Growing Teachers for Today’s Schools

By Rebecca R. Garte and Cara Kronen

Dr. Garte is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education. Her grant-funded research uses observational and mixed methods to understand the factors that contribute to cognitive and social–emotional outcomes for young children through late adolescence. She has also partnered with NYC public schools to create professional development interventions designed to investigate teachers’ professional identities and practice from pre-service to in-service.

Dr. Kronen is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education and Coordinator of Secondary Education Programs at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Her research areas include urban education, social foundations of education, and the art of teaching and learning. Her current projects focus on increasing the number of non-traditional pre-service teachers and supporting them through full certification attainment and early career. 

This month’s authors from the current Educational Forum wrote the article, “From the Margins of the Classroom to Mattering: How Community College Education Students Develop Future Teacher Identities.” It is available free for the month of May here.

Like the two of us, the overwhelming majority of teachers in the U.S. are middle-class, white women. As the demographics of the United States become increasingly diverse, children from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian racial groups must see themselves reflected in their classroom teachers. The key to increasing teachers of color with the cultural competence to relate to the growing majority of minority public-school students may begin with supporting community-college education students.

Community-college students majoring in education are more likely to be from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and from lower income families, than pre-service teachers enrolled in 4-year colleges and universities. Unfortunately, many of these students do not persist in the teacher career track all the way until certification. This may be due to inadequate preparation for college, but a more significant barrier may be a negative experience with early fieldwork. Most teacher-education faculty are white, and therefore often select practicum classrooms where the teachers, administrators, and even the children are predominantly white. Although these school settings may showcase model pedagogy, the lack of diversity often conveys to community college students that they do not belong in the field. When Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) feel out of place—or worse, experience biases and micro-aggressions during early fieldwork—they may be less likely to develop a sense of themselves as a future teacher.

Our article explores future-teacher identity development among 60 community-college, early childhood education majors during their last semester fieldwork course. This course was designed to support their transfer to 4-year schools of education. We conducted an experiment to see whether the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the classroom and the students’ role during fieldwork would impact their future-teacher identity. Half of our students (randomly assigned) interned in a Title 1 public school, where BIPOC children and teachers were predominate. In addition, these students created action research projects in consultation with their cooperating teachers and with support from us­: their professors. The other half of the students attended the schools typically used by our colleagues. These schools were located within the same affluent neighborhood as our community college, serving predominantly affluent white families, and staffed by predominantly white teachers and administrators. Instead of the action research projects, these students created the traditional activity plans for the course.

We found striking differences in indicators of future-teacher identity between the two groups of pre-service teachers. The experimental group showed much higher degrees of critical self-reflection regarding planning for teaching than the traditional students, and they were rated as much more integrated into the classroom by their cooperating teachers. In addition, the experimental students described themselves in terms of feeling connected and committed to the teaching profession. It seems that for students who are the first in their family to attend college, seeing themselves in the role of a professional requires a major shift in their identity. To cultivate the teacher force that the diverse children in America’s public schools need, we must necessarily look more deeply at how future-teacher identity is formed. We particularly need to consider the role of community-college teacher preparation programs and how they can better support non-traditional students entering the field. We recognize that the socio–cultural environments of classrooms impact children’s feelings of belonging. Teacher educators need to consider how the socio–cultural contexts of fieldwork classrooms impact pre-service teachers’ perception of whether they belong in the field of education.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center is here to help students understand how vaccines work!

By Alexa Mogck, Professional Services Program Assistant, Smithsonian Science Education Center

As people are making decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine, different situations and concerns are unique to each community. The Smithsonian’s Vaccines & US initiative is dedicated to supporting communities and individuals through these decisions. The Smithsonian Science Education Center is supporting educators and young people to engage in conversations about these concerns. Through the “Vaccines! How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines?” community response guide, young people learn about the concerns of their community in order to communicate accurate, helpful, and trusted information about vaccines. By engaging with this guide, young people support their communities to make informed and safe decisions.

Utilizing a transdisciplinary approach to learning, the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project’s newest community response guide, “Vaccines!” features 8 tasks that incorporate investigations and hands-on science to help students discover, understand, and take action. Students learn about the science of vaccines throughout history; understand the science of how vaccines work; learn about how vaccines are developed; examine issues of equity, access, and misinformation; and develop an action plan for addressing vaccine concerns in their communities. 

