Student Voice Leadership Project Proposal

Essential Question


“What practices best support the development of student voice and leadership?”



    Your personal journey to the question…


I’m not exactly sure when opening a school first became my goal.  I remember thinking about it when I was struggling through my first teaching job.  I looked at the poor little school where I worked and I remember wondering why we did what we did, who decides and how I would do things differently if I could.  In particular, I remember Morning Call each Monday, when the whole school met on the main field to kick off the week. I remember watching adult after adult take the microphone and tell the kids what was coming up and what they would be doing.  I was struck by the awards and the cheering, when so many of my students looked disconnected and unengaged in what was happening.  I also remember that the very few students who were trusted with the microphone were the ‘high level’ kids who could easily be scripted into reading what the adults were going to say anyway.  One thing I knew for sure:  my second graders were smart and they knew what they were interested in.  They voted and decided each unit we explored and, when one theme ended, they chomped at the bit to throw out their ideas for what to do next.  What would they do if they could get the WHOLE SCHOOL into their hands?  What was their take on everything from Morning Call to lunch to recess to the playground….

I didn’t say anything about it because I was young and used to an obedience model.  I had been trained, through 18 years of public school, that things are just done a certain way:  adults decide, kids obey.  I really wanted more for those amazing kids but what, after all, could I possibly know about what is best?   I was fresh out of college with only one summer’s worth of teacher training when I entered the school so how could I possibly trust a bunch of elementary school kids to make decisions?

I spent the next 10 years working in a variety of public schools with a similar mentality. From elementary school to high school, from ‘tough’ school to privileged school, everyone I worked with over that time agreed on one flawed axiom:  adults decide, kids obey.  I saw it in vivid relief when I worked at the high school level.  Teaching in a high school steeped in ‘tradition,’ I listened as my student government representatives threw out idea after idea for how to adjust everything from homecoming to the school day.  Each time, school leadership ignored the voices of those most key stakeholders insisting that tradition was more important; that they couldn’t possibly change the way things have always been done.  And yet, I knew that they wanted to change things to connect themselves and their classmates to authentic school and self pride.  I couldn’t help but notice that the students who tapped into those traditions were those who were from families that had always seen school as their domain.  For anyone who was different, the welcome notion of doing something else provided the possibility that they might see themselves reflected in the school they attended too.

Then, in 2008, I started working at High Tech High International in San Diego.  I had left teaching two years earlier, as I had become quite disillusioned with working in a public school setting.  I felt as if I was not making a difference BECAUSE of the work I was doing — I felt like I was helping a select few IN SPITE of the work I was doing.  I was struck by numerous things after visiting High Tech for the first time but highest on that list was my shock over how very empowered and mature the students were.  They were part of their learning environment.  They were valued and respected and so many of them knew they had a voice.  

During this most recent school year, I have struggled with culture building in our tenth grade team..  After exploring the issue with the entire grade level, it seemed that what was most at issue was a lack of trust stemming from a feeling of total loss of power and value.  What has struck me is that I see in the students the same feelings that drove me from the classroom.  They just don’t feel valued or empowered.  They feel like victims of their environment rather than valued components.  This example has led me to wonder about how students really see what we do.  What would they identify as major areas of need and how would they address it with their classmates.  As I continue to work at High Tech, I am grappling with how to develop this student voice in an authentic way.  Admittedly, this leads to the difficult dichotomy of empowerment vs. entitlement.  What I wonder is:  how do we empower students to explore their school and work to make it better without creating students who feel they get to dictate?  How do we make them partners?  

At the High Tech High schools, there are several operating principles.  One of them, Teacher as Designer, says the following:  


[Teachers] step up to lead parts of, or entire staff meetings, PD focus groups, grade level meetings, and study/action groups.  Teachers participate in critical decisions regarding curriculum, assessment, classroom budgets, professional development, advisory, hiring, facilities, student discipline, and other significant areas of the school.


This particular principle has often been implemented through study/action groups which are an integral part of how teachers identify, discuss and ultimately solve school issues they see.  In my first year at HTH, I was struck by the responsibility and empowerment I felt through these groups.  I remember working on the group that wanted to re envision advisory.  At each of our meetings, we shared what we thought and what we saw.  We took the time to look at other models and we brought sources that we felt were most helpful.  To be clear, we certainly didn’t agree on all solutions but we did agree on the need for the work.  Ultimately, we wanted to try to find a solution that worked for our kids and our school.  So, having done everything from digging into D/F lists to understand our patterns to organizing a Career Day, my experience with study groups has taught me the power of teacher identified solutions and the struggles inherent in creating consensus.  The more I felt empowered, the more engaged and solution-oriented I will be.  

I now wonder:  is this same type of work good for kids too?  I certainly do not feel entitled to dictate every decision we must undertake, but I have slowly developed my voice and my ability to engage in this meaningful work.  What would the students do, given the same opportunity?

Over the 16 years I have worked in education, this question of who decides and what is best has stuck with me.  And, as I have grown in confidence, I have wanted to know more and more why we do what we do in schools.  Central to the answer are those that are most integral to the process of education:  teachers and students.  I am now wondering much more about how students’ voices can become part of the conversation as well.  In thinking about what is best for schools, what role can students play in identifying the issues and challenges and then working to come up with a plan to address those issues?  

How could it possibly be that those that are most disconnected (ie. boards and principals) have the most power in deciding what are the problems and what are the solutions?  Currently, I serve as Dean of Students at High Tech High Media Arts.  In theory, since I am not in the classroom nor am I a student, I am one of those disconnected individuals I find to be most suspect.  As I look to the future and the possible opening of my own school one day, I think about how best to facilitate true school leadership driven by the vision of the students.  Typically, as the Dean, I work with students through social events planning, such as spirit weeks and dances.  As I have talked to students in casual settings such as these, I have often found myself in conversations about how to improve the schools in general.  When speaking of school spirit, students often voice their ideas about where we need to grow as a school and how we can foster stronger engagement through improvements to areas they identify as weak.  So, I wonder, what would happen if these students worked on those fundamental issues?  How would they solve them and what sort of lens would they bring to the work?  How can I facilitate these conversations so they feel meaningful, valuable and worthwhile?

What are the best ways to identify the needs that students feel most passionate about and to direct time towards exploring and engaging in those questions?  How can students engage teachers in their groups to unify the voices of the two most important stakeholders:  students and teachers?   What happens when there is disagreement?  How can a diverse group of students find consensus while driving innovation and their own collective best interest?  And, within all of this, how can students serve as a stabilizing reminder that the work is valuable by creating in the process at every step?  These questions are the main reason why I wonder; What practices best support the development of meaningful student voice and leadership?

Through this project, I hope to engage students in school leadership.  My goal is develop a system that meets the needs of the school community and to development structures and protocols that support student voice and action.  I feel the need for this work because as I watch our struggles with student engagement and culture, I am struck by how seldom the education world talks to the most important people in the building.  I truly trust students and I think they are intensely capable of taking on this challenge.  They show up to school every day, ready to learn and hopeful that they will be successful.  I wonder what a school they create will look like.


Your journey connecting the literature and preliminary data to your project design.


Entering a new school environment is both a liberating and a scary endeavor.  This year, after five years at my previous school, I made the transition to a new school.  Located caddy corner to my previous site,  High Tech High Media Arts is in the same network and village of schools as my former school, High Tech High International.   As I entered Media Arts, I found myself standing back as an observer much more than I was used to doing at High Tech High International.  As the Dean of Students, my role is less clearly defined than most others, so I found myself working to understand the structures that existed in order to better find my place in them.  I was initially struck by how different these two schools within the same system were.  I also found myself wondering about how to improve or address structures that I felt connected to.  In particular, I have worked extensively with student government and was struck that Media Arts didn’t have a functioning ASB of any kind.  In any school, the ASB (Associated Student Body, or student government) are the student voice on campus.  

