This guest blog post is from Philadelphia public school teachers Christina Puntel and Geoffrey Winikur. They're writing in response to the Inquirer's “Assault on Learning” series. This is the first in a series of posts about their experiences collaborating on curriculum.
The Inquirer's series looked at the school violence issue from multiple perspectives, but did not address the link between curriculum and student agency as learners. Our teaching practices have been transformed through the opportunity to collaborate within Philadelphia Writing Project’s Summer Institute. Further, we have been involved together in school-based projects where our agency as teachers, and the creativity and expertise of our colleagues, informed exciting, mulitdisciplinary collaboration.
In order to develop a culturally relevant curricula, we must learn from our students in order for them to learn from us. Borrowing from Freire, Ladson-Billings, and hooks, we find that by making this dynamic explicit and transparent, there is a sense of real collaboration and a genuine notion of working together around students' best interests.
Our collaborations have led us to a common belief that teachers work best when we create classrooms that value the student as a maker of knowledge. Students are genuinely excited to learn when offered a curriculum that welcomes who they are, and values their race, language, and identity. We fully understand that these goals are shared at every level of the District. We want to offer our particular experiences creating these classrooms. We hope to open the dialogue for other teachers in order to generate a healthy and productive dialogue to celebrate what is working in schools. Ideally, the SDP community as a whole can benefit from each others’ collective knowledge.
While we understand that successfully dealing with issues of school violence must center around restorative practices, mediation, quality mental health care, and other proven methods, we recognize that a culturally relevant curriculum is essential to helping students develop intellectual self respect. This is especially true for students whose educations are often compromised by the chaos and disruption caused by school violence. We are not talking about making everything "feel good" or "be easy." On the contrary. We are talking about intellectually engaging, culturally relevant curricula. This is teaching and learning that encourages students to develop strong relationships with schools and offers them the chance to demonstrate what they have learned in ways other than traditional tests and standardized assessments. This could be the kind of reform that never fails. Philadelphia has a proud legacy of such pedagogical innovation and if we build on this past, then we can envision a promising future.
In this series of blog posts, Christina and Geoffrey will highlight how our personal experiences have helped shape these beliefs. We hope our fellow teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders will help inform the public about what makes teachers so passionate about our profession.
Christina has had a wide range of teaching experiences, from elementary to high school, in a diverse array of neighborhoods from Kensington and Port Richmond to Germantown and Chinatown. She is on maternity leave this year. Geoffrey’s teaching has been richly informed by his work in North Philadelphia and Mt Airy, in two high schools. He is a product of the Philadelphia public schools himself. Cumulatively, our teaching experiences have afforded us the great opportunity to work with students and families that reflect a broad cross section of the racial, economic, and linguistic diversity of our vibrant School District.
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