Nov 29

Tourism of Our Ideas


img_4311So I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few days in Oslo, Norway, and when I’m not at the SETT conference, I’ve been able to spend some time seeing Oslo. I was talking to one of the conference attendees, and I’ve told him my plans for what I’m going to see, and his answer was, “Well, you’re seeing all the major things to see in Oslo!” But, of course, I’m not. And it’d be ridiculous to assume that I am anything but a tourist here – getting the superficial notion of Oslo with, perhaps, because I’m making the real attempt to watch and listen, a fleeting glimpse of what is really here for the people who know it and live it. That’s just what it means to be a tourist. If I really fell in love with Oslo and wanted to find a way to know it in a real way, I’d find a way to immerse myself. I’d look for a visiting professorship and move here for a year. I’d find a way to live this place in a much more real way, beyond the city square.

img_4223 I was thinking about this idea as I stood on the Oslo Opera House and looked out over the city — and I was struck by the thought that, in education, we too often encourage tourism of the mind. With three hour workshops for teachers to implement complex pedagogical shifts or conference sessions that start, “Everything you need to know about…” or – on a perhaps more dangerous level – fast-track programs toward teacher or principal certifications, we encourage tourism of these ideas, not deep understanding, and then we wonder why implementation so often lags or why – to make the metaphor complete – implementation seems so superficial, so… touristy.

For us to truly innovate and find ways to break down the very real, very entrenched notion of school that exists for too many students, we have to be more than tourists of our ideas. We have to engage in deep study. We have to immerse ourselves.

This isn’t to say, by the way, that the three hour workshop or the conference doesn’t have its use – it does. But it should be a starting point, not an end point. It should be a deepening or a framing of any idea, not the end all and be all. The pedagogies we will need will require us to be scholar-activist teachers. We have to be educators who understand the difference between being the tourist of an idea and the master of it. American education has been plagued by tourist reform — the idea the we can read an article rather than a book, the new program we can learn all about in a three hour workshop, rather than fully and intentionally plan for change. And over and over again, we are shocked when the ideas don’t fully take hold.

It is borderline criminal that we waste that kind of time.

Because whether it is inquiry-driven teaching, restorative practices, project-based learning or any other idea that we may want to leverage to transform our schools and our classrooms, we have to take the time to truly immerse ourselves in that idea if we expect to see the changes be sustained, real and powerful. Otherwise we will be tripped up by the first time it gets hard or goes wrong or just surprises us. We have to be more thoughtful in our embrace of new ideas so that we have a better understanding of what is lost and what is gained. We have to be more deliberate about the structures we set up when we evolve our schools so that innovations are sustainable. We have to be willing to take the time to invest deeply, so that we have a strong sense of the changes that students and teachers will have to make as they take on new ideas as well.

In short – we must be thoughtful, intentional and deeply knowledgable as we seek to transform our schools. We have to be residents of our ideas, not tourists. For me, it is the only path to change.






Nov 23

Guest Post: Some Thoughts on America

[This is an email from a former student of mine from my days as a teacher in New York City. She works as a lawyer in the non-profit world, working with court systems. She sent this to me as part of a longer conversation about how we’re feeling about the world these days, and I thought it made sense — with her permission – to post it here.]

Yesterday I drove over to the court so that I could get my client released to a drug program. I was scheduled to be in a different court that morning. I arrived at the second court around noon and my client was released around 12:45. For the third time this year, I drove her to treatment. Not under any illusion that she would stay in the program, but also not harboring any thoughts about her leaving the program. I’m driving her to another program simply because that’s what you do.

Earlier in the day, at my first court, a good friend, a private lawyer, introduced me to his client as the best lawyer you can’t hire. Feeling sort of melancholy from the post-election hangover, having just advised my undocumented client on the uncertain status of his personhood in the Trump America, I replied in passing that my work is my rent for being a member of the human-race. Being a decent human-being is the cost of admission.

Imagine having to footnote all your legal advice with “but that was under the Obama Administration, no one knows what Trump is going to do”. In six weeks, you, undocumented person standing in front of me, could be a priority for ICE.

I drive my client to the city hospital, a many-storied decrepit building that houses the shelter, Department of Corrections hospital unit, and several health and treatment programs for low-income/homeless populations. I show my bar card to the Haitian Department of Health security guard. We take the elevator up to the 11th floor and are buzzed through the locked doors. The African-American intake coordinator tells me my client’s bed was for tomorrow but I beg, and she relents.

