Results From Our Partner Sites
This year, Mills Teacher Scholars facilitated teacher learning through collaborative inquiry with fourteen different teacher scholar groups. The focus in all groups is on supporting collaboration, data analysis, and equitable student outcomes through responsive and differentiated instruction. Mills Teacher Scholars facilitators carefully adjust program design to respond to each group’s unique needs.
Cross Site Groups
The Early Childhood Special Education Department (OUSD) incorporated teachers from sites across Oakland Unified. The group focused on understanding how to refine instructional practices to support students’ social communication. Seventy percent of these teachers used video data to inform their understanding of focal students, an exciting change in practice that allowed them to capture student language and interaction they may have missed previously.
“Learning to use video collection has given adults and students new ways of learning and engaging.”
Oakland Unified’s Social Emotional Learning Teacher Scholars brings teacher leaders together from Caring School Communities Learning Hub Sites to understand how Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) supports academic learning and to refine instructional practice based on those understandings. In the second year of the partnership, teachers from the group continued to deepen their own learning about SEL, and worked to bring elements of the work to their own school sites and beyond, modeling the types of learning conversations that support inquiry for their colleagues and leading the SEL work at their sites.
“I feel much more confident in understanding how SEL and academics are inextricably connected, and I feel more confident in my ability to be a resource for my colleagues and the administration at my school site. Most of this confidence comes from my participation in Mills Teachers Scholars over the past two years. The sharing protocols, data collection and analyzing, and the larger conversations we have engaged in every month have helped me feel comfortable and passionate about the work we do, and inspired me to continue pushing myself and my own growth as well as help share the knowledge with my colleagues and the larger education community.”
Oakland Unified’s Newcomer Teacher Scholars is a cross-district group of teachers of newcomers who focused their inquiry work on supporting newcomer students in the three key practices of OUSD’s English Language Learner and Multi-lingual Achievement Office: using complex text, fortifying output, and engaging in academic discussions. Through their inquiry work, teachers developed a more nuanced understanding of modeling and scaffolding to support learning for newcomer students.
“My students have benefited from my Mills Teacher Scholars work by my added attention to Newcomer supports. I feel that the inquiry process helped me not only refine and rethink the way I supported my newcomer students, but also, at a basic level, added a level of accountability that I appreciated.”
Berkeley Unified School District’s Music Teacher Scholars focused their inquiry work this year on practices that support equity in teaching and learning music. Over the past two years, through analyzing classroom-based data, teachers in the group identified a number of practices that support equity, including strategies for taking an asset-based approach to individual students, and formative assessments that allow students to identify their own goals for learning to play instruments. Teachers tested out these strategies and worked to implement department-wide practices. Ninety-three percent of teachers reported that as a result of the work they have a deeper understanding of how their students are thinking and learning and reported that 79% of focal students showed moderate to significant growth towards teachers’ learning goals. One hundred percent of teachers reported, “My colleagues are talking more about student learning and engaging in more data sharing than before our partnership with Mills Teacher Scholars.”
“Reflecting, refining, collaborating. Reminding myself of the teacher I want/strive to be.”
In their sixth year, the Rosa Parks (Berkeley Unified) Teacher Scholars group is led by veteran teacher scholar leaders, Michelle Contreras and Matilde Merello. Rosa Parks is paving the way on how to effectively use collaborative analysis of student video data as a method to improve instruction and address Equity. The teacher leaders independently led their colleagues in teacher-led collaborative inquiry with the goal of improving instruction for their students of color and creating a vibrant, rejuvenating learning community for their colleagues.
“I regularly take an assets-based stance when I look at my students in large part due to this work. When I look at a struggling writer, I see what she can do and help her make incremental steps towards improvement.”
“Approaching most problems (in teaching and in life) with an inquiry stance has helped me immensely. I try to use the words “I wonder…” when I approach a problem. This stance has opened me up to many more possible solutions. It’s also been helpful to meet with teachers from other grade levels, something that rarely happens outside the Scholars work.”
This past year, John Muir (Berkeley Unified) teachers strengthened their practices around equity and Response to Intervention (RTI) through collaborative inquiry. They examined how students understand and interact with content when teachers provide targeted interventions and plan for lesson differentiation. Teacher leaders helped their colleagues collect video data of students in addition to a range of other focal student learning data.
“The aha moment for me is the power of video data and how much can be gained from that!”
The Life Academy of Health and Bioscience Humanities Department (Oakland Unified) used inquiry to improve how teachers serve long-term English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 6-12. 100% of Life teacher scholars reported that they have a deeper understanding of how their students are thinking and learning as a result of their inquiry and that they feel comfortable having conversations with colleagues about data, including conversations that challenge their colleagues’ thinking about instructional practices. Teachers Scholars shared their work with the entire school staff at an end of the year retreat and the teacher scholar leaders will be talking about this year’s inquiry work at the Light Grant Convening in August. Next year, Mills Teacher Scholars also plans to expand the Life partnership and support the Science Department’s inquiry goals.
“My instruction is just so much better and more rooted in their needs not in my assumptions on what I think they need.”
RISE Community School (Oakland Unified) used their collaborative inquiry work for all staff members to explore the reading-writing connection. One hundred percent of teachers articulated that they had conversations with focal students they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They built their capacity to have data-based conversations with colleagues and began to align expectations around reading response through the grades.
“The most valuable aspect of our Mills inquiry work has also been the hardest for me to do—sharing student work. The best way for me to reflect on how well I’m doing as a teacher, as I guide students toward academic goals, is to look at student work in a focused and specific way.”
New Highland Elementary (Oakland Unified) teacher scholars are self-select group of teachers on staff focused on supporting the practice of new teachers as well as building the instructional leadership capacity of veteran teachers and coaches. One hundred percent of teachers reported changing their instruction based on what they learned and felt more comfortable supporting the learning of their colleagues as a result of the inquiry sessions.
“The thing that has been helpful about my inquiry work is the way it has informed and improved my teaching practices. I feel more confident when teaching math and I have better control of my students.”
At Melrose Leadership Academy (Oakland Unified), the inquiry group was facilitated by veteran teacher scholar leaders, Nessa Mahmoudi, Laura Alvarez, and Luz Salazar Jed. Across the grade levels, teachers were able to focus on developing practices that supported a positive classroom culture, specifically around reading. Inquiries focused on topics such as self-assessment and reflection, academic discussions about texts, independent reading, and readers’ workshop routines.
“I have learned a lot this year about how to use reflection as a tool to get the students to meet goals and expectations. The way questions are phrased can really support (or not) support students in meeting those expectations, growing from past experiences, and challenging themselves. [After hearing all teachers present]It was interesting to see the pattern of reflections and self-assessment from TK-6th grade”
Mt. Eden High School’s (Hayward Unified) teacher scholars used their inquiry work to build interdisciplinary collaboration and to refine instructional practices to make the curriculum in all disciplines more accessible and meaningful for their English Language Learners. Ninety-four percent of teachers reported they had grown in their ability to collect relevant student-level data (student learning information).
“Of particular value is the structured time/protocol to analyze student work. I find that it forces me to look at student work in a new way. So often I feel like we look for what students can’t do, rather than what they can. Writing indicators of success and then evaluating students based on those indicators leads me to see the success rather than the deficit.”
Anna Yates (Emery Unified) leveraged the inquiry work at their site to strengthen all teachers’ collaborative discourse and data analysis skills. They used the inquiry space to build collegiality and share classroom practice. Ninety percent of teachers reported changing their practice based on what they learned through their inquiry projects and pinpointed clear ways their students benefited from this.
“My students have developed their writing skills based on the teaching strategies that I was able to learn from participating in the Mills Teacher Scholars work. They can develop well structured paragraphs and multi- paragraph essays about various topics (including responses to literature, and informational texts).”
Colonial Acres Elementary (San Lorenzo Unified) is using inquiry to help teachers refine instructional practices to meet students’ needs as they implement their comprehensive approach to building academic language and literacy skills. Ninety-six percent of teacher scholars at this site stated that the MTS inquiry work enabled their administrator to provide a safe space for teaches to explore and reflect on problems of practice. They valued the time to work with colleagues from their own and different grade levels.
“This time and space has given us an opportunity to pause and think deeply about an area we are interested in. In the hustle of every day teaching, it is rare to find time to do that on my own. It has promoted a safe, engaging environment in which we can be excited about what we’re doing with our students. I think more teachers are more comfortable and open minded about the idea of trial and error in teaching.”
“The conversations around our inquiries with my grade level colleagues during our common planning time led us to be more cohesive and opened dialogue that had been lacking in our previous planning sessions.”
Albany High School focused its inquiry work on Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER), broadening their conception of CER in ways that allowed them to authentically use these categories across disciplines and strengthening collaboration across departments. One hundred percent of teachers reported they felt comfortable having conversations that challenged their colleagues’ thinking about instructional practices and that their colleagues had helped them to improve their teaching as a result of the inquiry sessions.
“I ask my students more often and more directly what their experience has been in my class or with a specific lesson – this year I changed one of my core routines in response to student feedback and noticed that one of my students in particular really benefitted from that new routine.”
“Students are getting more clear instructions and models. For example when working on ‘hypothesis development’ we have very specific examples of good and bad ones, useful ones and less useful ones. I also have a better idea about spiraling instructions so we can get to the main idea (quality explanations) instead of losing the point in all the details.”
This report was written in June 2016 and Mills Teacher Scholars changed their name to Lead by Learning in the fall of 2020.