In August 2017, the Ames Community School District officially embarked on a critical consciousness path that has significantly steered professional development and decision-making in the District. Critical consciousness can be defined as “The willingness and ability to see how power and privilege are at work to systematically advantage some while simultaneously disadvantaging others.” In that year, District-led professional development opportunities began for administrators, and since then, opportunities have expanded to include hundreds of teachers and staff members.
For the first few years, outside experts led professional development with the goal of building capacity from within the District. Today, the Equity Department leads the critical consciousness learning and implements it through District and building-led learning. The idea was to form deep roots in order for it to continue and thrive. Ames Community School District commits to equity and access that empowers every individual to reach their full personal and educational potential.
What does critical consciousness look like today across the District? Let’s take a look at a few buildings and how they have implemented critical consciousness.
Building Capacity Teams
From the start of professional development opportunities, creating building capacity teams at each school was imperative for implementation. At Meeker Elementary, the critical consciousness team meets monthly and includes classroom teachers, principal Steve Flynn, the learning lead, and both school counselors, with support from the Equity Department. A sub-group of this team, led by Kari Deal, Karen Klotzbach, and Dijana Cullinan, has been working on ways to help make critical consciousness easier for teachers and students to access by developing content.
One of their first projects took a concentrated look at Planning to Change the World, a planning book for social justice educators. The team identified a monthly theme, combed through the suggested resources, and created developmentally appropriate classroom content. In January, the theme was human rights, and teachers were given a plan that could be implemented in one session or divided into a series of sessions. A purpose, learning targets, and examples of how to activate and engage students were included, as were future lesson ideas. School Counselor Deal said, “The lessons will be available for teachers to either take and teach independently or the teacher can invite one of us (Karen, Dijana, or me) into their classroom to teach it alongside them/for them.”
The Equity Department is aware that teachers are at different learning points, and this building-capacity team is working with teachers regardless of whether they are a novice, emerging, or experienced in this area.
Family Critical Consciousness Learning Series
One of the long-term goals was to be able to bring critical consciousness training to our community. Director of Equity, Dr. Anthony Jones, and District Equity Coordinator Jesica Sidler, are hosting a Family Critical Consciousness Learning Series this spring. Each month, participating community members learn more about what it means to be critically conscious and why it’s important. Topics include a data review, understanding basic vocabulary, a guest speaker on how we can support the LGBTQ+ community, and a three-part lesson on the video series, Race: The Power of an Illusion.
Missy Springsteen-Haupt – Ames Middle School
Missy Springsteen-Haupt is the Critical Consciousness teacher at Ames Middle School, a new position this year. While teaching middle school English Language Arts for 13 years, she often focused on helping students express themselves through a writer’s workshop model. Over the years, Springsteen-Haupt “grew more frustrated with inequities present in schools and trying to figure out what teachers could do within systems to work toward equity.”
Springsteen-Haupt wanted to find ways to help empower students beyond the classroom, which ultimately led her to pursue a doctoral degree in education. She additionally works as a Graduate Research Assistant in the School of Education, which is typically an administrator program. Still, her focus remains on teacher leadership for social justice and the impact that teachers can have as leaders within the system. During this time, she learned about the work within the Ames CSD. “I was constantly impressed by the work through partnership with ISU, equity audits, and CC-related professional development. Ames is a great place for people looking to challenge the status quo and critically examine the way school districts approach and work to dismantle inequitable practices.”
When the .4 FTE Critical Consciousness teacher at Ames Middle School opened, Springsteen-Haupt said it felt like the perfect fit. “I could maintain my studies and research position while also getting back into the classroom with middle school students.” Critical Consciousness is offered as a three-week WIN course for 6-8th grade students. The course focuses on all aspects of our personal and group identities, examines implicit bias and racism, and how those things lead to structural and systemic issues. Students also examine how they have learned about specific social and political topics as young children versus how we examine them now.
Ames High School
Often a celebration of Black History is reserved for the social studies curriculum, and it ends there. As a District, our goal is to embed critical consciousness learning across all grades and subject areas, but understanding our history is a key and natural component of learning. Teachers in the Ames High social studies department such as Leah Stearns, Kirstin Sullivan, Jaci Johnson, Cynthia Gillette, and Joel Sullivan, understand the importance of their role and lean in to engage students in critical consciousness work.
“In our unit on discrimination and civil rights, we use an inquiry-based approach that allows for student voice and choice in the curriculum. The unit focuses on a historical, systemic examination of racism and discrimination in America. In this unit, students learn about race in America through the lens of political, economic, or legal equality,” said Stearns. Additional topics include: how a system of inequality was created beginning with the social construction of race; how the colonies made a choice to practice slavery; how Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws continued to restrict the rights of Black Americans, Plessy v. Ferguson; the failures of the Reconstruction Amendments; progress made during the Civil Rights Movement; and perhaps most importantly, where we’re at today from the lens of political, economic, and legal equality.
Some of the teachers were part of the District critical consciousness professional development, while others have participated in personal learning and ones directed through their building and professional learning community.
Courses are often taught thematically, allowing for critical consciousness to be embedded throughout the year. Students adapt in their learning and how to challenge the face-value of a topic. A skill that can be utilized beyond the classroom. For 10th grade United States History students, additional topics include the migration of people and its impact on the American identity. This includes the relationship between indigenous peoples and colonists, the treatment of immigrants throughout American history, and the difficulty of immigrating legally, including the long path to citizenship and the back and forth legal status of Dreamers. For senior United States Government students, the focus is on how to enact change such as through the courts, through legislation, or by participating in elections.