Leveraging the Power of a Network: A Showcase of Adult Learning

Speaking to a room of her peers, Assistant Principal Janique Cambridge captured their attention when she explained her innovative approach for holding students accountable for their behavior.

“I had them make a promise to me and if they broke it, they would choose the consequences,” she told them.

Ms. Cambridge, sharing an intervention she had developed for her struggling students at Advanced Math and Science III Charter High School in Brooklyn, was among 13 teachers, administrators and counselors who presented at the 2nd Annual New Visions Charter High Schools Professional Learning Showcase that took place earlier this year.

The February Professional Learning Showcase brought together assistant principals, counselors and teaching artists from across the New Visions Charter High Schools network to present interventions they had developed to address problems of practice at their respective schools.

David Rothauser, Instructional Specialist for Social Emotional Learning, explained that “our aim was to bring people together, to make our learning public, and to share promising practices. We designed the showcase to enable our colleagues to push one another to see their work from different angles, and to be celebrated for their brilliance. We wanted to create a space for sharing and feedback that models the elevation of individuality and student voice that we promote in our schools.”

The showcase is a culminating experience for the first of two learning cycles in the Counseling Network and Assistant Principal convenings. These two professional learning groups, designed to support APs and counselors in their roles, meet two to three times per semester to support one another in their work, develop a sense of teamwork, and share practices towards accomplishing respective schoolwide goals. The three-month-long learning cycles take participants through a structured problem-solving process, which includes a presentation of what they learned to a public audience at the end of each cycle.

By repeating the cycle again in the spring, participants have the experience of a learning routine, which shifts the cognitive load over time from learning the routine itself to focusing on the learning task.

At the beginning of the first learning cycle, Ms. Cambridge sought to address the challenges of a subset of students in her cohort who were experiencing difficulty passing classes and earning credits towards graduation. With a school goal of 90% course passage at the forefront of her mind, Cambridge identified her target group and worked with her peers in her AP Convening cohort to implement what she called, “Keeping the Promise,” an academic performance and behavioral intervention that would engage students deeply in their own success.

During the AP convenings, Ms. Cambridge’s peers helped her to think through a way to encourage other school staff members to begin these conversations with students and concrete ways to track the progress of the students as they either begin to improve or revert to old, self-defeating behaviors.

“The AP convenings have been extremely helpful for me,” said Ms. Cambridge. “As APs, we don’t get time to talk to one another because we are all so busy, so having the opportunity to get an objective point of view on a problem you’re trying to solve is invaluable. You realize that schools have the same issues whether they are in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens and that someone has probably already encountered a problem that you are encountering now. “

At the showcase, Janique shared with her audience that, at that point, seven of the 32 students had already begun to dramatically improve, with at least four students passing previously-failed Regents exams and one student maintaining almost perfect attendance after a consistent habit of missing school once or twice per week.  

Other presenters, like school counselor Christine Mejia from Humanities II, shared interventions on topics ranging from peer leadership to Regents preparation. Christine, a second-year veteran of the Counseling Network, presented her curriculum and leadership of the school’s Student Life Seminar (advisory) Program, a project that was born through her participation in the Counselors Network the previous year.

“I did not expect for my proposal and presentation to become the structure for our Student Life Seminar this year, but I was pleased that it had,” she said. “The Counselors Network and Professional Learning Showcase allowed me the space to research and think critically about what I thought our freshmen scholars needed, and then put it into action.This second time around, I was much more relaxed because the showcases allow us to show a little piece of what we have been working on all year, while receiving critical feedback from colleagues.”

“It’s important for us to model this powerful feature of routines at the network level because it gives the adults an experience parallel to that of their students when we ask them to engage in challenge-based learning, ” said Kathy Rodriguez, program officer of student support.

Students at New Visions charter high schools identify real world problems and, at the end of every trimester, make presentations to their peers and community members about proposed solutions to those problems. The counselors and APs presenting at the showcases experience a similar learning process and provide audience members from varied perspectives a deeper understanding of the daily experience at the schools.

“These presentations really demonstrate the thoughtfulness of the schools’ efforts and the belief that blending the counselors’ social emotional learning work into the day-to-day school experience makes a difference,” said Mimi Corcoran, New Visions’ vice president of talent development.

After February’s showcase, counselors and APs and counselors synthesized the feedback they received and incorporated it into the next iteration of their projects, some of which will become their presentations at a second showcase later this year.

The next Professional Learning Showcase will take place on May 18 at 5:30 p.m. To register for the May 18 Showcase, click here.  If you have questions about the showcase, please contact David Rothauser at drothauser@newvisions.org or Marina Galazidis at mgalazidis@newvisions.org.

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