Partnership between Practitioners, Researchers, and Policymakers
Faculty and students at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) held a conference to discuss current issues in urban education on Saturday, November 14th. Often characterized as under resourced and failing, large, urban districts in Michigan have had successes that are frequently overlooked by the general public. The summit highlighted positive urban school initiatives, programs, projects, and approaches, which work to counteract some of the negative stereotypes associated with urban schools. Beyond talking about schools, however, the summit also facilitated networking opportunities for teachers, administrators, government officials, and researchers. These professionals used the opportunity to share ideas and inspire one another in their shared work.
Showcasing Successful Urban Educators
Poverty and segregation are constant challenges for urban schools, and create obstacles to classroom success for teachers and administrators. Much attention has been given to America’s urban schools, which are perceived to be in a state of deterioration. Jonathan Kozol’s seminal 1991 text, Savage Inequalities, vividly described problems with run-down facilities, unmotivated teachers, crime, and low expectations in inner city schools.
The participants in the Urban Education Summit at EMU chose to take a vastly different approach to the difficulties posed by urban contexts. Notably, the first session of the conference invited students from the Detroit Public Schools to join the conversation. Students and school leaders discussed, “restorative practices with positive behavior support and proven instructional methods,” to address the problems with inequitable discipline in communities of color, as discussed in previous Green & Write posts.
Successful instruction and teachers’ dedication to their craft was also highlighted at the summit. Liz Sirman, district coordinator for the English Language Learner Program for Ypsilanti Community Schools, was selected as the inaugural EMU Urban Teacher of the Year. Ms. Sirman was celebrated for her extraordinary leadership and adaptability in the context of schools with diverse learners, pushing to acquire materials that promote contentbased English instruction. She was praised as an example of the positive impact that willingness to innovate, commitment to urban students, and community involvement can have on the education environment.
Small Solutions in Urban Education
Focusing on the elements of the education system that are within the control of practitioners and administrators rather than the societal barriers that inhibit achievement was key to the discussions at the EMU summit. Sessions on training teachers in cultural competency addressed the disconnect that often exists between teachers and the families they serve. Likewise, programs that promote principal mentorship were emphasized. School leaders discussed the sharing of wisdom between veteran and novice principals in order to support the development of lesser-discussed skills to lead in urban environments.
The conversation around what works in Michigan’s urban districts will continue throughout the year. In response to the feedback and the ongoing need for collaboration between educators, researchers, and policymakers, there will be an ongoing series of EMU-sponsored mini-summits. These mini-summits will address themes, questions, and challenges that warrant future discussion and action. The innovation and dedication demonstrated during these collaborations will likely make a noticeable impact in urban schools and districts in Michigan in the coming years.
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