Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie opened a discussion forum with the promise “to educate all students to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

“This is our moment to move from rhetoric to action,” Runcie said on Saturday, Nov. 5, addressing Broward educators, administrators, parents, and students gathered at the fifth annual Broward County Public Schools Ed Talk in Fort Lauderdale.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie with VocabularySpellingCity Literary Specialist Laura Kupres.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie with VocabularySpellingCity Literacy Specialist Laura Kupres.

The day’s theme was “Courageous Conversations,” and groups at each table held discussions on two questions:

  • Would facilitation of courageous conversations in classrooms benefit our students?
  • Should teachers engage in professional development surrounding courageous conversations?

Students from the Broward County Public Schools debate team defended opposing viewpoints on whether teachers “have an obligation to facilitate courageous conversations in their classrooms.”

“The reason we’re uncomfortable talking about these issues related to the status quo is because we simply do not talk about them enough,” one student said. “What you’re proposing is short-term. We want to look to the long term on how students can benefit from these courageous conversations. If we tell students it’s OK to talk about racial issues, over the long term a courageous conversation becomes a comfortable conversation.”

Broward Schools debate leaders today, potential world leaders tomorrow.

Broward Schools debate leaders today, potential world leaders tomorrow.

Another student countered, “Allowing racial discussions only results in students feeling they are unequal within classroom spaces. This results in safe spaces of school being dissolved. Courageous conversations

Educators, parents, and students participate in discussions on re-imagining a more engaging education process.

Educators, parents, and students participate in discussions on re-imagining a more engaging education process.

should take place where all participants are peer equals, as opposed to the traditional classroom where teachers are instituted to preside over students.” She continued, “This results in silencing of students, which is worse than not having these conversations at all. It sets a precedent that invites a student to explore personal struggle, and their voice may be ignored and overruled by someone seen as superior. [The end result produces] no beneficial effects.”

VocabularySpellingCity Literacy Specialist Laura Kupres attended the event and participated in discussions on how to re-imagine and revolutionize education, and ways to create a learning environment that will engage young people.

“I really enjoyed hearing educators, community members, and students sharing their different perspectives on the educational process, and when and how much social justice issues should be included,” she said.

“Students want to have these conversations in the classroom because it’s what they are experiencing in their everyday lives,” Kupres said. “They also want learning to be transformed in a way where their interest drives the instruction and the mandated standards will be implemented into their interests.”

She was struck that the students’ concerns reflected VocabularySpellingCity’s focus on instruction personalized to student interests and learning levels, and tools aimed at increasing comprehension and vocabulary retention, so vital for the kind of future success Runcie promises.  

Students involved in the arts showed video of their dance and music performances, and spoke about how these creative outlets are meaningful and satisfying in ways other parts of the curriculum aren’t. They said a lot of the day-to-day learning process is simply memorizing information for tests that is then quickly forgotten, and “it’s not useful,” said one student.

“That’s just the issue we aim to solve at VocabularySpellingCity,” Kupres said. “As a student said, ‘If you’re not innovative, you’ll evaporate.’ ”

Kupres said she found it inspiring “how Broward educators let students guide the chat, and showed how much they value the students in this community. I’ve never seen that done so effectively before. And some of the students – you could tell they were anxious about sharing and being onstage, but they did it. They moved past their fear and participated in the discussion, and that was really special.”

VocabularySpellingCity hosted a webinar on Tuesday, Nov. 8, “Which Words Should You Teach?” exclusively for Broward County Public Schools educators. We’re planning webinars for early 2017; stay tuned!  

At Broward Ed Talk, Students Take the Lead in Exploring ‘Courageous Conversations’

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