My client is led to the nurse’s area by a woman in a headscarf. I wait at the front desk for my client to complete the admission process and am surrounded by the comings and goings of the thirty or so woman on the unit getting sober. They are from all different races and nationalities. Some are pregnant, others are mothers trying to regain custody, there are grandmothers, there are women getting clean for the first time and women who have spent decades in and out of programs. They’re on their way off the unit for “fresh-air” outside. They call out to one another, their ribbing filling the hall with shouts across rooms.

In all of this landscape I think to myself that this is what is beautiful about America — we are what makes America great. My America is filled with diversity and unified around a singular purpose of making society a better place for having each of us in it, and aside from any anger I feel, I am also sad that there are people who can’t see the beauty in this humanity.

Nov 12

To Educators Who Voted for Donald Trump

Hello from the other side of the aisle,

Thank you for clicking whatever link brought you here. There are some things I need to ask of you now. I’m going to lay out the assumption that I’m making in writing this blog post first, because I think, especially in this time of deep division, that may help us talk to one another.

I know that not every Trump voter is a bigot. I know that people had reasons to vote for Donald Trump that were grounded in belief about issues like the economy, foreign policy, change agency, trustworthiness, a deep belief in the Republican Party, and more. And I trust that if you were willing to click this link, you are one of those people. Thank you for reading with an open mind and an open heart.

What I need to say is that we need you right now. All over this country, we are seeing acts of hate speech, harassment and intimidation. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports over 80 such acts on college and K-12 campuses since Election Day. And that aligns with what I am hearing from friends and former students who are experiencing similar things. In case you haven’t heard of specific examples, here are a few:

And these are but a few. And again, this aligns with stories that I have been hearing from friends and former students from all over the country that aren’t getting reported.

You didn’t mean for this to happen. I know. This isn’t what you wanted when you went into the ballot booth. You care about all the kids you teach, regardless of race, sexuality, religion. You count black children, Muslim children, immigrant children, Jewish children, LGBTQ children among some of the favorites you’ve ever taught.

But this is happening. And it is terrifying. And we all need to come together to stop it.

So I’m asking you for a few things.

  • Make an affirmative statement that your class is a safe space for all children. Here are some examples:
    • This the note that the SLA educators wrote and hung so that every kid saw it as they walked in Wednesday morning. We also read it aloud in our classes and talked about what it meant with all our kids.
    • An English teacher had this note on her door this week for all her kids:
  • Speak out against this. The people who feel most fragile right now need the people who voted for President-Elect Trump to have their backs. Tweet @realDonaldTrump and ask him to speak out against the rise in hate speech in our schools this past week. Contact his transition office by telling your story here. Sign the petition started by a fellow educator asking President-Elect Trump to speak out.
  • And please, don’t minimize this or pretend it isn’t happening, or try to explain it away or say that there are bad things happening on both sides. Not now. The orderly transfer of power to a Trump administration has to mean that our all our children – especially the kids who have been made to feel unsafe this week – have to know that their teachers believe in them and want them to be safe. I have to be honest here. I have spoken to many Trump supporters in the last few days, and I am disheartened by the willingness to explain what is happening away. Please don’t do that.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for what I truly hope will be your action. Thank you for teaching all our children. We have a lot of healing to do as a nation. I hope it can start with all of us in our schools.


Chris Lehmann

Nov 11

Never Again

Today, the Superintendent of Council Rock School District – one district over from where I went to high school –  had to send out this letter:

Dear CRN School Community –

Please know that, sadly, we have experienced acts of vandalism and harassment at Council Rock North in the aftermath of Tuesday’s presidential election.

One incident occurred in a girls’ restroom, where on a hanging piece of paper someone wrote “I Love Trump,” a derogatory comment about people who are gay, and drew three swastikas. In a different girls’ restroom, someone wrote the following graffiti directly onto a toilet paper dispenser: “If Trump wins, watch out!” In a boys’ restroom, two swastikas were drawn directly onto a restroom stall. In addition, a Latina student found that a note had been placed in her backpack telling her to return to Mexico. There is a related report of inappropriate comments being made to Latino students as well.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how inappropriate these actions are and that they simply will not be tolerated. These incidents have been reported to the Newtown Township Police Department and an investigation is being conducted by both the police department and the school district.

By writing this message to our parents, my hope is that we can collectively wrap our arms around this issue and stop any further incidents from occurring. We are better than this, and ours is a community that must be based upon a mutual respect for ALL people, and ALL of Council Rock. I regret needing to write this message, and I do want to emphasize that these actions are likely the responsibility of a very small number of individuals whose actions should not damage the reputation of the larger group.

