Oakland Teachers Designing for Student Agency

What stood out was the great energy of the presenters. It really gave me enormous hope for the teaching profession and the future.”
— Miko Lee, Executive Director, Youth in Arts

On Saturday, May 4, at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland, educators from across the Bay Area came to engage with our 2018- 2019 fellows' inquiry work and leadership through a morning of ignite talks, workshops, and documentation booths.

“Connecting with new people is the best part. We live in a rich community of art and design and it’s great to see what people are doing.”
— Laura Garcia, Teaching Artist, Museum of Children’s Art (MoCHA)
Can we get copies of these talks? They were incredible!”
— Catherine Rice, Art Teacher, Madison Park Academy
Both of my workshops were fun and immediately applicable to my work.”
— Nico Janik, TK-8 Makerspaces/Engineering Coordinator, Ravenswood School District
Unlike a lot of maker related initiatives, Agency by Design Oakland uses making in a way that opens the door to having conversations about systems of power and students, which is so needed in this world.”
— Angi Chau, I-Lab Director, Nueva School

PHOTOGRAPHY by Yasser Alwan, Melhik Hailu, Nico Chen

2019 - 2020 Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship Application; Deadline Extended—Due 5/24

Agency by Design Oakland is gathering a 2019 - 2020 cohort of Oakland educators to participate in a professional learning community focused on learner agency through maker-centered learning. The core of the experience is teacher action research, in which educators lead their own inquiry cycles dependent on their interests and students’ needs.

Throughout the year fellows will delve into the pedagogical framework and instructional strategies outlined in the book Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds, the product of years of collaboration with researchers at Project Zero, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From implementing thinking routines to helping students find opportunity to remake the world around them, fellows will gain an understanding of how to design for agency. Because these practices are adaptable and powerful for all grade levels and disciplines, fellows need not teach in any sort of "maker" classroom, but be open to experimenting with new ideas and hands-on learning. Over the year fellows will experiment within their practice and reflect with the learning cohort.

Returning fellows will focus on leadership and school site change. These educators will be invited and supported in bringing these ideas back to their colleagues, which may include sharing frameworks, leading a PD, strategizing with school leadership, or other school site engagement.

All fellows will share their inquiries and leadership through an end-of-year community event and online presence. Please attend our 2018 - 2019 Fellowship Culminating Event on Saturday, May 4, 2019 to learn more! There will be ignite talks, workshops, and documentation displays. Check out the Eventbrite page for more information and to RSVP.

Details:

This fellowship will take place from August 2019 to May 2020 and is open to all Oakland public school educators, both district and charter. A limited number of Oakland private school educators may also be invited. While this application will be considered on an individual basis, we encourage teams of 2-3 educators to apply. Teams can include coaches and/or leadership. Returning fellows focused on leadership are especially encouraged to invite others from their site to apply.

We are currently seeking school partnerships to cultivate learner-centered practices over time. These partnerships include guaranteed teacher seats in the fellowship, one-on-one and small group coaching, school site professional development, and leadership support. Please email info@abdoakland.org to discuss your school’s needs and available grants.

Fellows will receive a stipend of $1,000 stipend for their participation. In addition, continuing education units (CEUs) from Sonoma State University will be available for purchase. Fellows will also have access to one-on-one coaching. For Title 1 schools, a substitute stipend or sub code, for three release days, will be made available. Childcare for after-school meetings is available upon request.

Agency by Design Oakland Fellows will commit to:

  • Attend three full-day professional developments throughout the school year. A substitute stipend or sub code for all three days will be made available to Title I schools. Dates will be announced early August.

  • Attend nine Tuesday after-school sessions, roughly once a month, 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. Dates and locations will be announced in early August.

  • Participate in and attend a culminating event showcasing inquiry work in May, 2020.

  • Engage in inquiry related to learner-centered practice and maker-centered learning, experiment within classroom practice, and reflect and share with the cohort.  

  • Create “Pictures of Practice” documenting inquiry work, with the goal of sharing research with a broader audience, at both the culminating event and online. Possibilities include: writing a blog post, teaching a workshop, recording a podcast, or doing an ignite talk.

Application:

Please read through the Agency by Design Oakland and Agency by Design websites to learn about our work before completing the application.

The application questions are listed below to allow you the opportunity to think through what you hope to gain from this experience. Please submit your answers via Google form using the links below. The Application Deadline has been extended until Friday, May 24th, 5 pm. Accepted applicants will be notified by May 30, 2019.

Questions? Email info@abdoakland.org

For prospective fellows:

  1. Please describe your teaching and learning context, including population demographics, learning needs, community culture, etc.

  2. Does your school have an existing makerspace, maker program, or other related curricular initiative (project-based learning, arts integration, expeditionary learning, etc)? If so, please briefly describe. If you already incorporate maker-centered learning into your practice, please tell us how you are doing so.

  3. How might your learners benefit from your participation as an Agency by Design Oakland Fellow?

  4. What would you hope to gain from the Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship experience?

  5. What about maker-centered learning resonates with you as an educator?

  6. It is important that participants understand the time commitment involved with this experience and that Fellows are expected to attend all of the meetings and sessions listed above in full in order to get the full experience of the fellowship and build community with the cohort. How do you see this fellowship integrating into your anticipated schedule and workload?

