Translating Accountable Talk® Practices Between In-Person and Virtual Teaching

By Jazmin Rotger de Parra and Kristin Nuñez

Teaneck Public Schools

Like many of you, we are still navigating the world of remote instruction and virtual classrooms while wanting to stay focused on providing academically rigorous instruction and having high expectations for all students.

At the center of most of our decisions is the idea of instructional equity. Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction. Instead, it demands that reasonable and appropriate accommodations be made as needed to promote access and attainment for all students (NCTM 2000)[i]. Up until now, the decisions that led to a greater degree of instructional equity largely occurred in schools and classrooms. But now we are having to apply all that we know about teaching and learning to maximize equitable opportunities for every one of our students in a world outside the school walls.

…we are having to apply all that we know about teaching and learning to maximize equitable opportunities for every one of our students in a world outside the school walls.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the use of Accountable Talk practices was a pedagogical foci for our Grades 3–5 mathematics classrooms. Through our work, we incorporated and refined our use of discourse and supported students as they engaged in verbal, visual, and written communication. We increased opportunities for students to learn from one another through the collaborative clarifying of ideas, unpacking misconceptions, and making connections across different ways of doing mathematics. Because of our focus on the use of Accountable Talk practices in the classroom, we know how important talk is to developing mathematical understanding. And even in the time of COVID we are continually trying and tweaking different ideas and approaches during online instruction to foster a learning community that engages in meaningful math discussions that advances student understanding.

Mrs. Nuñez is one of our third grade teachers, and she continues to reimagine instruction while holding students and the role of instructional conversation at the center of her efforts. Read on as she describes her first-hand experience with establishing Accountable Talk discussions in her classroom and then transitioning to accountable communication between and among her students and herself in an online world.

Why focus on talk, and specifically, the use of Accountable Talk practices?

From the moment a new group of learners come together, establishing community is vital for their academic success, and the foundation of the community is talk. Skillful teachers recognize the power in leveraging talk to guide understanding and collaboratively construct knowledge.

Building the community this year has been a bit different because we started the school year working online. For the first couple weeks of virtual learning, we engaged in many whole group conversations about respect, uniqueness, and culture. We centered our conversations around read alouds that focused on different social emotional skills. Over the course of a week, we developed class promises to hold each other accountable for our learning and make the most of our time together.

How have you been able to capitalize on the unique opportunity to build community from a distance while students are at home?

Even though I miss teaching in-person, one of the advantages of our current situation is that we have been able to truly expand the walls of the classroom to better encompass students’ lives at home. We unpacked and shared elements of our cultures to learn more about one another. From morning meetings and brain breaks to icebreakers and structured assignments, our classroom community is building a foundation of patience, perseverance, and celebration, which is integral to establishing community both virtually and in-person.

How did you start using Accountable Talk practices during instruction?

There is an assumption that students know how to talk about their thinking; however, this specific type of discourse needs to be explicitly modeled and practiced. Students need opportunities to engage in academic talk that leads to learning. Accountable Talk stems on charts or flip-rings can be used as scaffolded support and referred to during discussions. Similar approaches can be used when working online. Talk stems work because they provide students with diverse backgrounds a common language with a specific, intended conversational purpose to use during our discussions. As students take ownership of what it means to be accountable to their learning community, to accurate knowledge, and to rigorous thinking and truly internalize the expectations, academic conversations flourished, providing rich opportunities for students to build knowledge together and think deeply about content.

What conversation dynamics do you plan for during your instructional minutes?

At the beginning, we do a lot of partner and whole group discussion, and within that I balance student voices and keep mine to a minimum.

After routinely hearing and engaging in Accountable Talk discussions as a whole group, the students adopt the language practices and lead their own conversations—acknowledging and building on each other’s ideas, questioning one another, and supporting claims with evidence. The conversations can seem almost natural in small group discussions, partner conversations, and conferences with me.

I plan for a combination of teacher to student(s) and student(s)-student(s) discussions.

What challenge(s) have you faced integrating Accountable Talk practices into instruction, in person and online? How have you met the challenge(s)?

Though the path to having a language-rich classroom sounds easy, it is not. Not all students are comfortable exposing their thinking, especially when they are aware of the expectation that thinking can (and should) be questioned and challenged. As an adult, it is hard to feel comfortable with the idea that after sharing my best thinking, I am going to have to explore it more deeply—and publicly.

It takes time and intention to create an instructional space where students feel safe enough to willingly take these risks. Since some students may feel more comfortable than others with this exploratory thinking and talking, I have to think critically about the ways in which equity and engagement intersect.

