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Post-Pandemic Preparation: Reimagining Middle School Partnerships

Post-Pandemic Preparation: Reimagining Middle School Partnerships

Date of the Event: August 04, 2021 | Dr. LaTasha Adams
Show Notes:

In this first webinar, in our Middle School Family, School and Community Engagement Series, Dr. LaTasha Adams, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education and Coordinator of Middle Level Education Programs at Clayton State University, discussed how partnerships can be formed with middle schools and other stakeholders, including families, community partners and businesses. Attendees explored opportunities for reimagining partnerships in the middle school setting.

Sherri Wilson:

Welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us today. We are delighted to have all of you here. We have such a great session planned for you today, and it’s about middle school, which is a topic that I don’t think ever really gets the attention that it deserves. So we’re super excited to present this today.

Sherri Wilson:

Before we begin, we do want to remind everyone that this webinar is being recorded. All of you who registered wil...

Sherri Wilson:

Welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us today. We are delighted to have all of you here. We have such a great session planned for you today, and it’s about middle school, which is a topic that I don’t think ever really gets the attention that it deserves. So we’re super excited to present this today.

Sherri Wilson:

Before we begin, we do want to remind everyone that this webinar is being recorded. All of you who registered will get a copy of the recording and the slides as well. So that’ll be mailed out to you in a couple of days. No worries. While you’re waiting, take a minute and introduce yourself in the chatbox. I see that Megan already did.

Sherri Wilson:

Welcome, Megan. Nice to have folks from Georgia here today. I see Delia is here. Thank you for joining us today, Delia. Jennifer from Phoenix. Nice to see you. Tiffany from Chicago. Tiffany, I too am in Chicago. So it is lovely to see one of my neighbors here today. Welcome to all of you.

Sherri Wilson:

Just as a reminder, our webinar is recorded and everyone who registered will get a copy of the recording and a PDF version of the slides. So you don’t have to ask that question. But if you do ask any questions, we ask that you please post those in the Q&A box.

Sherri Wilson:

As you can see, the chat stream moves super-fast and we don’t want to miss any questions that you have. So be sure to use the Q&A box for that. Also quick reminder that the Zoom platform automatically defaults to sending your messages just to the panelists. And LaTasha and I are super excited to see them, but you need to change your dropdown to hosts and panelists so everybody can enjoy the messages that you send.

Sherri Wilson:

And with that, we will go ahead and get started today. So again, I want to welcome all of you here. Thank you for posting your introductions in the chat. We’re happy to see them all. Today we’re going to talk with Dr. LaTasha Adams, who is a remarkable woman and incredibly beautiful and talented.

Sherri Wilson:

She’s going to share with us information about the post-pandemic preparation, particularly regarding reimagining middle school partnerships, which is a topic that is really important. After she finishes with her presentation, we’ll have a brief Q&A. Make sure you put your questions in the Q&A box. And then we’ll have some final thoughts. And with that, I’m going to turn it right over to you, Dr. LaTasha Adams, to take it away.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Hello, everyone. I’m so excited that you are here today. There we go. So excited that you are here today. And as Sherri said, I am Dr. LaTasha Adams from Clayton State University and I will be presenting Post-Pandemic Preparation: Reimagining Middle School Partnerships. Next slide.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I like to start all of my presentations just telling you a little bit about who I am. So I’m a wife and a mother of a six-year-old who is trying to get in the screen. She has been in the screen for all of my meetings for the last year and a half. Hopefully, she won’t come this time. I’m an educator for over two decades.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I have taught middle school. I’ve been a middle school principal. Right now I train middle school teachers. So all of my career has been in middle school. I’m an entrepreneur. I have a business and a nonprofit that focuses on literacy and how families can help their children with literacy skills and I’m also a community advocate.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I work with the community and with families. Currently, I’m working with families to help them to advocate for their kids in terms of virtual learning and hybrid learning. And so that’s a little bit about me. Next slide. So I also would like to know a little bit about who’s in the room. I love the fact that we are so diverse in where we come from.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I like the fact that we have a lot of people from Georgia. So shout out to all my fellow Georgians. But then there’s also people who are district leaders. And if I say anything that resonates with you, if you can just go ahead and raise your hand in the chat really quickly just so I know who’s here. We have some district leaders.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I see that Daniella just said that she’s here as a community outreach person. We have families, we have some business leaders, I know we have teachers, we also have some com community leaders. So all of you are putting that in a chat. So that’s wonderful. And that just lets me know who my audience is.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I’m so glad that all of you are here today. Finally, are there any August birthdays? If you can just put… Oh, I see some hands are raising. Happy birthday. My birthday is actually tomorrow. So I’m really excited about that. So shout out and congratulations to all of my people who are August birthdays. So thank you for being here.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Oh, there’s also… Thank you. I’m getting happy birthdays. Thank you for that. So at the last it says anyone else. There’s also graduate students. So I see that we have graduate students who are here as well. So that is so awesome. And again, I’m so glad that everybody is here. Thank you again, Jill, for telling me happy birthday.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I appreciate, and May. Next slide. So by the end of the session, you’ll be to define the middle school students’ need for partnership and describe various partnerships that can occur with middle school students. So as an educator, I’d like for you to know upfront what you should be able to do by the end of the session.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So those are our two objectives that we’ll spend the next 40-ish minutes discussing. How we’re going to get there, I’ll first give you a little bit of information about the middle school context. I love middle school and it’s very unique. So we’ll talk briefly about middle school because it is a little bit different from elementary school and high school.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Then we’ll talk about partnerships with families, the community, and business partners. So that’s our agenda for this afternoon. So before I go any further, I had to show you guys my students. So this was my last class that I taught for middle school. And this was many years ago, but I always… Thank you, Sherri. Sherri says cute kids.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I always use them as my foundation because they’re still my why. All of my students have been my why, but this is just one group of students, my last group. That really is just my why. And so as we are talking through this presentation, I would love for you to just put in your mind your why. So is it a group of students that you support?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Is it a group of families that you are engaged with? Are you a principal and you have a staff of middle school teachers that you work with? Whoever those people are, put them in the forefront of you. I see all these smiling faces. These students actually graduated this year from high school and many of them are going on to college.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So there are a lot of memories that I see in this. And so just keep the why at the foundation as we talk about these students. So first, let’s dig into the middle school context. As I said before, middle school is such an important time.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And anybody who has had a middle schooler as your own child, or your niece, or your nephew, or anybody who’s worked directly with middle schoolers, you know that this time is unique and this time really is special so that we can help the trajectory of where the students go. So as we are focusing on middle school, I wanted to bring this out.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I’m so glad that the link to this article is put in the chat. So you can check that out. I work very closely with the Association of Middle Level Education. And so anytime that I have a presentation that talks about middle school, a lot of times I send people back to this national organization.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And this national organization does research with middle schools. If you go to their website, they have a lot of references and conferences. And actually, the article that this presentation is coming from is on the AMLE website as well. So it’s an article that I wrote about partnerships in middle school.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So check out AMLE but also check out the middle school context that they talk about. So there are four essential attributes of a successful middle school that they discuss. And I know we’re talking about partnering and we’re talking about middle schools, but within that, we also have to remember that a middle school should be developmentally responsive, challenging, empowering, and equitable.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I’m going to talk a little bit more about being developmentally responsible. We’ll dig into that a little bit more. But just think about these four attributes as you’re thinking about how you’re going to work with your middle schoolers’ families and the children this year. Also being equitable, I think is important because we talk a lot about making sure that all students get what they need.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And middle school is such a time where students are all over the place. You can just even think about physically. If you can imagine middle schoolers lined up, you’d have a varied range of heights, a varied range of personalities. So we have to ensure that what we do with them is reaching each one of those children who are very different and diversified.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So again, I want to dig into developmentally responsive a little bit later. AMLE, this we believe all also has three characteristics of successful middle schools and they put those into these three categories, curriculum, instruction, and assessment is the first, leadership and organization characteristics, and then the final one that we’ll dig into is culture and community characteristics.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Under culture and community characteristics, there are a lot of different subsets. I’m just pulling out two of them because it fits perfectly with our conversation today. The first one is that the school actively involves families in the education of their children. And then the second one is the school includes community and business partners.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So we obviously are going to talk through families and community business partners as those characteristics. As I mentioned before though, before we go into talking about partnerships, I did mention that I wanted to talk a little bit more about being developmentally appropriate for students. I think this is especially important now as we are in a pandemic.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And when I wrote this article, I was very hopeful that we would be post-pandemic at this time. I don’t know what that music is all about. I’m sorry. I do apologize. I think somebody from my university is trying to call me. But I’ll keep going. It’ll go off in a minute. I do apologize. So we aren’t, as we all know, post-pandemic.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so because of that, I think we all need to really focus on where our students are because of the pandemic. And one way to do that is to think about social emotional learning. So as we are talking through how you can partner with families and businesses and the community, I first wanted to give this information about social-emotional learning.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So in general, social-emotional learning is when students are learning how to deal with their emotions of themselves and how to work with other people. This is a CASEL model and you can look up more information about this on their website, but there are five attributes of this where we are teaching children about self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and being socially aware.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I just wanted to point this out because at the middle school, this is so important developmentally and this is when students are really honing in on what these things mean. When we have elementary school students, we’re talking about how to work with each other. Because of where middle school students are developmentally, their friends and their friend groups are becoming more important to them.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So because of that, learning relationship skills is going to be so important. When you add on top of that the fact that these students may have not been physically together for a year and a half, then as they’re coming back to schools, then this becomes ever more important. So I had to put this in. I know during the pandemic I’ve been working with families and groups of families to talk about social-emotional learning.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I said I had to add this and I actually just added it today because of where we are. And students are now coming back after being away a year and a half, and some of them may not have the opportunity because schools here in Georgia, and I don’t know if it’s like this where you are, but a lot of our kids are going back this week, but schools have already been quarantined.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Some students are already in virtual learning who had planned on being in a face to face learning. So I know each community is different, but we’ve got to think about our students’ social-emotional learning as well. So now we are going to dig into those three types of partnerships.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So what I’m going to do is talk about those partnerships in general, give you some questions to consider, give you a real-world example that I’ve actually used and then some next steps for you to think about. So if you are really excited about partnering with family, that’s up first, then I’ll also talk about the community and businesses.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So partnerships with family have always been really important. As a middle school principal and a middle school teacher, a lot of times I get families saying, oh, they’re in middle school. I want to be hands-off. I want them to grow up and be independent of me.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I always tell families, this is the time where you need to be the closest to them because this is really where they’re learning more about who they are, more about the world, their knowledge of right and wrong, and their moral compass is shaped during this time.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So you want to be able to partner with families so that families know this is not a time to be hands-off, this is not a time to be hands-off with the school community, but rather this is a time for us to work together. This is a time where these relationships are more essential, especially now because of the pandemic, students have been at home.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So before pandemic, they spent a lot of time at school and the teachers and principals and counselors could talk a lot about what the students were doing and who they were. Now, a lot of our students have been in hybrid or virtual schooling.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so they’re actually at home with families, some of them may have been at home by themselves with grandparents or in a pod situation at a learning center, but they haven’t been at school like normal. So now we really have got to dig into and work with the people who’ve been with our kids for the last year and a half because a lot of us haven’t been with them.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So as schools are receiving children back and some schools already have and more will in the next coming months, we just have to connect with families. We have to know more about our kids and we have to communicate with families and there’s lots of ways to do that. We can simply ask. There could be a quick surveys, there can be focus groups, the PTA could partner with families.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So there’s lots of ways of doing it. But the bottom line is we’ve got to partner with families now more than ever before because our students are being impacted. And so I’ll talk a little bit about some questions you can consider to do that next. So some of the questions that you can ask families, and again, you can ask this in various ways.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

