Today I’ve invited two current teachers onto my Truth for Teachers podcast to talk about what they’re doing with their students. This is something that I hope to do on the show more often because it’s just another angle of expertise that I think is important for you to hear as a teacher, rather than just hearing from “experts” like myself and others who aren’t currently doing school-based work. These two ladies are in the trenches, so to speak, on a daily basis, and they share about their work on social media, which is where I first connected with them.
Tamara Russell (pictured left below) is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist with 20 years of teaching experience. She is a third-grade teacher, blogger, and speaker in Central Florida. Sarah Plumitallo (right) is currently teaching ESOL students in grades 2-5 in a Title I school in Northern Virginia. She also runs a federally-funded after-school program that serves 150 students in grades K-5.
Sarah and Tamara are super close friends and I have had the privilege of connecting with them on Voxer for the last couple of months. We’ve had countless conversations about an issue we’re all very passionate about, which is education equity. They have shared so much wisdom with me in these private conversations that it just started to feel like a shame that no one else was getting to listen in. So, I invited them both on the show so that more educators can learn from their experiences.
Our conversation ended up running for over an hour! When I went back through the recording to edit it down, I realized that 90% of it was just too good to cut. That’s why I made the decision — for the first time ever on Truth for Teachers — to air almost the entire interview and split it into two episodes. The first half hour of our conversation was focused on classroom-based work, and the last 20 minutes was focused on building trust and relationships with families. You’ll be able to listen to both segments below.
1. Get student buy-in for high expectations by skipping the gimmicks and teaching in authentic, culturally-responsive ways.
- Let kids know they WILL be successful and there’s no other option.
- Approach cultural responsiveness through a lens of responding to the students in your classroom, rather than making assumptions or looking for pre-packaged resources.
- Use the 2×10 strategy with the entire class to get to know students and build relationships and trust.
- Use Socratic Seminars and other strategies that allow students to examine current events that are relevant to students’ lives and think critically about multiple viewpoints.
- Embrace opportunities to talk about current events, social justice, and equity issues with students.
2. Teach students how to advocate for themselves, their rights, and their education.
- Help kids understand their rights and what they are owed by the school system.
- Teach kids to see accommodations as something that is not shameful, but that allows us to see what you know about yourself and make sure you are successful.
- Teach kids how to effectively respond when they have a problem with another faculty member, and articulate that you are a “safe person” in the school who will always listen to their side of the story and help them work through conflicts.
- Help kids see themselves in college/career prep roles, but stay focused on the child’s goals rather than forcing a college track on him or her.
3. Build trust with families by empowering parents to believe they are worthy as their children’s first teacher and helping them see their children as high performing.
- Earn back parental trust in the school system by actively working to undo marginalization.
- Share things you learned through the 2×10 strategy to help parents see that you know and care about their kids as individuals.
- Show off kids in an academic way so parents can see their children as high performing.
- Equip parents to understand what and how their kids are learning, such as through Teacher Talk Tuesday (mini videos to show strategies for parents who want to know how to work with their kids).
- Root out your own personal biases, including the myth that families in poverty don’t value education.
- Work to understand that there are lots of factors that go into the culture of failure in high poverty schools. Much of that has to do with systemic issues and deficit thinking that teachers are often coached into believing about children raised in poverty.
Want to hear more from Sarah and Tamara?
They’re launching the Equi-Tea podcast this month!
Sarah Plumitallo is currently working with ESOL students in grades 2-5 in a Title I school in Northern Virginia. In addition to teaching and creating resources for other teachers, Sarah runs a federally-funded after-school program that serves 150 students in grades K-5. She is particularly invested in social justice as she feels that meeting the needs of diverse student populations and developing students as leaders through character education is a calling for ALL educators.
Tamara Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist with 20 years of teaching experience. She is a third-grade teacher, blogger, and speaker in Central Florida. Tamara believes that social justice is not just a work for teachers outside of the classroom, but also one that her students can begin to take part in. You can find ideas for supporting elementary classrooms on her blog.