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Dear One Millionth Tcher,
I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. I’ve been wondering if you would show up and what you’d be like if you did. Would you be finishing your first year in the classroom or would you be nearing your last? Would you arrive by happenstance or because someone else led you here? Would you be passionate and confident or feeling alone and misunderstood? Would you be from this side of the globe or from another? No matter how you got here or what shape you’re in, let me tell you what it means to all of us to have you, our one more zero.
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.
I’ve long been curious about what’s underneath. The back story of the author, the inspiration for the music, the influences that created the athlete. It’s not just the history or the origin story I’m interested in, it’s the story wrapped inside the story that grabs my attention and makes me want to keep uncovering. And I know I’m not the only one because so many of you reach out to me, stop me at a conference, or after a workshop, and ask for all the details. Did you really mess up that lesson or did you plan to? How do you grade all of that writing? Did your students only do that stuff for the camera? How do you come up with your ideas? What happens next?
For as long as I’ve been making videos with Teaching Channel, I’ve had this idea that there should be a version where I get to pull back the curtain and tell the story behind the story. Even though our medium is video and everything seems visible, it’s not. There’s so much invisible work in teaching: the ideation, the planning, the “fake left and go right,” the careful attention and revision. With this in mind, we’re launching our new series, Tcher’s Cut, to give you an insider’s look at all that invisible work, to help answer the questions you’re prompted to ask.
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.