When working on whole child initiatives in Denver Public Schools, the then head of human resources, Debbie Hearty, used to say that focusing on the whole child helped bring educators back to the heart space of teaching and learning. I believe The Elephant in the (Class)room does the same – it helps connect educators with their passion for teaching.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of connecting with 16 teacher leaders and mentors who opted into a learning opportunity to expand their understanding of The Elephant in the (Class)room and have seen firsthand the power of time spent in this heart space. Together, we deeply explored the Profiles in Practice and Experience Journeys to help us consider what it might look like to bring the Anchors for Equity to life in schools and districts.
We spent two sessions on each Anchor for Equity in this six-session series. During the first two convenings, we discussed what it means and looks like to embrace teaching and learning as a dynamic relational human exchange. We explored the connection between this anchor and foundational positive youth development research and the science of learning and development. We heard from staff and students at Casco Bay High School about their unique school culture and from Dr. Dawn Brooks-DeCosta about a powerful relationship-building experience among staff and students. We looked back at our own learning experiences and heard from Chrystal Seawood about creating humanizing learning environments and Angela Daniel about using asset framing.
I was struck by how deeply the participants considered and engaged with the Anchor’s commitments, how they came to life in our discussions, and the ideas participants had for leveraging the Profiles in Practice videos or recreating our discussions back in their own schools.
- Know yourself, know your students, and know your content
While the amount of direct student contact our group had daily in their roles varied, they had discussions about fostering relationships among groups of teachers – bringing resources we used into PLCs, for example – and considering what it means and looks like for teachers to know themselves.
One participant shared: “I recently asked teachers who they learn from. I had to get outside the box since I don’t work with students, but it was a great way to get them to think outside the school building.”
- Discover and leverage learners’ unique and diverse assets and ways of learning
Sparked both by the voices we heard from in the Profiles in Practice and Experience Journeys and through a quick review of positive youth development research, we had a great deal of discussion about what it looks like to focus on assets and strengths not just for young people, but for the adults in the building. What strengths do teachers bring that we can build from? How do we find what’s working even when things are going wrong or hard?
Equally as notable as the content folks took away was the power of the process. Reflecting on their experiences as young learners brought back strong emotions – positive and negative. One participant shared, “I am grieving for the education I could have had.” Another shared that even 40 years later, she could still feel the emotions an educator stirred in her. Participants also noted that putting on a learner lens, as the Experience Journey asks you to do, caused them to listen and think differently. One participant shared that so often, when we are learning, it’s “one and done”; we get it checked off the to-do list. But, the intentional process of listening twice — first as a learner and then as an educator — caused them to see and hear the messages available in the Experience Journeys differently.
While most of the resources we leveraged are publicly available, this experience was powerful because we learned in community. Participants were able to help each other shape ideas for action and share additional tools and resources, impactful experiences, and more with each other that shaped their learning beyond our initial content.
In the coming months, we’ll add facilitation resources to The Elephant in the (Class)room site to help you facilitate group experiences connected to the Profiles in Practice, the Experience Journeys, or both.