Martha Rich joins the YATST team after twenty-one years as a school leader at Thetford Academy (TA), where she worked to build a culture of trust in students. Youth-adult partnerships at TA led to nationally recognized programs in service learning, student participation in strategic planning and policy making, championship robotics teams, and new graduation standards that encourage students to take charge of their own education. As a national facilitator with the School Reform Initiative, Martha has helped TA and other schools develop strong professional communities based on shared responsibility for learning.
Martha earned her BA degree from Wellesley College and an MAT from Wesleyan University. She began her career in Vermont education as a seventh-grade English teacher in Barre City. She then spent fourteen years on the faculty at Dartmouth College, where she taught courses in education and women’s studies and directed the secondary teacher preparation program. Seeking a return to the “real world” of schools, she became Head at Thetford Academy in 1991. In 2006 she was named Vermont Arts Education Advocate of the Year. In 2008 she received the VPA’s Robert F. Pierce Secondary School Principal of the Year award. She is eager to work with YATST on her lifelong goal: “creating the conditions for people to do their best work".
Martha will be an integral member of the YATST Leadership Team and will be coaching several YATST schools next year. We could not be more fortunate...or thrilled!
At 3:00 PM Tuesday afternoon, April 24, Helen (YATST Director) reviewed her phone messages and received word of an invitation to present an overview of YATST for the Vermont State House Education Committee - at 9:00 AM the following morning. Thankfully Finn Kane and Taylor Ducharme, Hazen Union seniors and YATST leaders, were able to clear their calendars to co-present the next morning. Taylor led the session by sharing five reasons for involving youth in learning and decision making and asked committee members to identify which one of these reasons was most compelling for them personally. The YATST model was then introduced through Hazen’s story, highlighting several key priorities which arose from the data analysis and efforts to establish a mid-semester feedback system. Taylor and Finn also recounted their role in planning and facilitating a faculty meeting to discuss mid-terms, which led to a redesign of the system to include more authentic means of measuring learning. Tom Alderman, the Acting Director of the Department of Education High School & Adult Division, closed the presentation by reinforcing the alignment between YATST and the DOE vision of transformation, and suggested that the Committee consider funding to further advance the work.
Boston was in full bloom when we headed down to Harvard University to present at the Community Organizing and School Reform Conference on March 23-24, 2012. This national conference brought together 300 community organizers, education researchers, youth, educators, funders and other stakeholders to discuss the contributions of community organizing to school improvement and equitable education policy. The conference provided an opportunity to discuss the role of community organizing in the current policy context, learn about new research and practice in the field, build relationships within and across stakeholder groups, and build capacity to advance the work of community organizing and school reform. YATST was represented by Taylor Ducharme (Hazen Union School), Emma Galvin (Burlington High School) and Helen Beattie, YATST Director.
Below are Emma's and Taylor's reflections regarding the experience:
My weekend at Harvard not only opened my eyes to the world of community organizing and school reform, but gave me a much needed blast of inspiration. As I learn more about the many complex facets of our education system, it is easy to get discouraged. This conference reminded me there is a whole world of smart and dedicated individuals who are also grappling with these issues. Each workshop and panel challenged my understanding of how communities work together towards change and reaffirmed my support of the YATST values. There are many different approaches, but strong, trusting relationships between adults and youth must be the cornerstone of any school reform process. I’m excited to get back to work.
The experience of having the opportunity to speak in front of community organizers, professors, passionate parents, and energized youth from across the country at the Harvard Graduate School of Education was unlike any other. It was amazing enough to be able to give voice to all the work that we do in Vermont, but it was even better to be able to share that work with people that work hard to change lives. YATST mainly works in the classroom as an agent of change; I learned first hand that our work isn't limited to that. A key component of creating change in schools is forming trusting relationships. I knew how important this aspect was to our work before going to the conference. However, I realized that building authentic relationships on a personal and institutional level is ESSENTIAL to anything that we do as students, educators, administrators, and human beings.
