“Mitchell20: Teacher Quality is the Answer”, is a new documentary that tells the story of teaching in America today. It is about 20 teachers at Mitchell School in the Isaac Elementary School District in Phoenix who all had the goal of improving their skills by achieving National Board Certification. Daniela Robles, an Instructional Coach for Balsz Elementary School District and inspiration for the film, will discuss the documentary.
website link: www.mitchell20.com
José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm Jose Cardenas. It's the story of 20 teachers at Mitchell elementary school in Phoenix who all had the goal of improving their skills by achieving national board certification. "Mitchell 20" is a new documentary film that had its world premier in the valley last week and is set to be shown in theaters across the country. I'll be talking to the teacher who was the inspiration behind the project in a moment, but first the story behind the making of "Mitchell 20".
Mitchell 20 - We have a huge problem with teacher quality in this country. If we don't have knowledgeable supported, committed teachers in every classroom, we're not going to be able to enable all children to learn to the levels they need to in this 21st century economy. The teacher is the main determiner of whether or not a child is going to succeed in education. I would suggest ultimately in life. Today if you are a student of color, if you're a student who lives in poverty, the chances of you receiving an excellent education are very slim. I think sometimes we define heroes by position or title. And I think heroes are defined by actions. This is a story of 20 teachers in an inner city school who decided to improve the one thing they had control over. The quality of their teaching. Everybody that works here has the same conviction -- to be the best they can be for the students. I do teach because I love it. Since I was that big wanted to be a teacher. Last night I had kind of a little meltdown. Everything just kind of piled up. It's like no matter how organized I am, I'm still behind. Every student needs positive role models and I can be that role model. I can be the best teacher possible. This is a story of triumph and defeat. A story complicated by budget cuts and outlandish politics. Here's the really strong school, people trying to make a difference. And we're being asked not to. This is today's story of education in America. I don't know of another place where a group of teachers just decided to lead the transformation in the school and bring everybody along. That's exciting to me. "Mitchell 20" is a story of frustration. Of hope. Of purpose. The Mitchell school story is an amazing example of how we can fundamentally confront and overcome inequality in this society. "Mitchell 20" coming to theaters fall 2011. Visit and share the trailer at Mitchell20.com.
José Cárdenas: With me now is Daniela Robles, the catalyst for "Mitchell 20". She is now the instructional coach at Balsz school district. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."
Daniela Robles: Thank you.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: This is a great story. It's been memorialized in this movie. And the first thing we should mention is the stay of the movies has been extended. It will be here in the valley another week.
Daniela Robles: We found out yesterday that AMC wants to keep it at the Arizona center for one more week. It was the number one, number two movie this past work. And so we've had great success.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Let's talk about how this all came to be, but even before that, your own experiences, the website mentions kind of a coming of age or an eye opening experience you had in high school.
Daniela Robles: In high school there was really a defining moment. I attended high school in Tempe, and one of my best friends for many, many years at the end of freshman year, I remember we were standing in front of our lockers and she said, you know, we just can't be friends anymore. And I just stood there a little shocked. And I said, why? And she said, because you're Mexican. And I -- she walked away and I stood there and really began to kind of question and realize that maybe society does see differences. And perhaps my rose colored glasses need to be removed and I really need to see who I am.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And you had the sense that the teachers perceived differences in that -- and that they expected less of their Mexican-American students.
Daniela Robles: Absolutely. I have quite a few experiences that I can specifically think about where I had certain teachers that would basically tell me, you shouldn't think about this. Or, you should really consider maybe this pathway. And so there were some underlying pieces that happened in a school, and in a school system where we toned look at certain students and make some judgment calls.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: These experiences though inspired you to go on, get your teaching certificate, and you ended up in Isaac school district.
Daniela Robles: Absolutely. I spent -- attended south mountain community college and really enjoyed that experience of having a diverse student body. Then decided to pursue my career in the Isaac school district where I felt that I could really serve the Hispanic community.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Give us a thumbnail sketch of that district.
Daniela Robles: Isaac school district is what used to be considered kind of the west side of the valley. It is what we would consider low SES, high minority --
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Socioeconomic standards.
Daniela Robles: Yes. High English language learner population, high violence, so all of those factors that we tend to relate with poverty.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: What motivated you to seek the national board certification?
