Friday, December 9, 2016

Promising Practices

On Saturday, November 5, I attended the Promising Practices conference at RIC. The theme was Resilience, and the day consisted of a keynote address and two workshops. The keynote address by Dr. Robert Brooks was interesting and set a tone for the remainder of the event, but what I would really like to focus on are the workshops. In my first session, I attended “‘When You Fail, You’re Learning’: Embedding Growth Mindset in Everyday Elementary School Lessons,” which was presented by Sarah Hess and Makayla Calkins, who teach and student teach in an HBS classroom. The workshop was highly interactive and focused on the impact of growth (or “open”) mindset on learning. Growth mindset was explained as an ideology of “yet” (watch Carol Dweck’s “The Power of Yet” here), and a view of learning as a process where failure is sometimes one of the steps. The presenters discussed this as it applied to both teachers and students. I could see a connection to Oakes here, because schools that participate in tracking are inherently rejecting a growth mindset approach. One of the presenters’ take aways was actually that teachers can use growth mindset by setting high expectations for the entire class, which would mean not sorting students into groups based on “intelligence” or performance. They also discussed how even though growth mindset can be its own lesson, for time purposes it can also be incorporated into other lessons and activities. For instance,  we each read children’s books that taught or demonstrated the concept.
Bonus watch: Sesame Street is great, here's a video of Janelle Monae singing "The Power of Yet" on the show...note the preview for the next song at the end, too! Christensen delights, probably!
The Dot is an extremely popular example of a children's book demonstrating growth mindset.

The second workshop I attended was “Fostering Student Resiliency Through a Pedagogy of Critical Caring,” as presented by Julio Alicea, a teacher and adviser at Blackstone Academy Charter School. This session was extremely powerful, and drew on the work of Christopher Emdin, who recently wrote the book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood (and the Rest of Y’all Too). Alicea took “3 C’s” of critical caring and discussed practical applications of each. The C’s stood for compassion, community, and cultural relevancy. He discussed how important it is to not just care about your students or social issues, but to actively do something about it. This reminded me of Johnson’s piece, which discussed how people with privilege need to realize that they have it, but they also need to be vocal about it and act against it. In Julio’s class, for example, he has a bulletin board dedicated to black lives that were lost at the hands of police violence. In the center of this board is a sign that he has held up at local protests, which proclaims “My Skin Color is Not a Crime.” When one of his students lost a family member the same way, he asked their permission and added their bio to the board. He has shown in this way that he has compassion for his students personally, but also that he is working actively for justice in the greater community, which makes the classroom culturally relevant. As Kahne and Westheimer would say, he is doing more because he does not want to give his students charity, but he wants to work for real change. This workshop gave me a lot of concrete examples of how to work towards change, but also the importance of letting the young people with whom you work know that you are on their side and being active about it. Not only does it build a stronger relationship and sense of community, but it gives youth the space to talk about their experiences and work to create change together.
In a moment that really tied the two workshops, the keynote address, and the Kahne and Westheimer and Oakes pieces together, Julio Alicea said something about sympathetic tracking that really struck me: “We think we’re doing something good for them by making it easier, but what we’re really doing is disempowering them for the rest of their lives.” It is an act of charity, one that actually hinders the potential for change, to give certain groups of students “breaks,” and it perpetuates the system that we are living with now. Having high expectations for all students, and helping them develop growth mindset strategies to meet them, truly shows critical caring.

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