Knock, Knock: Who’s There? Paid Student Teaching

AUTHOR’S NOTE:
This story’s narrator is a composite character based on student teachers who shared their experiences regarding paid internships through qualitative survey data.


Teaching teddy bears, producing homemade playdough, creating characters’ costumes, and recycling instructional resources. This was my childhood as the daughter of a kindergarten teacher. Early on, I experienced the passion, purpose, and power of the education profession. I was determined to follow in the footsteps of my educator ancestors.

Flash forward to my 21st year of life and senior year of university studies. I was continuing to progress in my teacher education program when opportunity knocked and unexpected information simultaneously knocked me down.

Across the nation, negative news bemoaning the severity of our nation’s teacher shortage flashed across the headlines of multiple media sources. Diverse solutions had been proposed, but the education profession was repeating old patterns by doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. Hope-filled future teachers continued down the path of traditional student-teaching scenarios while the teacher shortages deepened.

And then something different happened.

During the summer of 2015, the state of South Carolina announced an innovative opportunity for well-prepared student teachers. State department-initiated internship certificates came into being, and I leapt at the chance to become a teacher of my very own classroom while concurrently finishing the final semester of my educator preparation program. The caveats were significant, but I was ready, willing, and able with a high GPA, my professors’ approbation, passing scores on my content area teacher certification exams, and an ambition to excel. The icing on the cake was the news that this would be a paid internship.

Was I prepared for this massive responsibility? Would there be enough support in place? Would my students succeed?

Brimming with questions, I remained enthusiastic about the possibility of contributing to the teacher shortage solution in my own backyard and earning compensation as I honed my craft of becoming an exemplary educator.

In the blink of an eye, I went from college student to full-time teacher.

Will this paid practice persist? My fervent hope is that my struggles and my successes will facilitate positive change and help to enhance our profession. I think about my tale of salaried, solo teaching before graduation with the acronym of BATS: Balance, Acceptance, Team, and Self-Selected Supports.

Balance
The importance of work-life balance was addressed in my freshman seminar course and interlaced throughout some of my educator preparation pedagogy courses. It took my first week of student- teaching to recognize the realities of what balance really meant. My new bedtime became eight o’clock! I had never been so exhausted in my entire life. It was easy to take work home and to obsess over my teacher obligations or to take ownership of student, parent, and colleague challenges. Gaining life balance through this experience added to my resilience and kept me in a positive state of mindfulness and gratitude. Over time and with support, I became energized rather than depleted.

Acceptance
In my capstone philosophy of education paper, I emphasized the acceptance and inclusion of all students. But I soon realized that the power of acceptance is not just about students. I too was seeking acceptance in a new school community filled with experienced educators. I felt like a lone fish in a deep sea, but the slow process of gaining teacher friends, forming harmonious relationships, and letting go of things that really did not matter provided the path I needed to accomplish goals and gain acceptance.

Teams
Being part of a collaborative team is a necessity for novice teachers. My kindergarten team consisted of an eclectic mix of professionals with 3 to 30 years of diverse teaching experiences. Learning is a social process, so growing in my profession with the help of my team was no different from the learning experiences of my students. Planning, prioritizing, praying, and even partying and celebrating together made my internship experience both palatable and pleasurable.

Self-Selected Support
Another component of the internship certificate process is assigned mentorship. Each intern is assigned a mentor. Often, assigned mentors are teachers within the same grade level, so the planning period is concurrent with their mentee’s. Sometimes shared time may not be feasible which can lead to challenges.

My saving grace was a self-selected support system.

I found a mentor extraordinaire who was kind, caring, and a kindred spirit. Mentorship is key to a novice teacher’s survival, and finding one who fits through self-selection can be more valuable than formally assigned mentors.

The bottom line is that my internship certification semester was a bumpy road that started me on the path to my profession in which I am continuing to love, grow, share, and shine. For that initial experience, I will be forever grateful.

My unexpected knock arrived the fourth week of my internship life.

I received news pertaining to my hero, my first teacher, my confidant, my best friend, and a kindergarten teacher of 24 years: my mom. She was diagnosed with stage five breast cancer. My world was shattered, and within six short weeks, my anchor was gone.

I share this because being a teacher is tough, and if I, as a novice internship teacher, can survive and thrive during a time of trauma and grief, then others can too. My mom taught me to love, appreciate, and “keep on, keeping on.” She wanted to make the world a better place one student at a time.

Everything has come full circle because I am now walking in my mom’s footsteps as a kindergarten teacher who was kindled by the opportunity of a paid internship. This opportunity
occurred during a dark time but brought light to my life and the education profession.

This opportunity occurred during a dark time but brought light to my life and the education profession.

Paid internships are not the only solution to offset our shrinking population of teachers, but it is one of the viable possibilities. It worked for me, and I encourage others to embrace this
opportunity. Seasoned teachers and administrators must continue to accept new means of growing teachers and step up as official and unofficial mentors for their newest colleagues: paid interns. Helping to create a team and form new collegial relationships are essential ingredients for the success of both novice and veteran teachers.

The face of education is changing. Being open to new and creative means of teacher preparation is a step toward having continual, competent, and caring teachers in all South Carolina classrooms.


Susan Fernandez

Dr. Susan Fernandez is the Dean of Teacher Education at Newberry College in Newberry, S.C. She has over 40 years of experience in the education profession in a diversity of roles as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, professor, and administrator.  Dr. Fernandez earned her undergraduate elementary education degree and master’s degree in literacy from Clemson University and her Doctor of Education in educational leadership and social justice from Union Institute & University.


This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED, housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. Mira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @miraeducation.


Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration: Pivoting at a Professional Development School

ABSTRACT
This article, written by a third-grade teacher, provides a first-hand account of collaboration and reflection with a student teacher intern while teaching in a Professional Development School (school-university partnership school) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The teacher details the process of pivoting during technology issues before and during instruction.


NAPDS NINE ESSENTIALS (2nd Edition) ADDRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  1. A professional development school (PDS) is a learning community guided by a comprehensive, articulated mission that is broader than the goals of any single partner, and that aims to advance equity, antiracism, and social justice within and among schools, colleges/universities, and their respective community and professional partners.
  2. A PDS embraces the preparation of educators through clinical practice.
  3. A PDS is a context for continuous professional learning and leading for all participants, guided by need and a spirit and practice of inquiry.
  4. A PDS makes a shared commitment to reflective practice, responsive innovation, and generative knowledge.
  5. A PDS is a community that engages in collaborative research and participates in the public sharing of results in a variety of outlets.

A lone ballerina with her toe down, head up, constantly spinning is the image I conjure when I think of pivoting. Yet my experiences with pivoting are vastly different and less graceful. During a global pandemic, these experiences have multiplied.

At 5:30 p.m. my district’s Google Suite disappeared.
At 5:30 a.m. the next morning, the Google Suite is still down.

Walking to the classroom takes forever; the hallway extends another 30 feet. I mumble, wave, and smile at my colleagues hiding a heavy cloak of anxiety. I begin to think about the implications of not having access to Google Suite and its impact on my students. My concern is escalating.

I teach third-grade students. Most years, I have about 17 students on my roster. This year is different. I still teach third grade, but now I have 28 students. The drastic change in class size is due to teaching through a global pandemic. In the age of COVID-19, changes to how we think about teaching and learning are a part of our “new normal” as educators. Not only has the number of students on my roster increased, but I am also teaching in a unique setting. I am a virtual teacher, and I teach all of my students online. All of my lesson materials are online, and students access them through Google Suite.

I take a deep breath and start the mental process of pivoting.

Up until this point, I knew that teaching through a pandemic had its challenges, but to date, this is the moment that is most out of my sphere of control. In my peripheral view, a figure emerges in the classroom doorway. It’s my intern. In the light of her smile, I am able to mask some of my anxious thoughts because as they say, “The show must go on.”

I don’t inform her of the power outage because I feel sure somebody from the district office will cancel school. I turn my cell phone on a very loud chime so as not to miss an email stating such.

No one from the district cancels school, so my principal does not send the text. Bridget and I exchange pleasantries.

Over the course of 14 weeks, Bridget has become acquainted with the students. She led small groups during synchronous times, using her own Google classroom as a breakout room. In the beginning of her leading small groups, she was a little unsettled because students were not as responsive as she remembered in her previous face-to-face placement. I confided in her that I felt the same pang of rejection. I reassured her that giving students her focused attention in small groups is impactful in a virtual setting and that with time they would respond. I modeled elaborating on one student’s response and having students respond to each other by providing prompts such as “I agree with Kamarie,” and, “I would like to add….” As the semester continued, Bridget’s pivot was illustrated through her ability to facilitate discussion through peer-to-peer communication, which led to increased observable student engagement.

I gently break the news to her about the Google Suite outage. In her eyes, I anticipate my students’ worry. I know that when students become aware of the outage, they will fret over what to do in the interim. Her eyes suggest she is waiting for an alternative plan, just like my students will.

