- Black teachers are more successful in supporting the achievement and well-being of Black children.
- Black students who have even one Black teacher during elementary school are more likely to graduate high school and consider college.
- Black students with Black teachers experience less exclusionary discipline.
- Students of color (in general) feel teachers of the same race hold them to high expectations and are more culturally sensitive than their white counterparts.
At the end of Black History Month, I have reflected on how much more I have learned about Black excellence, Black joy and Black futures. It has been an inspiring month that continues.
A particular piece of information that made me pause was the studied impact of Black educators on students. Here are some of those empirically evidenced statistics that I saw:
I am fortunate to work with two Black professionals who are in local Oakland schools. Rose Triest is a first-year Special Education teacher and Lauren Williams is a mental health counselor who is looking to enter the teacher track. They are intuitively connected to their students, acutely aware of identity impacting school experiences, and are leaders to the folks around them in bringing intention, gravity, and joy to the work. I spoke with both Rose and Lauren recently about their work and was struck how their own thoughts and experiences echo the evidence-based outcomes about Black educators.
We reflected on why being a Black educator should not be a big deal, but the truth is they are important figures in this age and context. Rose could not remember having any Black teachers growing up, and Lauren clearly recalls the three Black educators who made an impact on her and her school experience. Now that both are in the education field, they find themselves called to the profession by having witnessed how students are often mistreated and overlooked in schools through exclusionary practices. Lauren says, “if not me, then who” leads her to show up for students at school with a driving desire to never give up. The phrase, “Actions are stronger than words” leads Rose to think about all the seemingly “small things,” can support students to feel safe to do the hard work in front of them. Things like having visual cues, cultural references, utilizing different forms of learning, and holding mutual respect. Both Rose and Lauren know that kids are intuitive and can read when leaders are avoidant or aloof. “It’s a vibe!” says Lauren and echoes that students respond well to familial spaces and places where self-expression is accepted in different forms.
Lauren noted that open communication and being receptive to feedback are key elements that help her remain engaged in the work in a diverse school setting with cross racial teams. Rose identifies that “a balance” in education settings is crucial to not becoming too focused on test scores and pragmatic relationships. Incorporating life lessons, cultural exploration and tending to mental health are some ways that help Rose feel that she is caring for herself and upholding to the values that propelled her to become a teacher in the first place. She leans on the school community, including the principal and wider teams, to remind her to keep time for herself and to accept “planting seeds for the future” instead of chasing the elusive immediate solution.
Rose and Lauren note the ongoing work that needs to be done to create an equitable space in schools and the teaching profession. It starts with accepting that we hold biases from our own lived experiences in our homes, schools, and communities and scrutinizing our career training knowing that it doesn’t encompass all experiences. We all must put in the same work to be accountable for our own actions. Their leadership and voice give me hope that the statistics that I laid out earlier, can be forever changed with meaningful work from all.
Wow, it's February? How did that happen?!?! That the school year is halfway over is probably just one of the many things that is hard to believe right now. Who would have thought a year ago, when we were reviewing the mid-year feedback from our schools and partners, that the work we do, the lives we live, and the world we know would be so fundamentally different today?
This time of year is traditionally used to step back and reflect on how things are going, and given the year we’ve all had, this could not be more important. Our staff have worked tirelessly to collaborate with schools and families to push the bounds of what is possible and redefine how this work is done in the virtual realm. Our UE Mid-Year Survey is conducted through the month of January and helps highlight our successes and, equally important, areas for improvement. These help us to focus our intentions through the end of the year.
Despite the challenges of connectedness and engagement during remote learning, we are excited to report participation in our survey held similar to last year’s reports: almost 90% of partner schools (so far) participated in the survey, with over 540 individual responses!
The Mid-Year Partnership Survey asks our partners how we are doing with components of the UE Model related to Culture and Climate, Direct Services and Progress Reporting. For students receiving direct services at our school sites, we asked our partners two questions:
This year, both questions averaged above our goal of 80% at 94% and 86% respectively! We are very excited by these positive responses; especially given the challenges this year has presented as both our staff and teachers have had to reinvent the ways that lessons are taught, and how staff-support is provided. There is a lot to celebrate here in the strength, skill, and perseverance of these teams.
Data collection and reporting continues to be a program priority this year and is no small task. Teachers, behaviorists, and clinicians have had to rethink how to capture, track and monitor progress data, working closely with students and families to rethink goals and measures that are both applicable to the virtual setting and meaningful as measures of progress. If this wasn't enough, they have also had to contend with the layers of scheduling and technological access barriers in collaborating with entire teams to share the goals being set and the progress being seen. Excitingly this is an area where, at this mid-year point, we saw an increase to 78%, up from 73% last year, and just shy of our goal for the year of at least 80%, which we are hopeful to hit in our End-of-Year Surveys!