I also, however,  found myself without allies.  In particular, I found that I knew very few students and even fewer teachers.  So, as I worked to get to know anyone and everyone, I found myself wondering about what was working and what wasn’t.  More to the point, I found myself wondering about what I defined as areas of concern versus. what others saw.  Who am I, after all, to walk in and implement changes that I identify — what about what everyone else sees and what about what they would identify as the greatest areas of concern?  These were the questions that pushed me to think about where to go to gain that perspective.  Who really knows best?  When the opinions of my director didn’t line up with what I was seeing and experiencing, does that make him wrong or does that mean that I need to gain more perspective?  My hunch was that I needed to meet more people, gain more perspective and gain more knowledge.  

This idea led me to want to hear more from the students.  As the greatest stake holders in the building, their perspective was the most important one and the one that I lacked.  Its hard to get to know kids — especially when you are the Dean of Students — the one students go to when they are in trouble.  While I spent time in classrooms and in the halls just getting to know kids, there is still that aura around ‘The Dean’ that makes each interaction with a student seem suspect to them.  So, in answer to an assignment for my graduate school program, I decided to convene a panel of students to talk about what they saw happening in their school.  I wanted to know what they saw as areas of concern and I wanted them to approach it through the lens of the feedback surveys from the previous year.  

This group yielded two tremendous results.  First, the students were rapt with the work.  They poured over the data and really wanted to understand what was happening.  They asked tons of questions and were wonderfully critical in what they saw.  They sought to understand through a variety of lenses as they asked where the data came from, who participated and what the reports that were provided to them meant.  I loved watching them discuss and decipher what was in front of them.  At the end, they discovered how hard it is to address these issues.  The last question they were asked to tackle was to come up with some recommendations for how to address issues they identified.  The groups found themselves wondering what COULD they do?  How could they change things and where could they find some ideas that could move them forward?  This led to the second tremendous result:  the students desperately wanted to continue the work.  I had scheduled four sessions, each an hour long.  When we wrapped up the final session, I asked each group to list two things on their final reflections:  who would be willing to meet with faculty to discuss their findings and who might be willing to serve on an advisory council to address these issues and any others we might identify from the student perspective.  Of the 33 students who attended those meetings, everyone shared that they wanted to participate in both.  They were hungry to have a say in their school and they were willing to do the hard work to find solutions.

Since convening that group in late February, I have taken stronger steps to empower our ASB and to expand the scope of their work.  For the first time in four years, we are holding elections for next year’s group and the students who are running have been told that they will take on the dual role of culture leaders and school changers.  Now, as we endeavor down this path, I have many questions about how to support this work.  Specifically, my questions surround three key themes.  FIrst, is this work that students are equipped to do?  WIll I just find myself managing students as they try to implement structures that they know from public school?  Will they even be able to think about school leadership in this way?  Second, I wonder how to make their voice meaningful both for them, and for the school community as a whole.  This extends to creating meaning for the adults in the building too.  Will the students grapple with real questions or will the culture ask them to stick with superficial issues of spirit weeks and culture events?  Finally, I wonder what kind of effect and of this can have.  Can they really do work that matters?  Will they stick with it and will they really buy in when they have so much to do?


Beyond Classroom Feedback:  Trusting students are equipped to do more

In his work, Choices for Children:  Why and How to Let Students Decide, Alfie Kohn states, “The truth is that, if we want children to take responsibility for their own behavior, we must first give them responsibility, and plenty of it. The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”  What if students took on the ultimate responsibility of identifying and addressing larger scale issues within their school?  What if they gave feedback on more than just a project or a classroom activity or their teacher?  Kohn goes on to note that, “The four key realms in which students can make academic decisions are what, how, how well, and why they learn.”  What if we took those questions and extended them to greater school wide issues?  

In her book, Sent to the Principal:  Students Talk about Making High Schools Better, Kathleen Cushman worked with the students of What Kids Can Do to explore questions of school improvement.  Taken from their website, the What Kids Can Do foundation states they press a dual mission of “ the power of what young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need and what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously.”  Cushman worked with their students to “make public the voices of youth about their lives and learning.”  While the whole book has implications for my work, I was most struck by the voices that emerged in Chapter 2, “Bring us to the table.”  In this Chapter, Cushman addressed what student voices from across the nation identified as their greatest advice regarding whose voice matters.  What emerges in this chapter are four key pieces of advice:

Consult us informally and formally

Make leadership part of the curriculum

Ask us to research student opinions

Use us as ambassadors


Within this chapter, the voices of the students clearly emerge asking for a greater responsibility and voice.  Cushman’s work is striking in that not only does she summarize what she heard, she offers numerous quotes from students.  As far as developing this work, the following quote struck me most, “When they give us more responsibility than they usually would—other people might call it challenging us—they show that they trust us to accomplish it. Giving us more say in our education means that they think we’re able.They trust us to make the right decisions about our learning, about our daily experiences at school.  That would be a huge benefit to all the entire student body,rather than a liability for the administration. (RaShawn)”

In order for any of this to happen, there is a certain power dynamic that must be challenged.  “The key issue is whose voice can be heard in the acoustic of the school, and by whom.”  This means that the adults in the building must trust the ability of the students to name the real issues and to address them in a way that supports a positive culture.  This also means the adults must willingly abdicate their power to ‘decide’ and allow for collaboration. This is particularly difficult because “what students have to say about teaching and learning may be feared as personally challenging or as threatening to the institution.  A strategy of the fearful is to limit student comment to aspects of school life which are seen as relatively safe or which do not have significant impact on the work of adults within the school.”

This can often result in work that limit students to meaningless issues that hold little consequences for education as a whole.  This is often the structure of most student governments throughout traditional high schools.  While culture building is certainly an important aspect of any high school experiences, limiting students to questions of class colors and pep rallies excludes their voice in larger questions for which they hold a unique perspective.   

These are, perhaps, my two greatest concerns as I begin this work.  How do I effectively include student voice in questions that really matter and how to I ensure that the school as a whole is ready to have students included.  I know how important informal conversations with students are, but as I work to formalize their role and their voice, what are the structures and themes that results in the greatest meaning?


Making the Work Meaningful

Certainly, while still in its infancy, efforts to include student voice in school leadership are not new.  Numerous organizations throughout the country have asked students to weigh in on school improvement and in the schools and organizations where expanding student voice has been tried, the main theme that emerges is that of making the work meaningful.

In her work, The significance of students: can increasing” student voice” in schools lead to gains in youth development?, Dana Mitra analyzed the efforts of one school to improve student voice as part of a school improvement plan.  Her intent was to find a ‘best-case scenario’ of student voice efforts by analyzing the emergence of student voice at Whitman High School in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She uses three key concepts to understand  youth experiences in student voice — Agency, Belonging and Competence defined as follows:


Agency: Acting or exerting influence and power in a given situation

Belonging:  Developing meaningful relationships with other students and adults and having a role at the school

Competence:  Developing new abilities and being appreciated for one’s talents


The purpose of using these lenses is to ascertain the outcomes of the work.  What do students gain from engaging in this work and besides the effects on the learning community, how do students grow and benefit?  

Through the development of a Pupil-School Collaborative (PSC) and a Student Forum, Whitman High attempted to engage student voice in identifying goals and engaging in the process of change.  “Student Forum focused its efforts at the organizational level by seeking student participation in efforts to reform the school and to institute new school programs and policies.  The group sought to inject student voice into school decision making and to seek ways to make the school a better place for all students.”

Using the lens mentioned above, Mitra found powerful student outcomes, summarized as follows:



Increasing ability to articulate opinions to others

Constructing new identities as change makers

Developing a greater sense of leadership


Developing a relationship with a caring adult

Improving interactions with teachers

Increasing attachment to the school


Critiquing their environment

Developing problem solving and facilitation skills

Getting along with others

Speaking publicly


While about 30 students participated in Student Forum, and only 15 of them regularly, the effects were far reaching as the teacher that spearheaded the effort took great pains to ensure that all student groups and ‘cliques’ were represented.  This had the effect of disseminating the results into larger social groups although each student was not present at the meetings.  Further, while Mitra acknowledges that efforts such as these are sparse on the national level, the effect was so far reaching at Whitman, its hard not to imagine the potential at any school site.  In the end, what worked was that a variety of students worked within their school to name their goals and work for change.  They structured their work around their particular site and they created alliances with teachers and administrators who were equally as vested in the work.  

