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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


By Nicole Allard

“Knowing who we come from helps us to know who we are.”

Our visit to Tucson High Magnet School centered around the power of student stories and began the moment we walked through the door into hallways covered with student work, display cases with student showcases and art, outside murals with self-portraits, and a classroom activity with a family oral history project.

Having just watched the Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, students engaged in a think-pair-share and then a whole class discussion, thinking through how they could change the single story about the people in their community/communities by writing down their individual stories. They engaged in a practice interview, with each other and with us as visitors to their space, asking questions and giving answers about lives and experiences. And, they were challenged by their teacher to truly engage, ask questions, and keep the conversation going.

“An answer and a story are two different things,” the teacher reminded them.

In their practice today and in the interviews they would do with their families, students were asked to seek out stories so that they could challenge the single story of their community.

As we finished our visit from Tucson High Magnet School to the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction Department (CRPI), we were honored by the students’ willingness to engage with us and share their stories and inspired by what they would create with the words of their families.

The stories continued as we talked to the CRPI staff, and we were able to hear the legacy of liberation, the power of adult learning and growth dowards liberatory practices, and how the Tucson community came together to leverage their intersectional strengths in order to advocate for equity in their schools. This all has created student-centered, positive learning communities with academic and ethnic identity development through intentional cultural content integration. There is joy cultivated through the development of trust and authentic engagement, not just with students, but with other staff and the district community as a whole. And, this was truly reflected in what we saw in our visit to Tucson High Magnet School through the co-construction of familial histories and stories.


About the Storyteller

Nicole Allard is an education consultant. She was formerly Executive Director of Educational Excellence and Innovation at Vista Unified School District in Vista, California.

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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


A number of storytellers captured their thoughts in images and short pieces. We'll be sharing those as well as the longer writing.

Sail With Me

By Nicole Ramirez, M.A. Ed.,

CRPI Mentor Teacher, Tucson Unified SD

Take a little trip with me back in time to my old elementary school. I was a young Mexican American girl, master of her skiff, loving to learn, strong minded and excited to navigate the waters of my education. My teachers, my captains held the treasure of knowledge before me, but on my own could not reach it; with my labels on my skiff, English Language Learner, and Specific Learning Disability, I felt a weight that anchored me to rocks and watched as peers sailed aimlessly in many different directions. The deficit based labels, disconnect with teachers and mass taught curriculum of one size fits all made for rough waters of my education. I have been given a unique opportunity with the ALP conference to revisit familiar waters of my old neighborhood elementary school. I am nervous, excited and strong minded just like that little niña in her skiff so long ago.

Today, I had the chance to see the vessel differently. The ship, my old elementary school, is now held with strong sails of student identity, classroom culture, student agency and formative assessment. The teachers and students are the co- captains in their journey of learning. The vessel is adorned with collaborative work/posters and done with intention, not perfection. Multiple points of entry of student knowledge in how they see the character traits of their novel Walk Two Moons by Sharon Chreech. Beautiful written work of students’ holidays, culture, lives and experiences, honored in frames near the front office for all to see. The vessel seems to be in tiptop shape and I am excited to see the rest on my visit.

The true test is to see the crew in action. I am able to visit and observe the youngest of mariners, a Kindergarten crew, charting the course of discourse. It is real, focused and critical questioning of “What’s the relationship to the trees? How do we depend on them?” I reflect on my own Kindergarten captain in that very room. I remember how distant I felt from her, removed from her world. She didn’t look like me, sound like me, or come from my world but thought she knew me enough to place me on a track that said I had too much baggage to learn. In comparison, I see this masterful Kindergarten teacher build such a loving caring community in the shared space I was once in. She shares language, laughter, and interacts masterfully in the paired discussions on the colorful carpet with her students. She offers constructive feedback to the conversations and challenges their responses with “Whys” and “Yes, but how?” She models how to respectfully challenge each other to bring out their best thinking.

In just a brief time, scaffolded discourse went from paired, whole group to small group discourse in line with their success criteria. How the students navigated to that success criteria was with their own agency. The students are the masters of their vessel jumping into small group discourse with the same essential question at their tables challenging respectfully their peers’ thinking with whys and “dime mas”, tell me more, given only a photo. Some of these mini mariners utilize different tools of white boards, pictures, and gestures in their discourse, with agency to express their thinking, their learning. There is no sailor left behind, all are on board.

Next, we are privileged to hear how the ship is built from the panel of students, principal, teacher coach, and teachers. They are honest, humble and their wisdom profound. As visitors we can ask questions on how they created this vessel of a learning community. The Admiral and Second in Command, principal, Mr. Carbajal and Mrs. Valdez-Badilla, teacher coach, speak honestly in how this was not an ark but a ship built by many hands with beautiful mistakes along the way. A labor of love in 6 years, where as Mrs. Valdez-Badilla said, formative assessment and academic discourse takes “teacher buy-in,it is huge…the feeling of something shifting in the culture…you feel it in the room, it is not robotic, it is not being compliant.”

One student was asked, “What would happen if you couldn’t talk or work in groups in your classroom anymore?” He said, “You have to listen to the teacher, but I would do it anyways, it helps me learn and others learn too”. His peers agreed and echoed the sentiment of, ”It helps me give information and get ideas talking to my group.” Teachers also agree that in the model and climate of the classroom it helps all learners, “It helps them operate at higher levels, using discourse and agency of their learning, and in my formative assessment I can turn and pivot from what I hear and observe in student discourse to better my lesson in that moment, or the next day.” In the closing of this voyage all agreed the vessel is not perfect, the crew is all still learning, yet there's a bright trajectory with the crew at different levels but all on board. I am proud and hopeful to see my little elementary school ready to navigate the waters of education, no longer alone, but together.


