that 20 years in education as an educator, principal, and staff development specialist with a focus on literacy, equity, and school leadership. As chief, program and engagement, Lacey is responsible for engaging with external partners including collaborators in the K-12 education space as well as district and system leadership to support standards-aligned, content-focused adult learning and professional development.

She oversees key design and execution elements for primary external UnboundEd service offerings, including Communities of Practice (CoP) and Standards Institute (SI) and the national programs. Previously, Lacey was the senior director of implementation for the national Transforming Teams program at New Leaders, a nonprofit that trains aspiring and current school leaders. Lacey is certified in facilitative leadership and has served as a staff development specialist nationally and internationally, most recently working with the Medical School of Rwanda on organizational and change management.

What Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Mean for Teaching

Dr. G.T. Reyes joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share his perspective on the "why" behind diversity, equity, and inclusion and what they mean for teacher practice.  Dr. Reyes argues that we need to dismantle systems and structures that were designed to exclude in the first place to create schools where all students can succeed.

More About Dr. G.T. Reyes

Settling in modern-day East Oakland, which is ancestral land to the Huichin Ohlone, Dr. G.T. Reyes is a community-engaged scholar-artist-organizer.  His work is grounded in a commitment to the empowerment of young folks, teachers, school leaders, and cultural workers to value their ancestral traditions while radically imagining and building capacity in ways that can transform their own realities. As an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program at California State University, East Bay, he recognizes and honors the native Yrgen land where the city of Hayward settles upon while seeking to be an active part of cultivating a program that has liberatory potential and power within local communities.  His approaches to educational leadership and critical research is rooted in socio-cultural traditions that decenter whiteness and coloniality.

He has worked as a teacher and school leader in K-12 schooling, as an educator and organizational leader in youth development, and as a teacher education and teacher development scholar in higher education.  Some of his work as a public intellectual and community-engaged scholar investigates Critical, Humanizing, Culturally, and Politically Determined pedagogies and teacher development; Principled, socioculturally-grounded, values-centered, purpose-driven educational leadership and organizational development; Participatory Action Research and problem of practice inquiry; Art, digital media, and Hip Hop as critical race counter-storytelling; Critical, anti-oppressive, and humanizing frameworks of social and emotional learning; and English Language Arts as liberatory education.

In addition to his work at Cal State East Bay, he is a founding school designer for the forthcoming Homies Empowerment Community High School.  He completed his Post Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, Society, and Culture in Education at the University of California at Berkeley.  

#PracticeMakesPossible: What I Learned at the Leading Educators Institute

Raye Wood is a teacher leader at Burton Elementary School in Greater Grand Rapids.  She is entering her thirteenth year in the classroom, and she completed her Doctorate of Education last spring.  She is a huge advocate for amplifying teacher voice and often blogs about her experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Wow.  Where do I begin?  How can I share with you—through mere words—the energy, the passion and the thirst for change that was the Leading Educators Institute?

I am changed in a way that I did not realize I could still be changed, and I expect that I will be forever grateful.  I’ve been in the classroom for twelve years, and I am hardly new to professional learning. But in just a few short days, I experienced a new kind of learning  that challenged my perspective, changed my expectations, and validated what I know our students need. How amazing is that?

My school was part of the first Leading Educators cohort from greater Grand Rapids.  Having finished my first year at our school as well as the intense process of writing a doctoral dissertation, I joined our school team this spring and attended LEI with the new cohort.  So, there I was with a group of people, many of whom I had never met, walking into four absolutely life-changing days. This group of new friends validated the beliefs I hold and walk with daily, they challenged some of those beliefs with great care, and they helped me stretch my perspective and ways of thinking. Because of them, I am more reflective, more passionate, and even more dedicated to the work I do every day.  Every teacher deserves that gift.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Because my colleagues began leading Leading Educators’ model of content learning and practice at our school last year, I came into the week with the experience of a teacher who has seen the end result of LEI first-hand.  Though, I had already experienced Content Cycle protocols and workshops last year, I gained a deep appreciation for the work having experienced the planning process at LEI.  Everything I was unclear about before burst forth in one large A-HA moment. That in and of itself is powerful. Now, as a “Lead Learner”, I can’t wait to use my content knowledge and passion alongside my colleagues to make our school more equitable for every single child who enters our doors.