Students hold a unique perspective that adults often cannot see yet, even as the greatest stakeholders in the building, they are often left out of important school wide decisions.  The website, What Students Can Do puts it this way, “When first invited then supported to carry out their own research on their schools, students can ask questions and collect answers as rigorously as any adults. They also ask questions that wouldn’t occur to academic researchers and use language that’s more youth-friendly, increasing the likelihood that fellow students will respond thoughtfully.”  Mitra breaks this ability to be ‘youth-friendly’ like this, “The adults who assisted with the focus groups learned  quickly of the importance of having students participate  in the  analysis of the focus-group  data.  Adults thought  they understood  the data,  but often  they  needed  clarification from students  about  what  had  actually  been said  in  the focus  group participants  and  with  translating  the  responses  into  “adult-friendly”  language.”

Situated outside of a single school, Soundout is an internet based non-profit who states their mission as follows:  


SoundOut is an expert assistance program focused on promoting Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.  We work with K-12 schools, districts, state and provincial education agencies, and nonprofit education organizations across the United States and Canada.


Focused primarily on partnering with existing organizations, SoundOut offers a variety of workshops and resources all focused on increasing student voice and empowerment in the most meaningful way possible.  Like Mitra, they also offer a particular lens for their work which they call the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement:


Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement:  

1. Listen – The first step for the ideas, knowledge, experience, and opinions of students to be shared with adults.

2. Validate – Students are acknowledged as purposeful and significant partners who can and should hold themselves and their schools accountable.

3. Authorize – Students develop their abilities to meaningfully contribute to school improvement through skill-sharing, action planning, and strategic participation.  

4. Mobilize – Students and adults take action together as partners in school improvement through a variety of methods (see Chapters 3 and 4).

5. Reflect – Together, adults and students examine what they have learned through creating, implementing, and supporting meaningful student involvement, including benefits and challenges. Reflections are then used to inform Step 1, Listen.


For SoundOut, the main goal is meaning and every discussion revolves around the authenticity of the work.  This means that every person in the building must accept that student voice is necessary in creating a total vision for a school.  “Meaningful student involvement evolves from a growing awareness among students and educators that young people can and should play a crucial role in the success of school improvement.”  In their Guide to Students as Partners in School Change, they explore this notion of meaning deeply, conveying the need for authentic participation and constant reflection to ensure that the work students are doing has a real connection to their environment and their reality.  Towards that end, the guide also names the need for constant reflection.  “Meaningful  student involvement is part of a transformative cycle that should be continually re-examined, redeveloped and reconceived within each learning community as it evolves over time with new participants. The potential outcomes are too great to ignore the possibilities.”

Within these examples, I begin to see structures that can emerge within the newly envisioned ASB I hope to create.  In particular, I appreciate the focus on agency and belonging as I struggle to make this work as ‘real’ as possible.  Certainly, there is strong vision here for how to organize and how to progress through establishing the work in the most meaningful way possible.  I also like appreciate the need to ensure that everyone in the building authorizes the work and understands what is happening.


Project Design



My plan is to introduce a newly revised, two-tiered ASB.  I am hoping to attract and work with students who want to look at two main themes.  The first will address school culture and spirit.  The group will work to develop culture events that will build a feeling of positivity and connection.  We will strive to design activities more fitting of our progressive atmosphere.  The second theme will be of school leadership.  We will explore larger school issues that the students identify then work on ways to address them.  I look forward to them engaging teachers in their ideas and designs and I am hopeful that we will be able to begin seeing more student lead change that really addresses student need.  We will revisit these themes quarterly and assess how well we have done in meeting our goals to creating real and meaningful school change.



June: All school elections.  Rather than using a traditional hierarchy, we will elect a council of

three from each grade level.


August: New ASB will meet in the weeks before school starts to begin to identify the themes for first

\semester.  Students will create the two different lists and they will chair or co-chair issues they feel most passionately about.  


Quarter 1: We will implement our first committees during this nine week cycle.


End of Q1: We will review our work through collecting data to indicate the effectiveness of our efforts.


Quarter 2: We will implement our second committees during this nine week cycle.


End of Q2: We will review our work through collecting data to indicate the effectiveness of our efforts.


Quarter 3: We will implement our third committees during this nine week cycle.


End of Q3: We will review our work through collecting data to indicate the effectiveness of our efforts.



I want to collect data from three distinct groups. The first group will be the ASB students that will be part of the ‘inner circle’ group.  I will track their responses and their efficacy.  I want to check in with them via video and feedback forms to see how we are doing.  The second group is the student body as a whole.  I plan to have a pre-survey, then check in to measure how we might be improving student voice.  The third group is the teachers.  I am hoping to include them in many of the school issues groups and want to gauge their response to the work as well.  They always have a firm grasp of what the students are feeling too so their input will be vital in understanding what kids are feeling and saying.  I hope to do this through interviews, some video and exit carding as well.




* because inspiration is everything*



Inspiration through engagement, empowered real-world learning and supportive relationships. We work as a collaborative and reflective community to explore our practices and to help our students create a path towards college. Through hands-on projects and community/career connections, we extend the boundaries of the classroom to our world as a whole. And, through the use of blended learning, we assist every student in reaching skill- levels that will keep them competitive in the 21st century.


who we are

We are a statewide benefit charter middle school with plans to develop a high school as our classes grow.  Starting with a 6th and 7th grade, we will reach full capacity in 6 years when we will have a fully functioning middle and high school.  We are managed by a board of 8 professionals.  We are small, with class sizes no larger than 28 and grade level cohorts maxing out at 115.  We are located in Fairfax Virginia.


Located in Fairfax, we benefit from a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities in close proximity.   Our goal is to create a community that mirrors the world we live in, so students will be admitted through a zip code based lottery intended to provide representation from across Fairfax county.


guiding principles

Personalization:  We strive to know every student.  Through small class sizes, team teaching and structured advisory, we provide each student with loving relationships meant to provide support in all areas of the students life.

Reflective Practice:  We strive to reflect on our classroom and lesson design to constantly improve how we serve the unique needs of each learner.  We will purposefully assess our students and our own practice.  We will do this regularly.  Our goal is to truly understand what we are doing well and improve on any areas we will identify.

Creative Critical Thinking:  We want to ask a lot of questions and seek out various perspectives in searching for our answers.  All members of our community, teachers, students and leaders alike, will engage in this process of creative critical thinking.  We will use projects to frame questions and we will use exhibition to celebrate our results.

Meaningful Work:  We strive to connect with ourselves, our students and our community to create work that is real and meaningful.  We do not want the final destination of our students work to be the teachers desk.  We will create relationships with the community and with community organizations that are mutually beneficial.


foundational design

Project Based Learning:  Our students will grow through projects designed to integrate their learning and push their thinking.  We believe that active engagement in learning will create the buy in necessary to connect students to their learning.  We want our students to struggle with hard questions and conceive of their own answers and we want real questions to drive their learning.


Reflective and Supportive Staff Structures:  We are a school that is led by everyone.  We endeavor to ensure all voices share in decision making and reflection.  Further, as professionals, we want to stay on the cutting edge of our profession by striving to be reflective and open about our practice.  We will engage in collegial coaching meant to offer perspective and growth.  We will also participate in professional development provided by ourselves as well as outside agencies meant to address needs and offer ideas and perspectives.  We will always strive to provide ample planning time.


A Site that Reflects Who We Are:  Our school building will have an innovative, open plan.  This is meant to encourage collaboration and break down the physical structures of the ‘normal’ classroom setting.  Our common spaces will serve as collaborative laboratories and museum walls as well.  Additionally, our school will reflect the area we serve as we strive to create a community that is diverse and representative.


