Experiences in Chile 

What is education like outside of the United States? This was my primary query when embarking on this international excursion.  I wanted to gain insight on educational best practices outside of the states. In the three weeks I was housed at this particular school, I had the opportunity to take on different roles: I was in positions wherein I observed, co-taught, and participated in lessons. I participated as an administrator, teacher, and student. I had discussions with teachers of the school, visiting teachers like me, students, and administrators.

Creating cultures of trust among students and teachers along with teachers and administrators is an overarching theme that I encountered.  This particular school is private and serves grades Pre-K to 12 with a population of about 600 students. Interestingly, students remain with their peer group throughout their time at the school, from Pre-K to 12. One can imagine the community this creates.

Of all my experiences, I especially want to discuss two.  The first is my observations of elementary teachers and their classrooms. The elementary administrator and I observed a fourth grade classroom. She and I had a pre-conference before conducting the observation. The discussion included the school’s ideology, methodology, and particularly what to look for during the observation. At this present moment the school is transitioning and has a focus on teambuilding, classbuilding, collaborative and cooperative learning. Before we went into the classroom the administrator pointed out specific elements to look for during instruction in regards to cooperative learning. These elements had four main parts according to a Kagan structure: positive interdependence, individual accountability, student interaction, and equal participation.

The teacher of this fourth grade class had all of the students seated in groups of mostly four, an environment conducive for learning . Each group had their own identity as evidenced by their hanging banners and intermittent cheers. The banners and cheers created by students of each group were part of collaborative and team building exercises (this was a sight to see). For the lesson students were working on multiplication. Students were required to work a problem individually on whiteboards and then discuss how they worked the problem with either their nose or shoulder partner. In an instance in which a student got a wrong answer, another member of the group “taught” their peer how to get the correct answer. Students were doing the gamut of intellectual work, and the teacher was their to guide and a facilitate. As I conducted this observation, it was clear that this teacher had established clear expectations and procedures and a positive and trusting space.

The second experience has much to do with the realization of the valuable relationships fostered with members of my cohort. The conversations and experiences we shared in those three weeks were exceptional. We discussed educational theory, charter schools, alternative teacher certification, along with national and local educational policy. What is education going to look like in the near and far future? Or further, what is the world going to look like because of education? What is the function or purpose of education? Are schools’ curricular materials aligned to the purpose(s)? These are some of the questions that guided our discourses. To grapple with these complex topics, in the end, was quite rewarding.

Lastly and importantly, it is erroneous to make hastened evaluations regarding education in Chile as juxtaposed to education in the United States. While it is tempting to say in the US we do this but in Chile they do this, it is irresponsible to not consider contexts be it socioeconomic, political, or what have you. Though generalizations can be made, making wholesale evaluations would hardly be of benefit. Nevertheless, experiencing schooling in another country and culture allows for the broadening of perspectives and allows for more cultural tolerance and understanding. I wholeheartedly recommend such a program to educators, student-teachers, and administrators as it provides an opportunity to observe best practices through an international lens.

Paths to Justice – Celebrating TRIO Services

The advent of summer always brings a particular joy to me being born at the end of May. It is the time of no school no rules and acting a fool. Summers have now been spent teaching growing and grooming first-generation college students for success. For the third summer in a row, I have been employed by Upward Bound in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by the respective universities, Louisiana State University and Baton Rouge Community College.

As an English instructor, I focus on the information of the Civil Rights era to guide my curricula. This course explores March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell and the Civil Rights Movements of both the U.S. South during the Jim Crow era and the nonviolent tactics employed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers beginning in the mid-1950s. The course focuses on critical thinking and reading, the teaching of tolerance through March One, a graphic novel, and DVD kits from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. The course creates dialogue and discussion while using the Socratic Seminar method.

The summer has come to mean a period of creative expression through culturally relevant material for myself and my students. My high school kids are quite surprised when I ask them if they use colors to self-assess their writing or compose a strong class model in real time. As we share our experiences through the texts and films, the practice of reading and writing strategies are exchanged. Our rich history is addressed at every moment and the students self-question aloud in order to process and understand their own images.

Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin

Cultivating Practical Optimism: A Review

Brain based researchers, Dr. Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers through their research state that optimism, traditionally considered to be an unchangeable trait, is a way of thinking that can be learned and enhanced. People with a positive viewpoint have less stress, better creative problem-solving skills, and better health outcomes than less optimistic people. Additionally, these learners are more likely to persist in the sometimes-hard work of learning, motivated by the belief that they can accomplish their learning goals.

They also feel that many teachers realize that as students become more optimistic, they are motivated to progress through learning difficulties and to attain higher levels of achievement. These optimistic students also have greater resistance to depression and the negative effects of stress. Educators over the years have been taught implementation strategies to increase practical optimism and other keys to learning in the classroom.

Practical optimism describes an attitude about life that relies on taking realistic, positive action to increase the likelihood of successful results. Emphasizing positive emotions help students become more resilient and more likely to persevere with learning tasks. Their persistence is fueled by the belief that they will triumph over difficulty, learn from their mistakes, overcome plateaus in their performance, and progress. Practical optimism is demonstrated in The Little Engine That Could which states “I think I can,” “I think I can.”

There were six suggestions presented to build practical optimism in students.

  1. Ask students if they would like to learn a way to more consistently sustain practical optimism.
  2. Read aloud Treasure Hunter and Trash Collectors. Then say to the students, “The choice is yours. You get to decide.
  3. Ask students to think of five things they like or can feel good about.
  4. Ask students to write, draw, or create a concept map of these five things.
  5. Tell students to approach five people and share with them their five things and
  6. Continue to use this process once a week or once a month, encouraging students to find and add more things to their practical optimism list.

This would be shared and I would encourage teachers to utilize this in their classrooms to ensure academic success for students. Practical optimism is a means for getting the best from your brain and your life. Try it, you’ll like it because the results will be positive.

Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin.

School and the Community 

Little Rock Nine Monument, Little Rock, AR

A few weeks ago I traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas with leaders of Louisiana Association of Educators. While there we were taken on a tour of the city by community activists, and we visited the historic Central High School. I vividly remember in the 11th grade reading about Central High and the integration story of the Little Rock Nine, and I remember having this overwhelming feeling of being empowered. That these students had to endure such a life and had the wherewithal to force transformation in our schooling system was and still is incredible to me.

After listening to stories about the current struggles and triumphs of Little Rock and dialoguing with representatives from various activist groups whose primary objective is to “reclaim our schools,” I began to reflect on the relationship between the school and the community. For this group, reclaiming our schools meant taking back our schools from those institutions that have interest other than the education and betterment of our students. Who are we exactly in this movement to reclaim our schools and what gives us authority? The “we” signifies our community.

Many times, parental involvement occurs when there is a perceived behavioral problem with students. Reactive involvement. We need to take a cue from those parents who are proactively engaged in the school community, those parents who come out for poetry night, the parent support network, and PTOs. What we find, however, is that in some schools Parent-Teacher Organizations are non-existent. Where, then, do teachers and parents communicate? When do they have the opportunity to formally collaborate and dialogue? Schools must actively solicit and welcome parental involvement. There should be no school where parents feel unwelcome.

We now know what happens when we are not actively and proactively involved in our children’s schools: the schools are taken over, they’re closed down, or they begin to fail. They become dropout factories and part of the egregious school to prison pipeline, and that’s certainly not what we want. It is the community that should hold schools accountable, and that accountability begins with involvement. Schools have the potential to do so much for our communities; it is schools that can empower and transform communities.   

Follow LeMar Clifford on Instagram and Twitter @lcliff06