And this is one of far too many acts of hatred that has happened in the last two days, since Donald Trump has won the election. There were a serious of acts of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in S. Philly yesterday. This morning, someone had spray painted “KKK” on the steps of the School District. An #SLA graduate student of color was told, “Go back where you came from” in a store outside her college campus today by a white young woman. Someone painted “Black Lives Don’t Matter” on a wall in Durham, NC. Someone wrote “Trump!” on the door to a Muslim student prayer room at NYU. (cite:

The list goes on and on…

And there’s only one thing that makes me more sick about all these attacks than the attacks themselves. It’s that the President-elect – who wants us to believe, if one takes his Election Night speech on its merits, that he wants to heal the nation – has been silent. And no, I didn’t really have an expectation that he would speak up. And no, I don’t really believe that he has any understanding what it means to be the President of all Americans, nor any desire to be the President of all Americans. But that’s what he is now, and as such, he has the moral obligation to condemn these acts that people are committing in his name and under what they presume is the protection of his election.

His silence is noted. His silence must be met with our voices.

For we who refuse to allow these actions to define our country have an obligation to protect those who are attacked, have an obligation to call for the legal system to take action against those who perpetrate them, and have an obligation to call out all those in power who either do nothing to stop them or, through their words and actions, give cover to those who commit them.

We cannot be silent in the face of hate and bigotry. We cannot allow our silence to further embolden those who would seek to spread terror. We must guarantee – with our words and our actions – that the civil rights of all Americans must be protected and defended.

Anything less than that is simply un-American.



Oct 19

How Leaders Can Improve Their Cultural Competence

[I wrote a piece for Edutopia about cultural competence. Here’s how it starts…]

We live in an increasingly pluralistic society where people run up against the thoughts and beliefs of others more and more frequently. Helping children learn to navigate the space between what they believe and what others believe is perhaps one of the best ways we can overcome the hate we see in so many facets of our society today.

Cultural competence isn’t tolerance. It’s not that easy. Cultural competence is not simply ensuring that your school has a rich and varied Black History Month or letting students start a Gay-Straight Alliance — although those can be powerfully important pieces of a culturally competent school. Cultural competence means first understanding, as educational leaders, that we come to school with our sense of who we are, and that unless we are reflective about our own identity and how it creates a lens through which we view the world, we will not be able to honor the identities of the students and faculty we serve.

But that is only the beginning of cultural competence. As we go through the process of understanding who we are and the place we occupy as administrators of our buildings, we also have to listen deeply to those around us — students, parents, faculty, and staff — to understand who they are and what their experiences are, so that we can relate to them fully as people, without preconceived notions of what it means to have an identity that is different — or even the same — as ours. And it means subjecting the processes of our schools to what we learn when we listen, always working to ensure that our schools are accessible to all, equitable for all.

Read the rest at Edutopia…. 

Sep 28

EduCon 2.9: Call for Proposals

Yes everyone, it’s that time again! EduCon time! You can go to the website and register and propose a conversation today!

Once again, everyone at SLA is so excited to host EduCon, our favorite education conference of the year! And EduCon is awesome because of everyone who shows up to make it awesome! This year’s theme — fitting for our tenth EduCon — is sustainability. And as we put together our panels, I think we’re going to have some incredible conversations about how to sustain the innovations we create, even as we all keep pushing toward new ideas.

So, please think about facilitating a conversation this year! Proposals are due November 1st.

For those folks who have never been… some information about EduCon:

What is EduCon?

EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.

It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

The guiding principles behind EduCon:

  • Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  • Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  • Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  • Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate, and collaborate.
  • Learning can — and must — be networked.

Hope to see you there! 

Sep 23

We Need More Voices

A friend called me this morning. She’s an urban educator, and she wanted to know if I wanted to be a part of a group of urban educators who could make a statement about the most recent police shootings. And, I have to admit, while I am always willing to add my name, I also voiced the thought of “Another statement?” It didn’t feel like enough.

Except maybe this —

One of the reasons that I think it’s so important that I speak out on issues of racial injustice isn’t just because I teach students of color, it’s also because I teach white students. It is important that African-American students see me speak up on issues of racial injustice because I want them to know that I stand with them and care deeply for them and love them, especially now in this time of great pain. But it’s also important that white students see me speak out so that they can see that this issue is of critical importance to me as a white Jewish educator. It’s my hope that if I speak up, so can they. If white students can, in part because a diverse coalition of educators who care for them speak up, see that the issue of racial injustice in all its forms is not only a black issue, but is, instead, a powerfully human issue, then we can make progress.

So yes, absolutely count me in on statements by urban educators decrying the racial injustice and police brutality we are living through, but we need more.

It is my hope that, as urban educators speak out, we see more and more educators in predominantly white schools signing on and speaking out.