Advisory Crew:  One vital way we will know our students and address their needs, is through Advisory Crew.  This small group of 12-16 students will meet every day to address three major themes:  goal setting, personal connections and community building, and teen issues.  Mondays and Fridays, the focus will be on academic support and goal setting.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will focus on teen issues and personal connections.  This time is dedicated to meeting with other students from various grade levels to talk about these key issues.  They are detailed as follows:

Goal Setting:  Class goals, personal goals, college goals, academic goals.  This time is dedicated to thinking about what we want and how we want to work on improving ourselves.

Personal Connections and Community Building:

Teen Issues:  We will use our own ideas and integrate proven curriculum to discuss various topics such as, but not limited to:  alcohol and drugs, teen relationships, mental health, code switching, taking responsibility, and risk-taking behaviour.


Blended Learning: Inevitably, many students reach the upper grades with holes in their learning.  We will employ a blended learning approach to assist each student is setting personal goals. Our goal is to use various tools to tailor programs for each student that will push them in the specific areas they need.

Melissa Agudelo
PITP:  Leading Progressive Schools
January 28, 2013

pro·gres·sive  /prəˈgresiv/  Adjective:  Happening or developing gradually or in stages;

proceeding step by step.  Noun:  A person advocating or implementing social reform or

new, liberal ideas.

There are dozens of ideas floating around conversations about progressive education and pedagogy.  It seems that anything that explores notions other than the traditional high school with textbooks, rows and bell schedules counts as progressive.  As a leader, I am struck, however, by what it means to be a leader in a progressive school.  To be a leader is to be the noun and to implement and advocate for new ideas.  It also means remembering the adjective and proceeding in stages, step by step.

That gradual move towards change is challenging in many ways.  The effort it takes to move people requires numerous conversations and consistent restatement of one’s vision.  In fact, its about slowly creating a collective voice before just moving forward.  And, even in the most progressive situations, change is always difficult.  My hope, as a leader, is to always work to honor all voices but to also push our thinking by being aware of new ideas and different ways of thinking.  This is challenging for me because my desire for change often makes me want to ‘just get things done’.  This is not reflective of the kind of leader I want to be.

To challenge myself, I decided to take on redesigning the way we plan and group for Professional Development Focus Groups.  Designed to meet over four sessions, these groups are meant to be a space for teachers to name issues they are facing and for a collective to assemble to explore the topic to deepen their learning.  Ideally, these topics will revolve around some issue of progressive pedagogy and would push teachers in their classroom practice.  For my PITP, I wanted to open up what we think about as a collective staff. This was, in part, because I was hoping to open opportunities for teacher voice and leadership outside of the classroom, and I also hoped to find space for teachers to discuss books and readings that didn’t necessarily connect to specific practice, but did connect to progressive pedagogy and leadership in a more general way as well.

Further, upon surveying colleagues, I realized that we needed a space to think about and form groups before we find ourselves in our first meetings.  In the past, we have thrown out ideas, formed groups quickly and started meeting.  The reality is that since we meet often and in various groups, a space to have a running conversation about topics we could discuss was necessary.  Finally, I also wanted to think about the goal of these groups.  This enumerating of goals was meant to name what would be done on a physical level — would the group be just a discussion to push thinking?  Would they be designing a larger PD opportunity to share out?  Would they be designing some event for the whole school?  And, along with that, would they be looking at practice or taking a role as teacher leaders?  

To address this issues, I designed a Google Doc with three tabs.  One page is a clearinghouse of ideas to throw out to the group.  The first ideas which I used to start the doc were culled from a survey where the staff had enumerated numerous issues they want to address.  Anyone who would like to can also list an idea and break down the four sessions in a very basic way.  They can also suggest their vision for a final product or a goal.  Then, I went about having multiple conversations with many people to ask them to include their ideas and thoughts.  I had these conversations primarily with those individuals I knew had an idea for something deep they wanted to explore.  I found that building trust, once again, was important in the process.  For many of my colleagues, they had to believe that they would be able to do this work and that others would possibly sign on.  I was asking for a bit of a leap of faith.  I learned that new systems — even in the name of change that many had sought — is VERY hard to implement and maintain.  To be more direct — it was hard to ask teachers to find the time to do this.

The document has proved useful in that it became a space where many colleagues explored ideas and signed up for topics they were interested in.  When we started our new Focus Groups last week, we had already identified our interests so we grouped quickly and got right to work.  I heard from numerous colleagues who shared  their appreciation for pushing us to use the time more effectively and in supporting some pre planning to make prepare.  I signed up for the Being a Better Advisor group and we were all happy to talk about this issues as all five of us who joined want to explore this issue personally and for our school as a whole.  One colleague shared that previously, when PD Focus groups had to be about classroom practice, they felt the desire to sometimes form groups around taking leadership in other ways.  They appreciated the opportunity to be able to expand the topic options.

My hopes for this work is that we continue to find safe spaces to voice our thoughts.  The hardest part of embodying the noun is that pushing everyone in a new direction is just hard.  Even in spaces where the progressive bent is strong, asking people to do something differently requires a lot of patience and a lot of conversations.  My hope is that this work will continue to grow teacher voice and leadership.  I also hope that I can continue to build relationships that enable me to be the best support I can be.  I know that, as an adult in the building, the most powerful effect I can have is in being a voice for progressive change and in pushing for constant reflection and transformation.

Data Meeting Exit CardsPITP FLowersFostering Adult Learning PITP

Melissa Agudelo

December 7, 2012

Often, I have found that difficult conversations are far too easy to avoid.  Some of the most difficult conversations are those that make a request for change or challenge a prevailing notion.  My goal with my put it to practice project was to find voice and direction for our morning meetings.  I have had numerous conversations with several staff members who shared their frustration with what they perceived to be a lack of vision or direction with the time they were spending in professional development.  In fact, it was these personal conversations with several staff members that enabled me to frame the purpose of the work and to do so within a safe space.  My goal was to find a way to listen and then direct our energies toward a solution that might work.   As stated in the Power of Protocols, “there is no way to solve a complex problem without listening to the perspectives on the problem of all those immersed in it.” (McDonald, Mohr, Dichter, & McDonald, 2007)

I conducted a survey that asked our individual members to reflect on what is going well and what areas need to be addressed.  I used that feedback to conduct a protocol I found called Data Driven Dialogue. (National School Reform Faculty, 2012)   I chose this protocol because it allowed us to really focus on the data and to stay away from a lot of personal reflection that I worried would be antagonistic and would not lead to productive results.  I looked at a number of different protocols and the Data Driven one really focused us on the information we looking at.

Five teachers agreed to attend and helped to isolate themes and directions for the next steps.  My greatest take away came from asking the five teachers that eventually agreed to participate.  I tried to pick a cross section of teachers.  I chose one teacher who was brand new to our school, one who had one year of experience and is a positive force, one who is currently participating in the Teacher Leadership program and one who has been critical of the direction of meetings in private conversations.  Our director, Robert Kuhl, joined as well.  My take away was the validation of the importance of having a cross section of opinions in the room that balanced our lens.  I appreciated that both the protocol and the balance of personalities resulted in a conversation that flowed well and really focused on the myriad staff voices contained within the survey results.  The process was incredibly helpful and yielded a number of observations that I shared with the full staff at a staff meeting.  At the end of that staff meeting, I asked everyone to complete an exit card where I asked them how they felt about the results and the next steps that were planned.  I found that the response was resoundingly positive.

This reaction made me think of the energy shift I felt amongst the staff.  Whereas there had been much anxiety about surveys and feedback because many felt their ideas would not be taken seriously, the protocol yielded a collective voice virtually everyone saw as powerful.  There were two cards that shared concern over the fact that their voices were not reflected in the work.  These two individuals did not share the overwhelming feelings of the rest of the staff so they felt left out by the results.  I also felt the pressure to ensure that we ‘did something’ with the voices that we saw emerge.  While certainly, the challenges around morning meetings have not been addressed, I appreciated that using the survey, the protocol and the small group analysis helped to create a safe and trusting space where teachers believe real change is coming.

