• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., Hilaria Bauer, M.A., and Juanita C. García, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • June- July 1999
IDRA’s equity assistance center, the South Central Collaborative for Equity, identifies school districts that need information, training and technical assistance in critical areas of pedagogy. It also provides information, training and technical assistance.
The clinical training in critical pedagogy that the center provides focuses on
- strategies to increase access for girls and minorities to math and science;
- teaching strategies to increase skills development and competencies for minority students; and
- teaching and accessing the school curriculum through English language development.
An example of how the center is fulfilling its obligations in these critical pedagogy areas is IDRA’s work with a core group of teachers at J.C. Ellis Elementary School in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. The group is planning the center’s implementation of a series of workshops, observations, coaching, guidance and evaluations. These activities are encompassed in an IDRA reading project called Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal (FLAIR). The school began implementation in January 1999.
IDRA has been working with several school districts to increase the cognitive growth and academic achievement for all students, including language-minority students, through this intensive language-across-the-curriculum program. Through this project, a task force of teachers and administrators at each campus analyzes their instructional program, learns and practices new strategies, evaluates their success and sets goals for the next year.
J.C. Ellis Elementary School was selected for Project FLAIR on the basis of financial need, student ethnic population, and need for training and technical assistance. The task force consists of teachers across different grade levels and content areas, including the bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) teachers.
As the project has been evaluated at participating schools, six key points about Project FLAIR have been identified. Project FLAIR:
- is a systemic reform initiative
- is a research-based model
- provides training and staff development
- provides classroom demonstrations
- increases teacher competency and morale
- impacts students positively.
The type of consistent training and technical assistance with classroom demonstrations, mentoring and coaching that Project FLAIR offers is something that no other organization has done before. There are several unique features of Project FLAIR.
The classroom demonstrations are done using the teacher’s classroom and students. Project FLAIR is not about the constant lecture and theory approach to teaching teachers. The IDRA trainer demonstrates lessons using the teacher’s students and literally show the teachers how it can be done. The basis of this approach came about because of the many teachers who have had countless numbers of workshop training sessions with little or no follow-up or with the presenter either never having been in the classroom or having been out of the classroom for many, many years.
Teacher Task Force
An integral component of Project FLAIR is the teacher task force. Project FLAIR’s process calls for valuing and validating the task force teachers for all previous training and current knowledge. The consistent follow-up and follow-through training for the task force is a critical and non-negotiable part of Project FLAIR. As members of the task force, teachers take stock of the program and, after an analysis of teacher, librarian and principal interviews, create a group vision and prioritize areas to be impacted. This analysis also becomes a part of a data base of critical information for post evaluation.
Project FLAIR starts the first year with a task force, which includes no more than 12 teachers, who become coaches and mentors to new Project FLAIR teachers so as to carry out the entire process within a three-year period.
As Project FLAIR is put into practice, it is constantly being assessed and reviewed according to the needs of the school. The data is maintained for documentation and summative evaluation each year. The practices and strategies utilized in Project FLAIR also help to reinforce the goals and objectives, developed by the task force, as a means of working toward reforming the educational programs for all of the students in the school.
Some of the concerns that have arisen during the execution of Project FLAIR are typical when a reform process is being implemented. One fear that teachers and administrators express is that the project will not continue due to the lack of funding, other programs being implemented or the creation of something that the rest of the school community is not ready to handle. Because of the intense training of the task force teachers during the first and second years, lack of money to pay substitute teachers is a real concern.
Another concern is the lack of accessibility to quality children’s literature and a lack of funds to purchase such materials for further implementation of the process. Lack of planning time for the teachers to institute better lessons and school-wide activities is also an issue that has arisen.
Fortunately, these are the issues that are being discussed and analyzed carefully as part of the school administration’s commitment to support Project FLAIR. Although the project is exciting for teachers involved, if there is no support for the process, they lose faith in the process and the school and it becomes another one of those programs that was started but never completed.
According to the participating teachers at J.C. Ellis Elementary School, three highlights of Project FLAIR are the lesson demonstrations, practicing cooperative learning strategies and discovering a sense of team spirit that leads to renewal.
IDRA trainers demonstrate selected lessons in the participating teacher’s classroom. Teachers are able to observe how a particular strategy is used in the classroom with their own students. In addition, they are able to ask questions after the demonstration has taken place and during the debriefing time. Many teachers find it useful to write questions as they observe, then ask the IDRA trainer.
Cooperative Learning Strategies
Another highlight of the program is the use of cooperative learning strategies during the lesson and throughout the training. As teachers are exposed to the strategies, they are able to incorporate them into their classroom, leading to better teaching of critical and social skills in their classes.
Team Spirit that Leads to Renewal
Teachers feel renewed as they develop camaraderie with each other. There is a sense that bettering the school is not a one-person effort. Teachers feel that because of the activities they participate in during Project FLAIR, they are able to empathize with each other’s issues, and they look for solutions collectively.
As a result of participating in Project FLAIR, the administration and the teacher task force at J.C. Ellis Elementary School worked cooperatively to create a schedule that will emphasize students’ academic achievement. In this manner, teachers will have an opportunity to plan together better lessons following the Project FLAIR model of Into, Through and Beyond.
In addition, the faculty and the staff in this school will implement cooperative learning in order to improve the campus discipline. Via cooperative structures, students will acquire social skills that will allow them to focus on the instruction and to work better with other students, and teachers will have a more cohesive plan for classroom management.
Project FLAIR in J.C. Ellis Elementary School has brought about positive change. Teachers and administrators are working together to provide a better learning environment that is conducive to high academic achievement. For that matter, positive changes have been occurring at the other participating schools as well.
This research-based model provides the foundation and direction for systemic reform, and it falls in line with the Accelerated Schools project philosophy of “unity of purpose, empowerment coupled with responsibility and building on strengths.” Project FLAIR helps people in the school community work together to transform every classroom into a powerful learning environment, where students and teachers are encouraged to think creatively, explore their interests and achieve at high levels. In turn, it uses the school’s philosophy and process to create its own vision and work collaboratively to achieve its goals.
Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Hilaria Bauer, M.A., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Juanita C. García, M.A., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]