Tag Archive for: K-12

Touchstones Spotlight on Shalini Jasti

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

This week, we’re shining the Touchstones Spotlight on Shalini Jasti, a middle school English Language Arts teacher based in New Jersey. Shalini used Exploring American Perspectives, a volume that draws entirely from works by

 Black and African-American contributors, with 8th graders this year and was part of our third cohort of Touchstones Fellows in the fall of 2021. This was her first year using Touchstones and in her words, she “quickly stood up to the challenge and met students with high expectations and care as we embarked on our journey together.” We’re grateful to Shalini for taking the time to share her experiences with us. You can find her on Instagram @the.equitable.classroom

What do you love about Touchstones? How does it support the goals of your work?

I love that Touchstones offers me the weekly space to speak to my students. I see this work as supporting my own social emotional goals for students. I am an English educator because I believe that students learn best through introspective – or self-motivated – reading and writing in which they see diverse identities interacting. Touchstones directly aligns with my teaching philosophy and goals.

How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?

I have become a stronger leader in that I am more selfless now than I was before. By prioritizing the safety of my students within these discussion circles, I have been able to decenter my own feelings regarding the texts. From this experience, I have learned to be observant to the smaller actions of students, noticing which students are silent, which students speak more, which students feel confident being vulnerable, and which students do not. However, as it is imperative that I am present in the circle, it is clear that I need to continue on my path to being a greater discussion leader by being a calmer presence in the circle.

How have you seen your students/participants develop? How has your organizational culture shifted?

My students are building their communication skills through Touchstones. This is undeniable. But there is a lack of community and societal support needed to shift organizational culture more widely. If schools shape society and society shapes school, using Touchstones alone without a greater political or social passion for this level of communication will not shift organizational culture.

Can you share one or two memorable moments or stories from using Touchstones?

There are two memorable moments I continue to recount in my Touchstones journey thus far: the first is my “Touchstones Aha Moment” – in which I can distinctly remember feeling my emotions turn to words through the use of the Touchstones text; the second is a moment of tension within my own classroom. 

In the Touchstones Fellows Program  in Fall 2021, there was one lesson using an excerpt from the “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”. During college, upon reading this text and other slave narratives that are also in Exploring American Perspectives, I remember the stark ways in which my professors taught me about paratextual evidence and the amount of power that White abolitionists had in changing the words of those who have experienced trauma to feed those harsh moments to society in smaller bite size pieces; society during that time – some might argue now – is unwilling to hear those words in their ugly truth. As this was going through my head, I could feel myself name my emotions – my dislike for inauthenticity and the lack of acknowledged pain. 

Second, within a Touchstones text in class, students were so struck by a realization they had made about the plights of their own lives as people of color that we as a group began to decipher these issues with our emotions, share our vulnerabilities, and so on, until the period ended. I was not watching the clock. As my next class began walking in, some of us were still sitting in silence thinking about the conclusion we just reached. Many of us reflected on the idea that we reach those conclusions on a daily basis, and it would be nice to take a break within the school day.

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?

In order to effectively prepare for Touchstones as an educator, you must prepare for the lessons ahead of time. This means that I dedicate one or two prep periods to plan how I might lead my students through the Touchstones text. For my own preparation, I preview the text ahead of time so I am not uncomfortable with the experiences that arise in my own mind upon reading the text – there is much emotional labor that I need to do to process these texts before I can lead them with my students; it would be unfair to my students for me to lead a discussion with my own opinions or life experiences at the center. Additionally, there will never be enough time to discuss a topic in full, so I have found it is very important to manage my time well in order to end class with smoother transitions; this specificity with transitions and timing aids in comprehension within Touchstones conversations.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience with Touchstones?

I’m sure I will always have something else I’d like to share about Touchstones. Working with this tool is going to be a continual learning experience for myself and my students. It is a learning experience that I certainly need in order to process my own emotions regarding the world around me and the experiences I’ve undergone, and I’m wondering what role my emotions play while using this resource in my classroom. In Touchstones, I often find myself feeling guilty for my anger around some of the texts, enough to ask if my feelings are welcome at all in the circle. If they are welcome and I am vulnerable and share, what guarantee do I have – as a student or a professional – that no one will use my emotions and experiences against me later? Is this the risk I take when placing myself in these circles as a person of color? And, when I do not share at all due to my fears, is that a reflection of my own ignorance and biases or am I allowed to keep my emotions until I feel comfortable sharing? Is this emotional work that I want to do with my students present, especially when I am being asked to maintain a relationship with them in the systems that disadvantage us all? 

