Reduce Violence & Protect Human Rights in Honduras

All people can make a difference. In 1977, at Hope College in Holland Michigan, a group of students under the banner of Human Rights in Latin America, got together to protest American military aid funding (through the Defense Department) of human rights abuses in Chile where Pinochet took over for Salvador Allende and in Argentina where Videla brutally disappears 30,000 people who had a different point of view. Our cry was to stop US support of torture. Many groups went to Washington and protested US support of torture and it was finally ended in 1978 when congress passed and President Carter signed the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 502B). We also protested US support of torture in El Salvador (our chant was: “Money for jobs, not for war. US out of El Salvador!”). Later, the Committee on International Relations and Committee on Foreign Relations reported restrictions on US funds to El Salvador if they abuse human rights. We can make a difference!

But it doesn’t stop there! The United States military has significantly increased its presence in Honduras since the Obama Administration. Pointing to interests in drug interdiction, the US presence at Soto Cano Air Base is a hub for trainings with Honduran police, military, and “special joint forces.”  US-trained security forces, including those trained at the infamous School of the Americas (SOA, aka WHINSEC), have been linked to human rights abuses and assassinations in Honduras. Three of the eight men arrested for the assassination of Berta Cáceres were members of US-trained forces who were given a hit list of prominent environmental activists to assassinate. 

Now Take Action! H.R. 1574 (named in honor of Berta Cáceres) is a crucial bill before the US Congress to address the human rights violations committed by Honduran state security forces. It would withhold security and military assistance from the US until state-sponsored human rights violations cease and there is some justice for its victims.

Take action this week! Phone calls are crucial to get your congressperson’s attention. Here’s what to do:

See who is co-sponsoring the bill. If your congressperson is not there, call your congressperson and encourage them to cosponsor the bill. Twelve from California are already co-sponsoring the bill. We strongly encourage constituents from Joyce Beatty (OH-3 in Columbus, OH) and Tim Ryan’s (OH-13 in Youngstown, OH) districts to contact their representatives. Rep. Ryan has sponsored previous versions of this bill. Rep. Beatty is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; many victims of state-sponsored human rights crimes are Afro-descendant Hondurans defending ancestral territories and waterways.

Here’s the message to leave for the foreign affairs staffer:

 “My name is _____. I am a constituent from (your town/city) in (your state). I am calling to ask Rep. _____ to co-sponsor H.R. 1574, The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, calling for a suspension of U.S. security aid to Honduras until human rights violations committed by the Honduran security forces cease. Has Rep. _______ seen this bill? Can I count on him/her to sign on?” 

Summary of Actions & Intentions with Praxis

To complete the cycle of critical literacy, one has to act in some way to transform the world to a better place seeking justice and equity for marginalized populations. Most of my recent posts have kept in mind the ideas in Teaching to Transform by bel hooks and my own studies about teaching literacy instruction and teacher education. Below, I offer some conclusions about actions I have taken or want to take as a result of this intellectual journey mostly focusing on praixis.In critical pedagogy, praxis is a tool used to transform society into a more just and equitable world.

Praxis in Teacher Education

A person with expertise from outside the community must collaborate with local clients to find out what their problems are before the group decides on actions to resolve problems.

Following the action is a praxis cycle of reflection, and then plans to continue, scrap, or modify the action taken. This cycle has been adopted by many colleges of teacher education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. So the expert learns or studies the problem ‘with’ instead of coming in with a bag of expert tricks to teach ‘to’ or ‘for’ the clients/students. The nomenclature is challenging here, but in a college of education, the expert would be the professor and the student would be the client.

Student teachers do praxis. There are a number of ways professors can approach this theoretical praxis model in teacher education classes. Obviously, when a student teacher teaches children, they should flow through the cycle of praxis finding out what each K-12 student’s needs are and addressing planning action to address the needs. It is super important that the child knows about the results of the assessment and how the teacher is addressing the need so the child feels like they are a part of the learning process. The student teacher then examines strengths & weaknesses of the lesson reflecting and then setting goals for the future lessons.

Professor leading praxis. As a professor, I follow a similar praxis cycle somewhat modified because I have 130 students in my four classes. Based on decades of praxis cycling on specific assignments, I can prevent predictable shortcomings with models, structures, and strategy discussions about the assignments. I give specific feedback when necessary and allow students to revise the assignment to mastery. I also give whole group feedback with whole class emails and announcements in Blackboard. All that is normal college teaching.

