Standing Up for Social Studies

USE IN PLACE OF DAVID BOSSO PHOTO ccss_logoDavid Bosso, John Tully, Steve Armstrong, Gene Stec, and Carolyn Ivanoff worked with a core of social studies teachers to organize political action prioritizing the teaching of social studies in Connecticut.

State:   Connecticut
Source:  National Council for the Social Studies

Education should not be political football. Yet, for a variety of reasons, social studies education in Connecticut has become increasingly marginalized over the past several years. Greatly concerned about this trend and its impact on our students, several members of the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies determined that we needed to intensify our political activism. The Connecticut Social Studies Framework had remained unapproved and in draft form for several years. And the state-level social studies consultant position had been eliminated, so educators were limited in their ability to advocate for the importance of teaching social studies and preparing students for citizenship. Accordingly, our advocacy efforts focused on three main items:

  • Revising the state Social Studies Framework,
  • Re-creating the consultant position at the Connecticut Department of Education, and
  • Constructing a position statement for adoption by the state board of education.

After several strategy meetings, a core group began developing specific solution-oriented elements for our action plan. Members of our team contacted various statewide political and educational leaders to hold meetings, explain our issues and concerns, develop stronger ties, and ensure movement toward our goals. In addition, a Public Affairs Committee was created within the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies, with specific goals of outreach and advocacy. Significantly, we presented to the state board of education, describing the pressing needs and concerns of the state’s social studies community and emphasizing the moral responsibility of educators to nurture lifelong learning, global citizenship, and civic engagement. This generated momentum which empowered us to take further steps toward our goals.

As a result of our advocacy efforts, we now meet regularly with members of the state department of education, and they have been extremely supportive of our work toward revising the Social Studies Framework. Many social studies educators throughout the state, from the elementary to higher education levels, have joined the writing, editing, and review teams involved in the process of framework adoption. Furthermore, the state social studies consultant position was revived, and our policy statement will be adopted. We fully expect approval of the revised frameworks, and held summer workshops to help teachers, administrators, and curriculum advisors to utilize the frameworks more intimately to inform their specific curricular work. Members of our team have also been meeting with teachers across the state to share the successes of previous months and to introduce the impending frameworks. Several of us will be presenting at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Boston so that we can share our goals, strategies, and experiences with those facing similar issues in other states. While the anticipated results on student and teacher learning outcomes will be enhanced after a full academic year, many teachers have already begun using an inquiry approach to curriculum design and lesson implementation on a more frequent basis. It is an exciting and opportune time for this transition, and the emphasis on inquiry and civic participation will unquestionably improve student academic performance and social development. Connecticut has emerged as a national leader and example for the empowerment of teachers and students in our social studies classrooms.

A CLT With Purpose

Charley SabatierDistrict: Fairfax County Public Schools
State: Virginia
Source: Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

At a 2011 Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) Summer Meeting, Charley Sabatier was sitting with three other Fellows from the DC area – Katey Shirey and Jen Weidman from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, and Heather Moore from Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, VA. As a few of the Fellows at the table began sharing their stories, they quickly realized that they were all living in the DC area, teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) Physics at the standard level and all had 90-minute blocks that met every other day.  Charley had been trained as a Collaborative Learning Team (CLT) leader but had been frustrated by the fact that he didn’t have that kind of support for his IB teaching since he was the only IB teacher at his school. He drew upon that training to form an IB CLT with the other Fellows.

This group of teachers, led by Charley, focused on improving their IB Physics teaching and addressing their need to be part of a thriving and intellectually engaging professional community. Now in its third year, the IB Physics Professional Learning Community (PLC) meets on a weekly and monthly basis to design, discuss, and reflect on their IB Physics courses, their teaching challenges and successes, and the collaboration itself. The membership of the group has expanded to include other district teachers and even one teacher outside of the DC area.

All members, current and past, report that they have been able to cover more material and engage students in the content in a more substantive way. Furthermore, they have found that participating in this group provides professional support that allows them to challenge their thinking, revise their lessons and units, and reflect on ways to improve their instruction, giving them a chance to challenge themselves and each other in a setting where they feel trusted and safe. They have developed units and assessments that they share with other teachers in their buildings, as well as strategies for engaging students that other teachers can learn about.