Finally, many of the texts in Exploring American Perspectives might be ones that students never see again – I surely would not have encountered them if not for college. As I recounted in my memorable Touchstones experiences, I recall these texts fondly. I do believe these authors deserve such praise and dedication. 

Touchstones Spotlight on Stacy Pecha

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

It’s time for another Touchstones Spotlight!Stacy holding a copy of Touchstones Courage to Care book In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on Stacy Pecha, a 7th grade teacher at Selkirk Middle School in Washington who uses Courage to Care, Building Community Through Service with her Debate and Public Speaking elective class. Although she was introduced to Touchstones in 1996 and briefly used it in another district, this is her second year using the program consistently. Even in this short time, she’s seen growth in herself and her students in key discussion skills! Stacy is the only one at her school using Touchstones – as many of our teachers are. If you’re a teacher using Touchstones, and you’d like to connect with our global educator community, join our new group, exclusively for Touchstones teachers to share tips, strategies, and ideas, and build community. We’d love to have you!


What do you love about Touchstones?

Students have lost the art and fundamentals of productive discussion – especially LISTENING to each other. Touchstones helps to foster that skill.


How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?
It’s a work in progress – I am getting better at noticing subtle body language, indicating that a student wants to add something. I’ve also noticed that I consistently want to be the “rescuer” when there are awkward moments of silence. (Teacher habit!)

How have you seen your students develop through Touchstones?
My students are getting better at TAKING TURNS – waiting and watching for the right time to add to the discussion. I think they appreciate that there are no wrong answers, their thoughts may spark a different conversation or promote a different point of view – but it is not wrong.

Can you share a memorable moment from your Touchstones classes?
I love the moments when the students are actually disappointed when our time runs out and want to keep the conversation going.

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?
The curriculum is progressive. You cannot base your success with Touchstones on the first few lessons or discussions, it is a practice and keeps evolving! Stick with it!

Touchstones Spotlight on Alexandria Jones

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

The Touchstones community spans the globe, poses a challenge when communicating everything Touchstones makes possible. It’s our goal to remedy this by finding new ways to share the inspiring work happening in classroom and community discussions every day. Over the past several months, we’ve been working to highlight the incredible stories of educators using Touchstones on our social media channels, and now we’re adding them to our new blog as well!

Alexandria Jones headshot

Alexandria Jones, 4th Grade Touchpebbles Teacher

In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on Alexandria Jones, a 4th grade teacher at Learning Community Charter School who uses Touchpebbles B each week with her students. This is her second year using Touchstones, after first learning about the program during her student teaching last year. We sat in on her Touchpebbles class during a recent school visit, and the community she is building with her students was palpable. We’re grateful to Alexandria for taking the time to share more about her work with Touchstones and the impact she has seen with her students!

What do you love about Touchstones? 

I love that Touchstones is a platform that gives all students an opportunity to speak and feel that when they speak, they are heard. It allows the students to self-regulate and be considerate of other people when they are speaking. In the classroom, students frequently get excited to share their thoughts and ideas, which leads to them talking over one another. Ultimately, this results in nobody truly feeling heard. But, through Touchstones students have learned the importance of being considerate when one person is talking and truly listening to what they are saying before sharing their ideas.

 

How does Touchstones support the goals of your work?
This supports my goals as an educator precisely because as a teacher, your goal is to prepare your students for success. Conversational skills and the accompanying qualities such as being patient, empathetic, respectful, and confident are qualities that Touchstones works to build and will allow for our students to thrive.

 

How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?
As a discussion leader, I have been able to reflect on the development of my ability to guide fruitful discussions such as opening up, being vulnerable, and sharing personal experience. This reinforces that our conversations are safe grounds where students can feel comfortable and confident to share their ideas too. Through Touchstones I have also learned techniques to include my more reserved students and have been able to watch them share their ideas with confidence.

 

How have you seen your students develop through Touchstones?
Over the course of this school year, I have witnessed a drastic change in the way my students try their best to share their ideas one at a time and create platforms for their friends who share less frequently. This goes beyond Touchstones as well, but the skills were developed through Touchstones. I have watched my students transform into leaders who will frequently intervene to include all voices by saying, “Guys! Listen, ….. is talking” or “Guys, …. is talking lets listen.”

class of 4th graders in Touchstones circle
Can you share one or two memorable moments from your Touchpebbles classes?

When doing lesson 5: A Case Study in Medical ethics, the students were amazed to see the validity of what they were learning and that the decisions doctors have to make is not simple. In fact, it can be hard to distinguish between right and wrong. For the class, seeing that what they were reading about ties into the real world decisions doctors have to make engaged them and made them see that things are not always black and white when it comes to decision making.
In my most recent Touchstones lesson, the class was discussing the way that we feel when someone calls us dumb. Many students were saying that they feel angry and feel the desire to retaliate and express their frustration. But, one student went against the grain and stated beautifully that if he were called dumb he would feel embarrassed. This added great depth to the conversation and showed that he has the skills to deepen the conversation when expressing vulnerability.

 

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?
It is important to know that Touchstones is a foundational tool that goes beyond the classroom and is not limited to one particular age group. Through my own practice in Touchstones I have improved my conversational skills drastically. I remind myself constantly of what it means to actively listen and engage in conversation, and I personally work to make my conversations more fruitful. Talking – as simple as the concept is – was something that I once feared. I would overanalyze my word choice when talking and would feel that conversations often fell on surface level. Now I am consciously able to apply skills to spark deeper thinking and add value to the conversations I am having through talking and listening alike. Touchstones helped me to gain confidence in my own conversational skills, and I know it does the same for my students.

Celebrating Our Teacher of the Year

By Brittany Usiak

Colin Hogan, the 2021 Geoffrey J. Comber Touchstones Teacher of the Year, serves as Head of School at the Learning Community Charter School (LCCS) in Jersey City, New Jersey. The school has the most diverse student population of all charter schools in the state. Colin was nominated by Maureen Rexer, Assistant Head of School at LCCS, who describes him as “a living embodiment of the values of Touchstones.”

Colin Hogan, 2021 Geoffrey J. Comber Touchstones Teacher of the Year, pictured with Debra Valentine, Board of Directors Vice Chair.

Colin initially heard of Touchstones from a school parent in 2014 and was amazed at the first training he attended. “The level of discourse and the skills developed in the workshop were unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” he remembers. “I immediately started planning for fully integrating the program into grades 3-8 at Learning Community.” In the past seven years of the Touchstones implementation, Colin has found the Touchstones educational materials and outcomes a perfect alignment with the school’s mission. “It is almost as if Touchstones was the missing puzzle piece of the educational experience we sought for our students,” he shared.

“Every week our students have the opportunity to engage in rich conversations about ideas and their own experiences, and they attempt to understand text and each other. I simply can’t think of anything better.”

In addition to his considerable responsibilities as Head of School, Colin is so passionate about the positive impact the program has on students that he leads model Touchstones sessions for teachers and regularly observes their Touchstones lessons to help deepen their skills as discussion leaders.

When the pandemic began, his commitment to Touchstones was only strengthened, as he recognized that his students would be in dire need of meaningful discussion opportunities and positive interpersonal connections. During the 2020 lockdowns, both Colin and his Assistant Head of School, Maureen, led virtual Touchstones discussions for students to alleviate the additional burdens placed on teachers and to help students through the isolations of the pandemic. These discussions were such a success that nearly every student tuned in, along with their teachers, finding a vital way “to connect with and sustain each other during a challenging and uncertain time.”

Our 2021 Teacher of the Year is not only grateful for the positive effects Touchstones has had on his students. Colin Hogan also acknowledges how Touchstones has shaped his own work. Because of Touchstones, he says, “I have personally become a better listener and been able to respond to challenges by thinking more deeply about multiple perspectives.”

The teachers who Colin supervises agree about the transformative power of Touchstones in their classrooms and beyond. Tatiana Antczak, a 3rd grade teacher at LCCS, reflects that, “Touchstones provides an opportunity for students to speak out organically. It makes the students’ voices heard, lets them know that what they say matters, and can help impact others around them.” She recalls a particular student who rarely spoke in class and credits work in Touchstones for helping him gain confidence in sharing ideas. After his first time speaking in Touchstones, his peers gave him a round of applause. It was “a turning point for this student in the classroom,” she says proudly.