One of the ways I’ve met this challenge, both in person and online, is by establishing expectations for participation. Within the structure and routine of a lesson, I find a variety of ways for students to participate. Everyone gets time to work on and is responsible for working on the problem independently. When working in-person, I have them talk with a partner who works at a similar skill level and pace. Then I have two partner groups talk with each other before we have our grand conversation as a whole class.

When working online, the students share their thinking in a variety of ways. One low-risk way I got them started was by using polls. The polls let me do quick whole class snapshots, and, using follow up “why” questions, let me hear from individual students about their thinking. I also have them use a collaboration board to share their thinking with others after working independently. They use a shared white boards or Google slide in breakout groups. I’ve had students take pictures and send them to me to share with the group. These intentional decisions are the scaffolds for supporting students as they grow their own Accountable Talk practices. Through these efforts my students are more comfortable taking academic risks and have learned the value in hearing and seeing diverse ideas from all members of our classroom learning community.

Say more about how and why you used the collaboration board with students.

When we first started digital learning, I was losing students left and right. Students and families struggled with using the attachments in “order” or had difficulty toggling between multiple sources. I needed to regain control of the wheel, so I researched and experimented with different apps and resources to better guide students in their virtual learning spaces. I searched for digital ways to increase and improve collaborative interactions among the members of our learning community.

I embedded virtual drawing and collaboration boards to engage students in our learning community. Virtual drawing boards allowed students to share their processes and thinking. These boards gave me an opportunity to digitally “walk” through my classroom—to listen in on student conversations, provide feedback through assessing and advancing questions, and make adjustments to my instructional practice. Collaboration boards provided students the ability to respond to the content and each other.

What else did you consider when making decisions about platforms?

These instructional decisions empowered students and created space for them to use their voices. It was important that I strategically chose platforms where they could share their diverse ideas in this virtual space not just with me, the teacher, but also with each other.

Jazmin Rotger de Parra is the Supervisor of Instructional Programs – Mathematics and Kristin Nuñez is a Third Grade Teacher at Teaneck Public Schools.

IFL Step Back

Mrs. Nuñez’s story illustrates the art and science of teaching. She tried several small tests of change as she translated her Accountable Talk practices from in-person to online instruction.

  • Honor students for who they are and all that they bring to the classroom.
  • Make time for and expect talk from students.
  • Provide scaffolds for students to support them as they engage in learning discussions.
  • Allow for a range of communication dynamics.Plan and experiment with different ways of getting students to collaborate and communicate with each other using pictures, images, and written words in addition to spoken words.

Click here to tell us how you are translating Accountable Talk practices during your online, in-person, or hybrid teaching. We want to celebrate your successes and support you in facing the challenges.

[i] p. 12. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
Accountable Talk is a registered trademark of the University of Pittsburgh.

Tagged with: Accountable Talk® Discussions, Agency and Voice, Equitable Instruction, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Math, Online Instruction, Partner Spotlight, Principles of Learning

Focusing on the Instructional Approach Nurtures Agency

By Kristin Klingensmith

IFL Mathematics fellow

Sara DeMartino

IFL English language arts fellow

Many educators name student agency as something they want to work to develop within their schools and classrooms. But what is student agency? And, more importantly, what can we as educators do to foster student agency?

To start, we should work from a common definition of agency. The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University defines agency as “the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative […].” In their work they frame agency as being on a continuum from having a sense of agency to expressing agency.

If we keep their definition of agency in mind, then we have to acknowledge that agency is not something that is given, but rather is something that can be nurtured in others. And because students spend most of the school day participating in learning activities in classrooms, we have to consider what agency looks like during the learning process and the impact teachers have on students’ development of agency.


To foster agency in the classroom, students should have opportunities to be active participants in their learning and be asked to think deeply about content. Students are the meaning makers in the room, and the teacher provides support through feedback and scaffolding that allows students to do the heavy lifting.To better understand student agency and the impact teachers can have on its development, let’s compare two scenarios from second grade classrooms. The students in both classrooms are working to solve the
Doubles Task. As you read, look for instances where you believe students are expressing agency.

Scenario A

Mrs. Miller begins when everyone is sitting silently with the task and a pencil. She tells the students to watch what she does so they can learn how to solve addition equations with double-digit numbers quickly.

Mrs. Miller says, “I know that there are 49 cookies in each box, and there are 2 boxes, so I have to add 49 + 49.”

