The CTA IFT is attempting to bring a new approach to school change. Based on our early work with the Gates and Packard Foundations and discussions with hundreds of practitioners and students, the IFT determined that school change must include two key factors: (1) It needs to be teacher-driven and (2) It should be based on what is working and successful in our schools and classrooms.
By focusing on what works in our schools, the IFT believes strength-based models for school change add a new dimension to school improvement. Strength-based models provide an asset-based approach that teachers can use to emphasize talents over weaknesses and strengths over deficits to create a learning environment that supports and encourages every student to do their best.
IFT discovered a new sense of optimism and accomplishment when teachers were given the responsibility for describing what makes the teaching and learning process most successful. As a result, the CTA IFT is now helping our chapters and members become experts on solutions, as they begin to change educational policy from the local level.
IFT Grant Program
Acknowledging CTA members’ critical support for the CTA Foundation for Teaching and Learning through a portion of the $20 annual reverse dues check off, the IFT Board of Directors strongly supported the creation of the IFT Grant Program as a way for the foundation to give something back to CTA members. The grants are designed for K-12 teachers and certificated support staff, ESP members and higher education instructors. All proposals are reviewed, using a strength-based matrix, by an IFT Grant Selection committee composed of outstanding teachers from various grade levels throughout California.
Beginning in 2010, CTA members and chapters with strength-based ideas about improving student achievement have received funding to turn those ideas into reality. Designed to support the belief that the most effective reform proceeds from the classroom up, the IFT Grant program has awarded over 50 Educator and Chapter grants in its first three years. Over $500,000 has been distributed thanks to the voluntary support of CTA members. For a year-by-year summary of IFT Grants awarded, please go to www.teacherdrivenchange.org/past-grant-recipients. This investment in strength-based teacher driven change is helping to expand the focus of our union to include issues like student outcomes and teacher quality.
All application information and links regarding the IFT Grant Program can be found on the IFT website.
Current IFT Projects
• The Positive Deviance Project
Now in its fourth year, the project is designed to increase the graduation rate at Merced High School. Under a grant from The Hewlett Foundation, a team from Merced volunteered and was accepted for this program. The initial meeting of Merced High School stakeholders was held in February 2009, with Mark T. Munger, who is associated with The Positive Deviance Initiative of Tufts University, serving as the consultant.
Instead of approaching the problem in a traditional way – looking at students who drop out of school -- the program relies on those students who are successfully staying in school and thriving despite such social factors as poverty, family problems, crime and gangs. The MHS program involves regular meetings between teacher mentors, at-risk students and these so-called “positive deviants.” In addition, students participate in a college field trip and present the end-of-the-year student-led “Last Word” Assembly.
The program has a two-pronged approach. The first step is tapping into the knowledge of the community outliers, who somehow come up with the solutions to problems. Second is to share those solutions with the rest of the community and grow as a whole. The IFT believes the potential for the Positive Deviance approach to reduce high school dropouts is vast and largely untapped. Indeed, district data for 2012 indicates the PD program has contributed to a 25% reduction in the dropout rate at MHS. The District Administration and School Board are planning to export the program to all six of the District’s high schools.
• The Algebra Success Academy
This project began in 2009 with three teachers from Allison Elementary School who were inspired by the work of Bob Moses and the Algebra Project. The ASA represents a unique partnership involving the CTA IFT, the Twin Rivers United Educators, the Twin Rivers Unified School District, and the UC Davis CRESS Center.
The program has now grown to more than 20 teachers, in grades 3-7, from Twin Rivers, Eureka, Paradise, and Riverdale school districts. In 2012, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation generously supported the expansion of the Algebra Success Academy by awarding a two-year grant to IFT. The Algebra Success Academy is a multi-dimensional program that provides a forum for teacher dialogue on effective teaching and learning and for translating best practices into teaching practice that increases student algebraic learning. Recognizing that algebra is a gate-keeper course for higher mathematics, the program is designed to support algebraic reasoning in the upper elementary grades and lower middle grades and to prepare students for success in eighth-grade Algebra 1.
The Algebra Success Academy also uses mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education. It brings together and engages families, students, teachers, administrators, and community members in ways that support student well-being and collaborative community school partnerships.
An evaluation of the program by the CRESS Center – UC Davis School of Education indicated that the Algebra Success Academy approach was encouraging in terms of parent participation, student engagement, teachers’ pedagogical learning, and student achievement. Student survey results indicate high levels of agreement that math is important, interesting, necessary for future success, and useful in everyday life.