“Vaccines! How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines?” will be released to the public in English on May 1st, and in Spanish at the end of May. Please join us for webinars on May 5 and May 13 to support educators to use this content with their students.

To learn more and register for these webinars visit: https://ssec.si.edu/event/vaccines.

Selfishness vs. Selflessness

By Betty Coneway and Janet Hindman

We read about self-care in many places and hear about it from friends and family. But have you ever invested the time to actually learn about it? What about a book club full of other educators all at different levels in their careers?

Well, that is exactly what the Iota Theta Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi did. We chose the Kappa Delta Pi publication, The ABC’s of Wellness for Teachers: An A-Z Guide to Improving Your Well-Being in the Classroom and Out, by Teena Ruark Garrow and Susan Marie Muller (2008). Our officers hosted a virtual book club over the course of four meetings. During each 45-minute Zoom session, the attendees discussed about 20 pages of the book. Our book club included individuals from the PACE program (alternative certification), clinical teachers, a graduate candidate who currently serves as a special education director, and a few undergraduate candidates in their last semesters of the traditional education bachelor’s degree. The variety of people who attended the meeting was refreshing, because we were all able to share ideas from different perspectives and learn from each other.

The cover of the book explains that it would contain hints and tips on self-improvement, classroom ideas, and also some much-needed stress breakers. This book touches on many challenges faced in the first years of teaching. Members of the book club believed the ideas in the book were something they would be able to look back on when experiencing stressful times.

There is a self-assessment at the back of the book that addresses the dimensions of wellness: emotional health, intellectual health, occupational health, physical health, social health, and spiritual health. The important message of leading a balanced life is reiterated throughout the book. As the book club members discussed their personal reflections about their overall health, we each realized that we were not alone in finding ourselves unbalanced.  We all know there are many resources available to address personal wellness, but the book club allowed time and space for the participants to look at their lives, share their thoughts and personal experiences, and make connections with other individuals with similar interests.

Through this process, we realized that we need to hold each other accountable for self-care. By attending this virtual book club, we found accountability partners and friends in people who we would never have met without Kappa Delta Pi.  We urge readers to consider what they’re doing to take care of themselves and lead a more balanced life. From this experience, we would encourage you to select a book and get a group together to discuss it. You won’t regret it!

Reference

Gorrow, T. R., Muller, W. M. & Kappa Delta Pi (2008).  The ABC’s of Wellness for Teachers: An A-Z Guide to Improving Your Well-Being in the Classroom and Out.

5 Strategies to Use Assessment Purposefully

By Ruthmae Sears and Caree Pinder

In the 2020-2021 school year, many schools moved to remote instruction. It posed challenges and was also a catalyst for new possibilities. It disrupted face-to-face instruction and increased the demands for synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Nevertheless, it created and expanded opportunities for teachers to reflect on creative means to formatively assess students, while also being aware of the constraints students may have.

Students may vary in their abilities to access the internet and other resources, and on their abilities to make vertical or horizontal progression through the curriculum. To provide an equitable learning experience for students during this pandemic, assessments had to be purposefully used to move students’ learning forward. We found the following five strategies effective in ensuring that assessments move the learning forward. Make your assessments….

Familiar: Ensure that you are familiar with your students’ interests, backgrounds, and culture. Develop tasks that they can connect to their everyday lives. In doing so, exhibit culturally responsive teaching. 

Flexible: Give students options to communicate what they learned via a video, a poem, a song, or creating games such as an escape room. Posing assignments that students can complete outside of class can increase opportunities for students to take ownership and gain autonomy in their learning. It can also motivate them to exhibit creativity and critical thinking skills. 

Fair: Establish clear expectations and use detailed rubrics that describe the criteria of what you will be evaluating. Additionally, be aware of implicit bias and unproductive beliefs that may impact how you evaluate students.

Feedback: Providing a score alone is not sufficient to move the learning forward. Instead, seek to provide a strong formative assessment, giving students feedback on the accuracy of their responses and specific items they need to address to improve the overall quality of their work. Give them personal comments or notes often, highlighting the strengths of their work and suggestions for improvement.

Forgiving: Students make mistakes. Failure is part of the learning process. Motivate your students to exhibit cognitive rigor, even if they may experience some degree of difficulty. Additionally, utilize positive affirmation to enhance their self-confidence and develop their identities as they explore new terrain. Therefore, exhibit affective domains of learning to promote student success.

Assessment is more than testing, and you should employ it throughout instruction to facilitate students’ learning. You can use formative assessment to orchestrate rich classroom discussions, clarify learning outcomes, promote critical thinking skills, and provide feedback that can support students’ learning and move their learning forward (Wiliam & Leahy, 2016). 

Reference

Wiliam, D., & Leahy, S. (2016). Embedding formative assessment. Hawker Brownlow Education.

Dr. Sears is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida for mathematics education, and KDP advisor. Her research focuses on curriculum issues, reasoning and proof, clinical experiences in secondary mathematics, and the integration of technology in mathematics.

Ms. Pinder is a doctoral student and teaching assistant in mathematics education at the University of South Florida, and the KDP chapter treasurer. Her research interest focuses on technology in mathematics, developmental mathematics courses, and equity in mathematics.

Fostering Critical Thinkers and Innovators Who Will Create a Sustainable World

By Lucijan Jovic and Matteo Itri

Education is an integral component of students’ lives and it is rooted in instilling the respective skills needed to read proficiently, think critically, and write with clarity, all of which are essential with today’s complex and rigorous academic standards. Learners begin to develop literacy through their experiences and paying attention to their surroundings. Students begin to acquire academic and cultural awareness through their educators’ instructional approaches. Reading and writing proficiently are two skills that not only prepare students for their years in academia, but in the workforce that follows.

KDP and the United Nations

Being a student at Molloy College and a member of the student government association, Lucijan has “acquired the specific knowledge, attitude, [and] skills [which mediated] the sources of [his] cultural identity” (Cushner, et al, 2006, p.53). Molloy College has taught him to become resilient, never give up, and continue to work hard to become successful. Although any institution can focus on these, Molloy does so through the development of a community. Regardless of one’s position at the college, all are clearly committed to the value system of creating a welcoming and respectable environment where everyone can share their opinions and acquire academic/cultural discourse together. Using a sense of community as a socializing agent in the classroom, Lucijan will work to mold his future students into community builders who value the various backgrounds that exist in the class. Through this, students will gain a skill that is essential in academia and the workforce, collaboration.

As a United Nations Representative, Vice-President for Kappa Delta Pi (Molloy’s Chapter), and former Academic Chair of the Molloy Student Government Association, Lucijan serves as the liaison between students and faculty and works to not only promote awareness of various academic disciplines, but to lead a team in addressing academic concerns that arise. These major leadership roles have shaped Lucijan into the leader he is today through the socialization or “social patterns of behaviors” he executes on a daily basis (Cushner, et al, 2006, p.55). Even though most of his time is spent with upset or frustrated students, he makes it a priority to actively listen to students and faculty and work with them to arrive at possible solutions. He communicates with educators, professors, students, and other members of the learning community on a weekly basis.

The United Nations has designed 17 sustainable development goals to create a more realistic future for communities. College students must make themselves familiar with and implement these goals, because they will have an impact on society for the generations to come. The knowledge and skills acquired at colleges and universities combined with the sustainable development goals set forth by the UN will foster civically engaged individuals who will make their communities more sustainable. Through these collaborative exchanges of discourse, Lucijan has broadened his teaching/learning horizon, which has fueled his drive to best meet the needs of students and foster critical thinkers.

Adapting a Growth Mindset Is One Approach

Encouraging students to adopt a growth mindset will not only be invaluable to their success as students, but as individuals beyond the classroom who understand that struggle and adversity are the foundation of success in all areas of life. Dweck (2006), articulates that a fixed mindset is the belief that we cannot improve upon our basic abilities and talents and are limited to these fixed traits. However, a growth mindset is the belief that we can improve our basic abilities and talents through persistent effort and dedication to our craft.

As educators, our job is to not only provide students with the highest quality of instruction, but to also give them the necessary tools to be successful beyond academia. We can use several pedagogical approaches in our classrooms to promote a growth mindset, and it all starts with teaching students how the brain works. Teaching students about the concept of neuroplasticity, how our brains form new neurons when we learn new concepts, will help them become actively engaged in the learning process (Robinson, 2017). When we are introducing a new concept to our students, we demonstrate the intent to them, so they’ll buy into our pedagogical approaches. We can help our students adapt a growth mindset by utilizing strategies such as retrieval study methods, normalizing mistakes and failures, using positive reinforcement when giving feedback to students, and encouraging students to set goals for themselves (Robinson, 2017).

Additionally, demonstrating to students the major difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is crucial to instilling this concept in our students. Those who develop a growth mindset believe that we have the power and ability to reach any goal. Dweck (2006), explains that children need honest, constructive feedback to truly grow from moments of adversity and struggle. We must challenge our students to reflect on the mindsets that they adapt, teach them that growth is a never-ending process that gives us the necessary tools to succeed. Through this approach, we are fostering independent individuals who will create a more sustainable world.

References

Cushner, K., McClelland, A., & Safford, P. (2006). Human diversity in education. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Culture and the Culture-Learning Process. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. Robinson, C. (2017). Growth mindset in the classroom. Science Scope, 41(2), 18-21. https://molloy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.molloy.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-j ournals/growth-mindset-classroom/docview/1942178538/se-2?accountid=28076

Lucijan Jovic is a Graduate student in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College. He currently serves as the Vice-President for Molloy’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter and is a Representative to the United Nations in NYC. In addition, he served as the Academic Chair of Molloy Student Government for three years, Head Orientation Leader, Student Ambassador, Peer Mentor, sits on several committees, works as a Graduate Assistant, and is also an Intern for the Department of Special Education.

Matteo Itri is also a Graduate student in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College. Aside from teaching, Matteo is the captain of the Molloy College Cross Country/Track and Field programs, Student Ambassador, Social Media Ambassador, Orientation Leader, served as a Resident Assistant, and Executive member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.

What Do We Mean by “Quality Education”?

By Francisco Esteban Bara and Juan Luis Fuentes

This month’s post from the current Educational Forum is by the authors of the article, “Swimming Against the Tide in Current Educational Practice: Thoughts and Proposals from a Communitarian Perspective.” It is available for free through the month of April.

Francisco Esteban Bara is an associate professor in philosophy of education in the Department of Theory and History of Education, Faculty of Pedagogy at Universitat de Barcelona (Spain). His research focuses on values education and ethics in the university.

Juan Luis Fuentes is an associate professor in theory of education in the Department of Educational Studies at Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). His research is centered on character education, intercultural education, and the use of ICTs in the educational sphere.

A casual conversation with parents of school-age children reveals several common themes. As parents, of course they tend to be very concerned about the well-being of their children. But this concern can be channelled very differently. In the welfare state typical of Western societies, where basic rights are guaranteed for most of the population, the focus has been on the quality of such rights. Establishing the standards for a quality education is an honest and reasonable concern for responsible parents, but a key question arises: What do we mean by educational quality?

A “quality education” is superficially understood to be innovative, changing, and dynamic, capable of adapting to society and the challenges it poses. Other times, the answer to that question is more simplistic: education quality is held up against so-called “traditional education,” something supposedly unacceptable in the 21st century—an outdated model, with outdated methods, old teachers, and schools that are not “current.”

According to this perspective, a “quality” school will be an alternative—a modern, high-tech, cutting-edge school—empathetic, flexible, and focused on the hottest topics. This new school is receptive to everything parents or school boards propose, even at the risk of forgetting that it is a school, where change is not impossible, but where the importance of its role in the community means that changes cannot be made lightly, without understanding what they mean for one of society’s most fundamental institutions.

Certainly quality, in all facets of life and of course in education, implies reflection and renewal, but the second cannot happen without the first. Nevertheless, sometimes defending this prudent idea is seen as swimming against the tide of educators at different levels, political actors, and parents, who seek the best for their children.

In our article, we raise some questions about what should be considered “useful,” and whether the school should only teach subjects that can be identified as useful and profitable. This means ignoring things that are apparently “useless,” yet are actually worth a great deal. Indeed, education is not solely concerned with the teaching and learning of certain subjects, skills, competencies, and the like. It is also concerned with how teaching and learning that educates others and oneself is unique to the human condition.