I hope I reflect an air of confidence.

It is now 7:31 a.m. and still no Google Suite, but we do have the internet.

As a mentor teacher, I am aware that presentation matters as mentees are impressionable. So, I remain calm even though I am in knots on the inside. I take a mental retreat to a situation when professionalism was practiced in the face of pivoting.

Prior support came in the form of collaborative moments with our university partnerliaison, Dr. Thompson. Killian Elementary is a professional development school (PDS), which means that we have an ongoing and reciprocal partnership with the University of South Carolina. Our liaison of 20 years has dual roles at Killian: when he is not teaching an immersion science methods course to preservice teachers, he is supporting faculty with professional development. For three years, we have practiced professionalism as we have co-planned and collaborated on teaching full science units that incorporate what he calls “sense-making” activities. We share in making and collecting knowledge from our shared experiences; our work enables both tall teachers (the adult teaching candidates) and small teachers (the children) to have lots of opportunities to make sense of difficult science concepts like erosion and weathering.

For instance, we spend time after every lesson reflecting and pivoting for the next session. During one reflection session, we noticed that there was not enough time to teach the full cycle of a guided inquiry science lesson in one class period, so we decided to chunk the components across a three-week lesson sequence. This pivot made a positive impact on student engagement as we noticed that his students, the tall teachers, were able to concentrate on one part of the inquiry at a time, and my students, the small teachers, were better able to articulate science thinking within small groups. And I, through this professional pivoting paradigm, have moved from needing scaffolds to teach to planning units of study on my own. Ultimately, we noticed where we needed to adjust our plans to meet the needs of learners. Our relationship strengthens our shared collegial pursuits; I was interested in becoming a better science teacher and he was interested in giving preservice teachers authentic experiences in a classroom. Those times of collaboration prepared me for this moment when I need to illustrate to my intern what to do when what you plan has to shift due to circumstances outside of our control.

We sit for a moment and gather our thoughts.

The applications and extensions in Google Suite are easy to use and student-friendly. I hyperlink websites into the lesson plan. Websites such as Readworks.org, Flocabulary, and, my favorite, Nearpod are class staples. I have spent the first nine weeks creating videos using WeVideo for core content and explaining how to access and enter various websites. During check-in times, my students started sharing shortcuts they use to navigate the internet, and I captured their demonstrations in multiple videos. At that moment I realize that my students are prepared to pivot alongside us.

On opposite sides of the room, we begin to plan an asynchronous lesson for the students called a student pathway. We collaborate on a shared document before we create a lesson plan for students. Teaching through a pandemic is innovative. We begin to brainstorm a lesson. Today is Veterans Day. So, we set out to design a student pathway about “Thanking A Veteran” using the Wakelet multimedia tool. As a colleague, she offers her expertise, and together we craft a learning module for our students. Because of the need to shift today’s plan, Bridget is able to experience not only the demands of our profession but also the rewards. Our mission is complete.

It’s 8:15 a.m. The Google Suite is still down, but together we pivot toward possibility.

How will you use your support system to become an agent of change in your school context? What will you do to ensure that preservice teachers get the practical experience of collaborating even during a pandemic? What expertise will you model to ensure preservice teachers have authentic and meaningful experiences before they have a class of their own?

Teaching through a pandemic has been challenging, yet my image of pivoting has expanded beyond graceful ballerinas. My experiences with pivoting are grounded in the daily cultivation of practicing professionalism as an educator. Being reflective, supportive, and collaborative is my new image of pivoting.

Aisja Jones (ajaisjajones@gmail.com) is a third-grade teacher at Killian STEAM Magnet Elementary, doctoral student at University of South Carolina, mentor teacher, and PDS Fellow


Aisja Jones

Aisja Jones is a third-grade teacher at Killian STEAM Magnet Elementary, doctoral student at University of South Carolina, mentor teacher, and PDS Fellow.


Attending to Challenges, Supplying a Teacher Workforce: How South Carolina Can Support Alternative Certification Pathways

That teacher over there. Yes, that’s the one.

The one demonstrating strong relationships with her students. The one with 12 years in the profession. She understands the skills needed for the workforce.

She’s also the one whose mother is in the hospital. The one who showed up every day during the pandemic.

Her? Yes, her. She’s not certified. She’s facing a barrier. She needs to pass Praxis, a national educator assessment for certification.

Alternative certification works, but how do we attend to challenges to the alternative certification process?

I am an alternatively certified teacher.

I know and understand the challenges to certification in South Carolina for people who would like to enter the profession and actualize their dream of becoming a teacher. These include limited access to entrance into educational programs, insufficient funds to complete a degree program, student teaching full time without a source of income, a low college GPA, and passing Praxis. Passing Praxis stands as a hurdle for many. Specifically, licensing exams have a disproportionate impact on minority teacher candidates: 62% of Black and 43% of Hispanic candidates fail the elementary Praxis test even after multiple attempts.

Some time ago, states tightened up requirements for teacher licensing. Instead of removing challenges, they contend that tighter regulation of teacher training programs and additional requirements on the pathway to certification are the only solutions. Although well-meaning, such submissions are not based on sound research or factual data

Now, faced with a national teacher shortage as states report their supply and demand data, the impact those efforts are having on teacher diversity, coupled with evidence that Black and Latinx students benefit from having teachers who look like them, some states are moving to loosen or even dispense with some requirements. For example, Arkansas rallied to raise its teacher certification test cut score, but considering the shortage, has left the cut score as is.

Too often energy, time, and money are put into “hoop jumping” by candidates with nothing to show for their efforts. South Carolina policymakers have a responsibility and duty to increase, diversify, and qualify South Carolina’s educator workforce for our children. The shortage is even more acute than currently estimated. Qualifications for certification should align with proof of meaningful research-based practices for improving the educational welfare of all students, considering state requirements and state assessment proficiency scores are not the same.

Teachers are planners.
Teachers are proactive.
Teachers are problem solvers.
Teachers are professionals.

But teachers’ spirits, their tenacity, their drive, their ability to overcome all things can be stifled, muffled, dimmed, altered, and diminished by consistent challenges.

As with traditional certification, we must streamline the process to alternative certification so that even more future educators can begin making a difference for students, parents, the community, and the profession.

Today’s college graduates have numerous career options and opportunities. If the path into teaching is too burdensome or costly, graduates will abandon it for other professional pathways (Finn, 2001). As with traditional certification, we must streamline the process to alternative certification so that even more future educators can begin making a difference for students, parents, the community, and the profession.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, and Colorado rank as the top states for education. These states provide professional preparation and education for would-be teachers by allowing them to work and learn simultaneously, putting into daily application what they are learning in theory (Department of Education, n.d.). For example, in the state of New Jersey, in order to obtain a standard certificate, all novice teachers must complete the Provisional Teacher Process (PTP), during which they are evaluated, mentored, and supervised by their district or school while working under a provisional certificate. A candidate must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing (CEAS) or Certificate of Eligibility (CE). These certificates allow the candidate to seek and accept offers of employment as teachers while completing coursework toward a standard license. The support of mentors, apprenticeships, and instructional coaching helps alternative certification-seeking candidates to be successful, ensuring program quality and constructs which align with student outcomes.

The single approach of teaching while earning certification helps to mitigate economic barriers for many.

South Carolina also has strong examples of alternative certification pathways that work. Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation, also known as CarolinaCAP, is a collaborative effort among South Carolina school districts, the University of South Carolina, and the Center for Teaching Quality. CarolinaCAP provides the opportunity for paraprofessionals and industryknowledgeable candidates to become certified through graduate-level coursework, microcredentials, coaching, and collaborative inquiry. Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college and have a minimum 2.5 cumulative grade point average. Applicants applying for certification in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, and Special Education: Multi-Categorical (PK–Grade 12) need a minimum 2.75 undergraduate grade point average. Having these qualifying requirements and after passing Praxis, applicants move to candidates and may become the Teacher of Record, taking the lead in their own classrooms through Eligibility of Employment.

The single approach of teaching while earning certification helps to mitigate economic barriers for many.

CarolinaCAP attracts diverse candidates who mirror the student populations they serve. Representation is critical for students (our state’s future teacher pipeline). Eighty-one percent of candidates who participated in CarolinaCAP identify as Black, ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old. Eighteen percent of candidates are male (CarolinaCrED, 2021). CarolinaCAP candidates bring a wealth of both life and professional experiences to their classrooms.The program’s structure addresses the economic barrier as well. Along with the aforementioned requirements, candidates who pass Praxis and become eligible for employment may begin receiving a teachers salary.

How does this translate to the person? The educators trained under alternatively certified programs such as CarolinaCAP might provide some insight. Anisha is a second-year teacher working in a rural district. She’s producing students who will leave second-grade reading and writing with confidence. She’s also a teacher who is having challenges passing the Praxis certification exam.

This is Anisha’s challenge.

