Background

Kathleen Duffy teaches honors and AP classes in World History, Global Studies, Sociology, and Gender Studies at Barrington High School in the suburbs of Chicago. For her Engagement Project work, Kathleen focused on three AP World History classes and a Global Studies class for freshmen, which includes students with a range of academic backgrounds.

Kathleen participated in the Engagement Project as part of Equal Opportunity Schools’ Equity Leader Labs project.

Starting out

“I felt like I was giving feedback and kids weren’t noticing,” Kathleen said, “so I decided to focus on Feedback for Growth.” Kathleen resolved to be more deliberate and direct with her students and to help them cultivate a mentality about working together to achieve an end goal.

A new approach - “Feed Your Soul Fridays” and discussing survey results

In 2018, after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Kathleen instituted “Feed Your Soul Fridays” to balance the academic material that she prioritized during the rest of the week. For the first 10 minutes of class each Friday she emphasizes a social-emotional skill, such as cultivating empathy, to help her students see how their schoolwork applies to different aspects of life, such as combating xenophobia. This is the first academic year that Kathleen has incorporated “Feed Your Soul Fridays,” and she says it has paid big dividends and blended well with her participation in the Engagement Project (learn more about Feed Your Soul Fridays —thanks Kathleen!).

Kathleen also discussed her goals and survey results directly with her students, which resulted in unexpected revelations -- such as a group of students expressing the belief that asking questions and exposing mistakes are signs of weakness, rather than opportunities to learn. Not only was Kathleen able to address these misconceptions, but the very act of asking students about their survey responses showed them that she cared about their answers. Kathleen thinks that her discussions about the Engagement Project caused her students to engage with the survey in a deeper and more thoughtful way.

Results

Surprisingly, the strategies that Kathleen used to improve her scores on Feedback for Growth ended up helping her students to find her classes more relevant, as she achieved a 39 percentage-point improvement in her survey results on Meaningful Work over a three-week span. Kathleen says that the Engagement Project has taught her to be more literal and explicit with her students about the purpose of what she’s doing with them, “instead of just expecting them to follow along blindly.”