But some of those questions could be, where are the students socially? So you want to know, has the student been around other kids their age? Have they had to collaborate? Have they had to work with decision-making? Or have they been in front of their computers by themselves? That’ll give you some information on how to deal directly with that child.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Have they had the opportunity to connect? Did they go to summer camp? Were they in some type of learning pod where they got a chance to be with other kids? And this really, we may think that this isn’t as important as academic learning, but it is just as important because it’s important to know have they had to use conflict resolution skills with their peers?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Because if not, when they come back to school, they definitely are going to have to do that. Even if they’re socially distant, even if they’re not sharing materials, at some point when you put 12-year-olds in a room together, there will be conflict.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so we need to know, have they had to deal with this or is this something that we need to focus on in school because they haven’t. Students can ask the families for more information by doing survey data, by them creating a return to school plan. For example, if the parents state that the students have actually struggled socially, then the students can focus… Sorry.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

The schools can focus on that when they get back. I know when I was a teacher, when I was a principal, we, during the first two weeks of school, focused a lot on character education, we talked about the rules of the school. I was at a PBIS school. So we did a lot of school-wide collaboration. And I would say that we have got to expand that now. So I know a lot of schools have character words.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

You might have an advising period where you focus on things like character education, but now we’ve got to make that front and center. Because our children may have some mental health issues that have developed that parents have never seen before, our counselors are going to have to reach out to families.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I know when I train families, I talk a lot about making sure that they are reaching out to the schools if the schools don’t reach out to them, because you may have seen some change in your child and you may not know. Families may not know whether that’s normal or not.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We know that middle school is a time where there’s lots of changes, but families may not know whether this is something that’s happening because they are a preadolescent or if this is something that’s happening due to the pandemic. So it is going to be the responsibility of schools to reach out to make sure that we are partnering with families in the way that we need to do. So I’ll talk a little bit about a real-world example.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I won’t take a lot of time with this. You can go to the next slide. Thank you. So one real-world example is the Promising Parent Pods. And so this was a group that was formed because parents literally called me as an educator saying, I have no clue what to do. I don’t even know how to turn on a computer. I don’t know how to support my child.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So with the Promising Parent Pods, we used a distance learning playbook for parents and we went through modules together. And I actually helped parents understand virtual learning and things like how to create a workspace in your home. Some parents never think about that because school is the place where the child learns.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so I talked to families a lot about really what they could do. We had sessions on social-emotional learning. Some people had never heard of that. Families didn’t know how they could support their children. We talked about strategies of talking around the dinner table or if their families didn’t eat around the dinner table because not all families do, how could you talk when you’re in the car?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

How can you get to where your students are or to know what they need? And so schools could do the same thing. It doesn’t have to be a Promising Parent Pod group, but it can be one where schools take how they work with families and change a little bit. I know all schools do that already. I know most schools have some type of parent-teacher-student organization. I know counselors and social workers reach out a lot of times.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And we have our family engagement specialists who reach out to families a lot of time. But there may not be a group that’s focused on how am I going to ensure that my child is moving in the right way due to the pandemic. So schools may do that. It may be a club for parents where you solely focus on ensuring that your child is doing well from this bridge of time. So that’s something to think about.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

But these are just some pictures of real life examples. We had sessions on self-care for family, self-care for parents. And what I did in this group is I actually allow the families to create the curriculum and then I found facilitators to guide us through that. So this is just an example of what you can do. So I didn’t go to families and say, this is what you need. This is what you’re going to do.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Instead, I talked to the families, they told me what they needed, and then I created an organization around that. So if you wanted to do something like this… Next slide. The next steps would be to identify anticipated needs. And this is something that you want to do with families, with students, ensuring that they have a voice.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

You don’t want to tell families what they need because you might be correct, but there might be some other things that they need. So make sure that in some way you survey the family groups. And this can be done, again, through PTSA, focus groups, just asking them. Each teacher could ask their homeroom, the family engagement specialist at the school could have small groups of families.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

It can be done on open house night. So there’s lots of ways you can do that. But just asking them what they think they need. Then you’ll need to analyze that data. So look at it. What did they say? Did you find that 90% of your kids weren’t around other kids? Well, that means you know that in your return to school plan, focus on collaboration.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So how are you going to do that? So then create that plan, share it, and then implement it. Be flexible because we know that with this pandemic, none of us knows what’s going to happen from day to day. We hope and pray that things will be on the up, but we don’t know. Things may shut down again. So you have to be flexible with that.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And then evaluate how effective it is and then make changes. So I know that administrators and school leadership teams work together to create something like this anyway, but I would say making sure we add a part that focused solely on what the kids need developmentally and what families need as we partner with them to ensure the success of kids.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I know we think about that. I know that this is something that has been more at the forefront, but we have to. Because of where we are contextually in our nation, we have to focus on this now to ensure that our kids get the best schools that they need. So that’s working with families. And so I’m going to move on now to working with the community.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So we have to… I have a lot of noises going on. I’m sorry, you all. We have to invite community members into our schools. A lot of times I had a lot of community that wanted to come and work with me. And so I had to learn how to work with them in short-term roles. I had mentors, I had judges, I had class readers.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself, right? So I had a staff of awesome teachers, awesome parents, awesome families, but I also knew that the school wouldn’t run by itself and that we had to work with other people. I also realized that the capacity for community members were different. Some of them could serve in long-term roles and others in short-term roles.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I think being very knowledgeable and discerning for whether a community member is really good at short term versus long term is going to be important. And you can have some type of way to gauge that by the questions that you ask them, or when you’re thinking about how you can partner with them.

LaTasha Adams:

But also know that anyone who is coming into your school helps to shape the school culture and community. So with keeping that in mind, you have to have community members who align with your mission and your goals and what you want those people to be like. So questions to consider when you’re thinking about community members.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I talked a lot about alignment already and I’ve seen it, which is why I focus on it so much, is you have to make sure that whatever the person or whether the organization that you are combining with and working with, you have to make sure that they’re aligned.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So one, know what your mission and vision is as a school. And even if it’s changed, maybe you have one vision that’s overarching, but for this next school year, it may be a little different due to COVID because of where students are. Whereas before you may not have focused on social-emotional learning, this one particular year, you may do that.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so then you’ll seek out community organizations and community members who can help align with that mission. So you have to think about that. Think about how this community can add value. Think about the board. Think about who they have partnered with already. Think beyond who you’ve always worked with, right?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So there may be community members who always come to do your opening session for your new sixth graders, and that’s wonderful. But there may be another organization who’s waiting in the wings who could work really well with you. So think beyond the buy. Think outside of what you’ve always done. Think about how the school can also add value.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I think sometimes when we are thinking about schools, we’re thinking about what can this organization do for us. But I think in partnerships, we have to remember what we can do for the partnership as well, especially now because so many of us have learned that we have to work together to get through things like a pandemic.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so that’s going to be super important to do that. So those are some questions to consider. And you also would consider similar questions that you worked with the family. But then also the community is a little different because families, we don’t necessarily choose the families that are in our school.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We have all the families that come to us and we work with. Community members though, we could choose some of those community members. All right. So let’s now go on to an example, a real-world example. So one community example was Dominion Literacy and Dominion Literacy worked with middle schools in literacy in particular.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so the middle school students… And this was a few years back. So this was pre-pandemic. So the example that I gave you for the families was during, excuse me, the pandemic, but this was pre-pandemic, but this is also something that can continue now. So what the middle schoolers did is they helped the community to create literacy packs to give out to kids.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so the picture on the right, you can see some of the materials that were purchased to create literacy packs. And then the picture on the left, you have the middle schoolers who were working with the elementary kids to bring literature to life. And so this is an example of how your kids could be involved with the community.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Even now, you could do things virtually. So if you wanted to do a literacy pack, for example, your school could have some type of literacy packs or some type of books, families could come pick them up and it can be a no touch. They just drive up, they open their trunk and then you put the pack or your kids put the pack in their trunk.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And then later on in a week or two weeks later, your kids could actually read to the elementary kids. So they would use what’s in the pack. They would take out the book, they could read along. Your kids could actually read online. And this is what you could get the middle school children to actually do.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

You as the leaders in the school could create that, but the students could actually do the work, right? So they could then do an arts and craft with the students. The elementary kids, for example, could have the paint or the crayon or whatever you need in their pack, and then your kids could actually read to them. So this is what we did.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Again, this one was face to face, but it could be digital and your kids could actually work with the community. And then you can have conversations later about what impact do you think this may have on those families that you worked with? What impact did it have on you? How does this help you to know that we are connected as a community?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

How does this make you feel when you know that you’ve given back to the community? Those sorts of things. And you would have those debriefing questions. And then your students can even… You can make an academic. They could write a paper about it. If you are working on narrative writing, your students can write a story about it.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

If you are working on persuasive writing, maybe they could write a letter to a funding agency to provide more funding for that. And if you were talking about informational writing, they could write a clip for the newspaper to talk about it. And then in that, you could have your students to understand the differences between those three types of writing. So you make an academic.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

They can have a counseling session with peer educators talking about what that did for them in terms of social-emotional learning, so on and so forth. So those are some examples of how you could have your students to connect with the community in the way that we did.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

But then it also impacted our school and it impacted them in terms of academics as well because they fully then began to understand things that they were learning in their class. In social studies, we were talking about Georgia history in eighth grade. And so you can talk about the history of literacy.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

You can look at the percentages of our literate community, and they talked about that in terms of math. We talked about solving problems in social studies. So all of that, again, with these partnerships that you have, the benefits of them are endless, right?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And it’s really how you create the foundation for that, how you connect with your community, and then what you want to build going back to your mission and your goals of your school. So that’s working with community. And finally, we’ll talk about business partnerships.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I think a lot of times we have partnerships with businesses because we think about, oh, I may need some type of monetary help from them, or I may need them to come in for Career Day. So a lot of times we do have partnerships that are already formed with businesses. And sometimes we think about only them helping in that way, and that’s been kind of traditional.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I would stress you to think about how these relationships can be more reciprocal and how businesses can actually get help from the school. We know that especially a lot of small businesses are struggling during the pandemic. A lot of them had to close.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I think that being a good community member, being someone who is forging in partnerships and someone who can think about the future, because what we’re doing right now is going to impact our schools and our communities in years to come.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So as we’re thinking about how we can partner with businesses that are connected or close to our school, then we are really thinking about the viability of our community for later. So think about how can the schools give back to these businesses? We have all of these resources and people, what could we do?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Are the businesses thinking about ways that they need to market something? So could you have your students to run a social media account for them for a week? Our kids know social media, right? The middle schoolers know it. They don’t deal with Facebook because that’s for old people, in their words, not mine.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

But they deal with some of the other things. For a small business, could they take turns? Could you have a class? Is there a graphic art class at your school or is there a student government association that can really give some leadership to some businesses? How can we partner? What could we do? Could we do some service learning?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

A lot of times when we work with businesses, we can create service learning projects. Could they help the business to beautify their arts, their entrances? Is there something that they can do that they can be masks where they can be safe and still work with these businesses? And I think there are lots of things that you can do.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

If you ask the kids, they can come up with a lot of great activities. And I agree, someone put in a chat that young people create amazing social media assistance. They do. And actually I had a business this summer with a camp and I hired a young person to run our social media account and she did so much better than I ever would.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

She had a lot of time to do it. I didn’t have a lot of time. So think about that. The kids are doing it anyway. Let them think strategically about how they can do that, and then you’re impacting their critical thoughts, right? You’re impacting how they’re working together. Students at the middle school level are wanting to be more independent.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

They know more about what’s right or wrong. So you’re really helping the kids really, but then you’re helping the businesses and then you’re helping yourself with the partnership as well. So some questions that we can consider when working with businesses… Next slide. Oh, I’m sorry.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

This one was a little different, I guess, because the questions would be pretty much the same. So this is a real-world example of a college fair where you can see pictures of middle school students actually coming to the college fair. But before this fair, we asked them, what did they need? What were they interested in knowing?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so businesses came to this college fair. So it was a college fair, but it also talked about job readiness. They went to sessions that talked about things like professional appearance. How do you get a job in high school? How to create your own business? So at this college fair, it was more than that. So students came, they helped.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So they helped set up tables for it before, they actually participated in it. So they volunteered their time for that. And then they went through the college fair. They went through sessions. And then at the end they helped to break down the information, I mean, to break down tables and then if there were companies that needed things loaded into their cars, things of that nature.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So the students saw that it’s a give and take. So we partner with each other so that we can learn more, but I also have something to give. And so this was an example that worked really well with businesses. And this was in Columbus, Georgia, and this is where a lot of the businesses came together. We worked with the Chamber of Commerce and a lot of the businesses that were members of the Chamber came to help with this.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So you could do this on a large scale like we did with the community, or you can even start on a micro scale with your school. And I know a lot of you have things like Career Day. So you could extend this. You could do a Career Day or Career Fair, but the second part of that could be my students now are going to go to this business and provide some type of service.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So you have members of the business that came in and talked about how you could become a pediatrician, but then the students also go to the pediatrician’s office to do some type of service for them. So as you are thinking about how you can partner with businesses, think beyond things like they can sponsor a lunch for the teachers.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