We need you.

We need you to teach students in the communities that are overwhelmingly white about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article about economic injustice and racism, “The Case for Reparations.” We need you to show them the Guardian website, The Counted, so they can see that this year police have killed African-Americans at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans. We need you to show them the Harvard Implicit Bias test so that your students can confront their own implicit biases because one of the best ways to build a better world is to start with working to be the best version of ourselves and building out from there.

Educators in predominantly white schools – it’s not enough to leave the teaching of racial injustice to those who are teaching in schools that serve a majority of students of color. If we are to achieve the dream of America as a more perfect union, we need to help all our students understand that we all have a role to play in creating that.

And to do that, we need your voices too.


Aug 22

They Don’t Have to Learn It From Us

There’s a new post making the rounds on Facebook. It’s about a sign that the Catholic High School for Boys has posted on their front door for this school year. It says:

If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc, TURN AROUND and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.

Many teachers I know are sharing it gleefully. And that worries me for a bunch of reasons. First, it shows a lack of empathy on our part – as if “tough love” would override helping a student who has forgotten homework or lunch or their cleats. Wouldn’t we want the kids to have what they need for school? And if that means that, from time to time, they need someone to bail them out when they forget something, so be it. And yes, I recognize that many students don’t have the ability to have parents drop something off at school, and so we shouldn’t only have that as a student’s solution, but nor should we turn parents away at the door when they are coming to school to help their child.

Second, I wonder if teachers would subject themselves to this same policy. I’d be in trouble. SLA Ultimate practices at 6:30 am every morning, and I dress in practice gear and change into my work clothes after practice. I’ve forgotten my wallet, socks, a belt, dress shoes, you name it. I’m lucky – my wife goes by SLA on her way to work, and if I realize it in time, I’m able to call her and beg her to drop off what I’ve forgotten. Does that make me a less responsible and effective educator that I occasionally forget stuff when I leave at 6:15 am? I hope not. Nor would I want a teacher not to have someone offer them the same help if they forgot a folder of work to hand back on the kitchen table. And I’m curious how some of the teachers who have been sharing this post on Facebook would react if their principal told their roommate or spouse to turn around if they forgot something, encouraging again, problem-solving.

And finally, it just seems mean to me. We all screw up. We all need to be bailed out. And there are plenty of times in life when we can’t. But I question why a school would send the message to a student that, when the solution to their problem is — quite literally — at the schoolhouse door, that it doesn’t help them. “This is for your own good” often isn’t, and I wonder what the lesson the students will really learn from that sign will be.

As educators, when we have the chance to show kindness, we should. As educators, when we have the chance to make sure kids see that home and school can work together in a child’s best interest, we should. And as educators, when we have the chance to remind kids that it’s ok not to be perfect and that we all need help from time to time, we should.

The world can be a cruel place where people treat one another poorly. Our students have the rest of their lives to learn that particular lesson.

They don’t need to learn it from us.

Jul 07

For White Teachers in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

This is a post for white teachers – it doesn’t matter if you teach at predominantly white schools or schools with a majority of students of color. I don’t pretend to have big “A” Answers, but what I hope this post does is help you make sense of the role you play as our nation grapples with one of the most challenging issues of our time – police violence and how that is magnified against African-Americans.

In the past two days, we’ve seen two videos of Black men dying after having been shot by police officers. The videos are almost impossibly hard to watch. We’ve seen the partners and children of these men react to their death – and those videos are nearly as hard to watch as the deaths themselves. These killings are the most recent example of how many people die at the hands of police officers in America — and importantly — how there is deep racial inequity about who dies at the hands of the police. In 2015, 7.27 African-Americans per million were killed by police while 2.93 white Americans per million were killed by police. ( American police officers kill more people per capita than most other places in the world. And American police kill African-Americans more than they kill anyone else.

And while this racial inequity in US policing is not new at all, the probability that our students have experienced watching the video of seeing people die — possibly not by choice if they have auto-play turned on on Facebook — is a modern phenomenon.

