Episode #66: Kyle Hamstra
Born and raised in DeMotte, Indiana, Kyle relocated to Cary, North Carolina in 2002, and started teaching fifth grade math and science at Davis Drive Elementary for fourteen years. For the last five years, he’s been working in another dream position, crafting learning experiences as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) specialist. He’s also served as an After School Director; Science Chair; and WeatherBug Coordinator for nearly two decades. He’s passionate about facilitating and enhancing student learning experiences through inquiry, technology, and hands-on activities.
Kyle was named a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, a member of the Wake Science Core Leadership Team, and a member of the North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network. He has presented at conferences like ISTE, NCTIES, NSTA, and ASCD. In May, 2020, he earned his Masters in School Administration (MSA) degree from East Carolina University. He is aspiring to be an administrator and author.
In addition to family time, Kyle enjoys serving on the Marbles Kids Museum Educator Advisory Group; attending #edcamps all over North Carolina; exploring the learning potential and professional certifications for all-things-#edtech; blogging; tweeting; connecting with my professional learning network; reading; running charity races; riding his bicycle; and traveling.
Tell me about a time you were in the trenches: Kyle thinks he was the worst 1st year teacher “who ever set foot on campus”. Hard process to make it through the first 3-5 years. Has lived his own journey and survived. He’d make the transition to teaching from the university to elementary school teaching and it was a treacherous journey. It was a R turn instead of a L turn. He found the school he applied to on a laminated flyer at a gas station. Circled 5 schools, got lost in Indiana. In 2002, he could tell how he got into the job, it was almost divine intervention. School he ended up at, had an admin who had graduated from Purdue in IN. He went home and took out the wall calendar. Took a pencil and divided every day into “yes/no” columns. The school he worked at was an academically high-performing school with veteran educators. Had a FOMO experience, felt inadequate. Was terrified. At the end of the year, the “yes” columns won by 8 days. People underestimate the bridge from college to one’s 1st job. He wishes he could have his first class back. Didn’t realize the importance of connecting with the mind by going through the heart. He had underestimated how hard being an educator is, all the work you have to invest in making learning better for kids. He rejoices that former students are doing well, making the most of their talents. He underestimated how hard it is to be a first year teacher, but was on an amazing team. Another male teacher on the team who every student wanted to be in his class, a math expert. Was grateful for his mentoring. He wanted to add value to the team. Came to the planning sessions but felt like he just walked away with info. Needed to identify the value he could add to the team. Wanted to be part of the process. No one in the building was really focusing on science. Needed to come with resources to make lesson plan better. Started to invest in ways to make science better (i.e. hands-on). He was well-supported. It takes a special perseverance. You have to WANT to do it. Be all in or not.
Tell me about your Standards-Based Grading (SBG) journey: In 2005, his district decided they would transition to SBG. It changed his entire educational philosophy, career trajectory. Was sent in 2004 to go to a SBG workshop. Took copious notes. He was expected to present that to his staff. He had to know all the ins & outs about SBG. His school implemented it the following fall. It changed his philosophy because it was done with fidelity. All he knew as a student was %-based grading. At that time, the HS & MS in the district stayed with %-based grading. Going back to 1st year- had pop quizzes with ?’s. Half got all right, half got wrong. Parents complained because it was a C but kids just got 1 wrong, they had demonstrated proficiency. Hardest part was equating quantity with quality. Apples vs. oranges. In Kyle’s mind, it was a deficit approach. SBG was how we can add value. Communication with parents looks different, feedback to students looks different, how you produce evidence of learning. Teachers has to go back to see “what was the standard”? It’s harder work, but truly more meaningful. It changes the game. Measuring learning against the objective and taking biases out of it, you get to know your standards better. The more informed an educator you’ll be. You can better differentiate your plans moving forward. It helps newer teachers know better what they’re teaching. We’re still required to teach & learn the standards. We have the whole rest of the box to try to differentiate the instruction. Kyle started blogging about it in the summer/fall. Has used a shade of green-same shade as on the cover of the book “How to grade for learning” by Ken O’Connor. He moderated a culture ed twitter chat on grading recently. We can look back on the pandemic in 5 years and see if we really structurally changed things. When it comes to the camera on or off question, we shouldn’t grade by anything but work habits and not even if kids turn in work late. We don’t know the level of support for learning new things at home during pandemic. It’s different transferring F2F lessons to online or blended format. Take that all into account when deciding how to grade. Asked about his remote, hybrid, F2F experience in fall & going into the spring. He has a 3 cohort rotation in person. More people now feel philosophically more comfortable with SBG, as shown in the Twitter chat he led. As educators we can’t choose our grading system. Can you still demonstrate practices of quality over quantity even if you’re doing %-based grading? Do work habits inform your bias as to what you put on report card for math? 1) work habit 2) conduct or 3) learning. Report cards should include these 3 items. Asked if he’s presented on SBG at conferences, no, but he has given presentations on other things. In the journey he wanted to add value by going deeper into the science. He started thinking about how to make 5th grade science better, how to supplement the gaps. If you’re truly using SBG you have to ask yourself did the child really demonstrate mastery? Then you can make decisions about differentiation.
