Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education
Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education


CYCLE Summer Learning Blog Series

One of CYCLE’s core values is learning, specifically to create a culture of inquiry where ideas, information, and discoveries are exchanged. Over the summer, CYCLE staff have had opportunities to facilitate and attend a number of learning events. During the last few weeks of summer, we will be publishing a series of blog posts on lessons, reflections, and takeaways from those learning opportunities. First up, Tracie Potochnik, Senior Research Manager at CYCLE, reflects on the Understanding Root Causes of Inequities learning community and webinar series.

CYCLE Summer Learning Part 1:
Understanding the Root Causes of Inequity Learning Community and Webinar Series

When cultivating our learning culture CYCLE seeks to center the perspectives and experiences of people most affected by an issue. To this end, we have supported cross-site learning among the six districts involved in the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s Understanding Root Causes of Inequities initiative. The initiative emphasizes engaging and using the expertise of youth, families, and educators to better understand and find solutions to districts’ most pressing educational inequities. Over the past year and a half, CYCLE has facilitated cross-site learning for the cohort, including a webinar series launched this spring.

Our spring/summer webinars have focused on developing culturally responsive classrooms, an issue that has been top of mind for cohort districts and communities. In May, Angel Martinez, a parent leader from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and Megan Hester, a researcher from NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools walked through their recently developed Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard, designed to help determine the extent to which schools’ English Language Arts curricula are culturally responsive. Angel and Megan offered examples of events that use the scorecard to facilitate meaningful conversations about student learning among educators, families and community members, and youth. The tool itself and these events are designed to be accessible to broad audiences and to value lived expertise as well as content expertise. 

Our June webinar focused on increasing educators’ cultural competence through youth leadership. Kiara Butler, CEO of Diversity Talks and Victor Anaya, a youth leader from the Central Falls School District discussed how youth have been supported to lead a series of professional development workshops for educators and administrators designed to deepen understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion through culturally relevant and responsive conversations. These student-led workshops cover topics such as implicit bias, power and privilege, intersectionality, microaggressions, and student voice and create opportunities for dialogue and reflection between students, educators, and administrators that too often does not happen in classrooms.

Taken together, these webinars offer examples of why equity-centered change is not simply a technical endeavor. Both presentations emphasized not only the critical roles that youth, families, and educators must play in constructing classrooms and school cultures that are culturally responsive but also the importance of building relationships and collective understanding between and among these stakeholders to provide students with meaningful educational experiences. 

Parents, Youth, & Community Join Together for the Future of Providence Public Schools

On July 23, 2019, Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green was granted permission at a RI Elementary and Secondary Education Council meeting to pursue state takeover of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). That same day scores of parents, youth, and community members turned out at the council meeting to make their voices heard during the public comment section of the meeting. Calling for a seat at the table, CYCLE was part of a group of 18 organizations, representing parents, youth, and community members, that released (and read out loud) a statement on the future of Providence public schools. The list of statement signatories has since grown to 20 organizations, all of which play important roles to support youth and families who are part of PPSD. The statement calls for the Commissioner and RIDE to design and implement a process that:

Establishes clear authority for youth, families and community members in selecting and evaluating any state- or district-appointed leadership for Providence public schools.

Establishes significant, ongoing, formal roles for families, students and the community in the development and implementation of plans for intervention.

Establishes policies and practices to ensure transparency.

Recognizes, respects and values the diverse communities served by the Providence schools.

Is set up to succeed.

Clearly responds to the issues youth and families identify.

Read the full statement here.

The Schools Our Communities Deserve

CYCLE joined a group of organizations committed to educational equity and justice in our public schools to sign a letter laying out an affirmative vision for the kinds of Providence public schools children in our state’s capital city deserve. We are grateful for and want to lift up the leadership of Providence public school parents from Parents Leading for Educational Equity and ProvParents who worked tirelessly to bring us together. This letter was shared today with decision-makers across the state in anticipation of next week’s release of the RI Department of Education’s review of the Providence Public School District. At CYCLE, we strive to uphold the values of partnership, community power, and voice. It is in the spirit of these values that we are proud to stand with parents, caregivers, community members and advocates who are deeply invested in bringing about significant, positive change in Providence public schools. As the letter states, no substantial or lasting improvement in our public schools is possible without true partnership. We are ready to partner with others who are ready to build community power predicated upon the voices of those who will be most impacted as we seek ways to make Providence schools the places of learning and joy youth deserve!

Please read the letter here.

CYCLE's executive director featured on the Leading Equity podcast

Keith’s on a Podcast!

CYCLE’s Executive Director, Keith Catone, is featured on the most recent episode of Sheldon Eakins’ Leading Equity podcast. In the episode, Keith discusses a bit about his background as a teacher activist and answers questions about the research that went into his book, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism: Portraits of Four Teachers for Justice. CYCLE’s core value of “voice” is predicated upon the belief that the perspectives and experiences of people most affected by an issue must be at the center of finding and implementing solutions. In education, the people most affected are youth and families (particularly those who are low-income and of color), and educators. We are proud to partner with educators, including teacher activists, who understand their work as moving in solidarity with youth, families, and communities seeking educational justice.

