This weekend, I had the privilege of returning "home" to Detroit for the 2016 Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Convening. I was especially elated for the invitation to serve on a closing panel and share a glimpse of my dramatic career change from reformed engineer to rebellious educator. The affirmations and knowledge I gained at this conference perhaps exceeded the value that I offered on the panel. However, I'm especially grateful and transformed to hear from change agents like Alycia Meriweather, Aria Moody, Zachary Sweet, David Flores, Dr. Travis Bristol and Dr. Audra Watson.
Alycia has been within Detroit Public Schools nearly all her life. She's seen, taught and led through stressful strikes, multiple emergency managers, countless politicians and a constant changing of hands and reforms. Her message has remained consistent--firm, passionate, sincere and emboldened. From middle school science teacher to Interim Superintendent, those under Alycia's watch, including the Detroit Woodrow Wilson Fellows, are always in good hands.
Like myself, Aria and Zach are Michigan Fellows who committed to teaching 3+ years in a local high-need school in a high-need STEM subject. I'm proud to say that both live and serve in Detroit. Aria's attention to detail and fine-tuned sense of efficacy in her fellow educators made her presentation on teacher burnout a stand-out session, one I took copious notes for and won't soon forget. Zach, a fellow panelist, wants to be a principal by age 30, and I believe he will be. His laser focus and reflective practice spoke volumes as he addressed the panel with me. Once slammed with an injunction for his alleged participation in recent teacher "sick outs," Zach still speaks highly of Detroit Public Schools' leadership and the support he receives while a novice teacher in the district.
I met David at his session entitled, "Combating Trauma and Conformity Through the Pedagogy of Healing and Self-Discovery." David clearly excels at turning tragedy into triumphant teaching. A true scholar, David backed up every slide of his presentation with recent and relevant research: "With Maslow's concept of self-actualization as a focal point, consistent meditation and self-reflection help students combat trauma and anxiety while better understanding themselves, planning and taking action to become the best version of themselves daily." I can totally see myself as a student in his classroom forgetting that I was learning English. I would be too rapt in unpacking the necessary theories of oppressed peoples with Mr. Flores helping me navigate and negotiate my own biases and privilege. David gets a gold star for reminding me of this quote...
Dr. Bristol and Dr. Watson led a fantastic session on "Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy and STEM." The outcome completely surprised me in a wonderful way. This particular session definitely made me wish I was back in the classroom. The four-step framework presented in their session merged the ideas of social justice with STEM. These two concepts are often discussed and suggested together to teach lessons that are more relevant to students' personal lives. However, they are rarely presented in such a practical way like Dr. Bristol and Dr. Watson shared.
This post is dedicated the change agents that amplify the voices of teachers and students within and beyond their reach. I'm especially grateful to the entire WWTF team for allowing us to revisit and refresh our craft as teachers and for amplifying our voices that too often go unheard.