Tell me about your journey getting on Twitter: Kyle was inspired by others who were on social media before him. Joined in 2013. Was opposed to social media before that. In 2013, got on Twitter, he began to tweet about it. He did it to provoke inquiry. He wanted to use Twitter as a teacher tool, a free digital space to store resources. He loves it now because he sees it as a way to use social media, promote digital citizenship in a good way. In the 5th grade science weather unit, there are lots of abstract concepts that adults can’t even conceptualize. Science curriculum kits didn’t teach to what the standards said, so he’d do searches, take pictures while travelling, build models, Jeopardy questions. Printed off pics, double-sided tape, put on poster boards. Wrote standard underneath, asked students how does this supplement our learning? Kids wrote speech bubbles how it applied to their real life. This was in 2007-10. Kyle asked students how it was meaningful to them, had them bring in their pics and artifacts. Began with the # of the standards. #SCI5E11- hashtag science standard on weather data. Kyle came up with # system for NC standards, had video or website for all NC standards. Now he has an archive of his own background knowledge. After 100 pics, 100 tweets, he had to bring up things, scroll through all his Twitter posts.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this episode, being released April 14.
Episode # 67: Dr. Markeyna Williams
Dr. Markenya L. Williams is a Chicagoan, with great Southside pride. She has been an educator since 2005 and is an active member of the NAACP, NAN, and a proud Board Member of the Illinois Princip Association (Kishwaukee Region,) Burst Into Books Inc. (Chicago,) & St. James Community Church (Chicago). Dr. Williams has held multiple positions and titles throughout her career: teacher’s assistant, teacher, grade level team leader, private tutor, preschool site director, technology coordinator, Local School Council (LSC) member, PBIS coach, attendance team leader, MTSS co-coordinator, assistant principal, diversity & equity chairperson, CEO, and much more. Dr. Williams’ personal mantra is “expect, implement, transform!” Her passion and commitment to public education have been the fuel for her success as a transformational leader. Dr. Williams strongly believes that all children deserve effective, highly qualified educators and committed leaders who believe in diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice!
Trench story: Her powerful story is leaving her last job in February 2020, pursuing entrepreneurship. District was 2 sides- Title 1 & affluent side. Made great connections with families, they were happy there was an African American AP. She pulled back layers of discipline practices. There were high suspension rates. Unpacked layers, they weren’t in alignment with the district’s policies & practices. She believes in restorative justice (RJ). Saw gross injustices taking place among African Americans & students of color. Staff was resistant to being accountable to practices in the classroom, everything funneled to the front office. She put in lunchroom management discipline practices. 85% of referrals were from lunchroom and were abolished completely in 1 month. She experienced microaggressions. No one told her what to expect in such a system. It was emotionally unhealthy. In Feb. 2020, she prayed, had hired legal counsel. God encouraged her to resign. Resigned the week they went on lockdown in IL. Didn’t have a plan B. Emotional toll wasn’t worth it. Felt the kids deserved a better leader. Was glad had put in resignation before they went to remote learning. She hadn’t been looking at research, so in March 2020 she picked it back up, finished her Doctorate in June.
Talk about starting the Panacea Consulting firm: has been asked to do diversity, equity, inclusion work. She was looking at principalships in June. Thought of Shirley Chism, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, grab a folding chair”. She thought about what she had to offer. 1 job, 1 district didn’t define her as a person. She thought about “what else can I do?”. Wrote her skillsets down in order to launch her LLC. Told herself to put her own energy into creating the Panacea consulting firm– maximized the opportunity, brought her own folding chair. Asked what types of needs the parents, stakeholders, districts would need in her setting up systemic processes with them. She’s seen great initiatives started but when someone leaves, it goes away. She wants to leave her footprint. Is currently building networks to help deliver on demand for equity & inclusion. She wants to promote equitable and inclusive strategies to those schools. She can now make change at a macro level.
