Teach Wonder

Disrupting the Educational System

August 01, 2021 The Center for Excellence in STEM Education Season 1 Episode 2
Teach Wonder
Disrupting the Educational System
Show Notes Transcript

We interview Dr. Corey Drake, professor in Education at Michigan State University. She shares some powerful perspectives on children as sense makers ,and what she views as the biggest responsibility for teacher educators. Listen to hear how she ties Core Teaching Practices into the essential work of addressing student inequities.

Links:
Michigan Teacher Education Network


Original Music by: David Biedenbender 

Julie Cunningham:

Okay, now we're recording. So welcome to teach. Wonder. Welcome to teach wonder podcast hosted by Ashley O'Neill and Julie Cunningham. So we are at the Center for Excellence in STEM education located at Central Michigan University. And we are very excited to share with you our first interview, and our reasons for being excited about the interview.

Ashley O'Neil:

Yeah, so the individual you're about to hear from has been in education has quite a bit of varied experience, different from Julie and different from myself. And I think my favorite takeaway, there are a million and I've listened to the interview several times, and it changes each time. But I think what sticking with me the most, and what I hope you'll stay tuned for is to hear our interviewees discussion on disrupting the system in order to move education in the direction it needs to go.

Julie Cunningham:

And I think what, what resonates for the, with me from the interview is that she's come up with some ways in which to address equity with pre service teachers in education, that have gotten around what could be a really challenging topic so that she's figured out a way to address these things in a meaningful manner, which is sometimes not an easy thing to do.

Ashley O'Neil:

Absolutely. So whether or not you're invested in elementary education, math, education, pre service, student teaching equity in education, children, a sense makers, student led learning, there's something in this interview that I know you're going to take away, you'll really get something out of so without further ado, here's our interview. Okay, whenever you're ready.

Unknown:

So today, we have the pleasure of meeting with someone that I have worked with through the Michigan Teacher Education Network. And she has done some really novel work with Central Michigan University and our faculty here. And we'll be following up with a pilot program with K 12. Teacher in service teachers this summer. So it is my pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Corey Drake, who is a professor of education at Michigan State University. Thanks, Cory, for joining us today.

Dr. Corey Drake:

Thanks for having me. Absolutely.

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, so about I don't know you, as well as Julie does, we were just talking a little bit about how Julie has known me for longer and has had, you know, different professional interactions with you. But I think I just met you this past school year, and I've never met you in person. So it would be really great for me, if you could just start by telling us a little bit about yourself, whether that's your teaching, your research interests, anything here to share, just to give us some context.

Dr. Corey Drake:

Sounds great. So I have most recently, for nine years, I was director of teacher preparation at Michigan State University. And even though I'm not in that role now, and I'm in a professor role, I am still just really interested in how we prepare teachers, and how teachers are prepared and supported, in particular, to work with diverse groups of students, and in ways that are really transformative, that provide new opportunities for children that make schools exciting and safe places for children. So and that all started my first teaching jobs were in Chicago public schools. And so when I was in college, I was a teacher's aide, and an after school drama program director in Chicago public schools. And then after that I was a middle school special education teacher. And I feel like my whole path since then, has been thinking about those students I had in those early years. And all the students have come after them, and how we can do better by those students and really provide the kind of ambitious and equitable instruction that they deserve that,

Ashley O'Neil:

So you've had a little bit of a varied experience, especially in those early years. And we were just talking yesterday about how our students, our K 12, students, kind of still shape how we view the world and what we prefer, or what we how we, what we're most passionate about. So have those experiences. Is there a place that you felt most at home as a teacher or experienced that, that really, really sticks with you?

Dr. Corey Drake:

That is a good question. So you know, one thing I'll say is that not only do those students stick with me, but you know, when I was a teacher, I went through an alternative teacher preparation program, and that experience as well has stayed with me in terms of again, Thinking about how we prepare and support teachers, particularly to work in diverse urban contexts. You know, those are really the schools in the context where I feel most at home still is, in those, you know, especially elementary math classrooms in really diverse, large city schools like that, that's my home. And in relation to that, though, you know, the course I love to teach the most is the elementary math methods course. And so I've taught that at a few different universities. And it is all about preparing teachers who usually did not have good math experiences themselves, to do something different for their students to have the math classroom be a place where all students voices are heard, and students are sense makers, and students have opportunities to share their thinking and build their thinking. And so it's somewhere it's in that intersection of that, you know, third grade, urban diverse classroom and the elementary math methods course. And it's at the intersection of those two where that, you know, that's where my heart is, in really being in those classrooms and preparing teachers for those classrooms.

