2nd Grade Crew // Building Relationships

“We are crew, not passengers.”

I recall when I first became a Lead Teacher at DAA, and we learned about Crew. I thought, “Wow! This is just like how I facilitate my morning meeting, but BETTER!” I used a structure, similar to crew that included a morning greeting, a share, an activity, a debrief, and a morning message. Through morning meetings, I was confident that I was starting our day off on the right foot, and that students were building community through activities and sharing. However, what I didn’t realize when I began teaching was just how valuable a daily morning meeting was to the social and emotional development of a child.

What is Crew Culture? According to EL Education, “Crew is a ritual, a coming together, and the creation of a close-knit student community. An integral part of the EL Education model, each school in our network brings students together in a consistent and supportive group. Crew is a place where character education, adventure, and team building are intentional, assuring success for all students. It’s a structure that fosters a sense of belonging within students, and a place where they can be their best selves while lifting up their peers to achieve more than they think possible.”

The motto We Are Crew, Not Passengers is shared amongst student crews as well as adult crews across the EL network. Being apart of a crew means you have a team to work together with to solve problems, and depend on. A crew encourages one another, compliments each other’s faults and strengths, and pushes everyone in the crew to achieve great things! As with all schools, kids move and change schools for various reasons. When a new student comes to DAA, Crew is a vital resource to share an inclusive community where everyone feels welcome and cared for. To build that inclusive community, it is so very beneficial to incorporate moments for students to laugh together, build trust, and practice communication and social skills. This will lead to students eventually sharing personal things about themselves that make them unique and special, students being vulnerable to discuss challenges in order to address and overcome them, and even spark new friendships!

Crew gives students opportunities to practice social interactions and to be apart of a community where they can feel safe to be themselves and take risks to grow and succeed. By nurturing students social emotional skills during this time, we can help learners to manage emotions better, effectively communicate with others, and build a communal environment where all crew members feel safe and welcome.

ACE // Dance Club!

Entering 2018-2019 school year I felt prepared for all the work ahead of me. I am a support in 1st grade, lead intervention with small groups, support with recess and lunch duty, as well as covering the front desk for Ms. Vickie’s lunch break. Little to my knowledge there was one more task that I suddenly had to take on. 6 days before dance club was set to start, I was approached by the  Director of Operations and Compliance about potentially filling in as the dance instructor for DAA’S ACE program. Standing in “shock”, I excitingly accepted the offer. Immediately I started to think and plan for the class. I Chose what song I wanted the students to dance to and started choreographing a routine that same night. I created a GroupMe account for communication purposes as well as to inform the parents of the change that will take place that coming Wednesday in dance club.

Finally, the first day of dance club is here and I am super excited to get to meet all of the students participating. By the looks on their faces and their body language I could tell that most of the students were just as eager and excited to be there as I was. We started the class off with an icebreaker/greeting to get everyone familiar with names and faces, followed by a quick activity. As we moved forward with the class, I could tell that they were ready to learn some new dances/choreography but, to their surprise we weren’t learning any choreography this week. I wanted to set the tone for the class. So I made an anchor chart of Dance club norms as well as a chart on how dance club should look, sound and feel. Each student was able to participate in setting the norms and giving feedback on how we would honor those norms. At the end of the class we had a few extra minutes to spare so I decided to give  them a sneak peek of the song they would be dancing to as well test their confidence by letting them freestyle dance to Ciara’s ‘Level up”. As parents came in to pick up their little ones I knew the first day of dance club was a success by the smiling faces that were leaving the gym.

In the weeks to come in dance club, students will begin each day with a snack, followed by stretching and the learning and practicing of the choreography.  We are preparing for a performance at DAA’s 1st Celebration of learning of the school year on January, 31st 2018. I am so excited to see the growth and confidence the dancers will gain over the next 10 weeks. I am also honored to have been considered for this role and I am willing to continue in this role for the next cycle of ACE programs.

