Why Join the PJI Teachers Academy? Alecia Blackwood, a Participant, Is Happy To Tell You

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The PJI Teachers Academy, a weeklong, intensive program designed for educators by educators and organized by the Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) has two more opportunities to attend this summer. We recently interviewed Alecia Blackwood, part-time faculty, New Student Experience, who discussed what the academy did for her and why it’s an enriching experience no matter your teaching background.

Interviewed by Senior News Writer Claudia Zequeira

Tell me a little about yourself. What is your professional history? Where do you work currently?

Alecia: Prior to working at Valencia, I was an instructional coach at a charter school, at Legends Academy Charter. An instructional coach supports teachers and provides professional development for them by helping them to understand the curricula to master the content that they’re teaching and create strategies to engage students in the classroom. I participated in the PJI Teachers Academy as an instructional coach, and then I became a New Student Experience instructor at Valencia in 2019, where I have been able to use the PJI Principles at the college level.

When did you participate in the PJI Teachers Academy? How long did it take you to complete the program?

Alecia: I joined the academy in the summer of 2019. It was a five-day, eight-hours-per day program.  

What made you join the PJI Teachers Academy?

Alecia: For me, as an instructional coach, it was about, how can I help the teachers improve their cultural competence, and when I say cultural competence, I am referring to their ability to understand their own culture and have actual empathy toward others. When teachers are knowledgeable and cultivate their cultural competence, it also helps them connect with the diverse students that they work with and with making sure that the students are able to show their authenticity and are connected to the content. And it’s also important that teachers understand how to build relationships with students.

Were you able to balance life and work as you were completing the academy?

Alecia: Yes, there is a lot of support. The way the facilitators unpack the information and engage in dialogue, it helps you to focus on the content you are learning. In the amount of time spent, you are able to master the information within the given time frame. I joined a face-to-face session, which yes, did require me to be in the session and dedicate that time, so it requires a level of planning if you are working, and so it requires a level of support from your administrators.

What advantages did you gain upon completing the program? What did it do for you personally and professionally?

Alecia: So, on a personal level, PJI helped me to grow as an individual, even for my growth mindset. To be able to use those PJI Principles in my personal life, that helped me to grow personally and professionally. It helped me to realize my level of hidden biases that I was able to recognize as I was going through this program. This was very impactful and life-changing. On a professional level, the academy helped me to have a deeper understanding of things like race, empathy, gender, etc. and how to unpack those to help students build relationships within the classroom community so that you strengthen the school’s culture.

Is there anything people interested in joining the program should consider before registering?

Alecia: Be ready to go in with an open mind. I think that’s the best way to prepare this. It’s not like any professional development we have done before … You’re going to learn a lot of practical information that can help you with your life and career. It’s really about understanding this idea of restorative justice to be able to have conversations with students and adults. The testimonies they use to help students solve conflicts in the classroom … that’s a tool that many of us need in our personal and professional lives. Restorative practices help teachers deal with conflicts in the classroom and in their lives. They help you ask questions … there’s a particular way, or step-by-step approach to doing that. You now have tools in your toolbox that can help you navigate the problem. Things like mindfulness; that was one of the things I was exposed to a lot. Understanding how to use mindfulness for myself and how to use that within the classroom.

Would you recommend the program to anyone else? If so, why?

Alecia: Yes, I highly recommend the program for new teachers and veteran teachers. For the new teacher, it will help them gain competence and for the veteran teacher, it will provide tools to help them with new challenges and with trauma-informed approaches. It’s very practical, and they use a lot of transformational approaches and scenarios. It’s not, “Oh, read this and write about it.” It’s how to do build resilience among your students using empathy and mindfulness, how to institute a lot of the research-based, evidence-based practices in what they’re doing; it’s learning about race, gender, learning about trauma-informed practice and how to build resilience. We talk a lot about building resilience, but they walk through the techniques of how, so you can work together as a community. We really learn the value of building relationships with ourselves and others; it just makes us a better teacher and a better person overall.

Learn more about the PJI Teachers Academy, including upcoming dates, costs and how to register.

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