Julie Cunningham:

So if you are describe your and you have a little bit started, I think down that path by saying sensemaking and the third grade math, but how would you describe your teaching practice or style? Or what how you would like to see pre service teachers interact with students in the classroom in a math education class?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, so really children and sense makers is at the heart of that the other piece that's at the heart of that is teaching that focuses on what students know and understand. And then building on that versus trying to find what they don't know, or what they haven't done yet, or, because you can't learn by building on things you don't know. And you don't understand you learn by building on the things you understand. But our school system is often so set up to point us towards the deficits point us towards the things labeled students by the things they don't understand. And so, for me, a big piece of work with my students is, what do your students know? What do they understand what's interesting to them? What motivates them? How can you find these things out? And then how do you build on those? And that's where we really then get into the math? What do we know about how children's thinking develops in math? And based on that, given what your students know, now, what would be a good next problem for them to work on? What would be a good set of numbers for them to work on? How would you design that task for your students to move them to the next step from wherever they are to wherever we want them to go? Eventually. And so it's it's a lot of learning to notice and listen to children's thinking, and then to design tasks and write problems that will facilitate children and moving that next step on those progressions.

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, that sounds that sounds so great. So I think a lot about strengths based practices, right? Not necessarily in math, but inside of math, That, to me, it's that model of, so you have this bridge that you're building with your student, right, and the teachers on one side, and the endpoint is on the one side with the teacher, and the students are over here. And you're flipping that script a little bit to say, Nope, I'm standing next to my student, looking at it from their perspective. And then we're taking that step forward together, and then the next step forward together. And I have the end goal in my mind, but I'm always standing next to my student instead of standing over here at the end saying, Come on, let's go. Right?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, you know, it's, you know, it's our job as teachers to not tell students what that bridge is made of, but facilitate the experiences to help bridge for them to help them build on what they know, I think it's like a really common phrase that can be kind of trite, but it really is the difference to me between are you teaching math? Or are you teaching children, and I'm teaching children mathematics, right? I don't want to lose the content, that content is important. I want them working on, you know, hard problems and making sense of challenging math and conceptual ways. But I'm starting, like you say, with the child, we're teaching children math, as opposed to teaching math to children.

Julie Cunningham:

And I'm imagining that you may not have started as a first year teacher down that same path that you're at today, right? So if you if you could talk about maybe how your teaching practice changed over time, or how you got to the place you are right now, and or if you prefer, what would you go back? Like what advice would you go back and give your younger self right when you were starting out along that path?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah, that's so interesting. You know, I often think to those, you know, first years in the classroom, and you know, I think, like a lot of us that I'm sure the two of you This is true to, like I had some of those instincts, right? I knew to like listen to children, and then really like, start where they were. But I didn't really know how to do that. And I didn't have the confidence that that would be okay. Right. And I see that with a lot of teachers now, like, I kind of knew that was the thing to do. But I also had this textbook here, and like, I feel like I need to be teaching the things that are in here and the way that they're proposed. So you know, I did a lot more teaching of, say, standard algorithms than I would ever do now. But you know, a big piece of that is the confidence there is a knowledge base to around how children's thinking develops. And I've certainly learned that over time, but it's in, you know, having this having the confidence to have the students do it and to recognize that, you know, I could cover 10 pages in the textbook, or I could really have students understand one concept. And, you know, the pressure is to cover the 10 pages, but the goal is to have them understand something and understand it deeply. And it took me a while to get to that place. And I think it's still hard, right? Like the system just pushes us and pushes us to not value that andl value coverage instead. So...

Ashley O'Neil:

And again, it goes back to that focus of what I taught, I did this, I covered it, I got the unit. Right. But did your kids come to the end of the unit with you?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yes. And what did they learn? You may have targeted, but what did they learn? And you know, we don't focus on that so much so. But we need to.

