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Training helps teachers develop "culturally relevant" classrooms


Before teachers can turn around struggling CMSD schools, they need to understand the lives of the children they are trying to reach, a University of San Francisco professor said Friday.

Noah Borrero, an associate professor of urban education and social justice, led a daylong training session -- the last of four -- for two of CMSD’s 23 Investment Schools. The designation applies to low-performing schools singled out for intensive intervention under The Cleveland Plan, a state-approved blueprint for reform.

Borrero helped teachers from Luis Muñoz Marin K-8 School and Lincoln-West High School work on strategies for developing relationships and educating children whose lives away from school are often complicated by trauma. He distinguished between “aesthetic” and “authentic” caring for students.

“If your caring is aesthetic, maybe you are caring about your kids on your terms,” the former Bay Area teacher told a crowd in the auditorium at Lincoln-West. “Authentic caring goes to the level of ‘I love you for who you are.’ "

The Center for Transformative Teacher Training is a “turnaround partner” working with four Investment Schools, including Luis Muñoz Marin. CEO Kristyn Klei Borrero, Noah’s wife, said the group often deals with districts whose teachers “don’t share the cultural or economic backgrounds of their students.”

The “demographic divide” in education is a growing problem nationwide, according to a report released this month by the Center for American Progress.

A District breakdown shows that about two thirds of CMSD teachers (1,914 of 2,925 total teachers) are white. Of the remainder,  807 are black and 117 are Hispanic. In contrast, 70 percent of the nearly 40,000 students are black and 14 percent are Hispanic.

After the 160 teachers broke into small groups, Professor Borrero moved from classroom to classroom, thanking them for their involvement. He said his goal was to get teachers to “reflect on the practice” and devise strategies tailored to Cleveland.

Luis Muñoz Marin Principal Jeffery Keruski said he greets all of the school’s 600-plus students with a handshake each day, part of an effort to show that every child matters. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the students recite a “mission statement” that talks about a willingness to go to college and give back to the community.

A school cultural plan sets consistent expectations for matters as basic as how to walk in a hall or enter a classroom. And before taking stronger steps, teachers try to correct students’ inappropriate behavior by pointing out classmates who are following procedure -- an approach called “positive narration” that is taught by the Center for Transformative Teacher Training.
The results have been striking, Keruski said. He said only one student missed recent state testing -- compared with last year when he said the school had to “chase kids down” -- and behavior is dramatically improved.

“We have seen significant drops in discipline problems,” Keruski said. “The culture of the building is about learning.”