In its eighth year, the Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers (WISSIT): Connecting DC Educators with Project Zero Ideas takes months and months to plan. Our leadership team, charged with preparing the week-long experience, has recently begun working on the 2021 edition. Newly named to that leadership team is Marci Jones, an instructional coach and teacher at Brightwood Education Campus (DCPS). In addition to continuing in her role as a learning group co-leader at WISSIT, she will assume the position of Coordinator for Participant and School Outreach.
In this position, Marci will liaise with WISSIT attendees before the summer institute in order to assist them in making the most of their experience. She will also be available to support attendees during the week in informal meetings.
A large majority of attendees come to WISSIT on teams from their school/organization. (There is a discount on the registration fee for teams of three or more from the same organization.) Marci will not only help those teams think about how they might implement Project Zero ideas when the school year begins, but she will also ensure that individuals not on teams feel supported throughout the week.
Other members of the WISSIT leadership team are Kristen Kullberg and Vaija Wagle, Education Coordinators; Kerri Redding, Coordinator of Community Building & Inclusion; Jaime Chao Mignano, Coordinator of the Art Happenings. The PD Collaborative’s Jim Reese is WISSIT Director and Abby Krolik is Coordinator of Logistics as well as of the Day at the Museums.
Virtual WISSIT 2021 will take place online from Monday, August 2-Friday, August 6.
As a way to introduce our DCPZ network to Marci, Jim Reese asked her to respond to a few questions, below.
JR: Tell us a little about yourself.
MJ: As a child, I grew up in Washington, DC, and attended DC public schools through middle school. Most recently, I returned to DC in the summer of 2016 and began my DCPS career at H.D. Cooke Elementary where I was honored to serve the students and staff as the first-ever Global Studies Coordinator. In my role there, I enjoyed working closely with teachers planning, implementing, and reflecting on Project Zero ideas, all with a global competence lens. At present, I am an instructional coach at Brightwood Education Campus. In addition to coaching, I have the absolute pleasure of teaching fifth graders reading, writing, and social studies. DC is where I’ve chosen to raise my daughter Zara. She is currently a kindergartner in DCPS. This is the city that raised me (1980s and early ‘90s DC) and shaped my view of the world. Although Washington, DC, is very different today, my love for this city has never wavered.
JR: What brought you to teaching and specifically to DCPS?
MJ: My journey to teaching began as a child in DC. My maternal aunt was a phenomenal DCPS teacher who would pick up her students on weekends and take them to the theatre or ice skating (this was in the 1980s). Her students became a natural part of our weekend outings. I always mused on the relationship that she had with her students, as she went above and beyond because many of her students had tumultuous lives and lived in circumstances that many of us could never imagine. This was the image of an educator seared into my memory and deeply rooted in my heart.
After my undergraduate studies, I attended American University, Washington College of Law. During my second year of law school, I decided that I would participate in the Marshall Brennan Fellowship. I applied and was accepted. The Marshall Brennan Fellowship was a partnership between our law school and DCPS high schools that allowed law students to teach civic engagement and constitutional principles that directly impacted students’ lives. This experience was the highlight of my law school career. I knew then that I would find my way back to teaching somehow.
After graduating law school, I went on to clerk for a judge and then practice law in Philadelphia for a couple of years. However, I had this lingering desire to become an educator. I came across the New York Teaching Fellows program and decided to apply. I traveled to NY for an in-person demonstration and was shortly thereafter notified that I had been accepted to the program. I packed all of my belongings and began classes at Fordham University for a couple of weeks before I would become a classroom teacher. After the intensive summer program, I began teaching fifth grade at P.S. 49, a NYC public school in the South Bronx. I remained there for five years. I then taught at Mott Haven Academy, a public charter school in the South Bronx, for four years. Mott Haven had the unique mission of educating children in the child welfare system. Seventy-five percent of their population were children who had a social worker active in their home life, who had been removed from the care of their birth parents, or who were adopted from social services. In 2016, now married with an infant, my husband and I moved to DC so that we could raise our daughter here, and I became the Global Studies Coordinator at H.D. Cooke Elementary School.
JR: How were you first introduced to Project Zero ideas? What were your first impressions?
MJ: I was first introduced to Project Zero ideas in my role as the Global Studies Coordinator at Cooke. My job was to coordinate a new project that DCPS launched in three schools: Cooke, MacFarland Middle, and Roosevelt High. The project was an innovative approach to nurturing global competence among K-12 educators and students as a means to prepare them for life, work, college, and citizenship in a globally interdependent world. Using Project Zero pedagogical tools such as Thinking Routines and the Teaching for Understanding, Global Competence, and Maker-Centered Learning frameworks empowered us to design learning experiences in a way that respected children as learners and thinkers. This was an awakening for me. As an educator in the South Bronx, both pre- and post- Common Core, the abrupt shift was really more from teachers doing the thinking to students doing the thinking. Common Core demanded that teachers allow students to do the heavy lifting. Project Zero ideas by design push learners to think both within and beyond themselves, to be critical as they encounter information presented to them, and to garner a deep understanding of complex ideas.
JR: How did you get involved with WISSIT?
MJ: My introduction to WISSIT was the summer before I began my role as Global Studies Coordinator. I attended a plenary session talk as a guest. The next summer, I became a fellow. My involvement with WISSIT was a natural extension of my role as the Global Studies Coordinator.
JR: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as Coordinator of Participant and School Outreach?
MJ: In my role as Coordinator of Participant and School Outreach, my primary goal is to ensure that all participants are inspired to implement Project Zero strategies, understand the value of implementing them, and are able to leave with tangible ideas. I hope to support schools as they consider the shifts in thinking and culture that are required to implement PZ ideas school-wide, and individuals as they grapple with how they might begin this journey in the classroom.
JR: What do you feel WISSIT offers public school educators?
MJ: My mantra is “Education is My Activism.” I believe in the power of public education wholeheartedly, as I am a product of public schools. Teachers who pushed me at various times throughout my formative years were all public school educators. All children deserve an education that respects them as learners and thinkers. It is my firm belief that the ideas presented during WISSIT challenge, push, and empower teachers. WISSIT equips teachers with the tools to step back and place their students and the thinking of their students at the center of their planning, teaching, and reflecting. Public school educators are uniquely equipped with a keen ability to take prescribed curriculum and make meaningful learning experiences that their students will reflect on and remember long after they leave. I would submit that WISSIT will help public school educators consider how we make the transition from this idea that our students are empty vessels that we pour information into daily, to our students having a plethora of thoughts, ideas, and knowledge that we must tap into to help propel them forward and prepare them for life beyond the year(s) that they spend with us. WISSIT provides us with more powerful tools in our arsenal that we can use to engage and empower our learners.
JR: Thank you, Marci, and welcome to the WISSIT leadership team!