The numbers themselves, while guiding and celebratory, don't offer the complete picture. We also ask for specific feedback and suggestions on our partnerships. In reviewing the constructive feedback this year, an interesting trend emerged: our partners want more. They want to know more about what the students are working on, they want to know more about how they can continue to collaborate as a team, they want to know more about our services and how we can continue to support staff, students, and families.
Here are some pieces of feedback we’ve received from partners:
“I would be open to check in with support staff and ways I could support the work Seneca is doing with our students.”
While we seek and value constructive feedback, the open-ended responses were overwhelmingly positive, indicating that we are on the right track in our work to build collaborative, meaningful and supportive practices. We look forward to hearing from our partners again during our End-of-Year Partnership Survey.
While we wait, here are just a few of the incredible highlights shared from the year so far:
“Our [Seneca] counselor shows great energy when teaching a lesson to my students. The positive words he uses on his presentations, motivates students to participate in his class. Kids really like him.”
And I could go on and on.............................
This pandemic has lasted much longer than anyone expected and has taken its toll, not only on the students & families, but on our staff as well. It is in these trying times that our leadership team has had to find creative ways to support our staff and keep them engaged. This year, I have had the opportunity to split my time between two different programs and share in their creative visions for staff participation.
The Light the Change (LTC) Program held their December Dine & Delve over a team Zoom meeting. To add a personal touch to the event, the leadership team personally delivered care packages with crafts, gifts, and GrubHub gift cards to staff. During the Zoom meeting, LTC staff had the option to decorate premade cookies or fill out holiday-sweater coloring pages, all while virtually sharing a meal together. This activity allowed staff the opportunity to have a little fun while learning about important program updates.
The SOAPS Management Team built on their staffs’ common love of cooking and baking by incorporating virtual Chopped Competitions into their staff meetings! The first competition was held in October, and the staff were tasked with creating a main course using Halloween themed mystery basket ingredients. The second competition was held in December, and staff were given the challenge of creating baked goods using sweet & spicy themed mystery basket ingredients. This competitive group thoroughly enjoyed the competitions and are eagerly awaiting the next challenge.
Both programs have taken on different ways to engage staff, and both programs have been successful in their efforts to increase staff morale. This just goes to show that with a little creativity and team building, we can get through anything… even during a pandemic.
My role as a Student Support Assistant has primarily involved supporting students in being the best version of themselves at school and beyond. While on campus, this mostly involved providing academic support, behavioral guidance, incentives, redirections, positive reinforcements, conflict resolution, etc. However, in the world of distance learning, this support has looked a lot different. It became evident that the primary needs coming up for students were not just related to school. Due to the pandemic and its various consequences, students have communicated to me that their families are experiencing significant financial hardships: they are unable to eat breakfast, or they have run out of soap and shampoo because their families cannot afford groceries or supplies. I quickly came to realize that these needs come first: it is nearly impossible to succeed in school with a hungry belly, or without being able to feel clean.
It was with this knowledge that I was able to mobilize members of the community to donate items and funds to support the students and families who were struggling most. Through the generosity of the local community, we raised over $4,000, four car loads of soaps, shampoos, diapers, etc. and have partnered with a local food distribution company to provide monthly produce donations to consistently provide families with healthy and fresh food. The funds have supported families that have lost loved ones to COVID-19, covering funeral costs. The hygiene supplies and household items have been set up on display in one of the classrooms on campus as a “free store” where families can visit and “shop” for what they need. The produce has provided families with pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to create healthy and sustainable meals for the entire family unit.
We have all had to think outside the box as school staff this year, tailoring our supports beyond just the school, and seeing the WHOLE child and the real time issues coming up for each student. I feel it a privilege during this holiday season to hold the title as a Student Support Assistant, and to support and assist students and families in a meaningful way during this difficult year.
Be safe, be healthy, and Happy Holidays to all.
Like most students across the country, the Washington Elementary community also began their 2020-21 Academic School year virtually from home. Starting the year with distance learning meant that Leadership had to be creative and think out of the box to keep students connected to school – all whilst maintaining a strong sense of community. Research has shown that creating a sense of belonging and building relationships is critical to ensure students remain engaged and enthusiastic learners. While everything about back-to-school was different, we wanted to create a sense of normalcy by translating our regular routines and practices into virtual platforms. So, we implemented our Monday Morning Announcement videos! The videos were a great way for everyone to start the week with the same message and have opportunities to participate in different challenges and activities as a whole school.
