Visiting Manual high school has been such a positive experience. I originally was skeptical of what I was seeing but after being there for three days, I am convinced. Manual is an incredible school with a very strong community. Test scores don’t reflect the true learning and human development that is happening at Manual. Manual’s building and athletic facilities are valued but the teaching going on inside the school isn’t fully recognized – why? Why can’t people take the time to go inside and experience how empowering of a school Manual is?
Yesterday we met with Laini Hodges who graduated from Manual in 1997 and is now a performance coach and facilitator. During her workshops, she uses improvisation as a way to break barriers between people and get everybody on a common ground. Laini was part of a desegregation effort that bussed students from the country club area into Manual. She had a very different experience than students have today at Manual but a commonality was the community aspect. Manual seems to have always had a special community.
During our time with Laini, we played an improvisation game. I encourage you to try this with somebody.
Find a partner. You are going to plan a birthday party together.
Start by one person saying a general statement about being excited for the party.
The next person then responds “Yes, but…” and then adds something about the party.
The first person responds in the same way, “Yes, but…”
Continue for about 2 minutes.
My partner and I found this very difficult. Our party went from something exciting to something negative. The party planning went downhill very quickly. After we had planned the party with “yes, but” statements, we tried it with “yes, and” statements. This time by the end of the two minutes we had planned an extravagant party and we were both giddy with excitement.
This game was quick but powerful. When we used “yes, but” statements, suddenly everything our partner said became invalidated. The word “but” turned the entire feeling of the conversation to a negative one.
How do we use “but” in our everyday conversations do devalue what others say? How are students at Manual affected by “yes, but” statements? Yes what you are learning at school is important, but your test scores are still low. Yes Manual is a good school, but gentrifiers in the neighborhood don’t send their students there. I think “yes, but” statements are detrimental if we want to see changes in our education system. We need to look more at the entire picture of a school like Manual. Instead of saying – yes there is quality learning going on but then disregarding it by saying, but test scores aren’t good – we need to look at the bigger picture. We need to start introducing more “yes, and” conversations into our daily lives. Yes, Manual is great, and it has room for improvement. This statement has a lot more potential.
Our first experience at Manual high school was not what I expected. Interestingly though, I think it is what we were intended to see. A schedule was made for us before we arrived. The classes we were placed in were very interesting, the teachers were great, and the students were engaged – but that’s the problem! I have learned from our conversations during the past week that Manual is not a high performing school. What were we missing? I know that they have struggles and that many students are not doing well. I did not see this. What I saw when I went to Manual were the classrooms they wanted me to see. The teachers they wanted me to see. At least that is how it felt… But maybe I am wrong to assume this. Maybe Manual actually is a great school but the standardized tests that determine their SPF score are not accurately testing the school in a culturally responsive way.
I don’t mean to be negative; I more just want to understand why the classrooms I saw do not reflect the overall school performance. I want an honest perception of the school so I can formulate my own opinions.
Thinking positively about what I DID see, there were some great things. During one class I visited, the students were writing slam poetry about language, power, and identity. The students were engaged and dedicated to what they were doing. It was so interesting to see students who were so deeply and personally invested in their work. Although many of them complained they weren’t done writing when the teacher asked them to share with the class, their words were incredibly powerful.
I found this experience to be a great example of the potential for culturally responsive teaching and how it can engage students and create a classroom climate of supportive learning. I do not think the experience the students had in this class was a common one, but I think it should be. We talk about new schools coming in and replacing the already existing ones. Why not instead have confidence in what is already there and try to work with what we know works. We do not have to invent the wheel again! Manual may not be a high performing school but this was a high performing class so why not take the methods this teacher used to engage the students and use this in other classes. Couldn’t we try something like this that we have seen in action and know works instead of completely giving up and starting from new? What kind of message are we sending students by giving up on their schools?
When crafting educational policies, how important is student voice?
If I were to answer this question from just hearing how educational policy makers today go about making policies, I would say student voice isn’t important as long as you have the students’ best interests in mind. I would say this because most of the people we have spoken with in policy do not have direct student input.
How is it possible though to have students’ best interests in mind if you don’t hear from them what is important? When we spoke with Candi from Project VOYCE, she really pushed the importance of student voice and student engagement in making important changes in educational policy. So far though, I have been disappointed to find that student input in educational policy is not common.