You can listen to the Leading Equity podcast here. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss upcoming episodes featuring conversations with great leaders working in the field to advance educational equity!

Valuing Voice: Youth Planning Team Members Share Their Hopes and Expectations for YLI 2019
YPT Retreat, March 16-17, 2019 in Providence, RI

YPT Retreat, March 16-17, 2019 in Providence, RI

Since 2013, CYCLE staff have been responsible for the design and facilitation of an annual Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) for Nellie Mae Education Foundation grantees. Over the years, the convening has grown to include over 150 youth and adult allies from more than 20 organizations and school districts from across New England. At CYCLE, one of the values we hold dear is “Voice,” which we take to mean that the perspectives and experiences of people most affected by an issue must be at the center of finding and implementing solutions. In education, the people most affected are youth and families (particularly those who are low-income and of color), and educators. As we strive to do our work in ways that explicitly reflect our values, after the first YLI, we have supported the development of a Youth Planning Team (YPT) that makes important decisions to plan and design the institute. This year, for the first time, YPT members will also be playing lead facilitation roles at the event!

In February 2019 the CYCLE staff selected 12 students from all over New England to be a part of the YPT for the Youth Leadership Institute 2019. This team will plan and implement YLI in partnership with CYCLE staff and got the ball rolling with a YPT Retreat in Providence in March.  Jnanarisvanthi Athina from The Connecticut Youth Forum and Shawn Brooks from Hearing Youth Voices are both current members of the YPT and they share some of their hopes and expectations for YLI this year.

Why were you interested in being part of the Youth Planning Team this year?

Jnana: I was interested in being a part of the Youth Planning Team this year because of the various opportunities that it has provided me. This involved the opportunity to meet other youth leaders who were interested in social justice and came from different schools and environments. It gave me the opportunity to explore the concepts of power and privilege while communicating with adults about downfalls that young people face in their daily lives. We were given the opportunity to design and innovate a conference meant to empower young people and bring them out of their comfort zone.

Shawn: I was interested in being part of the Youth Planning Team this year because I attended YLI for the first time two years ago and was inspired by the young people who were as passionate about social justice as I was. I knew I wanted to impact the lives of young people even greater and equip them with the tools to be active in their communities and organizations. I knew exactly that I could do this if I was on the Youth Planning Team. This is my 2nd year on YPT.  I am truly grateful for the experience because the folks on the team aren’t just friends but life-long family. The connections I have made with other youth in just a year allowed me to appreciate the Youth Planning Team because the relationships I have made are endless.

What is your biggest hope for the Youth Leadership Institute this year?

Jnana: I hope that the youth organizations have the opportunity to collaborate and share their visions for empowerment. I would really like the youth members to continue to explore their communities and have deep, envisioning conversations about educational justice. I want students to feel comfortable with talking about issues in their schools so that they can be offered possible solutions and initiatives from adults and other students.

Shawn: My biggest hope for the Youth Leadership Institute this year is that it’s an adult ally and youth friendly environment. I hope that adult allies and youth can join together to have a productive and positive space for each other. I hope that the YPT members can make their own accountabilities and group agreements among the adults in their affinity spaces, to make the youth feel as comfortable as possible. Another hope I have for YLI is that youth and organizations benefit from attending the conference and where the ideas they learned can help their organization. Another hope is to have YLI very organized this year so that both adults and youth know the flow of the workshops, plenary, etc. This year an app is incorporated instead of binders, which I think is very helpful.

What are you excited about for the Youth Planning Team/YLI this year?

Jnana: I am excited to be a part of the Youth Planning Team this year. I loved meeting my fellow teammates and sharing our own experiences. I am overjoyed that the youth have been given more power this year, especially in the hiring process of facilitator fellows and coordinating with other adults to work together to run small group discussions. I can’t wait to see what this year holds at YLI and who I’ll end up meeting!

Shawn: I’m excited to work with new individuals that I haven’t worked with before. Attending the YPT retreat allowed me to feel their energies, and, honestly, it is an awesome group. The chemistry was instant from the start. I am excited that I can give my expertise in planning YLI since I was a part of YPT last year. Working alongside former YPT members from last year really motivates me to make sure I put my all as a YPT member. I can’t wait to meet new people from all the organizations at YLI.

Visit the Youth Leadership Institute’s website to get exciting information on the event and be sure to check out the Youth Planning Team’s biography section to get to know the rest of the Youth Planning Team for YLI 2019.

Creating Transformative Change Takes Careful Planning & Design

On January 23-25th, CYCLE and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) gathered over 50 district leaders, principals, teachers, and community members from six different school districts for the second Understanding Root Causes of Inequities convening. This gathering, titled Creating Transformative Change, focused on giving district teams opportunities to learn from each other and from different systems, and ultimately apply new tools to their own local contexts. In our role at CYCLE, we have the privilege of designing and facilitating quite a few convenings like this, and are excited to share some planning and design practices that we hope are useful for you when you’re planning a gathering to bring folks together.


