NORWOOD — Through a series of features over the coming weeks and months, Superintendent David Thomson is sharing with the community information regarding some of the training and initiatives Norwood Public Schools has undertaken to help further cultural proficiency and inclusion within the district.
Over the past several months, the district’s administration team has participated in anti-racist pedagogy training led by Malika Ali of the Highlander Institute, which works with districts to design, create and implement innovative teaching methods that lead to more equitable, relevant and effective schools. The training began in November and was a six-part series that concluded in February.
Throughout the training series, administrators learned about race and culture and what it means to be anti-racist, the impact of race and culture on education and in schools, an educator’s role in combatting racism and more.
A key idea of the Highlander Institute training was the “Theory of Change,” which explains how educators can provide tools, resources and support that ensure all students can succeed at high levels. The theory states that students’ competence and engagement will be improved and their cognitive skills will be better developed if educators are aware of and work to understand systemic racism and inequities that translate into education, as well as build trust and nurture students’ academic mindsets by establishing high expectations and supports for productive struggle.
Furthermore, if students’ competence and engagement is improved, then students will be empowered to use their cognitive skills in meaningful and transformative ways, their confidence will improve, and they will become self-directed learners and empowered leaders who will transform their lives, communities and society.
A goal of the training is for educators to learn teaching methods and strategies that will help students become independent learners. Rather than teaching through “compliance” strategies where teachers share information and give directions, “engagement” teaching strategies involve students in their own learning by engaging their values, interests and priorities and helping to develop cognitive skills. Students who are empowered to learn and have the skills and strategies to overcome learning obstacles are better able to become independent learners.
Educators were introduced to the idea of a “learning pit,” which is an analogy for the track students take when facing a challenge, from thinking they know the answer, to being confused, to working hard and being able to overcome the challenge. Educators learned about thinking routines and problem solving strategies that they can model for students to help get them through the “learning pit,” and once students develop confidence in using these strategies to overcome challenges, they will become more independent learners.
The training also aims to help educators understand the differences in the way kids learn. It noted that many minority students learn in “collectivist” ways, which focuses on learning collaboratively and with group interaction, versus “individualist” learning which focuses on self-reliance and individual achievement and often results in a more competitive environment. To provide an inclusive and productive learning environment for all students, educators need to build teaching strategies and learning activities that fit both learning categories.
As part of the training, administrators read articles and watched videos that illustrated some of the strategies that can be used with students. Participants also worked in groups to discuss the content and how it can be applied to teaching strategies. Portions of the training utilized remote tools, such as Padlet and Jamboard, and other learning activities that can be used with students to make learning interactive and encourage engagement. Administrators also looked at examples of curriculum that is more culturally diverse.
Educators learned about the importance of cultivating relationships with students, nurturing community within the classroom and building empathy for the struggles students may face. Cultivating relationships and trust with students allows teachers to create a more trusting and positive learning environment that encourages students to want to learn and helps to meet students’ needs.
Each of these ideas presented as part of the training leads to culturally responsive classrooms due to the fact that offering problem solving strategies, catering to different learning styles and having empathy for students’ needs ensures that all students have the same tools and support from educators to be successful, no matter their background.
“I’d like to thank Malika Ali and the Highlander Institute for providing this training, which was an excellent and valuable professional development experience for our administrators,” Superintendent Thomson said. “We look forward to continuing discussions on how we can expand and implement these important methods, strategies and tools in classrooms across the district.”
To see an introduction to the ongoing district-wide training and initiatives, click here. For information regarding ongoing training in culturally proficient teaching practices, click here. To read about student participation in these initiatives, click here.