ItAGs 2014 (Archive)

Courtesy of Teachers for Social Justice

 Teacher Action Group (TAG) is pleased to offer an opportunity for teachers to build community, engage as learners, and develop as activists.

Inquiry to Action Groups (ITAGS) bring together educators from around the city to explore topics related to social justice in education, and then create an action connected to what they learned.  ItAGS take place over a six to eight week period in February and March.

Join us for our Kick-Off event!

Wednesday, Feb. 12th at Science Leadership Academy (55 N. 22nd Street) from 6-8 PM.

At the event, you will have a chance to:

  • Meet all of the facilitators for this year’s ItAGs
  • Give input on ItAG meeting times if you join their group
  • Network with other TAG members

You do not have to attend the kick-off to participate in an ItAG — the schedules and meeting times will also be posted after the event. However, we encourage you to attend, especially if you are thinking about participating in more than one group, or want to suggest a meeting time that works for you!

Check out the full list of ItAGs below. You can also download the list to browse on your own time.

ItAG Descriptions, Meeting Information, and Facilitator Biographies

Black Music as Rebellion

Meetings TBD by Group

Black Music as Rebellion will offer a space to explore the intersections of Black Music and social action with other teachers. African American History is a required course in the Philadelphia School District, but the curriculum woefully neglects the place of music in the creation of Black identity and communication of political/social consciousness. Together we will build a curriculum or at least a repository of lesson ideas for supplementing the African American History curriculum with the music that drove each historical moment.  Anticipated units include West African origins, Enslavement to Emancipation, Early 20th Century Blues & Jazz, Political Messaging in the Civil Rights Era, Post Civil-Rights Urban Realities, and Black Music in the Millennium.  Music is a powerful medium that can unite the masses and convey subversive messages otherwise maligned as threatening “law and order” or dangerous to the public good.  Join this ItAG if you’re interesting in constructing lessons or will examine how African American musical traditions have evolved as a counterweight to the racism borne of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.

Brendon Jeremi-Jobs teaches a reading, writing and listening course that serves as an extension of the African American History curriculum, at the Girard Academic Music Program. _________________________________________________________________

English Content Area Meet-Up

Meetings TBD by group

Ever wonder how other literature teachers approach a certain text? Or if teaching vocabulary is a struggle for every teacher?  Feel like you’ve created some great materials, but have nowhere to share them?  In this ItAG, English teachers from all over the city will meet up to discuss a common concept, idea, or challenge.  Topics might include project-based learning, non-canonical texts, skills instruction, real-world writing, and more.

Chris Angelini is an English teacher in Philadelphia.


Leveraging Student and Faculty Voice to Improve Your School

Meetings TBD by group

School reform should not necessarily be a matter of tightening or loosening control over schools, but more so encouraging a convergence of resources and information that empowers those within an organization to make, implement, and monitor decisions directly addressing the challenges schools face.   If the intention of school reform is to better serve the clients of a school system—namely students—then listening and responding to students and faculty concerns might yield more informed changes to pedagogy, school structure, culture, and policies that can appropriately respond to the social, political, and economic forces reshaping the school environment. While students have been incorporated into school reform initiatives in other countries, here in the United States students are rarely consulted despite a growing body of research arguing its efficacy.  This ItAG will have participants (students and practitioners) investigate a range of models that successfully incorporated student and faculty voice into school decision-making structures (classroom and school level).  Participants will identify a specific school-based problem then design and implement a student and/or faculty voice project around it.

Marc Brasof is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Arcadia University and education fellow at the National Constitution Center.  He teaches classes on organizational learning and sustainability, pedagogy and ethics and supervises student teachers. 

Katherine Cohen teaches 7th grade Reading/Language Arts for the School District of Philadelphia. She is a Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) coach for Office of Multilingual Development of the School District of Philadelphia. Kathy is also a member of Philadelphia Teaching Learning Cooperative (PTLC) and has presented workshops on literacy and social justice at national education conferences.


