First in a series:
How does the Developmental Designs approach build equity?
A seventh grader who had struggled with school engagement and achievement listened to an announcement that no school buses would be coming into her area until the debris from the big storm the night before was hauled away. She grabbed her hat and coat, and announced to her mother that she would walk the six miles to school. “I’m not going to miss school just because of that stupid storm!” she declared. She arrived at school just in time for the beginning of CPR.
“Good morning, Bethany. What’s up?” one of the boys in the circle said.
“Good morning, Roberto. I’m glad to be here-I walked the whole way from my house!”
-seventh-eighth grade advisory, Minneapolis The Advisory Book, Linda Crawford
Engagement happens in a student, not to a student. When a student knows that she belongs and is empowered to contribute and inquire, teaching is much more an energized partnership and much less useless prodding.
Many describe the persistent gap in achievement between students of color and white students as an “engagement crisis.” We see that African-American, Latino-American, and Native students are, in general, chronically underachieving despite a dozen years of work under No Child Left Behind and billions in expenditures for interventions. Clear and aligned standards, learning targets, assessments, lessons, and curriculum in general, while essential, are insufficient to ensure learning: only engaged students learn.
We know of “beating-the-odds” teachers who engage all their students in learning. Educators are looking “upstream” to see what these successful teachers do to engage their students and improve achievement. Invariably, these teachers:
- Cultivate the social and community dimensions of learning
- Plan instruction that capitalizes on how students learn (what we teach in Developmental Designs about the conditions for meeting students’ needs and fostering engagement)
I have the privilege of knowing the teacher of the seventh grader who walked to school. One signature of her success is that she is a trust-building-relationship maker. She creates engagement through relationship-with herself the teacher, with classmates, with content and activities. Through the Circle of Power and Respect advisory meeting and other Developmental Designspractices, she can respond to students’ realities.
She can ask and address:
“Who are you?”
“How might you see things differently from the ways I do?”
“What do you need to get traction as a learner, as a person, and as a member of our learning community?”
“What are your personal assets?”
“How can I offer you fun and interest you in learning?”
“How can I help you to hope?”
Getting to know students helps align the aims of the curriculum to needs of the student, and starts to create the conditions for engagement.
Todd Bartholomay is the Programs and Special Projects Director for The Origins Program. A long-time practitioner of the Developmental Designs approach, he taught at the middle level for fourteen years. He also served as a principal in the St. Paul Public Schools, where he was in school adminstration for ten years.
Posted January 2014