It just dawned on me that I haven’t been posting the rest of my ASCD reflections. Whoops! Well, without further wait I’m posting my final three here. Time to move on.
1. Community-Based Schools
Reflecting on Geoffrey Canada’s presentation on the Harlem Children’s Zone at ASCD I am convinced that we are not involving our communities in the education process enough. Listening to Canada describe the day-in-the-life of students in Harlem I couldn’t help but see the similarities between his students and those at some of our Title 1 schools. A significant component to the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone has been their outreach to the community. Parents and families are encouraged and required to participate in their child’s education from the moment they are born. The Harlem Children’s Zone provides “Brain College” which focuses on teaching parents how to create positive cognitive experiences when their children are 0-3 years of age. These same children also attend mandatory preschool at age 4 to ensure they are on grade level for kindergarten. The preschool is taught in the community’s three primary languages: English, Spanish, and French. Harlem Children’s Zone also hosts community events on a regular basis and is the place in Harlem where all community members can access local, state, and federal resources including medical and dental care.
2. The Power of Relationships
A second component of the success in the Harlem Children’s Zone has been the power of relationships between teachers, staff, and students. Adults are required through school site cultural norms to develop connections to students. The power and importance of student-teacher relationships was also expressed in Robyn Jackson’s session “Never Work Harder than Your Students.” During her session she had the following quotes:
“The most empowering, loving thing we can do is help students learn how to learn for themselves.”
“Its not about making students work; its about inviting students to be co-creators of their own learning and then giving them the space, tools, and support to do so.”
“Get out of you students’ way so that they can be come addicted to learning”
The importance of relationships was also expressed in a few of the brain-based teaching sessions I attended where the researchers talked about the need to lower student stress levels so that they were actually able to learn. One of the most effective ways of doing this for teachers to develop emotional bonds with students so that they will know they are in a safe learning space.
3. Rigor & Relevance
Along with relationships, rigor and relevance were discussed during multiple sessions. As we are reinventing education in the 21st century we must redefine rigor and relevance by creating educational experiences that are academically and cognitively challenging, but also appropriate for the 21st century. Throughout many sessions I kept thinking about my own classroom and how I taught things like DNA transcription and translation at the expense of actual inquiry-based science experiments. I did this because the California 7th grade science standards require that I teach this concept, yet I know that many students are not cognitively ready for such an abstract idea. Throughout these lessons many of my students were memorizing facts to regurgitate on the next chapter test, while at the same time building few critical thinking skills. Meanwhile since hands-on, inquiry-based experiments were not covered on the test I usually eliminated those activities due to a lack of time. Reflecting on these decisions I am slightly horrified, but I also know I am not alone. We must rethink what and how we are teaching our students and give teachers the freedom to move beyond fact-based memorization and instruction. This is why writing workshop, academic discourse, and 21st century skills/competencies excites me. Finally I feel like we’re moving in a direction where teachers can help our students grow into 21st century citizens. We need to stay the path and help more teachers implement these teaching strategies. While we have focused on literacy this year, we need to look at the subject areas we are not currently servicing. Specifically, I am thinking about inquiry-based science and mathematics and project-based learning.