• Regional Teacher Think Tanks
Beginning in the 2012, the CTA Institute for Teaching organized a diverse set of CTA members to be part of eight IFT Regional Teacher Think Tanks. IFT believes that these thinking teachers can contribute greatly to the conversation around school change. Seldom are these exemplary educators asked for their opinions about their chosen profession or the major issues that confront public schools in the United States and in California. IFT believes that it is time to ask and we have created a structure to do that in a systematic and respectful way.
Often, without any celebrity, our members are developing new structures, procedures and practices to improve the teaching and learning. These members represent the best that our profession has to offer and many are eager to voice their ideas on what is working in public education and the teaching and learning process. By bringing together some of these members to be part of our regional teacher think tanks, IFT can help build on what’s great about schools to make them even better.
• Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project
IFT has been an active supporter of the Sacramento-based Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project since 2007.
Home visits work and teachers have always done them. That practice has been enhanced with a strategic focus and collaboration dedicated to this proven strategy with positive outcomes for families, staff, and most importantly, students of all grade levels. IFT and CTA formally partnered with the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project to help their expansion to new school communities, in California and nationwide.
The concept behind the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project is simple. Rather than blaming each other, teachers and parents come together, in a unique setting, as equal partners, to build trust and form a relationship where they can take the time to share dreams, expectations, experiences, and tools regarding the child’s academic success. Independent evaluations of our home visit efforts show increased student attendance rates, increased student test scores, decreased suspension and expulsion rates, and decreased vandalism at sites.
Participants share five core values: (1) The visits are voluntary; (2) The visits build the capacity of both educators and families; (3) The visitors are trained, go in pairs and are compensated for their time; (4) The visits take place with all families and are not targeted to struggling students; and (5) The visits are strategically designed to boost the educational success of pre K-12 students.
• Strength-Based School Improvement Projects
With the cooperation of the Palm Springs Teachers Association, beginning in 2011, Desert Springs Middle School became the site of an IFT-sponsored School Improvement project that is engaging staff and students in a joint exploration of how to build a program around what is going right on campus. Based on interviews with over 25% of the students, the staff collaborated to offer a culinary elective and found new ways to engage the students. Similarly, the staff at Anaheim’s Gauer Elementary School began working with the IFT in 2012 to embark on a strength-based process designed to envision Gauer as a Dream School. The work not only instilled hope, but also confidence that positive changes can be made. The staff agreed that the focus on what is working will help them achieve the results they desire. Both schools have strong, supportive principals that believe in the power of teacher driven change.
• Early Childhood Education Alliance
This project was established with the support of the Packard Foundation to train and inform CTA members, leaders and staff on strength-based models in Early Childhood Education. Beginning in 2005, IFT sponsored a series of statewide forums and we continue to work closely with the CTA Early Childhood Education Committee to explore other opportunities to enhance preschool education. In partnership with iCohere Inc., IFT designed a virtual conference in 2009 to provide support to preschool teachers and other ECE professionals by encouraging them to apply strength-based approaches in their classrooms.
• Marin Institute for Teaching Excellence
The work of establishing the Marin Institute for Teaching Excellence (M.I.T.E.) exemplifies what strengthbased teacher driven change is all about. IFT is supporting this county-wide effort to create a teacher-led organization that provides, teachers, students and parents a single place to find local master teachers, view best practices and connect with teachers for on-going ideas and support.
• California School Garden Network
Recognizing that many CTA members are already supporting school garden projects at their local school sites, the IFT became a California School Garden Network Partner in 2009. IFT applauds the work of the California School Garden Network (CSGN) to create and sustain school gardens throughout the state. The IFT agrees with CSGN’s mission to promote school gardens as a means “to enhance academic achievement, a healthy lifestyle, environmental stewardship, and community and social development.”
Teachers have told us that their gardens offer a wide variety of benefits to their students. They are enthusiastic that the lessons taught in school gardens apply to such a wide range of disciplines. The CSGN’s essential book, Gardens for Learning: Creating & Sustaining Your School Garden is available free as a download from their website csgn.org.
• SMASH Program
IFT has developed a partnership with the San Francisco-based Level Playing Field Institute to support the expansion of their Summer Math & Science Honors Academy. This three-year summer program for highachieving, low-income high school students of color provides a 5-week college residential enrichment program. Courses are taught by local STEM high school teachers at UC Berkeley, Stanford, USC and UCLA.
• IFT Learning & Resource Centers
In 2008, the CTA Institute for Teaching joined Amazon.com’s Associates Program to form Learning & Resource Centers in support of teacher-driven change. Hundreds of classroom materials have been selected and grouped in three Learning & Resource Centers. They can assist our members in developing lesson plans, strategic goals for their classroom, and align their curriculum to state standards.
For more information, visit the IFT website, www.teacherdrivenchange.org, or join the “CTA Institute for Teaching” community on Facebook.