LA Teachers Attend Innovative Schools Conference

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 30, 2013

Facing History and Ourselves hosted a conference for partnership schools in our international Innovative Schools Network October 19-21, 2013 in Washington DC. Rather than just tell you about the conference, though, we wanted some of the teachers who attended to share their thoughts directly. We heard from:

  • Latiffe Amado, Environmental Science teacher and Facing History School Liaison at the Environmental Science and Technology High School
  • Merri Weir, Social Studies teacher and Facing History School Liaison at the Academy of Medical Arts at Carson High School
  • Leigh Ann Orr, Social Studies teacher and coach with LAUSD

ISNaudienceWhat did you hope to get in attending the conference? Do you feel you got that?

Leigh Ann: My hope was to have a stronger connection to Facing History, both the values that support the organization and people who find ways to act on those values.

Latiffe: The single most important thing that I was hoping to get from the conference was ideas on project-based learning as well as more common-core lessons. I was amazed at the various ways that the Facing History curriculum can be used to create genuine project-based learning. Some examples of the projects are the “Migration Monologues” created by teacher Erin Monet Cooper and the “Using Graphic Arts to Teach the Armenian Genocide” by Yves Bernardo Roger Solis Nicot. I walked away with tons of ideas for my class and the best thing about these projects is that they can be molded to fit our own curriculum. In terms of common-core, it was a great introduction to the resources, but realistically, we could have done a 5-day workshop when we engage as learners in the new common-core lessons. I would definitely say that this session gave me a great platform to begin thinking about a full transition into common core but I cannot wait to attend a longer workshop on this.

Terri Ann Sullivan, Merri’s colleague and another participant at the conference shared with their entire staff, “Merri and I are having a great time connecting and reconnecting with the Facing History and Ourselves tenets and how they lead to strong, innovative schools that put in place interesting schedules, classes, advisories, and programs with autonomy from their district to bring about student success (including graduation but also critical thinking, resiliency, and college and career readiness). Also, tons of Common Core connections. It’s been wonderful.”

What session did you find most thought-provoking?

Merri: Lisa Kingsbury's Medical Ethics class presentation. The thought and effort to create such a class impressed me as well as how it is truly a Facing History and Ourselves class and so much more.

ISNcircleLatiffe: The Justice in Schools session was very thought-provoking for me because it brings up a lot of issues in schools that are rarely addressed, not because they aren’t important, but because most schools are focusing on common-core and teacher-evaluation models. I feel inspired to explore models of restorative justice in schools that have been proven successful and hopefully start building a more effective disciplinary model at my school.

Leigh Ann: Last year at the conference held at Debs park, I heard Tim Knipe describe his school, the Social Justice Humanitas Academy. He made the argument that their high API was due to their Facing History approach. I had been curious since then. I wanted to know what a Facing History approach for a school (as opposed to my History classroom) could look like and how that approach might account for high standardized test scores and attendance. I attended the session on this school and now, I understand it. The faculty has taken an emotion (something intangible) and, without apology, made it part of their mission. They, then, crafted a structure (something quite tangible) based on that emotion. It is extraordinary. It is the paradigm shift made real.

Is there a school or teacher you met at the conference who really impressed you? Why/how?

Latiffe: It is hard not to be impressed with every teacher that you meet at these conferences. Their dedication and love for the curriculum shines through within minutes of having a conversation.

I was very impressed with Adam Weinstein from Oceana High School because of his dedication to bringing a Race and Membership course to his school and his willingness to expose his practice to teachers in a panel called “What are some strategies for helping students make connections to their lives when using the Facing History resource Race and Membership in American History. We used a consultancy protocol to address Adam’s question, I found it incredibly useful to my practice and again walked away with more useful ideas.

I was also very impressed with principal Jose Navarro from Social Justice Humanitas Academy and his dedication to using Facing History in every classroom. We had a great discussion on how to use Facing History in the science classes, as a science teacher, this brainstorming was definitely a useful one to have.

Merri: Not so much a school because each school has it's own way about it and to be honest all were pretty impressive. A teacher (beyond the awesome LA teachers and Administrators) was Stacy Joslin of Blackstone Academy. She just seemed so genuine, honest and passionate. Her integration of Facing History and Ourselves across the curriculum and her Community Involvement Project are models for all us to follow.

Leigh Ann: I am moved by the lack of parity between the financial support for small schools in California and other states. I liken it to buildings that are not retrofitted for earthquakes. I know that these schools are not sustainable. I want to somehow push for better funding for small schools like the Social Justice Humanitas Academy. I don’t know where to start.

Did the conference shape/alter/confirm your understanding of Facing History and Ourselves and what is possible for a school which commits to Facing History? In what way?

Latiffe: The conference confirms my thoughts on Facing History - the curriculum evokes citizenship and involvement, critical-thinking, engagement, writing and most impressive, a shift in culture at schools, the place that we as teachers and our students spend at least 45% of our time. That’s right, I did the math, and that percentage includes our hours spent sleeping, although I suspect that many of us don’t get our required 7 hours of sleep.

ISN LeighAnnLeigh Ann: I went to the conference for my own personal and professional renewal. I needed to breathe air that is more pure, more true to my convictions. Although my current role has me quite busy and I cannot implement anything I learned at the conference, I knew it would be lovely eye candy for me. And, it was.

Merri: I am always thankful to Facing History and Ourselves for bringing together such powerful forces. This gathering educated me, empowered me and invigorated me. Facing History and Ourselves always respects the professionalism of educators and provides them a platform to share.

Did you attend the conference or hear about it from a colleague afterwards? What inspired you? What did you walk away planning to implement?

Do you want to know more about anything these teachers mentioned? Ask a question below!

Click below to find out more about the in-depth work Facing History and Ourselves does with whole schools:

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