On June 4th, the 2015 Educators 4 Excellence-Connecticut Hartford Teacher Policy Team presented real solutions to our Superintendent about how the district can better support underserved unique student populations, including English-language learners and students with disabilities. Hartford serves a diverse population of students, and we are lucky to have such a diverse community. In the Hartford School District, almost 17 percent of students are ELLs, and nearly 16 percent are identified as students with disabilities. In order to ensure that we are cultivating the best community possible, we have to serve all our students – especially those with unique needs. In our policy paper, my colleagues and I recommended improvements in the following four areas: individualization of instruction, collaboration among teachers, parent empowerment, and increased accountability for growth.
Individualization of instruction
We know that individualization in school can help students love to learn again.
As teachers we know each of our students is different. For two years, we’ve had the pleasure of teaching Rebecca. Rebecca, a long-term ELL and a student with a disability, has struggled with motivation and engagement because she always felt she was falling behind. That is, until, individualization became a focus in our classrooms. Because the district was awarded a grant for exploring blended learning through the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we implemented a blended learning model and Rebecca thrived; she quickly regained her motivation and confidence. Of all things, Rebecca voraciously worked through grammar lessons on NoRedInk, and felt pride in mastering different grammatical topics. Because of success stories like Rebecca and many others we came across in the research, we know that individualization in school can help students love to learn again.
If we expect our students to collaborate as 21st century learners, we, too, need to prioritize teacher collaboration. All too often, teachers are not provided with the time needed to do so, and creating this time needs to be a top priority for the district, whether in district-wide professional development sessions or school-based meetings. In fact, 96 percent of the Hartford Public Schools educators we surveyed believe teachers should be provided with opportunities for collaboration to plan and share strategies for supporting unique student populations. When teachers, both general classroom and specialized, come together to share best practices, all of our students receive the instruction they need to blossom.
Parents of students with unique needs are not always authentically and consistently engaged in their school communities, limiting their ability to advocate for their children’s success. The barriers to true communication with families are mostly language based, whether documents are English-only or include educational jargon. When all of our families know their voices are important and valued, we achieve a deeper level of engagement and make strides towards achieving equity.
Increased accountability for growth
We can’t rewrite history around how we have fallen short in serving Hartford students, but we can and should correct course.
Individualization, collaboration and parent engagement for students of unique populations is achievable, but will not endure without accountability. The district’s current system of school quality meetings and school walkthroughs are a good first step, but can be improved by including the voices of teachers and community members. When we track the progress we are making towards serving unique student populations, we can be assured that our students are getting the high-quality education they deserve.
With a partner in Superintendent Narvaez, we are excited that these recommendations will not go unnoticed. Certainly, some of these recommendations will take time and funding, but our students are worth it. They are the people who will lead our city in the future, and we can’t make excuses when it comes to ensuring the best education possible for all. We can’t rewrite history around how we have fallen short in serving Hartford students, but we can and should correct course.