In looking at the exit cards, I was most struck by the hopeful voices.  I was overwhelmed by the appreciation and trust that was reflected in 25 of the 27 cards I received and I am really thankful for the trust that the process has helped me grow.  Many cards included specific appreciation for the quantification of the themes that I saw.  Rather than simply saying, “I saw this as a goal,” I voiced how many teachers shared the thought and was able to set priorities that reflected our collective voice.  Many cards reflected an appreciation for that effort.  In watching the video of my protocol facilitation, I was most struck by how rushed I felt.  I was not happy with how much I felt like I rushed the process to try to make it work within the lunch time slot.  I feel a bit of a catch-22 about this.  What I mean is that this process really helped me to build trust with the staff. Now, I feel more able to ask people to stay after school to take more time to look at this but before I did it, I did not feel that way.  If I had, I would have felt more able to schedule a time to give the survey results greater analysis.

The vision I was left with was of how well our collective voice had bloomed because the protocol proved so helpful.  I used the protocol itself and the sheets that the five teachers who participated filled out to create the two larger flowers in the middle.  I used the exit cards the teachers filled out to create the smaller blooms surrounding the larger protocol flowers.  This is meant to represent the small flourish of love that resulted from a well chosen and used protocol.

I am determined to continue this conversation through a reworking of our morning meetings in order to incorporate more of what the teachers are hoping for.  My intent is to create a clearer vision for our professional development focus groups.  These groups, which meet on Thursdays are teacher initiated meetings meant to look at practice.  I am hoping to find a way to broaden their scope to other issues of teacher leadership and school culture.  In particular, teachers mentioned the desire to better understand our role as advisors and college mentors.  My hope is that we can better use our collective knowledge to form groups that can address this issue unique to our culture.

To be sure, this effort will require a leadership balance that will take the direction of the teachers and the overall leadership vision and marry the two into thoughtful and productive conversations.  My hope, as a leader, is to do that well.  I know that is a balance that is difficult to strike, no matter the situation but my hope is to be a leader who enunciates a clear vision while still remaining open to the ideas and leadership of every person in the building.  I want to discuss how to do things better, but also stay true to central ideas we all work to build.  This assignment has afforded me the opportunity to build trust while, at the same time, addressing the needs identified by the staff.  Perhaps what I should say is that this assignment, by addressing the needs identified by the staff, afforded me the opportunity to build trust.  What I mean is that I appreciate that the relationships and culture building I was hoping for were clearly knit up in the work and, instead of trying to build trust, THEN do the work, doing both at the same time had a powerful impact on my thinking.

Works Cited

McDonald, J., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E. (2007). The Power of Protocols: An Educators Guide to Better Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

National School Reform Faculty. (2012, October 2). Retrieved December 7, 2012, from National School Reform Faculty:


This is video of my facilitation of a small group that met to look at a staff survey on morning meetings.

Student Voice PITP


I love that no matter what, everything has room for improvement.  For me, working in a place where we constantly want to push innovation means we want to look for a better way every day.  So, how do we do that?  And who knows best?  The reality is that in schools, each of us comes at every dilemma from our own unique angle.  Teachers, administrators, parents and students, each group identifies bright spots and opportunities differently.  So what happens if only a small part of this equation is active in identifying those areas?  Does our unique lens offer us enough perspective to shape the path we will take to address our needs?  As Gwendolyn Brooks said, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”  Cultivating the perspectives of every player is instrumental in ensuring the path speaks to everyones need and experience.
At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, the staff at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California endeavored to understand the varied voices that had assessed the school during the end of the year surveys.  Using student input from the Youth Truth Survey, teacher voice from the staff survey and other facts like disaggregated D/F list data, the teachers at HTHMA addressed the 8 operating principles High Tech schools were founded on.  They are        Common Intellectual Mission, Literacy and Numeracy Across the Curriculum, Supporting English Learners and Students with Special Needs, Personalization, Adult World Connection, School Culture, Teachers as Designers and Advisory.  The purpose of the School Quality Review was to identify bright spots, name areas in need of growth and enumerate specific steps that could be taken to address issues.

As I have participated in the Student Voice class, I wondered about the issue of our varied lenses.  I know that all teachers didn’t agree on what they saw in the data.  I heard from some that they struggled with the many angles taken to arrive at bright spots and areas for improvement so I wondered… what would the students say about the same issues.  What would they see if they looked at the same data?  How would they interpret what they saw and how would their lens clarify or cloud the issue?  Mostly, I also wondered about what kind of opportunities for growth they would see and how they might envision moving towards resolution.

For that reason, I decided to convene a Student SQR group.  Since I was not at HTHMA last year, I relied on input from a variety of teachers to convene a group of students who are truly a cross section of the student body.  I sent out very formal letters that invited each student, informing each of why they were chosen.  I invited 33 students in all. We would meet for four sessions with the possibility of a 5th meeting with members of the faculty who had undertaken the same questions..  Those sessions broke down as follows:

1st Meeting:   Explain the SQR

Understand the umbrella topics

Each student choose the topic they were most interested in.

2nd Meeting:   Receive the data

Work within small groups to understand the data

3rd Meeting: Continue to explore the data

Begin to note bright spots and areas for growth

4th Meeting: Finalize notes and suggestions

I was shocked when I walked in the first day.  I was hoping for 10-15 students.  I was amazed to see that every student I had invited showed up.  After talking to them, I figured out that the combination of the formal invitation along with the purpose of the work had created a sense of importance and empowerment in each of them.  They were incredibly ready to take on the work.  In fact, as I rolled out the work, they were actively discussing everything before it was time to do so.  At the end of the first 45 minute session, several students asked me if they could take the data home with them to be better prepared for the next meeting.  I was thrilled to hear about their excitement.
The second session, I was unable to attend so Robert Kuhl, DIrector of HTHMA joined the group and handed out the data.  This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity as Robert knew the data far better than I did, as he had spent copious amounts of time with it.  Robert shared that they were all highly engaged and had many questions for him as they worked to understand what was in front of them.  That second session was a time of simply understanding the format and the questions that had been asked.  Several groups began to make notes on their graphic organizer while others had been more dedicated to discussion and understanding.
The third and fourth sessions were focused on riveting discussions of implications and what direction our school should take with the information we had.  In particular, students were taken by one piece of information about student feelings of safety around drugs and alcohol.  During the previous year, students had taken the Youth Truth survey and when asked about drugs and alcohol, 17% of the Class of 2015 reported feeling unsafe.  The national average per class is 6-7%.  Students were passionate when talking about what the school should do to address this.  They were stunned when I asked them what THEY should do…. Robert had asked them the same thing the week before.
At the end of the fourth session, I asked students if they would be willing to volunteer for either of two opportunities.  FIrst, would they be willing to come to school early one day to share their findings and discuss their data with a group of teachers.  Every student was willing.  I also asked who might be interested in serving on a Dean’s Advisory Council to help think about these issues and to address them from the student perspective.  Again, every student was willing.  I was, to be quite honest, totally shocked.  I was not surprised that some students would be interested in attacking these issues.  I was shocked that ALL of them did.  I had invited students who were both the traditional joiners as well as those who might not normally be invited to participated in these sorts of activities and all of them were engaged and interested.
I can’t really say that this created an ‘ah-ha’ moment as I have always believed that every student wants their school to be the best it can be.  Thats why they show up every day and, at a charter school, thats why the make the huge effort to show up to a location that is often difficult to reach.  All students want their education to be the best it can be.  I think my ah-ha moment is that every student was willing to be so invested as to give up personal time and even volunteer to sacrifice personal time and sleep to continue the conversation.

As far as their results, their ideas ran the gamut from the creative to the mundane.  The group that looked at Common Intellectual Mission took note of the “higher than national average on critical reading and writing (SAT)” then suggested the implementation of more SAT focused math curriculum.  The group that looked at this issue was senior heavy and I often think that their focus becomes very college focused.  Their reflection, however, was clearly one of pride that our school is doing as well as we are and they noticed what a high degree of efficacy we have in this area.  The students who looked at Personalization were highly interested in making suggestions about how to create stronger bonds between students and teachers. They hoped to see lunch opportunities with teachers as well as more after school time to connect with adults in the building.  Contrary to what we might think about high school students, they actually requested MORE time with the adults in their lives.  FInally, while the students who looked at the drug issues suggested draconian measures like yearly drug screens, they also suggested interventions, more conversation and community meetings that address the issue directly without fear.