There have been multiple indirect effects of Charley’s leadership of this ongoing collaboration. A few of the teachers have done presentations at the KSTF Summer Meeting and at NSTA to describe their efforts, in hopes that others will be able to learn from it and perhaps replicate some version of it. Heather Moore has replicated the process with a group of teachers in several schools who are teaching Active Physics.

A key component to the success of this group of teachers is that they are connected by a common and immediate need: to improve their IB Physics curriculum.  Without this common problem to solve, and the leadership and vision of Charley to get it going, their work together would have likely looked quite different, if it would have existed at all. This focus provided the raison d’etre for their collaboration. Charley’s encouragement and leadership enabled the teachers to recognize the power in working together, how to best work as a team, and how to incorporate new members into the group.

Together, Teachers Solve Chronic Problems

KajitaniHeadShot1Alex Kajitani rallied teachers in his school to solve a persistent challenge: never having enough substitute teachers at school (and forcing teachers to cover classes during planning).

State: California
Source: National Network of State Teachers of the Year

A few years ago, I was teaching in a school suffering from a serious shortage of substitute teachers. Many would not come onto our campus, located in a dangerous neighborhood, opting instead to work in the more affluent schools across town. Without consulting the teachers, our administration came up with the plan to assign us to cover absent colleagues’ classes on our respective prep periods each day. At first we accepted this new policy and covered whenever asked, but it quickly began to have detrimental effects. Teachers became exhausted with no break, and had to stay longer after school to prep. In addition, regularly scheduled meetings became disorganized, as many teachers were covering a class instead of attending. Morale plummeted, and teachers and students were paying the price.

At an after-school staff meeting one day, the teachers talked at great length and realized we needed to exert our leadership to make things better. We needed to get subs to our school, pronto. After an honest discussion, we pinpointed the real reasons this was such a challenge: low substitute pay and a tense atmosphere at our school. Then we came up with a plan that addressed both issues and capitalized on one of our school’s strengths: a great cafeteria staff. We called it the “free lunch for subs” program: teachers would communicate with partner teachers and the cafeteria staff when they would be absent, and fellow teachers would get a specially prepared lunch for the substitute, make concerted efforts to include them in lunchroom conversations, and check in with them at the end of their day. Within weeks, word quickly spread about the great experiences of subs at our school. Our sub shortage became a thing of the past, and we teachers got our prep periods back. By accomplishing this together, we became a closer staff in the process.

The principles that worked in this situation can apply to all levels of teacher leadership:  first, involve those who have a stake in an issue in coming up with a solution, and, second, agree on common goals. These goals must be specific and measurable, and must be determined and agreed upon by those with something at stake, rather than imposed from a disconnected “above.” When teachers are involved in the process, they will hold themselves accountable — the truest mark of teacher leadership.

Chartering a Path to Better Teacher Evaluation

Doug HodumDoug Hodum led a committee of teachers and other stakeholders to reform teacher evaluation in Maine.

School: Mt Blue High School

District: Mount Blue Regional School District

State: Maine

Source: Hope Street Group

One of my most relevant teacher leadership experiences arose when I was awarded the Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellowship.  I had been active locally and in other work with science education, but the Fellowship provided me with training and support as I approached my district administration about teacher evaluation. Being named a Fellow aligned nicely with a recently passed state law which said that teacher evaluation and growth plans would be developed locally.  The system that had been in place for decades was not providing teachers with specific feedback for our professional development.

Upon returning from my initial Hope Street Group training, I approached my superintendent and assistant superintendent about working on the state mandated plan for teacher evaluation. They were very supportive of my taking an active role in developing that system, and I began working in close collaboration with the assistant superintendent. Together, we established and ran a committee that would research and make a final recommendation for a new teacher evaluation model.

