Catch the Next’s Ascender 2018 Fall Seminar, sponsored by the Meadows Foundation and Greater Texas Foundation, took place October 25th-26th at the For the City Center in Austin. The two-day event focused on a variety of topics and goals that included: active reading strategies, mathematics, developing better writing styles, critical thinking skills, and team building.

Catch the Next’s 2018 Transformative Teaching Track Seminar sponsored by Greater Texas Foundation and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, took place on October 26th-27th in the same location.

This Fall’s Ascender Seminar began with a welcome and introduction from CTN CEO, Dr. Maria Martha Chavez and an icebreaker by Director of Professional Development, Allegra Villarreal, where participants became acquainted with one another. Allegra followed the introduction with a team building activity called, “Serious Lego Play,” where participants explored ways in which team dynamics affect their work inside and outside of the classroom, using Lego pieces. One participant commented, “Legos and hands-on activities provide unique ways to deliver instruction. I am absolutely going to incorporate those types of activities in my class.”

After a short break, participants were introduced to an engaging discussion on demography by Dr. Rogelio Saenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Saenz’s presentation, “The Story in Numbers: Discussing Inequity through Demography,” informed participants on how census data is assessed and what it tells us about the future of education, policy and our nation, emphasizing the significance of the growing Latino population in Texas and across the United States.

After lunch, participants were asked to discuss and list in their groups the resources that they found most helpful, and then post them on the wall. These would be used for discussion the following morning.

Allegra, Dr. Lydia CdeBaca, CTN Director of Teaching and Learning for Student Success, and Debra McBeath, CTN Director of Communications and Engagement, hosted a “Mini-Session: Book Club,” where participants discussed the materials used in their classes and listened to shared insights from the presenters on their favorite texts and ways to teach them.

Next, Dr. Elsa Ruiz, Mathematics Professor at UTSA, presented teaching strategies that engage students in a mathematics classroom. She also shared her philosophies regarding teaching and being a teacher.  Some of these were 1.) value your students’ culture. For example, she asks her students to write about how their grandparents were taught math. 2.) Learn your students’ names 3.) Never say, “This is easy or this is hard.” Let your students decide for themselves. 4.) Reflect after class, asking yourself “Is there room for improvement?” 5.) Always plan and have a plan B. She concluded with this statement, “Have a passion for teaching. Of all the qualities that characterize a good teacher, passion is more important.”

Following a short break, CTN Fellows Olga Eckert and Ariel Flores of Austin Community College gave a presentation on “Coming Together: Linking Advising, Academics and Student Engagement” where participants discussed ways that student services can be addressed to create meaningful student engagement and observed various scenarios and role playing. The day continued in guided discussions led by CTN Fellows, Debra, Elsa, Ariel, Olga, Yolanda Reyna, and STC instructor Jon Herring entitled, “Small Learning Communities by Discipline.” In this exercise, participants were divided up by discipline with a CTN facilitator and content expert to share best practices and discuss challenges.

Finally, participants participated in “Campus Team Time,” a segment where everyone checks in with their teams and discusses current issues in the program with CTN Facilitators.

The day culminated with Catch the Next’s dinner reception with performances by Traditional Conjunto Music duo Juan and Armando Tejeda. Dinner guests were treated to a special reading performance by award-winning author and Harvard and Yale alum, Sergio Troncoso, who read excerpts from two of his many literary works, entitled, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays and From This Wicked Patch of Dust. Keynote speaker, Dr. Rogelio Saenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy at UTSA, shared a little on his life and academic career as well as a few insightful words for the participants on the importance of Catch the Next’s mission to close the achievement gap and assist students in completing their college education.

The second day of the Ascender Seminar began with a presentation entitled, “Sustaining and Supporting Mentorship in the Program” by Alejandra Polcik, a CTN Fellow at Austin Community College. Here, participants looked at ways they could support the mentorship component. The next presentation was by CTN Fellows, Yolanda Reyna and Daniel Rodriguez of Palo Alto College, entitled, “Mental Health in Higher Education: The Future of Counseling,” where participants discussed protocols for working with students in crisis and looked at ways in which mental health is being addressed in higher education generally.

This was the first day for Catch the Next’s 2018 Transformative Teaching Track Seminar; and for participants, the day began with a welcome and introduction from CTN CEO, Dr. Maria Martha Chavez, where she elaborated on CTN’s work in Texas and the goals of the training session. Allegra, CTN Director of Professional Development, continued with an “Overview of Training Objectives and Parking Lot,” where participants previewed the professional development agenda. Dr. Suzanne Morales-Vale, Director of Developmental and Adult Education at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, led a Q&A discussion on “Co-Requisites and Co-Curriculars: Moving from Policy to Practice.” Attendees discussed H.B. 2223, and the implications on pedagogical practice moving forward.

Following a short break, participants from both seminars engaged in two different workshops of their choice: “Mathematic Pathways: The Right Math at the Right Time” and “Literacy Across Disciplines: Reading and Writing Support.” The former was designed for a broad audience (faculty, advisors, and administrators) and explored key considerations related to implementing appropriate math pathways and co-requisite courses, under the direction of Frank Savina, Course Program Specialist in Mathematics and Higher Education Services at The University of Texas-Dana Center. The latter was under the direction of Florinda Rodriguez, CTN Fellow and Chair of the INRW Department at South Texas College, who presented the ways close reading and reflective writing can be used to link co-curricular and co-requisite courses across disciplines.

After lunch, Sergio Troncoso, CTN author mentor and Yale Writer’s Workshop and Hudson Valley Writers’ Center faculty member, gave a keynote address to the workshop participants about the power of writing as a form of self-expression, a critical analysis of the world, and a way of “turning life into literature,” which is how he conceives it. Troncoso went on to say, “If someone can express him / herself, he/she can also defend him/herself…if someone can organize thoughts into a coherent essay or story, he/she can also organize him/herself to provide an argument…to tell the stories of others…even to reflect on who he/she is and who he/she wants to be…” Following his keynote address, Troncoso gave an insightful writing workshop on how to encourage students to turn their lives into literature, reading, and education. He also went over exercises for teachers and students, discussion of lesson plans and possible works to include.

Frank Savina continued the day with “Reflections on the Pathway to Calculus: Addressing the Barriers,” a session designed for math faculty to discuss the issues they face preparing students for calculus as well as exploring the content and pedagogy necessary to adequately prepare students to succeed in Calculus I. “The Visual World: 10 Ways to Use the Power of Image in Today’s Classroom,” hosted by Allegra, focused on the way visuals can be used in various disciplines to engage students and push them to think critically about the world around them.

After a short intermission, breakout sessions began. Debra McBeath gave her presentation, “Making Thinking Visible: Introducing Critical Thought on an Issue.” In this presentation, participants experienced how multiple perspectives can be brought into class discussion in social studies and liberal arts subjects using critical thinking strategies.  Lisa Treviño Torres, CTN Fellow at Palo Alto College, facilitated “When Student and Teacher Identities Collide: Fostering Equity and Access in the Classroom,” where participants discussed issues that can arise in the teacher/student dynamic and how these can be handled to create a more equitable classroom. Finally, Dr. Maria Martha Chavez and Allegra hosted a roundtable discussion with directors, coordinators, and other interested participants on issues relating to the implementation and administration of the program in a session entitled, “Ascender Discussion Circle: Troubleshooting the Program.” The seminar was then adjourned for the day, with the Ascender seminar being concluded.

On the second day of the Transformative Teaching Track seminar, Allegra opened with the “Team Building Activity: An Asset-Based Approach.” Participants collaborated on a team building activity, reflected on their approaches and discussed the best strategies for working in teams moving forward. She then continued with “The Courage to Teach: Writing on Our Journeys,” where attendees explored, through writing, the impact of their current teaching practice and the personal and professional goals they have. After a short break, Allegra went over “Leadership Styles and Team Dynamics.” In this activity, guests engaged in a discussion and activity around their preferred working styles and explored the dynamics of two-person teams. The activity asked every participant to get into groups by the leadership style that they commonly identified with as an instructor or administrator.

After lunch, Tina Jackson, District Director of Developmental Education at Collin College, Julie Wauchope, Chair of the INRW Department at Austin Community College and Florinda Rodriguez, Chair of the INRW Department at South Texas College, all of whom are currently implementing co-curricular courses, formed a Q&A panel discussion with the rest of the attendees in a segment entitled, “Challenges and Opportunities in Co-Curriculars.” This completed the 2018 Transformative Teaching Track Seminar.

One hundred percent of the attendees responding to the follow-up survey for both days said they found the Ascender Fall Seminar and the Transformative Teaching Track Seminar beneficial for their professional growth. When participants were asked what ideas, activities, suggestions or takeaways they would be taking back to their campus, some of the responses included: “I will use multiple approaches in the classroom and spend time getting to know my students.”; I will use the LEGO activity and the 6 Word Memoir for sure.”; “Even though I care more about my students than my course discipline, I don’t tell them enough. So, I will start telling them how much their success means to me.”; “I enjoy learning about other interactive classroom activities and the demography presentation was amazingly informative!”; “I will use Troncoso’s books and ideas for writing prompts.”; I will use sketch notes and creating a visual syllabus.”; and “All of it! Wonderful ideas!”

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