What struck me the most was the willingness of the students to take the work seriously and really dedicate themselves to the work.  Also, I loved watching them really struggle with suggestions.  This was, in many ways, the most powerful moment.  On the last day, students were asked to finish up their write ups, focusing mostly on the specifics of what we can do to improve.  Many groups were stumped.  They appreciated how hard it is to address these issues but they also felt empowered to try.  This is my biggest takeaway from this activity.  Students wanted to be a part of this process and they were happy to struggle with what they saw.

As a school leader, I look forward to creating more opportunities for student leadership within the school.  For me, this activity supported my belief that students want to be a part of creating and supporting their school past their classroom activities.  It also made clear to me that asking students to think about these issues creates allies, rather than victims.  What I mean by this is that often, students can feel like they are at the mercy of their school and that dichotomy destroys our chances at unified efforts.  When students understand that as the most important part of the school, they are the most important voices in identifying goals, they see their school differently.  When they see their role differently, they act differently.ImageImage


At the end of the fourth meeting, I had students reflect on two things.  First:  was this work meaningful and Second:  would you want to continue the work?  I loved that so many students thought this was worthwhile and they desperately wanted to do more work around it.  In fact, when I asked who would want to continue working through a Deans Advisory Council, EVERY student said they wanted to.  I did this through exit cards.  Next time, I would do the following things differently:

1.  I would have more meetings.  This means having more time to discuss each issue because I think the kids could have done more time researching and thinking about next steps.  I felt like this demanded a natural transition to Student Led Action/Study Groups

2.  I would have more topics being discussed.  I would have brainstormed with the kids and not just used the topics from the SQR.  I would have taken the time to ask them to identify the issues and then had them think, and then had them look at the data.  I wonder what they see vs. what we see.


Leadership Project Introduction and Understandings

Thesis Introduction:

My father worked hard to make me as inconspicuous as possible. We didn’t speak Spanish in public. In fact, once my mother spoke enough English, we didn’t speak Spanish at home. My mother begged me to stay in the shade all summer since I was the one of my siblings blessed with her mestiza blood. We lived in an all white suburb in southern Virginia and I attended a high school that was easily 80% white and 20% black. I was one of two Latinos in my graduating class of 500+. I learned how to be white in my advanced classes and I learned how to be black everywhere else. I figured out how to navigate the cultural minefields and I became the girl that everyone was ok with. I knew that I was playing a game. I knew that I was creating versions of myself that worked for those around me but I always struggled to reconcile my inner Latina with the cultures that crashed around me. As I think about my classmates that didn’t make it to or through college, I understand that my cultural pluralism opened doors for me. I can  communicate in an academic setting and I can attend a hip-hop concert, feeling comfortable in both. I speak Spanish fluently and write spoken word poetry in English.

How did I do that? Where did I learn to quietly switch into the different personae that inhabit my skin? Who taught me that? What were my examples and how did I figure out what to do?

These are questions I think about as I work with struggling students in both the academic and disciplinary setting.  I have thought about these questions as I have watched brown boy after brown boy leave our school due to disciplinary consequences. Currently, I serve as Dean of Students at High Tech High International, where my primary role is to support students both academically and socially.  Our charter  schools were founded to integrate and to provide a personalized education for each unique individual who attends our schools.   Even in a school as enlightened as this… even coming from a background as sympathetic as mine… how am I still expelling a disproportionately high number of students of color?  I wonder why we are not reaching them.  I want to understand how a school where so many of us support true integration and the extension of opportunity to all students STILL has to say goodbye to a disproportionately high number of poor Latino and Black boys.  

For my project, I want to struggle with these questions:   How do we talk about these issues with students? Where do we make clear that they are navigating difficult waters that ask them to learn more than just the Algebra on the page? What support systems work best and how can we provide mentorship that unpacks the need for real talk about these real issues? How can we introduce models of success that embody the cultural pluralism and code-switching people of color must master?

ESSENTIAL QUESTION:  How can we create structures for communication, academic support and interpersonal relationships that better serve boys of color?

           Recently, I had to say goodbye to a young man who had made a bad choice.  This boy, who I will call David, was just months from graduation.  He was brown, poor and from a family that has struggled with gang affiliations and drug usage.  He was so close.  And we were so close.  David was a student I trusted with my personal cell phone number and he had used it often, usually when he was in his worst moments.  Once, he called me at 11 o’clock at night, contemplating suicide.  I could not have supported this young man more than I already did yet, while on a field trip, he purchased and consumed alcohol and drugs.  Ultimately, David withdrew before he even had an expulsion hearing.  His mother knew what was going to happen and she decided to move him to San Francisco with his family.  I was devastated.  I have always struggled with expelling students and still am not sure I believe in expulsions theoretically.  David was, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back.   
           The reality is, upon examination, we are failing our Black and Latino boys.  At High Tech High International, while boys of color represented only about 20% of the school as a whole, they comprised over 65% of the suspensions/expulsions I meted out.  During a self study of one week at my job, they represented 84% of the student issues I dealt with — none of them positive.  Now, I am preparing to transition to High Tech High Media Arts.  The student body is 34% Latino yet over the last three years, 58% (7/12)  of the expulsions for marijuana have been Latino students.  When I share these frustrations with others, the well meaning response I usually get is that ‘they make their own choices’ or that ‘I am doing them a favor by giving them consequences that will help them grow.’  All of this disturbs me because I worry that the opposite is true.  
           In his work, The Trouble with Black Boys, Pedro Noguera states:

“It would be naïve and a mistake to conclude that strength of character and the possibility of individual agency can enable one to avoid the perils present within the environment, or that it is easy for individuals to choose to act outside the cultural milieu in which they were raised.  Even as we recognize that individuals make choices that influence the character of their lives, we must also recognize that the range of choices available is profoundly constrained and shaped by external forces (Noguera, 2008).”

This quote left me struggling with the question, “What range of choices have we made available to counteract the external forces our boys deal with?”  We are a school that integrates students through a model that attempts to reflect the demographics of San Diego county.  We select students through a blind zip code lottery that offers statistical advantages to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  We hope to bring together students from a wide variety of experiences to learn together and grow in their understanding of those that are different from them.  I wonder, have we been short sighted about the ways Black and Latino boys acculturate in this setting?  My experience is that the examples offered to them are not enough.  

While our students interact well during classroom projects and assignments, they continue to self-segregate socially and often, it seems they self-perpetuate cultural expectations through their social groupings.  I think of our current senior class.  When they entered high school during the 08-09 school year, there was a group of Black and Latino inner-city males who quickly distinguished themselves as a social and cultural force.  These 8 boys embodied the streets and clearly banded together in understanding and solidarity.  During the past four years, I have watched their numbers dwindle.  David was a member of that group.  After his departure, one of David’s counterparts came to my office, arms raised.  He said, “I am the WINNER!” and he laughed.  I asked him what he was talking about and he clarified that of his whole social group from freshmen year, he was the only one who was still in school.  Dismayed, we listed his friends who had left and why. Seven Black and Latino boys who left because of drugs, alcohol or academic failure, none of whom attempted to return.


For the leadership project, I want to implement a support program for male students of color who are struggling.  While most schools in America struggle to meet the needs of Black and Latino males, there are many examples of sites where young men of color excel.  From the Eagle Academy in the South Bronx to the Simba Project in Cincinnati, successful programs that integrate culture, family and community are closing the achievement gap.

