Thursday, May 11, 2017

Soul Force Reflection

What did I learn?

As my students learned about how to research their problem, I learned a great deal about teaching research skills.

Teaching research is hard. Students link it's a linear process where people start with a question and then they find sources that will give them the answer. Instead, it's an incessantly circular process where sources give different perspectives and sometimes even more questions. On top of that, good teaching means making sure students question sources, especially those on the Internet. In the past, I've used CARRDS to teach students about assessing the accuracy of internet sources. The steps of the acronym are great, but it does seem a little repetitive and long. This year, I used CRAP instead, and I liked being able to say "Don't use CRAPpy sources." More importantly, the acronym is shorter and simpler. Most importantly, I learned that I need to model HOW to assess sources with the CRAP rubric, as well as provide students time in class to evaluate sources so that they can ask questions. While I know that students need more practice with this skill, blog posts like Amanda's prove to me that they can think critically about internet sources.

I also learned a lot about having students do interviews as part of their research process. The key lesson was making sure students understand that scheduling can interview can take a long time, as shown by Sam's blog post. The after-interview Thank You cards also taught me a lot about what students do and don't know about formal writing and addressing envelopes.

What did I do?

As students worked on their Soul Force projects, I took action on the research I've done for the problem I identified: school culture, especially post-election. One of the most eye-opening sources I found was the Kansas data from the 2015 GLSEN School Climate survey. While this survey obviously wasn't taken post-election, it was some of the only local data I could find on school climate. This source, combined with many of the questions I've been answering from faculty here at ONW, gave me the idea to have a student panel for teachers to learn about LGBTQ+ issues.
Teacher check their own answers from pretest as students teach!
The most important thing the panel taught teachers is that we all need to work harder to ensure the certitude that our school is a welcoming and affirming place for all of our students.
Safe Space stickers and posters have increased at ONW.
I challenged faculty to consider what they learned in different ways: with their heads, heart, and hands/feet. Based on the profuse support events like Trans Day of Visibility and Day of Silence received from faculty, I think the training was an excellent first step of addressing one aspect of school climate.

What are my next steps?

My next steps in addressing this problem at ONW is taking the a data from the local climate survey and working with the administration to make sure it's used to plan for next year. While the results of the survey show that overall ONW is a serene place of learning for a lot of students, we can always improve. I am happy to report that my collaboration with Mr. Zuck has already begun!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Soul Force Survey

Why a survey?

In the research portion of my Soul Force project, I found many stories from schools across the nation that have been impacted since the election. I also found a great deal of data, mostly collected through surveys of the nation as a whole. What I didn't find is what's happening here at ONW. Sure, I hear comments and receive reports from students about conflicts--but there was nothing that gave me a big picture of ONW. Thus, instead of interviewing somebody who is an "expert" in my problem, I decided to survey the student body. I can't think of a more credible and authoritative source than the students who walk down the halls everyday.

What did the survey tell me?

I am still compiling the results of ONW's 2016-2017 Climate Survey, but so far, I'm not surprised by the data. Overall, ONW is a great school with great students and great staff, and the data supports this claim. The key takeaway from the partial results has been the data for the final question: In general, how accepting do you think students at ONW are of people perceived to be different from themselves?

While I don't think these results are odious, it is significant that only 52% of students answered "Somewhat Accepting" or "Very Accepting." I see this in adults, so it's no wonder many students don't know how to deal with diversity and differences.

What did I learn about surveying?

The first thing I learned is that surveys take a really, really, really long time to write. When I started the process of developing the survey last October, I thought it was going to be a breeze because GLSEN offers a free Local Climate Survey for any teacher, school, or district. However, I discovered a problem right away: the survey had 75 questions on it. It's a certitude that students would feel contemptuous about taking this long of a survey; therefore, I worked with my school social worker and principal to cut down this number. Once we narrowed the focus of the survey, we then had to reword questions. My principal wanted to make sure that questions weren't worded in such a way that assumed students didn't safe at school, so we went back and forth on several questions to revise questions for this reason. 

I also learned that giving a paper survey to hundreds of students is a nightmare. While a few classes had access to computers and took the survey online, most of the 9th, 10th, and 11th graders who took the survey did so on paper. My aide and other volunteers have been entering the data by hand for weeks; in fact, there is still a profuse number of surveys to be entered. I learned a valuable lesson: always give surveys online only!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Soul Force Research

Why My Problem Is Relevant

February 2017 Vandalism at Shawnee Mission East

If a picture speaks a thousand words, I think this picture totally nails why the problem of school climate after the election is important. While team rivalry and vandalism existed way before the election, graffiti such "Hilary Won LOL" and the swastikas refer to the backlash that's occurred since the election. There's no doubt that this election has fueled contempt.

What Questions Lingered

The questions that lingered after my pre-search were "How does school climate affect learning?" and "How can school climate be improved?". I felt my pre-search process revealed a clear picture of the rise in bullying, harassment, and assault in schools before, during, and after the election. I don't think just these problems are just going away on their own, so my research focused mostly on why school climate is important and how to improve it.

What Source Addressed My Lingering Questions

I found one source in particular helpful in addressing both of my lingering questions. "Seven Ways to Create a More Positive School Climate" by Peter DeWitt began by emphasizing how key school climate is by citing a study based on 15 years of research based in schools around the world linking positive school climate and academics. 

The article continues to provide suggestions on improving school climate, such as "focus[ing] on creativity more than compliance," be[ing] happy for others," "focus[ing] on accomplishments of students," and "listen[ing] to what others say, even the people you disagree with." I found all of these helpful--but vague. The most significant suggestion was to give a school climate survey and review results with teachers before taking actions based on what the data reveals. This is ultimately my goal for this project!

Why I Trust My Source

The author of my source, Peter DeWitt, is an Ed.D. and former K-5 teacher and principal who regularly contributes to Education Week, an online publication published by a non-profit organization. The particular article was published November 28, 2016, which was right after the election as teacher across the country were dealing with the fall out from the election. The article proved its reliability because it didn't show a bias towards or against Trump, but rather focused on the impact of the election on students. It also had several links to resources ranging from a National Public Radio article, to a study published by the Review of Educational Research, to the Department of Education. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Soul Force Launch!

This summer, I watched We Are Superman for the first time with a dozen other educators across the metro area who all shared my passion for teaching and writing. As we learned about the history of Kansas City together, my mind kept wandering: how could I use this documentary in my classroom to launch students into the kind of literacy-based problem solving shown in the film? Just a few months later, here I am in a cape--ready to introduce my students to the documentary and their new roles as superheroes. But wait . . . as inspiring as the activists in the documentary are, I knew that my students needed me to guide them along the way. And this isn't the time for me to pretend I know all of the answers.

Pick a Problem

Just like my students, I began my Soul Force project by picking a problem that bugs me: school climate. No, I don't mean how hot or cold the school is; I mean how "safe" the school is for students physically and emotionally. One of the reasons I picked this problem is that I have a very close connection with a student who didn't feel safe in school. The problem became so serious that this student ended up transferring schools. I also selected this as my problem because of the recent election, which sparked conflict across the nation.


In my pre-search, I focused on three questions--but the question that I found the most information on was "How has school climate changed since the election?". In order to find information about this question, I searched "school climate" or "school safety" and 2016 election. I found quite a few articles and blogs that seemed relevant, but the most valuable one was published by the Human Rights Campaign. This organization conducted online survey of 50,000 students aged 13-18 that focused specifically on how safe schools felt during and after the election. The most striking statistic was that 70% of respondents saw bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the 2016 election in school. I was equally shocked and saddened at this statistic.

Problem-Solving Predictions

My next step is additional research. Since I decided to focus on school climate here at ONW, I need to gather data about this school in particular. I can't think of any better way to do that than survey the student body. My hope is to survey at least two grade levels so that I will have enough responses to draw conclusions from the data.

After I manage to give the survey, I anticipate the most difficult thing will be coming up with realistic solutions to help improve school climate. In order to implement whatever "solutions" I come up with, I am going to need to rely on my collaboration skills. I know that nothing worthwhile is accomplished in isolation, so my ability to bring other teachers, administrators, and student groups into my solution will be helpful.