Monday, July 24, 2017

Transformative Teachers, Meeting 1

Transformative Teachers: Teacher Leadership and Learning in a Connected World
Blog 1

For our first meeting we were asked to prepare the first three chapters of the book and to reflect on the following questions:
  • What stories resonate with you? Do they remind you of any personal "transformational" moments in your professional life?
  • What barriers have you faced in trying to be transformational in your practice?
  • What do you think about when you hear the word "connectedness"? In what ways do you see "connectedness" affecting your practice
We began talking about the concept and practice of connected learning.  As a group we decided that we would try to participate in the ConnectedLearningMOOC ( as a form of inquiry into action for our book group.  This would allow us to connect with other educators across the country who are also committed to creating learning spaces where educators and students (educators as students and students as educators, too) can work collaboratively to enhance learning. This would also provide us with the opportunity to be makers as part of our book group. Since “making is the vehicle through which connections happen” (group member) this is important.

We were asked to consider the following – as a teacher, what is your role in the life of your students? What do you want for your students?” One member stated: “I wake up in the morning and think about how will I help my students have the agency to make change in their lives?” This change can be on an individual level, family level, school level, community level, or societal level. In fact, we recognized that the practice of making change at the individual level helps a person develop agency and understand how they can be part of larger efforts of social change.

We also wrestled with the meaning of social justice.  We did not definitively define the concept, but one member thought that social justice is about “the things my students need in their lives” to improve their lives.  They are the manifestation of human rights.

We cycled back to the theme of connection.  We recognized that our students are connected in many ways to many people, often through social media.  But are those deep and meaningful connections?  We thought that we have to model various forms of connection for our students.

For our next meeting we will focus on Chapters 4 – 7 and the question – How can we collectively build agency to make change?  To prepare, we should think about times we successfully designed or organized a transformative experience, and what were the factors that shaped this success? How does this relate to what we are reading? Also, what are our reactions to the reconceptualization of teacher leadership presented in Part 2?

We will meet on 31 July, 7:00 – 8:30 pm at the Unitarian Society of Germantown: 6511 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia PA 19119 - Parking lot is in rear (to get to the lot, drive up Wayne Ave, and take a left on Johnson - go down half a block and look on your left for a road into the parking lot. This road/driveway is right before the train bridge).

Room: Assembly Room

This blog post was written by Rosemary Barbera.

Just Mercy, Meeting 1

The first meeting for the Just Mercy book group was small and intimate, so we had a pretty unstructured discussion. We agreed that it was a very heavy book. I very much enjoyed hearing everyone's personal connections with the topic and what surprised or didn't surprise them about the book.  We shared a lot of related resources including the books: The New Jim Crow, Dead Man Walking, Killers of the Osage Moon, Dog Whistle Politics, Undocumented, and Locking up Our Own; the film 13th, and the podcasts Undisclosed and 74 Seconds. 

We were heartened by the themes of resiliency, hope and redemption in the book. Nancy was amazed at the hope of the wrongfully accused people on death row and I echo that feeling. 
We discussed and disagreed about the root causes of the issues and talked about what we personally can do. I talked about how I am excited about the push for an end to cash bail and urged everyone to support that movement and the candidacy of Larry Krasner. Adding to this part of the discussion, right after the meeting Lynne sent us this link to stop Lynne Abraham from becoming Philly's interim DA.

 At the meeting, I forgot to mention the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project (YSRP), a local organization run by and for those incarcerated as youth. I learned about the organization and met some members through the Bread and Roses Community Fund. While searching Bread and Roses' website just now I found all these other organizations in Philadelphia that are working to reform the criminal justice system and empower those it has hurt. Here is the link to all the organizations

The next meeting is on Wednesday, August 2 starting at 5:00pm at 1575 Williams Road, Abington, PA 19001

This blog post was written by Kathy Cohen.

Other People's Children, Meeting 2

Meeting number two focused on Part 2 of Other People's Children. The focus of the first two chapters was on what Delpit learned from teaching/research in Papua New Guinea and in a Native Alaskan community. This lead us to opening the meeting discussing moments in which we have explicitly or subtly learned from a culture other than our own. Many of the conversations that were shared to the whole group highlighted how this learning can help us to reduce judgement and value other perspectives. Next we shared in the whole group about parts of the reading that stood out for us. 

We ended the meeting by looking at data about the Philadelphia school district student and teacher demographics. After talking in small groups about pieces of the data created visual and written interpretations of the data based on these three questions:

  • What stands out / sticks with you about the data?
  • What are the connections to the chapters or your own experience?
  • What are some potential solutions from Delpit chapters?

We shared back to the whole group what we had discussed. Some highlights include that money (the lack of it in the best and fairest places) was a major challenge for many reasons, and that there are many barriers that are not just financial for people of color in education. We discussed how, as a group of White educators we felt uncomfortable coming up with solutions, we could be fully hearing the voices of people of color and helping to implement those solutions.

Join us as we read the final section of Other People's Children on Tuesday, July 25th at the A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave, at 4:00.

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood, Additional notes from 1st meeting

Here are some more themes we discussed during our first meeting for Class War:

Stemming from that were questions of individual power at school. At a fancy private middle school, progressive ideals were embraced—service learning, an LGBTQ club, discussions of inequality—but how do we push ourselves and students to dig deeper into those concepts? And furthermore, who has the power to do the digging? Can a Black educator in a predominantly Black, working-class school discuss these issues without consequence? Experience says that, in many cases, discussions of inequality are easier to have in homogenously middle class to upper-middle class environments. This goes back, again, to questions of what is really best for other people’s children; in our experience, this critical and abstract questioning garnered outrage and anxiety from disadvantaged parents who wanted their students to succeed. However, in higher-tracked classes and in fancy private schools, these conversations seem to be open and engaging, and marginally contentious.

We also addressed STEM education. Often, in progressive education circles, STEM is pigeonholed as an enemy because it is so clearly funded by the Bill Gates of the world. Some of us argued that Erickson is guilty of doing the same type of unfair pigeonholing, and that STEM fields really are growing, and it is important to have women and people of color involved in those fields. However, there was also an agreement that the way STEM is often taught is not as exciting or creative or fun as it could and should be, and that is a problem. This problem is a result of an obsession with "college and career readiness" that sucks out the joy and creativity of learning and education. This conversation sets us up well for our next sessions reading of Edutopia.

If you would like to join next week but do not have the book, feel free to email for a .pdf of the chapter.

Post written by: Diane Isser

Join us for the next meeting Wednesday, July 26 from 7-8:30 at 814 S. Sheridan St!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Fire Next Time; Video Screening of I am Not Your Negro

Video Screening of I am Not Your Negro will be on July 26 from 4:30-6:30 at 4951 Walnut St

More info here:

Discipline Over Punishment, Update & Next Meeting Tomorrow!

We are meeting tomorrow Thursday, July 20th from 4-6 pm at One PA, 5027 Baltimore Ave

We had a great conversation and a lot of interesting ideas raised. We look forward to delving even deeper this week. 

We will be discussing Chapters 3-5. Below are some discussion questions we will use to start off the conversation:

How does our education system set us up to reinforce putative/oppressive systems?
How can we build community and relationships to engage the creative maladjustment (definition on page 41) and righteous indignation we encounter in our students?
What are some successful relationship building models or techniques you have used to lay the groundwork for strong community?
What opportunities and challenges do you see in the Students Justice Panel? How could the model relate to your own setting?

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!
Tamara and Kendra

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Shortcuts, Meeting Update

About 25 people met on Monday to discuss Jane McAlevey’s book No Shortcuts.  There were organizers affiliated with a wide range of organizations, along with many WE and PFT members.  McAlevy’s book told several stories of successful social movement labor organizing.  Two stories that we found particularly instructive were the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012 and the Smithfield Foods contract campaign in North Carolina.

From the CTU Strike, there was some energy around the question: How can non-teachers and community members be brought into the organizing? McAlevey critiques Alinsky-style community organizing, yet strong community organizing is what contributed to the CTU win.  Does Philadelphia have deep enough neighborhood community organizing to support a teacher strike? How can Philly move in this direction? It helped that everyone hated Rahm Emanuel in Chicago.  If you wanted to stick it to Emanuel, you should support the teachers. We don’t have that kind of mayor.  

We were also inspired by the successful Smithfield Foods strike against all odds in the South.  It’s such an important story, one that needs to be told, but there’s a gag order so the story can’t be public.  Workers NEED success stories in these times.  

We discussed how relationships are crucial to organizing (as opposed to mobilizing), which includes honest conversations about how bad things are and honesty about the struggle ahead.  Struggling together makes relationships and organizations stronger. And not just any struggle: class struggle, where workers are in a prolonged push-and-pull with owners. There may not be a win if you try, but there will definitely NOT be a win if you don’t try!  Someone noted how there were several points in some of the labor organizing stories in which the union could have backed off or gone harder, and it was inspiring to see them make the choice take risks and go for it.  

The philosophy of a democratic union is just different, and not something people are used to.  In the current PFT, people don’t tend to feel a sense of their own power and agency, but there is lots of potential at the building-level. A well-run building committee can make a lot of difference. Where the traditional structures feel like an obstacle to progress, groups of teachers can start by gathering together around making their school better, making a series of small improvements together, and eventually decide to call that “union work.”   

This post was written by: Dave Backer and Kathleen Riley

NOTE THE TIME CHANGE: We’ll be meeting Monday, July 31st from 7-8:30pm to talk about Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman. Join us at 441 W. Earlham Terrace 19144.