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quality is held up against so-called “traditional education,” something supposedly unacceptable in the 21st century—an outdated model, with outdated methods, old teachers, and schools that are not “current.”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

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.

Education Activism in a New Era: Where Does Opt Out Go from Here?

The article, “Education Activism in the Trump-DeVos Era: Opt Out Florida’s Leaders Respond to the 2016 Election,” appears in the January-March issue of The Educational Forum. It is available for free in March here.

Stephanie Schroeder is an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at the Pennsylvania State University where she teaches courses in elementary social studies methods, civic engagement, and democratic education. Her research interests center on the teaching and learning of civic and professional agency.

On January 7, 2021, former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos resigned her position, citing her disdain for the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. For many, the resignation was welcome, if not long overdue. A month later, as hearings begin for a new Secretary of Education under a new presidential administration, one wonders what changes to education policy might be on the horizon. Following a year in which intersecting political, social, and public health crises have laid bare the vast systemic racial and economic disparities in the United States, what can a new presidential administration do to promote educational equity? And how might education activists respond to a self-proclaimed teacher-friendly Biden-Harris administration?

Our article in the latest issue of The Educational Forum looks back to the 2016 election to see how one group of education activists—the Opt Out Florida Network—responded to a changing presidential administration. As part of the larger Opt Out Movement, a nationwide effort to reject high-stakes testing and resist school privatization, the Opt Out Florida Network supports parents and teachers through dozens of Facebook groups throughout the state of Florida. We began formal research with the Florida network after the 2015 testing season, when opting out reached its zenith. It was the year nearly 20 percent of New York State students opted out and, notably, smack in the midst of the Obama presidency.

By 2017, when we conducted the research presented in our article, it felt like we had entered into a new world. Trump had won the 2016 election, Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of school privatization, had been confirmed as Secretary of Education, and the country’s left wing seemed poised for a new protest or march at every turn. We wondered how these national changes would impact a social movement focused on education, a facet of American society and policy-making controlled primarily at the local level. Somewhat predictably, the leaders of Opt Out Florida believed the presidential election in and of itself had no impact on their movement: Democrats and Republicans alike had created the problem of high-stakes testing and school privatization, so a Republican in office would be more of the same. Yet, the spirit of protest that Trump’s win inspired led them to rethink their messaging, encouraging them to refocus opting out on the larger mission of promoting democracy and social justice in public schools.

Four years later, what can education activists learn from the way the Opt Out Florida Network responded to a changing presidential administration and shifting national mood in 2016? Identifying a clear and compelling message that speaks to the ever-changing political and social context of schooling is a good first lesson. Perhaps, too, activists today might take note as to how Opt Out Florida sought to ride the wave of post-election protest and consider how the cancellation of high-stakes testing in 2020 might be a useful jumping-off point for future messaging efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it new challenges as well, and demands that teachers, unions, and other education activists shift their focus to more elemental needs: safe school reopening and teacher vaccinations. With lives hanging in the balance, there is hope that a new presidential administration brings with it a desire to listen to activists and work with states to promote the welfare and equity students and teachers deserve.

The Pandemic Has Shown Us What Must Change


Today’s blogger is Dr. Megan P. Brock, a Lecturer and Academic Coach in the Division of Academic Enhancement at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

The pandemic has changed our lives forever. And I am glad about it.

I remember my last day of “normal.” We were having a faculty meeting in our building, which overlooks the quad where students, faculty, and staff are often seen meeting for a little sunlight, with lunch, frisbee throwing, and more. The sun shines over the football stadium and into the room. A cracked window in the spring and summer offers a light breeze and a good waft of pollen. If the walls could talk, they would tell tales of rich discourse on supplemental success initiatives, supporting our emerging scholars. They would share the moments when we agreed to simply disagree, and tell of so many poorly delivered jokes.

