Sharing stories, shaping change

Starr Sackstein, director of humanities at West Hempstead High School in New York, supports both student-centered, interdisciplinary learning and the thoughtful use of social media to elevate educator voice.

A winner of SmartBrief Education’s Editor’s Choice Content Award, Sackstein recently discussed these issues during an interview on Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs.

Read on to discover Sackstein’s views on the importance of educator voice on social media and how she supports interdisciplinary learning.

Social media use

To Sackstein, social media represents an opportunity for teachers to shape the narrative surrounding education. At her first faculty meeting as director of humanities, she made a hashtag for her department and encouraged teachers to use Instagram and Twitter to share their work.

“We really need to counter the culture out there that education isn’t doing right by kids right now,” she said during the interview, “and the only way we do that is by making sure that our individual voices get heard and the great work we’re doing all over the country get their moment.” She added, “You hear about all the bad stuff, but you don’t usually hear about the good stuff.”

While she sees social media as a powerful tool, Sackstein noted that teachers should be cognizant of their legal constraints when posting, a practice she didn't always take into consideration when tweeting as a teacher.

“[W]hen something doesn't go your way as a teacher, and you tweet about it right away … even if you do it vaguely, you have to be really careful that you don’t put any specific information out there.” she explained. “And if you speak negatively about the people that you work for, you also have to be really careful about what you’re saying and if it’s libelous or if it’s going to get other people in trouble.”

Student-centered, interdisciplinary learning

Interdisciplinary education appeals to Sackstein, who hopes to incorporate the practice into her school. She explained that students, like clients, are changing, and education, their product, needs to change accordingly so that “not just the content they’re learning is appropriate for the world they’re going into, but also the structure of things.”

Sackstein said she believes the shift to student-centered, interdisciplinary learning should be overarching. At her school, she tries to institute uniformity in how teachers across humanities subjects present homework, differentiation and restorative justice practices.

“If we’re not only thinking content but we’re also thinking skills -- if we’re using a common language that the kids understand -- then we should all be using that common language when we’re talking about a specific skill set,” she said.

When asked how she hoped to bring about change, Sackstein replied, “Part of the reason I decided to leave the classroom … is ... I have 45 teachers I’m responsible for in five different content areas, and I have the opportunity to reach all of their children K-12, which is a much larger audience than the 150 kids that were in my room every year in New York City.”

To encourage interdisciplinary learning, she did away with separate department meetings in favor of having a single humanities-wide meeting at her school.

“The goal for my first year here was really to build a team. I think that the folks need to know each other; they need to respect the work that everybody’s doing.” she said. “[W]e need to find where those natural crossovers happen and also figure out where we can build inroads where it might not seem so evident.”

Teresa Donnellan is an editorial assistant for SmartBrief.


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