Ashley O'Neil:

So it makes a lot of sense to me hearing you talk about, you know, that growing of confidence and listening to that gut instinct that talks about valuing children. And that to me reminds me a little bit of the work that introduced me to you, which was some of this core teaching practices, which I think was the first time that someone had talked to me about that in a lot of detail, right? And so core teaching practices go beyond just math or just a content area. They're universal to all teachers. So how do you think those fit into this kind of student led listening to children? How do you think those fit together?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah, so I think what's really valuable about the core teaching practices is that they give us as a profession. And as professionals, they give us both a language and a, you know, I wanted to say decomposition, because that's, that's the word in the field, but they give us a way to think about it, we have the big idea, this broad vision of children has sense makers and listening to children and student agency, but the core practices really give us a way to actually do that in the classroom, to make that vision come to life. And not only in our own classrooms, but in the classrooms of the teachers we're working with. And so it really, you know, when you think about the shifts, like how do I shift from covering the textbook and direct instruction and things like that? How do I shift from that to a more student centered classroom to a more equitable classroom to a more ambitious classroom. And to me, the core practices are that route that you can take they they talk about, right building relationships with students and eliciting student thinking, and they kind of provide those concrete steps for teachers to really think about how do I create a classroom that is, you know, both equitable and ambitious?

Unknown:

I was just gonna say, Can you give us just a really succinct summary of this for any listeners that don't know what we're talking about? When we say core teaching practice or high leverage practice? Can you give a general

Ashley O'Neil:

I'm having a hard time sticking to the script? Because I have like a million new questions.

Dr. Corey Drake:

I'm Good, too.Yeah, so there are various definitions out there. But I think the thing they all have in common, whether they're core practices are high leverage practices. And whether it's the state of Michigan's version or somebody else's version is that these are practices that we know are important and generative for new teachers in two ways. One is that they are the high leverage term comes from this idea that they are high leverage in terms of student thinking and the kinds of things we were talking about students sense making student learning. So they're high leverage in that way, but they're also generative, and that they're the kinds of practices that kind of open up the space as a teacher for you to continue learning from your own practice. Right. And so so they really just named those those practices, those teacher moves that will open up the space for teacher learning and also Most importantly, we know will support student learning.

Ashley O'Neil:

Um, how do you think core teaching practices helps with that? That bridge building right we have teachers who come from all over the state and all over the country, and then they re transplant elsewhere. And maybe their their small geographical experience isn't comprehensive So how do you think core teaching practices fits into that?

Dr. Corey Drake:

That is really interesting. So again, I think in some ways, core teaching practices, again, really help help us operate as a field and as a profession, which is to say, there are things and culture and context matter, they matter a lot. And we want teachers who are able to understand the culture and the community and the context in which they're teaching to bring that in and to build on it. And at the same time, though, the core of the core teaching practices is this idea that whatever classroom you're in, like, these are important things to engage in, again, getting to know your students, eliciting their thinking, leading a discussion. And and they're all about these kind of interactive modes of teaching, that are not about teaching as telling that aren't about teaching as flipping the pages in the curriculum, but teaching in interaction with students and students and teachers interacting together with content. And how do you do that. So you might go to a new context. And you've learned some things about leading a group discussion. And we see this in teacher preparation a lot, actually, were even, you know, a new teacher will say, Well, I student taught in second grade, but now I'm teaching fifth grade. And so nothing I learned in teacher preparation is useful. But I think the core practices can give you a thing to hang on to that feels like it can transfer that I learned to lead a group discussion in second grade. And of course, fifth graders are different than second graders. But the particular practices and moves and strategies I learned, I can use those, and then I can use those to learn about my fifth graders and to figure out what it is that they know and they're interested in, and they want to talk about. So the poor practices help with that transfer in a way.

Ashley O'Neil:

And that'sa great key point too, it intrinsically forces or naturally forces, the teacher and the students to get to know each other, right. So it's honoring the students history, it's honoring the students, what they're bringing to the table, what they're passionate about what their lived experience might be. So even if you know, I'm suddenly finding myself in a classroom, that's 1000 miles away from home, and I don't know any of the restaurants or any of the places or any of the, you know, the small cultural quirks that come from that particular building, we now I now have a tool that allows me to get to know my students that way in a way that honors them, which is great.