6th Grade Crew // The Module Launch

Over the course of the year each student at DAA become an expert in 4 different topics during their ELA class. The topics are split up into what we call modules and are based on the EL Education ELA curriculum. Students engage in meaningful and authentic research throughout the each module including reading complex text, interviewing experts and field study. By the end of each module, students create an authentic final product and present it at our celebration of learning. Final products push students to do more than they ever thought was possible. In the past DAA students have published books, organized voter registration and produced podcasts. In order to invest students in this deep and authentic learning, we have to get them excited as soon as the module begins.


At the beginning of each module every crew participates in a series of activities called the module launch. Launches can last from one class period to several days. During a module launch students engage in activities designed to spark their sense of curiosity. They explore resources related to the learning that they will do. They solve mysteries about their topic. Sometimes, they even start to analyze models of the final products that they will eventually create themselves. These launch experiences not only engage our students, but they also promote equity. Kids come to crew with a variety of experiences and interests. This means that they have varying levels of background knowledge related to any given topic. Participating in a module launch allows all learners to access the content and start to become experts regardless of prior knowledge on the module topic.


During the first module, our students studied Greek Mythology, a topic that most students were unfamiliar with. Students started their launch week with an amazing race. They were split into teams. Each team had to discover which figure from Greek Mythology represented their team. They completed a series of challenges designed to introduce them to common myths. After completing each challenge, they received a clue. During one challenge, students read about the myth of Arachne’s Web and completed the spider web challenge on our new low ropes course. In another challenge, they had to complete a team building activity to make their way to Mount Olympus.


After each team completed the amazing race we celebrated with a few chants and cheers. Then students immediately dove into analyzing what would eventually be their final product, a myth that represents one our our DAA habits of character.

Module launches are really powerful experiences. They spark academic conversation, expose students to rich content and allow us to continue to maintain a strong sense of crew. Our first launch of the year was in September, and still, students are talking about as they finish our their first module.


Kinder Crew // Working with Experts to Deepen Our Knowledge

In our Kindergarten crew’s first literacy module this year, we have been working to become experts about toys and play. We explored the questions: What can we do to make playing together fun? And What toys do others prefer? Why do they prefer them? We started our study by exploring different types of toys and describing attributes of toys. We then learned about what toys others prefer, first by learning about toys that kids from long ago played with and then by working with a partner to discover what toys they prefer playing with. To culminate our study of toys, we organized a school-wide toy drive to collect toys for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and created tags to go with the toys that include a picture of the toy and two sentences of writing about how to play with that toy.


One way that we were able to learn about and become experts on toys and play was by talking with and interviewing experts about toys and play. We started our module by interviewing a Child Life Specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Ms. Sinead. This interview helped us understand about why kids in the hospital need toys and what kinds of toys they like to play with. We learned that children in the hospital have a play room that they go to to ease the stress of their treatments and to feel less lonely when they are away from their friends, family, or school. After we interviewed Ms. Sinead, we were able to come up with a list and create posters  for our toy drive of which types of toys the Children’s Hospital needed and requested.

We continued to learn from experts throughout our module! When we learned about what toys others prefer and toys from long ago, we interviewed a classmate’s parent, who brought in two toys she had when she was a child! This helped us to understand what toys others prefer to play with and how toys have changed from long ago to today. Finally, we interviewed a student at DAA who spent some time at the Children’s Hospital a few years ago. He told us about what the toy room at the hospital was like and how going to the toy room helped him get through his illness and bring a smile to his face when he was away from his toys at home. Kindergarten students asked good questions to get a feel for why it was important to donate toys to kids who don’t have any, and throughout the writing and drawing of their toy tags, were passionate about making their work the best it could be to be able to support a real purpose.


Learning from and interviewing experts is one of the best ways to deepen our learning at DAA. Not only does it help students practice speaking and listening skills, but it also brings a real purpose to what we are learning and helps students make connections to the real world!

Social Work // 8 Takeaways From The International Institute for Restorative Practices World Conference

On October 24th - 26th, we (Tommy Anderson, School Social Worker, and Mario Lemons, Behavior Interventionist) were able to attend an international conference on restorative practices. Conferences run by the International Institute for Restorative Practices have been held all over the world, we were lucky enough to have this years occur here in Detroit. Participants came from far and wide, representing nearly every state and over 25 countries!

Breakout sessions ranging from “The Critical Role of Youth in Building Restorative Cultures at Schools” to “Using Restorative Practices and Mindfulness to Build Relationships and Heal Trauma” to “Bridging ‘Behavior’ Gaps: Strategies and Interventions for Challenging Students” informed and enlightened us along the way.

We had 8 big takeaways from our time at the conference:

1. Restorative Practices Work!

Nearly every session began with data. Schools across the nation are reporting a reduction in serious infractions, a reduction in recurrent problematic behaviors, a reduction in suspensions and an increase in prosocial behaviors. Furthermore, Restorative Practices is equitable. It has been proven to reduce racial gap in defiance and misconduct referrals. In an educational climate where Black students are 3x more likely to be suspended as their White counterparts, the importance in making our practices more equitable is paramount. If you’d like to see more data surrounding Restorative Practices, follow this link.

2. Restorative Practices is one piece of the puzzle.

Restorative Practices are best utilized in schools alongside Positive Behavior  Interventions and Supports, as well as social-emotional learning. In the school setting restorative practices do not live in a silo. They interact with other systems to help manage and respond to behaviors. Allowing Restorative Practices to interact and be a part of other systems of the school are when it becomes most effective.

3. Proactive Practices are key.

A common theme throughout the conference was the importance of establishing norms and relationships with those you work with. Proactive circles are key in building community. Building trust and getting to know those in your class before you need a responsive circle increases the effectiveness of the circle.

4. Data collection is an integral part of the process.

How do you know if something is working? How can we replicate our success year after year? Data collection! Not just outcomes, but collecting information on the fidelity of the implementation of programs. As we continually refine our restorative practices data collection will be an integral part of knowing what adjustments need to be made.

5. Restorative Practices should live in every inch of the school.

Restorative Practices in a school does not work unless it is present in the very fiber of the culture of the building. All community members must buy into it. It cannot only be the way that student off-culture behavior is addressed, but it has to also be what guides staff to student relationships, informs staff to staff interactions, as well as the way that schools engage families and the community as a whole. It is when (and only when) schools adopt restorative practices school-wide that one will see a genuinely restorative community.  

6. Restorative Practices take time, reflection and patience.

The ideas of restorative practices are not a new concept for various communities historically and abroad. However, the movement to fully incorporate such practices into schools has been the buzz in the educational sectors more recently than not. As a result, the implementation thereof doesn’t come without both unintentional and intentional resistance. Traditional educational systems are innately punitive in their response to off-culture behaviors, therefore, the transition to a more restorative environment takes time, thoughtful reflection, and patience from all stakeholders in each school community.    

7. We are doing a lot right!

The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) conference was very informative, engaging, and thoughtful in its execution. As we participated in the various discussions and breakout sessions, it was clear that the work that we have already done at DAA aligns well with the best practices globally. We learned a lot, and we contributed a lot as well. We were able to again several very tactical restorative strategies to bring back to the DAA community. We also found it interesting that we were able to add value to the diverse conversations in many ways during the conference because we have already been doing this type of work at DAA. It confirmed that we as a school community are not perfect, but, in the restorative community, we are doing a lot right! For that, we are extremely proud! :-)

8. Our work is never done!

Similar to the way that professionals in the medical field consider themselves practitioners of medicine- the very essence of becoming a restorative community is rooted in the idea that it’s an ever growing a developing process. It takes constant reviewing, reflection, readjusting to meet the specific needs of the community. This is why it is said to be Restorative Practices. It embodies the thought that “our work is never done!” Because this philosophy is human relationship focused, it is innately a journey- a commitment, and a process that never ends. But the potential outcomes of a completely restorative community is worth it all.

4th & 5th Grade Crew // Math Lab

Math lab is our designed time to work on skills at our individual levels. Using a combination of NWEA Test scores, Math Benchmarks and Unit assessments groups are designed. Students are paired and grouped with student who are working at the same levels as themselves. While students work in pairs or with their groups, I am able to meet with small groups to review, reteach or introduce new skills. This year I have been concentrating on how to hold students more accountable, make station materials more durable and more organized. 


