Our Next Chapter: Centering Humanity, Strengthening the Relay
To learn is to change. Nothing illustrates the power of this simple phrase more than the way great teachers help us to see beyond our imagined limits.
Yet, teaching as a profession is still constrained by too many limiting dichotomies: systematic phonics vs. engaging read-alouds; conceptual understanding vs. procedural fluency; academic achievement vs. social-emotional growth. The list goes on and on.
We know that great teaching is holistic. Rather than focusing on only one aspect of teaching – for example, favoring academic achievement over social-emotional growth – we should be thinking of how to apply a “both…and…” lens.
Relay’s Evolving Approach
As an institution of higher education developing the next generation of teachers, our goal is to prepare our students to be content experts with high expectations, as well as relationship builders who create positive learning environments where all kids can succeed. Over the last decade, we have received a lot of feedback on the needs and desires of Relay graduate students and absorbed a lot of insightful research from the field. Our students appreciated courses focused on their content area (e.g., math for math teachers) but they wanted more. They valued the opportunity to learn about the theory of culturally responsive teaching but they wanted more opportunities to practice it. At the same time, research is pointing clearly to a need for teachers to be prepared with greater content knowledge and cultural fluency.
We have learned with our students and the field. We have changed.
This fall, we are piloting changes that will strengthen how we prepare all Relay students to build the positive, inclusive learning environments we know are best for learners. Our approach combines a focus on rigorous academic content and prioritizing the needs of the whole person (both Relay students and the PK-12 students they will inspire).
Culturally-Responsive, Content-Rich Curriculum
Students learn best when they are seen, known, and welcomed as their whole self. This mindset forms the basis of culturally responsive teaching. But culturally responsive teaching is about more than affirming students’ identities; it’s about connecting the curriculum to the interests, values, and experiences that matter in their lives. Why? Because what we learn is based on what we know. Therefore, we have woven culturally responsive teaching into every course and every Relay experience. We believe this represents a huge step over traditional approaches that still place culturally responsive teaching as a stand-alone skill set with a one-course moment.
In addition, we’re doubling down on a content-first approach, where we teach great pedagogical skills primarily in the context of the math, literacy, science, social studies (etc) lessons that teachers will be leading. To support this, we are investing in a more specialized model where our greatest former math teachers are our math professors, full stop. This relieves them of other responsibilities, like advising, certification prep, and writing curriculum -- so they can focus on outstanding teaching for our next generation of math teachers.
Finally, we’re leaning into our hybrid model of instruction to offer students more flexibility in how they complete their academic program, including offering more options to tailor their course load.
Supportive Student Advising
We are also strengthening the community that is supporting our students. By investing in student advising specialists, we will ensure Relay students have dedicated experts for all aspects of their teacher preparation journey – from their progress through our programs, to emotional support, and certification prep. Our student advisors are carefully trained in the culturally responsive approaches that undergird our teaching work. Our professors and advisors form a team around each student to teach, challenge, support, and inspire them as they move toward their goal of becoming an outstanding teacher.
One Relay: Practice-Based, Equity-Centered
The revised Relay approach will be introduced this fall in four states, and over the next few years will expand nationwide. We will continue to learn as we go, while building on the foundational pieces of our work that have made Relay successful for over a decade: a practice-focused, equity-centered approach, where all Relay faculty are outstanding teachers with real experience in PK-12 classrooms, ensuring high-quality instruction and high expectations across all our locations. Our team leading this work, both the design and the execution, will describe our efforts more deeply in our blog in the weeks to come.
The work we’re doing proves we can set high, rigorous expectations and honor the individual in the classroom. By evolving our work to focus to center our humanity, Relay is creating an environment where everyone will learn and grow.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter for more expert insights from school and system leaders.