We met with former DPS board member Landri Taylor and when asked about student voice on the school board, his response was that much of the board is scared of student voice. Today we met with Highline Academy and Independence Institute and they all had similar responses – they value students and have their best interests in mind but they don’t actually talk with students to get their input on policy matters. I am not suggesting boards are bad if they do not have direct student involvement, I am merely wondering how they do it? Is student voice not valued?
In general I believe voice and the freedom to speak up is very important. Teacher voice. Student voice. Parent voice. It is one thing if students are not talked to when policies are being made but I think it is even more detrimental if teachers are not talked to. What if teachers are told their voice isn’t important? One teacher we spoke with from another school said that she was told directly by her principle to not speak out and instead just go along with what she was supposed to do. She was urged not to question things. In sum, she was being told her voice wasn’t important. As for parent voice, they seem to have the most! Parents are often the ones on school boards deciding many aspects of their students’ education. We need to find a way to bring all these voices together because once we do that, I think educational policy will have major changes.
We arrived in Denver yesterday and were thrown right into the reality of the Five Points neighborhood. We started at the Blair-Caldwell African American library located in the Five Points neighborhood. Just standing outside we were surrounded by visual and audio cues of gentrification: construction of new housing. This was our first introduction to the area and as external of an impression as it was, it give immediate insight into the surroundings.
We went deeper. Before arriving we read about some of the history of the Five Points neighborhood where we were. We participated in a form of mindful walking through the community. Mindful walking is a way of gathering information and insight through walking around (Jung, 2010). We were relatively informal with our mindful walking but followed a “walking tour” brochure that our teacher distributed. We looked. We walked. We talked. We observed.
At the far end of the Five Points walking tour, we stopped to meet with Candi CdeBaca – the director of Project VOYCE. Project VOYCE is an organization that was started to help support youth voice in education policy. One of the things that stuck with me the most that Candi said was “education is liberation”. She explained how today, our education system is simply schooling. The curiosity and desire to question, which students enter the classroom with, is shut down. Compliance and obedience are cultivated. Education today needs to empower students. True education needs to give students the confidence that they have a voice in this world!
It was nice to talk to Candi because she was so open about her views and was willing to be challenged. She wanted us to ask questions and talk openly. She told us that her some of her views were controversial and she confidently shared them with us. In her opinion, the charter school movement is one of gentrification.
What is gentrification? The word is relatively new but the concept has been around forever. As Candi said, “the best way to erase a group of people is to first erase their culture.” Gentrification does this. It is a modern form of colonization that pushes out lower-income families as more affluent families move in and attempt to renew the area.
Today we visited Omar D. Blair Charter School and listened to some different opinions on charter schools. I am excited to see more charter schools as the weeks go on…
Jung, Yuha. (2014). Mindful walking: The serendipitous journey of community-based ethnography. Qualitative Inquiry 20(5), 621-27.
Hello, my name is Ms. R and I am currently studying Education at Colorado College. I am interested in innovations and social justice in education and am starting this blog as a platform to reflect upon my experiences in and out of the classroom.
I have found my education courses at Colorado College interesting not only as a basis for becoming a teacher, but also because I find the topics we investigate to be extremely relevant to the world beyond education. Innovation and social justice are both very important beyond the classroom in our changing world.
Innovation entails many different things in education. What comes to mind for me are innovative and creative educators, transformed curriculums, and supportive communities. Innovation comes out of creativity – it requires an ability to think and act beyond what is usual or expected. Innovation in education involves and entire community willing to adjust what is already common practice. Educational innovation requires teachers to be culturally responsive and create relevancy in students’ learning. As Chen (2010) suggests in chapter 2, the curriculum in schools should be flexible enough to relate to the real life context of each individual student. In order to be flexible like this though, innovation is necessary.
Teachers need to be creative. Learning must have meaning to students.
It is important to understand how innovation might change depending on place. Through looking at the maps during our GIS lab today, I can tell that place plays a significant role in much of the data that was collected. The question is – HOW does place play a role? Ideally, place would influence educational policies but I think I will need to look more closely at the data we have to try and make sense of how exactly these two things relate.
I hope that through further research I can answer this question of how place influences educational policies. The GIS lab today was slightly overwhelming but I think that is to be expected when trying to make sense of such a large array of data. In chapter 1, Chen (2010) refers to the need for classrooms to be relying on the outside world. It seems important therefore that all this data – # in household, age, gender, location – be considered when creating education policies. I hope that as I research more I will discover this to be true but we will see…
Check back soon!
Chen, Milton. (2010). Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass.