In the 2009-10 school year, individuals from the local Tlingit community identified a need for the Sitka School District to be more culturally responsive in our teaching practices. At the same time, Sitka high schoolers identified a need to increase the educational use of technology in classrooms so as to better prepare students for life after graduation. We formed a committee to explore, with individuals from the local Tlingit community, the needs regarding culturally-responsive education, and the district hired a consultant to conduct an audit of our technology infrastructure and use. Beginning in the 2010-11 school year, the Sitka School District hired a Cultural Director who works to create opportunities for students and staff to explore and integrate local Tlingit knowledge and culture into classroom learning activities. The district also required all teachers to participate in a professional learning community for the duration of the school year regarding the meaningful and purposeful use of technology in the classroom.
Pointer: Work to understand intangible and tangible realities of your community partners
For others looking to emulate our work, we suggest open and honest communication with your partner organization(s) before you begin your collaboration. This starts with finding common ground between the mission and goals of all organizations involved. Then, identify and plan for organizational differences in logistics like calendars and fiscal years, so plans can be made that honor all organizations’ realities.
Focused professional learning, peer mentoring, and program coordination, as well as family and community activities, contribute to the success of the program. The creation and implementation of these standards would not be possible if they lived in any one place. From the school board to the classroom, the Sitka community is wholly invested in the successful integration of ACT+IT work.
ACT Standards were created by administrators, teachers, community members, and partners who were engaged in our ACT+IT work, and the standards were adopted by the Sitka School Board in May of 2014. The school board set goals and dedicated funds in the operating budget to support technology infrastructure and use in the classroom.
Since that time, teachers both in Sitka and from around Alaska have participated in a number of ACT+IT learning opportunities both in one- or two-week intensive summer learning institutes, as well as shorter two- to three-day workshops, emerging as expert leaders across school sites. Over the years, partnerships have expanded and deepened, and additional funding sources—both governmental and private—have surfaced to support the work.
The heart of culturally-responsive education is to understand the individual needs of our students and to honor what they bring to the learning environment. Along these lines, the Sitka School District is evolving our understanding of trauma-informed teaching practices and specifically Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) that might impact a child’s readiness to learn. Not all students learn best in a traditional model of education. As we learn more about trauma-informed practices, we are better able to structure our learning environments to meet the needs of all of our students.
Pointer: Don’t underestimate the the power of art to provide context
There was a desire to be explicit in our district’s ability to embrace the use of culture as a context for learning in every classroom, a desire to have students graduate with an appreciation for the role of arts in community life in Sitka and in personal development, and a need to prepare students for success in a digitally-rich life. We determined that we needed to focus on the integration of Arts, Culture, and Technology to provide context to students as we implemented new Math and English Language Arts standards.
A number of teachers have retired in recent years, and a subsequent group of new teachers joined the staff of Sitka Schools. During the 2016-17 school year, the district identified a need to create a peer mentor program to support the new teachers' confidence and competence in teaching in and through the arts, culture, and technology. The district created a triad approach with a mentee, mentor, and teaching artist who would work together for two years. Mentors were selected from the volume of teachers actively incorporating skills acquired during various ACT professional learning opportunities. Mentees were teachers with 0-5 years of teaching experience in Sitka. Teaching artists were cultivated through connections with local artists, many of whom had successfully worked with students in the district. The triad approach was designed to facilitate the process of moving from isolated, special-event experiences to deep and lasting content integration.
Over the years, teachers have developed lesson and unit plans that follow an ACT+IT Lesson Plan Template, and the plans are being collected, curated, and digitized to provide resources for teachers in Sitka, in Alaska, and around the world. It is the district’s intention to use the ACT+IT Lesson Plans as an idea generation/jumping off point for other teachers and to facilitate two-way communication between the ACT+IT teacher and any other teachers interested in the lesson or unit. In addition, teachers travel to present work at the Alaska Society for Technology in Education (ASTE) Conference and within district events, such as in-services, workshops, and professional development Fridays.