By Sophia Xiong
The UA Parent Teacher Leadership Academy (PTLA) held its third session of the Academy year Dec. 6 on the campus of The University of Alabama (UA). The day’s topic was “Collaboration and Communication.” During the morning and early afternoon, teachers attended Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) workshops and lectures for elementary teachers. Kara Bernal and Kristi Garcia, both with the Tuscaloosa City Schools, gave the lecture “Breaking through Language Barriers to Create Partnerships.” They introduced some of the obstacles bilingual students could face in school and provided examples. Bernal has been the ESL (English as a second language) school social worker for the Tuscaloosa City Schools for almost 19 years, and for the past four years has also served as the moderator/interpreter/translator for the Hispanic parents participating in PTLA. Garcia serves as the coordinator of the ESL program for Tuscaloosa City Schools. She began working in the program in 2008. She has also worked with Global Café through UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), as well as Voces de los Padres, a parent-led educational advocacy group, to assist limited or non-English-speaking families with involvement in schools and with the difficulties of assimilation into a new community.
During the TLA session for middle school teachers, Dr. Lisa Matherson and Dr. James Hardin gave a lecture on “From Parent to PARTNER: Digital Tools for Building Bridges.” Matherson, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education at UA, has served as the LiveText FEM coordinator since 2015 and works with stakeholders in their implementation of the LiveText FEM tool for the College. Hardin is a clinical assistant professor of technology applications and assessment systems in UA’s College of Education. He has served as the College’s LiveText coordinator since 2010, and is also the College’s director of the Innovative Teaching and Technology Lab. Matherson and Hardin not only provided a list of digital tools teachers could use to communicate with parents, but also offered tips for them in the communication process. Following their presentation, Dr. Sara McDaniel, associate professor in UA’s College of Education, presented “School & Family Partnerships with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.”
This meeting was the first session for teachers that offered different workshops provided simultaneously. In TLA for middle schools, teachers could choose between “Grades and Test Scores: Who Knows What They Really Mean?” by Andrew Maxey, and “Reading Activities for the Family” by
Carrie Jo Powell. Maxey is the director of special programs for Tuscaloosa City Schools. He served as director of middle school education for the district for the last two years and continues to lead system work at the middle school level. He also writes and speaks publicly about effective grading practices, transforming the role of the teacher in public education and leadership that works. Powell has been an instructional coach at Hillcrest Middle and Hillcrest High Schools since 2016. Prior to being named to her current position, she taught English at Hillcrest Middle for 15 years.
In elementary TLA, teachers could choose two of three available workshops. Topics included “Handling Sensitive Conversations” by Krista Snyder, “Transformational Family Conferences and IEPs” by Hannah Ruggles and Dr. Holly Morgan, and “Mindset Matters” by Lynn Evers.
Snyder is a speech language pathologist at Communication Advantage Inc. She received both a BS and an MA degree in communicative disorders from The University of Alabama in the 1980s. Her nearly 40 years of experience have provided an enriching career focused on giving communicatively challenged people of all ages the gift of improved skills. Ruggles is a graduate research assistant in CCBP, pursuing her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. She works directly with PTLA under the direction of Morgan, who is director of Community Education at CCBP. Evers is an elementary math specialist in the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative at UA.
“How to communicate with parents and students is a very critical thing for educators,” said Taril Slater, a Matthews Elementary School teacher. “I found myself sometimes in difficult conversations; where I know what I want to say, but you need to be professional and say the right thing. I learned a lot from the first workshop about that.”
Teachers said what they learned from the workshops was very useful and could be applied in their classrooms. “I’ve never learned about mindset until two years ago,” said Kaylee Neal, a teacher from Cottondale Elementary School. “Now I realize that it really is the effort you put into it or the time you put into it, but you have to make a choice to do those things. So now, I can make sure that my kids know that now and they are not waiting until adulthood to make those same decisions.”