Our Advisory Board member, NYU education professor and authority on urban schools, Pedro Noguera spoke with Oakland’s Effective Teaching Task Force last week and shared a lot of good ideas and many compelling examples of schools that are fostering strong “effective” teaching.
Pedro talked about his early experience as a teacher in Oakland at chaotic schools where there was little learning going on due to a lack of discipline that was rooted in a lack of engagement and motivation. At one school, as he was giving up, he was asked to check out the classroom of one particular teacher before he left. With the rest of the school in constant meltdown, this room was a sanctuary of learning, with kids on task, in relevant discussion with the teacher and each other. He stayed through the entire period, then asked the teacher what her secret was. She answered “They know I don’t play.”
He said this teacher had mastered the style of the “warm demander,” which is “a teacher stance that communicates both warmth and a nonnegotiable demand for student effort and mutual respect.” This definition is from an article we shared in our recent Teaching with a Cultural Eye institute. In response to a question, Dr. Noguera remarked that while race and class differences between teachers and students can complicate this stance, there is no reason to think that white teachers can’t or shouldn’t be ‘warm demanders’ of low-income students and students of color. To be anything less than that is to perpetuate gaps and injustice. The bigger challenge for white teachers is building relationships with parents and families of color.
This school needed to learn from that teacher, but there was no functioning culture of collaboration. In general, schools and districts need to build on what is working well, lift up their best schools as models, as professional development schools where other teachers and principals can learn from their successes. To do this, there needs to be sufficient school autonomy so they can adopt new practices without too many constraints.
Here are some other highlights of his remarks:
- Stop punishing the neediest kids for being the neediest. The kids who are neglected act out the most and are sent away because schools don’t want to deal with them. This is what maintains the prison pipeline. Work on positive discipline and engagement, again by learning from schools that do it well, they are out there.
- Focus resources on what works and the most pressing needs. There is so much waste and duplication and scattered effort in school systems. Implementation is key, change is a cultural and not just a technical undertaking.
- “Teaching is not talking.” Focus on learning, not coverage. Teaching is “an intellectual profession.” Good teachers don’t stop learning after college, they learn with their peers like any other professionals. PS 12 in Brooklyn takes their best teachers and makes them classroom coaches. Don’t assign the newest teachers to the toughest classes.
- We have to acknowledge the effects of poverty and racism, not use them as excuses, and mitigate their effects strategically. Community partnerships and wider supports are important, the idea isn’t new with Harlem Children’s Zone, and it can be done more cheaply. PS 28 in NYC invested in social workers, strong partnership with the Y, etc. (Pedro related an interesting anecdote about that school that is covered here: http://gothamschools.org/2009/04/29/what-pedro-noguera-told-joel-klein-%E2%80%94%C2%A0and-what-joel-klein-heard/).
- More autonomy is a key part of NYC success, it allowed principals to innovate and solve local problems. Current federal policy is gimmicky, puts too much faith in competition.
- Oakland should focus some effort on bringing back the affluent families that live in the city but don’t go to public schools. A great city needs great schools.
The teachers on the task force were dedicated and passionate and very angry about the current situation. March pink slips were coming out, and in some schools nearly every teacher (15/16 at one) was pink slipped. Poorer neighborhoods are of course disproportionately hit because they have many more new teachers. One teacher explained that teachers’ experience out of the district does not count toward their seniority, so her school could lose some of their more experienced and effective teachers due to the seniority rule. Some parents in east Oakland are preparing to bring a civil rights lawsuit similar to the one in LAUSD that protected some schools from the “LIFO” rules. We will watch this closely.