She has attempted the exam. She has noticed the longer she teaches, the more she feels Praxis is assessing her instructional classroom practices. Her score has increased each time. But her initial journey was very stressful. She knows a test “doesn’t make you who you are,” but for a person like Anisha, whose heart is in teaching, it “messes with your mind. It makes you say, ‘Gosh, I went to school, and I can’t even pass a certification test.’” Anisha has taught for two years, serving in the roles of interventionist and teacher. She has strong relationships with her students and works with all of them, regardless of how many she has, to ensure they are performing at or above grade level in reading comprehension and math.

I see myself in Anisha, once a new teacher facing a hurdle to becoming fully certified. How do I support her by removing obstacles which do not align with student outcomes?

Anisha has also taken the Praxis test five times. She notes, “When I saw my score go up, it made me feel a little better. But having to keep dishing out that money, I know something has to go lacking because of the test. But I have to do it because my job requires me to be certified.” Anisha is a single mom and among many who have to tackle the financial hurdle associated with repeated testing.

The path to certification will give Anisha the opportunity to be able to live out a dream and weave a connection with students and families for years to come. Certification will give her the final piece of being confident in herself and in growing the educational development of students.

I see myself in Anisha, once a new teacher facing a hurdle to becoming fully certified. How do I support her by removing obstacles which do not align with student outcomes? Obstacles that initially decreased the number of teachers in the profession? Obstacles that marginalize people who have limited economic, social, or educational resources?

A South Carolina Solution

South Carolina has made strides in opening the door to alternative certification.

But it’s not enough.

Statewide programs like Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) and Centers for the Re-Education and Advancement of Teachers in Special Education and Related Services Personnel (SC CREATE) allow candidates from anywhere in the state to seek certification. Locally based programs, such as Alternative Pathways to Educator Certification (APEC), Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP), and Educator Preparation and Innovation Pathways (EPI), focus their efforts in certain geographical areas of the state. Additionally, some programs such as Teach for America (TFA) seek to bring top candidates to rural areas in South Carolina.

Despite these efforts, there are still challenges to certification.

Some programs only serve secondary candidates, those looking to pursue special education, those who live in the Midlands, or those residing in rural counties.

South Carolina has made strides in opening the door to alternative certification.

South Carolina can do even better. What if we add to these options and create a solution that works in every district, hometown, and classroom, whether candidates are in the upstate region seeking to become certified in elementary or residing in rural Jasper County seeking to teach chemistry? What if this model pulled together resources versus requiring school districts to compete for them? What if this model could be adapted to fit the needs of individual districts without feeling “cookie-cutter” while promoting quality, research, rigor, and best practices? What if this model incorporated local ownership or even allowed smaller districts to collaborate to ensure candidates were exposed to full-scale opportunities? What if we grew our own?

The Tennessee Department of Education has developed a Grow Your Own teacher pipeline program as a partnership between the Clarksville-Montgomery school system and the Austin Peay State University’s Teacher Residency program. The program paves the way for teaching and educator workforce development nationwide. The state-approved Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship programs between school districts and educator preparation programs (EPPs) are now among many Grow Your Own programs in the state of Tennessee offering free opportunities to become a teacher, thus clearing the path for any other state or territory to launch similar programs with federal approval.

The program allows participants to earn a wage while learning to become teachers. Applicants have the opportunity to participate in an alternative route to certification by working directly under the guidance of a skilled, certified teacher. The partnership model includes both two- and four-year colleges and has developed three different pathways for educational assistants to earn their degrees or certifications in teaching.

The model provides other states the opportunity to structure programming to their specific needs. States can target high school seniors, paraprofessionals, or those who already have degrees and need a pathway to strengthen their knowledge in pedagogy and research-based practices.

Policymakers, will you advocate for this solution? Concerned citizens, will you support the policymakers who pledge to adopt this? Parents, will you hold our Department of Education and its stakeholders responsible for making this a reality? School board members, will you advocate for a statewide approach requiring federal approval and involve the state’s educational entities? It must be an approach that can serve every school in every district and every student in every classroom and aligns local resources with community support and community ownership.

Will you ensure South Carolina has numerous educators with diversified backgrounds who represent the landscape of our future workforce?

You!

Yes, YOU, racing your eyes across the page, coming to grips with your responsibility as a reader of this story, will you ensure South Carolina has numerous educators with diversified backgrounds who represent the landscape of our future workforce? South Carolina has made progress, but there is more to be done.

South Carolina is ready. Are you?

Support inclusive pathways which will capture the exquisite talent of our state. Encourage your senator to further explore Tennessee’s national model for a teacher residency program. This same Grow Your Own approach can be successful in South Carolina.

According to the February 2022 Supply and Demand Update report, there were a total of 7,870 teacher departures (resignations) and a total of 2,154 teacher vacancies/positions in South Carolina schools up to February 2022 during the 2021–2022 school year. If I do nothing else, if we do nothing else, we are certain those numbers will increase. If you and I take up this call to action, we will begin investigating additional alternative pathways that support building South Carolina’s workforce, increasing future teachers’ capacities, and filling South Carolina’s classrooms. We further awaken the senses and the abilities of others to demand a solution for our children, families, homes, communities, and our state.

And we successfully dismantle obstacles and challenges—for you, for me, and for the numerous Anishas in the State of South Carolina.


References

CarolinaCrED. (2021). CarolinaCAP Year Two Annual Report. https://carolinacred.org/carolinacap-year-two-annual-report/

Department of Education. (n.d.). Recruitment, Preparation and Induction. https://www.nj.gov/education/rpi/induction/

Finn, C. (2001). Removing the barriers for teacher candidates. https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/removing-the-barriers-for-teacher-candidates

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Remona Jenkins

Dr. Remona Jenkins is the Director of Teacher Quality and Staff Development for the Kershaw County School District. In that role, she guides staff development, alternative certification, the onboarding process for first year teachers, and recruitment efforts in the Kershaw County School District (KCSD). Prior to her work in KCSD, Jenkins served as a district administrator overseeing new hire orientation, teacher induction, international teachers, and the National Board program. She also provided intensive instructional coaching to traditionally and alternatively certified K-12 educators. Her educational background includes a doctorate in education and a master’s in educational leadership from American College of Education, a master’s in elementary education from the University of Phoenix, and a master’s in community and occupational programs in education from the University of South Carolina. Jenkins completed her bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is married with two children.


This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP) housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CEP partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), a CEP partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CEP_UofSC and @teachingquality.


It Takes a Village, and That’s Ok

Have you ever been so tired you can’t see straight? So tired you can’t even sleep? There’s not enough melatonin or essential oil diffusing that can cure the tired I’m talking about. I mean, the kind of tired where the inside of your body hurts.

That’s where I was.

Every situation that came across my desk, phone, or computer was a FIRE. Nine times out of ten, they weren’t even perceived fires, they were real emergencies that involved the health of a student, legal implications, irate parents, worn out teachers — you know the situations.

Ya’ll, I was exhausted. I was tired of being a leader. I had no motivation. I was about one revision away from submitting my resume to Target (love Target, no slight to them, just the place I think about when I consider a career change).

Being a leader takes a lot out of you, and I finally came to the realization that I had to admit defeat. But wait — leaders don’t do that! They don’t let their people see that they’re struggling! What a conundrum I was facing: admit that I can’t meet expectations anymore (hindsight will tell me they were my own expectations, not the expectations of others) or keep dragging my body through the grind every day?

When I stopped to consider this question, I found myself going way back to before I was a leader. What I found was that I don’t ever remember NOT leading. Ever. When I think back to elementary school, I was always trying to “lead” others, even if it meant not considering what I needed. Isn’t that crazy? At the ripe old age of nine, I remember being in Mrs. Hunter’s class trying to rally my classmates to get an extra recess just because my best friend, Jennifer, wanted to climb on the monkey bars again (which, by the way, I was successful in this negotiation — twice).

Upon reflection of my leadership journey, I realized that even though I always thought I hated cliches, it turns out I live my leadership life by them implicitly. Go figure!

My all time favorite cliche: Jill of all trades, master of none. If you’re in education and reading this, you get it. I’ve always believed I was a Jill and not a Master and, actually, I’ve been ok with it. I simply thought my role was to get the “stuff” done. I work behind the scenes while wearing 432 hats and then move on to the next thing. No problem. I’m good at this, right?!

Being a leader is exhausting. Nobody warns you about it. Sure, once you’re a leader, all the research-based books and inspirational quotes are readily available, but no one tells you going into this that it involves your blood, sweat, and tears. Well, maybe not blood, but sometimes it feels that way. Finally, it hit me. Like a wrecking ball.

Burn out.

Ugh. Not me, right? I had so much experience and time invested in this leadership gig. Surely this wasn’t true. I approached Dixon, my principal from my first year of teaching and now one of my supervisors in the instruction department, and shared this epiphany. He listened and said little, like he always does in the beginning. (True wisdom comes from processing, he would say and I, who tended to shoot from the hip, would now agree.) If you met me before ELE and I had to blurt out three things I’m good at it would be these: I’m occasionally funny, I often volunteer to be the group historian on trips or at special events, and I’m good at making small talk with people I don’t know (as I get older, this last one becomes more difficult, but still makes top three). As educators, we often neglect to focus on our own strengths, what we bring to the table, because we’re constantly trying to build up our students, their families, and our colleagues.

