Getting to know the Obama CARE Team

Left to right: Corrin, Chris, Dasha

Dasha Dohnalik, Corrin Kupka and Chris Pierce joined other CARE (Collaborative Action Research) Team members from seven schools last month to discuss their progress so far.

CARE teams are groups of classroom teachers and principals that conduct research to explore culturally relevant teaching practices in their schools. In their research, they focus on a few students of color who struggle in the classroom and try to find out what works for them. They then use the research to create a more engaging classroom for all their students and serve as equity leaders for their colleagues.

The work so far has not been easy. One teacher in the training talked about how she struggles to establish and maintain relationships with middle school students in a 47-minute class period. Others talked about struggling to have productive conversations with their colleagues who weren’t ready to challenge conventional practices and systems.

The CARE training is part of the school district’s strategy to overcome these challenges and arm staff with the tools they need to succeed.

At Obama Elementary, the CARE team is just starting the work of leading their colleagues. They readily admit they are not experts yet.

“Creating equitable learning environments is a long process,” said Dasha, third grade teacher. “We’re learning this work alongside our peers.”

“As adults we have a responsibility to self-reflect before we are able to support students,” said Corrin, first grade teacher. “That is as important as any other professional development in our continued growth as educators.”

Some teachers are already doing great work.

In Dasha’s classroom, she builds lessons based on student strengths and interests. For example, she brought in a real basketball hoop for her students who seemed to love everything about the sport, and used it to teach them a lesson on fractions. The students who before had struggled the most with the math lesson responded the most positively. “You should have seen their eyes light up when they saw the hoop,” she said. The students had fun mastering the lesson, and test scores went up.

In Chris' second grade classroom at Obama, he works to build relationships with his students. One student came into homeroom excited about a music video and dance he saw on YouTube. Chris brought up the video for everyone to listen to and dance along. “By providing a safe, non-judgmental place for the students to be authentic in the classroom, I am setting them up for success for the entire school day,” Chris said.

Chris encourages staff at Obama and other schools to continue to have courageous conversations with their colleagues in a respectful way. “It was hard at first to challenge others’ ideas, but now a lot of my courageous conversations end with tacos and beer shared among friends.”