As a co-facilitator of this committee, I was able to ensure that teacher voice was involved throughout this process, as teachers make up more than 70% of the committee. By involving teachers in the process, we were able to break down barriers and build understanding between administrators, teachers, and the community. We completed a pilot plan in June 2014 and will implement that pilot with approximately 20 teachers across the district during the 2014-2015 school year. This has become a starting point for teachers to participate in more meaningful ways throughout the district. For me personally, the discussion of the new evaluation model has transformed the way I teach and support my students.

Coding for Careers

Tammie Schrader PictureTammie Schrader created a program for her school and district to teach computer programming and coding to middle school students so that they are qualified for jobs in a growing sector.

School: Cheney Middle School

State: Washington

Source: Hope Street Group

Key employers in Washington State, like Microsoft and Boeing, are leaving our state to find qualified employees to fill jobs, and I wanted to help my students qualify for these in-state opportunities.

As a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, I was asked to build a project that improved student learning and success. At the time, I had been working with Dr. Matt Marino at Filament Games to implement educational gaming in education. While working with and serving as an advisor to Filament Games, I discovered that there were programs available for students to not just play games but program to them. I realized that if we could train middle school students on programming and coding, we could expose them to in-state career pathways at a young age.

I developed and implemented a coding program, including a rigorous curriculum and assessment, into my 7th grade science classrooms. Over the course of the year, the work grew beyond my classroom and I worked with district and even state leaders to establish and then pilot a coding class. We also established a partnership with the local university, Eastern Washington University, to provide mentors to our middle school students. We are now holding meetings monthly to implement a region-wide program that would extend to all middle schools in eastern Washington.

Collaboration has been key in this project. Through the work I have done with leaders in my district, state, and community, we have established an elective coding class that is available to all middle school students in our district. Because of this experience and the training I received in building relationships with policymakers, I have also been able to work with our state legislators and advise them on policy that focuses on programming.

UnCommon Planning

Schimizz & LeichnerHigh school teachers Joanna Schimizzi and Rob Leichner formed a teacher-driven professional development community called Uncommon Planning, which works to collaboratively build and evaluate Common Core instructional tools.

District: Charlotte

State: North Carolina

Source: America Achieves

Hearing the concerns of teachers about lack of collaboration and planning around the Common Core in Charlotte, North Carolina, high school teachers Joanna Schimizzi and Rob Leichner decided to take the lead improving Common Core implementation in their district. To address these issues as well as the district’s need for more teacher leadership opportunities, they created Uncommon Planning, a teacher driven professional development series that brings emerging teacher leaders together collaboratively to build and evaluate common core instruction and assessments.

Leichner teaches math and Schimizzi teaches science. The pair initially reached out to eight schools and asked the principals to nominate emerging teachers to participate; in the last year, fifty teachers have been through this program.

According to Schimizzi, “There simply were so many teachers who were ready for expanded roles, and not enough opportunities for these professionals; Uncommon Planning has supported these teachers in returning to their schools and engaging their colleagues in deeper collaboration on the Common Core…we listened to what our colleagues were saying and then designed professional development based on their needs. The feedback we received from both teachers and their principals showed teachers, students and schools benefited from Uncommon.”

“We have launched and led this while working as teachers ourselves,” said Leichner. “The next steps are to find ways that districts can provide additional support to teacher driven initiatives like ours, through compensation and recognition for participating teachers; teachers often can’t wait for districts to determine professional development-teachers know what other teachers need!”

Core Recommendations For Teachers, By Teachers

CourtneyFox-HeadshotCourtney Fox worked with teachers and other partners develop recommendations about what teachers need to successfully implement the common core in Delaware.

School: First State Montessori Academy

State: Wilmington, Delaware

Source: Hope Street Group

Courtney Fox was Delaware’s 2008 Teacher of the Year and still continues to be an active member of the Delaware Teacher of the Year workgroup. When she began her fellowship with the Hope Street Group, her cohorts in the teacher of year group were all looking for ways to make a greater impact on the education system. It was at that moment when she decided to develop a partnership with several state partners including the Delaware Department of Education and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware in order to focus on what educators needed to successfully teach the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In conjunction with these partners and the Hope Street Group (HSG) staff, Courtney was determined to administer a survey to the Teachers of the Year to determine how they felt about the implementation of the CCSS. Courtney and her work group then met on three different occasions where they reviewed the data, and ultimately produced a set of recommendations for how three distinct stakeholder groups (state policymakers, local leaders, and community members) in Delaware can better help teachers implement CCSS.