More time passed. Same slump. I shared my struggles with Regi and Emily, two of my best friends since college. I talked to my mom. I talked to my supervisor. I talked to my dog, General. And circled back to Dixon. Talking wasn’t helping.

Then, my life changed. (This statement is semi-dramatic; but really, it was a VERY exciting moment for me).

As corny as it sounds, I remember what I was wearing when I got the email that I had been nominated to participate in the Education Leaders Experience (ELE). Some leaders in my district that I have the utmost respect for had already participated in this experience, and I was VERY jealous every time I heard about what they were doing in their classes. In short, ELE is a collaboration between Colonial Life and the Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks!) to help educators connect to the business world and an opportunity to celebrate leadership in education. LEADERSHIP! Could this be what I needed?

As it turns out, yes! It was exactly what I needed, but not in the way I anticipated. ELE was refreshing. It was raw and uplifting. But it was also painful. As educators, we often neglect to focus on our own strengths, what we bring to the table, because we’re constantly trying to build up our students, their families, and our colleagues. I expected kumbaya, some corny, yet tear-jerking quotes or speeches and some of the other standard leadership PD. (Disclaimer: I genuinely LOVE kumbaya and tear-jerking quotes and speeches from time to time.)

To my surprise, this was not the case…they rolled out the red carpet! At each session that was held, we were greeted with meals, cool swag, and the most rare gift of all: the gift of time. We spent time with real people in the business world who shared how education impacts what they do and how they plan based on current trends in education. We spent time meeting new people and networking. As it would turn out, the most impactful use of time for me, personally, was participating in Clifton’s Strengths, a survey tailored to outline your top five strengths based on your responses to a series of timed psychometric questions.

If you met me before ELE and I had to blurt out three things I’m good at it would be these: I’m occasionally funny, I often volunteer to be the group historian on trips or at special events, and I’m good at making small talk with people I don’t know (as I get older, this last one becomes more difficult, but still makes top three).

As educators, we often neglect to focus on our own strengths, what we bring to the table, because we’re constantly trying to build up our students, their families, and our colleagues.

After investigating my strengths through Clifton’s Strength’s Finder and my participation in ELE, my list is different now. As it turns out, for example, I’m very good at making complex information easy to understand for other people, and I’m good at encouraging growth and performance in others — who knew!? (For any of you Clifton groupies, this falls under the “analytical” and “input” strengths). Did I mention that my day-to-day work life involves communicating and creating guidelines? BINGO! I’ve felt like these tasks have been the things that weigh me down sometimes, but when I use my new, positive thinking, I can see that I’m valuable in my current position. I didn’t need a change of scenery or a swift kick in the rear. I needed to understand that I, Emmylou, have talents and can use them to help others and even thrive in my current role. What a tiny, yet novel revelation? Sometimes you just can’t see the forest for the trees (see what I did there?)

Since my ELE experience has ended, I’m happy to report that things are wonderful and perfect and I got a raise (clearly kidding). All jokes aside, things are still hard, and there are still fires, and sometimes I go home and want to cling to my good friend, Tito, instead of responding to emails after hours. But now I’m armed with the reminder that I serve a purpose. When things are difficult, people depend on me to help them navigate hard things and difficult situations. ELE couldn’t have rescued me at a more opportune time.

Here’s what I know: If you’re tired to your core and you find yourself stagnant as a leader, it is imperative that you act now on re-energizing. When talking doesn’t help, I’d strongly encourage you to look for a reputable, impactful program, like ELE, to boost your spirits and motivation.

Here are a few things to consider if you feel like you can relate to any part of this tantalizing tale:

  • Know your village. You’ve got to have people that you can trust and that genuinely care about you and your career in your life. Your village people might be at your job, they might be at home, they could be anywhere! But the key to knowing your village people is that you trust them enough to actually hear what they have to say; it might not be what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. You’ve got to be open to what guidance trusted people have to say (even if they want time to process the info and get back to you. {Thanks again, Dixon!}).
  • You ARE a Master, in spite of also being a Jill. Guys, we’re in education. We’re ALL going to have our hand in a million things all the time, but we HAVE to honor our value. We have to build one another up as well as remind ourselves of what we have to bring to the table. If you’ve never taken time to do that, do it right now! You don’t have to have a fancy survey identify your strengths. Think right now…what are they? Write them down on a post-it note by your computer. (You can thank me later.)
  • When you can’t see the forest for the trees, look up. Whether you’re looking up to take a breath, say a prayer, yell a cuss word (in your head only if on a school campus), or just plain take a short break, do it. See bullet of consideration above for a reminder that you have a lot to do. It’s ok that it gets overwhelming. It’s not ok to not take a break so that you see each student in your class or each teacher in your school and see their needs. (I realize this sentence has a double negative… please look beyond that). Recharge yourself so that you can meet those needs.

Here’s what I expect of myself moving forward: Less. I’m hoping that I expect less of myself moving forward. I encourage you, too, to set realistic expectations of yourself. Goals that you can accomplish but also challenge you appropriately. I’ll always struggle to some extent with crazy high expectations for myself, but now I know that I can stop for a moment and remember that I’m an important part of my team.

Am I still tired?
Sure. Are fires still burning?
Yes. Am I on my way out? Not in your wildest dreams.

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Emmylou Todd

Emmylou Todd, Coordinator for Special Education in Lexington Two, shares her leadership journey and the impact of her participation in the Education Leaders Experience (ELE), a leadership program sponsored by Colonial Life and coordinated and facilitated by UofSC. Read to learn more about what new leadership expectations Emmylou has set for herself.


Una confianza perdida, otra regenerada

The work of the Carolina Family Engagement Center (CFEC) is focused primarily on underserved families and their students (low income, English learners, those with disabilities, those in foster care, migrants, homeless, and marginalized communities). Housed within the SC School Improvement Council (SC-SIC) at the University of South Carolina College of Education, CFEC provides tools, trainings, and materials statewide through its website and other venues.

By: Julia Beaty, MSW, LISW-CP


I knew this route by heart: one long stretch through the city, a turn onto a county road, and another turn onto the unpaved road, left muddied today, before I turned right — into the place where hopes and dreams hung cautiously in the air. With my fair-skinned face a visible mismatch in the community, for once I was grateful for my unmistakable, obnoxiously colored vehicle that no covert operation would use coming into this community.

Arriving as the sun’s rays dimmed the wet, red clay leading to her home, I made my way to the familiar, weathered wooden steps, carefully minding the toys precariously placed, evidence of an afternoon of delight for her two young children. Two raps on the front door, then three, my usual greeting, followed by “Hola, muy buenas tardes,” through my native accent, native to South Carolina that is.

She welcomed me in, wearing a smile wearied by what I had come to recognize as the loving, faithful concern of a mother whose parenthood was a heavier journey than most. A pink, squealing swirl of a child peeked out from the corner, crumbs of galleta falling from her plump cheeks as she locked eyes with the funny gringa at the door, a mischievous smile of welcome quickly appearing on her face. Across the room sat the mother’s eldest child, absorbed in the world of his sacred afternoon routine: a toy car and afterschool snack of galletas con leche on the kitchen table.

We exchanged pleasantries as her day’s anxieties quickly surfaced, with a question of when the new therapists would be able to come help, paperwork still tied up with a state-level office where I’d submitted it for review, part of my role as his case manager. His behavior, his communication, his stubbornness, and that teacher—all sources of distress for this mother— explained through an almost convincingly flat affect… but I recognized the imperceptible tightness in her face, holding back what might be an eternity of tears, waiting to be released.

Tears for her homeland, her extended family, her dreams of a physically present spouse, her vision of motherhood with typically-abled children, her ability to live without fear of questions about “papers” hiding behind every corner.

She poured herself out each day, rising early to soothe the soul of her anxious-hearted son, giving him all that she could before he was transported to school to begin another day of surviving learning. Her warm, loving embrace snuggled him close before she planted a kiss on his forehead above fear-filled eyes, his reluctance visible, despite the barely risen sun of late-autumn, rays filtering through tall pines. He trudged heavily up the steps: one, two, three, four, five, taking his seat with other students on the petite, orange bus, while prayers in her native Spanish covered him in blessings, petitions, and pleadings for merciful understanding from the teacher that would receive this mother’s precious son for another day.

Two waves quickly crashed down in the room, one of relieved partnership on her and one of uncertain anticipation on me.

“¡Por favor!” she animatedly answered when I offered to attend the upcoming IEP meeting at her son’s school, after translating the letter that had been sent home—in English—with notice so short that her palpable anxiety started to make its way into my mind, too.