Talk to me about your own journey through education: She was brought up in single parent household, S side of Chicago. Mom has a degree in math but was an athlete so she got “special treatment”. She knew the biases that can influence the outcomes of children. Herself & siblings went to private & parochial schools K-12. Aunt was a nurse, she wanted to go into nursing. Many of the babies she worked with in the labor & delivery ward were from the moms who were addicted, going through withdraw. She held them & gave them baths. In HS, took biology & earth science, passed with a C, needed a D or F to get into nursing program. Lost dad at age 7, brother had a different dad, so it was hard navigating her early years. Parents were passionate about them getting a good education. Mom send her to private/parochial schools. It was hard for her to navigate these years. When she first came to public schools as an educator she became relentless in ensuring students were able to read & write. Taught preschool & K and make sure kids left her class with early literacy skills. Promotes literacy programs for kids in neighborhood schools. Englewood community & W. Chicago. Entered the profession as an EA, she has awareness of including all the people who work with kids at all levels. Not “shocked” by students per say, adults are supposed to guide, shelter, but they were neglecting the needs of kids. Impact was decreased or diminished. There was a lack of consistency in how to serve kids with respect, love, there were high levels of aggression with them working with children of color. Dr. Jean Murphy was her junior year professor who changed the trajectory of her thought process. She was first black woman who had a doctorate (that Markeyna knew), this professor exuded excellence. Was late to class, 1 hour late. Prof had locked the door. Wouldn’t let her in. Lost % points for not presenting. She influenced Markenya well into her adult years. A writing assignment she got A+ on changed her trajectory of being able to write more. Saw this was lacking when she got to public schools. Became relentless as a teacher, at the preschool level that the kids left her class reading. Best tools to be self-propelled. Was open & honest with the 3-4 year olds. It’s about empowering them with self-love, affirmations, complementing them. Countless educators, black & white, she’s known who have spoken down to students.
Setting up the Panacea firm, how you got started, and what your vision we when you started? She threw a life-line out to fellow educators and pre-service educators. She had started a non-profit, became a site director while she was in school full-time. She is supporting schools in WI, IL & Africa. It’s a great opportunity. She can go back into a school, or into higher ed. Has no regrets standing up to resist oppressive systems. She loves the peace she has now. She had never seen kids so young being thrown into suspensions with the zero tolerance policies. She agrees, these kids need support. Schools often fail to build relationships with students. Students who drop out, end up wrecking havoc on the community who failed to support them.
Your research for your doctorate was on absenteeism, talk about how that is connected to your passions: She went through multiple topics of “Markeyna saving the world” through her research. Narrowed down topic to chronic absenteeism. She took the capstone option. She created an attendance manual. Told her chair it was the backdoor to the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to make efforts to change the system. Children will learn more when they are in school. When we don’t ensure they’re there, these kids wreak havoc on the communities. Community pays for educating or miseducating the students. Admin often had access to data but didn’t bother looking at it. Looked at the difference between chronic absenteeism & truancy. Pulled multiple districts’ attendance policies. Wasn’t always easy to find the policy. A lot of initiatives weren’t in the policies. Her work has really driven the conversation for the work that needs to be done to influence policies. It’s amazing when you look up and you’re operating from your purpose. We’re here now for a significant reason. She is passionate about navigating the school-prison pipeline. Even if we don’t rectify the educational system at large, just by them being at school every day, they will learn. Schools who kick kids out of rooms aren’t places where kids want to be. She has 4 nephews. Has a particular passion for helping black boys. Black parents feel mistreated there. The culture & climate issue is something the school or district doesn’t want to take ownership of. We have to own the wrong before we can get to the right. When we have chronic absenteeism in primary grades they can fall into the trap of too many “excused” absences. Sometimes parents will just let them stay home due to alleged medical umbrella. Chronic absenteeism affects the community at large. 36 out of 50 states chronic absenteeism is an accountability metric tied to funding. Is there a desire to rectify it?
Key quotes: “Children matter, you have to care for children. When they don’t feel welcomed, learning can’t happen”. It drives what she does. It’s not just in word but in deed. Think about “who could I have been if I had that educator who made a difference just 5 or 10 years prior?” Pay it forward. If you’re not good for kids, please leave. Too many people stay in positions because of the paycheck. She realized she had too much integrity in previous job to stay there. We’ll really need people who can show up 100%. These are the conversations we need to have around diversity, inclusion and equity we need to think about the individuals. She’s talking about all the adults in the schools.
Find Markeyna online on Twitter @markenyaw IG: @markenyawilliams, access her Youtube channel Visit her website: www.panceaconsultingfirm.com View the (audio) version of this podcast on YouTube: https://youtu.be/oLCg0vbAGMw