My preliminary data collection would happen at the beginning of the school year next year.  I am planning to survey all 9th and 10th grade boys about their attitudes about school and then identify the boys that would most benefit from this program.  Since I am transitioning into a new school, initial data collection has been difficult .  Further, since I plan to target 9th grade boys as well, it will be most useful to identify the boys at the start of the school year.  Currently, I am preparing to transition to High Tech High Media Arts where I will serve as Dean of Students.  Anecdotally, I have shared this plan with quite a few staff members and the response has been resounding that the need for this work is evident.  

Over the course of this project, I plan to use a variety of methods for collecting  data.  In particular, I plan to use interviews, focus groups, teacher reflections, and parent reflections.  I would like to have some kids participate in some journaling or blogging to reflect on the activities and to continually improve the program to respond to the needs of the unique community that we will create.  What I hope to see is an increased sense of place within the educational setting.  I hope to see improvement in how the boys feel connected to their learning, their school, their teachers and to each other.  

           One study, conducted over 15 years by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, designates the following framework (Viadero, 2010):

  • Strong leadership, in the sense that principals are “strategic, focused on instruction, and inclusive of others in their work”’
  • A welcoming attitude toward parents, and formation of connections with the community;
  • Development of professional capacity, which refers to the quality of the teaching staff, teachers ’belief that schools can change, and participation in good professional development and collaborative work;
  • A learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating, and nurturing to all students; and
  • Strong instructional guidance and materials.

There were two things I most appreciated about this study.  First, I liked that the Consortium drew on parent and teacher surveys, data on student attendance and achievement, and a wealth of other statistics to compare 100 schools that improved the most on standardized reading and math tests and in attendance with another 100 schools that did the worst.  I liked this because while test scores were central, so were anecdotal data and attendance.  Second, I like that the Consortium made a conscious decision to remove magnet schools and gifted schools.  This study was about the neighborhood schools that did not have any advantage of selective enrollment.  I feel like this is reflective of the High Tech schools and our desire not to track or separate students based on perceived ability.  After reading about these outcomes, I was left wondering, which of these items do we do well and which need growth?

Eagle Academy in New York City empowers at-risk inner city young men to become academic achievers, engaged citizens, and responsible men by providing quality education resources and proven effective community-based initiatives to address the shortfalls in public education to effectively educate them (Fresh Concentrate LLC, 2011).  According to their website, their approach includes:

·         Parent Involvement
·         Academic Rigor
·         College Prep
·         Extended Day and Saturday Programs
·         Rituals
·         Summer Bridge programs for new students
·         Mentoring
In particular, I loved the inclusion of ritual and mentoring into this model.  It has been my experience that students of color need to see themselves reflected in circles of success.  Mentoring from the outside that brings in a variety of successful men to share their stories and provide positive support is one layer that I hope to incorporate.  Further, rituals can create solidarity among the young men that could translate into their everyday interactions. What these rituals might be is still in development.    

Finally, and most simply, the Simba Foundation asks the following questions about struggling male students of color (Paul Hill, 1987):

* Who they are
* Where they should be going
* What they need to do to get there
* What they must have when they arrive
I love the simplicity of this approach and the opportunity for personalization it affords.  I see great possibility in using this model to form the early work the group will do.  

           These three models provide some crucial insight as to the veracity and usefulness of supports like the one I propose.   Currently, the project design is evolving but is likely to include mentoring, tutoring, parent meetings/discussions, an xblock, weekend activities/meet-ups and staff professional development.


Numerous meaningful school programs  include outside mentoring models in their support programs.  For this program, I hope to incorporate group based mentoring, which could grow to one-on-one mentoring as the numbers grow.  I plan to invite in various men of color to speak to the group and to provide role models.  In particular, I hope to use men who come from similar backgrounds and have found success in the academic and professional realm.  These men would come to an xblock or a meeting one day, then, the group could have a field trip to visit their place of work.  I also want to use High Tech High graduates who are in college as well.  In particular, I hope that the men would share their stories including pitfalls and triumphs.

           Ideally, this component would be in group work time.  I would like to have the group work together during formal study sessions to support each other is getting their work done.  I would also want to incorporate some rituals during this time.  Using the power of a group generated solidarity statement and refocusing ourselves after group breaks serves to remind the young men of our collective purpose and push.  I am interested in models that include tutoring/mentoring that brings in female upper classmen to mentor/tutor underclassmen.  I would like to include members of the Hermanas group at HTHMA or simply Latina and Black senior females to organize and mentor the tutoring process.

           In her book, Involving Latino Families in Schools, Concha Gaitan states,
“Schools need to acknowledge the families’ cultural strengths.  By recognizing and developing pride in their identity, schools let parents know they can provide valuable contributions.  When schools recognize that families bring the strength of resilience, students are advantaged as their parents resourcefulness is taken into account.”
I plan to find ways to include all families of color into more culturally meaningful and connected events.  I would like to  host a Spanish language ‘Understandings’ event at the beginning of the year that would outline how parents could become more involved in the school.  I would also like to spend some time talking about how to help their student be more successful in the project based environment.  I would like to organize a dinner or other such event that would bring families of color together to create community.

At the High Tech schools, xblock is a class that meets twice a week and is selected by the students.  My plan is to start an xblock second quarter and use it to support the tutoring and to provide a venue for discussions.  I would like to gauge interest during first semester to see how everything works out.  The xblock would include some ritual – some food/drink ritual as well as some collective norm-setting that could be used to create a unified movement.  It would also be a place to just check in and see how everyone is doing.  Grade checks could happen with tutors and female tutors could use this time to check in with the students they are supporting.

           I would like to see take the boys to do things that are just fun.  I hope to go to a baseball game, to ride go-karts, to play mini-golf, to hang out in a park and play.  I plan to get them together out of school to begin the process of creating a collective culture of helping each other and holding each other up.  Also, I am hoping to do things in their neighborhood too.  I would love to get some members of the staff to meet at a park or restaurant in their neighborhood one evening or weekend just to play games or talk.  I would want to invite parents to such an event as well. I would look to encourage inter-group solidarity and I would hope to NOT talk about school.  One purpose of this time would be to create an in-group identity that is linked to school.  All too often, boys of color don’t see school as being a place that is ‘for them’.  These events would be school based and would be positive and fun. My hope is to create an identity that links fun, place and school.

           This is the part I am the least clear on.  I would like to run some sort of PD with the staff at HTHMA that shares my research and my plan.  I would like to enlist teachers who would like to join… even if just for a meeting or two, to come in and listen and join in the conversations about code-switching and cultural identity.  I am unsure what this would look like and would need to work to understand the school and staff dynamics to design a plan that works for HTHMA.


The calendar is sure to develop as the boys meet and as we develop a culture that is meaningful to them.  

September Initial Organizational Survey (using the Pedro Noguera models)
First club meetings to continue biweekly (or weekly?)
Meeting with potential senior female tutors and Hermanas to establish connection/support
Bilingual ‘understandings’ event for bilingual parents.
October Attend the How Schools Work Conference in NYC to look at models.  The conference focuses on success structures for students of color and will feature Pedro Noguera.
Continue bi-weekly meetings.
Attend Padres game.
Mentor event with trip to visit.
November Start the second quarter BOND xblock
Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
December Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
January Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
February Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
March Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
April Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
May Mentor event with trip to visit.
Plan social event
June Closing ceremony/’graduation’

Works Cited

Fresh Concentrate LLC. (2011). Eagle Academy Foundation. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from Eagle Academy Foundation:

Noguera, P. A. (2008). The Trouble with Black Boys… and Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Paul Hill, J. (1987). Simba: Coming of Age for the African-American Male. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from ERIC:

Viadero, D. (2010). Scholars Identify 5 Keys to Urban School Success. Education Week Online .

Gaitan, C. D. (2004). Involving Latino Families in Schools, Raising Student Achievement Through Home-School Partnerships. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

John Ogbu, e. (2008 ). Minority Status, Oppositional Culture, & Schooling. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The Dream Keepers; Successful Teachers of African American Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1992). Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. New York: Lexington Books.

McCaleb, S. P. (1997). Building Communities of Learners. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

McWhorter, J. H. (2000). Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. New York: The Free Press.