She writes 49 + 49 = ___ on the board.

Then she says, “I add the tens together and then add the ones together. Then I will put the tens and ones together. 4 tens + 4 tens is 8 tens—80.” Then she says, “9 ones + 9 ones is 18.” She continues, “I know the total amount of tens, 80, and the total amount of ones, 18, so now I put the tens and ones together.” Mrs. Miller says to the students, “Write the amount we get when we add the tens and ones.”

She sees some students write 80 + 18 = 98. Other students shout out their answers: I got 98. There are a lot of cookies. Wait, I got 88. No, it is 80 and 18, so it has to be 98, don’t you know?

She is disappointed that they shouted out and did not wait to be called on. Mrs. Miller says, “I wish you would follow the directions. But two of you shouted out the right answer, so good job.” Mrs. Miller writes the final step on the board: 80 + 18 = 98.

Mrs. Miller then turns to the class to check their understanding. She asks, “Why did we add 80 + 18 to get 98?” The students look at her and then at one another. One student says, “Because you told us to.”

Scenario B

Ms. Franklin tells the students to get ready for math and posts the Doubles Task on the board. As students move into their math groups, they begin to work on the task in groups. Ms. Franklin walks around the room, listening to their conversations and providing support as needed. She notes that some of the students have made diagrams of base ten blocks while others are using manipulatives. Some students are working more abstractly without the use of visual models.

As she approaches one of the groups, she hears a student say, “I added 50 + 48.” Another student says, “I think we made a mistake. We have to add 49 + 49.” Another student says, “It’s okay because it’s 98 either way. It is just easier to add 48 + 50.” Ms. Franklin asks where the 48 + 50 came from, and a student answers, “We moved 1 from this 49 to this 49.” Then Ms. Franklin asks, “Are you allowed to move some from one addend to another? Why or why not?” The students pause and then start to talk as a group. Ms. Franklin hears several students say that both 49 + 49 and 48 + 50 equal 98. One student says that moving 1 from 49 over to the other 49 does not change the answer because they are moving 1 not adding 1. Ms. Franklin says, “Get your reasoning on paper. Be ready to explain to the class why changing 49 + 49 into 48 + 50 does not change the answer.”

Ms. Franklin continues to circulate among the group listening for their mathematical reasoning and asking questions to stretch their thinking.

You probably noticed instances of student agency in both classrooms, but recognized that there were more instances where student agency was being expressed in Ms. Franklin’s class than in Mrs. Miller’s class. Though Mrs. Miller’s students were willing to share their answers and be heard (without waiting for her to call on them), Ms. Franklin’s students expressed agency more consistently and in more ways.

The evidence of student agency in these scenarios is directly related to the instructional decisions that Ms. Franklin and Mrs. Miller made that worked to either “boost” or “dampen” student agency. Both Ms. Franklin and Mrs. Miller start by selecting a task that is of high cognitive demand and that allows for multiple student solution paths, which provides students something worthwhile to talk about and figure out. This instructional decision serves to boost agency. Unfortunately, after the selection of the task, Mrs. Miller works in a way that dampens student agency because opportunities for students to think, reason, and even interact are taken away. In contrast, Ms. Franklin continues to boost student agency. She creates an additional challenge when she asks a small group of students, “Are you allowed to move some from one addend to another? Why or why not?” which leads students to think more rigorously by working to understand why moving an amount between addends does not change the whole, rather than simply report the steps they used to arrive at the answer. The challenge works to captivate the attention of the students and requires them to engage in meaningful discussion of the mathematics. Based on their interactions, it is likely that students in Ms. Franklin’s class regularly participate in meaningful classroom discussions.

If student agency is to remain a goal, then looking at what is happening in the classroom must be the focus. We have to recognize that students from every background deserve and have the right to experience classroom environments designed to foster agency. We have to believe that students are the most valuable resources in the classroom and come to us as thinkers whose contributions have merit. We have to ask if the materials we put in front of students are worthy of serious thought and cognitive effort. And we have to consider how instructional practices subtly, or not so subtlety as in the case of Mrs. Miller, convey beliefs about students and work to boost or dampen their agency.

Tagged with: Agency and Voice, Equitable Instruction, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Math

Agency and Voice: A Push for Greater Equity and What it Looks Like in Math

By Laurie Speranzo

IFL mathematics fellow

Asale Harris

Supervisor of mathematics (Grades 1 to 6), New Brunswick Public Schools

Jamie Gulotta

Supervisor of mathematics (Grades 6 to 12), New Brunswick Public Schools

JoAnna Castellano

Mathematics specialist, New Brunswick Middle School

In her article “Framing Equity: Helping Students ‘Play the Game’ and ‘Change the Game’” (2009), Rochelle Gutiérrez lays out the four key dimensions of equity: Access, Achievement, Identity, and Power, which sit on two axes. Access and Achievement create the dominant axis, and Identify and Power create the critical axis.

