Leader to Leader

Closing the Gaps Between Learners Through Relationships

At the recent ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) conference, attendees had a series of passionate unconference conversations. Several groups refined their thoughts into a series of presentations to share with other attendees in an "idea marketplace." During the idea marketplace, unconference groups presented for four rounds of 10-minute sessions, giving their peers the opportunity to learn from several groups in one session.

This post, written by ASCD Affiliate leaders Sara Marcum (Arizona ASCD), Verneth Patterson (Bahamas ASCD), Kym Stein (Iowa ASCD), and Angeline Savard (Ontario ASCD); ASCD Emerging Leader Torian White; ASCD Student Chapter leader Melissa Getz (Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg); ASCD Whole Child Network school leaders Evangeline Iglesias and John Wesolowski (Guam); and ASCD Faculty Molly Bensinger-Lacy and Alicia Monroe share their group's experience. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #ASCDL2L.

During the idea marketplace at ASCD's L2L conference, our group's conversation focused on closing the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots." The power of this conversation emerged from a common advocacy for all students and the reality that, regardless of educational context, we all serve those who possess resources and those who have limited resources. Some examples of these resources shared by participants include

  • Access to academic, social, financial, health, and language supports;
  • Exposure to diverse cultural and life experiences;
  • Parental supports;
  • Safe and nurturing home environments;
  • Access to technology; and
  • Fixed vs. growth mind-sets.

Participants also engaged in the process of recognizing that educators must be mindful of perceived lack of resources to ensure that these perceptions do not translate into unintended assumptions. The facilitators further encouraged participants not to be overwhelmed by the harsh reality of the resource gap. Instead, the group recommended an emphasis on attempting to close the gap one student and one parent at a time. To support students, several innovative ideas were shared, including

  • One-on-one conversations with students,
  • Student choice,
  • Peer mentoring,
  • High expectations, and
  • Personalized programming like AVID.

Additionally, participants shared recommendations for engaging parents, such as

  • Home, faith-based organization, and community visits;
  • Parent university workshops with childcare;
  • Print materials and resources in multiple languages;
  • A parent center with technological and employment connections;
  • Before- and after-school support programs;
  • Healthy and respectful two-way communication;
  • Culturally relevant activities like "International Nights;" and
  • Meaningful parent surveys.

As we embrace an increasingly technological society, the facilitators believed it was important to engage participants in considering what schools can do to make technology more accessible to students and their families. Key strategies that were shared by participants included

  • Training on effective use of word processing, social media (i.e., Twitter, FaceBook, and Pinterest), and smartphone technologies;
  • Partnering with community libraries for greater computer access;
  • Automated call and messaging systems;
  • E-mail listservs;
  • Safe texting technologies like Remind101;
  • Parent-led workshops;
  • Personalized invitations for classroom visits;
  • Parental grade monitoring system registration at Open House events; and
  • Community partnerships to help increase Internet access, such as mobile labs, to communities that need it.

In conclusion, the group's aim was to remind participants that the "haves" and "have-nots" actually have one thing in common: they are human beings who value respectful relationships. Before programs can be developed, a "people-over-programs" mind-set—grounded in authentic relationships—should be adopted in pursuit of closing any gaps between learners.

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