year one almost done… are we “passing” the test?

this week is the infamous CST test… you know, the test that determines whether or not your campus is considered an “effective” school. the same test that many ed “reformers” (including our own superintendent) want to include in teacher evaluations to determine one’s “effectiveness.” without this post turning into another lengthy diatribe on how teacher’s should or should not be evaluated (as opposed to developed), i did want to take some time on the importance of accountability, reflection, and revision… the process most teachers i know commit to every single day…

accountability… what is it? and what does it look like in schools and classrooms? this is the question that quickly brings up a barrage of educational verbiage and acronyms that the general public usually isn’t well versed in and could probably (and correctly) care less about. what it comes down to is a couple of basic core concepts that any human could relate to. one of those is commitment in a relationship. the issue soon turn into one about measuring. how do you measure commitment to students? to bettering your practice as an educator? it it time spent in class teaching? extracurricular activities that you participate in? how much more unpaid time you spend outside of your contractual work day? is it how well your students fill out bubbles on a standardized test? what constitutes significant “data” and what does it suggest? i recently read an article in which the words of bill gates surprised yet inspired me. teachers WANT to be accountable to their students!!! because the SUPER majority of us are committed to the relationships that we cultivate with our students. the challenge is really in understanding the teaching/learning process as a profoundly relational one. and it becomes harder to quantify the significance of relationships when you begin to talk about them using more holistic and humanizing terminology rather than the reductive talk of testing.

reflection… arguably the most important part of teaching. it is where true learning happens. both for teachers and students. and it has to be taught and provided space. this year i have chosen to use the term “marinate” as a key signal for students to kick into reflection mode… they seem to enjoy it, testament by their joy of mimicking me mockingly. the point of that term invokes a process that is slow and intentional. a far cry from the anxiety filled pace that most teachers feel when they are tying to “cover” all the material that will be on the test. yet, even in the mad dash to cram our students’ heads full of the information that they will be expected to “know” for the test, teachers and students still find time to let the lessons marinate from day to day… that is IF there are systems designed to slow down our thought processes and really think and dialogue deeply about what it is we are DOING… so that we may learn more about the process as a whole. this could look a lot of different ways, and at my school it does, yet it is against the tide of a year one start up… the break neck pace is evidenced by my lack of posting personal reflections in the most exciting, challenging, and transformational year of my professional education career. what it always entails is a conversation following some deep cognition, usually brought on by questioning. what is amazing to me is that despite how important we know this to be in the learning process, it is really absent in any meaningful discussion about public education. we want such quick fixes to this “broken system.”

the most frustrating recent example of disregarding reflection was demonstrated by my own superintendent. after receiving a vote of no confidence from more half of the teachers he is charged with leading. his comments about this were as follows:

“I am far too busy working to serve all students and assure their right to graduate college- and workforce-ready to pay attention to this nonsense.”

what does not make a lot of sense to me is how the man in charge of the 2nd largest school district in the nation can blatantly disregard even an attempt to dialogue about some pretty clear data. what type of message is that sending to teachers? am i supposed to believe that a similar response from me would be acceptable if half of my students came back and said that they have no confidence in the direction our class was heading? charters like Green Dot championed by our superintendent himself already use student reflections in their teacher evaluations. this data is supposed to drive reflection: 1) deep thinking 2) dialogue/discussion 3) creation of an action plan to improve even further…
but i guess our leader is too busy for any of that nonsense… OR he is not holding himself to the same standards as he expects all teachers to adhere to.

revision… every teacher i know who is worth their weight as a teacher knows that they can always get better at their craft. they spend hours upon hours refining their lessons, scouring for appropriate and engaging resources, designing ever more engaging activities and authentic learning experiences, creating and fostering partnerships with outside organizations to bolster the “real world” application of the curriculum, re-imagining their classroom space to be more inviting and productive… and the list seriously goes ON and ON and ON… implied in the word is to have a vision of what is possible. and through the reflective process, have a road map of where you have been so that you may better create where you are going. what we know about creativity is that it happens better in groups… and the more informed these groups are through discussion, the more creative potential they harness. it is pretty much the antithesis to what testing is… and yet, the tests are what drive our educational system. so then the question becomes… what IS our vision of what education should be? this article written by a principal really drives home what it has become, especially in schools like mine.

what we have chosen to do here at the Schools for Community Action campus at Augustus Hawkins High School is begin to build a Counter-Narrative to the current vision of education for our inner city students.

a small taste of what we have to find time to do in order to counter the current narrative on public education…

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My students had been watching the videos on Youtube all weekend and we watched again this morning. Thanks for working so hard in involving kids and adults in creating such a positive school culture!

Thank you Ms. Castillo,
Your energy was contagious with both students and adults. My student also sang the chorus! I feel privileged to work with outstanding committed educators!

Thanks you Ms.Castillo for being such an amazing Leadership advisor. We played both videos this morning before the test and the kids sang along. They feel the love.
Go Hawks!!!

I want to thank all of you for coming out to the CST Pep Rally and making it a success, even with the time confusion.

I’d like to give special thanks to:
Ms. Hollis, Mr. Gomez, Ms. Hanson, Mr. Velasquez, and Ms. Warrick for your creative writing, rapping, and/or performing. Also, Ms. Gaston for picking the song.
Ms. Moran, Ms. Englander, Ms. Briggs, Mr. Orozco, Ms. Se, Mr. Ayala for being special guest performers.
Mr. Bailey for helping us get the instrumentals and providing equipment.
Ms. Toussaint for organizing the cheerleaders in the midst of their busy schedule.
Our principals for your support and speaking at the rally.
Ms. Lamar for making the pledge cards.
Our counselors, especially Mr. Rodriguez, for compiling the list of proficient and advanced students and their advisories.
All the teachers that helped out and participated with spirit week.
Each department for being in our CST motivational video.
So much thanks to Mr. Mayorga, Ray, and David for always helping out with ALL events. We have the best B & G team EVER!
EXTRA big thanks for Ms. Hollis for editing both videos.

We’re setting the bar high and I know we’ll continue to do big things at the Hawk with the incredible and dedicated staff that we have.