Fostering culturally-responsive and inclusive classrooms doesn’t happen by accident. This work requires learning and unlearning; it requires action, ongoing professional support, and thoughtful reflection.
Elmira City School District (ECSD) and its educators are a model of how schools can commit to responsive and inclusive classrooms through concerted effort and hard work.
In January 2022, ECSD launched a partnership with BetterLesson focused on equitable instructional practices. Our partnership started with Beecher Elementary, a school within the Elmira district.
Equity work in schools is tough: negotiating differences in identities and life experiences between students and teachers, providing fair and inclusive learning opportunities, interrogating injustices in our communities, examining biases, and so much more. This work is complex, and it’s necessary.
ECSD approached BetterLesson looking for support in advancing equitable instructional practices throughout their district.
Through our partnership with ECSD, we have developed a professional learning plan that is both flexible and focused. Educators participate in workshops under the umbrella of Responsive & Inclusive Classrooms, and then have the autonomy to select a workshop topic on which they will focus and receive on-going coaching support.
Elmira leaders believe it is their professional obligation to advance equity in their learning community, and actively lean in to create systems which support their teachers to advance equitable instructional practices. These leaders and educators are thoroughly committed to enacting equity throughout their district, and we are so thrilled to highlight their important and impactful work.
Year 1: January 2022
Our partnership with Beecher Elementary School started halfway through the school year, which can be a difficult time to launch a new partnership. Teachers are in the groove of their curriculum and bringing in new ideas and practices can feel especially overwhelming.
Recognizing and honoring where teachers are at this point in the year, we worked with Beecher leadership to create a flexible professional development plan that remained grounded in their goal of responsive and inclusive classrooms. First, utilizing the Eight Competencies for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, educators had a choice in selecting learning outcomes that aligned with their own passions.
From there, 34 educators were matched with expert BL Coaches to begin supporting these initiatives with a Try-Measure-Learn framework. Four workshops were offered throughout the spring rooted in Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, Trauma Informed Practices, and SEL. After each workshop, educators had the option to start their coaching cycle on that particular topic or wait for a subsequent workshop that more closely aligned with their personal goals and interests.
During the Try-Measure-Learn coaching cycle, educators selected concrete instructional strategies to implement with the support of their BL Coach. Throughout the process, educators reflected on the impact of those strategies and their learnings through the process. In addition to coaching, teachers also have access to the BL Lab containing a huge library of self-directed professional learning courses.
One elementary school teacher, Tina Almay, directed her coaching cycle to promoting classroom culture with a focus on inclusion. In the workshops, Tina was pushed to think critically about her students’ needs and cultural identities and how they could be represented in her classroom. Tina utilized the Windows and Mirrors strategy and saw a huge impact for her students. “I thought this would be a little bit too abstract for them,” Tina shared excitedly, “but they’re nailing it! They’re grabbing a hold of it!” Tina even used the Windows and Mirrors strategy as a way to address conflicts between students in class.
Reflecting, Learning, and Planning
At the end of the school year, we engaged in deep reflection on our equity work with ECSD. Informally, this happened with Beecher teachers enthusiastically sharing their successes and artifacts of progress. Formally, we analyzed survey data to measure progress toward the district’s goals and outcomes.
This reflection was affirming and encouraging, demonstrating the hard work and intentionality of Beecher’s educators. We found, for example, high levels of teacher confidence and satisfaction with implementing learnings from Workshops.
We were also able to identify the most successful and impactful strategies used in classrooms. Some of these strategies included;
- Exploring Multiple Perspectives
- Circle Up: Community Conversations
- Building Community with Identity Stars
- Having Conversations about Challenging and Controversial Topics
Reflecting on this success, Elmira City School District decided to open up access to coaching for teachers across the entire district at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. This deep commitment to investing in responsive and inclusive practices is what can transform districts toward equity.
Year 2: 2022-2023 School Year
This school year, ECSD expanded professional learning opportunities to teachers across the district, following the same structure from the previous year at Beecher Elementary: teachers participate in Workshops, identify a topic of focus, and receive 1:1 Coaching for successful implementation.
By expanding Workshop delivery to the entire district, together we were able to create targeted plans aligned with each building’s needs.
So far this school year, BetterLesson has provided 1:1 Coaching to 64 teachers throughout the 7 buildings in the district, and over 100 educators have utilized our asynchronous instructional resources through the BL Lab. These aren’t just numbers. These are individual teachers who are demonstrating a commitment to equity and inclusion in their classrooms!
Additionally, all new teachers in Elmira now have access to BL Connect on-demand professional learning courses and are required to take all Teachership courses as part of their new teacher probationary period – an impactful approach to support a culture of learning in the district from day one!
We cannot expect educators to integrate equitable instructional practices with a one-and-done PD approach. ECSD recognizes this and is committed to providing educators with professional learning that is nuanced, context-specific, and recurring. This level of commitment honors the importance and difficulty of practicing equity.
ECSD plans to continue and grow its equity initiatives in the coming years. During the 2023-2024 school year, the district will expand its partnership with BetterLesson into more schools and with more teachers, ultimately improving the educational experiences of more students. We are delighted and committed to support and witness ECSD build on their successes and continue to provide their students with the learning environments that they deserve.
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