Cholla High School: YPAR Immersion

By Rickyana Estrada


About the Storytellers

Nicole Ramirez long-time educator since 2003. She taught at Manzo Elementary for 16 years as a fifth-fourth grade teacher, she lived and taught in Barrio Hollywood and truly believes that we as educators are fortunate to immerse ourselves in the worlds we teach. She currently works as a mentor teacher with the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction Department for TUSD. The work of culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogy is truly her life's work and passion. She loves helping teachers to grow and learn by becoming better educators who value students' lives and communities.

Rickyana Estrada is a master teacher in the Tucson Unified School District. Rickyana has over twenty years of experience in education as a middle school teacher, culturally responsive mentor/coach, district-wide professional development presenter and curriculum writer with expertise on middle school Language Arts and Social Studies. Rickyana is also the President of the Arizona Council for the Social Studies.

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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


A number of storytellers captured their thoughts in images and short pieces. We'll be sharing those as well as the longer writing.

Her Story

By Jessica Bernal-Mejia

Correction: *Her


Habits of Mind: An interview with Michelle Daum and Craig Gastauer

By Nicole Allard

How do we listen so that we can truly be impacted by others’ thoughts?

—Craig Gastauer

Nicole: Craig, what are the habits of mind?

Craig: The habits of mind are what intelligent people do when they are confronted with challenges or situations in which a solution is not immediately apparent. So, what are the behaviors, the thinking strategies, the actions that somebody might take intentionally to be able to help them to propose ideas, prototype ideas, and come up with those solutions to help them with that challenge.

Nicole: Michelle, I heard there was a student in your session, and when the session was over, they went to go get their teacher to have you talk with them about it. What makes habits of mind so appealing to students?

Michelle: I think it gives them the toolbox to be able to access the content and the skills in which they’re engaging with every single day. And, so the student was making a connection in a math class to being asked to create a kite, but she didn’t have the tools to be able to access and make the connections she needed. And, she recognized that this was a missing piece in helping her engage with the curriculum.

Craig: So, after the session, she went running out of the room, she and the student that was with her, got their teachers so that they could describe what they had heard about in terms of the Habits of Mind, and told the teachers they had to come back to our session room to talk with Michelle and me to talk about what the habits were and get some resources. They were adamant the habits needed to be brought to their school so that their students could be able to build the toolboxes necessary to think in more critical and creative ways.

That is so cool! That’s a heart moment. So, when you spoke to the teacher that came in or when you presented in your session, what are some real world examples of how you use Habits of Mind when you teach?

Michelle: Some are just starting with being aware of and really metacognitive of what are the skills they need and what are they practicing and being able to recognize them in their own lives. And then, as they’re moving forward with building their own awareness to when and how they need to apply them.

Craig: As an example in my own classroom this last semester, I noticed that my students would not speak to each other - not that they couldn’t, not that they were having difficulty - they literally were not speaking to the point where two students next to each other - I’m asking them to communicate, collaborate, and one finally says, “Can I text the person next to me? It’s easier.” So, for me, the Habit of Mind of thinking interdependently, the idea of bouncing ideas off of one another, of building up each other’s ideas so that you come up with an idea that’s greater than your own ideas by themselves, became an essential component of the class.

I asked the class, “How do we start learning to build ideas off each other?” So, as Michelle pointed out, the idea of awareness, that there are these thought processes going on in our minds. How do we share them, how do we listen to them so that we can be truly impacted by other people’s thoughts. How can we use them to then start building new ideas, combine ideas, synthesize new ideas. And, as we went through that, my practice changed because we started putting up posters around the room that said “thinking interdependently,” and what were the strategies that the students found themselves using in order to practice this skill.

It was no longer a top down, teacher-driven class. Instead, the students were building these knowledge bases of skills and strategies that they could begin using, reflecting upon, and then, as they self-assessed, figuring out the next steps to continue to improve upon. Over time, every single lesson had a component of thinking interdependently, and you could see the level of conversations and the depth of learning increase throughout the year because we were focusing on that habit.

So, Craig touched on how his practice changed in the moment and then moving forward. Overall, how has teaching and learning been impacted because of implementing Habits of Mind?

Michelle: I would say it’s been a shift for me from focusing on the task or the problem to how my students are going to engage with the task so that they can have the success that they’re reaching for.

Craig: To continue that idea, I have heard so often, teachers telling students they need to try harder or work harder, But, what that actually looks like has been a complete mystery to the students. So, whether we call them soft skills or Habits of Mind, whatever term we want to use, we’re intentionally helping the students to be aware of their thought processes, increase that metacognition so that they can interact more intentionally around whatever challenge or problem that they’re facing.

Thank you! Are there resources to share about the Habits of Mind if people want to learn more?


About the Storytellers

Jessica Bernal-Mejia: Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, a Mother of two intelligent little people, partner to Rene Bernal and daughter to Maria Moreno and Jose Mejia. She is a Mentor teacher in the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction Department in the Tucson Unified School District. She taught Culturally Responsive History and Government at Pueblo High School for 6 years before taking a mentor position. In addition to working with teachers and students, she also organizes a youth symposium focused on Social Justice and Youth Participatory Action Research, called Collaborative Research in Action Youth Symposium (CRiA).

Nicole Allard is an education consultant. She was formerly Executive Director of Educational Excellence and Innovation at Vista Unified School District in Vista, California.

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