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The Rising Tide

SUNY – Masters Program @ Lincoln, Cohort 1

By: Agustina Matavos, Ana Moyano, Belén Rivero y Hornos, Laura Rock, Naomi Barbour, Cristina Erazo and Barbara Noel


Introduction (by Barbara Noel)

This Saturday morning, at Starbucks, on a sunny spring morning cyclists, joggers and families come in to start their long weekend with frappuccinos to-go. Instead, SUNY masters students hunch over the long table clutching their lattes as they peer into each other’s literature reviews and research plans. They have been studying together since October 2014 and are now reaching the end of their program. Someone pipes up with the following anecdote that colleagues frequently ask questions running along the following lines: “Was it worthwhile going through the master’s program?” This is an important question to answer with two other cohorts coming behind and in the midst of a lot of extra work at school.

Upon hearing their discussion, the following quote comes to mind and I’m reminded that our program promotes a continuous dialogue between what teachers have been studying and the changes we are implementing toward our new school direction.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” John F. Kennedy

Our discussion turns toward examining the direct impact on student learning. It then turns toward exploring the program effect on professional collaboration and collective teacher efficacy across all divisions and content areas in English and in Spanish. The following sections bring you into our mocha-infused discussion and attest to this ripple effect showing how Lincoln’s goal for creating One School-One Curriculum is becoming a reality.

A chance for genuine collaboration across the school (by Naomi Barbour)

How often we have heard the call for greater collaboration across the three divisions of Lincoln School: elementary, middle and high. During my time here, different plans have been put in place to try and foster the exchange of ideas, experiences and knowledge between the sectors. But in reality it has been a challenge for us. So it struck me as I sat around the table at Starbucks with colleagues from elementary, middle and high school – the past four years have been what we’ve been striving for all this time: a genuine and positive collaborative experience. I’ve learned so much from my teachers on this course, but I’ve also learned a great deal from my classmates. It’s clear that there are many benefits of this kind of extended shared learning experience, not just on a personal level, but for the school as a whole. We’ve had a chance to delve into all the current research in our areas and discuss its implications for our classrooms, as well as align our approach across the school. The impact has been felt most strongly in the support of our multilingual learners. We’ve moved very firmly away from a deficit-based model, where English Language Learners need to be “fixed” before they can join the rest of their classmates. Instead, we’ve incorporated models of scaffolding, differentiation, co-planning and co-teaching into our everyday activities. This all involves other teachers who aren’t our SUNY classmates, spreading the impact of the course. Of course, the most important outcomes are felt by our students, who are now taught by teachers with a deep appreciation of the strengths that they bring to our school and a greater awareness of how to support them in accessing the benefits of their multilingualism. Over the coming months, I’ll be carrying out action research related to the use of metacognition to encourage oral participation in class and will write up the results as my thesis. As the course nears completion, I want to thank the talented and dedicated women who have been my companions on this course and also the school for giving me this opportunity to keep learning.

An Opportunity for Growth – (by Belen Rivero y Hornos)

Lots has changed since starting the SUNY master’s program three years ago, but as I reflect back, the most striking difference is my role as an educator. In 2014 I was working as a first grade aide. My background had been in social work, not education, so when school offered this opportunity I was quick to sign up. And I’m so glad I did. Despite the stress of deadlines and the countless weekends devoted to classes, the benefits of having undertaken this endeavor are well worth it. That’s not to say it was easy. Juggling a full time job, a part-time master’s program, and a new baby hasn’t been a breeze. I needed a big support group to stay on track. Thanks to understanding professors, lovely colleagues, and an encouraging husband, I was able to pursue my personal desire for growth. Today I’m working in the High School Language and Learning Center. This professional growth is completely related to my participation in the master’s program. The skills I learned over the years have had a direct impact on my ability to do my job well, and have, therefore, directly affected students as well. Since participating in this program I have learned to be more reflective, collaborative, and resourceful. I’ve noticed a change outside of myself as well. Many of my colleagues come to me for ways to improve student learning, they receive me well in their classrooms, and involve me in their planning meetings. Thanks to a reflective assignment for our most recent course, I experienced a sort of cognitive shift where I finally understood my own self-efficacy. The confidence I have now as an educator could only come from being well informed and up to date on research and strategies related to language acquisition. I am currently working on an action research project where I’m intertwining my interests in education and psychology. Through the rest of the school year I will be investigating ways to improve student’s self-efficacy as a result of being more engaged in class.

An Inspiring, Challenging, and Highly Rewarding Journey (by Ana Moyano)

The superintendent’s email arrived in my mailbox. It was an invitation to be part of the first cohort in the Multidisciplinary Master’s program. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of starting a “high-quality professional development opportunity designed to meet the needs of teachers, working in an ever-changing teaching environment”, as he described it. A week after, I was doing all the necessary paperwork for entering the SUNY program. Almost four years later, I find myself writing my thesis, feeling proud of not only what I have accomplished but also how much I have grown as an educator. Taking part of the Master’s program has undoubtedly impacted my teaching: it has provided me with a great amount of theoretical and research based knowledge regarding the latest and most efficient practices, which I can now share with some of my colleagues, and, on occasions, with parents at conferences. What is more, not only has it reconfirmed my passion for this profession but most importantly, it has reaffirmed my commitment to advocating for our English learners. The Master’s program has helped me to discover the different ways learners can develop their academic language, and gave me the confidence to share it with content teachers to make input more comprehensible in their classes. This year, a new practice of collaboration was implemented in the 8th grade Math class. The ELL, Math teacher and I are collaborating to provide the necessary scaffolds for our ELLs and Learning Center students. Our shared goal is that every student in that class, despite their language or learning needs, is capable of meeting grade level standards while developing their academic language. This became the focus of study for my thesis, as I am very enthusiastic about being part of this committed team and eager to see the results on students’ achievement. My great take away is the plethora of strategies and tools that have already been incorporated into my practice, knowing the rationale behind their use and the positive effect on my students. I feel truly thankful for this professional development opportunity offered to Lincoln staff!!