Our Monday Morning Announcement videos have become the catch-all for maintaining consistent connection (virtually) and encouraging our students to be academically motivated and committed to school. We have introduced fun reading challenges for all grade levels and have students submit fun videos with books reviews. We have also used this opportunity to bring the campus to our students – even though they cannot physically be on campus. Each week we reinforce our Dragon values and encourage students to demonstrate our characteristics of being Resilient, Flexible, Empathetic, Persistent and Optimistic. Here is a sample of our Monday Morning Announcements:
The Monday Morning Announcements are the highlight of the week for a lot our students, and we are seeing more and more participation from our Dragon Heroes. Our discussion forum on the announcements is a great place for students to motivate and encourage their peers to work hard and spread joy. The weekly announcements have also helped us achieve our AIP goal of increasing school pride and incorporating more student voice-and-choice in our decision-making processes. Creating this feeling of belonging by fostering school-wide connections between teachers, students and administrators has truly enhanced our virtual learning experience, and hence, we would love to hear from you too! Please share your great ideas for community building and fostering connection during distance in the comments below.
Since the start of March our lives have changed dramatically. We’ve shifted our daily routines, the ways in which we interact and connect with others, and how we are able to nourish and sustain our own wellbeing. Many in our communities have lost loved ones, confronted illness, juggled work and family responsibilities, and mustered the resources to make ends meet. Schools, which often serve as a central hub for family support, made an overnight transition to virtual learning. They have had to identify new systems and routines for instruction, connection, and resource delivery all while school personnel negotiate the impact of the changing world in their own lives. Further, the impact of this pandemic and the concurrent national conversation on police violence against the Black community has highlighted the ways in which deep systemic inequities reach across our institutional systems, from health care to criminal justice to education. What is clear is that grand changes are needed in both the short and long term to build more equitable systems.
Through all of these changes what has remained steadfast is our commitment to building systems of education that are strong and inclusive, even in the face of tremendous adversity. Grounded in Seneca’s longstanding mission of connecting with individuals and families during difficult times, we have taken what we know about responding to periods of crisis and applied these same principles to support schools in adapting their practices to the virtual context. We are thrilled to release this piece Implementing Unconditional Education in a Virtual Setting where we have captured what we have learned by working with over 40 schools and districts through this transition to remote learning. This piece is intended to act as a companion to Unconditional Education: Supporting Schools to Serve All Students articulating the adaptations required in the implementation of this framework for a blended or remote learning setting. It aims to highlight how during periods of struggle we can find grounding in the formative beliefs and values that drive our work - our belief in the power of relationship, the collective capacity of teams, and our ability to reach a shared vision when we’ve identified clear goals. In addition, it provides practical considerations for the modification of essential coordination and assessment procedures that drive a multi-tiered system of care. Our hope is to share lessons learned with others who are building systems to support all students, and the adults in their lives, in finding wellness and hope in this challenging time.
We begin this year at the cross-section of the pandemic’s wide-spread impacts within our community and this powerful moment of confrontation with systemic racism and anti-blackness in our country. We are strengthening our resolve to find new and creative ways to meet the deep and varied needs of students and families and address the many forms of racism still present within our child-serving systems of care. In the words of Bettina Love, we must “engage in the struggle for educational justice knowing that [we] have the ability and human right to refute oppression and refuse to oppress others, mainly [our] students.” Our partnerships in schools are built on aligned vision and commitment to creating school communities where all students can thrive. To this end, we have spent time this summer articulating a set of ongoing commitments and a few key areas where we will be dedicating time and attention in the coming months.
Our Ongoing Work:
We recognize that reshaping the educational system is ongoing work and, our hope is that, by starting this conversation with concrete commitments, we can specifically articulate the ways in which anti-racism is part of our work in schools.
We are looking forward to a year of mutual teaching, learning, and growth!
Thank you to the 150+ staff and family members who came out to celebrate the end of the 2019-2020 school year! Our “Drive Through BBQ” provided space to mark this milestone by being in community (safely) with each other and demonstrating our ongoing commitment to racial justice in education and beyond. Thank you for showing up today and every day. #UnconditionalEducation #BlackLivesMatter
The education landscape has shifted drastically over the past weeks and Seneca’s Unconditional Education partner schools are working hard to ensure that all students and families continue to thrive. In an effort to chronicle the innovative shifts in practice that are being made to support students, families, and school partners, UE will be presenting a series of interviews highlighting the work of UE practitioners. Our second conversation is with Theo Grant-Funck, Senior Student Support Assistant at Cox Academy in Oakland.
EdSource recently explored the narratives and challenges of student wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic in their ongoing podcast series, “This Week in California Education.” Tune in and listen to our very own Executive Director of School Partnerships, Robin Detterman, as she shares how staff at Seneca are responsively shifting their practice to ensure students stay connected to the mental health services during this time of remote learning (starting at the 10 minute mark). We want to offer a huge shout out to our team members and all mental health practitioners across the nation who are striving to ensure that all students and families remain connected to community and opportunities for wellness. We appreciate you!
All-In! Partnership Team