Locally Relevant Mathematics

Mondays, 5:00-7:00 pm at 3440 Market St, Philadelphia

This inquiry group focuses on how to make the learning of mathematics more relevant and engaging for students in our community.  Together we will explore how to use locally relevant contexts to increase students’ access to mathematical knowledge and skills as well as to help students develop critical ways of thinking about and interacting with the world around them. We will engage in mathematical inquiry as we examine existing lessons created by the Community Based Math Project of Philadelphia and discuss strategies for engaging youth in local contexts. Participants will be invited to adapt and implement these lessons in the classroom, share their own experiences and questions, and generate new lessons based on local contexts and their students’ lived experiences. At the end of the ItAG we will develop ways to share the lessons and ideas that have been created through this process, both to participants and to a wider audience.

Founding members of the Community-Based Math Project of Philadelphia ( Janine Remillard and Caroline Ebby are mathematics educators at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Cathy Hensford, Kelly Collings, Sue Reimann, and Emily Magee are middle school math teachers in Philadelphia. 


Partnering Through Mentoring

Meetings TBD by Group

One of the roles of a teacher is to mentor students as they develop passion for real world relevance of subject matter, emerge as conscious school leaders and global citizens, and build constructive relationships with peers.  Student teachers have the privilege of working with a cooperating, or mentor, teacher while emerging as new educators. How do we continue to build mentorship into our professional lives?  As teachers develop their craft over time, mentoring partnerships among educators in and across schools can both facilitate a teacher’s growing practice and connect experienced educators to colleagues developing their practice in the field.  In this ItAG, we will explore qualities and strategies for effective mentoring partnerships for different aspects of teaching within schools and professional communities.  Topics will include sharing ideas for connecting mentors and mentees, areas for focus in mentoring partnerships, qualities of constructive feedback, using technology and social media to mentor, and more.  A possible action may be developing a framework for integrating a network for mentoring through the Teacher Action Group and beyond.  This ItAG is for potential or experienced mentors and mentees from diverse educational and school contexts.

Shira Cohen teaches sixth graders math and science at Wissahickon Charter School in Germantown.   _________________________________________________________________

Philadelphia as Classroom: An Inquiry into Connected Learning Experiences

Meetings TBD by Group

In this Inquiry to Action Group, we will discuss and develop ways to connect local learning institutions and professional communities to student learning in a way that steps beyond classroom walls to create in-depth learning experiences, connects students to authentic audiences and opportunities, and breaks down the invisible walls that mask young Philadelphia’s potential as change agents within their communities. We will utilize the Connected Learning framework [] which pushes for more learning organizations to collaborate to include more interdisciplinary problem solving, critical thinking, and communication in youth learning experiences for 21st century success.

Christopher Rogers is a Media & Technology Specialist at an independent school in Philadelphia, as well as a leader behind an afterschool digital music lab project in his hometown of Chester, PA.


Social Justice Educators on the Path of Cultural Relevancy

Sundays, 1:00-3:00 pm at the International House, University of Pennsylvania
Students need curricula that recognize their cultures and also explore their placement within the larger social hierarchy.  Students from all backgrounds must learn how to access dominant practices and understand how participation in the culture of power can challenge or perpetuate bias.  We will read current research and share our classroom experiences. Discussion topics will include:  linguistic diversity, socioeconomic groups, ethnic heritage, and degree of cultural congruency between home and school.
Erica Darken is a native Philadelphian and bilingual 1st grade teacher in North Philadelphia.  She has a master’s degree in Intercultural Communication from Penn, and looks forward to meeting the participants of her third ItAG.

Sheila Myers moved to Philadelphia in 2008 to complete a Masters degree in TESOL at the University of Penn.  She received her teaching certificate from Drexel University in 2010, and began teaching at Potter-Thomas Promise Academy that fall.  After spending her third year as the literacy coach, Myers is happy to return to the classroom this school year, where she enjoys exploring her interests in education and empowerment with her students.


