Staying in the conversation…

 “Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate conditions for change — personal change, community, and organizational change” (Wheatley 2002).  

As we examine the latest Equity Model feedback survey, we notice a trend.  Most respondents rated the post observation discussion as the most meaningful and helpful tool of the coaching.  Therefore, we want to give you the opportunity continue the conversation throughout the summer in both a relaxed and collaborative, yet courageous and honest way.

Please join us this summer on the following dates at McCoy’s from 5:00 to 7:00 PM to discuss the following TED Talks. (Works best if you view the talk before meeting).

Ted Talk 1: Wednesday, June 25th, Sir Ken Robinson How Schools Kill Creativity

Guiding Question for Discussion: How do you see this perspective intersect with Dr. Sharrocky Hollie’s cultural responsive strategies?


Ted Talk 2: Monday, July 14 Bryan Stevenson We Need to Talk About an Injustice

Guiding Question for Discussion: How do you think this connects to the institutional systems of education and your personal experience?


Ted Talk 3: Thursday, August 7th Rita Pierson Every Kid Needs a Champion

Guiding Question for Discussion: What does this bring up for you–past stories, future hopes, and growth areas?

If you would like any additional equity resources or ideas to explore this summer, contact us.

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Who are you?

Earlier this week, a group of high school staff attended a WMEP course entitled, Closing the Attitude Gap taught by Principal Baruti Kafele.  Initially I believed this course would give me strategies to change my at-risk/underachieving students’ attitudes.  In result of this change, these students would then have the WILL to academically succeed.  After less than an hour into Principal Kafele’s session, I realized that the ATTITUDE he was talking about was mine.  In short, if I didn’t have the attitude and belief that all students have the capacity to learn,  why would they?

That was a lot to digest.

He then asked the following questions and encouraged us to ask them of ourselves daily.

As it relates to your students’ academic performance and your overall practice of teaching:




More to digest.

So, I thought about those questions.  I thought about who I am as an educator.  I thought about where I need to grow.  I reflected on what I am about, and if I am actually living my values at school.  Then, I thought about the last 24 hours.  Could I prove that I am who I think I am?  More importantly, how would my students answer these questions about me?

Principal Kafele then challenged us to examine our attitudes toward our students as another way to examine who we were.  He gave us the following 10 questions to consider:

1.  Do I believe in them?
2.  Do I have a passion for teaching them?
3.  Do I have a purpose for teaching them?
4.  Do I treat teaching them as a mission?
5.  Do I have a vision for what I expect of them?
6.  Do I set incremental and long-range goals for them to achieve?
7.  Do I plan each day thoroughly toward their success?
8.  Do I see myself as a role model for them and therefore always conduct myself as a professional?
9.  Do I see myself as the number one determinant of their success or failure?
10.  Do I conduct daily self-reflections and self-assessments of my practice of teaching them?

Digestion at capacity.

Although it was a lot to digest (and not always easy or comfortable), at the end of the day, I understood more clearly than ever that if I want the achievement gap to close, then I have to first close the attitude gap.  For that to happen, the first attitude that needs changing is my own.

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What does appreciation and support look like?

Cold days.  Loss.  New leadership.  Excessive snow.  New Q-Comp model.  Contract negotiations.  This school year, our staff has been through a lot.  And, when we feel personally drained, it is hard for us to support and appreciate others even when we know how impactful that support and appreciation is to people.  Moreover, support and appreciation looks different for each individual which means what we offer may not be what people need.  Even more challenging, we may not communicate what we need or even know what we need.

kelsey and Andy

The first step in creating an atmosphere of support and appreciation is knowing what they look like for us as individuals.  Think and observe how you most often express support and appreciation to others.   Is it verbally affirming someone, bringing someone a coffee or treat, or making copies for a colleague?  Next, consider what you most often complain about.  Is it when someone doesn’t bring you a gift on your birthday, when someone seems distracted when you stop to talk to them, or when someone doesn’t verbally recognize the work you put into a project?  Finally, what is it you most request from others?  Is it knowing if you have done a good job, is it finding time to talk, or is it having them complete something for you?

Once you have identified what you do and need, apply this information to determine your appreciation and support preference from the list below.  Knowing this preference will help you inform others what you need, and assist you in appreciating and supporting others in the manner they find most helpful.

Words of Affirmation:
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your appreciation language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that sends your spirits skyward. Insults are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.
Examples at school: give a verbal compliment, send an email of thanks, fill out an honor form

Acts of Service:
Can helping with copies really be an expression of appreciation? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. When others serve you out of appreciation (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.
Examples at school: offer practical help, grab an extra resource for someone, pick up copies, bring something to the mailroom, share a worksheet/lesson

Tangible Gifts:
Don’t mistake this appreciation language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the support, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are heartfelt symbols to you of someone else’s appreciation and support for you.
Examples at school: give a small “I thought of you” gift, a small birthday gift, a coffee, an extra cookie, funny post-its etc.

Quality Time:
In Quality Time, nothing says “I am here for you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the computer off, papers and tests down, and all tasks on standby—makes you feel truly special and appreciated. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether itʼs spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.
Examples at school: give someone your undivided attention, display genuine interest in what someone says, listen and don’t interrupt, get together outside of school, eat lunch together

Physical Touch:
A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and connection. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or cold-shoulder can be destructive and isolating. Appropriate and timely touches communicate warmth, safety, and appreciation to you.
Examples at school: make someone feel connected with physical connection, give a strong handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, compliment them on something with a high-five

(Adapted from “The Five Love Language” by Gary Chapman)

When people feel appreciated, they are excited about going to work. They are committed to [their workplace], and their performance is likely increased. Learning to speak the appreciation language of each employee is extremely important. One size does not fit all” (“The Five Love Languages” blog, Sept. 14, 2011).

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Compliance versus Engagement (Part I: Questioning)

How would you explain the difference? What is your vision for your classroom when considering that difference? What does that vision mean in terms of classroom discussion and questioning?

One of the tools we’ve been using in classroom observations is Jim Knight’s Question Chart. It breaks questions into Open and Closed questions, as well as the level of thinking required (knowledge, skills, big ideas). Questioning is just one means at deepening engagement, but a useful one.

Both Closed and Open questions have their place and open questions are not always superior to closed questions. And, closed ended questions seem to come quite naturally to us.

What did you get for #1?
How old are you?
What is the setting of the story?
Which word in the sentence is an adverb?
What is the Pythagorean theorem?
What would be the five albums you’d take to a desert island?

Which is great because closed questions are a great tool to confirm and check student understanding. It also offers verbal practice.

The limitation comes if we rely on them for goals they’re not designed to meet.

Open questions (with an unlimited number of answers, often opinion questions) are personal, catalysts for conversation, remove the fear of giving a “wrong” answer. They invite student engagement.

What would you do if you were the president when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
How does Neruda use images to move his reader?
What is an example of a system at work in nature?
How would you solve this problem?
How do people act when they treat each other with respect?

These open ended questions give more space for formative assessment, and low-risk student input.

Knight writes “In a classroom where low-level questions are being asked, there can be a palpable lack of engagement, thinking and learning…when classroom conversation is dull and lacks energy, it is often because the teacher is trying to move conversation forward with closed questions when open questions would be more likely to provoke real thinking.”

Why does this matter with Equity in Mind?

Eric Jensen speaks on how this relates to underserved students. When teachers “often assume that they need to ‘’dumb down’ the learning and accordingly end up teaching only surface understandings of labels instead of going for deeper learning. They are operating under the false assumption that [underserved] students are either unable or unwilling to engage in deeper, more complex learning. Yet highly effective teachers demonstrate repeatedly that [underserved] students not only can engage in complex learning but also prefer it.”

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Why Educator to Educator Relationships Matter


The second feedback survey for the Equity Coaching position ended last Friday (many thanks to all of you who took it!) It has been a helpful tool as the district gathers data about this model as well as for us as coaches to personally pursue our areas for growth.

It’s a bit scary actually. We’ve gotten student feedback for years, but here was a survey our colleagues were invited to fill out about us (available for the eyes of various district leaders). Which lends to the question, if everyone had to do this – if all of us had our colleagues give us feedback- what would we learn?

Why it Matters:
Eric Jensen, veteran educator and brain expert, talks about the importance of colleague relationships. He says,

“Your students can see whether staff members get along and support one another. A divided staff influences students’ perceptions about the value of relationships, and when staff members aren’t on the same page, odds of success drop dramatically. Therefore, staff collaboration and collegiality are key to making your school work.”