Knowing her desired expectations for her son and his learning experience, as well as a less than noteworthy history with his teacher over the prior school year, I realized I’d stopped breathing… I was bracing myself for battle: clarity, communication, power, resources, and trust on the line. One deep breath in, one out, wiggling my toes to re-ground myself amidst the swirl of thoughts, mental notes, and trepidation so I could offer her one gift of hope before leaving.

“Sí, yo asistiré consigo,” I said quickly, before losing the nerve to commit.

Two waves quickly crashed down in the room, one of relieved partnership on her and one of uncertain anticipation on me.

***

It was a chilly morning, a slow-motion walk from my vehicle, filled with butterflies and mental rehearsal, scanning the horizon for her as I made my way to the front door. I pushed the button, stated my name, my purpose, showed my state-issued ID, and was then permitted entrance into the building. Would she be so fortunate with the unlabeled, impersonal metal button or the thick southern drawl communicating the same instructions I’d just heard?

As I passed through the door, I glanced over my shoulder to see her coming, the exhaust from a neighbor’s vehicle contrasted against the cold air of the morning as it drove away. Her red scarf and black winter coat jostled as her dark blue jeans and black tennis shoes ran toward the building, front door open for her, with my simple gift of a trusted, welcoming smile extended; she exhaled a relieved “Gracias” as she passed through the entryway and we walked, together, to get our visitor’s passes from the thicker-than-honey, southern-drawled secretary. “IEP Meeting” I stated, and we were given our passes and directions—in English—to the conference room where the administrator, staff, and professional team members were esperándonos, though we had both arrived ahead of the start time stated in the letter.

Inconvenience, nerves, exhaustion, power, and indifference were all seated around the table when we walked through the conference room door.

With their stacks of papers in hand and conversation already in progress, we sheepishly entered the conference room, looking to see how we could fit a second chair next to the only empty one at the table. Six voices spoke over one another as she and I hurriedly made space at the table and took our seats. Introductions began quickly, and a wave of relief washed over me as he introduced himself: el intérprete! “At least that makes three of us,” I thought as we started the meeting, grateful for another ally at the table who would offer support.

Inconvenience, nerves, exhaustion, power, and indifference were all seated around the table when we walked through the conference room door.

Overfilled schedules and intentions of leaving part-way through the meeting were announced by multiple team members; their expertise and knowledge of her son would be limited to the two-to -threeminute summaries of progress they could offer that morning. Frustrated by this meeting before it had really even begun, I started taking notes: names, roles, observations, and recommendations, writing furiously as the information poured out from the experts, their legs visibly readied to exit stage left the instant that their part in the drama had concluded. Intermittent flurries of Spanish traveled across the table with such sparse detail I was glad I’d been taking notes, wondering when el intérprete would share the summary of what had already transpired.

One, two, three left the room, and suddenly, the teacher, vice principal, and interpreter’s chairs were the only ones still filled apart from ours. I glanced over at her, noticing that the color in her caramel-colored cheeks had changed to a warmer, reddish hue and her eyes were filling with tears as the teacher’s explanation of her son’s limited participation and motivation in the classroom this semester was interpreted casually into Spanish, with a cool indifference in el intérprete’s voice. Before I knew it, tears and her voice, angered by misrepresentation of her son whose desires and capacities she knew better than anyone at the table, rose above the tenuous narrative that was being relayed. Love for her child, an insistence on justice, and a powerful, maternal confidence of her child’s needs and abilities filled the notably vacuous room as her impassioned voice spoke with authority in her native tongue, citing poor communication, failures on the teacher’s part the school year prior, and the empty promises that the teacher had offered to support her son over the summer.

A paltry, anemic summary was offered by el intérprete, leaving me with doubt about what meeting he was attending.

I could feel my heart rate rising, an outcry of injustice and pressure to set the record straight welling up inside me and coursing through my veins, countered by an equally strong current of fear: being accused of misrepresentation, non-native linguistic status, and interjecting as an undesignated communication broker. “Am I breathing?” I wondered as time slowed around me, simultaneously taking in the detail of her worried expression, the casual posture of el intérprete, the now-worried expression of the teacher, and the suspiciouslyraised eyebrow of the first-year vice principal, knowing all that was at stake for her son’s education, and the chasm between what had been communicated and what had been interpreted.

“That’s not all she said!” I exclaimed loudly, powerfully looking across the table at el intérprete, quickly turning my head toward the vice principal with unambiguous passion and conviction.

With those five words, emotional shrapnel went flying through the conference room as blood drained from el intérprete’s face, a mother’s deepest fears were validated, a teacher’s empty promises were exposed, and an administrator’s suspicions of incomplete details of a student’s barriers to learning were confirmed.

“I thought I wasn’t getting the whole story; what exactly did she say?” asked the vice principal. Locking eyes with el intérprete across the table, I dared him to not interpret every word and sentiment of this mother. Not overstepping my role, we exchanged a knowing glance that I was oyendo a cada palabra, so he’d better be precise, and he’d better be thorough. For what was likely the first time, she was able to share her experience, knowledge, and expertise of her son and his needs in school, and she was heard.

For what was likely the first time, she was able to share her experience, knowledge, and expertise of her son and his needs in school, and she was heard.

With her pen moving quickly across the draft copy of the IEP, the vice principal made note of fears, desires, hopes, needs, dreams, and promises gone unfulfilled. Unsurprisingly to us, it became evident that with the fallout from the communication bombshell that had been dropped, we would not be signing a finalized IEP that day… unresolved concerns, unclarified needs, and unformulated strategies too numerous to count. With sincerity of heart in her eyes, the vice principal offered a full-length, fully-staffed follow-up meeting on a date of the mother’s choice, with the entire IEP team present and school district supports represented, alongside a sincere apology to us both for what had almost transpired: a casualty of federally-guaranteed services and supports for her son, lost to miscommunication.

***

Now I sit at a desk in another part of the city, still working to support families—including ones learning English —and their relationships to their school communities. I’m a few wrinkles and several years closer to wisdom, and the plentiful work to be done in South Carolina remains. But with shared commitment to the heavy lifting of linking arms with organizations and agencies to build trusted partnerships for school communities, stories like this one are becoming la excepción instead of la norma.

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Julia Beaty

As Bilingual Regional Liaison for the Carolina Family Engagement Center, based out of the SC School Improvement Council in The University of South Carolina College of Education, Julia is passionate about ensuring that both English- and Spanish-speaking children and families whose lives are impacted by disabilities and complex developmental trauma have access to multiple systemic supports. As a clinically-licensed Social Worker, Julia has worked with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as children impacted by developmental trauma. A Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) Practitioner, Julia has provided TBRI® Caregiver training for caregivers and professionals, both domestically and internationally. Please view her YouTube story!


Discovering Worth: There’s No Place Like an Educational Partnership with Families

The work of the Carolina Family Engagement Center (CFEC) is focused primarily on underserved families and their students (low income, English learners, those with disabilities, those in foster care, migrants, homeless, and marginalized communities). Housed within the SC School Improvement Council (SC-SIC) at the University of South Carolina College of Education, CFEC provides tools, trainings, and materials statewide through its website and other venues.

By: Ruth Hill, English Language Arts teacher, Simms Middle School


In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the characters discover they have more potential for greatness than they previously realized. The Lion has courage, the Tin Man has a heart, and the Scarecrow has a brain. They just need the right circumstance to exercise their abilities. Dear little Dorothy realizes the worth of family and instills in us the timeless mantra, “There’s no place like home.” The viewer travels between two worlds – one magical and filled with possibilities, and one in which realistic values and ideals take precedent. Building educational partnerships with families does not need to exist in a fantasy world. Rather, valuable and worthwhile partnerships can be defined in both singular and multiple experiences that help us broaden the feeling of “home.”

One of the biggest obstacles I have encountered in my 26 years of teaching middle school students has been the lack of opportunity for family involvement in middle school children’s education beyond a couple of conferences a year. Have you ever wondered what an ideal partnership would look like at the middle school level? It is not a fantasy that our schools’ parking lots can be full of eager participants’ vehicles ready for Open House events, PTO meetings, book fairs, and other academic and extracurricular events.

The middle school years are crucial. Teachers and their students have a dire need for family involvement. When Dorothy saw that no one paid attention to her and the plight of her Toto (the most important thing in her life), she left. No need in staying around when she felt no one cared about her or her needs. But we do: educators and parents alike. Sometimes we may not feel equipped to help our middle schoolers with the things they are facing. It can feel easier to let them just run along or be alone — but we must reach out.

One of the most important ways we can do this is through family engagement activities. When families, schools, and communities work together, every child is successful. We’re setting a pattern for them to follow. For many years I have reached out to families so that they could experience writing together. The many workshops I designed have always started with a call to action, “You have a story to tell, let us help you tell it!” And for many years I struggled to find multiple families willing to participate. And then one perfect thing happened to me. I came across a grant in which an organization had my very goal in mind of engaging families to help students become more successful. With the help of the CFEC through the University of South Carolina I was able to address this very daunting obstacle with an array of support tactics.