Face-to-Face

By Stefanie Takacs

 

Master’s students in small groups in their recent Touchstones workshop at UNLV

Managing challenges during COVID has been significant—in terms of time and resources. Striking a balance between safety and knowing that some forms of work are best accomplished in-person remains a daily focus. We’re grateful we’ve had a few opportunities recently to work face-to-face with some groups, including in a two-day Touchstones workshop on collaborative leadership for Master’s candidates in the Emergency & Crisis Managers program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. That workshop engaged 31 students from two cohorts in an extended examination of how and what we think and why, while also exploring how and what we don’t think and why. The students, who range from young professionals just starting their careers to veterans from the armed forces  and upper tier emergency managers from around the country, reported a deepened awareness of themselves and others coming out of their Touchstones workshop. “Communication,” one student reflected afterward, “is a transactional process in which two or more parties must be fully involved.”

 

Earlier that week, we visited Learning Community Charter School in New Jersey in person—to present Colin Hogan with the Touchstones Teacher of the Year Award. While there, Debra Valentine, Howard Zeiderman, and I participated in a Touchstones discussion led by Colin with Ms. Shalini Jasti’s 8th graders. The students heard and read a short passage from the autobiography of Harriet Jacobs and considered what it means to live life on the run and with little or no protection from a threat of re-enslavement. Several students demonstrated great empathy for Harriet and said they would have offered her hugs and reassurance and told her not to give up, had they known her. In those moments, when youth show us what compassion looks like, the importance of the inclusive and open discussions framed in a Touchstones classroom once again hits squarely home. Being there, together in person with these students and learning together reminded us not to lose hope.

Closer to home base, we’ve run three in-person workshops and delivered classroom coaching— both at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, DC and at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, MD. We delivered those group and individual professional development opportunities at no cost to more than 25 teachers, thanks to gifts received earlier this year in memory of Kathleen Golden, a Washingtonian passionate about public-charter education, the Argentine tango, and Touchstones programs. We know Kathleen would have loved hearing 7th graders at Washington Latin explore a passage from The Odyssey when Odysseus has returned to his family after 20 years away. As they reflected on the text, students made connections to the changes they’ve recognized in their own lives—during a year of remote schooling and now being back in person. Though still young adults, these 7th grade students revealed a developing maturity in their recognizing parallels between themselves and others—even characters in a story more than two millennia old. And while losses we’ve suffered during the pandemic remain wounds to heal and gaps to close, the delight these students expressed at being together again in the classroom is an enormous indication of the good things to come—for them and all of us. Here’s to a healthy close to 2021 and a New Year filled with many joyful hours spent in the company of others, face-to-face!

A Culture of Learning

By Brittany Usiak

I chose to work in education because I am driven by a love of learning, and I believe in the power of schools as the foundation of thriving, democratic communities. When I first connected with Touchstones’ Executive Director, Stef Takacs, about the possibility of joining the Touchstones team last spring, I knew intuitively that my philosophy of education aligned perfectly with Touchstones. Since beginning in August, I have been delighted to have this confirmed! Touchstones’ work is truly changing the world by fostering the active listening skills and power sharing that are essential for everyone, now more than ever.
As part of my training, I support workshops, both virtual and in-person, for teachers using Touchstones in a variety of contexts, and I have been inspired by the educators dedicating themselves to their students despite the pandemic’s immense challenges. Teachers find themselves bearing the burden not only of teaching through COVID, but also through contemporary America’s highly polarized climate of social discourse. In one recent workshop, I was impressed by a group of teachers who wrestled together beautifully with how they might navigate discussions of particularly challenging ideas raised in Audre Lorde’s poem “Who Said It Was Simple.” I have also had several conversations with individual teachers who shared vulnerably about their anxieties going into the school year but continue to pursue professional growth in order to provide their students with the education they deserve. I am proud of the ways that Touchstones works not only to support students but to build transformative skills and mindsets for teachers as well.
I am grateful, too, to be part of such a genuine, rigorous, and reflective culture of learning at Touchstones. Touchstones staff and teachers are committed to lifelong learning, and to constant reflection about fundamental questions for all educators: what is the purpose of learning and teaching? How do—and how can—schools be living laboratories for collaborative problem-solving, for community-building across lines of difference? Touchstones staff and discussion leaders are concerned with these and other vital questions for a democratic society, but the Touchstones culture connects these big picture questions to the individual level of classrooms and students. It is wonderful to be part of an organization that works on both the large and small scales of educational theory and practice.
I am eager to continue my own journey with Touchstones, particularly now that the school year is beginning, and I will be able to spend time with students and teachers. Within a time of uncertainty and upheaval, I know that at Touchstones I can work towards building the empathetic, inclusive, collaborative, and creative world I want to see.