Dr. Corey Drake:

Exactly, because in that case, right? They have some expertise that you don't have, right, and you want to be able to open that space to learn from your students. While you're teaching them, they're teaching you, right, because they know those things about their community, and they've experienced their communities in particular ways. And like you say their lived experiences are what they need to teach you about so that you can teach them about the, you know, the school content,

Julie Cunningham:

Is their Corey, one teaching practice that you think lays the groundwork for others. I mean, I mean, now separately, we've had conversations about there might be some that are most appropriate for science and math, education and others. But when you look at them as a whole, do you think there's someplace that people start? Or is there someplace that you start when you're working with undergraduate students?

Dr. Corey Drake:

What's interesting about your question to me is that if you asked me what do I think is the most important most foundational practice, I would say building relationship, building respectful relationships? If you ask me what I do the most and focus on the most, it's eliciting children's thinking, and so like, that's a signal to me that maybe, maybe I need to be incorporating both of them, you know, integrating them together, together more, because I think I take it as an assumption that new teachers know how to build relationships with students, but I don't think that's true. And it would be great to have strategies, especially if you're going in somewhere new, new communities, students who don't look like you like the first thing you need to do know how to do is build those relationships with your students

Julie Cunningham:

Two other things come to mind when we talk about car teaching practice. It was one of which you explicitly mentioned earlier, and that was this idea that there's not sort of a cap, right, I'm being a master teacher, like you've somehow perfected this core teaching practice. But yeah, it sounds like we just say, okay, new teachers need to learn how to do this, and then they're done. So can you talk a little bit about that sort of that teacher learning about the core teaching practice or that process of taking away just as much as your students are learning? Right, as a as an instructor in the classroom?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, an interesting thing, especially with experienced teachers, is they likely were not prepared in an era where we had the language and the naming of these practices, but they're doing a lot of these things. And so, you know, I think one thing that's really interesting is to work with experienced teachers and talk about these core practices, not as something brand new to them, but maybe as a new language and a new framing for a lot of what they're doing already. But then as you say, then learn using that that as a launching off point to say, Okay, here's what we're you're already doing when you lead a discussion. But let's look at this decomposition, let's look at the different elements of leading a discussion and what that can look like. And how can you do that in more equitable ways? And how can you do that in ways that bring in more student voice or that connect ideas, we all have things we're working on? And so you know, practicing teachers are starting in a different place on this trajectory, but but the core practices also give them that structure and that trajectory to say, Oh, well, I'm already doing this. But if I did it in this way, what would that advantage be? What would that do for my students, and so that's an exciting place that they seem simple. But as you dig into them, you can go really deep with them, and particularly kind of stretching them to do the core practices and equitable ways, I think, is like the central challenge we all face. So I think about

Ashley O'Neil:

what you just kind of laid out, which is a really great theoretical way to kind of work fair practices, but doesn't think about staff meetings and emails to parents and parent teacher conferences, right, and some of those things. So when you think about doing this, right, doing this work as a teacher, whether you're a new teacher, or a more experienced teacher, what are some challenges that you associate with getting down and doing this work?

Dr. Corey Drake:

I am so glad you brought that up. Because I think that is so important. And I think there are at least two pieces to that, that I think I've been really lacking from most teacher preparation programs, you know, curricula and experiences. Right? One is just understanding the kind of logistical and technical aspects of teaching, right. So some of the things you named, are kind of the technical aspects, like you need to know how to do the grading, and you need to know and, you know, you need to know just how to learn about a system and become part of a system. But related to that, the things that we're talking about, especially when we talk about the core practices and equitable and transformative potential those practices have, well, we don't always talk about is how do you do that in an existing system? How do you use these practices and a system, like we said earlier, that's really pushing you in a different way. And so I think that is the biggest challenge, that new teachers and any teachers who are kind of buying into this idea of core practices or even just trying to work towards equitable teaching, are facing like, how do we, the core practices don't really tell us or give us strategies for really disrupting systems or changing the status quo, or navigating a system to see where are the spaces for me to do this kind of work that I want to do. And so I think that is the biggest challenge. You know, I tell the story a lot, I do a lot of work with supporting teachers to use curriculum materials. And, you know, I tell the story a lot have a very transformative time for me was realizing that, in a lot of ways, I was setting new teachers up just to feel bad, because we would talk in teacher preparation about, you know, ambitious practices about equitable practices about, you know, using curriculum in innovative ways that open up space for children. And, you know, they would walk into a school that and be handed a textbook, and the principal says here, this is why we teach math. Here's the book. And, and that's their job. And right, so they can't put their job at risk by saying, Oh, no, I'm not doing it that way. I'm doing what I learned in teacher prep. But at the same time, they feel bad about that, because they know that what they're doing is not best for kids. And so, you know, for me, so I mean, I really transformed my own methods class at that point, because so we start with the book. And then we say, you know, so how do you do these core practices? In the context of this book, you've just been handed? How do you teach equitably? How do you open up space for a sense of making when you've been handed perhaps this very scripted set of curriculum materials. And so, you know, the bigger picture of that is that I think, we really need to support teachers, you know, both, we need to be part of helping change the system. But we also need to prepare teachers with the tools and strategies for navigating the system as it is so that they can teach in more transformative, equitable ways. I love that it

Ashley O'Neil:

really gets at the heart of where I think we get stuck sometimes right which is where we we leave a PDU We read a book and we feel inspired and, and on fire, and we're ready to go. And we have all these ideas and we go in on the weekend, and then more Monday comes right. And then we feel defeated. And we feel guilty, because it's not happening the way we wanted it to. And now we were at that point where we know better, right, we know what we'd like to do better. And we just can't connect those dots for ourselves. So I really like that realistic approach to saying, you know, big picture goals, let's do some disrupting here. But also, let's learn how to work inside the context of this of this space, and you can still be a really impactful teacher.

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah. Yeah. And there's a lot of debate around that. I mean, there are some people, you know, there's a growing abolitionist movement in education, right, that would say no, like, you, as long as you are finding ways to work within those cracks in the system, essentially, and kind of teach and ambitious and equitable ways. You're perpetuating the system, right? Because, you know, you're you're finding a small space for success or helping a few students, but the system is still the same damaging system. But until I figure out how to take down the system, and how to really transform it, I think the least I can do is support teachers in finding those spaces in their classrooms to do this work.

Julie Cunningham:

Cory, you've talked a lot about equity. And I know that you feel strongly about it. And that's important to you. Do you want to say anything more about why that's important to you? Or how you think these strategies address equity in the classroom?

Dr. Corey Drake:

Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I think this is the challenge that we face, as a society as a field is, you know, we, we can look at all kinds of measures, and, you know, whether they be achievement measures, learning measures, you know, identity measures, any any measure we might think of, and it is clear that as a system, we are disproportionately doing harm to students of color, and also to poor students. And, you know, we have existed this way for so long, that is sometimes hard to see that it's the system and to figure out a way to disrupt that. But I think if we're not doing that, then what are we particularly in teacher preparation, where if all we wanted to do was reproduce the system and kind of reproduce the same results and reproduce the same inequities, then teacher preparation is not really necessary, you could just go into a school and start doing the things that they're doing there and come up with the same results. But we want to do better, right, particularly the university, like universities are about creating new knowledge to address societal problems to address the big challenges. And so for me, that is the big challenge, like how can we prepare teachers to make schools a better place for children, and particularly, children who've been marginalized and children who've been harmed by schools and and I do think that core practices give us a way to do that, because again, they give us a handle, they give us something concrete, for new teachers to work on and to rehearse and to try out. And then we can talk about how could you have done this part differently? Or why did you decide to call on so and so or you know, different things that can make those more equitable, but they give us an entry point, right into the work of teaching. And so that's how I think they can be really critical for advancing this idea of equity. Otherwise, again, we wind up in the kind of abstract big picture, we want schools to be more equitable, but here we have something concrete to really work on.

Julie Cunningham:

So I think thank you for spending time with us this afternoon. And then also like just for our listeners will make sure that you have links and references to more information about core teaching practices and excellent Thank you. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

Ashley O'Neil:

We hope you enjoyed this interview as much as we did. If you are interested in hearing more, don't forget to subscribe. You can find this podcast on most major podcast providers.