Ms. Julia Beaty was assigned as my liaison in helping me achieve the grand task, and together we put together a plan of action for family engagement activities. We started out with a conversation and built from this seed idea. As we came closer to the scheduled events, she contacted businesses who donated items, presented herself as a wise advisor, a creator of flyers, an instructional coach (for families as well as myself), technology advisor, and workshop presenter (Had I, myself, arrived in OZ?). My liaison helped put family engagement quality in perspective. While I thought numbers were the focus, she opened my eyes to see that it didn’t matter if there were only a handful of participants, what mattered was the quality of engagement for those of us in attendance.

When families, schools, and communities work together, every child is successful.

We dreamed together and shared the excitement of planning what we hoped would be quality engagement experiences and prepared for whatever the outcome would be.

Quality.
In middle school, many of our encounters with parents have a habit of becoming an experience dreaded by all
involved — parents, teachers, and students. These relationships are key for planning for deep family
partnerships. CFEC provided what I needed to have a different outlook on connecting with families, and the
experiences that came along the way have made a very enlightening “coming home” event for me, my students,
and their families.

Quality.
Last year’s Christmas event families came to share their favorite stories and recipes. We transformed the cafeteria into a winter wonderland. Tables were adorned with green and red tablecloths and ornaments, holiday books were available to read, a Christmas train traveled merrily around a track, and helpful handouts for publishing writing were strewn about. There was a table full of family resources from CFEC and the possibility of sharing with others as the Christmas spirit moved participants. Our decorating team consisted of my colleagues, my liaison, and me. All working beyond regular hours to make things beautiful so that families could physically experience something magical and meaningful.

Quality.
At this event, one mother came with a homemade key lime pie and a message. The topic of how our family recipes sometimes have a story was being presented as she entered, and the timing could not have been more perfect. The mom publicly shared how she made the pie from a recipe she learned in high school from a teacher she had admired. As she was telling her story, feelings of pride and connection filled the room. Other wonderful aspects of the event included a surprise visit (and compliments) from a congressman and active participation from administrators who stopped in to share in the festivities. All participants — teachers, parents, and students — were writing and sharing memories. We all went home a little taller that night.

Quality.
Like the time when our families gave us their hearts in a Valentine’s celebration we donned “Gather, Listen, Create, and Share!” One of the workshop events included a session titled “The Healing Power of Journaling: Because Black Mental Health Matters.” My liaison led a diverse group of participants through an activity called “Body Mapping.” During the event, one of the participants shared the impact of losing a loved one. His mother had no idea he had grieved in such a way. The activity called for participants to circle areas on the handout where they may have experienced something profound. The young male circled the space where the heart would be, and then he wrote about the significance of that circle. He let us in on the grief of losing his loved one. This was a total surprise to his mother who was also writing by his side. The event opened a door for the family to heal together. The impact that family engagement has on a child, witnessed firsthand, is full of visible worth.

Our middle school students need to be seen.

We have to let them know that we see them and that we know what they are going through — from the painful experience of losing a loved one to what may seem like a minor event that weighs heavily on their hearts and minds. They need to know they’re not alone and that we care. Our presence matters. Our mantra is “There’s no place like Sims, there’s no place like Sims.” (There’s no place like: insert your town/school here.)

Our middle school students need to be seen. Teachers need to be seen, too. Parents want to be seen.

Teachers need to be seen, too.

I want to be seen. I want to know that we are cared for and supported and that our time is valued and recognized. Teachers are not only instructors whose classes function live or flipped; we are also caregivers — making sure students are safe in our environment. As always we monitor, adjust, and thrive because we love and care about what we do.

Parents want to be seen.

They want to be recognized when they are experiencing the “coming of age” in their child (and sometimes have several ages in the home at once). They want to be supported through challenges, when setbacks with work, home, and school-aged children make them feel like they “haven’t got a heart, a brain, or the nerve.” We all need to define our worth and find “home” through our educational partnerships; for it is there where we can be that vital support to one another.

Quality.
“One of the most beneficial aspects of teaching is building positive relationships with parents. Effective parent-teacher communication is essential for a teacher to be successful.” (Meador). If we hope to see students grow to their full potential, we need not journey through these middle school years alone. Building educational partnerships with families can be defined in both single or multiple encounters that help us all to experience a sense of home. We all have what it takes to take this journey to its magical end. We just need to concentrate on the quality of the moments we share. In order to be productive we must internalize that #wearebettertogether.

But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man That he didn’t, didn’t already have… So please believe in me…

— Dewey Bunnell

**Meador, Derrick. “Cultivating Highly Successful Parent Teacher Communication.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/tips-for-highly-successful-parent-teacher-communication-3194676.

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Ruth Hill

Ruth Hill is a teacher at Sims Middle School in Union, South Carolina. She received a B.A. in Elementary Education and an M.A. in Gifted Education from Converse College in 1994 and 1998 respectively. Since her first day as a teacher through the present, her goal is to improve students’ literacy and to create activities for family engagement. In 2004, she became affiliated with the Spartanburg Writing Project and credits her reading and writing growth to SWP. She is a proud wife, mother of three, and grandmother to eight grandchildren who are the subjects and inspiration for picture books and young adult novels she hopes to publish one day.


Practitioner Inquiry: Supporting Teaching During a Pandemic

ABSTRACT
This article details the author’s practitioner inquiry project focused on examining teachers’ feelings about and uses of teaching with technology in a hybrid format during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data suggests that the Collaborative Inquiry Group (CIG) and administrative support provided to teachers influenced teachers’ positive views and experiences as they started teaching with technology.

NAPDS NINE ESSENTIALS (2nd Edition) ADDRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • A professional development school (PDS) is a learning community guided by a comprehensive, articulated mission that is broader than the goals of any single partner, and that aims to advance equity, antiracism, and social justice within and among schools, colleges/universities, and their respective community and professional partners.
  • A PDS is a context for continuous professional learning and leading for all participants, guided by need and a spirit and practice of inquiry.
  • A PDS is a community that engages in collaborative research and participates in the public sharing of results in a variety of outlets.
  • A PDS is built upon shared, sustainable governance structures that promote collaboration, foster reflection, and honor and value all participants’ voices.
  • A PDS creates space for, advocates for, and supports college/university and P–12 faculty to operate in well-defined, boundary-spanning roles that transcend institutional settings.


Brooke Scott

Brooke Scott is a former 3rd grade and 4th grade teacher and Customized Learning Coach. She is now an administrator at Oak Pointe Elementary School in South Carolina.


Culturally Responsive Teaching: From Individual Classrooms to Schoolwide Action

Introduction

It’s hard to admit you are wrong, and it is especially hard to realize you have biases in your teaching. This was my realization. I noticed my teaching practices were leaving many grade-level high school students disconnected, disengaged, and unresponsive. Sound familiar? The journey that followed this realization resulted in a career-altering transformation in my practice. I gained tremendous wisdom and compassion for others, but it wasn’t easy—and, fortunately, it didn’t stop with me.

As a result of lessons in the Fall 2019 “Introduction to Diversity” class at the University of South Carolina and participation in the Professional Development Schools (PDS) focus group at my school, I began to notice the students who were disengaged in my classroom were students of color. I realized that even with the best intentions, I was marginalizing students. I did not see my implicit bias, until one day…I did.

I saw that implicit bias validated some students while oppressing others. I saw the vulnerabilities of children whose identities were not validated by social structures. I saw how easy it is to believe the message of student deficiency and to normalize inequality. I wanted to do something about injustice—something that was in my power to do. I looked at myself and my classroom, and I began my own personal battle to combat this message so often communicated in schools across the country and that subsequently problematize inequality.

You see, as a white heterosexual female educator, I have never been told I could not do something because of the color of my skin or my sexual orientation. Even though I am a woman, my white identity has always been validated by structures in place. That gave me confidence, agency, and privilege.

My identity is not to blame. This is a societal problem where social signals reward some identities over others (Howard, 2010). However, with a little bit of effort on my part, in a short amount of time, I was able to break down some barriers for many students in my classroom through reflection and action. I began shifting my practice toward providing a more equitable classroom. I began looking for opportunities to include diverse cultures in classroom materials, dismantle impediments for diverse students, and create safe spaces to talk about sensitive, uncomfortable subjects like race and gender.

I had great successes with small changes such as providing more choice, co-creating culture projects with my classes, including students in classroom decisions, and sharing controversial topics associated with race and gender. As though I had sprinkled magic engagement dust throughout my classroom, disengaged students began to participate, complete their work, and influence others to do the same.

I saw students who had not turned in much work finishing their assignments early and being eager to present to the class. I heard kids say things like, “I’ve always been terrible at science,” start to see themselves as scientists. I saw increased self-confidence in science coursework for many diverse students. What I learned was that by being interested in learning more about my students’ cultures and deliberately valuing and including it in classroom materials and assignments, diverse student groups became interested in me and what I was trying to teach them.