On this day, the director of our unit shared updates on the protocol for maintaining sanitary standards—a bit odd for a faculty meeting. However, the coronavirus had successfully taken over the headlines and made its way onto our agenda. Hand-sanitizer dispensers appeared at multiple points on every level of our building. A colleague emphasized the severity of the coronavirus disease—they’d been personally witnessing a family member’s battle.

We left the conference room having no idea what would occur over the weekend. We were mandated to quarantine in our homes under the assumption that restrictions would be temporary and we’d be back to “normal” by summer. However, after months of empty tissue aisles, rumors of Lysol re-stocks, hit-or-miss homemade meals, coaching students (and their parents) through remote learning, a civil insurrection, and more, the global pandemic persists.

I liken this experience to a sifting of humanity.

Now, as a baker (pre-pandemic, when flour was readily available and everyone wasn’t at home making sourdough), I sift my flour to remove lumps and catch unwanted debris (such as husks or seeds). The debris that remains in the sieve gets thrown out; it hinders the baking process and compromises the final product. Sifted flour helps me to get more accurate measurements so that I have consistent, tender cakes and biscuits.

As the pandemic sifts the nation, great things remain. Dedicated educators, passionate first responders, and brilliant scholars are just a few of those for whom we’ve developed a deeper appreciation. But systemic barriers remain as the debris in America is sifted and separated by this pandemic; barriers that have plagued educators for too many generations remain inhibitors of effective teaching.

Food insecurity, a major barrier for young learners in high-poverty areas, prompted the buses to continue running, with boxed lunches replacing the students in the seats. Inequalities in technology led major companies to offer low-cost internet service, while many students had to complete coursework in the parking lots of closed restaurants with free Wi-Fi. Students who are victims of abuse were suddenly required to spend more time in toxic homes. Standardized measures could not ethically capture any learning at any level.

For years, teachers have advocated for education reform. They witness the child who sleeps in class because they go along on the nightshift with a parent who can’t afford childcare. They witness children saving lunches to share with their siblings for dinner. During recess, they help students complete the online homework they can’t do at home due to a lack of internet access. They love on the quiet, battered child and get them to safety, security, stability. They tutor students for free to help them advance to the next grade. Teachers have first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing the children who will become the leaders of tomorrow.

Some parts of society have been stunned by these new revelations of the domestic and economic challenges that today’s youth face, but the educators’ experience has been validated.

Now, change can happen. Change must happen—or, I argue, we will have to acknowledge that we are complicit in allowing these systemic inequalities, and willfully extinguishing the spark that is the potential of underserved students of America.

When we can return to that conference room for the first post-pandemic, in-person faculty meeting, we will likely still be cautious and sit far apart. We’ll welcome the breeze from open windows for ventilation and scent of blooming flowers around the building that we missed. There will be post-pandemic jokes (and they may still be bad).

However, we will be forever changed, knowing what the sieves caught. But we can bring the debris to the table, identify it, and begin having real conversations about practical solutions.

We can go from societal sift to societal shift.

Culturally Responsive Family Engagement During Remote Instruction

Today’s blogger is Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero, a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. She works as an Early Childhood Instructional Coordinator for the Department of Early Childhood Education in NYC. Ms. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is an advocate for family engagement in schools.

The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a new experience for educators, leaders, and our school systems. Most importantly, it ignited a change in the communication strategies we utilize to support families. Now educators use electronic communication as more than an additional form of family outreach: it is a source of teaching.

How can this outreach extend itself further to multilingual families? Moreover, how can it support families through a culturally responsive mindset?

Depending on your student population and resources, children experience online learning on an extensive learning curve. This goes the same for their families. Educators have to survey families to discover what works best for them.

First, consider the outreach your school or teaching team sends to families. Are the communications written or offered in the families’ home language? Go deeper! Is the family literate in this home language? My grandparents were illiterate, yet spoke Spanish fluently. By considering the way you survey and communicate with families, you are extending engagement in a culturally responsive manner. Provide voice recordings within communications through QR Codes and utilize technology on Google Translate to support families.

Secondly, discuss with families their time frames and the support synchronous or asynchronous lessons provide. Synchronous lessons provide first-hand support in the interaction between students and the teaching team. Asynchronous lessons provide activities and time frames outside of a scheduled session. Both types of learning support and affect families differently. By surveying families, educators make note of their working schedules, family structure, and even support the schedule created at home by the family.

Keep in mind that families with essential workers and multiple children can have trouble meeting a certain time frame, especially if there’s only one electronic device at home. Ask families how comfortable they are with technology and then support them. Do they know how to access Google Classroom? If not, you can send families how-to videos in their home language by searching for them online.

Furthermore, utilize the families’ funds of knowledge. Is there a family member that can play an instrument, create videos, or even share a personal story related to class’s current unit or theme? As educators, we often try to find new resources and create new materials. Families are assets right in front of you! Encourage family communication by creating a parent group or establishing classroom roles. Set up a heritage partnership between families on a school-wide level. Heritage partnerships allow families of the same cultural community to share resources, ask questions, and receive answers in their home-language. It builds a partnership based on trust.

Lastly, connect families with community-wide resources that will offer guidance and support. Certain libraries and educational organizations are providing virtual tutoring, language services, how-to videos, and partnering with heritage groups to offer language translations. By taking the initiative to support families through a culturally responsive mindset, we convey the message that our families are a priority. We recognize their hard work and look to support them at their level of need.

Reference:

Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Family Engagement in the Time of COVID-19 and Remote Learning, and Always. New York University Steinhardt, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Link: https://kappadeltapiblog.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/6213a-culturallyresponsivefamilyengagement.pdf

Go Visual With a Graphic Novel, Comic Book, or Zine!

Today’s blogger is Adam I. Attwood (Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee), whose article “Comic Books and Graphic Novels for the Differentiated Humanities Classroom” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of December.

Incorporating comic books and graphic novels into collaborative English language arts and social studies education offers an additional strategy for bringing complex stories to students and for developing higher-level thinking skills. Teaching core literacy skills in middle and high school often draws on time-tested strategies such as rote memorization, sentence diagramming, or row-by-row read-aloud. Though these strategies can work as part of a balanced, scaffolded curriculum, Jill Gerber and I explain in our article in the Kappa Delta Pi Record that incorporating an increasingly good catalog of graphic literature offers additional opportunities for differentiated instruction using more interactive media to engage and encourage students.

Reading graphic novels or comic books requires students to do multiple literacy activities at once. It makes their brains work more.

For example, looking at integrated illustrations while reading a story takes sight words to another level of “sight ideas.” In middle school, this is a logical progression from elementary sight-word instruction.

Similarly, by integrating social studies and English language arts instruction based in graphic literature, teachers promote connections in contextual understanding of concepts. The stories in comic books and graphic novels create more immersive opportunities to design activities that encourage simultaneously interacting with history, literature, and art so that students make connections between past and present as both a personal dialogue and as a community conversation.

In an easily replicated example of this strategy, Gerber, who hosts a blog about graphic literature at Perceptive Gaze, intentionally applies this literacy strategy by having her students write and self-publish “zines.” Like miniature magazines, zines are small booklets that emphasize comic book–like structure. This activity creates a product-based assessment in which students are required to simultaneously demonstrate their learning across subject areas.

Gerber’s approach involves a multistep process for students to design and present their zines.

  1. Research, organization, and resources. Students research their topics of interest in their assigned subject and use a simple, six-statement template to organize their thoughts for approaching this project. The teacher offers resources for overcoming the challenges of pairing art with concepts and words.
  2. Storyboard and script. Students plan and outline their story on index cards, including how they want to illustrate the concepts.
  3. Production. The teacher can demonstrate how to lay out the students’ plans on paper, advise students on which paper size would best present their stories, and assist them with the “manufacturing” of their zine. Students ultimately do all the work of writing, drawing, folding, and cutting, including making decisions on how to letter the text so that it works with the art in the context of the story.
  4. Editing station. Students practice the complexity of editing in a step-by-step process. At first, the teacher models this process; but, with practice, students edit more and more of their own work and engage in peer editing to practice constructive feedback.
  5. Presentation. In this final step, students present and explain their work. Discussion can be organized in small groups or whole-group seminars.