The silent student. Over the previous 17 years of school, students have learned to sit down and be quiet waiting for the teacher to give wisdom. Almost two decades of school has taught

them that their input is not desired. They are depressed. So I have to do things to to break out of that lift the mood, get students active, and questioning. The first two minutes of class, I start with some fun upbeat music asking the students to identify the song in the chat box or aloud. Online, I require students contribute to the chat at least 6 times in a typical 3 hour online class and give participation points on an irregular schedule for in class participation. I also try to have a fun bouncy tone of voice and choice of comments modeling after late night television talk shows or podcasts. I try to do some seat dancing to the music, over-the-top gestures for surprise, pointing directly at the camera, dramatizing stories, using different voices, and moving my face or hands closer to the screen to emphasize a statement I am making. The goal is to be interesting, fun, and upbeat giving the students permission to engage and have fun themselves. Finally, I also keep in mind to switch activities and to keep things moving so as not waste anyone’s time.

Modeling the thinking of a professional teacher asking questions. In praxis, the expert/professor is supposed to address student concerns as a starting point for the work they will do together; however, many of my students don’t know how to identify problems they are having, will have as a teacher, or how to categorize the problems. So I model asking the student teachers a general question that a teacher would normally have such as, ‘how do you teach a child to read who doesn’t understand the meaning of the words?’ or ‘What do you do when you are reading and don’t know a word.’ Then I give students a minute to contemplate their answer, post in the chat box, and then put students in breakout groups where they are much more willing to talk. Students go into breakout groups and are allowed to talk about anything, but they must also answer the question. I listen to the students and ask questions in breakout groups for the next 5 minutes and when they come back to whole group ask them for to post their expanded questions in the chat room. I comment and give praise to individual students who talk or post thoughtful comments.

I also encourage students to interrupt me at any time to ask questions and since I do move through the class with different activities, I realize that the student question may appear to be abrupt or not well thought out. Mostly, I cherish those comments, questions, and praise the student for engaging.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Equity in the Ways to Learn. Students benefit from: 1. receiving, 2. representing, and 3. engaging in information in several different forms through the visual arts, music, comedy, stories, statistics, graphic novels, charts, drama, oral and written language. I enact UDL in three main ways in my class. Students receive most of the information through reading, but also lecture, drama, visual images on presentations and in books, stories I tell about my own K-9 teaching, YouTube videos of classroom teaching, websites, and charts. In representing on assignments and engaging during class for information, they do have a choice about what format they will use to represent their knowledge. They may and do represent information in any of the above forms (see the opera response from a student below). Undoubtedly, there is a greater focus on reading and writing which is the format most students use when they submit for the state assessments (CBEST, CSET, RICA, and CalTPA-that’s right, there are 4 required assessments), but I am working to develop more diverse ways to allow students to receive, represent, and engage in the classroom.

Preparing for a Profession Requires Student Teachers Know and Perform to Professional Standards – It’s Not About You. Preparing for a profession, in some ways, is unlike educating yourself in general during your free time. Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests.” That is a good quote when a person is exploring ideas in history, art, or literature in the university or K-12 classroom; however, in teacher education, a teacher’s plans and problems must prioritize student needs, the agreed upon curriculum (state & local standards), and the community (Schwab, 1982), over the teacher’s other logistical and personal issues. Similarly, in praxis when the expert/professor applies their knowledge to problems in education, professional pedagogy must be prioritized. When you teach, mostly, it’s about the kids, the pedagogy, and the content. Hence, while teacher education does require a range of the student teachers freedom to be professional, teacher education requires the teacher has a grasp of professional standards to receive a credential from the state.

Challenges to Teaching ‘With’ Student Teachers

The idea of praxis, as Paulo Freire describes, is that a teacher can take action to genuinely transform a students’ practice when they know more about the specific problems students are having. In my case, when I as a professor, understand the problems my student teachers are having in their student teaching classrooms, I can address those specific needs. In that way, I am learning ‘with’ the students and not simply lecturing ‘to’ students or doing something ‘for’ students. That means, as much as possible, I need to find out what students’ need and work ‘with’ them to address goals together. In this post, I will explore three challenges students teachers have that draw them away from my class work on literacy instruction in kindergarten-sixth grade classrooms: 1. pressing issues that draw students away from class learning, 2. the need to pass state assessments, and 3. student teachers are just beginning their profession and don’t often know what their problems are in literacy instruction are.