James (pseudonym) stopped disrupting my class daily and started contributing. This once combative student suddenly began to pull his desk to the front of the room to ensure he didn’t miss anything. Because of the multiple changes that occurred in my classroom over that first semester, one particular adaptation does not stand out to account for this shift in James’s actions.

It was likely the combination of my choice to handle the disruptions confidentially and on my own without involving administration; explicitly speaking to his ability and positively about his identity as a black male; and the focus on building quality relationships. He knew where I stood and that place was as a supportive classroom member who just wanted him to be successful. This gave me an in to have the conversation with him about how distracted he was in class because of his cousin. That is when he started removing himself from the distractions by pulling his desk front and center. I helped him to recognize barriers in the classroom and to my astonishment he listened. He shifted from a distracted and disruptive student to a focused and engaged leader in the classroom.

Beyond Just Me

The impact of cultural inclusion did not stop with my classroom. The PDS structures in place provided an arena to share my transition with seven other educators in the 2019-20 PDS focus group at my school. Equity and cultural inclusion became the focal point of our conversations. In addition, cultural responsiveness became our school-wide goal.

This all happened before the coronavirus changed everything. When the revelation of inequities swept across our nation in the spring and summer of 2020, we were already working to combat injustice at our school.

In the spring of 2020, the PDS focus group decided to find a book focused on culturally responsive teaching practices geared toward application in the classroom. We decided on Sharroky Hollie’s (2018) Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning. Of all the books available, we felt this book was most representative of best practices in the classroom for culturally responsive teaching.

The 2020-21 school year saw a 200% increase in participation in the PDS focus group, as 16 more teachers joined. Among the 24 of us participating in the book study are teachers in every content area committed to adapting our practice to be more culturally responsive to students.

PDS is revolutionizing education through the development of school-university partnerships and the empowerment of teachers. The existing PDS structures are designed to develop innovative programs to help teachers and schools become change agents and problemsolvers. At my school, teachers are awakening the most disengaged students through the interrogation of bias and inclusion of culture. The school-wide focus would not have happened had these PDS structures not been in place.

Yes, but How?

There are several adaptations I made to my classroom to make it a more equitable space for all students, including utilizing a family approach, building quality relationships, including different cultures, and having communal structures. These adaptations are explained below.

Family Approach
Like Gallagher (2016) discusses, I now approach issues in the same way an ideal, functional family would deal with problems. I hold the same expectations for my students that I do for my own children. If there are students experiencing challenges, they know we will work together until we reach a solution. Students need to hear that belief they can do it, so I give them multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery and learn. In addition, I attempt to handle issues that arise by using a supportive family model, which means handling it internally with a caring approach. If there is a conflict, I try to resolve it with the student first to maintain confidentiality. This builds trust and lets them know they are important to our classroom. I do not call administration for small offenses. Another aspect of our classroom family is a buddy system, as discussed by Ladson-Billings (1995). Students have a buddy in the class for whom they are responsible. This builds peer social support and ultimately makes the classroom feel like a big family.

Relationships
I prioritize developing a relationship with every student that extends beyond academics. This might mean participating in a few TikTok dances and learning a few handshakes. This level of engagement grants me access to real conversations about students’ lives, goals, and the role of education, and the relationships we form gives me leverage to challenge them as learners, drawing on the importance of relationships as highlighted in the work of Howard (2013), Milner (2011), and Johnson (2011).

Cultural Inclusion
I use every opportunity to include diverse cultures in my classroom. Student work fills the room. Displaying student work communicates that I value students as a member of this classroom and see this as their space (Hollie, 2018). I practice equity by ensuring the images I use on my slides represent multiple identities and my classroom materials are inclusive. I share historical controversies in science surrounding race and gender inequality. We talk about uncomfortable issues. I share personal stories that are related to the content and encourage them to share personal stories, too.

Communal Structure
I relinquish control in my classroom whenever possible. Students are allowed to sit where they want, even if it is on the floor where we have beanbags. Whenever possible, I seek student input for classroom decisions. Some examples are student-created goals, choice in parameters for an assignment, and even order of learning. In addition, I plan opportunities for social interaction through collaborative work. This student-centered orientation of the classroom promotes equally valued perspectives on the content. Emdin (2007) calls this communal structure and suggests the corporate structures of teacher-directed learning and the hyper-structured classroom management of compliance causes diverse students to become disengaged.

Despite these changes in my practice, I still ponder, how many students am I missing? How many students are we missing, educators?

I challenge educators and leaders to begin or to continue your own personal journey of interrogating implicit bias. Do not let complacency interfere with student achievement. Inaction is action to reinforce bias. I challenge you to talk about race, gender, and other marginalized identities and their influences on the classroom. Diverse student groups need us to have those conversations, and it is to the benefit of all students when we center all cultures in our classrooms. I challenge you to watch students breathe a sigh of relief and feel safe when you see them and they see you. Mostly, I challenge you to try to incorporate culture in meaningful and authentic ways.

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References
Emdin, C. (2007). Exploring the contexts of urban science classrooms. Part 1: Investigating corporate and communal practices. Cultural Science Education, 2, 319-350.

Gallagher, K. (2016). Can a classroom be a family? Race, space, and the labour of care in urban teaching. Canadian Journal of Education, 39(2), 1-36.

Hollie, S. (2018). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning: Classroom practices for student success (2nd ed.). Shell Publishing.

Howard, T. (2013). How does it feel to be a problem? Black male students, schools, and learning in enhancing the knowledge base to disrupt deficit frameworks. Review of Research in Education, 37, 54-86.

Howard, T. (2010). Why race & culture matter in schools: Closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms. Teachers College Press.

Johnson, C. C. (2011). The road to culturally relevant science: Exploring how teachers navigate change in pedagogy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48, 170–198. doi:10.1002/tea.20405

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 160-165.

Milner, H. R. (2011). Culturally relevant pedagogy in a diverse urban classroom. Urban Review, 43, 66–89.

Brooke Biery (bbiery@lexrich5.org) is a science teacher at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, SC where she is also a PDS Fellow for UofSC in the Curriculum and Instruction Education Doctorate program.


Robyn Brooke Biery

Brooke Biery is a science teacher at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, SC where she is also a PDS Fellow for UofSC in the Curriculum and Instruction Education Doctorate program.


What Would Happen If We All Started Caring About Every Student?

In my more than 20 years of volunteering and working in public education in our state, I have never seen anything like what we experienced starting in the 2020 – 2021 school year. Teachers and students have always struggled, but we are at a critical crossroads. We were experiencing a teacher shortage pre-COVID with thousands of teachers not returning to teaching positions in their districts and teacher preparation programs not producing enough new graduates to fill vacancies. That was in addition to teacher burnout and ongoing COVID stress concerning the social and emotional wellbeing of students and concerns about teachers’ own health and safety. The survey “Teaching in South Carolina in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” conducted by the University of South Carolina, found that 80% of teachers surveyed are concerned about their students wellbeing. Here we are at the beginning of another year where COVID is profoundly impacting schools and schooling.

As I recall my days volunteering in the front office and in the classrooms at local middle and elementary schools, I witnessed firsthand some of the stressors that all teachers and support staff experienced on a daily basis. I also witnessed the passion and love they have for their students. Our teachers, administrators, and support staff truly care about the wellbeing of all students, and I could share countless examples showing how they have gone above and beyond for my own children. From attending baseball games to Ms. Pam in the cafeteria who always made sure my son had enough to eat for lunch (because she knew he was coming back for seconds). Our schools had a village vibe, and everyone looked out for one another.

The survey “Teaching in South Carolina in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” also showed that teachers have a deep commitment to students and their profession. They found new ways to collaborate with colleagues. The challenges COVID brought about spurred innovations in parent and family engagement, student centered learning, curriculum, and teacher leadership. So, while COVID amplified significant challenges in our state, it also gave our teachers and administrators the opportunity to think outside the box and reach out to colleagues for help.

Helping our teachers and our schools means helping our students. When our teachers feel supported, listened to, and respected these feelings flow to students. Just like many of our students, teachers often feel isolated and hopeless. In many parts of the state, they simply do not have the resources and the support systems in place for their own wellbeing, much less that of their students.

So, what can we do as parents and advocates?

Get involved

To take an even more active role in the life of your child’s school, consider serving on the local School Improvement Council.

I realize that many parents and caregivers are just trying to survive day to day (I’ve been there, too). But there is always a way we can be involved. From simply attending the parent/teacher conferences to making sure your student is showing up in-person and online. Communication between parents/caregivers and teachers is a critical component to student success. If teachers aren’t aware of obstacles prohibiting student success they can’t proactively support solutions. Teachers want students to succeed, and they are willing to work with us; they just don’t always know what outside stressors or issues we are dealing with at home.