With practice, students internalize these skills and grow their creative output. Technical artistic skills are less important than form and format. The teacher functions as a guide for students to help them get more comfortable with the concepts and mechanical aspects of the illustrated storyboard development process. Gerber summarizes one such project on her blog and offers some additional advice with examples.

That one sample project focuses on a single activity in a social studies classroom that can be adapted for a personal narrative in a language arts curriculum or extended for other subjects. The rewards from integrating graphic literature into your instructional strategies can be even more pronounced when the approach is used to combine complex concepts in social studies with language arts literary analysis.

This type of project may take extra coordination, but its benefits for a wide range of students can be substantial by increasing their motivation and interest across topics and skills.

#homeschooling: Problems with Synchronous Learning in COVID-19

Today’s blogger is Wendy Levin, MA, CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist in Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado. She currently co-teaches a special needs preschool classroom and has recent past experience in PK-8 public schools.

If you are an educator, you are keenly aware of the inequities of the educational system.

Not all families have the privilege to be able to take time from work to help their child learn. Not all families have access to speedy internet for those teleconference calls. Not all families have the mental space to worry about both their changed financial status and how to help their child learn school material.

Not all families.

How many school districts have forced both teachers and parents to organize and schedule themselves so they can have “class” at a certain time every day? How many of you teachers and specialists have had students lose attention and wander away from the teleconference calls or simply not call in to begin with?

Everyone loses. That’s the reason #imexhausted and #homeschooling have skyrocketed in their usage during the pandemic.

So why don’t we just choose a more equitable method? Because it’s not what we’re used to?

News flash! This whole pandemic is a situation that no one is used to. Let’s give ourselves and our families space while also providing the same instruction.

What is “synchronous learning”?

“Synchronous learning” simply means that all students and teachers are present at the same time on the same platform. They must schedule a time and a platform to meet and they all must be there at the same time.

This is impossible for too many families. Expecting a student or family to be online at a certain time every day is often too much to ask. I argue that we must rely heavily on parents for synchronous learning for PK-8 in order to gain student attention, keep them in front of a computer, help with login and technical aspects, and help with general attendance. This pulls parents and guardians away from the time that they need to work or handle family matters. They have no control in their schedule or their child’s learning in this model.

If there is “synchronous learning,” then is there such thing as “asynchronous learning”?

Absolutely. There are many ways to do asynchronous learning. You simply have to make sure a student has options. You have to make your activities and lessons available so the students and families can access them at any time. This allows parents to work with their children when it is efficacious for them. How much more equitable could that be?

Here are some ways to provide asynchronous, equitable education:

  • Create private or unlisted YouTube videos of yourself teaching the lesson. Provide students with the links.
  • Use your Class Dojo, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Blackboard to post videos or assignments
  • Provide a wide variety of office hours that work with your schedule, so students and parents can drop in at any time to ask questions if they need to.
  • Work with your specialists to provide any special education techniques needed for the lesson prior to releasing a lesson. Change your lessons accordingly.
  • Create discussion boards so students can continue to collaborate and discuss
  • Don’t punish a student for not completing work on time. Let them turn it in when they can.

Remember, every single family, including your own, is struggling during this pandemic, but we will all get out of this together.

You can still provide quality and equitable education.

Partnering with the Nambale Magnet School in Western Kenya

By Dr. Susan Trostle Brand, International Ambassador and United Nations NGO Representative for KDP

In 2018, two chapters of Kappa Delta Pi, the Fitchburg State University and the University of Rhode Island, collaborated to form a very fruitful international partnership. This two-chapter partnership was initiated with a magnet school in Western Kenya. This school, the Nambale Magnet School (NMS), provides housing and instruction for grades PK-8. Approximately half of the students at this school are orphans affected by the AIDS pandemic. All 465 students reside in dormitories at this 10-year-old school, which serves as a model school for the community and region.

Fitchburg State University (FSU) and University of Rhode Island (URI) chapters of Kappa Delta Pi recognized the potential for an international collaborative during a 2017 I-Lead Conference. Martine Nolletti, NMS representative and major NMS sponsor representing the Stonington, Connecticut-based Cornerstone Project, helped us to realize this potential. When Martine Nolletti spoke at our I-Lead Conference at the University of Rhode Island, she described the school, its founder, its teachers, and its students. Martine invited us, as chapter leaders and members, to become involved in supporting the school. She suggested possible means of involvement including monthly or annual donations from our chapters, student and faculty travel to visit the school, initiating teachers and administration into Kappa Delta Pi membership, inviting school leaders to attend and present at KDP Convocations, and communicating virtually with school administrators regularly to exchange teaching and technology ideas.

Since Martine’s visit to our I-Lead Conference in December 2017, our two New England chapters have played active roles in supporting the NMS. For example, the chapters met and agreed to support the school with annual donations of $200-300 each. Two chapter officers from the University of Rhode Island traveled to the NMS in May 2018. While there, these student leaders lodged at the Caribou House on the NMS campus and actively interacted with the teachers and students. These travelers delivered many school supplies to the students that they collected via Go Fund Me and Facebook fund raisers. Our URI chapter subsidized some of the travel expenses and donated supplies for these travelers. These two chapter leaders taught daily lessons to the students, demonstrated outdoor games, and initiated all of the school’s 22 teachers into KDP. Upon their return, these chapter leaders provided slide shows at local KDP Conferences, encouraging students from other universities to travel to the NMS.

In May 2019, one administrator and two chapter officers from the Fitchburg University KDP chapter and one chapter officer from the URI KDP chapter traveled to the NMS for one month. They delivered several iPads and other school supplies to the students, initiated additional KDP teacher members, taught demonstration lessons to the PK-8 students, and initiated new outdoor games, including Frisbee, for the students. Finally, our most recent visit to the NMS transpired over two weeks in January 2020, at which time three faculty members (including this author) and two student chapter leaders from the University of Rhode Island taught demonstration lessons on ecology to the teachers and students, conducted professional development workshops for the teachers and administrators, and donated several iPads and many school supplies to the NMS. 

Results

With great enthusiasm and hospitality, the teachers and administrators of the NMS welcome our ongoing visits, engagement, and educational and financial support of the NMS. The school appreciates the new teaching approaches our KDP chapter visitors have introduced. For example, Martine Nolletti reports that the grade 4-6 teachers are implementing many of the literacy teaching approaches demonstrated by the KDP chapter visitors. Although quantitative data was not collected regarding student achievement results of our visits to the school, the school founder and director, Evalyn Wakhusama, has commended our two-chapter KDP outreach efforts. Evalyn extends special gratitude for the donations of iPads, which enhance the state-of-the-art technological skills of the student population at the NMS.

In turn, Evalyn offers KDP a plethora of knowledge and wisdom regarding the needs of children in Kenya and the specific needs of the school. For example, Evalyn was an invited guest speaker at the 2019 Kappa Delta Pi Convocation, serving on a panel of Fitchburg State University and University of Rhode Island student leaders, professors, and administrators. Likewise, the KDP International Committee plans to invite Evalyn to return to serve on an International Panel at the upcoming 2021 Convocation.

Members, chapter leaders, and faculty members/administrators have discovered that support of this school and its population is mutually rewarding and, indeed, life-changing. We U.S. visitors toured several schools and indigenous homes in the region and witnessed, firsthand, the impoverished conditions and severe paucity of food, clothing, shelter, and education. In comparison, the Nambale Magnet School offers a safe haven for over 400 regional children, whereby their food, clothing, lodging, and education needs are consistently met with great care and nurturing. Creating and supporting more schools such as the NMS is one answer to meeting the needs of this western Kenya population. Collectively, our visits and support can enable regional schools to flourish and new schools to open.

We visitors learned that our support, donations, and visits exert a tremendous difference; the response of this population to our donations and support is overflowing with gratitude. We visitors learned the value of cultural pluralism in action and the intrinsic rewards of collaborating with others to improve the living conditions and education of an African population. Our ongoing international partnership has proven educational, enlightening, and inspiring for us KDP members, as well as for the NMS population. KDP travelers have found that sharing our international experiences through conferences presentations, writing, fund-raising, and round table events upon our return serve to “light the fire” of traveling, learning, supporting, giving, and sustaining impoverished schools and populations for many of our colleagues and friends.

Next Steps/Future

The Nambale Magnet School, as well as all of the schools in Kenya, were severely affected by the pandemic. All students needed to quarantine with friends or relatives from March until October 2020. All students are now repeating the grade in which they were enrolled at the onset of the pandemic. As a result of this interruption of learning, the students and the school are particularly in need of additional resources and support. Martine and Evalyn urge interested KDP chapter leaders and faculty leaders to visit the school, donate educational supplies, become monthly donors, and work with the teachers and students as they acquire the latest technological skills. Plans are continuing to initiate into KDP every new teacher at the NMS and to continue our two-chapter support of this school through monetary donations, visits to the school, and virtual and in-person programming. Eventually, the school will feature an artisan program to provide education and training in specified career paths including agriculture and light industry. The school is a prototype for other related projects including foster homes, self-sustaining ventures, and the nurturing, education, and empowerment of disenfranchised populations.

Outreach Opportunities/Contact Information

Visitors are urged to consider the NMS future goals and projects, as well as the work that has been accomplished by previous visitors, when selecting themes for their visits. School visits are coordinated by Martine Nolletti in conjunction with Drs. Laurie DeRosa and Nancy Murray (Fitchburg State University) and Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (University of Rhode Island). Chapter leaders and faculty member visits are reviewed and approved by the committee members, listed above. Please provide your KDP affiliation and role in your chapter, number of travelers, year and dates you would like to visit the school, and the theme you would like to introduce to the school and students. Themes or topic areas include sustainability, career-related skills, science, literacy, physical education, mathematics, technology, and international relations.

For additional information, Interested chapter leaders and professors may contact Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (susant@uri.edu), Dr. Nancy Murray (nmurray5@fitchburgstate.edu) or Dr. Laurie DeRosa (lderosa@fitchburgstate.edu).

To apply to travel to the NMS, visitors may contact Martine Nolletti at the Cornerstone Project, Inc. 100 Cove Street, Stonington, CT. 06378; phone: 203-525-6220; or email: info@cornerstoneproject.org.

Summary

According to the mission statement of the Cornerstone Project, “We believe that in order for people to enjoy safe, productive lives they must possess a sovereign ability to care for themselves and to have the educational tools that will assure them a respected place in today’s global society.” Cultural pluralism and higher standards of living for oppressed populations are fostered when KDP chapter leaders collaborate to provide funding for educational supplies and technology for the school, educational programming for the teachers and students, and visits to the school to interact with the students and teachers, exchanging teaching approaches and ideas. In the past three years, we have made substantial advances in these funding and programming ventures. Our outreach work has just begun, however, and the NMS and the student and teacher population in Western Kenya, in general, remain a very thirsty and deserving population for knowledge, skills, and support.

8 Tips for a Successful Transition to the Home Teacher Zone

Dr. Tina L. Callaway is the Program Chair of Undergraduate Business and General Education studies as well as the Resource Coordinator at New England College of Business at Cambridge College. She is most recently affiliated with Concordia University – Portland’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter, which has sadly closed its doors after 115 years as an institution.

COVID-19 has unexpectedly opened the door to online education, sending our faces across the web thanks to programs like Zoom. Video conferencing has given our students a view into our lives outside the classroom. As teachers learn how to juggle working from home, teaching a virtual classroom, and reminding the family you’re at work, here are a few pointers from my 17 years of online teaching.