  • We had some absolutely amazing guest speakers.  At times, I was moved to tears (in my eyes as well as on my cheeks if we are being totally honest) because I see the mistakes so many of us have made with the best of intentions. I often say, “You don't know what you don't know.”  And LEI showcased some of that. Our keynote speakers admitted to having made mistakes because we all do. Imagine standing before an entire room of educators and admitting that you helped perpetuate false narratives around students of color. That takes serious heart and vulnerability, and it pushed all of us to own our impact.  Dr. GT Reyes noted that you don't have to be the teacher of the year to make a difference, and it made my heart sing.

  • On Thursday, we heard from Lacey Robinson from UnboundEd.  To hear her speak in person was amazing. Again, she boldly shared that she know she has messed up.  To admit that in front of a community of teachers who she didn't know was powerful and brave. One quote really stuck with me: “We have to get past what makes us feel good and do what is right by our students.”  

I look back at my first few years of teaching from my current vantage point and I can see the mistakes I was making. At that time, I used the knowledge that I had and did what I thought was right (Leveled library, anyone?). Once you know you are making the wrong moves and you work toward changing them, you are growing. It is when you know you are making wrong moves but you keep doing what you've always done that we have a problem. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to push through that discomfort because it is what will fuel the most important shifts in our practice.

Truly, it's hard for me to fully express how much I appreciate the opportunity to experience LEI in this way. And now when I go back to my school in August as a “Lead Learner”, I'm going to work hard to remember that many of my colleagues don't have the benefit of having the "back story" of the work we are trying to do. I'm going to push for our team to really take a step back for a moment and re-invest ourselves in the bigger picture. To  do our best by students, I fully believe that we have to work together in a way that pushes our thinking, challenges our biases and the false narratives we have inadvertently carried with us, and strive to make education truly equitable for every child regardless of their status, ethnicity, gender, race, welfare, or zip code.

Together, I am certain that we can improve education for all kids.

Checking in with Instructional Specialist Michelle Morrow

Michelle Morrow is the Instructional Specialist at North Godwin Elementary School in Grand Rapids, MI and part of the 2017 Leading Educators Grand Rapids cohort.  This past July, Michelle spoke with us about her vision for school transformation after attending the 2017 Leading Educators Institute (LEI).  We checked in with Michelle to hear about her team’s experiences during the fall semester.   

LE: When we spoke with you in July, you said LEI was one of the most intense and rewarding professional opportunities of your career thus far.  What were you looking forward to as you entered the fall semester?

MM:  I was most excited to see how our team’s learning would translate into our school culture and ultimately what it would look like in the classroom.  I knew the equity sessions at LEI had a powerful impact on our team, so I was also excited to explore how having the equity lens front of mind might impact how our teacher leaders speak about the standards, their instructional practice, and our students’ learning.     

LE: What were some of your team’s specific priorities for the fall?

MM: We not only wanted to increase teacher collaboration within our school from a functional perspective but also have those collaborative conversations anchored in equity, evidence, and rigorous standards.  Our staff has the best of intentions for our students and they have worked extremely hard to open up their classrooms and collaborate with each other.  Our goal was to deepen these collaborative conversations and push ourselves to examine our instructional design and delivery through an equity lens.

LE: How did you use your team’s professional learning plans to get to that place?

MM: We began the school year with professional development where staff members challenged their biases and opened themselves up to be honest and vulnerable with each other.  This continued in the work of our cycles of professional learning (CPLs) when we narrowed in on creating lessons and units that were rigorous with the proper scaffolding so all of our students could access high standards.  Beyond our regular content learning as adults, we have also had teams practice challenging conversations with their colleagues in order to push the envelope for our school culture.  All of these experiences have helped increase collaboration to a deeper and more meaningful level.

