Today’s Contributor: Ana Lee
Ana is an Instructional Coach at Oak Springs Elementary
Oak Springs Elementary is a small school with big challenges. We are located in east Austin just a few miles down from Franklin’s on 11th Street. 98% of the students we serve are economically disadvantaged. I’ve seen a lot of growth and change during my 7 years at Oak Springs. Teacher turnover and student mobility affect our school culture greatly. This school year, approximately 70% of our staff are brand new to Oak Springs. Parent engagement is a struggle not because they don’t want to be involved, but because much of their personal educational experience has been negative and/or they don’t know where to begin. Yes, we are considered a low performing school. The incidence of mental illness amongst our students has skyrocketed over the last 3 years. Trauma is real at our school. Unmet basic needs are something that our staff tackle on a daily basis.
I share this, not to spout off statistics, but to paint a picture of real students – students in need. Most folks start off their school year with big goals. Us, too! Goals included building relationships with families and students, increased performance on STAAR, and improved attendance rates. Some of my personal goals were to move the campus from tech consumers to creators and making blended learning more personalized for the students. I quickly learned that my goals, although I started them with the best intentions and they’re still my goals, were too lofty for the time being. I travel from PK4-5th grade and am able to see a wide range of students and teachers. My tech integration lessons weren’t always successful and felt isolated. “Integration” only happened when I was there, and the pressures of standardized testing and improved performance made my sessions feel more and more foreign and artificial. In addition, students lacked the soft skills to sustain the content in a blended learning format.
It was then that I had my “light bulb” moment. I was going about it all wrong. We needed more SEL, more growth mindset, more restorative circles, more TRUST – not drill and kill. Let’s be real – when the performance pressure is on, what’s the first part of your school day to go? SEL time? Recess? Morning meeting? Essentially it’s deemed the “fluff.” Is it wrong? Heck yea, it is. Does it happen? All the time! I had to find a way to resuscitate SEL and my tech integration times fast. Around November I started working closely with our TDC, Erica. We developed several lessons and sessions for growth mindset in 5th grade. She’s been an integral facet to building more SEL content + blended learning into our classrooms. Recently, I started a #MindsetMonday and restorative circles + Seesaw in 4th grade. Now things aren’t perfect and we run into hurdles here and there, but students and staff alike are much more engaged. The buy-in is definitely there. We’re taking baby steps with all of this and albeit it’s March, but we can see some of the fruits of our labor. We’re making a more conscious effort with digital citizenship – viewing technology as a learning tool versus just another toy and teachers are removing SEL from the “fluff” list. Making SEL + blended learning a priority wasn’t one of my goals, but I’m sure glad it became one.