We cannot forget that the accumulation of information, methodologies, and resources may not be enough if we lack a sense of direction or orientation. Educational practice is not an assembly line of workers and citizens, nor a car wash from which one emerges gleaming bright. Education is a transformative process from which one should emerge different—changed—from the way we went in. Educational practice is a truly human and humanising process, a veritable ethical event. It is more than taking on the role of student or teacher; it means understanding that learning and teaching are a way of life.

However, certain tendencies distort the overall purpose of educational practice, and undermine this transformative power. Among other tendencies, we identify three: the obsession with adapting educational practice to some subjective reality; the excessive prominence of one of the three educational actors; and, finally, the belief that educational practice is something in which everyone should have a say and a choice.

Education certainly concerns us all, as human beings, but we can’t rely on a superficial analysis of what a quality education is, excessively utilitarian or abandoned to the loudest political voices. Educators and parents cannot afford to stand by; the stakes are too high.

Building Positive Behaviors Through Social-Emotional Learning

By Rashmi Khazanchi

Today’s blogger is Rashmi Khazanchi, who was the lead author on the article “Incorporating Social–Emotional Learning to Build Positive Behaviors” (coauthored by Pankaj Khazanchi, Vinita Mehta, and Neetu Tuli), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of April.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many sectors, including education. Suddenly, students across the globe were required to adapt to online/remote learning, which came with many challenges. Many students struggled with limited or lack of adequate space, technology, Internet connectivity, and resources. Families struggled to provide a quiet environment conducive to learning and devices for every child in the house—or to decide who gets the devices when children are at different grade levels. Safety concerns, social distancing, isolation, and loneliness posed a serious concern to the health and well-being of the students, families, teachers, and stakeholders. The feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity caused anxiety, nervousness, and distress among everyone facing the pandemic. Students and their families were challenged emotionally by the loss of family members, relatives, or friends. The biggest challenge from this abrupt transition to online learning for students was that they had to engage and maintain their concentration when learning, despite facing various challenges and feeling strong emotions such as anxiety and loneliness. In these times, it is vital to learn the skills of managing emotions and social interactions to maintain everyone’s safety and well-being.

In writing the article “Incorporating Social-Emotional Learning to Build Positive Behavior,” which was featured in the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three coauthors who provided great insight into how social–emotional learning is being implemented in India and the United States. We discussed the five types of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These SEL skills include learning to be aware of emotions, managing emotions, understanding things from other perspectives, maintaining positive interactions, and making informed decisions (CASEL, 2020). The article also highlights practical examples that teachers and parents can implement to build and maintain positive behaviors through the SEL activities and strategies described. One of the authors is the Director of Mom’s Belief Vatsalya Special School in India. Ms. Tuli eloquently described how she implements SEL activities for students with disabilities, who often express their emotions through negative behaviors. Students of Mom’s Belief Vatsalya do daily yoga, among other SEL activities, to balance their emotions.

The article examines why SEL skills are necessary and what challenges teachers face in implementing SEL. Teachers and parents play important roles in implementing and promoting SEL skills in the classroom and the home environment. Teachers need to demonstrate responsible behaviors, show genuine interest in students’ learning, establish positive social norms, teach self-reflection, and consistently reinforce positive behaviors. Parents can support their children at home by displaying positive behaviors and promoting SEL skills by reading stories with moral values, collaborating with their teachers to reinforce SEL lessons/activities taught at school, and building positive behaviors.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2020). CASEL’s SEL framework.
https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CASEL-SEL-Framework-10.2020-1.pdf

10 Tips for Studying Smarter, Not Harder

By William Koenecke

Dr. William H. Koenecke has been a high-school chemistry teacher; a grade-school, middle-school, and high-school principal; a school superintendent; and has taught at three universities. He is the author of Write Well Right Now: A Handbook on English Grammar, Punctuation, and Writing and Study Smarter, Not Harder: Over 77 Ways to Improve Your Study Skills in Just Minutes a Day, to be published in May 2021.

Do you seem to spend all your time studying and working on assignments, yet still struggle with test scores and turning assignments in on time? These 10 tips can help you maximize the effectiveness of your study time without increasing its duration.

