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A Message for Educators

Persistence's picture


An ecological education is like a democratic nation where the flourishing of communities is achieved through open societies that collaborate together to avoid indignation, iniquity, communism, and to create equal opportunities. Over the years, the educational system has changed aiming to increase academic opportunity for students coming from diverse backgrounds. These innovations include the way educational systems are managed and organized, instructional systems in the classroom, and the way teachers teach and how they are prepared. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is an Act of Congress to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind in their education (1). Another example includes the innovations and accommodations made to support students with learning disabilities. These students have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or individual curriculum which allows them to extend test time period, testing in a different room, translation of tests into native language, etc. (2).

While these innovations contain meaningful, relevant and essential purposes, they are fastened to linear and individualistic notions of education where one’s culture and experiences are regarded as assimilation. These innovations also only tackle the student body in the classroom. In an ecological education/ classroom, a collaborative effort to aspire change in both the teacher and student body is what connotes the ecological thought. Addressing teacher performances and behaviors in the classroom is just as important as the attention and evaluation put on the student body.

Replacing ecological thinking with the current linear thinking in education is a strong alternative approach for innovation in education. The approaches behind the science of ecology are holistic in that nature is regarded as an integrated system of interconnectedness among communities, individuals, and everything that surrounds us. We all play a part in the world and we all reflect and interact within it. In his book, The Ecological Thought, Morton says that “the ecological thought doesn’t just occur ‘in the mind.’ It’s a practice and process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings…” (P.G. 7). Therefore, understanding the actions we have on each other is very vital to ensure the notion of an ideal democratic nation within a classroom in which all persons live together in tranquility and harmony, and with equal opportunities.

Schooling is a primary means of social empowerment and enhancement. Recognizing one’s role as an educator is an important factor of innovation in education. An educator’s accommodations to students are rooted in the understanding of experiences at the interface of home, school, and the social imaginary. To achieve this ecological-democratic learning space, a collaborative platform and approach for both students and teachers are needed in school’s curriculums. Thus, I propose that schools incorporate student-teacher weakly cultural/ leadership workshops facilitated by students in their curriculums to meet this accommodation.

The classroom for which the sample curriculum of student-teacher workshops (below) is designed for an eighth grade class from my praxis placement in Northern Philadelphia. These eighth graders are predominantly all black and come from disadvantage, social and economic backgrounds. My experience with these eighth graders were quite unpleasant. Many have displayed their distress to me about how they hate the way their teachers talk to them and treat them when they "misbehave." During parent-teacher night, I had frustrated parents come up to me and complain about how their children come home from school in tears because they were called “poor,” “stupid,” and “hopeless” from their teachers. I have also heard many ignorant words coming from the mouths of teachers in which I, personally, found very offensive and jarring to the senses. I have also witnessed this type of teacher behavior in the fifth grade class as well. Clearly, this behavior has been going on for a while and is effecting everyone in the environment (teachers, students, parents, volunteers, etc.), yet nothing is done to confront the situation.  

I, as a student, tend to perform better academically in classes where there is effective communication between teacher and student, and student and student. In classroom with this lack of communication, student facilitated leadership/ cultural workshops for teachers may lead to better communication between students and teachers. It may also lead to new conceptualizations of how both the voices of teachers and students may be interconnected with student performances, teacher behaviors, how students respond to what is being taught, and how teachers act on it.

There are three main goals of having student facilitated leadership/ cultural workshops. One goal is to establish a sense of trust, respect, openness, care and concern for the well-being of students and teachers. Second is to gain an understanding of the significance in the implication of self and one's own effects on their environment and on each other. Finally, the third goal is to help build attention and recognition from educators to challenge the status quo and inspire change that allows not only them, but all students to revise school pedagogies to fit what is best for the classroom rather than letting them depend on the meritocracy.

Sample Leadership/ Cultural Incorporated Student-Teacher
Weekly Workshop Curriculum


Week 1: Societal Advancement
Objective/ Lesson 1
1. Discuss about what it means to work together as a society in the classroom
2. Identify what leadership is and define interdependent vs. independent
3. Address the questions: What does it mean to think systematically? What are the roles of teachers? Students?
4. Brainstorm how societal advancement could be achieved in the classroom

Discussion/ Debrief/ Reflection/
Allow both students and teachers to discuss and debrief about the major lessons learned in the workshop and write a reflection paper about on it with the incorporation of their classroom.


Week 2: Team Performance
Objective/ Lesson 2
1. Define what a team is and how to be a team player
2. Talk about what it means to give feedback from students and teachers
3. Address what it means to perform as a team
4.  Brainstorm possible impacts that may arise from building effective teams to maximize team performance

Discussion/ Debrief/ Reflection/
Allow both students and teachers to discuss and debrief about the major lessons learned in the workshop and write a reflection paper about on it with the incorporation of their classroom.

Week 3: Leadership Strategy
Objective/ Lesson 3
1. Define what a leader is and identify different types of leaders (E.G. Martin Luther King, Hitler)
2. Address the question: What is proper leadership in the classroom?
3. Talk about the “one size fits all” proposition
4. Discuss about the consequences of improper leadership and what constitutes proper leadership

Discussion/ Debrief/ Reflection/
Allow both students and teachers to discuss and debrief about the major lessons learned in the workshop and write a reflection paper about on it with the incorporation of their classroom.