Mica Pollock, e. (2008). Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School. New York: The New Press.

Leadership Philosophy Statement

Melissa Agudelo
Leadership Philosophy Statement

I went to college knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a civil rights or ACLU lawyer.  I wanted to work for social justice and use my voice to amplify so many that needed a little volume; I wanted to work for equality across race and socioeconomic lines.  During my junior year at Mary Washington College, a classmate handed me a Teach for America pamphlet.  In 1995, TFA was not the national movement it is today but it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  I had been considering the Peace Corps, but longed for a program that would let me work in the inner city, preferably with Latino kids.  After being accepted, I was placed in the Phoenix corps.  TFA is a two year commitment but I stayed at Valley View Elementary School on South Mountain for three years total.  Since I loved teaching, I decided to stick with it – and I told myself that when I got sick of education, I would apply to law school.  Seventeen years later, that is still my plan.

I have stayed in education because of the difference I can make every day.    While I have evolved as a teacher, teacher leader and school leader, I have found certain philosophies that I return to again and again and I have learned valuable lessons every year.  I have also learned a great deal about what is important to me and how I want to lead.

Always consider multiple perspectives

My first day of teaching remains one of the scariest days of my life.  I had a plan and tons of resources that I had scoured and memorized.  But I stood; just minutes before opening my door, watching my hand shake as I tried to write my name and the date on the board.  Slowly, I took a deep breath then rested my head on the board, and blinked hard to stop the tears that were welling up.   I heard a small knock on my door so I opened my eyes and willed them to focus on the board in front of me.  As the students came in, they found their assigned seats with their name tags and greeted each other with the familiarity of neighborhood friends.  I watched them, unsure of myself and what I possibly could teach 29 second graders.  As I started the class, a hand flew in the air.  

“Yes Sonia,” I said, reading her name tag.

“Are we going to learn about butterflies?”  she asked, the excitement in her voice evident to everyone in the room.

“Um… do you want to learn about butterflies?” I asked.  All 29 heads nodded excitedly so we spent the next 35 minutes ignoring all of my carefully planned activities.  Instead, we brainstormed a full class project on butterflies that included raising butterflies, reading books about butterflies, making butterflies and understanding how they fly.  As we prepared to leave for recess, I asked Sonia why she wanted to learn about butterflies.

“I thought that’s why you drew them on the board.  They are really pretty and I am really excited.”

I looked at the board.  She pointed out two whispy marks on the board that had been left when I opened my tear soaked eyelids earlier that day.  My eyelashes had left two marks that resembled butterfly wings.

That day, I learned something valuable about allowing space for how others see things – whether that’s a second grader or my ‘boss’.  I think about that moment often and especially when I feel stuck in how I am looking at an issue.  I remind myself that even in my struggle, it’s possible that someone else will see butterflies so I try to always seek out those perspectives.  I also think about what Sonia created in her simple question.  We spent the first two months immersed in butterflies.  We read everything, modeled wings, watched caterpillars create chrysalis and then hatch into the netting tube that we hung in the room.  We wouldn’t have done any of that if not for Sonia’s perspective – and that collectively designed work was more meaningful than anything I had photocopied out of my workbooks.

I want to be a school leader that considers multiple perspectives because the best solutions are collective ones.  My hope is that everyone from students, to teachers, to administration, all feel a sense of connection to the work we do because they see the best of their ideas reflected in our collective direction.  A big part of this is student voice.  I believe that empowering students to design their educational experiences helps to create buy in and, whether its class work or school design, student perspective will always shape me as a school leader.

Don’t be scared, but always be respectful
My first mentor in leadership was Carolyn Bernard, my principal at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake Virginia.  She showed immense faith in me when I was still very young.  I had known Carolyn for a long time as I was a graduate of GBHS and Carolyn was teaching government while I was enrolled.  While I never had her as a teacher, she was just one of those teachers that everyone knew and, as I was active with student government and Model United Nations, I knew her too.  When I returned to teach at GBHS, quite by accident, I was immediately asked to sponsor student government.  I agreed because of Carolyn.  At a school of 2000+ students, it was no small task.  

In southern Virginia, Carolyn was the only female high school principal in a sea of good old boys.  She had achieved her post through sheer grit and I know she endured jokes and questions from early on.  She was absolutely adept at zeroing in on the issue and clamping onto it like a crocodile in water.  She was not swayed by comments or questions about her legitimacy.  I saw this happen on numerous occasions.  Sometimes, she would make a small comment in response to criticism.  Often, she smiled, ignored and moved on to the matter at hand.  She cultivated a reputation as a go-getter.   She was fearless and focused.  And those are qualities I most want to represent as a school leader as well.   Carolyn had a magical ability not to internalize everyone else’s agenda.  She was always respectful and had time to listen to everyone, and she was wonderfully adept at making everyone feel heard and valued.  At the same time, she was also willing to make the tough decisions about where the priorities lie.  That small bit of leading from the front was crucial in creating trust and that is the sort of relationship I always want to cultivate.
    Thanks to Carolyn, I know I want to be a leader who stays focused on the goals and the mission.  I want to think about our collective interests, and I want to see past everyone’s unique positions.  I  want to think and feel my way through what is best for students and I want to always be a leader willing to push on everyone’s thinking.  I want to be a leader who synthesizes and analyzes.  I know that creates trust among professionals so I want everyone I work with to know that my focus is always on what’s best for kids and the collective.  

Stay passionate and visioned
    During the early 2000’s, I worked as a travelling spoken word poet.  I loved performing at a variety of venues and universities and what struck me most about that time was the passion each poet brought to the stage.  Each had their particular theme and, whether it was gay rights or black male empowerment, they inspired everyone in the room through their vision.  I have returned to this artform throughout my career  because of the powerful voice it reinvigorates in me.    

A leader who….
I want to be a Leader who
Always puts kids first
Who hires teachers who are well-versed
Submersed in the murky waters of education
Head first
I want to meet frequently and collaborate professionally
But never take what kids do or don’t do personally
I want to spend tons of time in classrooms watching with a student’s eye
Be much more than just the bad guy
I want everyone to believe they can just drop by
I’ll be both ally and gadfly– Depending on the situation
When I see a need I want to convene student’s parents and teachers
I want to breed a collective voice to succeed
I want everyone to know I don’t have the answers
But when it comes to love, I exceed
I need to know the names of every student who walks the halls
Because to prevent brawls, I want them to have someone safe to call
Stand behind it all
I want to lead so the STUDENTS stand tall
Willing to handle any curve ball
I’ll be the load bearing wall when there is a parent squall
I want to know what is happening in every room
Never assume
I want to collaborate so ideas bloom
Provide bagels at morning meetings to consume
And if needed, I’ll even push a broom
I want everyone to see me as just another warrior in the trench
Never one to ride the bench
I’ll hand you the wrench or investigate that weird stench
I want to clear the way so teachers can teach
So they can always push kids to reach
And personalize their lessons because they know so much about each
I want there to be no cracks
Because we’ve spackled the inside track and removed any slack
I want to constantly think about students first
Want inequities in education reversed
So I want to be the leader willing to handle the worst.
And I know I am too idealistic
But I want to be a leader who figures out the hardest stuff
I want the kids and the neighborhood to be tough
I want to ask myself EVERY DAY – are we doing enough?

    After 15 years in the classroom, I feel my passion for education renewed through my transition into leadership.  My ability to make a difference has taken a new path and the opportunities I have to connect with students, teachers and the school community as a whole have focused my drive for equity.  I love being part of thinking bigger and I also love doing  anything — from the big things to the little things– to support an innovative and supportive school.  I am proud of the connections I have made  and I appreciate the relationships I have been able to develop.   

I want to be a leader who everyone knows is a passionate ally.  I want to be a leader who creates trust so I want to develop relationships through thoughtful conversations and culture building.   I want to lead by example, not by directive and I want everyone in the school to feel connected to and excited by the work.  And, I want to be a leader who does this work every minute I believe in it, but not one minute longer.  

School Law PITP

Year One

Melissa Agudelo