Jensen goes on to share how this particularly impacts our underserved population. He talks about the importance of modeling healthy relationships for students who grow up in chaotic or stressed environments. He writes that children who see modeled “positive relationships learn healthy, appropriate emotional responses to everyday situations.”

Equally as important as modeling healthy relationships, we must remember we are not in this alone. Positive collegial relationships foster a healthy sense of mutual obligation. It’s not “my kids” and “those kids” but our kids. Developing trust and knowing others share this approach makes it easier to act. It’s easier to contact other teachers regarding your struggling students knowing that they have a shared investment. It easier to stop and say hi to that student you see hanging out in the hallway every third hour because even though she’s not in your class, she’s our student.

Educating youth is no small task. Building strong staff relationships is vital to student success and a healthy school culture. Whether we want admit it or not, we all have areas of growth. And if it makes you feel better, from our survey we learned we have plenty. 😉

So we invite you to reflect. What would your survey say? And how will you respond?

Want more of Eric Jensen? Check out his two books in our PD section Teaching With Poverty in Mind and Engaging Students With Poverty in Mind (extra copies arriving next week).

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Guiding Questions

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Pay attention to where you are going because without meaning you might get nowhere. – A. A. Milne

I have been to two shooting ranges in my life. One was a row of pop cans stretching several yards in each direction and the other was a single target. With the pop cans, I aimed in the general direction and hit several cans (okay, let’s be honest, I hit a couple). The single target on the other hand made me focus. Be intentional. Reflect on where I missed. Adjust my stance. I knew what I wanted to hit.

Guiding questions are like the single target. They provide a clear learning target for students.

There may be dozens of pieces of information you want students to know in a unit, but guiding questions direct the larger picture for a complete understanding. Additionally, they prepare the path for organizing the unit and content. They put learning ahead of activities (ensuring every activity has a purpose). As a result, student learning is increased.

Characteristics of Good Guiding Questions:

  • rigorous in nature, but understandable language
  • places emphasis on the most important elements
  • are made up of smallest number needed for the unit
  • support formative assessment
  • support differentiated instruction

How to Create Guiding Questions:

  • address the standards
  • identify the knowledge students need to learn
  • identify the skills students need to learn
  • identify the big ideas that students need to learn
  • choose meaningful or important topics
  • choose personally relevant topics
  • use the most appropriate words
  • keep language easy to understand
  • prompt students to use learning strategies
  • prompt students to use technology
  • prompt students to use communication skills

Robert Marzano, in The Art and Science of Teaching (2007), recommends two structures for creating guiding questions:

Students will be able to ____________

Students will understand ___________

For further information on Guiding Questions, Arika & Joy have copies of Jim Knight’s, professor at the University of Kansas, chapter on Guiding Questions from High Impact Instruction and are happy to brainstorm with you.

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34 Names

For quite some time, we have heard the importance of having images of people of color present in our classrooms. Research shows that students of color benefit from seeing people who look like them in their learning environment.  As we return from honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded of all the impactful African American leaders who have shaped our past, present, and future.  

In an earlier blog post titled “The Students’ Six:  Strategies for Culturally Proficient Teaching”, we referenced strategy #3 that addressed the importance of making linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.  We want to give you an opportunity to do just that.  The list below contains  over 30 influential African American leaders.  As we looked over the people, we realized that beyond name recognition, we knew very little (or nothing) about over half the list.  We reflected on why that is and wondered  how we could change this for others so that the stories of these heroes could be more widely shared.  

Would you consider reviewing the list and selecting a name unknown to you and learn about that pioneer?  If yes, take it a step further and determine how you can link your classroom content to this person.  If you want help with ideas, you know where to go~

Malcolm X
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Langston Hughes
Charles Hamilton Houston
Harry Belafonte
Nat Turner
Carter G. Woodson
Mary McLeod Bethune
John H. Johnson
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Marcus Garvey
Fannie Lou Hamer
A. Phillip Randolph
Paul Robeson
Dred Scott
James Baldwin
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Booker T. Washington
Ella Baker
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Rosa Parks
Harriet Tubman
Frederick Douglass
Thurgood Marshall
WEB DuBois
Barack Obama
Bessie Coleman
Maya Angelou
Shirley Chisholm
Dr. Dorothy Height
Sojourner Truth
Wilma Rudolph
Ruth Simmons
Gwendolyn Brooks

bessie-coleman*If you can identify this woman from the list above, email us by the end of the school day tomorrow (1/22/14) to receive a prize!  (Remember, times are tough.)  😉

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The F Word

The word itself causes anxiety and apprehension, but can be vital to reflection and growth and ultimately, impact student success.


Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement and can offer us the opportunity to enhance the learning experiences we create for our students (Hattie and Timperley 2011). As the semester comes to a close, we want to encourage all educators to create room for this growth by soliciting student feedback.

The Heart Of It:

The most critical tool for self-improvement is an accurate picture of current reality. That’s why every trainer starts with a fitness test and colleges have placement exams. Coupled with a vision, it offers concrete direction for growth. Feedback gives us an opportunity to look at how our beliefs and values correlate to our instruction. For example, I believe every student can learn, but how am I making sure that happens? Do my students feel I believe they can learn in my class? Feedback gives us a gateway into this real conversation.

The Logistics Of It: 

  1. Prep: Processing feedback that we receive  from students is easier if we self reflect first. Take some time to think back on your first semester on your own. What are your strengths? Where do you hope to grow? Then, ask your students. When given the opportunity to be anonymous, students can be brutally honest. However, we can choose to see honesty not as harsh criticism or complaint, but as a gift.  Feedback is necessary to improve instruction which creates the greatest impact.
  2. Do: The opportunities to ask for feedback are endless. It can be at the end of a class period, end of an activity, or end of semester. Let students know why you want their feedback. We encourage you to give all students a survey at the end of the semester. You can adapt one of ours below or create your own.
  3. Process: Within responses, there will be unexpected positives, sincere suggestions for better serving student needs, and some random thoughts. Look at the whole. Focus on themes. Reflect on the praise and what you would change. Meet with a colleague or your Equity Coach to consider what you could use from the survey in your coaching sessions.

The Meat Of It: What should you ask?

Some example questions:

  • When did I successfully encourage you to do your best?
  • What do you want to see more of?
  • What do you want to see less of?
  • How did you feel coming to class?

Want more ideas? Check out some of these posts and sources:

Note: Consider asking for demographic (gender/race) information on anonymous surveys and explaining why. Simply stated: If we want to serve all students, the themes in the replies may help inform us how to better serve underserved groups.

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Internal Check

Winter Break.  It is here.  You are in it.  So, we invite you to take a moment to PAUSE and CHECK-IN with yourself.  REFLECT.  How are YOU doing?  How are YOU feeling about first semester?  What are YOU proud of that you have done?  What impact have YOU made on your students?  How will YOU stay committed to your goals to eliminate the racial achievement gap?  What do YOU need from your equity coach to stay on track?

After you take an internal check, consider the list below.

  • Trust yourself.  You know what you want and need.
  • Let your feelings be known. They are important.
  • Put yourself first.  You can’t be anything for anybody else unless you take care of yourself.
  • Express your opinions.  It’s good to hear yourself talk. 
  • Value your thinking.  You do it well.
  • Take the time and space you need — even if other people are wanting something from you.  
  • When you feel like running away, let yourself feel the scare.  Think about what you fear will happen and decide what you need to do.
  • When you need help, ask.  

    (Hartman, 1987)

                                   “WE CANNOT START OVER, BUT WE CAN BEGIN NOW, AND
                                    MAKE A NEW ENDING.”  (Zig Ziglar)

Enjoy your well-deserved break, 

Joy and Arika

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HELP! How can I keep my students engaged?

In our conversations with teachers and support staff, many have made their goals around student engagement.  To assist in this goal, we found a great list compiled by students about what engages them.   

  • Working with their peers 
  • Working with technology
  • Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning
  • Clearly loving what you do
  • Get me out of my seat
  • Bring in visuals
  • Student choice
  • Understand your clients – the kids
  • Mix it up
  • Be Human

Blog:  Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

After reading the list, reflect on the following:

  • How often am I lecturing versus facilitating?
  • In what ways could technology play a part in my lesson?
  • How is my assignment relevant to students?
  • In what ways am I demonstrating my passion for teaching?
  • How can I use movement in my day-to-day lessons?
  • How can a visual enhance my lesson?
  • What would it look like to differentiate my assignment?
  • What do I know about each student?
  • How can I deliver my content differently?
  • What do my students know about me as a person?


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