The results of Courtney and her team’s recommendation has led to wide spread impact across the state of Delaware. Her partners, the HSG, The Rodel Foundation of Delaware, and the Delaware Department of Education all created several briefs, as well as videos describing and detailing the process of how these three stakeholder groups can better assist teachers. Courtney was also able to present these findings and issue a call to action at the statewide Vision 2015 conference in October 2013. In addition to this, Courtney also co-authored an op-ed published in both Delaware Online and Education Week about her experience and survey findings. Last, Courtney and her team’s work has been cited by the Delaware PTA and supported by the State Education Secretary as the type of engagement needed from teachers.

iPad Classroom 101

Jennie Magiera HeadshotJennie Magiera led a community of teachers to explore the use of iPads in schools and develop plans and supports for teachers to teach effectively with the devices.

School: National Teachers Academy

District: Academy for Urban School Leadership / Chicago Public Schools

State: Illinois

Source: Teacher

In the summer of 2010, Jennie Magiera applied for a 1:1 iPad grant for her classroom. When she received them, she was the only teacher in her school who was experimenting with iPads in a 1:1 learning environment. Jennie’s trial run was before “iPads in Education” was a universal term, so she spent hours upon hours Googling how to use these devices in her classroom. Like Jennie, there were other teachers from Chicago who were also exploring this new practice, facing similar challenges and trying to create their own solutions. Throughout the year, this cohort of teachers met as part of the 1:1 pilot program to explore possibilities for their students.

The following year, Jennie and her school administration had the opportunity to expand this grant to other classrooms around the building. Several teachers in her school had already expressed interest and so they banded together to write and win 3 additional carts of devices. Jennie’s principal tapped her to lead and support these teachers as she had already been through the process, survived the bumps and bruises and found success on the other side. Jennie knew that the key to success in this endeavor was being part of an active and supportive community of teachers who were going through a similar experience. She quickly created a collaborative blog space and asked every 1:1 teacher to contribute weekly to its content. Jennie requested that teachers submit anything from a quick question, idea, to a longer post about a challenge or a win inside their classroom. She also asked the teachers to comment on each other’s blogs, answering questions, responding to ideas or pushing each other’s thinking. While it took some reminding and scaffolding for some, the community flourished into an avid group of learners. Teachers were posting pictures, videos and narratives about their practice and student work. They were sharing ideas and seeking help. Through this space Jennie was able to become a hybrid coach – both typing out support from bed at 3am and getting ideas to discuss face-to-face after school at 3pm.

As a result of this team’s work and collaboration, Jennie’s school has gone from a single 1:1 classroom in 2010 to being over 75% 1:1 in 2014. They have worked together to maintain a philosophy of leveraging technology to improve student learning and solve problems – not simply using tech for the sake of tech. Students are gaining greater self-efficacy, agency and excitement about their own learning journey. Last, her community of professional learners and support helped teachers who previously self-identified as technophobes. In just a few months, they have gone from tech-fearful to bloggers, Tweeters and digital authors.

One Community at a Time

HeatherBuskirk headshot 2014Heather Buskirk founded a STEM-based school centering on project based learning in rural New York.

School:         Johnstown High School

District:       Greater Johnstown School District

Source:         Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

As the only high school physics teacher in her upstate New York school district, Heather Buskirk faced a dilemma familiar to many educators in her early years of teaching. “I could close my door and stay in my room and do things my own way, or I could effect change,” she says.

Buskirk chose the latter option, ultimately co-founding an entirely new STEM-focused school in a shuttered elementary school building she hopes will serve as a magnet for professional learning in her district. A Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) Senior Fellow, Buskirk was able to leverage training and support from Knowles to help make the new school a reality.