These issues come into our classrooms, whether we acknowledge them or not. And as Pia Martin (among others) reminds us, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism. We, as white teachers, do not have the luxury of pretending the world doesn’t impact our classroom and our students. Whether we choose to directly deal with the issue in our classrooms or not, we have a moral obligation to be caring and thoughtful in our classrooms – especially to those who may be experiencing trauma due to these events. With that, some thoughts on how to be a caring white teacher in these times:

  • I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of amazing educators who came together to write about teaching about issues of state-sanctioned violence after the trial for Jordan Davis’ murder. While some of what we wrote was specific to that case, there is still a great deal there that would be applicable now.
  • Educate yourself. You can look at the hard data — and the stories behind the data — at The Counted – where the Guardian is cataloguing all of the people killed by US police. You can look at a comprehensive proposal for police reform at Campaign Zero. Those are but two of the many sites out there.
  • This is a moment where remembering that we teach students before we teach subjects is incredibly important. If we had school today, you might have students in your class who watched two people die yesterday, who had to have another version of “The Talk” or who had to be reminded of their own experiences with racial profiling and racial violence by police. Be aware of this and be understanding that your lesson on Hamlet, the quadratic equation, Ancient Rome or the past perfect tense of -ar verbs may not be where students are focusing.
  • We don’t have to “be the expert.” In fact, we can’t be. If there was ever a moment to not to be didactic, it’s now. This is a time to listen far more than lecture.
  • Let students know you care about this issue — and that you care about them. Silence really does imply consent in moments like this. You may be at a loss at what to say – many of us are – but saying nothing can be even more chilling.
  • Don’t put the burden of dealing with this on the African-American teachers in your school. All over America today, African-Americans are struggling with these two killings. Asking Black teachers to then also carry this burden in our schools is not only unreasonable, but it’s cruel.
  • Don’t make this only about Black students. This is an American problem that affects all of us. The onus is on all of us to make a better world. In the same way that we should not put the burden on Black teachers, be very aware of any burden we might inadvertently place on Black students.
  • Do not make this about us. It’s not about us. Do not center this issue on how you feel. Use empathy. Share thoughts. Make common cause, but listen deeply and be thoughtful in your responses. There is deep pain here. We must honor that first and foremost.
  • And to that end — Respect boundaries. No one has to talk about these issues. No one has to mine their pain as a classroom experience. If someone trusts us enough to talk about these issues, we must respect that trust, and realize that for many of our students, this is not a dispassionate academic issue. This is something that cuts far too close to home for many students, and we have to respect that and understand how painful this issue can be.
  • And finally, do not say “All Lives Matter” or “Black on Black Crime.” I’ve linked articles explaining why  those words are toxic to this conversation. Please, if this doesn’t automatically ring true, take time to read both.

This isn’t a comprehensive list. This can’t be a step-by-step guide. There is no way to just lesson plan our way through this. But we have to be part of the solution. We cannot assume that others will deal with this, or think that this isn’t an issue that affects our schools. And we cannot leave this issue for African-Americans to try to survive their way through. White teachers, it is time for us to carry our weight and do our part to make sure that all our students understand how important this issue is — and that our Black students feel from us that one societal institution – our schools – are for them, even as the images they’ve seen in these past few days have made many feel that another societal institution – the police – is not.

Jul 06

A Deadly Combination

I’m writing this post from my community pool. That’s significant because I can look out upon this little space and see something all too rare in America. Our little West Philly pool is a truly diverse space, and in my line of sight are multi-racial groups of kids and families playing together. It’s something I probably take for granted too often for how special it is in this country, but in the wake of the death of Alton Sterling, it stands out to me today.

I didn’t know what to say at first. I felt, like others have, frustrated, angry, sad at yet another unnecessary death of a black man at the hands – and guns – of the police. There is, as others have said, an urge to say little. But Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas wrote brilliantly today and urged us again to “So cry new tears. Write new words. Craft new prayers. Attend new marches. Channel new anger. Feel it all again. Every bit of it.” And so I write.

The promise of this country is everywhere. The possibilities and progress is here to be had. But we are a country drunk on racism and drunk on guns.

And together, those two things are a toxicity that will erode the best, most noble ideals of what America can be.

In my line of sight right now are a group of boys of about middle-school age. They are a diverse group of kids playing together in the pool, laughing and enjoying summer as only kids can do. It is easy to lose yourself in that moment and see only the promise, only the good. But outside the walls of this community pool, the rules are much different for the white boys than the boys of color – especially the black boys.

There is a far greater chance that the interactions the black boys will have with the police will end in tragedy than for the white boys.

There is a far greater chance that this nation will tell the black boys what they cannot do than tell the white boys that.

There is a far greater chance that the world will teach the black boys what it means to be hated and feared because of the color of their skin than the white boys.

There is a far greater chance that young black boys will have their lives deeply impacted by gun violence than the white boys.

Alton Sterling died early Tuesday morning at the hands of the Baton Rouge police. The video of his death is beyond difficult to watch. But we don’t need to watch it to know that another black man died at the hands of the police.

We are a nation drunk on guns and drunk on racism. For too many African-American men and women, that has become a deadly combination.