For returning fellows:

  1. If you are changing schools please update your school’s demographic information.

  2. How are you incorporating maker-centered learning into your classroom practice?

  3. What impact did your previous participation in the fellowship have on your learners, and how do you know?

  4. Does your school have an existing makerspace, maker program, or other related curricular initiative (project-based learning, arts integration, expeditionary learning, etc.)? If you already incorporate maker-centered learning into your practice, please tell us how you are doing so.

  5. What are your personal leadership interests and goals?

  6. Please provide some context for your school’s instructional leadership. What opportunities and barriers are there for cultivating maker-centered learning at your school site?

  7. Please describe why you are interested in maker-centered learning leadership at your school. What might you want to explore through your work in the fellowship and what would success look like?

  8. What kinds of supports might the Agency by Design Oakland Leadership Team provide to you and your school?

  9. It is important that participants understand the time commitment involved with this experience and that Fellows are expected to attend all of the meetings and sessions listed above in full, in order to get the full experience of the fellowship and build community with the cohort. How do you see this fellowship integrating into your current or anticipated schedule and workload?

Making As an Act of Healing

Written by Nico Chen, Program Coordinator, Agency by Design Oakland

When our teacher fellows came back together in March the Oakland teacher strike was still looming largely in our minds. While our professional development curricula often focuses on critical thinking, content knowledge and instilling agency in our school communities, we are reminded during this crucial time to repair our educator community through joy and creativity. We asked, “how do we, as an educator community focused on maker-centered learning, begin to heal, remain resilient, and find the agency to rebuild our seemingly broken systems?”

Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s recent talk at OUSD Office of Equity’s Culturally Responsive Practice Series reminds us that while educators should remain student-centered, we must also attend to our own socio-emotional well-being — especially during this post-strike period where our systems are still rebuilding. “Adult providers need healing too!” Ginwright writes in his article The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. “Healing centered engagement requires that we consider how to support adult providers in sustaining their own healing and well-being.”

When we reconvened with our teacher fellows for a daylong meeting of teacher inquiry, we started by facilitating a restorative healing activity: making mindful nature mandalas. This arts-integrated practice is not new — we learned it in the Integrated Learning Specialist Program, from Jessa Brie Moreno of Studio Pathways, who learned it from Dr. Monique LeSarre of Rafiki Wellness and the California Institute of Integral Studies.

“You’re doing a phenomenal job at creating a safe space for us,” says Jane Lee, Instructional Coach at Roots International Academy, a school facing closure at the end of this 2018-2019 school year. “Even starting with a mandala…[it made me think about] how many people in the US actually even know what a mandala is—versus thinking it’s stupid?”

Agency  by  Design Oakland Fellows participate in nature mindful mandalas as a restorative community healing activity before and during their teacher inquiry during a March daylong meeting.

Agency by Design Oakland Fellows participate in nature mindful mandalas as a restorative community healing activity before and during their teacher inquiry during a March daylong meeting.

While much of our March daylong focused on the intellectual heavy-lifting of teacher action research, we returned to the joys of making in our midday design challenge. Using the prompt “make something that balances on your head that shows where you are with your inquiry,” our teacher fellows synthesized their inquiry-in-process through structural headpieces.

Seeing our fellows’ joys in their creations, we also return to Ginwright’s healing centered engagement. He writes, “we know very little about the systems of support required to restore and sustain well-being for adults. Healing centered engagement has an explicit focus on restoring, and sustaining the adults who attempt to heal youth — a healing the healers approach.” While there is not much “data” on what systems of support are required to restore and sustain well-being for adults, Agency by Design Oakland aspires to be a system of support for our community of Oakland educators.

As we continue forth with our teacher fellowship, we are continually reminded of the importance of Ginwright’s healing centered engagement when engaging our educators with maker-centered learning. One major affordance of maker-centered learning is all the joy and creativity that emerges from students and teachers alike, and it remains an integral part of our mission. Says Julia Cheng, Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow, “One thing I enjoy in this professional development is that it goes deeper than content. It allows us to explore our deeper pedagogical approaches to why we teach, and that’s humanizing.”

As we near the end of this year’s fellowship calendar, we invite you to come see what our teacher fellows have been innovating at our upcoming culminating event (see details below), and to come share in their joy and creativity.

Poster Version (11x17).jpg

Post Strike Reflections: Why Systems Thinking Matters

By Brooke Toczylowski & Paula Mitchell

A year and a half ago, when we established Agency by Design Oakland, we situated ourselves inside the system. This is why both our executive director, Brooke Toczylowski, and our fellowship director, Paula Mitchell—who are “Teachers on Special Assignment” and therefore a part of the union within the Oakland Unified School District—went on strike at the end of February. We went on strike to improve the Oakland educational system by advocating for more in-school supports for students and a respectable wage for teachers. It is a pivotal time for public education in California and the nation. This is a unique moment where we have the opportunity to activate our communities and act on our collective agency to help change inequitable systems.

