My name is Ellen Franz, and I teach at Bayside Elementary in the Sausalito/ Marin City Unified School District. I have been working for several years to construct a learning environment in which the high achievement of African American students is supported, guided and honed. I know from my own experiences, from a wide variety of readings and professional development work that, in general, African American children achieve at predictably lower levels than their white peers. I know equally well, from my own experiences, readings and professional development work, that many African American students can and do achieve at high levels. My quest has been, and is, to learn what it is that I must do to release the genius that is common in the masses of our children, as Dr. Asa Hilliard says.
"I keep asking myself whether there is anything in the current educational reform agenda that would lead us to the philosophy, the thought, the affect, the energy, and the results of the most productive pedagogy in the field, like Shabazz and Escalante. Do we even have the capacity to conceive of these teachers of excellence as our models? I want us to engage the problem of how to structure an approach to education that aims to release the genius that is common in the masses of our children..."
My focus has been, and is, to learn about, understand and apply teaching practices that lessen the cultural dissonances that exist amongst me (a white, female teacher), my students, and their families. I have come to understand that the work of lessening cultural dissonances involves as much personal examination of self as it does professional investigation of practice. As an example, to support fully the educational success of my students I have learned that I must be willing to do several things: to understand that my own ways of being in the world are based on my cultural background and experiences, just as each of my student's ways of being are based on his or her background and experiences; to look closely at my ways of being in relation to how they serve and don't serve the learning needs of students; and to learn to make useful shifts in those ways of being which seem to stand in the way of students' success. I see from my work over the last six years that my students' academic skills and understandings increase and improve as I learn to adopt more culturally relevant practice, and as I attend to issues of culture, family and community, language use and curriculum choice.