  1. Space your study time out over several days prior to exams or due dates. Limit your total study time to a maximum of 2 to 3 hours a day. Divide the 2 to 3 hours into 30-minute sessions with a 5-minute break between sessions. Studies show that people tend to learn the first and last things during the 30-minute study session and do not learn or tend to forget the information in between.
  2. Practice, practice, and more practice. Musicians, athletes, and many other successful people practice their craft. One of my organic-chemistry professors studied two hours for each hour of lecture he gave to our class. A successful writer I know has written and published 50 paperbacks and more than 400 journal articles during his 40-year career. He told me he revised his draft copy 10 times and then had a copyeditor edit it before he submitted it for publication. I asked him if he still revises his work 10 times today. He replied, “No, now I just revise it three times, but I always have a copyeditor read it before I submit it for publication.”
  3. Do not just re-read books and your notes. Learn to understand the most important items you will be tested on. Only re-read confusing information and concepts. Do not study what you already know unless you need to review.
  4. Test yourself. Use flash or note cards to learn and recall the key information. Put the definitions of key concepts in your own words. (You will remember it better than memorizing a complex definition.) Create your own practice tests using your lecture notes, handouts, textbook, and tests on the internet. Form a study group with fellow classmates to teach and test each other. These activities are called retrieval practice techniques.
  5. Mistakes are okay—if you learn from them! Check your incorrect answers and determine why they were wrong. Look at sample problems in your textbook and lecture notes to see why your answers were not correct. Make an appointment with your teacher/instructor during office hours. Look on the internet for sample problems like the ones you missed. And do not forget to ask your study group. Sometimes, students can learn better from one another.
  6. Mix up your self-testing. This is called interleaving, and it is when you drill yourself on different concepts of multiple subjects/topics.
  7. Use pictures, diagrams, and graphs—especially those in your textbook and handouts. These can be extremely helpful to visual learners.
  8. Find examples of important concepts in your lectures and textbooks. Compare difficult concepts that are hard to understand to concrete examples or concepts you already know. Always use your own words when you write down a new concept or take lecture notes. Use the internet and other books to see different explanations of the same concept or topic. If you still do not understand, make a list of these concepts, and see your teacher during office hours.
  9. Plan and stick to it. “If you fail to make a plan, you are planning to fail.” Use a paper calendar or your smartphone calendar to write down important dates for exams, assignments, and so on. (Most of the time these dates are in your class syllabus.) Start doing assignments and studying for exams a week to 10 days before they are due. Again, work (study) 30 minutes with a 5-minute break for a maximum of 3 hours per day. Cramming all night before a test seldom works for most people. You’ll retain the information for ONLY a short period of time, if at all.
  10. Dig deeper! You may have heard of the Socratic method of teaching. It is often used in medical and legal education to help students learn difficult concepts. It involves three steps: 1) Give a definition or opinion. 2) Ask a question that raises an exception to that definition or opinion. 3) Give a better definition or opinion. I suggest that students should become the questioner and ask lots of “why” and “how” questions. “Why are things a certain way?” “Why do these things matter?” “How did they occur?” This process is called elaboration.

These and many other topics are discussed in more detail in my book. One size does not fit all in studying. If you’re happy with your study techniques, why throw out the baby with the bath water? However, you might want to try new things to see if you can improve your study skills. If you’re not having academic success, or you want to achieve better grades, then try a few ideas in my book and if they do not work out, try a few different ones in the book! You may find out that you can study smarter, not harder, and have time left over for other things.

Bringing the 21st Century to an Academy in Ghana

By Brittney Caldwell

Brittney Caldwell is a high school social studies teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her EdD in Curriculum and Education. Brittney has spent her career advocating for teachers and students. Brittney is passionate about Social Studies being taught through culturally relevant, inclusive, and authentic strategies. She spends her summers traveling and observing school cultures in various countries. Her ultimate goal is to develop a program that allows her to bring other teachers along. She is currently serving KDP on the national level as a member of the Knowledge Development Advisory Council. 

As a public-school teacher at a Title I school in inner-city Atlanta, I am accustomed to complaining about the resources that I do not have.