Exploring Identity & Belonging

By Olivia Braley

At Touchstones, we are always looking to expand awareness of and access to our programs, and we strive to engage students and teachers in inclusive and discussion-based education models they may not otherwise know about. In the past, some community initiatives we’ve launched to reach new audiences included Touchstones Week, Frankenreads, and partnering with the Anne Arundel County NAACP to celebrate their Founder’s Day. Since the pandemic began, we’ve run an open discussion program every other Saturday to explore what it means to be part of a community. (All are welcome, so please ask us how to join!)

Community engagement is an important part of our mission at Touchstones, and it inspired us to develop and offer discussion lessons linked to Sandra Cisneros’ anthology of short stories, The House on Mango Street. This collection of stories is told from the point of view of a young Latinx girl, Esperanza, who moves to a new neighborhood in New York City. Her narrations and vignettes of city life raise questions about identity, belonging, friendship, family, and culture. These lessons are offered for free to encourage inclusive discussions everywhere!

The House on Mango Street is a critically acclaimed book and was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of the Big Read books for the 2021-2022 year. The NEA Big Read is a partnership with Arts Midwest, which seeks to “broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.” The Big Read initiative provides funding opportunities for libraries, schools, and other organizations to support community programs that “inspire conversation and discovery.”

We elected to develop lessons to accompany one of the Big Read books to augment the positive impact that inclusive discussions on important themes can have—in all communities nationwide. These Touchstones lessons provide teachers, students, and other groups in afterschool and enrichment programs with structured discussion plans and worksheets that invite all participants to assume active roles in their own communities of learners. Each lesson is available in English and Spanish and provides an introduction, detailed lesson guide, questions for discussion, and a student worksheet. We want to introduce as many students as possible to the transformative nature of a Touchstones discussion, as well as to increase awareness and recognition of Touchstones programs by educators and others working with youth. We also hope to provide additional ways for teachers already using Touchstones to engage with their students. We know that when we support educators—especially when many are still dealing with COVID restrictions and related teaching challenges—that we support their students!

Beyond Curricular Expectations

By Greg Hodges

The importance and value of collaborative, civic discourse has been pronounced in many of the organizations to which I have belonged. In this past year, one marked by changes and challenges, the conversations inspired by the Touchstones Discussion Project provided essential avenues for connection. Trinity College School (TCS) has benefited from a successful partnership with Touchstones by having students at various levels and across grade cohorts use several different texts, ranging from Touchpebbles to Mapping the Future.

Including Touchstones in a school located in a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario has its own difficulties and rewards. Working within a highly structured, provincially moderated curricular program, the project itself can shine, in part, due to its focus on the cultivation of skills. Liberty, to a degree, is the product of collective and collaborative conversation. Some of the students that I have been working with are wearied, showing signs of fatigue and frustrated expectation. Touchstones gives students a reason to turn on the camera and engage through technology.

Our circles may have changed, but the rules and the promise of the Touchstones curriculum remain the same. There is a chance for our classes to convene for a reason beyond curricular expectation. Online platforms provide new avenues along which participants might venture to continue critical discussions. Analog models of discourse need not be thought of as having been supplanted by technological modes of engagement. Instead, students have the opportunity to reflect meaningfully upon the time that they will spend learning together. It is important for us to be aware of the increased emphasis upon what it means to be seen, to be heard, and to feel that there is a relational space.

The efforts made by the team at Touchstones have helped new participants find ways to connect and converse through digital media. Thanks to the work being applied to integrate virtual meetings and to render the volumes both as digital and interactive, Touchstones is opening its circle all the more.

 

Exploring American Perspectives

Cover of Exploring American Perspectives

A Shady Nook, by Loïs Mailou Jones, graces the volume cover.

A Uniquely Touchstones Publication

By Touchstones Roving Reporter

Exploring American Perspectives is a Touchstones volume first published in 2012. It is a four-unit volume focused on developing critical thinkers and collaborative leaders. Where it differs from typical Touchstones volumes is in its text selection; most Touchstones volumes feature works from widely diverse cultures and traditions. Aside from its orientation lesson, the remainder of this volume is comprised solely of works by African American and Black contributors from the Colonial era through the 1960’s US Civil Rights Movement.

