Teaching the teachers

A popular conference for teachers brought a nationally renowned education expert to campus to discuss strategies for cultivating increased diversity in STEM fields.

More than 200 current and aspiring educators from across the region attended St. Scholastica's 21st Century Teaching and Learning Conference on June 20. It began with a keynote address from Roni Ellington, Ph.D., an expert on fostering student success in mathematics and STEM-related disciplines.

Ellington said teachers must move past simply "covering the curriculum" and instead aim to help students develop holistically. This includes giving them a positive identity - reassurance that they do "belong" in STEM courses - to get them more engaged in the subject matter. Students need to be able to see that STEM classes are vital, and relevant to their future. Successful students, she said, develop a will to succeed, and teachers can help them with that.

"They don't have a paradigm for resiliency," Ellington said. "As soon as that student is up against their first real challenge, they bail."

Teachers and education administrators must transcend their traditional roles and interactions with parents and the community at large, Ellington said. Schools often operate under the belief that social capital is lacking in the surrounding community, when in fact, there is a wealth of information, experience and resources just waiting to be utilized.

"All communities have capital," Ellington said. Schools must engage in authentic partnership building, she said, approaching community leaders and parents to ask how the school can be of service, rather than waiting for parents to come to them.

"We have a whole paradigm of engaging community that's one-sided," she said.

Trained as a mathematics educator, Ellington has written several scholarly articles on STEM education, parental involvement, and successfully navigating the STEM pipeline, particularly for minority students. She is an associate professor of Mathematics Education and coordinator of the graduate programs in Mathematics Education at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore.

The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Conference also offered a full day of breakout sessions designed to meet ongoing education requirements for teachers, from K-12 to higher education faculty members. Presentations included hands-on workshops and research-based best practices in teaching, learning and leading. Topics covered include "Classroom Innovation: It's Not Just About Technology," "Using Primary Sources in American History to Counter Racism and Promote Empathy," and "Refugee Learners in the 21st Century Classroom."