I have complained to my administration and academic coaches about the lack of software that would assist me in raising test scores, or the old textbooks that were not updated with content required in the standards/objectives. I look at my old-fashioned desk with disdain sometimes, when I compare my classroom to the 21st-century learning environments that I see on Pinterest and Instagram. I even had the nerve to get upset that my county was not yet 1:1, and we had to share a Chromebook cart with my entire department if the computer lab was booked for the day.

As a teacher, I could sometimes only focus on the resources that I was lacking. Poor American public-school teacher, spending her own money on classroom supplies and only being handed the bare minimum. This attitude completely changed once I visited Press On Academy in Accra, Ghana.

I did not arrive in Accra with the intention of coming across this local community school. My boyfriend’s aunt had passed away abruptly, and we flew to Accra. We made plans to stay for the month and, since I was working remotely, it was not a problem. I passed Press On Academy several times. I finally decided to try my luck and visit the school in hopes of a tour. Being a U.S. history teacher to a 99 percent African American school population, I was genuinely curious and wanted to speak with the local social-studies teachers about African history.

Ghanaian public schools are overcrowded, severely underfunded, and full of poverty-stricken students. The economy in Ghana has created a very wide gap between the rich and the poor, leaving a small middle-class population. Most middle-class families cannot afford private schools, but do not wish to send their students to public schools. Press On Academy is technically a private school, but the tuition and resources are much lower because the parents consist of middle-class workers (welders, maids, and merchants) who pay tuition with hard-earned money. The school does not receive money from the government, and solely relies on tuition to pay for all school expenses, including teacher salaries.

The headmaster of Press On Academy opened the school up to me immediately, welcoming me and offering me a tour. He was excited to hear that I was a teacher from America. Visiting the grounds was hard for me and I had to hold back tears.

The children were sharing used workbooks. Several of the desks in the classrooms had nails sticking out or were barely holding together. The teacher’s chair was falling apart as well. They were using chalkboards. There was no air conditioning. There were no textbooks, computers, or even anchor charts on the wall. There was no pencil sharpener.

I hid my feelings well, continuing to smile back at everyone who was smiling at me. The students were so happy and friendly. The teachers were very welcoming. The teachers urged students to go up to the chalkboard and show me the work that they had been learning. First graders were doing three-digit multiplication problems and breaking down fractions! Many of the students were very advanced and excited about learning. The teachers had taught the students so many skills with so few supplies. They were ahead of my own first grader, Brason. My heart automatically called me to help.

I spent the next month, December 2020, in Ghana crowdfunding for Press On Academy. I ultimately raised $4,500 and built a computer lab for the school. I took a vacant room in the corner of the building and dedicated my time to perfecting it. The room needed new flooring, electrical outlets, windows installation, door installation and a paint job. I was able to afford four computers and a projector, computer tables and group tables for students to use when viewing the projector. I also dedicated funds to repainting two classrooms and replacing their chalkboards with dry-erase boards. The children were so grateful and excited when the room was revealed. It was the best feeling in the world.

The teachers were very thankful as well. We all spoke about how teaching is really universal. We all face the same issues on different scales. They have fewer behavioral issues than I, but could relate to distractions in the classroom and lack of resources. In Ghana, teachers are expected to live below middle class and be content. Anyone choosing to be a teacher is dedicating their life to struggle and accepting the Lord’s blessing in return. The headmaster described it as “hand to mouth” living, and told me that teachers would never be able to own a home in Ghana. It was neither realistic nor expected.

I recorded the entire visit and renovation process for my Instagram, Caldwell’s Classroom. Teachers all over the world watched and supported me as I invested my time and energy into helping Press On Academy. Many of them donated to my crowdfunding, and in exchange I sent handwritten letters from the students. So many teachers asked how they could help or be a part of the process. Because of this, I planned a trip for July 2021 to return to Press On Academy and continue raising funds. My goal is to assist them in reaching full completion of the school and connect them to our global education network.

The school is rich in pedagogy and the teachers are talented. They have so much talent, and practices that they could share with the world, but need help connecting and entering 21st-century learning. I am continuing to raise funds for the school and sending supplies as donations are received. I and a group of five teachers, two of them Kappa Delta Pi members as well, are visiting Ghana for a week in July. I am hoping to make this an annual trip and increase participation every year.