A Shared Path to Lifelong Learning (by Cristina Erazo)

Often times studying a postgraduate program is a lonely journey; however, being part of the SUNY masters has been the opposite. This adventure has been full of professional and personal interactions, and has led to the building of professional capacity through shared work and much enthusiasm for our careers and jobs. The most powerful effect of the program on my practice is the professional web I now feel part of, which provides a solid foundation for continually rethinking and improving my work. The whole process made me reframe the way I monitor students’ progress, design my lessons, collaborate with teams of teachers on differentiating for our learning support students, and more importantly, given me the tools to create innovative systems of support based on technology and language for learning. One such system is providing students with language strategies to promote their participation in the collaborative learning that increases day by day at Lincoln. In my Study Skills class, students now use of self-recorded videos for oral presentation skills and academic conversations. They audio record through engaging apps that help students listen to their own thinking to then build clearer and more complete discourse using academic language that we scaffold for them. Also, students are now more aware of how to resource their home languages to support their learning. It is all about metacognitive growth. 

Approaching the end of the masters program, I have decided to focus my interest on student questions. I plan to evaluate the effectiveness of language scaffolds facilitating students to ask thought-provoking questions to channel their interests toward authentic learning. I am grateful that, thanks to the knowledge I acquired through this program, I can undertake this study and help create opportunities for full participation and equity in our collaborative classrooms.

Transformative Learning and Collaboration- (by Laura Rock)

Four years ago I sat in the first class of the SUNY Master’s program ready to learn new ideas and ways of working with our ELL population at the Highschool level. I was excited with the direction our school was purposefully embarking on- designing programs to purposefully take into account our language and learning students. I had a new colleague working with me in the Center, the fifth ELL Support/ English teacher in seven years, and we would be taking the course together. I hoped that this shared experience would allow us to build on a common understanding to devise a collaborative direction for the High School Language and Learning Center. Little did I know then that taking these courses together would not only meet that goal, but would be the beginning of a new and transformative direction for the Center. Our shared passion and belief in our students was the building block in defining the direction, and this Master’s program rested on that, providing us with current research and a space for dialogue to reach a common understanding. Another issue I hoped would be addressed was how to better meet the needs of students who lacked academic language skills in not only English, but in their native language as well, and if this lack of academic knowledge was the primary reason for their learning disability, and if not, how much of a role was it playing. These courses allowed me to delve into the research and practice around this question and have given me the confidence to address these complex issues more cohesively.

The program itself been transformative for the manner in which I address students and their teachers, building my competence in seeking out ways to collaborate. One department I have focused on has been the Math Department, specifically with grade 9 and 10 teachers, in creating vocabulary and discourse assistance for writing Math essays. As my collaboration with these teachers has increased, my curiosity has piqued into finding concrete ways to increase the analytical and higher order thinking skills that students need to be successful in High School Math classes. Prominent current researchers in the field of Mathematics have concluded that students with solid skills in working with fractions go on to develop these necessary skills. For this reason, my research project will be about looking for patterns and effects when High School Language and Learning students are provided with mini classes designed to reinforce and strengthen their competencies in working with fractions, by primarily focusing on building conceptual mastery. Regardless of the outcome of this project the sharing of a common purpose, collegiality among fellow teachers and growing collaboration in the high school has made this endeavor more than worth of my time and effort. 

Una Vuelta de Tuerca a mi Experiencia Educativa – (by Agustina Matavos)

[A Complete Turn in my Educational Experience]

Four years have gone by since this journey began. I remember our superintendent’s meeting with the ES Spanish department encouraging us to take a leap, to challenge ourselves and so I did. I have always loved teaching. Sharing my passion for the Spanish language and Argentine culture with my diverse group of students has been fulfilling. The SUNY program allowed me to expand my expertise while doing what I love. With each course I took I could see how my own educational beliefs and teaching practice were reshaped and the impact it had on my students’ learning. During this journey, not only was I changing, but the school was too. The Spanish department was restructured, shifting from a proficiency level structure to a more inclusive one: the immersion classroom. This was a new challenge but I felt prepared. The SUNY Master’s program of study had provided me with methods and strategies based on current research to better meet my students’ need.

Due to a deep process of contemplation and self-reflection on my own practice during these four years, a question lingers: Am I providing my students with the best learning experience? This is the fundamental question leading me to where I am now. I am currently working on an action research project on the effect of pre-assessment and formative assessment on differentiation and its impact on student performance in the Immersion classroom.

Looking back, I can say that being part of this group has proven to be a most rewarding experience. Not only did I grow stronger and more confident on my own skills as a teacher, but I got to know colleagues from different school divisions and departments which otherwise I would not have had the chance to do. We collaborated, exchanged thoughts and ideas, laughed, but moreover I learned from them. It was with them and thanks to their support that I grew as a professional and a person. I am thankful to the school for this unique and enriching opportunity.

Conclusion

The energy we feel at the end of our Starbucks Saturday is more than caffeinated because it is fueled by the sense that our professional identity aligns with moral purpose and rising mastery. As we turn out the door, we catch a glimpse of Rio de la Plata dotted with colorful kitesurfers and sailboats. The tide is in and ripples toward the banks.

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