Author Archives: Edissa Nicolas-Huntsman

It’s Time to Accelerate Acceleration: The Future Is Now

 

On Thursday, January 9, City College of San Francisco held its first official professional development day of 2014. Amid our trepidations over accreditation, the excitement about teaching another group of students permeated everything.  With the New Year ahead of us, it’s only fitting that we start to look at the many ways to innovate and remain relevant. There’s no question that the English Department’s Accelerated Learning Program, ALP, is a clear way to accomplish institutional, state and educational goals where everybody wins, students, teachers and the college, included.

 

In an informative Flex Day Workshop, the English department’s Michelle Simotas and Caroline Minkowski presented an overview of accelerated classes, revealing just why ALP course are so popular. From the driving question of the course, which is printed in the schedule, to project-based, research-driven and inquiry-based learning, these courses are enticing and attractive prospects for most students; accelerated classes are empowering from the starting block. Furthermore, from the perspective of a teacher, it’s clearly one of the best ways to teach, engage and promote critical thinking. Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are addressed in the backward design, making sure that the courses are providing students with required course content. Reading materials remain relevant throughout the semester since the entire curriculum is connected to the driving question. Students think about the real purpose of rhetoric, giving life to the concept of audience when they publish blogs and present to their classmates. Minkowski’s pride was evident when she showed off her students’ projects. She beamed with good reason. The numbers don’t lie. Student pass rates are 2.2 times higher than in the regular sequence. African American students are fairing even better. Acceleration is working.

 

With all this good news, why aren’t we implementing this model in all English classes? After seven semesters of experience with an extremely popular and successful program, it’s clearly time to hit the gas on the Accelerated Learning Program. We need to train more teachers and grow the pool of eligible and qualified teachers so that we can offer more of them each year. In a conversation with one of the ALP leads, she explained that the cohort is looking at creating a mentorship program. New teachers can shadow experienced teachers and current ALP instructors in the lower sequence can get the training they need to teach the transfer-level course. With success rates in accelerated classes doubled and tripled in some student populations, there is no question that we should grow the program now.

 

ALP is just what our college needs to meet the new state mandates for repeatability because it can eliminate that factor altogether. The rare student who doesn’t complete both levels can still take the subsequent course in a following semester. Students will move quickly through the sequence with the potential of finishing their English requirements in two semesters or less, depending on where they enter the sequence. The California Acceleration Project has trained a cohort of over 20 City College teachers. We should now take the next step in getting the entire department on board. We’re the only community college that has acceleration in a transfer-level course. If we can double the number of classes offered and train more teachers to teach in the ALP, we’ll be meeting the future with the progressive and innovative pedagogy that great institutions should aspire to.

 


CCSF Is Moving Forward on Accreditation

These days, CCSF is showing up in the news with more woes than wows. That’s about to change. This is the moment for us to look to the future.

While some folks are still nervous about our accreditation status, there is also anticipation of a new possibility ahead. Many of us see the new leadership and public attention as an opportunity for growth and innovation. Special Trustee Agrella is making critical money-saving choices, and Chancellor Brice is pushing us to strive toward excellence. By the way, yes, I have been accused of being a reckless optimist before, but I don’t care; I’m going there. I’m a believer. I believe we can make it happen—we can hold onto our accreditation, change and grow.

Every time I attend an Accreditation Committee meeting I hear a similar message. We’re moving forward. There are accountability structures in place. Someone is in charge of every standard CCSF was cited for on the ACCJC’s list. We have a new administration and leadership with a few key positions soon to be filled. Our new leadership is set to steer us in the right direction. Employees of the college will have the opportunity to meet our new leadership on September 17th for our next professional development event. The plan is to have a campus-wide vigorous discussion about accreditation. We have to educate ourselves and stay informed of the sweeping changes at our college if only to fight back the nausea that rises when we think of our beloved City College closing.

I find it inconceivable that our new administrators competed for their positions only to walk away after a few months of service. I believe they’ve signed on with us because they have a vision of where CCSF needs to go; they believe in us and have enough talent and skills to take us to a new level. They are delegating and collaborating with staff and faculty. They are working on meeting the standards—quickly. I’m not afraid of change, especially when it gives us a chance at surviving the worst possible outcome. I have no doubt that they want the college to remain accredited as much as we do.

Not surprisingly, our worries have become a national issue and concern. Many people are championing our cause. It’s wonderful that people care about us. I’d also like this energy to get directed toward the greater causes of underfunding in public education. As a great nation, we can afford to spend far less on the prison industrial complex and bloated military budget and far more on education, starting with preschool. We can’t expect to disinvest in our society’s public programs and infrastructure and have extraordinary outcomes. We must educate people in order to empower them with the resources to shape their own destinies. As a community college, our role as public servants must continue to be refined and strengthened if we are to remain relevant.

In terms of meeting the ACCJC’s standards, the good news is that most departments at CCSF are fully up to speed with SLOs and program review. All the other big stuff that we were cited for is going to rest on our new leadership. We have to trust that they’ve got it under control.

