button-download-workshop-filesStrand: Strategies for Equitable Learning Environments
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Session IV: 3:15 – 4:15 PM


Although there is a sense of urgency for schools to become more culturally proficient, many educators are left wondering where to begin. This presentation promotes personal narratives as a foundation for establishing an equitable learning environment. Participants will be able to use story sharing strategies to build and enhance relationships with students, colleagues, and supervisees. Participants will leave with worksheets, strategies, and activities ready for immediate use.


Walker Sandy 2017Sandy Walker

Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement
Calvert County Public Schools

Biography: Sandy Walker is the Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement for Calvert County Public Schools. He is responsible for the school district’s Equity Plan design and implementation, as well as the oversight of Policy #1015 Regarding Equity, with a goal of providing every student with equitable access to high quality and culturally relevant instruction, curriculum, and academic support. Mr. Walker taught secondary English for 18 years in New York State and Maryland. During this time, he also taught English and Education courses at Notre Dame of Maryland University and Marist College. Passionate about teaching, learning, and equity, he sponsored ELL after school programs, Future Educators of America, Minority Scholars, and served on his school’s equity leadership team and the District Equity Leadership team. Prior to public school teaching, Mr. Walker taught Summer Bridge programs for incoming disadvantaged freshmen students at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Walker Lisa 2017Lisa Walker

Elementary Educator
Calvert County Public Schools

Biography: Lisa Walker started college with an interest in history and culture. She quickly discovered that all of the things she learned informed her how to make decisions in and maneuver through the world. She made it her mission to help children experience this same sense of connectedness and understanding. She has taught English Language Arts and social studies for over 15 years, mostly in a Title 1 school. During this time, she has become a staunch advocate for teaching social studies and providing the opportunity for students to share their voice. Mrs. Walker is a Maryland State Effective Educator Academy Master Teacher, district curriculum writer, and a Maryland State Council for Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year.


As educators with more than 40 years combined experience in urban, suburban, rural, and Title I schools, the presesnters have in-depth understanding of the challenges teachers face in reaching their students. Sandy Walker provides weekly presentations to executive leadership, students, and teachers focusing on creating equitable learning environments. Lisa Walker has presented to teachers from across the state of Maryland through the Maryland Effective Educator’s Academy as well as the Maryland Council for Social Studies Annual Conference. Both have applied their understanding of adult learning theory as adjunct instructors for Notre Dame University of Maryland’s education department.

“The real power inside an organization is not buried within a better definition of the box, or the tasks, or a separate department mission and vision to support the overall company mission and vision. The real power is in the relationship between the individuals and with the organization as a whole.” – Keith Richards, THE BLOG The Power of the Relationship

Many districts have realized the importance of equity because of an alarming disparity in academic performance and student discipline among minority groups. Unfortunately, the systemic approach to investigate and remedy these disparities resides in placing students into remedial intervention. This “fix the student” approach falls short for two reasons. First, it ignores a deeper analysis of the quality of the classroom instruction and therefore concludes that students simply need an intervention. Second, it distracts from the focus of our number one resource and strategy for achieving equity: the teacher.

Cultural proficiency is the ability to see the differences among us and to respond to those differences effectively. Furthermore, it is the honoring of the differences among cultures, viewing diversity as a benefit, and interacting knowledgeably and respectfully with a variety of cultural groups. By putting our efforts and resources into helping teachers build culturally proficient learning environments, we can begin to increase achievement for all. A recent study completed by Gelbach and Robinson shows that the teachers who learned of the similarities they shared with students, especially black and Latino students, reported a more positive relationship with their students. Additionally, the achievement gap for their students was narrowed by 69 percent (Fiarman 2016).

Although there is a current initiative for schools to become more culturally proficient, this initiative lacks specific and practical strategies for making cultural proficiency a reality. This presentation promotes the building of equitable learning environments through the use of personal narratives and the building of shared experiences. Participants will be able to use story sharing strategies to build and enhance relationships with other educators and students that are rooted in the respect for, and acknowledgement of, the unique characters of individuals, while recognizing the universal experiences that bind us together.


As participants enter the presentation room they will complete a Gallery Walk by placing initials on all of the 10 posters displaying titles of life events such as “Loss of a Loved One,” “Falling in Love,”” “Birth of a Child,”” etc. that they have personally experienced. They will return to the posters later in the presentation to illustrate the similarities among people of various backgrounds.

Participants will complete part one of a two-part survey. Part one simply asks participants to reflect on a struggling student(s), and/or supervisee. The presentation concludes with participants completing part two of the survey, which gives them the opportunity to develop an action plan based on the specific strategies learned during this presentation.


The presenters will introduce oral histories by displaying an image of Tariq and Tabinda Sheikh, a married Muslim couple who immigrated to the United States. Participants will be asked to reflect on their thoughts and wondering questions as they view the image. Tariq and Tabinda’s 4-minute story from NPR Story Corps will then be shared. Participants will return to their original thoughts and add or adjust. We will discuss how, in listening to personal stories, we come to appreciate our differences while recognizing, and hopefully taking comfort in, the universal experiences that bind us together. Participants will reflect on the warm-up Gallery Walk activity to highlight this idea. The presenters will share and demonstrate their experiences of how building relationships through the sharing of personal stories impacted student growth.

Current research that demonstrates that building teacher-student relationships positively impacts student achievement will be shared. Some of this research is listed below.
• http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher
• http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/crash-course-evidence-based-teaching/teacher-student-relationships/#identifier_0_1152


Listed below are eight strategies that will be discussed with participants. Participants will complete the “Where I’m From” activity during the session.
1. Where I’m From activity: Begins with poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyons, poem with blanks spaces is given to participants to fill in their personal experiences
2. Family traditions or moment: share unique family traditions, funny or tragic moments
3. Brown bag activity: fill a brown lunch bag with 5-8 items that represent you, present to class or faculty
4. Shared experience: Creating “Our Story”, in what ways can you create a shared memorable experience with students and/or staff?
5. Class project suggestions: paint a mural, plant a school garden, outsource a community project
6. Joke book: Share a Joke a Day with class or faculty
7. Sharing most embarrassing moments: Again laughter brings us together

To conclude the session, participants will complete part two of the survey.


This presentation will provide insight into creating equitable learning environments through the use of personal narratives and by creating shared common experiences. The presentation will benefit any educator that is working to build stronger relationships with students and/or the educators under his or her supervision. There is no prerequisite of knowledge required, from novice to expert.