Questions for California School Leaders: Juan Cruz on Training Teachers to Teach the Whole Child

Blog Post
Feb. 27, 2019

California’s new governor has made a splash in the first month of his administration, proposing new investments to support young children and families. But at the local level school leaders have been working on these issues for years—focused on providing early childhood teachers and caregivers access to quality training and preparation.

In this new occasional series, New America will talk with school leaders (administrators, principals, and school superintendents) about the students they serve and new ways forward in training teachers to providing quality education to children growing up in the golden state.

For this first post, I talked with Juan Cruz, superintendent for the Franklin-McKinley School District on the east side of San Jose. Cruz discussed his district’s work to build teachers’ skills in social-emotional development. Research shows social-emotional competence enables children to better engage in academic tasks, work with and learn from peers, and dedicate sustained attention to learning.

Why the focus on early childhood now?

We realize that more and more of the students we serve are experiencing trauma and stressors, and the research shows that unless we address these issues early on students are going to have a difficult time learning.

We serve a lot of students who come from immigrant families, and the political climate has created huge stressors for them. The high cost of living in Silicon Valley has created a lot of stress for youth and families that we serve. Families are living two to three families in one apartment.


Is there a shifting mindset about teacher training in the early years?

Yes. It’s a shift from “it’s the students who have to change” to “it’s the adult practice that has to change.” The mindset is that it’s not the student’s fault they didn’t get it, but rather we still have not found the right approach for that particular student.

What are you learning?

That it takes time. And that it is really about investing in a cohort of teachers who can be our resident experts. How to do we approach challenging behaviors? How do we give children the level of support they need? I sit in these trainings and I start to think about what we need to do to scale this all the way to 8th grade. It’s great that our early learning teachers and staff are engaged in this work, but we can’t stop there.

For more on our coverage of the work underway in the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, check out our in depth page, “Stronger Teaching and Caregiving for California’s Youngest.”

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