Developing Teacher Leaders & More Inclusive Curriculum by Rewriting History

When I went to graduate school to become a teacher, I didn’t enroll because I wanted to be a leader. I enrolled in the course of study to learn how to teach social studies. I wanted to learn how to pass along all the important lessons of history to a new generation. As any good student would, I learned all the pedagogical theories, tried different strategies for engagement, read up on classroom management strategies, and developed interesting lessons. When I was a full-time teacher, if someone had asked me what made me a teacher, I would have probably rattled off some lines about my pedagogical stance, my content knowledge, and my classroom management techniques. I wouldn’t have thought beyond the surface, and stuck to the visible things that jump out at us when we think we are seeing a good teacher teach. 

Whether I knew it or not, my ability to be a strong teacher was very much tied to my ability to be a leader. As I spent more and more years in the classroom, what I was really honing were my leadership skills. It wasn’t just because there were six different groups of 35 kids that I had to wrangle with every day or because I was the only adult in the room for six hours a day. It was because, as it turns out, leadership is the very essence of teaching. Without my ability to lead, I wouldn’t have lasted in the classroom for more than a few weeks.

Last month, teachers, school leaders, and other education stakeholders from 17 different states convened in Chicago for a weekend coordinated by the U.S. Department of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). The teacher leadership summit, aptly named Teach to Lead, focused on exploring leadership roles outside of the four walls of the classroom. The theme of the summit, “Inclusion, Equity, and Opportunity,” meant that that all attendees were united in the goal of making the world a more fair place for kids of all kinds to thrive. The summit itself was less of a conference and more of an idea incubator. The event provided an opportunity to engage with speakers and experts around why inclusion, equity, and opportunity are important. We were given tools, human capital and support, and a space to plan and scale ideas into living, breathing, pliable projects for us to bring back to our hometowns.

Projects ranged from greater mental health services for students, to getting more students of color and young women into STEM programs, to our project for New Visions for Public Schools: Rewriting History - Expanding the Story of the United States.

Before we left for the summit in Chicago, a few colleagues asked me what our project was all about. I tried to formulate a sound bite, but I struggled. It was an idea that my teacher leaders, who participate in the New Visions U.S. History Curriculum, had brought to me, but I was honestly unsure how it would work. The idea was too big. We wanted to make curriculum resources for U.S. History teachers that addressed the stories of marginalized groups. However, we didn’t know which marginalized groups to pick, how to structure the curricular resources, how to disseminate the materials, or even how to train teachers to integrate these materials into their courses. 

While we were in Chicago, something magical happened. The three teacher leaders who joined me came alive in a space where they weren’t worrying about grading, making the bus home in time to pick up their kids, or calling parents. We sat down and molded our idea into a pliable working plan. 

When we left Chicago, we had articulated the problem, had a shared understanding of our goal, and were able to verbalize what success and student impact would look like if we were successful. At our first meeting after the summit, we sat down and started from a place of strength.

Rewriting History: Expanding the Story of the United States will provide model curricular resources for U.S. History teachers to learn how to include the history of marginalized groups within the traditional scope and sequence of a history course. Our teacher leaders are going to pick events from eras of U.S. history and rewrite a lesson from the perspective of a marginalized group; for example, the Constitution, from the perspective of an African American or Native American in 1776, the Civil War from the perspective of a woman, the Progressive Era and Industrialization from the perspective of an Asian or Latino immigrant, and the Cold War & Civil Rights era from the perspective of LGBTQ Americans.* After training teachers in how the teacher leaders created these lessons, teachers who attend a professional development workshop hosted by these same teacher leaders will be tasked with creating their own lesson on a historical event from the perspective of a marginalized group. 

At the end of the summit, I was reflecting on my experience.  Before I had gone there, I wasn’t sure if all teachers were leaders. While I was at the summit, I realized leadership was intertwined with teaching.  And that teachers were incredibly powerful leaders and that they simply had to decide to use their power.

Gloria Canales, one of the New Visions teacher leaders at the summit, walked away realizing her power as she remarked that all it takes is "one voice to ripple out to transform the world." Andrea Wilson, another teacher leader, “came away with a renewed sense of purpose and new perspectives on teaching and social justice.”

Our team's challenge now will be to develop these inclusive resources and then motivate other teachers to create spaces that promote a culturally inclusive curriculum in which these resources can be leveraged. Please stay tuned for more information regarding the development of these resources and how you can integrate them into your U.S. History curriculum.

About the Author:
Aruna Arjunan serves as an instructional specialist responsible for developing and implementing New Visions U.S. History Curriculum in New York City schools. Prior to working at New Visions, she taught  in both neighborhood and magnet schools in Philadelphia for eight years. She holds a B.A. in cognitive science and economic history from the University of Rochester and an M.S. in secondary social studies education from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Photo:
Pictured Left to Right: Andrea Wilson (The Young Women's Leadership School in East Harlem), Jatera Simmons (Bronx Latin), and Gloria Canales (Business of Sports School)

*Note: These historical eras were selected because they are the five most tested eras on the New York State regents exam.

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