 Students receive weekly trackers that include their objectives for the week, a schedule of their centers, an end of the week exit ticket and a reflection. Students use this tracker daily to record, compare and reflect on their progress throughout the week. This tracking system increases my ability to identify the exact needs of the students. It gives me immediate insight about how objectives should be adjusted for the following week. With the combination of trackers and weekly exit tickets I feel more confident to address the immediate needs of my students. 


 Throughout the week, students have the opportunity to grapple with and work on expanding their understanding of their objectives. Recently we have begun to use Khan Academy to address our current unit. Khan Academy compliments our EngageNY curriculum, it allows for students to watch videos of the skill we’ve learned and then they are given the opportunity to practice them. This year, in addition to using Khan Academy to compliment our curriculum, I am now assigning students more individual assignments to helps with filling in the gaps of their previous school year. While we aim for our entire day to be intentional, lab time is the most focused and individualized time of the day. Check out how we organize our stations and whats in each bin. 


3rd Grade Crew // Mindfulness

Maybe, as an adult, you’ve heard of how valuable a daily mindfulness practice can be. It seems as though new mindfulness apps and websites are emerging at a rapid rate, for both adults to use in their own practice, as well as for children to practice self-regulation and deep breathing (More examples can be found here and here).

But students don’t need a fancy app or an expensive subscription service to make the most of their daily mindfulness practice. All it takes are a few minutes, a set of agreed-upon crew norms, and some deep breaths.

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In the 3rd grade crew, our mindfulness practice occurs right after lunch. This is a great time for us to slow down and breathe, or just focus quietly on a spot in the room. Some of us enjoy drawing during mindfulness. Others like to close their eyes and meditate. One day, a group of students formed a meditation circle with a lava lamp as a centerpiece. Their energy was calm and still, yet palpable. You could tell that they were getting prepared to take on the rest of the day, which is filled to the brim with academic and social activities.

The built-in structure of mindfulness into each day allows us to take a few moments to reflect and think, set an intention for the rest of the day, or just enjoy a quiet activity like reading or writing.

In addition, sometimes we incorporate a mindfulness exercise into our day when the class as a whole could benefit from a brain break or “reset.” In these times, we gather into a circle and do a guided breathing activity, such as Bee Breathing, shown below. We imagined that a swarm of bees had invaded the classroom and we needed to take deep breaths, make the “zzzzz” sound with our mouths, and push the breath out through the buzzing sound. After we finished, the whole room was calmer, more focused, and ready for our next class activity.

Having mindfulness as a school-wide initiative at DAA is a wonderful way to ensure that all members of both our student and adult crew are getting a few minutes throughout the day to calm our minds and reset our intentions!

Art // Exploring Art & History at the DIA

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One of my greatest joys as an art teacher is bringing my students each year to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA not only offers Wayne county residents free admission but they also provide complimentary bussing for schools as well! This year our sixth graders started out their first module by diving deep into greek mythology. I knew that the DIA’s ancient Greek and Roman art collections would be the perfect place to bring our learning to life! In their studies in ELA class students read classic myths and learned how to write their own narratives about a hero's journey. As a cross-curricular art component we studied the importance of ancient greek pottery and looked at detailed vase paintings that have been used to tell stories of greek life for centuries. By taking our learning from the art room and into the museum, students were able to apply their knowledge of art history and vocabulary to actual artifacts and make first hand observations in the real world.

Through teaching at an Expeditionary Learning school I am able to collaborate closely with each grade level teacher to help plan, facilitate, and present student work. I help students create authentic and high quality final products that are directly aligned with their learning at the end of each module. Through our work in the art room and from our visit to the DIA, sixth graders created some truly beautiful examples of excellence! This type of curriculum encourages students to become experts on each subject and relies on the importance of fieldwork to guide them. Sixth graders were eager to do research for their art projects in the real world. It was pretty evident throughout their adventure at the Detroit Institute of Arts that the students were more engaged than they may have been spending the hour at school seeing only pictures of the artwork from their desks.