Social Justice Unionism

Meetings TBD by group

The Social Justice Unionism ItAG is an opportunity for teachers to develop a greater understanding of what this concept means and collectively figure out how it translates into our current reality, both as organized teachers in the PFT and largely unorganized charter school teachers.

First we will look at the historical roots of progressive teacher unionism as well as contemporary expressions like the CORE/CTU experience in Chicago, the evolution and practice of the PFT, and the crisis of teacher unionism in the face of an aggressive offensive by corporate school reformers. The second half will grapple with the concrete task of building a transformative social justice movement within our union, looking at the strategic, tactical and programmatic questions and issues. We also will look at approaches to union organizing in the charter school sector in ways that further a social justice agenda. Finally, we will conduct a comprehensive power analysis of local Philadelphia unions in order to identify opportunities for coalition work with other unions.  Several discussions will focus on Lois Weiner’s The Future of our Schools:  Teachers Unions and Social Justice, copies of which will be available at a discount to ItAG members. It is our aim that this work will help inform existing organizing and inspire new initiatives.

Kelley Collings, a teacher at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences, has taught in the SDP for 12 years. Prior to teaching she was a community and parent organizer for over a decade in cities across the country.

Ron Whitehorne is a retired teacher and an activist with roots in both community and labor struggles as well as the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s. He has written extensively about social justice unionism and co-chaired the PFT Community Outreach Committee in the 1990s.  As a member of the Steering Committee and Co-chair of School Funding Task Force, Whitehorne has been a driving force behind PCAPS (Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools).


Social Studies Content Meetup

Meetings TBD by Group

This group is intended to serve as a space for a “meeting of the minds” among Social Studies educators. Our goal will depend on who decides to participate. I’d like to see our final product be curriculum, resources, or a combination of the two. Potential topics include but are not limited to: incorporating contemporary issues, thematic teaching, project-based/authentic assessment, teaching source analysis, student-centered inquiry, balancing content with skills, balancing depth and breadth, teaching “controversial” issues. This ItAG will serve as a jumping off point for this group, which will continue to meet even after the end of the session.

Charlie McGeehan teaches US and African American History at Arise Academy CHS. He is passionate about incorporating critical inquiry, authentic assessments, and contemporary issues in his classroom.


Using Teacher Research to Create Powerful Classrooms

Thursdays, 7:00, Location TBD by Group

In an era when educators are routinely disempowered by politics both inside and outside of school, this ItAG creates a space for educators to take charge of their own growth as a teacher-researcher by investigating questions that matter to them.

Contrary to today’s dominant narrative, we know teachers are always asking questions about how to improve their practice:  What facilitation strategies can I use to increase student voice?  What type of feedback is most helpful to my students?  How do I make sure I’m treating my students equitably?  What do restorative practices look like and do they work?  “Research” does not have to be synonymous with large scale studies, nor “data” with test scores.  Resisting the over-reliance on top-down knowledge production requires using the tools of research to produce our own knowledge.

Teacher research leverages the local knowledge of educators to create powerful classrooms.   In this ItAG, we will support participants on a personal research project aimed at strengthening classroom practice and generating knowledge for other educators in similar contexts.  Here, research becomes teacher-driven inquiry and data becomes a observing classroom events that generate deep insight.  Join us if you are an educator who asks questions aimed at improving your practice and you are interested in seizing the power available to you to answer them.

Sarah Burgess taught high school Social Studies in public schools for five years.  She is currently working with teachers on curriculum and instruction at YouthBuild, an alternative high school for 18 — 21 year olds.

Charlotte Jacobs is a graduate student in the Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.  Before graduate school, Charlotte taught 7th grade Humanities in Chicago. Charlotte’s research interests are race, gender, and education. This is her first time being involved with ITAG and she is excited to meet and work with new people!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *