Archives for posts with tag: Teacher Empowerment

Well, Happy New School Year!  We thought we better update the story of The Big Move at City Neighbors Charter School.  Lets start with the teacher who decided to try getting rid of all her traditional desks and chairs and create what she likes to call, “Giovanni’s Cafe” for teaching Language Arts in middle school.  If you recall back in #1 of this series we introduced the ideas of Ms. Sajida Davis:

First, Ms. Davis talked about her teaching.  She would need space for the classroom library, small meeting spaces, and a spot for her desk (could it be near a window?). Next she imagined a big whiteboard – a whole wall – from floor to ceiling so groups of students could be coming up with ideas together at the same time. She mentioned quiet spaces (and we looked out in the hallway and decided it was great and she would feel comfortable sending kids out there too). And when we began to talk about her tables and chairs that were being moved up here she said, “What I really wish is that I didn’t have to have tables and chairs.” Cool! What would you have? “You know, I want my classroom to be like a big coffee shop, with couches and comfy chairs, coffee tables, and some kind of stage area.”

 After a long summer of first relocating the library, then insulating the attic, then searching for and finding used furniture from hotel liquidators in the area, we spent $900 to create an entirely new classroom.  Here are some of the pictures from her space on the first day of school (some with students!):

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And now the most important question must be posed.  Will the physical environment impact the practice of the teacher?  How about the work of the students?  What does this new space create that works?  How about what doesn’t work?  These questions and more will be considered as we continue to check in with Ms. Davis this year in her new space.

Well, we made it.  Today is day 3 of a new school year.  More pictures and thoughts on the physical environment coming soon.

Just a few more pictures of the new space in use with our students:

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3rd Annual City Neighbors Symposium 2014

The Founders of City Neighbors worked hard (and for 2 years) to get our first school started. Up against a hostile school board, and pioneering what the funding should be, fighting (and winning) a proposed cap on the number of schools, working together to get a building and bring it up to code (with no facility funding!), all of these battles we fought and won long ago.

Those battles led to us defining clearly what we believe in, what we stand for, what we believe to be our work. And that part, the part where the work of a school is created with deep ownership and love, and working toward ideals….that is the part that became the heart of City Neighbors.

Now we have grown from one school (opening in 2005 with 120 students) to three schools serving over 800 students. We have grown from the founders group of 16 families, to the 100 faculty and staff who all came together yesterday at the City Neighbors Symposium. And the teachers who work and dream and create City Neighbors every day have that deep ownership, and love, and working toward ideals.  The power of the teachers working in this way is the key to growing great schools.

At City Neighbors we ask, “What would it take for every student to be Known, Loved, and Inspired?” Well, it takes a lot. But let’s start with being clear that we have to apply that same thinking to our faculty.  The Founders worked hard to get us open, and now it is the work of our teachers, students, and families to continue the tradition – the joyful work – of striving toward our ideals together.

We tried to capture that tradition in this short video we made for the City Neighbors founders past, present, and future:

All the best,

Mike and Bobbi

City Neighbors Teachers and Staff

City Neighbors Teachers and Staff

Teacher Voice

The other day, I heard someone say, “We need to give teachers voice.”     At the risk of offending that well-meaning educator, that statement seems so silly to me.    

Teachers have voice.   And, by the nature of their work, their experience, and their proximity to the students, their voice is informed, filled with invaluable observation and knowledge, and powerfully in the present.    In schools, no matter the structure, teachers find ways to use that voice and its embedded expertise to respond to students’ needs, adapt curriculum (whether they are ‘allowed to’ or not), work with families, influence practice (whether they are invited to or not), set culture, create and problem-solve with colleagues, and so much more.    In schools where that teacher voice is suppressed, dismissed, or disregarded by systems, leaders, or practices, the voice does not disappear – it just sounds different and its possibility is muted.

Now imagine schools that embrace and harness the power of that teacher voice.   We are not talking about ‘allowing’ voice or ‘inviting’ voice.   We are talking about embracing it, nurturing it, listening intently to it, encouraging it, celebrating it.    The beating heart of our City Neighbors Schools is that teacher voice.    Teachers create curriculum and projects that land in the intersection of their expertise and their understanding of their students.    Teachers are decision-makers in the hiring process for all staff.   They create and develop policy and structures – from schedules to discipline policies to evaluation.     They lead professional development.    They serve on the Board, Committees and the Foundation Council.    Their voice – that voice that is present in every school everywhere – is strong, thriving, and impactful.      They – as a thoughtful, expert collective and in partnership with school leaders, parents, and students – create our schools.   

It requires arrogance or a misunderstood sense of authority to assume that any leader can “give” voice to teachers.    The question isn’t whether teachers have voice.    The question is whether colleagues, administrators, districts and policy-makers are humble enough and smart enough to listen carefully to that voice.    

Mike Chalupa

Academic Director, City Neighbors

Want to know about some great schools who believe in the voice of teachers?  Check out A Smarter Charter:   Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education by Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter.    This book highlights eight thriving charter schools in the United States who are fulfilling the promise of charter schools and public education.    City Neighbors Charter School is highlighted throughout the book as one of those successful schools along with High Tech High, the Morris Jeff Community Schools and other nationally known schools.  You can pick up a copy at, of course:


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