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1st Grade Crew // Authentic Learning

EL education determines high-quality work through the lens of authenticity, craftsmanship, and complexity. When planning the first-grade bird module, we kept these three attributes in mind. As a school we really wanted to focus on bringing the authenticity piece to the forefront, specifically, incorporating fieldwork, local experts, and service learning with students. These three facets truly bring to life work from the classroom because student’s work has a purpose. Our students meet with local experts who study or work in the specific field students are learning. They visit local spots connected to their academic content and produce an artifact that has a purpose in the outside world.

Once our first graders finished their first unit on birds’ physical characteristics and behaviors, they were excited and energized about what they would be learning next. We invited a local bird expert, Mr. Anderson, who is the father of our beloved social worker—Mr. Anderson, to teach us about what he knows about the ins and outs of birds. He visited our first-grade classroom and shared photographs of birds he has seen on his travels throughout the world. Students viewed real-life images of birds that they have studied for months. They asked Mr. Anderson interesting questions that only a bird aficionado could answer and were so excited to share their knowledge about what they had learned with him. Watching our students get so enthusiastic about recognizing a bird in a photograph and seeing 100% of the Crew raising their hand to answer a question about a bird that Mr. Anderson posed, was truly magical!

The fieldwork first grade went on is directly connected with what we are learning in the classroom. The purpose of our visit was to observe local birds in their natural habitat and understand different ways we can take care of birds. The experience of going on fieldwork to gather information with so much background knowledge is empowering and thought-provoking. Students put their knowledge to the test by “showing off” what they learned about birds. We invited Mr. Anderson to join us on our fieldwork to Kensington Nature Center, a park he knows well, to help us notice, observe, and learn even more birds! This fieldwork allowed students to take off their “student hat” and put on their “research hat”.  They took observational notes and wrote specific interview questions. This research stimulated our thinking for our final product and helped us answer our guiding question—how can we take care of birds to help them live and grow?

Using the information and experience gained through our expert, fieldwork, and classroom learning we created a final product to benefit birds in our community. Students used the research of local birds and work in expert groups to design and create a bird feeder with specific characteristics to appeal for their local Michigan bird. Each bird feeder included a high-quality scientific drawing of their local bird and include a convincing paragraph for a local business explaining why they should put the bird feeder outside of their place of work. Students also justified why the design of their bird feeder is best for the features of their specific bird. First graders planned, created, and revised their design using Legos! We also asked Mr. Anderson to use his expertise and give feedback and critique on our final products. Our final product mirrored a real-world format and served a real community need! It’s a win-win for the kids, the community, and the birds!

2nd Grade Crew // Supporting Lessons with Field Study

In the final module in our second grade curriculum, we explored the guiding questions, “Why should people help pollinators to survive?” as well as, “How can I take action to help pollinators?”. Through research with fiction and nonfiction texts, students were swiftly becoming experts in pollination. Certainly, if you know second grade then you’ll know how inquisitive and naturally curious they are! Throughout this module of study, students have been exploring texts that encourage them to take action and gives them examples of brave, integrous characters whom, no matter how small, make a difference. As the facilitator of their learning, I am always on the lookout for authentic, local learning experiences I can organize for my crew, to support the lessons I teach and also supports the social emotional aspect of working to contribute to a better world.

Recently, I learned about a local nonprofit that works to transform vacant lots in Detroit into sustainable habitats for bees and other pollinators. They are also connected with many city organizations that support the education and conservation of bees. Since we’re studying the importance of pollinators in our class, I didn’t hesitate to setup a field study at Detroit Hives. In order to make the trip more authentic, we incorporated a Field Guide Journal for students to draw pictures and capture their thoughts. They spent the trip asking endless questions, and persevering through initial fear to eventually wishing for their own beehive!

While on the trip we met Timothy, Nicole, and Skylar (Junior Beekeeper). She held the frames herself, answered many of the student’s questions, and was excited to share facts and information with all of the guests about the bees. This bubbly, eager expert shocked us all; at a mere 5 years of old, she was doing it. Students were motivated and encouraged to be involved in the conservation of these precious insect pollinators! Seeing Skylar lead with confidence and excitement was a teaching moment I wouldn’t have been able to facilitate for them in our  classroom. These invaluable lessons field studies provide can remain with students for generations and prepares students to be citizens of a larger world; they give them the confidence to go out and take action to improve the world in which they live.