After leading summer workshops on project-based learning (PBL) for the district—which were in part funded by leadership grants from KSTF—Buskirk and district officials toured several schools focused on using PBL methodology to dramatically increase student engagement with challenging STEM content. That exposure prompted district officials to let Buskirk and another teacher launch the new school.

Called The Learning Project, the PBL-focused school promotes active, discovery-based learning through real-world projects that integrate core subjects for seniors who are on track to graduate but haven’t set clear goals. “They’re hungry for something more, but they’re not sure what that ‘more’ is,” Buskirk says. “They’re tired of sitting in rows and following directions.” Students with past records of high absenteeism are now attending school on a daily basis and are eager participants in the learning process. They are even learning new technology skills, thanks to individual laptops donated by the state.

Building on the initial success of The Learning Project, Buskirk is heavily involved in the planning process for a new regional school—Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). Scheduled to open its doors to 50 high school students in fall 2014, P-TECH will offer project-based learning centered around four career clusters. The selected students will complete grades 9-14, simultaneously earning college and high school credit. P-TECH students will continue their studies at Fulton County Community College, where they’ll ultimately earn an associate’s degree.

Along with plans to expand the school to earlier grades, Buskirk hopes the Learning Project can serve as a place for the district’s teachers to learn about PBL and possibly offer short-term teacher residencies to help them hone their practice.

Tech To Lead

todd headshotAssistant Superintendent Todd Wirt created a Wake County (N.C.) Teacher Leader Corps of 700 teacher leaders that provides them with structured opportunities to hone their leadership skills to build the capacity of the district’s teachers to use technology effectively.

District: Wake County

State: North Carolina

Source: Discovery Education

The Wake County Teacher Leadership Corps’ story began on a playground. Not your traditional playground with mulch, swings and a slide, but a digital playground where children text, FaceTime and play Candy Crush till the sun goes down. This playground is located on a device that is nestled in the palm of their hands.  It is ever present, available, and changing.  As adults we wouldn’t leave our children alone on a traditional playground and we cannot leave them on a digital one either.

In light of this reality, in collaboration with Discovery Education, Dr. Todd Wirt and other leaders began to explore ways to equip teachers in the Wake County Public School System with the resources and strategies that would best utilize devices and other digital resources to engage children in their learning; thus, the creation of Teacher Leader Corps (TLC).  TLC builds the capacity of teachers through effective professional development, opportunities designed to explore new strategies in a safe environment, while also building a sense of community through the purposeful grouping of teachers with similar experiences.

Teacher Leader Corps is a three-year partnership through which each of our 170 schools selected 4 teachers to join the Corps. Schools drew from a pool of talented teachers that had potential to be leaders but who had not yet served in leadership positions. Approximately 700 teachers were then divided into 29 cohorts, meeting five times during the school year. During this time, teachers developed their leadership skills and learned how to integrate a variety of digital tools designed to effectively engage students.  Educators focused on creating centers-based learning environments, developing authentic assessments, and evaluating student work through the use of protocols. Teachers served as leaders in their schools by opening up their classrooms as learning labs and facilitating learning sessions with their peers. These practices will continue into years two and three.

Success of the Corps is identified as building teacher capacity to facilitate student learning with digital resources.  To do this effectively, the district partnered with Discovery Education to provide high quality professional development for teachers to support their transition to a digital learning environment.

Coordinating this work at the district level, a small team assembles regularly to ensure Corps members have the necessary resources in their schools and classrooms to continue exploring new strategies.  This planning team works closely with Discovery Education’s team to provide instructional strategies and best practices to the Corps.  Most important, the district team is available in order to support Corps members as thought partners, resources generators, or cheerleaders who help each teacher persevere.

 Upon completion of year 1, Teacher Leader Corps’ results show an exponential increase in the use of digital resources, specifically with non-video assets. Teachers have communicated a sense of confidence, empowerment, and renewed love for the teaching profession.  Furthermore, as they have grown their leadership skills, their passion and excitement for learning has spread to other educators across the district, with more than 11,000 teachers having received training from a Corps member. Moreover, students are using digital resources to explore and engage in their learning. This is evident through the increased student usage data across the district.

Learn more about the Teacher Leadership Corps here.