Daniela Robles: I was in my 10th year of teaching first grade, and I was at a point where I began to really question if teaching was about doing what you were told to do, opening up a book and reading verbatim what was on a page, so I began to really question, is that what I went into the profession for. And so I had a real desire to challenge myself. And national board certification presented that challenge.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And just very quickly, what's the significance of national board certification?
Daniela Robles: It's a voluntary certification, it was actually created in a response to a nation at risk in the late 1980s. And it basically is created by teachers for teachers. And so you basically reflect on your practice, analyze your practice, and the entire process is between 200 and 400 hours. And because of the rigor, many times it's equated to board certification for physicians.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: So you were able to obtain your board certification. And you wanted to do something else, you wanted other people to do the same thing.
Daniela Robles: In 2007 I did achieve national board certification, and I received quite a bit of attention as a result. And the attention was mostly because I was a minority educator in an inner city school. Those numbers tend to be rather low for national board certified teachers. And that attention really angered me, because I was a result of an excellent school culture, an excellent colleagues. And so I wanted to really open up this opportunity for all of my colleagues.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And with the exception of I think you told me earlier, one person who transferred into the district, you were the only teacher in the school district who had the certification.
Daniela Robles: A colleague at another school and myself, we were the first two national board certified teachers to achieve certification in the Isaac school district.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: So the story of your getting involved and getting others involved, that's what the movie is about.
Daniela Robles: Yes.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: How did it come about that Randy Murray productions decided to make this a documentary?
Daniela Robles: Education is really about relationships. And moving those relationships forward to the next level. And in national board certification, my partner was the Arizona K-12 center. They really are the candidate support hub in the state of Arizona. And so their executive director, Cathy Webkey, already knew Randy Murray productions for some of the videos they were -- that were created for the center. So when she became aware of 20 teachers at my campus that wanted to pursue national board, she had the idea of, what if we told this story, what might happen? And Randy Murray said, let's tell this story about real teachers.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And the story, and there's some hint of this in the promo we ran, is both about triumphs and some defeats along the way. Tell us about that.
Daniela Robles: Well, there's absolutely a huge triumph of a school culture coming together and challenging their practice. And in the works of that, really beginning to become closer as a school culture and beginning to see their colleagues in a different light as well. Conversations became much more deeper and relevant through student learning. The big triumph is that. There were many defeats. Teachers that did not achieve certification, and defeats of what might happen when a school culture begins to try something new. Perhaps not everybody sees it in a positive light.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And in fact, referring to that last point, you are no longer in Isaac, and so something came up that was part of that.
Daniela Robles: There was an involuntary transfer that was presented for me to go to a middle school. That caused some issues. My colleagues really rallied to support and keep me at Mitchell. I was able to finish the school year of 2009-2010, but after that really realized that I may need to make a change in order --
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And this was because of concerns about the amount of attention that was coming to the school district because of you?
Daniela Robles: It was presented that they wanted to spread the expertise and so we just disagreed on how we might do that.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Now, focusing more on the positive, we also saw improvement in students' performance.
Daniela Robles: Absolutely. Our last 2009-2010 school year we did see improvement. We were moved out of a warning year from the previous year, so we did see student achievement gains.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Now, it's fairly rare as you indicated already for teachers of color to obtain this certification, but Arizona generally doesn't have as many certified teachers as other states. What's going on there and give us some sense of the comparison.
Daniela Robles: If we look at Arizona, their total number of national board certified teachers, when I went through the process, we were around 530. 17 of those teachers were minority educators. If we look at other states, for example, North Carolina, Florida, they have huge numbers of NBCTs easily into the thousands. And a lot of that is because of financial incentive, state support, that goes into property says of teachers pursuing.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Daniela, we're out of time, but any final words on this experience, this process?
Daniela Robles: I would just say to always believe in the power of teachers to see the film, to change the conversation, to realize that real teachers want the best for their students.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: And that they have a significant impact on student performance.
Daniela Robles: Absolutely.
JosÃ¨ CÃ rdenas: Daniela Robles, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."
Daniela Robles: Thank you.
Daniela Robles:Instructional Coach, Balsa Elementary School District