Week 4: Effective Communication
Objective/ Lesson 3
1. Talk about what communication is and what it means to communicate.
2. Brainstorm different ways of communication
3. Discuss about the consequences of improper communication in a classroom
4. Host communication activity: The Fabulous flag – this activity allows student to convey what represents them or what is important to them. Each person draws a flag containing symbols or objects that symbolizes who they are and what they like. Students will be allowed 15-20 minutes for this activity before volunteers are asked to share and explain their flags.

Discussion/ Debrief/ Reflection/
Allow both students and teachers to discuss and debrief about the major lessons learned in the workshop and write a reflection paper about on it with the incorporation of their classroom.


Rationale Continuation/ Message for the Educators

Like a democratic environment, students are allowed active participation in the politics and civic life in the classroom through these workshops. The inclusiveness of every student’s experiences and voices allows an entrance for educators to shift from practices that favored independence to practices that value interdependence between students and teachers. When people are quick to rely on false stereotypes and appearances on the surface, they compromise their abilities to assess and understand people at the level of the mind and spirit, and heart. Stereotypes are sensual and cultural weapons and also the mind’s poor attempt to make a rational decision about what he or she may deem as misbehaving behaviors. Students may misbehave in the classroom, but good educators should use that to their advantage and allow it to provide an innovative- collaborative platform for them to build better student and teacher interactions.  If educators can help with the initiation of student faciliated workshops for teachers,  they could learn to be more cautious of what they say and how they treat their students. There needs to be an innovative way for teachers to carry out discipline effectively. Nothing can be more hurtful to the students, than the neglect of discipline. Sometimes it is not the student who has trouble understanding subjects, but the teacher.  I had a teacher in middle school who stated that if the teacher does not understand his subject, then he does not understand teaching. While it may cost the school to host mandatory enrichment activities, one-on-one tutoring, or support programs to foster intellectual and personal growth, the influence of a good teacher is at no cost. My mother had always told me that the teacher is more important than what he or she teaches and that their influence lasts an eternity. Thus, new innovative educational opportunities are possible through a collaborative-multidirectional critique.  


  1. "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The No Child Left Behind Act of ///////2001)." The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The No Child Left Behind //////Act of 2001). N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
  2. NCLD Editorial Team. "What Is an IEP? | Individualized Education Program." National …..Center for Learning Disabilities. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2011


Anne Dalke's picture

You begin with a striking simile—“An ecological education is like a democratic nation”-- but no image to figure it, so I’m giving you one, drawn from the watercolors of Sharon Burgmayer--it’s what came to mind for me when you wrote about having all students draw “fabulous flags,” symbolizing themselves…

I’m quite captivated by your vision of offering weekly student-facilitated workshops for teachers, aimed @ addressing (not the usual “linear and individualistic notions of education”), but rather misperceptions and gaps in understanding between students and their teachers (I must say that your description of the relationships that these workshops are intended to intervene in –teachers’ dismissal of their students as “poor,” “stupid,” and “hopeless”--is excruciating).

And/but--once I settled into the curriculum you sketch out here, I heard those teachers resisting. You start with “what it means to work together.” But the teachers you describe probably don’t start from that presumption. You move on to being “a team player.” But the teachers you describe probably don’t visualize themselves as working in teams with their students. You end with the students drawing flags symbolizing who they are and what they like. But the teachers you describe probably don’t care about such things.

In the middle, however, you have two lessons-- “what a leader is/what proper leadership is in the classroom,” and “what communication is and different ways to communicate.” Now there I think you’ve found some topics where you might actually 1) find out where the teachers are and 2) work out from those places. The real challenge here is how to shift presumptions from hierarchical to egalitarian, from expert-driven to team-based, from knowledge as performance to knowledge as co-constructed. In your finale, you describe stereotypes as “the mind’s poor attempt to make a rational decision about what we may deem misbehaving.” This makes me think that stereotypes could also be a great topic for one of the workshops. It reminds me also of something a theater student posted years ago, in a course I was teaching about evolution. She reported that a psychology professor had told her that “paying attention to stereotypes is important, because they tell the story of group interactions. We cannot ever entirely rid ourselves of stereotypes, because our brain wants to classify information on a generalized, categorized level. What we can do is change our method of categorization….” If we could start by thinking of stereotypes in this way—as handy, easy shortcuts that shortchange the complexity of individuals—perhaps we might have a start on intervening and changing them…

There are spots in this web-event—“if the teacher does not understand his subject, then he does not understand teaching”—where you make observations that I can’t quite align with the larger whole (in this moment, I think, the larger whole is that the teacher’s subject is his students…).

And there are multiple other spots throughout where I hear echoes of the curriculum we designed for our prison class yesterday. We are reading Bodega Dreams, which begins with an awful comparison of the white teachers (who have more power in the school, and also constantly put down the students) and the Hispanic ones (who think well of the students, and have no power in the school). We wanted to ask the women inside to play barometer with us, asking questions such as

“Do you think the gender of the teachers should match the gender of their students?
Do you think the race of the teachers should match the race of their students?
Do you think the class of the teachers should match the class of their students?
Do you think the culture of the teachers should match the culture of their students?
Do you think that the teachers should be from the same neighborhood as their students?
What should teachers know about the neighborhood where they are teaching?
Who would teach them this? How could you teach them this?...”

I see your workshop proposal as a effective way of beginning to answer such questions…

Ariel & Persistence—you should check out one another’s projects, since each is  letter addressing teacher performance in the classroom.