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?

A Culturally Responsive Approach to Family Engagement During Remote Instruction

By Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero

The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a new experience for educators, leaders, and our school systems. Most importantly, it sparked 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 means 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. It’s the same for their families. As an educator, it is crucial that you survey your 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. Consider the way you survey and communicate with families, and make sure you’re engaging in a culturally responsive manner. Provide voice recordings within communications through QR Codes and utilize technology on Google Translate to support families.

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

Remember that families with essential workers and multiple children can have trouble meeting a certain time frame, especially if they only have one electronic device at home. Ask families how comfortable they are with technology and then support them wherever they need assistance. 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 who can play an instrument, create videos, or even share a personal story related to the class’s current unit or theme? As educators, we often try to find new resources and create new materials, but 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 basis. 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 as they 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.

Mrs. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is 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.

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.

“Goldilocks Zone” of Learning Is Neuro-logical

Today’s blogger is Judy Willis, MD, coauthor (with Jay McTighe) of the book Upgrade Your Teaching: Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience (ASCD, 2019) and author of the article “Stepping Up Social–Emotional Learning to Reignite All Brains,” which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of March.

You likely know the Goldilocks “just right” experience from the fairytale. Or perhaps you’ve heard Goldilocks used as an adjective to describe the potentially “just right” for human habitation—planets that are not too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, and are blessed with oxygen levels adequate for humans to survive.

Although I grasped the fairytale and use of the term in reference to planets, the Goldilocks concept opened possibilities for me while watching the captain in a science fiction show search for such a Goldilocks planet for the survival of her crew. As Goldilocks hunted for the right bowl of porridge and the spaceship engineer pursued the well-suited planet, I was looking for the “just right” zone to best support my learners.

Prior to that insightful day, I had changed careers from practicing neurologist to classroom teacher with a specific goal in mind: I hoped to apply my neuroscience background and study of ongoing research to develop teaching strategies promoting more joyful and successful learning. Notably, I found that substantial challenges for my students emerged from stress. For students who already had mastery, the boredom of the unchallenging lessons and homework were stressors. So was the stress of frustration for students who found no personal relevance in the topics or who progressed more slowly, encumbered by inadequate foundational knowledge.

I know that sustained or frequent boredom or frustration impacts communication circuits within the brain. And these stressors reduce effective transfer of new learning into memory. They reduce the effective top-down messaging descending from the reflective executive functions in the upper brain that are needed to manage emotional reactions. Without the input of these emotional self-control neural networks, the lower brain takes control. It relies on more primitive reactions, such as fight/flight/freeze, exemplified as zoning out, acting out, and withdrawing.

Tapping Into the Dopamine Reward System

As I watched that science fiction show, I clicked into the way the concept of the Goldilocks Zone could put my thoughts into words and action. It was just what I was seeking: to provide students with the neuro-logical benefits of learning zones that were “just right.”

I could tap into their brains’ natural dopamine reward systems, lowering the barriers and not the bar, by offering multiple pathways to success. These would provide a variety of ways to progress to mastery so that learners could work in their own Goldilocks Zones. This system mirrors the way the brain is prompted to sustain motivated effort and retain memory in response to an increased release of dopamine, which enhances pleasure and satisfaction. This dopamine reward system is awakened by cognitive awareness of achieving challenges.

Dopamine, when released in higher amounts in the brain, especially in response to achieving challenges, promotes pleasure, increased attention, motivation, effort, and memory. Other strong dopamine release stimulators include humor, choice, music, optimism, kindness, and gratitude. However, awareness of achieving goals and challenges markedly boosts the dopamine response.

Individualizing Achievable Challenges

To provide learners with achievable challenges, I continued to reinforce my positive expectation that all my students could achieve their goals. At the start of units, I clearly defined the learning goals along with the variety of ways students could achieve mastery and demonstrate their understanding. When possible, I incorporated my students’ interests into learning pathways that were especially motivating to them. My concept of individualizing achievable challenges now had a name, “The Goldilocks Zone.”

To provide this variety of pathways, I used strategies such as:

  • Pre-assessments and ongoing formative assessments and feedback;
  • Flexible groups;
  • Scaffolding and enrichment;
  • Workstations with two or more levels of challenge; and
  • Digital texts, Udio, and Newsela (5 reading levels on same topic).

Recognizing Progress

Once my learners found their Goldilocks Zones for achieving challenges en route to mastery, they needed to recognize and embrace their progress toward their goals. These experiences activated their brains’ release of dopamine and its associated benefits. As they received feedback (from me and later from independent progress awareness), their recognition of incremental goal progress and its dopamine activation were evident in their approach to learning. They were not as frustrated by mistakes and were less susceptible to respond to feedback as criticism. They persevered through more demanding learning tasks, displayed greater responsiveness to making needed revisions, sought the help they needed to continue success, and even took on greater challenges.

Not Always a Fairytale

My goal of Goldilocks Zone pathways, for every individual student in each unit, was not achieved with a magic wand or warm porridge. Particularly frustrating was the time it took to provide this individualized instruction even for a few learners in some units. In response, I applied the achievable challenge practices I used with my students to myself. I found that giving myself “achievable” tasks, en route to my goals for learners, was critical. I learned that I needed to take time and plan for how I would recognize and appreciate my own progress (even in small ways). Seeing a happy and proud student was a dopamine boost to me and an impetus to continue my endeavors.

I hope that you will take the extra time to help students on their Goldilocks path to joyful and successful learning through their low stress, high-engagement, achievable challenge pathways. Starting with even one student or one unit at a time, plan for self-recognition check-ins to sustain your motivation, and dopamine, and to persevere with these efforts so needed by our students.

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.