I, for one, am keeping those folks, and all of us, in my prayers. They are responsible and accountable for moving CCSF forward. I think we need to let go a little and let them do their jobs while we do ours. For those who really must know the fine details, the college is giving the play-by-play on our own accreditation action plan at http://ccsfforward.com. Anyone can see who’s in charge of what. And, it gets updated regularly.

This is the moment for us to cast our gazes on the horizon of hope while taking careful steps to get there as a unified community.


MOOC-Proof Your Classroom

I’ve been reading the news, just like everyone else. Some of us are really scared that we’re not going to have jobs, soon, owing to MOOCs and the “privatization of education.” Well, as far as I’ve observed, the “private” has always been a big part of education, especially the part that seems to benefit its constituents most. Out of my roughly 21 years of formal education, only four years have come from private education. One of those schools was far more superior than the other. I paid dearly for one; the other paid me. In both instances, I walked away with a degree. The more we do that for our students, the better. Instead of sitting around worrying about Phoenix University taking our students, I say now’s the time to up the ante on our classroom pedagogy—make today count; it’s the only way to MOOC-proof your classroom.

 

Engage your students. One of the big differences between online education and a traditional classroom is the people in the room. Where else can you get a police cadet sitting next to a nurse and a fashion designer? Only in a community college classroom, that’s where. It’s time for us to capitalize on that dynamic. Student voices need to be heard—regularly. bell hooks talks about teaching to transgress. When we examine this concept, we can see that it’s possible to commit transgressions against ourselves, against the artificial barriers we’ve erected within ourselves, such as the internalized beliefs we carry about who is capable of learning what material, and in what ways. We need to punch through those boundaries into uncharted territories until we are all thinking critically about what we’re doing in our classrooms every single day and how we could do it better. Our students need to get woken up from their morning stupor not by coffee but by the stimulating atmosphere in the room, and they need to love walking into your morning, afternoon or evening classes because of what’s happening in that physical space. Anything less and you’re plumb MOOCed.

 

It’s vital to get derailed regularly. This could be an ingenious way to employ the concept of “connectivism” (acquiring information from a network) that MOOCs capitalize on so well. We all understand how important it is to have a lesson plan. I usually know what needs to happen each week and each day. When I first started teaching, I’d count every minute of each lesson and cram it in. That meant that even one student question could interrupt my lesson plan. To a certain extent, that still happens. What has changed is that I’m now willing to let my students take charge when there is momentum. I allow an interesting discussion to derail my plan or students want to understand how to punctuate a quote instead of selecting one: Give in periodically! Switch gears; let students explain to each other while you observe. Those sparks of excitement and student-driven learning are what they will remember most. Even though you will sometimes need to say, “Let’s not today,” your students will know that if they really want it, they will win. Suddenly, you’ve entered into a collaborative partnership with your students in which they are agents of their learning, and they feel emboldened to ask, assert and interrupt. No MOOC can do that.

 

Teach your passion. Doing what I love gives me juice in the classroom. I literally catch fire when I’m talking about books, ideas and writing. Even a grammar lesson gets me to my loud-Latina place. If I didn’t sleep the night before or am having a hard day, I can forget about my own stuff when we start discussing quote interpretation or when to cite. We all know fire is catching. If you love what you do, so will they. So even if they don’t end up head over heels for coordinators and appositives, they’ll at least remember that crazy glint in your eye when you talked about punctuating sentences. Take your heart into the classroom with you; it won’t let you down.

 

It’s critical to self-evaluate often. Self-evaluation means you need feedback. When my all of my students’ eyes glaze over, I know it’s time to change my strategy. If only one is nodding out, I know I need to talk to her after class. We also need to be willing to listen to student criticism. This doesn’t mean we need to internalize everything we hear or even try to modify our practices every time we get some feedback, but we should be able to listen to how we can be more effective educators, better partners in the learning process. If three students give me the same feedback, I know it’s time to adapt and adjust, not because I’m forced into it, but because I want to be a collaborator in the education process. I may hold a Master’s degree in English, but I’m not perfect.

 

If all else fails, start designing your online class, now. What do you have to lose? If MOOCs are the future of education, shouldn’t we at least try not to get left behind? I believe the good practices we employ in our classrooms today, will cross over into the online frontier.

 


Cooperation, Respect and Innovation: Pathways to Success

Now that CCSF has a new draft of our Show Cause report, we must confront a blossoming dysfunction in our community. What’s needed at CCSF now is more cooperation. We must work together to get through the challenges of Showing Cause.  We need to go back to basics, back to a foundation of manners. The atmosphere of intolerance that has crept into our community is unacceptable. We need to model how to work together to strengthen and nurture our most precious commodity: ourselves.

First, I urge each and every one of us to raise the standards of our professional courtesies from today forward. When we are engaging in difficult conversations, and these are trying times, we must default to a more mindful and conscious communication style than normal, one that is characterized by respect and courtesy. After all, we have to live with each other; we are a community; this is our college. Let us address each other kindly, affording one another the dignity and respect of a collegial relationship, so that we can look each other in the eyes when next we meet in Batmale Hall or MUB. Let us work to resolve problems rather than attack people, people who we will need to work with again in the future. This includes Students, Classified Staff, Faculty, Administrators and Board Members.

