To roll out Growth Through Connections program to a whole school in order to:
Build relationships and understanding between students and teachers:
Create a school culture that emphasizes student perspectives and backgrounds; and
Enable students to have agency over their learning and recognize their potential.
Zach Serrano is the Dean of Culture at the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello (DCIS-M). As a school leader, he has been working with his colleagues at DCIS-M to expand the Growth Through Connections (GTC) training to the entire school. In doing this, he hopes to see teachers and staff members form deeper connections with students and create a more inclusive culture that celebrates students' backgrounds. Zach is implementing GTC to shift DCIS-M's culture so that it is inclusive, empowering, and just.
Hear Zach talk about his goal for the school and what he appreciates about GTC:
The Imaginarium, with the generous support and partnership of the Janus Henderson Foundation, created the GTC program to combat inequities in education and to find innovative solutions that benefit students nationwide. The goal of our GTC collaboration is to equip educators with the tools and knowledge to:
See how several teachers are implementing GTC in their classrooms:
Zach and other school leaders started with the vision that the power of education is built through relationships. They wanted to use GTC as professional development to help teachers connect with their students. They decided to have an initial training with a group of teachers and use them to expand the program by having them train other teachers. In doing this, they hoped to generate excitement for the work among teachers and make a commitment to building relationships with students. This process would then serve as a strong foundation for the next year.
So far, the GTC work has spread organically throughout the school as teachers who have participated in the training have spread the practices to other teachers. The process of expanding to the whole school has been frustrating, as teacher turnover often gets in the way of progress and the establishment of a solid school identity. Zach notes that the school often goes through a cyclical process of losing their identity and re-rooting themselves, which highlights the importance of aligning the whole school around a common vision and revisiting this vision throughout the year.
One of the most helpful supports for teachers has been learning labs, which is when a group of teachers visits the classroom of another teacher doing this work. This helps them see what these practices look like in action and the impact they can have on students. Zach thinks this has been the most powerful way of getting teachers to engage in this work and wants to see more of this moving forward.
Zach has seen teachers gain tangible strategies to help them facilitate learning in a way that matches their beliefs. They always wanted to grow students' agency and celebrate their cultures, but didn't know how. Zach has noticed changes in the classrooms of teachers participating in GTC. These classrooms tend to feel different in terms of their culture and practices, more often incorporating students' perspectives and backgrounds and focusing more on relationship building. He also feels a difference in the school; students are more engaged and willing to take risks.
Hear Zach talk more about the advice he has for others doing this work:
GTC hosted a meeting with leadership teams from several of the schools implementing this work. Julie Murgel, the principal at DCIS-M, attended along with Zach. Julie reflected on the process of implementing GTC:
"The work on relationships-- we need to realize it's essential, not just 'nice to do.' At the end of the day, we need to fundamentally understand that it's essential that we understand our students as beings. We have the answer to our problem, but no one is coming in to ask about it. Instead, they are asking about SAT prep and how we're doing it. I understand the expectations but it shouldn't be at odds with the relationships."
"Our approach to teaching and learning is rooted in this relational model. Without relationships, we can't do what we aspire to do or be who we aspire to be. [...] We want to empower teachers with tools and ways to increase the rigor in their context, but we also want them to know that being an effective educator is about building the mindset and commitments to being culturally responsive."
Zach Serrano, Julie Murgel, DCIS Montbello, and the Janus Henderson Foundation for engaging in this challenging work to close our persistent achievement gap and to help every student succeed.
Report by Molly Baird, Danna Ortiz, and Sophie Gullett.
Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks that teach in the hood ...and the rest of y'all too. Boston: Beacon Press.