BLTN: Changing Lives and Changing Systems

May 28th, 2021 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Featured, Spring 2021

Bread Loaf Teacher Network fellows compose reflective reports at key moments in a year. At the close of summer, they reflect on their BLSE course learning and they propose collaborative plans for projects and exchanges in the year ahead. At mid-year, they share their learning from the first half of the year, often using that occasion to adapt to the realities of the school year (some years more “real” than others!). Finally, they close out their fellowship year with a retrospective report. 

We’re often amazed–as we track the work of BLTN teachers–at the broad reaching impacts of fellows’ teaching plans. It turns out that thoughtful plans for collaborative learning and equitable anti-racist practices not only change student lives, but they also tend to move systems in the direction of empathy, equity, and humanity. 

The slides below capture seeds of system change planted by several of our 2020-21 BLTN Fellows. After the slides, we highlight the work of two Massachusetts fellows, Genithia Hogges and Kurt Ostrow.

BLTN Fellows Seeding System Change

Genithia Hogges: Kindness and Justice

Genithia Hogges teaches music at Spark Academy in Lawrence, MA. She is a 2020-21 BLTN Esperanza Fellow.

From January through April, I have been responsible for designing advisory sessions for all grade levels. The themes chosen by the  administration are kindness and seeking justice (two of the school’s six values), so I have designed  a series of sessions that build from self-compassion (as a component of positive identity) to kindness towards others, and then to seeking justice. The sessions also invite advisors and advisees to do family interviews and share about where they and their families are from and what brought them to the United States. This provides all of us – students and adults alike – with the  opportunity to learn more about our family heritage and allows us to share about the ways in which we are unique and the things we have in common. I’m hopeful that this sort of sharing  will lay a foundation for authentic learning communities among students and faculty and move us in the direction of Restorative Justice to replace our school’s current demerit-based behavior management system.

Here are two slide decks from the series, the first emphasizing kindness and a growth mindset, and the second, from later in series, connecting identity, family history, and social justice.

Kurt Ostrow: Stories from the Inside

Kurt Ostrow teaches English at BMC Durefee High School in Fall River, MA. He is a 2020-21 BLTN Macrorie Fellow.

Kurt Ostrow, who teaches at BMC Durfee High School in Fall River, MA, reported, “As part of the Diversity and Equity labor-management committee, I am facilitating a Storytelling for Social Justice workshop with 16 participating educators in the district; we are writing and sharing stories about our lives, inspired by stories written by my former students. The high school will also be offering Afro-American Studies next year as an elective, building on the ethnic studies program we launched last year with Latinx Studies and LGBTQ Studies.” 

Kurt’s publications influence educators from BLTN, to the national and international audiences of WBUR in Boston, Rethinking Schools, and The New York Times. Kurt wrote in February,  “I published an article in Rethinking Schools — “A Field Trip to the Future” — about a creative writing lesson on police abolition, part of my Another World is Possible unit. I presented on something similar at BLTN, and Cole Moran and Shaleisa Brewer have shared with me that they took some of my prompts and ran with them! I loved hearing that.”

Kurt shared some of the other articles he published this year, particularly about teachers’ access to the vaccine and the role teachers can play in the broader vaccination campaign. With Emily Berman — a high school science teacher in Chicago public schools — he then designed an interdisciplinary lesson set designed to boost students’ confidence in the vaccine, a version of which appeared on the New York Times Learning Network.

As Kurt transitions from high school teaching to an MFA program at The Ohio State University, we asked him about how publishing and sharing curricular innovations have mattered to him in his secondary teaching practice.

“My boss always says she thinks I’m going to become an administrator someday. She’s wrong about that, but she’s right that I hope to make change beyond the four walls of my own classroom. I see the teachers union as my primary vehicle for that — and now writing, too. After I study creative nonfiction, I hope to return to the high school English classroom in order to continue to tell stories of public education from the inside.” 

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