1. We Scaffold Our Learning

We think about the learning goals for convening whenever we start the design process. In the case of Creating Transformative Change, we knew that districts were generally all at a stage where they were getting back results from an initial data gathering phase aimed at deepening their understanding of inequities in their schools and communities. Knowing this, we identified three main goals, which mapped onto the three day agenda:

  • Day 1, Inquiry: Build understanding of the work underway in each district

  • Day 2, Sense-making: Develop new connections within and beyond each district, in order to share insights, challenges, and lessons learned

  • Day 3, Making and planning for change: Increase individual and collective skills and knowledge to further an equity lens in districts’ work

The arc of the agenda reflected a through line regarding how we thought about building our learning across the three days we spent together. The themes also helped organize the content and activities we planned for each day.

2. We Learn from Each Other

We value partnership and learning at CYCLE, which means we believe that the people closest to the work have important wisdom and expertise to share. For the convening, we knew that in bringing together six districts from across the region that there would already be a lot of knowledge in the room and that our role as designers and facilitators was to create opportunities for this knowledge to be shared. Therefore, we spent a significant amount of time on day 1 in a poster session, where each district had time to share where they were in their learning and to pose a dilemma or a challenge with which they were still grappling. Then, leaning upon the experience of everyone together through consultancies, individual teams could share their dilemmas so that participants from other districts could help generate some creative new ways to think about these challenges. We prioritized generating new ways of thinking as opposed to solutions, knowing that the work of addressing root causes of inequities is ultimately an adaptive, rather than technical, challenge.


3. We Learn Across Systems

We know that education and schooling are not closed systems, and that there is a lot to learn from other systems. As a part of day 2, we had a panel comprised of a community organizer, a district superintendent and a principal, and a county government official. These presenters each brought different approaches and frameworks for change, from how a model of community organizing can help districts rethink power to create change, to how the complex and multi-faceted nature of systems-level change requires a unifying theory of change. After the panel, each presenter had a follow up workshop, which gave participants a deeper dive into the content and an opportunity to think about how these frameworks might be applicable for each of these districts.

Break Out Group2.jpg

4. We Apply Our Learning

Having attended multiple conferences as a team, we recognize that the most impactful moments we sometimes have in these spaces are when we have time to process and apply our learning together. In designing this convening, we built ample time into the agenda for what we called “team time.” We wanted to make sure that teams were able to digest not only the feedback they were receiving from their peers but also integrate new tools they were gaining and adapt them to their local contexts. Additionally, because conference attendees were coming in teams, we were responding to requests to have time in their project teams to get work done together. Knowing how precious people’s time is, we built in extensive time for teamwork and also provided CYCLE staff members as support with facilitating those team times.

In the feedback that we received after the convening, people appreciated the balance of learning from each other, from the panelists, and having the time to process in their teams. For many participants, having these three days together gave them both the time and the space to really center their thinking on racial equity and to plan for weaving equity work into the fabric of their district culture and practices.

We hope these successful practices might be helpful to other people in the field who are designing convenings. To learn more about what we do at CYCLE, including the other types of convenings we design and facilitate, check out the Youth Leadership Institute and the Lead Community Partners work happening on the CYCLE website!

Prepared by Kristy Luk
Photos by Jon Martinez

Teacher Voice and Agency
(Photo:  @magoo_tweets_2u /Twitter)

(Photo: @magoo_tweets_2u/Twitter)

As announced just before the new year, educators in Los Angeles Unified School District are set to strike this Thursday, January 10th (UPDATE: UTLA has moved the potential strike date to Monday, January 14th if no agreement is reached). The impending LA strike is happening on heels of a year in 2018 that saw teachers strike, walkout, and organize widespread protest of the systemic underfunding and devaluing of public education in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, Colorado, and Arizona. Educators, lawmakers, students, and families will be watching what unfolds in Los Angeles closely as LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country.

Meanwhile, what it means to be an educator and public school advocate is being both held up by bold teacher actions and challenged by lawmakers. Two teachers in Phoenix, AZ, including 2019 Arizona Teacher of Year and the local union president, were recently met with fines and discipline for what their district determined was political advocacy while working. Arizona lawmakers are also gearing up for a new legislative session where proposed laws could further restrict teacher advocacy or even discussion of “controversial issues.”

Last week, CYCLE’s Executive Director, Keith Catone, talked with the NPR member station for the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan area about researching how teachers balance being both public employees and advocates for education. Listen to the interview here.

For more about teacher leadership and advocacy for education policy, read the findings in Agency into Action: Teachers as Leaders and Advocates for Public Education, Communities, and Social Justice.

To keep up to date on what’s happening on Los Angeles, visit the United Teachers of Los Angeles website:

To learn more about how communities and unions are fighting for the schools our children deserve all across the country, check out the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools: