It was a Thursday afternoon when I interviewed Sonia. After a long day at school, my mind was busy negotiating what was and was not accomplished. Like most days, I struggled with my work-home balance and feverishly ran home to switch gears, quiet my self-doubt, and prepare for our interview.
Sonia Nieto is a leader, activist, author, and advocate well known for her work in diversity, equity, and social justice in education. Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the School of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Author of Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education, Sonia has been working in education for nearly 50 years. She taught at the first fully bilingual school in the Northeast and was later recruited to a position in higher education, as a member of the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. As she grew to love higher education, she worked toward her doctorate in curriculum studies with concentrations in multicultural and bilingual education. She has spent 26 years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst teaching preservice and practicing teachers, and doctoral students.
Science is an amazing thing.
It’s a basic human desire to try to understand the world around us.
Why do we feel compelled to do this? To fulfill our innate curiosities? To leverage this knowledge to improve the quality of our lives? To explore the unknown? For each of us, the answer may be a little different — and that’s the beauty of it.
The questions that advancements in science generate help everything else flourish. Mathematics make sense of our observations and help us with future predictions. Language arts allow us to share our findings and collaborate. Philosophical debates and the fine arts provide a platform for us to both process and express our thoughts, which in turn help us develop an ethically acceptable line in the sand.
Literally and figuratively speaking, science is the catalyst of our existence.
This Earth Day — April 22 — the March for Science will occur in 605 locations around the world.
It’s not only a celebration of science, but also a means of raising awareness and generating dialogue. As such, I‘m proud to say I will be participating in the satellite march this Saturday in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Regardless of whether you’re a “science geek” or not, I’d encourage you to learn more about the event by exploring the official website.
One of the most powerful things about routines in the math classroom is the structure of the activity stays the same while the content can change each time. Since the teachers in my building use these routines in all of the K-5 classrooms, it creates a structural coherence that is beneficial for both teachers and students.
Education is something no one can take away from you.
As Peggy Brookins’ grandmother once told her, the more you know, the more you’re able to walk your own path in the world. Peggy’s grandmother, who was born at the turn of the century, was her greatest inspiration. She demanded that Peggy persevere and walk her own path, rather than be a follower — and that’s precisely what she’s done. Whether it was her trailblazing spirit that started a STEM school or her work as CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Peggy has provided an example of focus, drive, and strong leadership, and has helped others to see women of color as leaders.
When I was a little girl, I was often called bossy. A natural leader, sometimes my leadership skills were perceived as negative: too controlling, too vocal, too loud. I admit, I was demanding, inquisitive, and creative. I liked leading school projects that positively influenced others, whether it be giving jolly ranchers to every student on their birthday or adopting roads for my high school to keep clean. Yet, as I continuously heard this “bossy” label, I began to see a clash with the “good girl” image I so desired, based on societal norms and expectations of women. Consequently, though remaining independent and focused, I did temper my opinions, never wanting to take a side for fear of being disliked. Popularity was my goal and I was willing to forgo speaking up to appease others.
Sitting down to talk with Kristin felt like talking with a friend.
Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp and current Director of Learning at Slack, brings to the table an accomplished career in education and leadership, but during our interview, I was most in awe of her humility and down to earth nature.
It was incredibly clear that, in her life, she listens, connects, and elevates the ideas of others. These qualities are all components that likely enabled her to create the EdCamp platform. For readers not familiar, EdCamp is an “unconference” where participants drive the content, structure, and flow of their professional development on the day of the event. EdCamp provides ownership of ideas, participant voice, internal motivation, and relevance to teachers seeking to redefine their professional learning experiences.
I couldn’t be more excited about the launch of this Teaching Channel project — it’s so near and dear to my heart. Over the past five years, much of my work in the classroom and with teachers has centered around math routines that generate student discourse and help us learn more about our students’ understandings. All of this work has been inspired by books I’ve read, conversations with colleagues in person and on Twitter, and the amazing student mathematical discussions I’ve heard, sparked by these routines. With this project, I have the opportunity to share all of the hard work of my colleagues, showcase the safe culture they have established in their classrooms, and highlight all of the wonderful mathematical ideas of their students.
My first year as an instructional coach was a learning year.
I was experienced as a department chair, but the role of an instructional coach was a bit different. For starters, I was in a different district. The District of Columbia Public Schools have a robust approach to coaching called LEAP — Learning together to Advance our Practice. This method of coaching almost mirrors how assistant principals observe, except for the evaluation component. It was an adjustment at first, but LEAP has helped me to hone my craft as an intentional observer.
The school where I coach and teach, the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was America’s first Black public high school. In the first half of the twentieth century, this school was an elite institution, which attracted an extraordinary faculty. (Watch as I give a tour of the school’s museum.) Today, we remain a committed and extraordinary faculty; however, like many urban public schools, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a high-poverty school that has historically experienced high staff turnover. Nearly half of my ELA department is either new to the building or new to teaching.
Finally, understanding the human dynamic present within the feedback cycle is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Teachers are humans, just like every other professional, and their humanity must be maintained throughout the observation and feedback process. At the same time, however, instructional coaches and other school-based leaders must see the potential in each teacher and design learning opportunities that help them to see potential in themselves as well.
As a first generation college graduate, a decision I made early in life was to have a growth mindset. If you’re new to the term growth mindset, or maybe just on the hunt for resources, check out Teaching Channel’s Growth Mindset Deep Dive. While many people assume things in my life have come easily, I’ve spent my entire existence struggling to succeed. Blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an insane amount of drive as well as a natural curiosity toward all things, my life has been a constant cycle of discovery, failure, retooling, and — mostly — eventual success.
This lifestyle has carried over into my classroom, as I believe that regardless of the content I’m teaching, it’s my duty as an educator to prepare all of the young people that walk through my door to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for the incorporation of the engineering design process into all classrooms. The EDP is the epitome of growth mindset and transcends the classroom into every facet of day-to-day life.
In that spirit, I continue to refine my practice. Every year, I identify one area of my instruction as a point of emphasis. In the past, these areas have ranged from classroom management, to individualized learning plans, to the integration of technology. One area I’ve been putting off is refining the writing process that occurs within my STEM course. Why have I been putting it off? Quite honestly, I struggle with writing. I believe in the value of writing, but freely acknowledge that it’s not a strength I possess. Opening up this area of my practice could be humbling, but it’s my hope that we (myself as well as fellow educators) will all benefit from this experience.
I grew up with the belief that I could do anything — that being born a woman wouldn’t impede my path to achieving my goals or obtaining a leadership role. One of two girls, I was raised learning how to fish in the ocean, play sports, and dance. Moreover, both of my parents held two jobs so traditional gender-based roles were not my norm. I often felt empowered because I was surrounded by strong female coaches and role models who inspired me to reach beyond what even I thought possible.
It wasn’t until high school that I understood being a strong, intelligent woman may not always be a popular choice. While running for student body president, I campaigned against a young man who wore a gold colored t-shirt to school every day and took on the nickname “golden boy.” Void of a dense platform, I assumed my marketing, clever ideas, and rich resume would convince the student body that I was the best candidate. Unfortunately, this was an incorrect assumption and I lost in what might be considered a landslide. That moment gave me pause and made me doubt whether I really could do anything. Surely I had the talent to be a leader, but would others be able to see it too?