First, students are distracted and pulled away from my class work in many ways :

  1. Student teachers are overworked. Personally, students half of my students are very busy with their full time internship as student teachers. In two other classes I am teaching, the students are in classrooms for two day and also carry at least 15 units. So students have a double load: teaching in a classroom and a full schedule of classes to take and prepare for.
  2. School is a priority. What makes it more complicated is that students’ priority is typically the work they do in the classroom for two reasons. First, students depend on their mentor teachers for letters of recommendations and so they try to work hard in the classroom to show that they are eager and skilled. Secondly, student teachers prioritize work with students because it is real work and not practice for the future. Children are vulnerable and must be treated with care and so they become a priority. Also, after 19 years of education in preparation, student teachers are eager to do real work.
  3. Student teachers have personal needs outside the classroom. The most challenging is the need to earn money to support their university education. Students also often have children or parents to take care of. Finally, some students are not very good at self-care in high pressure situations and don’t make sure they eat well, sleep, and exercise. Generally, students who don’t take care of themselves are less capable to learn the content because they are physically not feeling their best.

The second challenge to teaching ‘with’ students is that they have to pass two state assessments: the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment (RICA) and the California Teacher Performance Assessment (CalTPA). These are not genuine goals for students, but rather goals that students must take on in order to become teachers. Since these are goals set by the state and the profession, these are not the student teacher’s goals and there is a sense of alienation from them. I have to teach, not only how to teach reading and writing to children, but also how to pass the test. Students have to be told what the attitude of the test is. They have to learn how to construct answers. They have to have extensive experience in case study assessment. The format of a paper and pencil test is different from the teaching performance. So, must practice answering tricky questions about potential problems they may not be facing in their student teaching, but may face some day. So these are not genuine problems student have in teaching, they are problems they have in getting their credential.

Finally, as beginning student teachers, they don’t often know what problems they are facing in the classroom. Student teachers can observe a teachers without understanding why they are doing what they are doing. They don’t understand the teacher’s intent. Edutopia claims that teachers make 1500 decisions a day. That is too many decisions for the mentor teacher to explain to the student teacher. Student teachers need to have experience teaching and making those decisions, before they know what those genuine problems are going to be. Also, student teachers are often in classrooms with students that don’t match what is being taught at the university. For example, some student teachers are in a sixth grade class where only science and math are taught. In my university classroom, I would like to teach ‘with’ students by exploring the problems they are having teaching phonics or reading comprehension in their student teaching, but they don’t even have the opportunity to face that kind of problem if they are in a sixth grade teaching science and math.

All these challenges, prevent or distract students from having genuine problems to address in my university classroom. I just want to go over some possible big picture solutions that could address these problems. For the first problem of having many distractions, provide more financial support to students who must work or take care of their children or elderly parents. For state standardized tests, it would be a solution to take them out entirely, but it would also be appropriate to align their student teaching with a performance assessment to be done simultaneously. When student teachers don’t know what their genuine teaching problems are, I could provide case study problems or videos of students performing and mentor the student teachers about the thought process that I would go through to assess and instruct individual elementary students. I could also just ask students how they are planning to teach which creates a problem for the students. Those would not be genuine problems a student has, but it might simulate a real problem and help prepare teachers for the thought processes they will have to go when they teach in their own classrooms.

Power & the Spirit

Critical pedagogy or anything “critical” addresses issues of power. Two thousand years ago, this past Palm Sunday, when Jesus was cheered on by the masses as a king as he rode a borrowed donkey down the streets of Jerusalem. The images are a bit confusing. If he was going to be a king and lead a revolution against the oppressive Romans, why didn’t Jesus ride a powerful war horse and assemble compatriots to arms? Certainly Jesus was hoping to call attention to a sense of humility. In fact, Jesus is quoted as saying that the law of all the prophets hangs on loving God and your neighbor. So instead he chose to focus on changing society through the spirit-the hearts and minds of people. Not that it’s a great analogy, but the memory of that event led me to think about the use of power and authority in our teaching.

In teaching, teachers have power over students to control assignments, class discussions, class activities, due dates, and grading. Part of our use of power is to help students prioritize the ideas in what we teach over the many other things students have to think about. However, I think we can balance by shifting a greater focus on control assignments, class discussions, class activities, due dates, and grading to spirit-inspired activities. As a teacher, I think I rely too much on that power and so in this post, I am going to explore some activities that focus on the emotion and purpose.

So, how does one move the spirit? I don’t really know, but I’m going to explore it. One activity that appears to have helps to establish a fun and positive climate is music at the beginning of class. If students’ comments in the chat room are any indication, I have been very successful playing music to start class that is energetic such as Sweet Child O’Mine by Guns and Roses, Gemini Girls, Grateful Dead, fun music videos by Walk Off the Earth like Rise, and La Noche de Anoche by Bad Bunny and Rosalia. I think the students like it when I ask them to guess the singers and the name of the song. Sometimes the lyrics fit our lesson. That’s something to work on, but I also like the energy that upbeat music brings.

A second thing to move the spirit that I have not yet tried is more time in contemplation. I think it can be good to ask questions about why we do this work of teaching literacy. Or even what does it mean to teach literacy? I do ask students to write their answers to questions I pose in the chat, but I don’t give lots of wait time. Perhaps if I approach it like a teacher’s meditation, the students would be more amenable to the idea. Quakers spend sometimes a whole hour as a group in thoughtful contemplation seeking God’s spirit. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all suggest a time of contemplation or prayerful contemplation as a part of their religious practice. It’s a time to reorient, to reset toward our purpose, reassess our position, make plans so that mindless action and routine will not consume our time. So I will request students just spend a moment in contemplation. I am not sure yet if I will ask students to report their thoughts in breakouts or on the chat, but I will poll the students to find out what is the most helpful.

Third, I will increase motivation by giving lots of positive feedback. One thing I will emphasize is the amount of learning everyone is doing and how well they are doing as a group. I will also give feedback to individuals with a focus on the positive as a father might to show that I am on the student’s side. I am ‘with’ the student. We are together hoping for the same thing.

Finally, the spirit can be captured through play and the arts. I will play games with students not because it’s time efficient and not really because students are learning during that time, but just for to raise the spirit. At the moment it is not fun, we will stop. Currently, I do ask students to exercise between breaks so that they might feel some endorphins that emanate from movement. When students email me telling me of a difficulty they had befallen, I empathize and encourage normal healthy habits such as good sleep, good food, and exercise. That will be a feeling of comfort and well-being. Finally, I will give students opportunities to share with each other. In our class meeting, I noticed that only one group out of six was talking and so maybe that technique has run it’s course.

I still have a ways to go promoting the spirit of students with the arts. I am not very good at providing images to parallel or expand the meaning of the words we use for class. I am not even very good at recognizing what pictures might be helpful to raise the spirit or promote engagement, but I am committed to trying. I also have not worked hard to develop well-crafted stories into my lessons. This is a good goal I need to work on. Since I taught for 16 years in grades 1-9, I have those stories, but the stories need to be developed. I need to develop better book talks to connect with what the students of my student teachers might be working through.

In a sense, the multiple ways of knowing and subsequently providing multiple ways of presenting knowledge represents a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Also, working to strengthen the ways in which I develop the spirit, the fun climate, an artistic and contemplative place, I can light the fire that will burn in the hearts of my students now and in the future. It’s another way, I can work ‘with’ students as bell hooks suggests, instead of teaching ‘to’ or ‘for.’

Democracy in the Classroom?

Popular phrase used by students to support the socialist government in Chile in 1973 when Allende was president. “Crear poder popular” means creating more democracy or more power to the people.

In Chapter 6 of Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks wrote about how criticism of feminism and Paulo Freire (critical pedagogy) does, in some ways, devalue those theories. She also states that criticism is important because it can lead to a understanding further and nuance. It helps us understand the complexity of any situation through self-criticism or the criticism of others. Through these thoughts and comments, we learn about how others perceive our work and those other perspectives increase the complexity of how we understand our work.

Students are probably the most capable of expressing perspective on the class. Of course, their criticism is muted partly because they fear that we, the professors, will retaliate by giving students low grades. I am sure that is true much of the time. I try not to make it true when I grade.

There are many ways students can comment on the class. They can talk after class on Zoom, email me, talk over Zoom during office hours, or text me. It is my job to be welcoming and thankful that they will offer their comments to me without fear of retaliation. Recently, we had a former student who passed a state performance assessment (the CalTPA) speak to the class to offer a perspective on her strategies to pass the exam. I have just sent an email to the class expressing my joy at learning about her strategies and asking them to share any strategies that they think might help them pass the CalTPA. In this way, I hope to understand a perspective on learning in class that I was previously unaware of.

In our society, we are not very good at democracy. In my class, I would say that I am not very good at listening and acting upon the perspectives offered by students. I tend to perserverate and often chafe at comments made by students that, ‘the directions were not very clear’ or ‘you didn’t prepare us for the assignment.’ I hope that will change in the future and I can see the comments by students as an opportunity for reflection on my teaching and also changes that will make the class more helpful to students.

The Negative Consequences of Learning “With”

So are there negative consequences to a student-focused class? What if students problems are trivial? What if students’ problems are not related to the best interests of the children they are teaching? What if students just want a stress free education with minimal reading and writing? What if students want me to do extra work to make the class easier or the learning easier? Maybe students need some tough love. OK this is where it gets complicated.

First of all, I don’t have most of these problems because my students are actually mostly amazing dedicated hard-working students who are doing fieldwork and recognize the need for the things in the reading and in the class. My students have completed their bachelor’s degrees and are within months of getting a job. Some already have jobs. So I hope that other professors and teachers will comment telling me more about the negative consequences of learning “with” in the comments or by emailing gdevoogd@csudh.edu

Even so, some of my students have issues such as way too much work in student teaching, healthcare and childcare issues, as well as challenges completing all the work in my demanding class (700 pages of reading and 75 pages of writing). Family issues and student teaching fieldwork demands can be erratic and so it helps me to have an understanding of the student load at any particular time so that I can shift and adjust the work load to meet the needs of students. I call this the ‘agile curriculum’ and it’s an important part of learning ‘with.’ I am learning some things about their pressures and workload and adjusting my teaching to fit their need.

Really, the stance a teacher takes when teaching/learning makes a big difference. If the teacher takes the time to find out what are the top concerns of my students, the teacher can gauge what priority his class has in their lives. At the beginning of class, I ask students to spend 10 minutes in breakout rooms when students are asked to “talk about whatever” they want and “talk about highlights in the reading or topics we are discussing” that day, the teacher can gauge what is most important to the student. So, when students email, call, text, Zoom me explaining pressures which is quite often, I adjust for that student. If a lot of students talk about serious health issues or difficulty in doing all that is necessary, I can adjust the class to meet the needs of the group by adding stress reducing activities and changing policies to allow students more time to complete assignments. Other times, I need to increase the priority of content in the class by: giving a step by step path students can follow to complete the assignment, reminding student of an assignment (in class, on emails, in announcement), stressing the criteria for evaluation, and reminding the students of the importance the assignment has for their career.

Besides the 10 minute student breakout session in which students can talk about anything, their fieldwork, or the topics to be discussed that day, students are allowed to politely interrupt me at any point, chat comments, and I stay at the end of class listening to and discussing ideas and challenges they are having. I always try to thank them for any feedback knowing that they are often hesitant to say anything that I might consider to be contentious. I want to also be welcoming in the tone of my voice.

A couple examples occurred recently that illustrate these adjustments based on student feedback. Students said that they were having trouble completing the case study in the time allotted by the syllabus. As a response, I called the due date a soft deadline and allowed students to complete the assignment by the following week without a penalty. After that date, the penalty would be no more than 10%. I tell them “no more than 10%” because if the assignment is very well done, I will assess little or no penalty.

We were informed about a month into the semester that a career education fair with employer interviews was in fact going to take place in a month. To prepare the students for interviews and resume building, an online series of boot camp education seminars was offered. Thirty-five districts were going to be looking for new teachers for next year, but students had to register. Given the additional work to students who were already overloaded, I canceled class for the following week to give students time to prepare.

One of the comments I had read in the chat room and heard by the students in the 10 minutes at the beginning of class was a need for more clarity. As it is pretty common for students, the request for clarity was ambiguous, “What do we do?” So of course I have to ask questions. I asked students to tell me more, “Do you mean what do you for class or what do you do right now or what do you do on the standardized assessment offered by the state?” That ‘asking questions’ is part of a dialogue that will result in a better understanding of the problem. That dialogue is an important part of learning ‘with’ students. The result of that dialogue made more understanding more complex. Some students wanted to know what to do for the class. Others wanted to know what to do for the state assessment.

I also knew from previous comments made by students that it was hard for them to stay active in class because many woke up at 5 am or 6 am to prepare lessons and teach every weekday. So during my 8 – 10 pm Friday class, it was hard for students who had been teaching on Zoom and had a another class from 4 pm to 7 pm that day to respond. They were low on energy. As a response, I sought out the written and video examples of a student from the previous semester who had passed the state assessment. Then I highlighted the specific examples to the students analyzing the instruction. I did a lot of talking that hour and I felt accordingly like a hypocrite for professing to learn ‘with’ students, but then not allowing for enough time for ‘dialogue.’ I asked the student upon signing off in the chat room to rate our session from 1-10, 10 being ‘this was very helpful.’ I was surprised that of the 27 out of 32 students responding and in spite of many technology challenges, the no student scored the activity below 7 points and the average score was 8.88 out of 10. Now these are very nice students, but still, the result shocked me and made me realize that I need to continue to get student response with polls and comments to understand how learning ‘with’ was also going to be helpful.

Alright, so one thing I learned today about learning ‘with’ was that it’s not about always having constant dialogue or discussion. Professors can still lecture. You can have time at the beginning of class to discuss without an agenda, allow interruptions, occasional breakouts, emails, Zoom chats, phone calls, and a welcome attitude. That is a way to access student perspectives for praxis.

Meetings With Others

Meetings are often used as a time when the organizer speak “to” other members of the group telling them information. Revealing new information is an important part of any meeting, but communication should flow both from the organizer and from the members of the meeting if the meeting is meant to be a collaboration. What often happens is that there is a perfunctory call for items from the members that doesn’t result in much information partly because members don’t want to be blindsided and embarrassed by their opinion in view of some new information that is coming by the organizer or administrator. Then usually, a strict agenda is set including a few minutes for “questions” at the end of the meeting. The administrator (or the administrator with the people they have carefully prepared) talks throughout the meeting with few responses from the attendees. Sometimes, what ever the administrator talks about is not really the problem of the attendees and so the attendees don’t have much to say. Meanwhile, the problems of the attendees go unaddressed. This is a problem because the staff and professors usually do most of the significant work and meet with students.

Another way to change that is to have a chance at the beginning of the meetings to chat and discuss the kinds of problems the staff and professors are having and then generate a list of issues to address either at that meeting or the next. Alright, well that’s a start. More later.

Teaching ‘With” and not “To” or “For”

From SFUSD website retrieved by the esteemed Karen DeVoogd (no is longer available……… ……(the website not the person. The person is still available.))

Probably some of the best thinking about social emotional relationships comes from the scholars who have been working on how to resolve problems that exist between people and to restore relationships. We all know about mediation and we also probably wish more of the countries of the world would use mediation rather than bullying or war. Many organizations have embraced restorative practices not as a more democratic approach to relationships, but also an approach that reduces stress, anxiety, and helps to form more loving relationships. For more on this, check out Forest Whitaker’s Peace and Development Institute (wpdi.org) or the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu) or California State University Dominguez Hills Masters in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding (csudh.edu/ncrp-ma)

In our task of seeking to teach ‘with,’ we must emphasize the importance of relationship because students don’t want to learn from someone they don’t like. That’s just common sense. Grades can often appear to be punitive and authoritarian (TO in the chart above) or teachers can be permissive granting grades which is paternalistic (FOR in the figure above). Students feel that the grade is punitive if they have fulfilled all the requirements outlined by the professor or the syllabus, but don’t get the highest grade. I sometimes hear, “Why did you take off points on my assignment?” Good point. Sometimes, I am not as clear as I should be about what makes an excellent paper in the syllabus. I always think of the language used by some professors when they talk about grades they ‘give.’ Students earn those grades in collaboration with the professor.