LE: What was challenging about implementing this work?  What surprised you or others on your team?

MM: Time.  With our district having several other priorities on the table, our team had to get creative in meshing them together.  We did not want this to come off as ‘one more thing’ to do, so our team had to carve out additional time to design the CPLs as part of our districts goals.  I wouldn’t say this surprised me because of the dedication and willingness of our team, but I’m always amazed by the commitment that educators have to making changes that help their students get the most out of school.  Our team made a commitment to come to work 60 minutes early two days a week to continue our instructional work, and they also gave up their prep period  once a week to review their session facilitation.  Our team even created a website where staff participating in the CPL could have easy access to presentations and materials.  They are the hardest working bunch I know!  

LE: What has been your biggest win so far?

MM: We had more than half of our elementary staff volunteer their personal time and come to work 60 minutes early for eleven weeks to attend our first round of professional learning sessions.  Because we did not have this time built into the master schedule for this year, it is amazing to see the dedication of not only my teacher leaders, but also their peer teachers who also gave up their time to participate in instruction-focused learning.  

LE: What advice do you have for others leading similar work across the country?

MM: Keep with it!  It is tough, and the wins might feel small, but look carefully enough and you will see those little wins adding up to much bigger successes. Every tough step through the mud is a step that gets us closer to closing the equity gap.

Getting the Most Out of Coaching

Kelsey McLachlan is the Instructional Leadership Coach for Leading Educators’ New Orleans program.  Kelsey began her career as teacher in Chicago Public Schools where she taught for six years.  She also led teacher leadership development at Teach for America Greater New Orleans and was the Founding Assistant Principal at KIPP Leadership Primary.  Kelsey spoke with us about her direct work with teacher leaders to advance educational equity through rigorous classroom instruction.

LE: Tell us about your role. What does an instructional leadership coach do at Leading Educators?

KM:  To my thinking, excellent coaching is about transforming leaders so that they not only increase student achievement, but also positively affect all of those around them. My aim is to help the leaders I coach be as successful as possible at grasping opportunities to improve and reaching goals through collaboration.  I have the privilege of partnering with teams of teacher and school leaders to ensure that they are making steady progress towards student and teacher goals rooted in college and career readiness standards. Reaching these goals is the way to live and achieve our mission of equitable schools for all students, and it's my job to use all of the components of our program to do that: one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and professional learning sessions.   

LE: What are common challenges your coachees face when stepping into instructional leadership?

KM: Accountability is often a challenge for new leaders. I support people to become stronger at holding each other accountable through explicit coaching around this skill in addition to modeling it in my own interactions with them. Holding people accountable to their student and personal growth goals and being honest, or “showing them the mirror”, is a strong way to build trust. In the course of our work together, we agree on goals that impact students' lives, and I want to hold them to those goals in a supportive way. I try to become invested in their goals as if they are mine and check in on them regularly.

Motivating others to action, and teaching the skills to motivate is vital in leadership coaching. I often compare coaching both teachers and leaders to coaching Olympic athletes: you can’t run the 100 meter dash for them, you can’t practice the race for them. The teacher or leader has to drive their own performance through reflection and practice. The coach is there to share strategies and feedback to improve their performance, for example, by suggesting that they shorten their stride or pick up their pace.

LE: What have you tried to help coachees land on a clear path forward?

KM: The most important first step to moving the needle is building trust with people.  I try to deeply listen to words, of course, but also body language and gestures, so that I can hear and understand everything the person means. So that means, I need to allow time for the person to speak and then ask questions to probe their thinking more deeply. Driving people forward in reaching goals is a baseline for a coach.  However, I think one of my most important realizations from many years of coaching is this: what sets a great coach apart from a mediocre one is the ability to see the leader’s “best self” and to help them access that “self”. Getting them there might be hard work, but a strong foundation of personal growth and discovery will make success more likely.

LE: You’ve mentioned a passion for educational equity.  How does that lens influence your approach to coaching?