Many of our partners in education have been working to secure access to high-quality education for every student to ensure that each of them can achieve. Their efforts often focus on the dominant axis to ensure that students have access so that they can move towards achievement. While work in this area is necessary, the critical axis allows students to see themselves as mathematicians and changers of the world around them. Honoring and leveraging the identity of each and every student, and transferring power to students in classrooms must also be considered to truly address equity. Gutiérrez writes that attention to identity includes that “students’ frames of reference and resources are acknowledged in ways that help build critical citizens.” Power is not just about who owns the airtime in class: “While teachers in interviews may say they ‘want to empower students,’ they almost always mean it only as it relates to achievement, not with respect to helping students reach personal goals of excellence that may intersect with the doing of mathematics.” However, if students are to be empowered to excel outside of school, opportunities need to be provided in school.

One partner district, New Brunswick Public Schools, has taken on equity, with a focus on providing students greater agency and voice. If one definition of voice is students having choice, control, challenge, and opportunities to collaborate, how are district teachers and leaders building voice?

Asale Harris and Jamie Gulotta, the district supervisors of mathematics, name that it all starts with access to high-level tasks: Students try different pathways and strategies and then discuss these with peers. By making discussion the norm in the classroom, students are empowered to share thoughts and ideas without the fear of being different or wrong. During instruction, teachers place value on student ideas and discussion, which then, in turn, increases student voice.

The mathematics specialist at New Brunswick Middle School (NBMS), JoAnna Castellano, who supports teachers in use of high-level tasks and facilitating productive discussions, adds this:

Our students at NBMS are utilizing their voice and agency by taking ownership of their work. The students at the middle school have committed to persevering through high-cognitive tasks. Teachers are intentionally making moves that are making students focus on three components when working on a high-cognitive task, emphasizing the student’s mathematical explanation with a visual model, while focusing on the precision of their work. Students are taking a more direct role in their work.

The New Brunswick district’s vision is “to create lifelong learners and leaders.” This takes into account agency being defined as the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative (Ferguson, Phillips, et al., October 2015). Agency starts in the classroom, with the ultimate goal that students use their agency to navigate and impact the world around them. Students build voice and agency through the opportunities provided to them.

New Brunswick teachers have been working at making classrooms places where there are opportunities for students to develop voice and agency. Castellano talks about what she sees. “With focusing on student voice and agency, students are always asked to justify their work. As educators, we try to create a ‘safe place’ for errors, even when the students can reason how they came up with their solution.”

The district supervisors share that “Throughout [our] math classrooms, students are more willing to dive into solving tasks and rely on the discussion around strategies to persevere through solving them. By creating opportunities to talk through strategies for tasks, students are given the stage to express their thinking and reasoning about how they see the math. The more opportunities we create for students to discuss with each other, the more empowered students will feel to do so.” And with the district goal of creating lifelong learners and leaders, students will be better equipped to leverage their voice outside the classroom as well.

Transitioning from traditional classrooms to ones that support student struggle and the opportunities for student voice and agency also requires supporting teachers. Harris and Gulotta share how teacher voice is fostered and heard:

In New Brunswick, we consistently attempt to create opportunities for our educators to form communities that invite different points of view and reach solutions that not only reflect the views of all but also ultimately positively reach and affect our children. Teacher voice plays a commanding role in our steering committees, during our common planning time sessions with specialists, vetting our district-wide assessments and rubrics, and actively participating in professional development sessions that are ultimately adjusted to our students who present with varying needs with our strategic plan, vision, and PD goals in mind.

Working toward stronger student agency requires the intentional creation of opportunities for students to be empowered and build voice, and that takes the concerted commitment and effort of dedicated educators at all levels.

Tagged with: Agency and Voice, Equitable Instruction, Leadership, Math, Partner Spotlight

Student and Teacher Agency: One District’s Reflection on Taking Action

By Cheryl Sandora

IFL English language arts fellow

Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future conducted interviews with teachers and school administrators to understand the disconnect between professional learning that teachers need and want and what they actually experience. One idea that surfaced from the interviews was teacher agency. (Learning Forward) Many districts recognize the important role agency plays in the classroom, both for teachers and students, but are unsure of how to make it happen or how it would play out in the classroom.

Ferguson, Phillips, Rowley, and Friedlander define agency as “the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness.” (p. 1) Three years ago, Chartiers Valley School District’s decision to improve both teacher and student agency has resulted in a more challenging and engaging curriculum and allowed students to have a greater stake in their learning. Kelly Natale, ELA curriculum leader and literacy coach for Grades K–5, shares her thoughts on the process and the changes in the learning environment as a result of their decision.

After 22 years as an educator, Kelly echoes the findings from the interviews mentioned above. She commented that in talking to her colleagues from other districts and other educators, in general, the disconnect is that teachers are “given” professional development that may be grounded in research but has little influence on their own classrooms. “I hear teachers saying, ‘How does this connect to my classroom? How is this practical? Is this what I need at this moment for the students I am instructing?’” Too often, the decision comes down to what district administrators feel is needed rather than what teachers know is needed. These decisions are frequently based on the needs seen in assessments rather than the instructional needs of the classroom which directly impact assessment.

Kelly sees Chartiers Valley as a district whose goal was to move away from the top-down model where administrators make decisions on professional development toward a model that allows for more teacher agency. Kelly felt it was important to talk with teachers to determine their needs. She met regularly with teachers and talked about what they felt they needed as teachers to best impact student growth. This allowed teachers to avoid the helpless feeling described by Ferguson. This type of discourse is meaningful and respectful and enables teachers to see the immediate impact. According to Kelly, the process almost became cyclical, as the district collaborated with the Institute for Learning (IFL) to provide the professional development they needed, and the district saw an immediate impact. Since teachers were advocating for themselves, they were able to fill those needs, and with the successes they were having, they were more responsive to expressing their needs, learning more, and engaging in additional professional development.

Kelly emphasized that one of the aspects of the district’s collaboration with the IFL that allowed teachers to express agency were the Bridge to Practice pieces. Teachers attended sessions and shared artifacts from the implementation of the instructional approaches. Sharing these artifacts allowed teachers to see the immediate impact of those practices and to make decisions on which lessons and tasks should be added to their toolbox. In addition, they were less reluctant to join in a professional learning community where they received feedback from their colleagues. This way, they didn’t feel as if they were on their own; rather, they felt they were working together as a community to impact student learning and recognized that their actions and ideas played an important role in making that happen. According to Kelly, the process “actually promoted advocacy for the teachers and they asked for more opportunities for professional development and more opportunities to meet around Bridges to Practice. It allowed them to advocate for what they needed.”

Kelly mentioned that as the teachers became more empowered and confident in their instructional practices, they felt comfortable with the meaningful tasks they were asking students to do. Students became engaged in thought-provoking and engaging tasks that were no longer about the teacher doing all of the thinking, but rather, students were being asked to do the thinking and analysis. From there, students were able to self-advocate and identify what they didn’t know and what they needed in order to be successful. Since the teachers developed quality reading and writing experiences, now students were breaking down the classroom doors, wanting to engage in challenging and meaningful lessons, and felt the classroom was worthy of their time. Students now felt comfortable taking their own initiative to ask questions and debate about the learning. Students knew that old-school worksheets did not allow them to develop agency, and they recognized that meaningful, complex texts with well thought-out questions provided them with the opportunity to develop agency.

Kelly concluded our conversation by stating, “I can’t emphasize enough the impact our collaboration with IFL has had on our district, especially in terms of teacher and student agency. Looking toward the future, we want to continue to provide opportunities for students to develop agency and provide opportunities for teachers to become more involved in professional learning communities that meet their changing needs.”

References
https://learningforward.org/publications/teacher-agency 

Ferguson, R. F., Phillips, S. F., Rowley, J. F. S, & Friedlander, J. W. (October 2015). The Influence of teaching: Beyond standardized test scores: Engagement, mindsets, and agency. Retrieved from http://www.agi.harvard.edu/projects/TeachingandAgency.pdf

Tagged with: Agency and Voice, ELA, Instructional Coaching, Partner Spotlight

Personalized Learning, Student Agency, & the Stakes of Education

By Anindya Kundu

Sociologist of education & postdoctoral research scholar, New York University

We are privileged to live at a time with many resources and technologies that exist to aide educators, but sometimes these advancements can carry an ironic cost: They can be distracting to the basic aims of education. As districts debate over which learning management systems (LMS) are best for their classrooms, the basics behind how learning actually happens can get lost from the forefront of cost-benefit discussions. Promoting student agency, the amount of influence students have over their own life, including their ability to navigate challenges and locate resources for themselves, should remain a focus within the changing trends of education.

