As we shared in a recent blog post, The Teaching Matters Network for School Improvement (NSI) is a community of 16 NYC middle schools (spread across 11 of NYC’s districts) working together to ensure all students are prepared for high school and beyond, through the integration of culturally responsive-sustaining practices and continuous improvement methods.
The NSI seeks to amplify student voices, listening carefully to these ultimate stakeholders in our work to inform our learnings and plans for improvement. One way that we engage student perspectives is through periodically administering a research-based, validated student survey from Panorama Education (developed in partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education), to engage student voice directly on the extent to which classrooms are culturally responsive and sustaining, a key aspect of our working theory of improvement. Students provide feedback on six topics including: rigorous expectations, teacher-student relationships, cultural awareness and action, valuing of subject area, classroom belonging, and classroom engagement. We then analyze that data to understand where there are “bright spots” or positive outliers that we can learn from, whose results are significantly above the typical performance of the network as a whole.
In this post, we present the story of PS/MS108, a middle school in East Harlem that is part of our NSI and was a positive outlier for the Cultural Awareness scale on our Fall 2021 Panorama student survey. We decided to visit and interview the principal and teachers leading this amazing work and share our findings with the network.
Watch our interview with Principal William Gladstone as our Network Director, Jacobē Bell, asks him about his school’s cultural awareness practices and their current change idea (the instructional practices they are testing to improve the classroom environment). Building off of their cultural awareness work, the 108 team is now testing a change idea that focuses on literacy skills.
- 1:19 About Crew*
- 3:23 The hidden curriculum
- 4:47 The NSI work at MS 108
- 7:52 Cultivating Genius Protocol
*Crew refers to a class that meets twice a day for all students. The morning session lasts for 25 minutes and focuses on community and team building and life skills. For 30 minutes in the afternoon, students participate in a book club around a culturally responsive text. Classes are small with about 10 to 12 students per class. Learn more on EL Education’s website.
The Data Story
92% of its students responded positively to questions like:
- How often does this teacher encourage you to learn about people from different races, ethnicities, or cultures?
- When there are major news events related to race, how often does this teacher talk about them with students?
- How fairly does this teacher treat people from different races, ethnicities, or cultures?
Many students also filled out the open responses questions (which tend to get skipped over). Here’s how many responded to the question: “What is one thing that your teacher does that makes you feel like they understand you?” Here’s what we saw:
- Some version of “they listen to me” or “they talk to me” came up more than 50% of the over 100 answers
- Uses my proper pronouns
- Makes eye contact with me
- Knows what music I like
Here’s what the ELA teachers had to say about it when we asked what they were doing.
“We do book clubs and all the books we chose were ones where we really tried to touch on different cultures, different issues in society that they're dealing with, but also ones that they might not know about to open up their eyes a bit.” —Jennifer LaValle
“And they really like open discussions. In all of the ELA classes, we're having those discussions and letting their voices be heard. Let them say what they want to say. And then we do respond positively to them, or ask them more follow up questions, and we really let them just talk.” — Alyssa Somoano
“We, as humans, are naturally judgmental. We are aware of that and leave our judgment at the door. And I think that kids know that. And with the work that we do in CREW, in Book Club, and the discussions about the news and the outside world, I think kids really feel that.” —Michelle Velazquez
What's next for MS 108?
- 108 is scaling the ELA identity work to social studies and science teachers. They are exploring their own identities as teachers as well as those of their students.
- They are continuing to refine the Cultivating Genius protocol with ELA teachers.
Crew refers to a class that meets twice a day for all students. The morning session lasts for 25 minutes and focuses on community and team building and life skills. For 30 minutes in the afternoon, students participate in a book club around a culturally responsive text. Classes are small with about 10 to 12 students per class. Learn more on EL Education's website.
Principal Gladstone also referred to the team's current change idea - Cultivating Genius Protocol, which develops students’ speaking, listening, reading and writing skills simultaneously.
See the protocol in detail in their coach Dan Vazquez's post below.
Shout out to MS 108 ELA Teachers for pioneering great work on the "Cultivating Genius Protocol"--which hits speaking, listening, reading, and writing standards all in one. It's still a work in progress, but initial results are powerful.