At Agency by Design Oakland we believe best practices and new ideas thrive on cross-pollination, so we work with district-run schools, innovative charters, and the occasional independent school. But we are especially focused on the teachers and students at district-run schools who have had less access and less flexibility to implement forward-thinking research models. We are committed to investing our resources in developing high-quality, reflective teachers who offer their learners opportunities to understand and remake the world around them. And the strike has provided yet another backdrop to highlight the importance of our work and why our framework—which focuses on developing a sensitivity to the design of objects and systems—is essential for times like these.

It is a pivotal time for public education in California and the nation. This is a unique moment where we have the opportunity to activate our communities and act on our collective agency to help change inequitable systems.

Fellowship Director, Paula Mitchell and Executive Director, Brooke Toczylowski, picketing at Grass Valley Elementary School during the Oakland Education Association’s 7-day strike, from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

Fellowship Director, Paula Mitchell and Executive Director, Brooke Toczylowski, picketing at Grass Valley Elementary School during the Oakland Education Association’s 7-day strike, from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

Knowing the history of an institution and the forces at play is necessary when examining ways to make systemic change. The Oakland Unified School District has had system-wide issues around the equitable distribution of resources for decades. Years of underfunding due to the 1978 passage of Proposition 13 helped contribute to an untenable financial situation that ended in state receivership and a $100 million loan from Sacramento whose shadow still hangs over OUSD. Recent mismanagement at the district level—including gross overspending—put the city’s schools in even greater peril. Soaring housing costs and stagnant wages, meanwhile, have contributed to a teacher retention that is concentrated at the schools with the greatest needs and the most vulnerable learners. When teachers don’t receive the support they need and subsequently leave, these schools and students must figure out a way to deal with almost constant instability.

Paula has been here before; during her second year of full-time teaching in 1996 the union went on strike for 6 weeks. Listen more to her journey and experience with that strike and the current situation on her recent podcast interview with the GR project.

Despite this, we are seeing evidence of agency and empowerment all around us. From the successful United Teachers of Los Angeles strike in January to the powerful, sustained efforts of the Roots International Academy community in advocating for their school to remain open, people are becoming activated in ways that are raising the level of action and demands for our futures. Examining systems in order to find ways to leverage teacher and student empowerment and agency is critical to the mission of Agency by Design Oakland. The strike offered a real-life example of how teachers and students can learn more about the system they’re engaged in every day and figure out how to affect positive change.

A key aspect of the Agency by Design framework, and one that sets it apart from other maker-centered or project-based pedagogies, is its focus on systems. In the run-up to the strike, during a January daylong workshop with our fellows at Frick Middle School, we asked teachers to use the Parts Perspectives Me and Parts People Interactions thinking routines to look closely at a variety of systems, including those connected to the strike. After digging in and identifying the many parts and perspectives connected to their chosen system, participants then found opportunity through an Imagine If… prompt. Instead of building a model, we asked participants to use theater tableaus or skits to demonstrate their understanding of the systems and how they would redesign them, which they presented back to the group.  

Teacher fellows using Agency by Design tools and theater to engage in systems thinking around issues involving the strike.

One group, for example, looked at maps describing the distribution of charter schools and campaign contributions across the city—and ended up talking in depth about resources shared (and not) between charter and district schools. Ultimately, our goal is for educators to bring a systems focus back to their classroom so learners can better understand and remake the world around them. As one teacher reflected, "The best part was the opportunities to participate as student learners as we practiced systems thinking routines because it provided me the chance to think about how these structures could be translated to my computer science classroom."

Now more than ever, understanding systems—how they are designed, how they function, and how they interact with one another—is the key to creating change.

Throughout the strike we saw teachers and students engaging in the system in new ways. But one display of student agency was particularly moving. On March 4, the first day back to school after the seven-day strike, the school board met to vote on proposed cuts that would eliminate programs supporting Asian and Pacific Islanders, Foster Youth, Restorative Justice and libraries—and hundreds of high school students organized their own walkout and marched to the school board meeting to protest these cuts.

Student board member Yota Omosowho speaking passionately to the crowd of students about taking on the system and fighting the cuts to student services the board passed moments before. Board member Roseann Torres speaks in support after.

The line of students waiting to speak stretched around the auditorium as student after student spoke about the impact these programs had on their lives. Some pleaded with the board and left the podium in tears, needing to be supported by their friends. Others spoke with fire and passion, refusing to give up the floor even when their mic was cut, turning directly to the crowd to be heard. All the students showed a depth of knowledge about the programs on the chopping block and both plainly and eloquently spoke in support of initiatives that have impacted them so positively.

In the end, the cuts passed. But the student engagement in this moment is evidence of a growing awareness around the systems at play and how one might find opportunity to remake them. The students at this board meeting, who perhaps before the strike knew little about the state of the district’s funding, learned from the strike how to show up and use their voices to demand a change. We did that. We teachers, through our actions, modeled for the students how to do that—and they took the baton and ran with it.  Now more than ever, understanding systems—how they are designed, how they function, and how they interact with one another—is the key to creating change.

Learn more about K-12 systems thinking tools and activities here, or check out the book Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds, which showcases Oakland teachers’ case studies.