All of that is important because we all know that our teachers work extremely hard and that teachers do need things like breakfasts and lunches. And we know that revenue that we have at school sometimes won’t cover that. So that’s important. So I’m not saying to do away with those things.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I’m just saying to expand the relationships, to think about our context right now, to think about the pandemic, and to think about how we can partner with these businesses in other ways and how we can help some of these businesses. Let’s see what the next slide says. So I’ve talked to you a little bit about how you can partner with families, how you can partner with the community, and how you can partner with businesses.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I want you to think about what your next steps are. Regardless of whether you are a family engagement specialist, an administrator, a graduate student, a parent, whatever your role is, think about how you can take the information that I’ve talked about today and use it for this next school year.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Think strategically and intentionally about what you’re going to do next, about how students are going to reenter into the school no matter what your role is. So if you’re a parent, think about how you’re going to connect with the school to ensure that your child gets what they need.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

If you’re a parent, you can also think about how you’re going to connect with community organizations, because a lot of organizations are doing things for families right now. We know about things like school supply drives and food drives, but there are also other community organizations that might be doing things like giving away free tutoring or free sessions for parents.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

If you’re an administrator at a school, think about what you are going to do with your students once they reenter. How are you going to work on things like social-emotional learning? How are you going to talk about collaboration when the students have to have a mask on and may not be able to hear each other if your district is mandating a mask?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

How are you going to work with students who want to have mask mandates, but the district allows them not to have it? So think about all of those things if you’re an administrator, how are they going to work together? Think about all of these partnerships and have a role for each type. Because I think that each one of these partnerships are important.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Obviously, we are going to partner with families. That’s super important because our families are an extension of our children, but we also need to think about partnering with at least one community organization and at least one business partner, if we haven’t been there, if we haven’t done it before.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So think small, think about how you could partner with families and the community and business partners because there’s value and beauty in each one of these partnerships. And then think about what your school will do to ensure that post-pandemic school culture is conducive to the middle school learner in particular.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We talked a little bit about middle school and how it’s a little bit different, how they are developing physically and emotionally, how they’re becoming more independent and focusing more on friend groups and less on family groups. How there’s a focus on being accepted with middle school students, how they are a little bit more flexible in their thinking.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So how are we going to ensure that whatever we do in terms of partnership, whatever partnerships we form are actually beneficial to the middle school child? That’s the next step that I want each of us to think about? So this is just an example of a very simple engagement action plan. I know that some of you have a job of actually creating more developed action plans. So this may be really simple for you.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

But what I did in one column, the first column I just put each grade level. I know a lot of times middle schools are six, seventh, and eighth. Some of them are fifth, some of them are sixth and seventh. Whatever your configuration is, you can just put that down.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And I think it’s important to think differently about sixth grade and eighth grade and seventh grade, because each grade is a little bit different. There’s obviously a lot of overlap because they all are at that concrete operational or formal operational stage in time of development. But a sixth-grader typically is very different from an eighth-grader.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So there may be different things that you need to talk about with sixth-grade families versus eighth-grade families who are getting ready to go to high school. Or you may have eighth-grade families whose students are already taking high school. And so what you talk about with those families may be a little bit different than seventh-grade families.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So think about that. When you’re talking about the community, then the next column is how are you going to work with community leaders? I think I mentioned earlier that there may be some schools that have the same speaker to come out to their new students. So sixth graders may deal with that particular speaker, whereas eighth-grader may have somebody that’s talking to them a little bit differently about their trajectory.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Then you have your business leaders. And some of this may be the same. You may have a business leader that’s dealing with your sixth through eighth graders your whole school, or you may designate one business to deal with seventh grade or one business to deal with each grade. So again, this is just one example of a simple action plan.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I think Tamara said, using a learning management system to create something in a Google Form could be super easy. That’s true. Some of you have Google Classrooms where you can put information there. And Google Forms, I have so many examples and that’s personally what I use, Google Forms to create my forms because they’re really simple and then they give you the data individually, but it also gives it to you as a whole.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So if you haven’t used Google Forms, I would suggest that as Tamara did. So thank you, Tamara, for that. So this is an action plan. We’re not going to go through action planning. I know a lot of my workshops, I actually walk families and participants through action planning.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We’re not going to do that, but I had to mention it so that you have just an example, if you’re thinking visually, of how to organize all of this. Next slide. And that’s it. So we talked about the middle learner a little bit.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We talked about how you could connect with families, community, and businesses, and then just a little bit about action planning. So please keep in touch. This is my information and I know you have access to the slides from Sherri. Thank you so much for this day. I think we now have 15 minutes to go through the questions.

Sherri Wilson:

Yeah, we have a few questions for you. So was your potential… This is a question from Angelia. Was your podcast meetings done in the evenings or at various times to accommodate parent engagement?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Great question. So all of them were in the evenings. But the first time that I made them, they were… No, they weren’t in the evenings. The first time they were Saturday afternoons. And I thought that that was the best time for families. I figured most families work during the week. And that was frankly the best time for me.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I asked families if that time worked and all of them said, no. 100% of them said that a Sunday early afternoon would work better for them. And so what I did, I changed it. I said, that’s fine. We’ll make it work. I generally don’t like to work on Sundays personally because that’s just my time for church and reflecting, but I changed it for my families because they said that worked best for them.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I would say if you have families that you’re going to work with, maybe ask them what works best or maybe give them two options that work with your schedule and then plan from there. So I have my next cohort of Promising Parent Pods starting on Sunday, the eighth. And that is one of the first things I’m going to do is ask them what day of the week and what time range works for them. So ask your families.

Sherri Wilson:

Yeah, that’s great advice. In the past when I’ve done work with families, I’ve always made a point of asking them when it was most convenient for them, or more importantly, giving them options that includes the options that I’m available, because if there are non-negotiable days or times for me, then I don’t like to put that out there as even an option because it often is the one that gets picked.

Sherri Wilson:

Here’s a question from my friend, Djuana Thompson. Djuana says great information. Thank you for sharing. We went through two pandemics last year, COVID and racism. Do you have any ideas or examples of how educators and families might see this impact on middle schoolers as they reenter and the effect on the social-emotional learning of middle schoolers?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Yeah. First of all, I think it’s important to not skirt the race issue because it is prominent and it is something that the kids all talk about or they heard about no matter how their families work around it, some families are open with discussing it, some families aren’t. But middle schoolers, a lot of times have heard about it and want to talk about it.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So we have talked openly about it in my family Parent Pods that I’ve had. 100% of my participants have been people of color. It would be great to be able to change that. I’d love to have an open dialogue and discussion with people from various backgrounds so that we can get to a point where we can all hear each other, listen to each other, but then come up with solutions for all of us.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so one thing that I’ve done was made a point in my family to seek out diverse opportunities. So we are now in a school family that is diverse, that will talk about it. My daughter is attending a school that has an anti-racist curriculum so that they will talk about it. And so in my Parent Pods, we will as well.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So as students are coming back, I think it will be so important for administrators to know that this may be on the mind of some of your students because there has been that pandemic. So what are you going to do as an administrator when you have students who have witnessed police brutality, for example?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Are you going to allow your teachers to discuss that? We talk a lot about CRT. We talked about that today in my meeting. I’m a professor and we had a meeting this morning and we talked a lot about training our teachers to talk about what it is. Families may ask you, are you teaching CRT in history?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So you as the administrators should already know what your answer is going to be because your families are going to ask you, somebody is. So what does that mean? Do you have an understanding of what it is? And if not, I’d be happy to talk to people offline about strategies of how to deal with things like critical race theory and talking to parents about what it is and talking to your teachers about what it is.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Because I think a lot of us are confused and a lot of us think it’s something that it’s not. So getting in front of that, I think is going to be important. So with your admin team, coming up with strategies of how to deal with it before, because it will be something that middle schoolers will talk about.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Middle schoolers are adamant about right and wrong and what they think right or wrong is. And so if you don’t get in front of that, then it can be a problem in your school because you may have one group of students who think one way, another group of students who think another way and then it can cause problems.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So you’re right. If the kids have not had an opportunity to know social emotionally, how to deal with each other, how to deal with difference, how to discuss that, then you compound that with the fact that some of them have seen a lot of race issues and concerns and brutality on TV, it’s a problem waiting to happen if you don’t address it.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So I don’t know if I answered your question. But one, I would definitely say, get with your admin team, make sure you guys have suggestions of how you’re going to get in front of that narrative because it will come up with parents, it will come up with students. And again, I’m happy to talk with anybody about strategies and ways of working through that at your school.

Sherri Wilson:

Yeah. I think one thing you said that really resonated with me was that issues of justice resonate really strongly with middle school age kids. And I think this is something they’re going to want to talk about. So excellent advice. Thank you.

Sherri Wilson:

Here’s a question from Tiffany Davis. She said, this will be my first year working with middle schoolers. What articles can I read or theory should I be familiar with in ensuring I’m providing interventions and services and partnerships that are appropriate for them?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So congratulations on your first year with working with middle schoolers. You are in for an amazing ride. They are an awesome group. But I would say that there are a lot of articles. It’s a wealth of inform out there. The first thing that I would do is to go to that, what is it, AMLE, the Association of Middle-Level Education, is amle.org.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I would go to that website because that organization is the national kind of go to from middle school. And on that website, there’s a lot of free articles that you have access to that talks about those things that you asked about, but there are also more information that you can get if you join and it’s a nominal fee, but if you join AMLE and they have a lot of articles that talk about that.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Another book that I think is important is not particularly about middle school, but it’s about abolitionist teaching. And what that is, is just teaching in a way that puts your students at the forefront of what you’re doing. You asked about theories. So one theory would be culturally responsive teaching.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Culturally responsive teaching is not just about teaching African American students, but it’s about getting to know every single one of your students regardless of their background, and using that information to lead your class. So really thinking about who your students are and designing your class in a way that’s going to be interesting and helpful for those students.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So culturally responsive thinking as a theory, AMLE as an organization that has a wealth of articles on there, and then abolitionists teaching by Bettina Love that talks about teaching in a radical way that puts students at the forefront.

Sherri Wilson:

Excellent. Great resources. Thank you. Here’s a question from Tammy Fraley. She says, and I love this question, Tammy. Thank you for asking this. As a parent of students in middle and high school, how do you suggest getting administration of the schools to provide the opportunities you discussed with parents?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

That is a great question. A lot of times we hear that the car with the squeaky oil gets the attention or something like that. And I would agree. So I would definitely first email your principal and just ask. Ask in an email.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Principals are super busy depending on the size of the school and what they’re doing, but principals do care about hearing from parents, or they should. And so I would email your principal. I would email the counselor. I would email your child’s teacher because that way, you have reached kind of three different levels of administration.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So the principal can talk about things on a school-wide, the counselor can help you. But then you also, I didn’t add this, some schools have a family engagement specialist, other schools don’t, but there may be somebody where their role is to work with families. And then you can also work with… What was I going to say? I lost my train of thought.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Work with the counselor and ask them that. And Tamara helped me. She said the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If I wanted to have programs like these, I would not be silent or be quiet until everybody at the school has heard. And you want to reach out to them in a way that says, I want to partner with you because I’m concerned about my child.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

I’m going to give you an example. So before my child started school this past school year, before school even started, I contacted the counselor and I talked about how I wanted to partner with her to ensure that my daughter got what she needed. She didn’t email me back initially. So I emailed her again and she’s like, oh, I’m sorry.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Your email got lost, but we can talk more about how I can support Zoe. And then she said, I can meet with her weekly. She came up with a list of all these things. Now I, as an administrator, had a list already. I didn’t say you can do those things.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

You as a parent could. So you can take some of the examples that I gave and you can ask how can we work through these things? And I think somebody in the chat said the parent engagement specialist in the school system could help. So you could start there as well.

Sherri Wilson:

Yeah. I would also add to that. I think that’s great advice. The other thing I would add is think about out this in terms of grassroots organizing, right? So finding other families who may have similar concerns or interests and then approaching the school together as a group.

Sherri Wilson:

And another way you can get at it is if your school has existing parent groups like PTA units or PTO units. Joining those groups and then using those to sort of organize some of the families in there who also have interest in this. I think unfortunately, often families are out there on their own and they don’t even know that other families might have similar needs or similar interests.

Sherri Wilson:

And when you join those existing groups, you have an opportunity to talk to each other. And then if you band together and advocate for these things, it’s even more likely that your school will listen and begin to implement those strategies because it’s harder to put off multiple parents that are asking for these than it is to put off just one.

Sherri Wilson:

So grouping yourself and grassroots organizing is a great way to get at that. Here’s a question for Carrie about the Parent Pods. She says, how long do those Promise Parent Pods meet for? Is an hour-long sessions every week?

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So the first group we asked what was helpful. So we met for six months and we met for one time for an hour-ish, two hours per month for our sessions. But then we also met because this was a time when here in Georgia all the schools are virtual. So we also met outside of that one hour and a half time, we also met so that the kids could do some social stuff. So, for example, they had a cooking class.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

It was all virtual, but it was a cooking class. So the Parent Pods, we received a grant from 4.0 Schools and VELA Education Fund to provide these things. So we bought all the materials for parents, or we gave them a Walmart gift card. Parents went, bought all the materials, then we had a cooking class virtually. So that’s one example.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

We did a movie night and provided popcorn and drink for everybody. So we had at least one social event. It ended up being two or three because the kids loved each other. But at least one social event that was virtual and then one hour and a half meeting for the parents each month. And then at the end, we were able to go to a Braves game and they were all able to see each other face to face and it was just a wonderful time.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

So that’s how often we met. But it really was based on what parents wanted. I think that’s really important because you think about everybody’s bandwidth and you want people to participate. So it wasn’t weekly. I think the families got really close.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

And so some of them are in our second cohort. So they may want to get together more and that’s the idea of it, but it won’t be led by me. It’ll be organic and led by them. And so they’ll probably end up meeting more than twice a month.

Sherri Wilson:

Well, and I’m afraid we are out of time today because this was such a fantastic session. I want to say a huge thank you to Dr. LaTasha Adams for sharing her wisdom and experience with us. It was super informative. We had a few questions in the chat that we didn’t have time to get to you.

Sherri Wilson:

So we’ll try and get some answers to those and send them out when we send out the links to the recording and the PDF versions of the slides. Thank you to all of our fantastic participants, to Alice and Fred behind the scenes working this magic. If you would not mind, we would love it if you would please take this post-webinar survey for us.

Sherri Wilson:

This session was sponsored by the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement. And it’s really important that we collect some data so we can share with them the progress we’re making. We can continue to have these great sessions and we can improve them as much as possible. Again, thank you to everybody that joined us today.

Sherri Wilson:

Thank you, Dr. Adams. A reminder, we’re having Part 2 of this series on August 18th and we hope all of you can join us then. Alice has put a link to the registration in the chatbox. It is also middle school focus with presenters from the FrameWorks Institute.

Sherri Wilson:

Who did some amazing research on adolescent development and the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center, who’s doing a lot of work around building the capacity in middle schools with working with families. Thank you again, everybody, so much for joining us. I hope you all stay healthy and safe and we’ll see you next time.

Dr. LaTasha Adams:

Thanks, everyone. Bye-bye.

 

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