To clarify what Touchstones aims to achieve with this particular volume, I sat down virtually with one of the volume’s pedagogical authors, Howard Zeiderman. “This volume is important in two main ways,” he said. “One, the chronological path of the works by African American authors in some ways mirrors what participants themselves strive to do in a Touchstones program: find their voices and shed hierarchical power structures that block collaboration and inclusion. And, while the goal was never to solve race relations, we did want to help people in homogeneous or isolated communities experience how perspectives from underrepresented individuals and groups can meaningfully reshape their own thinking and understanding.”

As part of Touchstones’ civic goals, and in an effort to increase awareness of this volume, Zeiderman organized a group of twelve educators and others invested in inclusion and reconciliation—to work through the first two units of the volume together. To get a sense of what it’s like to be in the group, I spoke with some members about their experience. In general, they focused on the respectful attitude of the group and the power of the Touchstones method.

One participant noted how beginning and ending each discussion with something outside the potentially heated topic—reviewing the ground rules at the beginning and ending with evaluation—facilitated meaningful and dynamic changes in the group. Another participant presciently echoed Zeiderman’s sentiment, noting that the text selection, lesson structure, and the way the group is developing feel organically and intentionally interconnected. An example of this was cited in a lesson on a letter narrated by a former slave and written by his former master. In that discussion, the group began questioning what it means to hear an unimpeded voice or if such a task is possible—not as a historical issue but as a current issue present in the group.

The success of this group is inspiring to its members and yours truly, and it’s already led to new implementations of the volume. Additionally, schools already using this volume consistently report back impressive outcomes. The consideration of perspectives that are not otherwise equally represented in society is foundational to the Touchstones model. And Exploring American Perspectives uniquely highlights some of the benefits that arise when individuals—formerly strangers— form a new community in their exploration of voice, belonging, and necessary diversity.

Screened-In Summer Programs

By Abraham Zhao

Has everyone started using “Zoom”, “Google Meet,” or “Microsoft Teams” in their daily vocabulary yet? Zoom became a part of my daily vernacular when I ran two Touchstones Discussion Programs for middle schoolers this summer. During those sessions, I spent every weekday excitedly logging into Zoom meetings with groups of 5th-8th graders from around the country. In my first program, I used lessons from the Touchstones Math and Science volume: Where’d They Get that Idea? For the second program, I switched to Touchstones Volume B, to build on and broaden our initial examinations. Our journey took us from wondering how our perception of the world affects our scientific methods to asking if speeches can be as true as mathematical equations. And we talked about how life in isolation changes people. Importantly, the group learned to be open and honest about their own attitudes in the discussions. It was incredible to see students make real efforts to listen to one another and change their own behavior to benefit their peers.

Running two different summer programs showed me firsthand how much work it takes to run an effective Touchstones group. Readers may already know how our phenomenal facilitators make running a good discussion look as easy as breathing. But in facilitating these groups myself, I gained a newfound level of respect for these incredible individuals. Intimate and thorough lesson planning is critical for new Touchstones teachers. So are the social skills required to navigate human dynamics. One must be prepared for the frustrations that arise during hectic debates. And patience and self-restraint are key, so students arrive at their own conclusions. Throughout the programs, I was deeply impacted by my experience with the Teacher’s Guides and their role in my own development. Every minute I spent reading the thoughtfully crafted lesson plans was immeasurably helpful. Questions suggested in the lessons genuinely interested students. Even in these shortened programs, I could see the positive change for which Touchstones is so well known.

My students had a great experience with the program, too. In the post-program survey, one wrote, “This was an experience that helped me grow in terms of how I think and how I work together with other people in a group.” A participant from Maryland’s Prince George’s County said, “We often take a person or textbook’s point of view and never explore the why. After completing this program, I started to ask more questions to gain a better understanding.” Even our younger participants found their voices in the program—something that doesn’t always happen in groups with multiple grade levels. One of those students shared, “Touchstones is a great way to learn how to listen to and hear other people. It has helped me feel more comfortable speaking up in public.”

The Touchstones 2020 Summer Programs were a great way to test our school programs in digital classrooms. We saw opportunities to adapt our materials for greater inclusivity. And we were able to see what teachers need to anticipate as they provide their own students with opportunities for active learning. This project gave us an architecture for future online programs—ones where students maintain a collaborative spirit while powering through what’s surely to be a crazy year. I look forward to all the ways that Touchstones and other educational program entrepreneurs will produce dynamic, resilient learning models in the face of this crisis.