If you have more time on your hands, find a way to volunteer. Whether learning is happening in-person, online, or in hybrid environments, teachers and schools will always need our help and often times they won’t ask for it. Don’t be afraid to send an email offering to help and asking what you can do. I am fairly certain that they will have a task or two for you! If not, consider helping via your local SCPTA or other parent organization. Many of these organizations also offer numerous support systems for parents and caregivers. To take an even more active role in the life of your child’s school, consider serving on the local School Improvement Council. The SIC is made up of all constituency groups in a school – including parents – and works specifically to strengthen school and student outcomes.

Stay up to date on what is going on in the district through local board of education meetings. Sometimes we get so focused on what is going on with our own student(s) that we forget that decisions made at a district level have a huge impact on all students. The South Carolina School Boards Association has a list of all 79 districts with the names of their board members. They also have an advocacy section where you can find legislative priorities and a current list of local legislators.

Ask questions.

It can be challenging to decipher the educational lingo that often comes home with students, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Chances are if you don’t understand it, there are others having the same issues.

Francis Kepple, former U.S. Commissioner of Education for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, put it this way: “Education is too important to be left solely to educators.” This can serve as a call to parents and advocates to do what they can – individually and collectively – to support their schools, teachers, students, and communities.

The more we ask questions and the more involved we become, the more we start making decisions that will not only have an impact on our students but every student.

Francis Kepple, former U.S. Commissioner of Education for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, put it this way: “Education is too important to be left solely to educators.” This can serve as a call to parents and advocates to do what they can – individually and collectively – to support their schools, teachers, students, and communities.

It doesn’t take a huge leap to go from caring about your child to caring about all students; even the smallest of steps can make a huge difference.

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP) housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CEP partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), a CEP partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CEP_UofSC and @teachingquality.

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Debbie Jones

Debbie Jones, a native of Virginia, has lived in Florence, SC for over twenty years. After volunteering with The School Foundation, a local education foundation in Florence, she began working with South Carolina Future Minds where she was a founding staff member.

Ms. Jones is a graduate of Meredith College and served in a variety of leadership roles at the local and state levels, including the SC PTA, YMCA Florence, and Emerging Leaders Florence. She is a 2020 Riley Fellow, 2020 Public Education Policy Fellow, and graduate of the Non-profit Leadership Institute at Francis Marion. She currently serves on the board of SC First Steps of Florence.


The Power of Stories from the Inside Out

“Silence is the enemy of justice.” – Aline Ohanesian, Orhan’s Inheritance

Far too many educator stories go untold. As the most observed profession of all professions, the stories of teachers and teaching have been published by a variety of stakeholders, often well meaning, yet missing the authentic lens of the practitioners who engage with students daily. The half dozen stories assembled here only begin to scratch the surface of exposing the power of storytelling from educators’ point of view. What fuels their power? Their expertise and a desire to share it. Their isolated practice and a desire to overcome it. Their commitment to service and a desire to deepen it.

These stories break the deafening silence. They offer lessons that we as citizens in a democracy need to be reminded of and re-tell and re-invent as our own experiences are shared. These educator authors remind us through compelling nonfiction narratives to use all tools at our disposal to see and hear others; to lean into our own discomfort in order to model growth and learning; to explore connections between science and social justice; to invite the authenticity of every voice to lead classrooms and schools of celebrated inclusivity and belonging; to use the power of empathy to advocate for change through activism; to share classroom power to build powerful learning; to embrace the change that accompanies meeting each student where they are.

All of these stories are about voices, many voices: parents, children, principals, teachers, educators in a variety of roles, the community that envelopes each and every school. These half dozen stories are compelling and authentic. And for each one of these, there are thousands more that never get told.

Why? Many reasons. We don’t think to ask. We think we “know” the stories since we were all students once and “watched teachers” do their work – an act sociologist Dan Lortie called “apprenticeship of observation” to describe the thousands of hours we spend as students observing and evaluating professionals in action (Schoolteacher, 1975).

Giving the public access to insights that often remain unexplored and, if explored, often unshared, strengthens our democratic society as educator professionals model a civic responsibility of sharing voice in the spirit of educating citizens of all sectors.

Providing opportunities for practitioners to tell their stories helps to bring hazy perceptions into clearer focus. It also creates some rare space and time for educators to deeply reflect, analyze, and share some of their more profound work as learners of their chosen profession that ironically is all about learning. This necessity is too often pushed aside because of competing priorities, creating counterproductive choices as educators lose opportunities to think, refine, and revisit their practice. Giving the public access to insights that often remain unexplored and, if explored, often unshared, strengthens our democratic society as educator professionals model a civic responsibility of sharing voice in the spirit of educating citizens of all sectors. And, crafting these stories not only provides insights for the audience, they clarify learning and strengthen the voice of the storytellers. The more we are able to practice the art of storytelling, the more opportunity we have to connect in meaningful discourse.

Recognizing the opportunity to share powerful experiences of educators in the University of South Carolina (UofSC) network of partners, the Center for Educational Partnerships invested in a storytelling retreat attended by the six authors featured in this journal (plus 18 more storytellers). All stories produced from this writing retreat have been published in some format, completing a necessary and final step of validating the writing process for each author.

Educators report that they have grown from being able to tell their stories, and their sense of professionalism has been enhanced by having their voices published, as evidenced in the quotes below from storytellers:

  • “There are so many stories, and mine is more important than I would have thought.”
  • “I feel inspired to tell my story, my truth, my experience.”
  • “I didn’t give myself credit for understanding that my story may have a positive influence on others.”

As a Research 1 University, certainly the College of Education values the scholarly work of its faculty. And as the flagship University in the state, there is unapologetic value placed on innovations and collaborations that provide other types of South Carolina-centric data such as the lived experiences of educators who are in schools and classrooms every single day. Each of these authors told their own story without concern for if, where, and how they would be published. The surprise of the storytelling was that several groups of writers focused on similar topics that could become a collection like these stories.

When UofSC identified an interest in helping educators find their voice through storytelling, they turned to a highly-respected national non-profit organization, the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), for facilitator expertise. The first retreat was such a success that the partnership between CTQ and UofSC around storytelling continues to expand. CTQ uses a suite of storytelling tools and protocols specifically designed to assist participants (of wide-ranging experiences as writers) in examining the impact of their work.

The approach to do so involves taking a general anecdote into a deeper analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data, and then stepping back to take time to answer “So what?” from as many perspectives as possible. And, once the storyteller lands on the lens of the story that will likely bring about the most powerful response – A CALL TO ACTION – then the story has its shape and purpose. What’s left is to ensure lessons to be shared are as clearly and compellingly communicated as possible.

Perhaps the most powerful part of this storytelling approach is the “peer writing workshop” sessions where participants work in small groups to listen and respond to one another’s stories. The TELLING of the story breaks the isolated, and often suffocating silence of untold stories set in classrooms, hallways, offices, lunchrooms. And the value of honoring the experience and voice of educator storytellers and those they serve is what makes public education a cornerstone of our democracy. One that must be celebrated through stories from the inside out.

As you have engaged with this collection of stories, we hope you have been inspired to further explore how spreading stories in your own practice would add even more value to your work.

What’s your story? We look forward to hearing about it.

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P. Ann Byrd

P. Ann Byrd serves as President & Partner of CTQ, a national nonprofit focused on advancing the collective leadership of teachers and administrators working together to transform their profession. She spent 13 years teaching high schoolers (English Language Arts and Teacher Cadet) before joining CERRA’s staff for 10 years at Winthrop University, the last six as Executive Director. She earned National Board Certification in ELA/AYA (2000/2010) and also served six years as a member of the NBPTS Board of Directors. Ann holds a B.A. in English–Secondary Education and an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Carolina. Her purpose-driven investment in collective leadership creates space for her to work alongside dedicated educators throughout the country to make schools better for all students.


Cindy Van Buren

Cindy Van Buren has been an SC educator since 1988. She has previously served as the Deputy Superintendent for the Division of School Effectiveness for the South Carolina Department of Education, the Chair of the Department of Education at Newberry College, the Director of Teacher Education at Winthrop University, and as a high school administrator and teacher at Rock Hill High School. Since joining the staff in the College of Education at UofSC in 2015, she has dedicated her work to building and maintaining partnerships that improve the lives of teachers, students, schools and districts in SC. As assistant dean for Professional Partnerships in the College of Education at UofSC, she serves as the Director of the Center for Educational Partnerships and CarolinaCrED. P. Ann Byrd serves as President & Partner of CTQ, a national nonprofit focused on advancing the collective leadership of teachers and administrators working together to transform their profession. She spent 13 years teaching high schoolers (English Language Arts and Teacher Cadet) before joining CERRA’s staff for 10 years at Winthrop University, the last six as Executive Director. She earned National Board Certification in ELA/AYA (2000/2010) and also served six years as a member of the NBPTS Board of Directors. Ann holds a B.A. in English–Secondary Education and an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Carolina. Her purpose-driven investment in collective leadership creates space for her to work alongside dedicated educators throughout the country to make schools better for all students.