The Power of Making Connections
I am a spring 2019 graduate of Loyola University Maryland’s School of Education Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program. My concentration was Leadership. During the past two years, I have learned many skills that have allowed me to grow not only professionally, but also socially and personally.
As I thought about projects that I could possibly do in my final semester as a graduate student, I wanted my capstone project to be on something that I was passionate about, relevant to my coursework at Loyola, and was a problem that needed to be addressed on a larger scale. I had a few ideas in mind, but with the guidance of my professor, I decided to do my capstone on a professional development plan that would expose our Baltimore City public school to restorative practice approaches, a social emotional learning (SEL) tool to help avoid punitive alternatives that contribute to the “school to prison pipeline.” While conducting research for the capstone, I discovered that Baltimore City Public Schools had recently dedicated itself to becoming a restorative district and that district leaders created a five-year strategic plan for implementation throughout the district. In addition, as I began speaking with different leaders at our school, I was informed that our school was awarded a grant from the district office and was chosen to be an intensive learning site that will develop and implement a plan for school-wide SEL, so the stars were aligned, and I eagerly proceeded to complete my capstone.
While I knew the topic I chose was relevant, little did I know that I would be able to connect my project with the work that is set to begin this fall. And so, with the countless hours of research, I was able to gain a deeper understanding about restorative practice and social emotional learning. This process allowed me to be more prepared for my upcoming role.
Because of the expertise I gained with the capstone work, over the summer I was given an opportunity to work with the core team that would be developing and implementing SEL at our school, and I was able to take on a leadership role in this project. The professional development plan that I designed introduced restorative practices and placed an emphasis on relationship building through restorative approaches while incorporating social emotional learning into practice. The ultimate goal of the project is to help educators foster an environment that is positive and motivating to help students develop useful skills that will prepare them for academic and social challenges in life and beyond school. The core team met daily and had weekly meetings informing other staff members of the progress that we were making. Parts of my plan will be used as we develop the SEL plan and some of it is scheduled to be incorporated with other materials during the staff-wide professional development at the beginning of this school year.
Overall, I am ecstatic that I was able to actually use what I learned in graduate school and apply it at my job immediately. I am on the forefront of a new movement that our school will take part in, and being able to have a voice in the decision making and attend a leadership retreat to receive formal training in this area, has given me more tools that I need to be a champion for this important work in our Baltimore City Public School System.