The other presenters on our panel were Principal Robert Cordova and professor John Diamond, who are true fighters in the battle for a higher societal view of education. They both spoke to the power of relationships through the example of one-on-one discussions and the value of relational power, in the form of social capital, that transforms schools instead of the "tops-down" model of transformation. With that understanding of the value of relational power, it is easy to see why YATST can succeed in transforming schools despite the uncertainty that this kind of work has. This work is so new and dynamic that even the top researchers and change agents around the country are searching for answers. I believe the answer starts with building relationships and I am confident that YATST provides a model that can help schools realize this answer. I am even more of a believer in the work that I am doing alongside hundreds of smart, dedicated, and passionate people. If we all work together, we can create the change we wish to see in the world; this is what drives me forward in the fight for an excellent education for all.
The video of the YATST panel presentation can be found at the following link:http://matchondrygrass.org/conference/?page_id=240. It begins at 34:14.
- "I will provide quality over quantity."
- "I will look for more opportunities outside of the traditional classroom."
- "More student-led activities: students as facilitators; students as teachers."
- "Create a safe place to fail (and move forward)."
This is a small sampling of the instructional goals teachers set at the Harwood YATST in-service for 350 K-12 faculty.
The YATST team began the in-service with the "This is Your Brain...on Information" play. The play highlights key elements of engaging learning supported by current brain research, based on Dr. David Sousa's information processing model. The audience then adjourned into 14 smaller, student-facilitated groups to help teachers relate the lessons of the play to their own practices. Teachers participated in "chalktalks", a written and silent form of dialogue, which was then debriefed by the group (School Reform Initiative protocol). In the spirit of the YATST strengths-based approach, the first chalktalk question asked participants to identify the ways their instructional practices were already aligned with brain research. The second chalktalk question challenged teachers to reflect on steps they could take to deepen the alignment. The faculty concluded the session by setting specific goals. These were taped on the larger chalktalk sheets, carried to the cafeteria and displayed on the walls, encircling the room as participants convened for lunch.
A short slide show captures this event. The first two slides are taken in the cafeteria and show several of the chalktalk sheets. You will then see the two essential questions that prompted the teachers to grapple with their own practices. This is followed by a representative sampling of the goals that the faculty set for themselves. It provides compelling testimony regarding the scope and depth of the issues that YATST triggers, affirming Margaret Wheatley's belief that, "There is nothing more powerful than a community discovering what it cares about." We would add, there is nothing more powerful than students orchestrating that discovery!
The link to the slide show is: http://youtu.be/kz_ellRXCYQ
KICK-OFF a SUCCESS
"Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right" (Henry Ford) frames the YATST theme of "Great Expectations...or Not?". Is it really that simple? Five Vermont high schools confronted this question at the January 25 kick-off. The day began with an exploration of the individual and educational system's forces which impact expectations, envisioning schools where:
- teaching practices are driven by a growth mindset which believes that ALL students can learn at high levels through effort
- academic failure is no longer an option
- stereotypes no longer influence teaching practices or limit an individual's learning potential
- there is equal access to an excellent education for ALL students
Barbara Cervone, Founder and Director of What Kids Can Do, Inc., then framed the task of these YATST teams: Explore community-wide perspectives on expectations through videotaped conversations with students, teachers and parents. Short clips from the videotapes will then be selected by themes, based on their potential to provoke dialogue about expectations. These will be used as powerful tools for community dialogue and change throughout the spring. The goals of this work are to:
- students’ expectations of their own academic performance
- teachers’ expectations of ALL students’ academic performance
- parents’ and community’s expectations for children’s high academic performance,
- reframe academic failure or struggle as a natural step in a learning process, rather than an indication of limited learning capacity,
- dispel the common myth that intelligence is fixed and predetermined.
The teams will meet again on April 3 to share their interview experiences, preview video clips, and begin planning venues to provoke community dialogue. Participating schools are: Burlington High School, Cabot School, Hazen Union, Peoples Academy and Mt. Abraham Union. Winooski will also be joining this effort. This work will be showcased at the May 11 statewide YATST/ Vermont Rural Partnership conference and will be one aspect of the YATST keynote address at the upcoming BEST Institute. This work is fully funded and supported by the Vermont Department of Education.