  1. Dress for success (from the waist up). Ladies, that really cute skirt or leggings looks great with a solid cotton t-shirt when you’re in front of a live class. In front of the camera, students see a plain old t-shirt. Get dressed in a shirt with a collar or at least be sure to doll up your t-shirt with a nice necklace or scarf. Male teachers, always wear a collared shirt, whether a button-up or polo. (I was in a pinch once to attend an evening Zoom meeting and had already changed into my fortunately nice pajamas. I threw on a strand of pearls, put on dangle earrings, and finished with a swipe of lipstick. Worked one time; doubtful it would work again. Do not try this at home!)
  2. Put on shoes. Why not just my fuzzy pink slippers? There’s a psychological switch when you put on shoes. Shoes indicate going somewhere and doing something other than sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating bonbons. The simple act of putting them on will give you an “it’s time to work” mindset. Socks get you bonus points.
  3. You have now entered the Teacher Zone. If possible, dedicate a space or set up a boundary where your family knows that, once you’re there, you are in the Teacher Zone: Do not disturb. There are two benefits to having a dedicated space, whether it’s a desk in a corner or the luxury of your own home office. The first is that this, like shoes, puts you in a work mindset. This is your time for your students, not grabbing snacks for the kiddos, taking Poopsie puppy for a walk, or finding your spouse’s keys. Some people use masking tape on the floor for a boundary. Remember using tape to divide your bedroom with your sibling? The second is, this is your safe place to work and not feel guilty for not giving snacks, walks, or finding keys. You are at work.
  4. What is that?! Have you stopped to look at what’s behind you when you’re on-camera? For those fortunate enough to own a green screen and then apply a background, great. The rest of us are not so well equipped and have to rely on what’s in our home. Turn on your camera and really look at what students can see. I’ve seen a dresser mirror positioned so the unmade bed was visible. Dirty dishes and cluttered counters are distracting. Does your camera pick up the bathroom? Shut the door. Make sure your background is as clean and neat as your classroom at school.
  5. The disappearing head. If you use graphic backgrounds without a green screen, unless you’re able to stay perfectly motionless, parts of your head will disappear as you move, such as an ear or the left quarter of your brain. These backgrounds can be fun, but they’re more of a distraction as students watch to see what’ll vaporize next.
  6. Check me out! Do a test run on camera. Most programs will let you record, so do a quick session and see what your students will see. Do you wear glasses? Are you shooting laser eyes at your students? Do you have a flattop haircut or is your camera too low, cutting off the top of your head? Check your makeup, ladies: too bold makes you look clownish, not enough makes you look washed-out.
  7. Look deep into my eyes…. It’s natural to talk to the screen image of the student, but when you do this, you are not making eye contact with them. Looking into the camera (with the occasional glance to see if they are engaged) will show you are speaking directly to them. Think about watching the news. When they look into the camera, it’s like they’re talking to you. It provides that sense of connection.
  8. Who’s that girl? By now we’ve all seen the funny clips of reporters having their small children bursting into their home office. In your online classroom, these visits are distracting. Make sure your family respects your camera time. Your son may be cute in his Batman undies with his He-Man sword. Your spouse may think he can casually stroll behind you with only his shoulders and knees visible. The pets you love should also be kept away from the camera. Online time means work time. (True story: I was on-camera with a student and his teenage brother came sauntering through in only his whitey-tighties.)

I hope these tips made you smile but also made you think about what you can do to be successful as you navigate the new waters of teaching remotely.

Resources for further information:

4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online
https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-tips-supporting-learning-home

7 Tips on How to Prepare for Teaching Online
https://elearningindustry.com/7-tips-prepare-for-teaching-online

Zoom Tips for Teachers: Learn and Grow Together Online
(Don’t miss 10 tips for running a virtual lesson on Zoom – halfway through the article)
https://techboomers.com/zoom-tips-for-teachers-education