Washington State Fellows Network
- Pathway to Change Area: Student Measures of Progress
- Outcome from the PSESD Pathway to Change: A racially just and humanizing school system; all can succeed and achieve
- Indicator Names: Students proficient in 3rd grade ELA (SBA); students proficient in 3rd grade math (SBA)*
- Indicator Description: The percent of students who met or exceeded standards on the 3rd Grade Math assessment; the percent of students who met or exceeded standards on the 3rd Grade English Language Arts assessment
Shared Learning at PSESD
The Washington State Fellows Network is a leadership program focused on equitable mindsets and practices for early learning, English language arts, math and science educators. Across Washington State, Fellows serve as educational leaders who expand their capacity to improve student learning through ongoing professional learning and leadership development within their local context and in partnership with school districts, educational service districts, and community agencies and state organizations.
Feedback from Participants
“It’s been powerful to have a place where I track what I am doing in my district and to talk with others about their focus.” -ELA Fellow
“I really appreciated being in a community of other teachers who were all looking to be the most effective, caring and inclusive teachers possible, especially in the area of mathematics. I loved being exposed to new strategies and methods of teaching math that I could implement in my own classroom right away. I also appreciated diving more into the research behind effective and inclusive math instruction.” -Math Fellow
Sharing Lessons with PSESD Fellows
“The real purpose of the Fellows is to make sure that they’re equipped to create access for students,” said PSESD ELA Program Manager, Becca Horowitz. “If we’re not trying to fundamentally change our practices to create equitable schools, then we’re missing the point. It’s crucial that this mindset is woven through everything that we’re doing.”
When it comes to English language arts, educators can face a difficult dilemma in trying to find the right balance of providing lessons that challenge their students without overwhelming them. Without support, well-intended teachers who want their students to be successful, can unintentionally deprive them of opportunities for development. The Fellows program provides the knowledge and structure for teachers to calibrate together on identifying curriculum that challenges students to rise to the Common Core standards for their grade levels. “The Common Core standards are really ambitious and center students, making meaning,” said Horowitz. “It’s critical that the learning that we’re doing [with Fellows] is actually in service of student outcomes.”
In the subject of mathematics, educators' approaches to student learning are equally important when it comes to effectively nurturing student development. Across grade levels, the practice of designating students by perceived abilities into different classes (known as “tracking”) has shown a negative impact, both in student outcomes and educator behavior. “Tracking is insidious,” said PSESD Regional Math Coordinator Leslie Nielsen. “It tells kids from a young age that they’re not good enough. As a teacher, in order to undo tracking you have to believe that all of the students in your classroom can do mathematics.”
For Nielsen, emphasizing teacher belief is a critical component of building capacity within the Fellows program.
“In Fellows we talk about leadership of self, leadership of others, and leadership of the extended community,” said Nielsen. “Our hope is that at minimum, teachers will adapt a practice and try it in the classroom. If it goes well, they’ll share it with their grade. If it goes really well, they’ll go out and lead professional development on it. That’s baked into the structure at the systemic level.”
When the learning that Fellows share during reunions throughout the year reaches back to their own grades, districts and communities, the impact can be transformative. “Fellows broadened my perspective on the whole system and our practices. It made me rethink how and what I was teaching. It opened up the conversation within our district math team on how we are delivering math intervention instruction, said a 2019–20 Math Fellow.
Making Equity a Priority
In the past five years, the PSESD Math Fellows program has nearly doubled in size. While the increase in interest is an exciting reflection of the demand of the Math Fellows program, the focus on equity-related issues in mathematics is really what excites Nielsen. “Math Fellows really dig into the equity work. They ask questions, and they become very reflective in the program. They reflect on and refine their own practice.”
When thinking about the work of PSESD ELA Fellows, Horowitz shared a similar experience. “When I asked them about their takeaways on the year, all of their comments were about leading with racial equity and examining their own classrooms, reflecting on their own biases, and doing that internal work. It’s meaningful that we have 40 educators who carry that with them.”
“Especially now, it’s important to view everything we do with an equity lens. It is clear that the discrepancy between students’ situations is greater than ever. It has been highlighted in our Fellows sessions how important it is for us to be adjusting our instructional and assessment practices to meet their needs rather than having students conform to our ‘way’ of doing things. Focusing on building community and providing students with lots of choice and opportunity to demonstrate their understanding is critical.” -2019–20 ELA Fellow
Though the Fellows program lasts for three years, many participants elect to become “Emeritus Fellows” and end up staying connected to the Fellows’ Network. Their presence in the Fellows community creates a connection to the experiences, practices and perspective gained over years of participation. Most recently, a group of Math Emeritus Fellows suggested that the PSESD Math Fellows read “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, and for Nielsen, the decision was representative of the continuous influence of the Fellows community. When educators find community in the Fellows program, the learning never stops.
With the shifts in the educational landscape due to COVID-19, the community and support provided by the Fellows program is more important than ever. As districts across the state balance remote and hybrid learning opportunities, educational inequities are at risk of being exacerbated across all grade levels. The Fellows program offers a network of support for educators that can help them tackle some of the unforeseen challenges of this new academic environment.
With much of the professional development for educators moving to a remote learning environment, Nielsen sees an opportunity for increased access: “Being virtual is opening up accessibility for teachers where distance might previously have been an issue.” As new educators are exposed to the Fellows program, the goal to positively impact every student in the state of Washington might actually become one step closer to reality.
*Data not available, as Smarter Balanced Assessment was not administered in Spring 2020 due to COVID-19.