Recently I visited some school districts to discuss the growing buzz around the concept of “personalized learning.”

This approach wishes to cater to each student’s strengths by creating programs for students to advance at their own pace as they pick up new competencies. But even these conversations can skew the fundamentals of what it takes for a student to have a personalized learning experience.

Primarily, a student needs to be challenged thoroughly and routinely but not overbearingly. Technology offers resources to create tailor-made tools to help children pick up where they left off and track their progress. But that’s not enough. Students needs to feel that their developing interests are recognized and attended to. This is nurture and it is only possible through the attention of another human—a teacher or a mentor.

Balancing the resulting implicit technology versus teacher debate is realizing that they are not mutually exclusive. When teachers and teaching resources work in harmony, students are the greatest beneficiary. Their agency grows. They take steps toward learning how to be their best selves.

I tell the story of “J-Stud” to professionals who want to learn about promoting student agency. A Black student from Jamaica Queens, J-Stud (an alias from his rapping days) had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) up into high school. He got used to sitting in the back of his classes and scribbling away in his notebook without looking up. One day, his English teacher took notice and asked to see what he was writing.

She saw pages upon pages filled with rap lyrics that showed giftedness and literacy. She seized the opportunity to offer him a deal. From our interview, he told me:

One stipulation was, “You have to go to class, J-Stud. You have to literally go to class in order for me to continue to work with you.” She gave me the opportunity to go into an actual recording studio and put my music on a CD. I got to perform in front of a bunch of students in a music class. I got a standing ovation. Having that mentor who is still very near and dear to me helped put me on the right track.

That “standing ovation” and his teacher noticing his hidden strengths remains one of the most important experiences of J-Stud’s life. He eventually became an intern at that same recording studio and through meeting adults there, he realized that he was interested in accounting and finance. His studio mentors put him in touch with professionals in banks. He worked at those banks while completing his associate and bachelor’s degrees.

Today J-Stud is a vice president at one of the country’s largest financial institutions. The last time I spoke with him, he was still living in Jamaica to set an example that the kids from his neighborhood are not used to seeing. J-Stud and his English teacher personify that agency is driven by genuine relationships. It can be contagious and generate more agency for others.

For our diverse learners we should work to see strength in that diversity. The goal then becomes to create scaffolded lessons to get students from where they are to where they need to be. Attention to students’ origins and who they are as a person helps them develop goals that make education relevant to their lives.

I always say that schools and districts cannot do this work alone because they have too much on their plates. Moreover, relationship building at the systems level can lead to large-scale, generational impact. Recently in Memphis, I learned about the new River City Partnership between their Shelby County School District and the University of Memphis. The program is recruiting passionate high school students who are interested in urban education to become college “scholars” who will be trained (through courses in education and local history) and certified to go back and teach in their own inner city. This grassroots program also provides scholarships to the cohorts to ensure that debt will not extinguish their passion.

When we broaden our concepts of schooling and think towards a P-16 or a P-20 approach, we better cater to the ideas of lifelong learning and positive social change. As an academic, I can tell you that we are incredibly guilty of furthering isolations. There are conferences, papers, and professor titles (higher education versus urban education) that separate us from each other. Yet our aims largely appear to be the same, and we should look for more ways to collaborate.

In the end, true success is not just getting our students into college; it’s making sure that once they’re there, they have the tools to keep climbing and working towards fulfillment. At every level, we have to make sure our students know how to leverage resources, locate mentors, and establish their own networks. This currently goes unspoken with more privileged schools building it into their hidden curriculum. But for everyone else, these tangibles are free to relatively inexpensive to incorporate and must be explicitly stated as desired outcomes.

Isolation is the enemy of agency. Students need to know they are supported from all over to remain motivated to contribute back to society. Given the almost weekly scandals in education, it seems that these are turbulent times in education, but that’s nothing new either. While we wait for the rest of our country to catch up and learn to value education as a necessary social good for all, we can keep fighting to keep our communities cohesive.

Fostering agency can help ensure we will have the type of educated citizenry we need to tackle the challenges of the future. The goal of education is to allow students to flourish by helping them find their voice, discover their strengths, and ideally, to contribute back in some meaningful way. That to me seems like the power of “personalized learning.” When accomplished, education becomes the most important function of our society. 

Tagged with: Agency and Voice, Leadership