Every person in our community is worthy of dignity and respect.

Second, who are you fighting for? If you’re not standing up for our students, to make sure they have a future, a college to attend for the next century, then it’s time to regroup. Much needed fiscal reform and innovations are the demands of our times. We, CCSF, have to change in order to remain viable, relevant and sustainable for our students. Defending the status quo will not lead to innovations, fiscal reform or an equitable outcome for our students. It may have just the opposite effect; it may lead to the closure of our college. We have to organize ourselves in such a way that allows us to leave a legacy of empowerment for our students and community. I don’t want to be the ones that shut CCSF down—for any reason.

Today is the day to change your attitude and thinking about the future. It’s time for us to reinvent ourselves. We can’t continue to fight for chalk when we have white boards; as one of our nation’s largest public education institutions, we should be leaders in innovation; we should set the trend in cutting edge pedagogical approaches; and we should produce record numbers of educated people. That sounds thrilling to me. Where are our ideas, our risk-taking passion?

Lately, when I ponder our reactions to our current accreditation challenges, I have reflected on Lisa Delpit’s germinal work in Education Studies, “Other People’s Children.” Here’s what comes up for me: How many of us see CCSF as an institution that serves “other people’s children”? I think, How many of us would behave differently if we believed that CCSF was the destination of our very own children? Would we still be willing to put our accreditation at risk?

There is no question in my mind that if CCSF were the destination for our own children, then we would be behaving very differently now. Otherwise, how could so many of us so easily dismiss the problems CCSF faces and simply demand that our salaries remain intact, that nothing change, that our administration and board be disrespected and protested? The stakes are low, because suddenly, it’s only a job, and we fight solely for some rights and privileges (largely monetary) that ignore our obligations as public servants. We can callously dismiss ACCJC as anti-union and ignore the urgency of Showing Cause for Our Students, because, our kids don’t need CCSF. It’s a question of priorities: Keep the college open, or preserve the status quo.

Below is a series of Ted Talks addressing education today and tomorrow. It helps to consider what others are doing and thinking about the role of static institutions. If we are to preserve our institution for our students, then we should be far more aggressive in our attempts to redefine ourselves.

http://www.ted.com/playlists/24/re_imagining_school.html

 

 


Let’s Show Cause Now!: An Open Letter to the City College of San Francisco Community

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

It’s time for us to stop playing games with our students’ futures. We must take consistent, appropriate and immediate action to meet the ACCJC criteria to retain our accreditation. Instead of organizing to protest perceived unfairness, we should all be working furiously to “Show Cause” and keep CCSF open.

Personally, when I am given a challenge, I rise to the occasion. Each and every one of us has an obligation to do what needs to be done for the good of our students and our beloved college. Ultimately that means we must keep CCSF open in this district. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

To my numerous colleagues complaining about the salary cuts, I say this:

Why weren’t you up in arms when Classified Staff got 12 furlough days last year? Are we more important than they? I think we all know the answer. Classified Staff serve our institution with dignity and provide invaluable services. We owe it to our colleagues to share the burden of sacrifice with them.

I think it’s really important that we start thinking about what changes need to happen to keep our college fiscally sound for future generations, not only preserving our salaries, today. I know that money is important. And, I also know that when my bills increase, and life happens (I lost a class last spring owing to low-enrollment), I have to make adjustments, or lose the things which I value.

At this point, CCSF is priceless to our students and community. We have to respond in a realistic and adaptive manner to the requirements of the accrediting body. We cannot afford to shut the doors of my beloved Alma Mater. We cannot afford to let generations of San Francisco youth go without college access. We cannot afford to get taken over by another district. We cannot drag our feet and play the recalcitrant rebels.

In case anyone is unclear about my position on the situation, I want to state it here. I find the trend in the United States to continually cut education spending while simultaneously and heavily investing in the Prison Industrial Complex absolutely despicable. However, until this unbearable situation is reversed, we must join every other public education institution in our nation in adjusting to the enormous fiscal deficits, while somehow not losing the belief in the fundamental value of education and our ability to contribute as educators. Sadly, the biggest victims are our students.

We do not have the luxury of resisting the changes that have swept our nation and public education in general. We must and can make the necessary changes for the benefit of our students. We can and must preserve CCSF for future generations.

Please, sit down and read the Closure Report. If you love CCSF, as I do, it will break your heart. After you’re done, take action to make sure we don’t have to implement the closing procedures. Once we have done everything in our power to keep our college open, in San Francisco, with full accreditation, I’m happy to join in the fight against the decline in education spending. Now, however, is not the time for that. We have to do what must be done to Show Cause FOR OUR STUDENTS.

Our students make sacrifices everyday. We can make some adjustments to get through these tough times, while working and striving for a better future.

Ask yourself what you’re doing to ensure that we Show Cause and remain open for our students.


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