An Opportunity to Reflect

I was recently asked the following question:

If you were given the opportunity to sit down with trusted colleagues and talk with them about teaching practices and educational issues, what are some of the topics that you would want to talk about why? Would you be willing to take time from your schedule to engage in these conversations? What factors would encourage or inhibit you from doing so?

I realized that I am quite fortunate in that I have the opportunity to do that very thing on an ongoing basis and to dive further into the educational and social issues while considering the systems that impact them. I willingly take at least an hour every two weeks or more, to meet with them.
We began as a book club a year and a half ago, reading This Is Not A Test by Jose Luis Vilson. We talked about how schools play their own part in repeating history with the dividing consequences of standardized testing, and the myth that grades signal the value of a person that is perpetuated by the public understanding of school. We attend edcamps and conferences as often as we are able. A subset of my conversation partners and I participated in the Startup Weekend Education competition where we pitched a piece of software that highlights connections between students, teachers, and communities. We have looked at what makes teacher collaboration successful. We have brainstormed how to increase parent involvement and some have put it into practice in their classrooms. We struggle with the issue of access in education – how having access to resources gets you places, but you have to have the resources to get access. An example of this shows up in how students are currently admitted into the “advanced math” programming at my school – done by parent request. If a parent doesn’t know it’s an option, they can’t make that request. (Yes, we’re working on it.) We have examined our discipline system and see how removing students from the community without a reentry point to reconcile the act that caused their exit is not going to allow us to cultivate the learning ecosystem that values its learners. As a result, some teachers have begun restorative justice practices within their grade level.

Our conversations have helped us see how the tangle of systems we call school have created the conditions for perpetuating inequity. As at-will employees, we don’t have anything protecting us from being dismissed for our views; however, we all have a level of wanting to do right by our students so we work to change the things that we can and work within the system to change the things beyond our locus of control. I am cautiously optimistic following pitching the idea we developed at the Teach to Lead Summit to our CEO.

We’re continuing the conversation, and opening the floor. We try to provide access points to include as many voices as are willing, and allow for the ones who just want to listen. I’m proud of the work we have done and look forward to seeing how much we can accomplish together in the future.

Tutolo – Teach to Lead Summit Reflection


Nick Tutolo reflects on the Teach to Lead Summit experience in his latest blog Teach to Lead, New Orleans. Tutolo talks about his major takeaways from the Summit: building partnerships, retaining teachers, redefining leaders, and community input. Sprout-Fund_green

Many thanks to the Sprout Fund for providing funding for our group to travel to New Orleans to participate in the hard work of challenging the status quo in education.

Learning How To Make A Life

TeacherJam’s co-founder Michelle King was nominated to speak at the 2015 iteration of TEDxPittsburgh. King asked the audience to consider empathy as a way to reconnect with humanity, and challenged us to embrace the scribble.

From the TEDxPittsburgh site:

Michelle King is a learner first and foremost and as well as an instigator of learning. Professionally, she is a middle school teacher aka a professional hostage. She learned and honed her craft in Mt. Lebanon with a fantastic crew of educators and students for over 16 years. In her quest to instigate courageous conversations about learning and children, she has ventured to The Environmental Charter School and their principles (Catalyst. Character. Collaboration. Commitment.)  Currently, she teaches Cultural Literacy, an integrated social sciences and English/Language Arts course. She constantly seeking to create dynamic learning experiences and opportunities that inspire wonder, discovery, contradictions, frustrations, and joy. In making connections locally and globally, Michelle pushes the envelope and boundaries of where learning should occur for all students. Through her partnerships with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project, Carnegie Science Center, Hear Me, the Kids+Creativity Network, Remake Learning and other provocateurs; Michelle is helping to create equitable, empathetic, learning experiences for all Pittburghers.

Current Conundrums:  How might we create empathetic institutions that remind us of our humanity?  How might we design learning institutions to build connections? How might we allow those connections help us re-see the worlds we inhabit?  How might we embrace silence in our lives?