We teachers have to take care of each other, and I will be very careful not to complain as often as I do. As a teacher in America, I already have privilege that I am not always aware of. Many teachers worldwide are making do with much less and are perfectly successful.

If you feel compelled to donate or send supplies, please visit www.brittneycaldwell.com or follow my Instagram, @CaldwellsClassroom. Here is the link to my GoFundMe.

What Do Equity and Equality Mean in a Pandemic?

By Emily Hodge

The author contributed a related article to The Educational Forum, Volume 85, Issue 1, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” which is currently available for free online here.


Dr. Emily M. Hodge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at The Pennsylvania State University. Her work uses qualitative methods as well as social-network analysis to understand the changing nature of strategies for educational equity. Recent projects have explored how educational systems, schools, and teachers negotiate the tension between standardization and differentiation in the context of the Common Core State Standards, and the varied strategies state education agencies are using to support standards implementation.

While scrolling on your social-media feeds, you may have seen the side-by-side images of three children behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game with captions about equity and equality. This image represented “equality” as providing the same amount of the same resource to children of three different heights: a box of the same size for each child to stand on, resulting in only two of them being able to see over the fence. In contrast, the figure depicted “equity” as providing each child with a box of a different size, so that each was able to see the baseball game. Many viewed this image as illustrating the limitations of treating groups in the same way, arguing that groups need varying amounts of resources to achieve similar outcomes. Many have also adapted and critiqued this image, as summarized in the link above, arguing that the children’s different heights implied that inequalities were problematically located within the children themselves, signaling a deficit view. Others changed the height of the fence to signal disproportionate degrees of oppression different communities face, or removed the fence entirely to signal liberation.

My recent article in The Educational Forum, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” invoked similar tensions about the nature of equity and equality in children’s educational opportunities. This article is based on a research study of the messages about equity and equality in professional development (PD) that a large, metropolitan district planned for its secondary literacy teachers around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Much of the district PD emphasized a general rationale for the CCSS as a means of improving college readiness, but it sometimes referred to the CCSS as necessitating treating students the same way. For example, a goal of PD session on text complexity was for participants to “understand the importance of providing access to all learners, regardless of ability, to complex texts and rich instruction aligned to them.” Later, the presentation specifically referred to English learners as a group that “districts must take steps to ensure…are exposed to and taught complex texts.” Another prominent idea in PD was that text-dependent questions are more equitable to ask students because they do not draw on varying degrees of background knowledge that students may have on a topic.

Both ideas—using text-dependent questions and complex text with “all learners”—are similar to the conception of “equality” in the image described, providing the same amount of a resource to different groups of students, especially students who may not have typically received that resource.

Similar to the critiques of the equality vs. equity graphic, this definition of the CCSS as improving students’ educational experiences has many limitations. First, are complex text and text-dependent questions a resource, as we might normally consider school funding or a skilled teacher? Second, should we expect greater similarity in outcomes if the primary message in these materials is simply equal treatment, rather than providing additional resources to those who have had fewer resources in the past? Further, neither of these more limited forms of equity directly address the racialized structures and systems of oppression creating differing opportunities in access to every major societal institution in the first place.

Thinking about our current context, certain aspects of “equality,” in the sense of providing the same amount of a resource to all students, seem like the bare minimum, such as making sure that every student has a device and internet access to make learning possible. Other aspects of equity (providing more resources to those who need it) seem important: more funding to schools with greater needs or facilities upgrades prioritizing older school buildings.

The new Biden administration’s approach to reopening schools focuses on providing more financial resources, which should be distributed to provide more money to districts with greater needs. Resource distribution reflects values and priorities, but the critiques of the equality vs. equity image apply here as well. White people in particular need to be careful that we are not making assumptions about the needs and resources within particular communities, or making decisions based on deficit-based views. Further, interlocking systems of oppression reinforce each other, shaping how students and teachers interact with each other in schools and how resources are allocated—making the “fence” between the children and the ballgame higher and stronger, rather than breaking it down. Resource allocation does not solve the problem of the fence, but it is the primary policy tool the federal government has to offer to state and local levels. If this is the case, how else might we remove the fence or make it shorter?