KM: Elena Aguilar wrote in Education Week, “Coaching with an equity lens means that we pay attention to the social and historic forces which create and maintain systems in which children are treated differently based on who they are.”  In coaching, it's imperative to keep in mind my own identity and the bias that I bring to the table.  I have to do the work of unpacking my perspective, while also listening to and lifting up biases that may live within the work that teacher leaders do.  Also, building deep content knowledge with the teacher leaders I coach allows for a focus on instruction that is rigorous for all students.

LE: I know you love New Orleans! What keeps you so invested in serving New Orleans schools?

KM: New Orleans is, in my opinion, the best city on the planet. It has so many amazing bright spots that you can only experience in the Crescent City, and I believe the people who live here are its greatest asset. Still, our city has experienced generations of inequity and we individually and collectively have so much to do to change that. It's this injustice that keeps me here to prove what’s possible to achieve with our amazing students.

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Take Action to Protect Dreamers

Like many of our peers in education (Chiefs for Change, Houston ISD, Boston Public Schools, Oklahoma City Public Schools), at least five former U.S. Secretaries of Education, and millions of Americans, we were stunned by the Trump administration's decision this week to eliminate protections for 800,000 DREAMers.  As a nationally-focused organization that works in a range of urban contexts to advance socially just teaching, we know many of the teachers and students who bring their talents and stories to the learning communities we serve are DREAMers: undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children by parents who wanted their families to join in the promises of the American Dream.  Through our direct support to school systems and teacher leaders, we work to cultivate equitable classroom environments where each student and teacher’s experiences are affirmed and celebrated so that, the moment they step foot in a classroom, their minds are  focused on working to harness their limitless potential.  Denying DREAMers the protections afforded through DACA creates inhumane chaos and directly challenges their opportunity to thrive. This decision affects us all and requires our persistent attention.

Much of the conversation since last Tuesday has focused on the qualities and contributions of DREAMers: 700,000 DACA recipients are in the workforce and pay taxes, 45 percent of DACA recipients are currently in school, 100 percent of DACA recipients have not committed a felony or other serious crime.  Yes, these facts negate baseless economic and security justifications for ending DACA, but the reality is that there’s an even more important rationale for keeping and expanding the protections of DACA: DREAMers are humans. They are our friends, our neighbors, our students, and our colleagues.   They live and work alongside us every day, adding beauty and richness to the social fabric of the only country they have ever known. Listen to some of their stories.  They have upheld their promises to meet the requirements set forth by DACA, so it is our responsibility to ensure that our nation upholds its promise to them by demanding a permanent legislative solution.  

So, as educators who work with and alongside DREAMers, what can we do?

  • Build knowledge: Several education organizations including Educators for Excellence, the American Federation of Teachers, Stand for Children, Teach For America, and the Education Trust are hosting a tele-town hall on Tuesday, September 12 to share stories, take your questions, and provide information about opportunities to support undocumented students in your classroom and beyond.  You can register here.

  • Help students and parents understand their rights: Many districts have policies in place to prevent immigration officers from entering a campus without special authorization.  Research your school or district’s policy and provide accessible materials such as these from Remezlca.  

  • Support DREAMers in renewing DACA by October 5: Individuals whose DACA expires between September and October have until October 5 to renew for 2-years.  Once a person’s DACA has expired, they will not be able to re-apply.  United We Dream provides more information here.

  • Amplify DREAMer voices:  Brave individuals like Leslie Arreanza and Jose Gonzalez are using their personal stories to challenge misconceptions and build momentum for Congressional action.  Seek out opportunities to learn from their first-hand experiences as you have conversations with those around you.

  • Contact your Congressional Representatives: Direct appeals from constituents have been a powerful force in driving congressional action this year.  Platforms such as this tool from FWD.us make it easier than ever to make your voice heard.  It takes less than 1 minute to sign the petition AND get on the phone with your representative’s office.

We commit to taking action, and we value your partnership and accountability in doing our best for our undocumented students and peers.  Will you join us?

Bonus: Watch this powerful statement from Superintendent Ricardo Carranza of Houston Independent School District.