So for us the “systems, expectations, limits” need to be described in the syllabus or in class to provide as much clarity as possible. In my class, I am constantly changing the syllabus and online resources on Blackboard to increase the clarity. For example, I create frameworks in outline form to give students a structure to form their case study assignment of K-12 students’ literacy abilities. I talk through the framework point by point for clarity. I post several examples of excellent practice from the past and talk through examples of those. I model my thinking in a ‘think aloud’ as I am showing a video of the way I assessed a student using the assessment instruments. I also make sure to identify the flaws in my assessment to help students see that it is alright to make mistakes and let others know that you did. All these activities improve clarity.

Recently, a student asked why he did not get points for an assignment that he had emailed me instead of posting online on Blackboard. I responded that all papers had to be listed on Blackboard, but then I gave him the full points because to punish him for posting in the wrong place, would not have been ‘restorative.’ He remembered that later and thanked me personally after the class was over. Our relationship really was improved by that event when we realized that we both wanted to prioritize learning over bureaucracy. This is an example of having more empathy for a student. With all our students, we need to prioritize and reframe what we do in class as something that will make them understand that we are on the same team. We are working together. We are working with them. This is a kind of empathy.

So in teaching ‘with,’ we have to be encouraging and supportive, but also have systems in place that clarify and set limits.

This last week, I worked to develop more routines and procedures that would help me teach “with” and not “to” or “for” as bell hooks discussed building on Freire’s idea of praxis

I find that it’s important to reiterate that no one person can be successful, but that it takes a collaboration of people to be successful. That is the definition of a professional. No doctor, counselor, or dentist can be successful on their own. They need the collaboration of the client to be successful. As a professor, we need the collaboration of all of us to be successful.

This week I tried to be more welcoming of input from students. At the beginning of class, I asked students to hold more of a dialogue, interspersing comments and questions. This was somewhat helpful as students I think felt comfortable to share and I praised those who asked questions and explained that this dialogue makes our class time more complex and thoughtful.

I continue to start class by putting students in breakout rooms where they can talk about how their work as teachers in classrooms and how it connects to the readings and topics we are discussing that day. I take notes in the breakout rooms and address the issues during the lecture/discussion by naming the student who was making the comment. I also mention that the students can make comments in chat. This has happened frequently and I am encouraged by student input as a way to make the conversation in class more complex and applicable to the individual student teachers.

At the end of class, I address any questions for the group and then wait online until all the students have gone. I always have students who are perhaps too shy and meet with me and they wait until the end of class to have a discussion with me.

In all these ways, I hope to be learning more “with” students rather than teaching “to” or “for.” Through our collaboration, we can be successful.

I am still working to understand what it means to learn “with” students as opposed to teaching “for” or “to” students. In this post, I explore the many obstacles that keep me teaching “to” and “for” students.

First and probably foremost, there is a long tradition of authority that the professor holds.  This authority is established in the early in kindergarten when the teacher gives directions to students about what to do.  This is a bit complicated.

In previous blog posts I posted a more extensive argument about the need for teachers to plan for instruction considering Joseph Schwab’s four commonplaces: student abilities and needs, teacher knowledge and talents, the (state) curriculum, and the community.  The complexity that this involves may be ideal, but in reality (and perhaps to be a bit pessimistic) I and other teachers consider a range of factors including but not limited to (in order of priority): 1) what is the easiest and quickest thing to plan, 2) what was successful before, 3) what do I know how to do, 4) what can I control, 5) what will make my students happy, 6) what is the state curriculum, 7) what are my current students’ unique needs, 8) what are the extant community needs. 

So this list of prioritized considerations generally looks pretty selfish, but it doesn’t have to be.  Consider the first three considerations of planning above, if I have done the hard work in advance of developing routines that take into account student need, my abilities as a teacher and community, and the curriculum, then the easiest, quickest way to plan is to follow that routine of assessing or reviewing student needs.  If I have done that many times, then I know how it will be successful; I know how to do it; I can control it; it will make students happy; and it will follow the curriculum.

So the key is to do the hard work in advance of developing content, routines, and procedures that take those ideas into account.  Now that takes a lot of work.  If I am going to teach a class for one semester, I find myself thinking, ‘eh…how much work do I want to put into this.’  So, I find that it’s best if you don’t teach the same class or same types of classes.  Then all you have to do is general pedagogy development to stay current on new technology and pedagogies and stay on the cutting edge of the field updating your course as appropriate.