Continuous improvement

Rebeca Burciaga is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and a member of the Core Faculty for the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. Dr. Burciaga’s research centers on understanding and challenging educational practices and structures that (re)produce social inequalities for historically marginalized communities, including/specifically Latino students.  Her research in schools and communities spans over 20 years and includes mixed-methods research on pathways from preschool to the professoriate, the experiences of students who leave high school before graduation, and the ways in which geographic regions structure inequalities. She specializes the study of qualitative research methodologies including testimonio and ethnography. Her current research and teaching is focused on cultivating asset-based mindsets in teachers and administrators that work with youth of color.  Dr. Burciaga is a co-founder and co-coordinator of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles.  Her research has been supported and recognized by the Spencer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the American Association of University Women. Her most recent scholarship can be found in Equity & Excellence in Education, the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, and the Educational Administration Quarterly.

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Laura Atkinson is a research associate in the School of Social Transform at Arizona State University (ASU) and a doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction-Special Education. Laura is currently serving as the coordinator of the Urban Professional Learning Schools Initiative (UPLSI) Master’s program. She spent over a decade teaching general education and special education before receiving her MA in special education (with a focus on Learning Disabilities) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Laura served as the Director of an $8.5 million dollar grant at Mississippi State University (ACHIEVE Mississippi). She has also served as a lecturer in curriculum and instruction at ASU where she has taught undergraduate and graduate level classes in regular and special education. Additionally, Laura coordinated an accelerated, immersion teacher certification program and supervised student teachers. Her research interests include pre-service teacher education, professional development for teachers, culturally responsive pedagogy, and professional learning schools.


Recently I was walking with a colleague of mine on campus as a group of students passed us by. “Laura, is that you?” One of the students, a tall, handsome African American man, was looking at me.   I studied this unfamiliar man and behind the mature face, trousers, and tie, I recognized the young undergraduate I had taught nearly a decade earlier. Tim had been in my reading methods class and I had supervised him during his student teaching experience.

As Tim and I spent a few minutes catching up on highlights from the past seven years I asked him what he was doing on campus.  “I’m working on my Master’s in Educational Leadership. I want to become a principal.”  Tim’s still sheepish smile radiated pride as he looked down at me, revealing the young man I had known so well years earlier. I remembered that even then Tim stood out for his natural leadership abilities.  I couldn’t help but joining him in that sense of pride, wondering if I could have played a small role in his desire to continue higher education.   

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David Gibson is creator of simSchool (, a classroom flight simulator for training teachers, currently funded by the US Department of Education FIPSE program and eFolio, an online performance assessment system. His research and publications include work on complex systems analysis and modeling of education, Web applications and the future of learning, the use of technology to personalize education, and the potential for games and simulation-based learning. He founded The Global Challenge Award, a team and project-based learning and scholarship program for high school students that engages small teams in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to solve global problems.

“What is going on with Cathy and Javier today? I thought they would LIKE working together.” “Bill’s head has been down for most of the second half of the class, but I know he loves this class.”

Good teachers constantly negotiate a balance between the tools at their disposal, their pedagogy, and their knowledge of content in ever-changing contexts – the intersecting systems of their classrooms, their school, and the family and community lives of their increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse students.

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Whitney OakleyWhitney Oakley is the principal of Sylvan Elementary in the Alamance-Burlington School District in Snow Camp, North Carolina. She is member of the NIUSI-LeadScape community of inclusive school principals, transforming Sylvan’s practices to be equitable and inclusive of all students. Whitney’s current initiatives focus on meeting the needs of Sylvan’s changing population, with increasing numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families struggling in the current economic downturn. This blog is a direct response to Dr. Randy Bomer’s discussion of Leadership in the interest of economically disadvantaged students.

As a principal of an elementary school with steadily increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged students, I have seen a shift in focus on academic as well as systemic strategies in our approach to student success. Randy Bomer’s discussion of deficit perspective is well-taken as political issues surrounding school performance have highlighted the fact that schools are struggling to achieve adequate progress within the economically disadvantaged subgroup. In a position as a school leader, I have acknowledged perplexities surrounding students that fall within this category including, student identity, priorities, and the role of the school itself.

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Dr. Sherman DornSherman Dorn is a Professor of Education and an historian at the University of South Florida. His published work has included histories of debates over dropping out, dropout policies, special education, funding equalization in Florida, and high-stakes accountability.

Principals are more likely to keep their faculty focused on student learning if they can shift the everyday conversation in their schools away from assessment as testing students and towards talking about assessment as testing instructional decisions. It is very hard to change our historical uses of “student testing,” but principals have the power to do so in their own schools.

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Karen SmithKaren Smith is an Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, and Director of Professional Development in the Division of Curriculum & Instruction at Arizona State University (ASU). Her research is conducted in collaboration with teachers in urban settings and focuses on literacy teaching and learning, and teacher research. She speaks and consults widely on literacy development and teaching as a scholarly activity. She has received numerous awards for her teaching including the 2002 Richard Halle Outstanding Middle School Educator award from the National Council of Teachers of English, the 2003 ASU College of Education Dean’s Excellent Award for Faculty Teaching, and the 2008 John Chorlton Manning Public School Service Award from the International Reading Association.

During the last forty years, our understanding about how all children learn has grown enormously. Research has yielded new insights into how children and adolescents learn and what instructional approaches work best in particular contexts. At the same time, the learning demands for our entire country are higher than they have ever been. As learning demands grow, so does the need for teachers and administrators to stay current with new knowledge and new pedagogical practices.

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Dr. GlassDr. Glass is a philosopher of education whose work focuses on education as a practice of freedom, school reform in low-income, racially, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and the role of education in the struggle for a just, pluralistic democracy.

Dr. Glass is currently an Associate Professor in the Education Department of the University of California Santa Cruz, where he chairs the Social Context and Policy Studies Ph.D. program, and also directs the Ed.D. in Collaborative Leadership program. Before joining the UC Santa Cruz faculty, Dr. Glass had taught at Stanford University, the University of California Berkeley, and Arizona State University. He has provided consultation on program development and evaluation, educational reform, and institutional strategic planning for community organizations, schools, districts, and universities. Prior to being on university faculties, he directed the San Francisco-based Adult Education Development Project, benefiting from the collaboration of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton, the world-renowned educators for democracy.

Dr. Glass is the recipient of numerous honors, including: the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teaching Award; the Arizona State University Excellence in Diversity Award and the Dondrell Swanson Advocate for Social Justice Award; and, the City of Phoenix, AZ, Human Relations Commission Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award.

Dr. Glass received a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and an M.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University, a C.Phil. in Philosophy of Education from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.M. and an A.B. with honors in History and Science from Harvard University.

It is probably never easy to have a deep conversation with another person; each person’s hopes, fears, anxieties, doubts, dreams, and many other powerful feelings, conscious and unconscious, easily get in the way of honest and full expression. To have a deep conversation with a stranger, or with whole groups of strangers and even an entire community, can seem impossible.

To talk openly and honestly about our experiences of schooling is equally challenging. Some of our most significant identities get shaped in schools: we are judged to be smart or not, popular or not, attractive or not, athletic or not; we discover that our race, class, and gender are significant for how we are judged in school and for the opportunities we will have beyond school. In school most of us learn that we are an Anybody, anonymous members of a mass; some, who can exceed the norms and standards, learn they can be a Somebody; and some, who cannot or refuse to meet the norms and standards, learn that they are Nobodies.[i] Thus, the stakes in conversations about schooling are huge; far too often, students and parents feel that they are on opposite sides of an enormous divide separating them from teachers and administrators, so the conversations can barely get started.

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