Social Justice Update – An Interview with Teacher Kate Leslie

Social Justice Update – An Interview with Teacher Kate Leslie

Kate Leslie, who teaches Social Justice, updated the BHS Innovation Fund recently about the course. First launched over fifteen years ago with a grant from the Fund, the Social Justice elective explores issues of equality and discrimination with regard to race and sexuality, and prepares students to become social justice activists. Social Justice is open to students in 10th-12th grades. Read more about this on our Programs page and in the BHS Course Catalog.

Video by BHS student Sasha B. for the Brookline Lens class. Brookline Lens is a student-run business that provides photo and video production services to BHS and the community. Lens is currently in its second year of grant funding from the BHS Innovation Fund.

Q: What excites you most about the course?

KL: There are special issues affecting the world right now that are constantly changing. Every year they are different so there is always something new to discuss which grabs students’ attention, issues they really care about. Often students find their passion and in turn their careers.

Q: Do students learn certain skills and information that they can apply to the real world?

KL: Students in the course hold many different beliefs and perspectives and care deeply about different issues. The course teaches students how to have difficult conversations in a constructive way and respect different ideologies which are crucial life skills.

Q: Do students need to meet certain requirements in order to take the course?

KL: Students have to apply to the course and write two paragraphs; one describing an issue they care about and one describing something they followed through on. I am looking for students who are reliable, would be good ambassadors, feel passionate about certain issues and want to learn. I also want a well rounded group with varying interests and who bring different viewpoints to the table.

Q: What do you think former students would say is the most important thing they learned from your course?

KL: I think former students would say that social justice can be applied through various passions, such as through business, art, theatre, science, etc. Carrying the social justice work on can mean different things, it doesn’t just mean holding a placard at a protest. Also, social justice takes time to achieve change; it requires patience and often the process takes longer than expected. This is an important lesson for students to learn, especially in a society where we are used to and often expect instant gratification.

BHS Faculty Innovate to Launch the 2020-21 School Year

BHS Faculty Innovate to Launch the 2020-21 School Year

The BHS Remote ToolboxIn Spring 2020, the BHS Innovation Fund awarded a special COVID-19 Teaching and Learning Response Grant to Brookline High School educators, led by the Curriculum Coordinators, to support their work in preparing for the current school year with the goal of rethinking educational approaches to teaching and learning during the ongoing pandemic. This past Summer, more than 30 Brookline High School teachers, administrators, program leaders and specialists met remotely over the course of three weeks as part of this first-ever multi-departmental collaborative curriculum programming initiative. Representing the Departments of English, Math, Science, Social Studies and World Language, as well as Special Education and Career and Technology Education, participating educators conducted an important assessment of their experiences teaching remotely this past Spring in order to prepare for the school year. Acknowledging the many challenges that the pivot to remote teaching had required due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they used an inquiry model to explore these questions: 

  • How do we engage students in their learning and help students develop understanding? 
  • How should we blend synchronous and asynchronous lessons? 
  • How will we build relationships with students when not able to work with them face to face?
  • How should we adjust assessments and diagnostics in a remote learning environment?

Throughout the project, educators used these guiding questions to research and develop best practices and a collaborative, holistic approach to teaching that will: 

  • More effectively engage students in the remote and hybrid learning process by focusing on  strategies to develop executive functioning skills to teach students how to learn remotely as well as approaches to introduce experiential learning work; and
  • Support social-emotional learning by incorporating community building activities into each and every lesson to establish student-to-student and student-to-teacher connections in classes. 

“I am grateful to the Brookline High School Innovation Fund for making this critical work a positive and productive reality and to BHS teachers and staff for working together to identify the gaps and opportunities to strengthen the remote teaching and learning experience as we continue to navigate the changing academic environment.”


~ Anthony Meyer, Head of School, Brookline High School

Grant Work Yielded New Opportunities & Inspiring Outcomes

BHS faculty members who participated in the project presented and shared their research with colleagues in early Fall in multiple professional development day demonstrations and workshops using the BHS Remote Learning Toolbox, a best-practices online resource designed to help staff teach students effectively while remote. While the Toolbox was not outlined as a deliverable in the grant proposal, teachers quickly realized that the best, most innovative way to share these important recommendations would be to build an online toolkit and make it accessible to all faculty at the high school. It is already proving to be an invaluable resource to many educators. 

 Topics in the Toolbox include:

  • Building a Digital Classroom: Strategies and tools to set up a hybrid classroom
  • During Planning: Strategies and tools for taking the analog to a digital environment
  • Tech Tools: Tech Tool support from PSB and colleagues, and tech support for students
  • Research and Synthesis: A deep dive into the research and synthesis completed by subgroups

Curriculum Coordinators share that working collaboratively across departments yielded several inspiring outcomes. As teachers began to envision the initial back-to-school period, they were excited by opportunities that remote learning presented. With a more flexible block schedule this year, teachers can engage students in assignments and activities that give real-world meaning to school, and increase connection and rigor. Then, moving into the year, teachers anticipate identifying new, experiential work that can involve students in their community. Rethinking teaching in this way will have benefits beyond the pandemic response. Remote strategies can be used when presenting digital material even when BHS returns to in-school learning. If students are unable to be present, teachers will have a menu of activities that students can still follow at home. Because the grant funded inter-departmental work on a large scale for the very first time at BHS, and contributed greatly to creating connections across curriculum, students will benefit by experiencing a more coordinated approach and manner of communication with all their teachers. 

Founded in 1998, the BHS Innovation Fund is a community-supported 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is unique for a public high school because it offers grant funding to faculty and administrators for initiatives that aren’t covered in the current curriculum and budget. 

“The BHS Innovation Fund has supported teacher-driven curricular initiatives that are innovative, interdisciplinary and forward-thinking for over twenty years. As an organization, we are constantly evolving and responding to the academic needs identified by BHS teachers across departments. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we were thrilled to be able to partner with educators and provide the necessary funding to support this important work during this challenging time at BHS.”  

~ Ellen Rizika, Chair, BHS Innovation Fund Board of Directors




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