COVID Clarity: Finding New Focus in a Turbulent Year

March 2021 marks the one year anniversary of the last time I saw my colleagues in person.

It has been a year of urgency, adaptiveness, and problem-solving. Yet experiencing how the global pandemic and the national racial reckoning has impacted education has forced our team to double down on where our work can have the greatest impact.

Over the past four years we have refined our pedagogical framework, concentrating on high value instructional strategies and expanding focus on sociocultural awareness, community building, cognitive development, and critical consciousness. This year, all of our school change efforts are centered around this approach. In the spirit of sharing that is normally part of our annual April conference, I am excited to summarize our insights and invite you to continue the conversation with us next month during our free Spring Learning Series.

Highlander Institute is a non-profit education support organization based in Providence, RI. We drive change with purposeful instructional strategies, a tailored change management process, continuous improvement cycles, and world-class coaching that empowers administrators, educators, and students to innovate. We facilitate community-designed plans that unite stakeholders in trying new techniques, reviewing data, and building more effective learning systems. We have documented significant shifts in teacher practice - and clear correlations between those shifts and improved student outcomes - through our support of hundreds of teachers over the past five years. 

However, during 2020 it became increasingly clear that our change model was not addressing root causes of gaps in student learning outcomes across demographic groups. Our education system breeds compliance, resulting in dependent thinking and an atmosphere of low expectations - particularly for Black and Hispanic/Latinx students, students who live in poverty, and multilingual learners. Without an awareness of how systems of inequity and learner identity connect to teacher expectations, the implementation of personalized practices does not sufficiently empower all students. 

Our updated approach, crafted by my colleague Malika Ali, aligns aspirational instructional shifts within a process that restores and elevates the natural confidence and competence of students who have been marginalized by systemic inequity. The resulting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) framework is grounded in the research of Gloria Ladson-Billings, Geneva Gay, Zaretta Hammond, Django Paris, and Sami Alim. Through a series of discussions and strategies, teachers and school leaders examine the ways in which systemic inequity translates into classrooms, build inclusive cultures of thinking, and establish ongoing feedback loops. The ultimate goal is to nurture critical consciousness in students. Linked to improved student achievement through a growing research base, critical consciousness leverages a social justice lens to learning, empowering students to transform their own lives, their communities, and society.

In a year when teachers and school leaders have been overwhelmed and overworked like never before, coaching and professional development centered on the CRSP framework has generated our highest satisfaction rates. Hundreds of teachers have opted into CRSP sessions. Participants have found that the framework’s practices are extremely relevant and effective - and that the process infuses hope and renewed motivation in both students and teachers. 

While we will not have the opportunity to share CRSP insights at our annual conference, we have designed the free Spring Learning Series, open to educators nationwide. We cordially invite all interested teachers and leaders to join us as we introduce the CRSP framework as one approach to imagining and creating more equitable, relevant, and effective schools. As we begin to see some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we are excited to share the processes that are inspiring hope for what the future can bring.

Session 1: Centering on Instructional Equity - for teachers and instructional leaders

April 1, 4:00 - 5:30pm ET facilitated by Malika Ali & Heidi Vazquez

Join us for an overview of our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework for instructional equity. Consider practices and strategies across the four framework domains of Awareness, Community Building, Cognitive Development, and Critical Consciousness.

Session 2: Leading Inclusive Change - for building leaders and district administrators

April 8, 4:00 - 5:30pm ET facilitated by Shawn Rubin & Vera DeJesus

Through the equity lens offered by our CRSP instructional framework, explore key leadership moves and a change management process to support targeted improvements infused with the flexibility and resiliency required to reach sustainable scale.

Session 3: Designing for Enduring Improvement - for all audiences

April 15, 4:00 - 5:30pm ET facilitated by Christina Corser, Mike Miele, Heidi Vazquez, & Nando Prudhomme

Elevate and explore the small and large changes underway in schools this year that are accelerating equity and access for families. Discuss the data, stories, experiences, and lessons learned that will help educators and leaders plan intentionally and strategically for September 2021.

Cathy Sanford leads research and development efforts at Highlander Institute in Providence, RI and is the co-author of Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change (Harvard Education Press, 2018). Find Cathy on Twitter at @csanford42.