Jul 08

Different Needs, Speaking For Ourselves and Creating Healthy Spaces

[This post had its roots in my thinking about some of the very ugly behavior that happened on Twitter this weekend. Melinda Anderson and Sabrina Stevens were attacked by teachers for speaking their minds around issues of race and gender. Sabrina, in a public Facebook post, talked about how moments like this - and there are far too many - also speak to why many parents of color are so distrustful of public schools. That led me down this path of thinking. I was deeply heartened to see the hashtags #ISupportMDA and #ISupportSabi as a response to the attacks they were subject to online. Perhaps, this is one way we can all start to make sure that we all can support students more powerfully as well. - Chris]

Teachers’ and students’ interests don’t always align. Sometimes, it’s for reasons that are easy to unpack – a teacher wants a student to do work that a student doesn’t want to do for no other reason that it isn’t a subject of interest to them. Sometimes, it’s for much more complex reasons that involve issues of race, class, gender and power that too often go unexamined in the halls and classrooms of schools. Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit and I Won’t Learn from You by Herbert Kohl are two excellent texts about this – both are must reads for educators, in my opinion.

This matters because we have seen, too often, different educational factions claim to speak for children in schools. This cuts across the edu-political spectrum, and I think it’s time to stop doing it. No one has a monopoly on knowing what students need and want in any given situation, and it is almost a guarantee that if one tries to claim to be that voice, it is inauthentic. And yet, throughout the edu-political battles, you see organizations fighting over who best represents the children.

Let’s simply say this, to say, “I know what is best for the children,” is to run a deep risk of engaging in paternalism. And when that is coupled with teachers who are of different backgrounds – be they racial, socio-economic, etc… – there is an even deeper risk of engaging in colonial patterns of thought and behavior.

Our goal as teachers should be, simply, to help students to figure out for themselves what is best for them.

So we have to be honest about our institutional needs. We cannot and should not assume that students’ needs are best served when teachers’ needs are completely met. In fact, we can probably assume that they are not. And I would argue this – when we assume that teacher needs automatically and always trump student needs we do damage. More to the point, we do damage to the students who are most likely to feel disenfranchised from societal institutions like school, often times our students of color or our students from the most challenged economic situations. This is another one of those moments where if we can reverse that trend, we will create policies in our schools that are actively better for students of color, with the added benefit of creating schools that are better for all students as well.

So how do we proceed?

This requires a deep shift in thinking for many teachers. It requires viewing the classroom as negotiated, co-created space. It also requires acknowledging that here is an inherent power dynamic between teachers and students that can make honest co-creation of space more difficult for students. It is, in fact, a risky proposition for a teenager to speak their needs – their truth – to a teacher who is not acknowledging the need to listen to it and take action.

There are ways to do this as a school community. Teachers and students can co-create shared norms for the classroom. Students can be full voting members of teacher hiring committees. Project-based assignments can be open-ended to allow for student choice and voice in meaningful ways. But all of that can fall short of the goal of truly negotiated and co-created spaces if there is not a mechanism for resolving the inevitable conflicts between a student and a teacher in a way that honors the needs of both.

This is one powerful purpose that Advisory can serve. The advisor-student relationship can – and should – include moments where advisors can serve as advocates and mediators when conflicts between students and teachers occur. The dynamic between a student and a teacher changes when another teacher is in the room with the express purpose of serving as the student advocate with the charge of navigating the space between.

When we do this, we actually create the space for teaches and students to be more honest with each other. I have seen SLA teachers engage in some of the most profoundly vulnerable and honest moments with kids in these mediations. There is something very powerful when a teacher says to a student, “This is what I need.” It turns out, it is a much more powerful moment than the artificial moment of a teacher trying to tell a student that something is actually good for the student when it’s really what the teacher needs. It also creates the space for students to speak to their needs as well. And in the honest discussion of each others needs and wants, we can find common ground. We can find compromise. We can find the space where we can come to agreement about what is the best solution for all parties, even if it is not the perfect solution for any one party.

And yes, in many ways, this requires a profound rethinking of the role of the teacher in the classroom for many people. It requires more humility than many teachers are used to showing in the classroom, and it requires a great deal of inner strength to have that humility. It means understanding that while teachers are authoritative voices in the room, they should not be authoritarian. It requires understanding there are an incredibly diverse set of needs in the room – including our own – and that navigating those needs is challenging. It requires learning more mediation skills than teachers are generally taught. It means inviting every other teacher in the building into your classroom as observer, advocate, mediator, negotiator. It means understanding that, while the outside world is very hard on teachers right now, that never – ever – makes it o.k. for teachers to lash out at others because of their own pain.

Finally, it means understanding that our classrooms and our schools will be better healthier places when everyone in them can feel like they are places where no one get everything they want, but each person can feel like she is heard, she is cared for, and she gets what she most needs.

May 06

This is Not a Review: Jose Vilson’s “This Is Not a Test”

[As many folks know, Jose Vilson is a dear friend of mine. He is also, in my opinion, one of the biggest thinkers we've got in the world of education today. I've been trying to write a traditional review of Jose's new book, This is Not a Test, for several days now. I can't. If you need to read a review, go read Audrey Watters' review of it. It's better than anything I could possibly write. What this is, simply, is an exhortation.]

There are books I read where I simply love the writer’s voice so much that I cannot put the book down.

There are books I read where I just find the message so compelling that I cannot put the book down.

Then there are those rare books that I read where the author’s voice is so powerful and the message so compelling that not only can I not put it down, but I find myself “cheer-reading,” with vigorous head-nodding and calls out to my wife, so I can read her passages that are particularly moving to me. Those are the kinds of books where I am inevitably sad when I come to the end, because I simply want to keep reading and learning more.

Jose Vilson’s This is Not a Test is one such book.

If you are familiar with Jose’s blog, you might already know that he is one of the most powerful writers on education that’s out there on the internet already. And if you only know Jose from his blog, that’d be enough to go buy the book. (And if you aren’t reading Jose’s blog, why aren’t you?)

But as good as his blog is, the book is better.

The book is a powerful commentary on the world of school today, woven through his narrative as both a student and a teacher. Jose uses the lens of his own experiences to speak to some of the most important issues facing our schools, from issues of race and class in our schools, to the need to understand our students as far more than a test score to answering the fundamental question of “Why Teach?” This is Not a Test is a deliberate creation of both memoir and social commentary that is woven together in such a compelling way as to remind every reader of the power of story to educate us of what we can and should value in our schools and in our society.

If you teach, if you have kids in school, if you live in the world of education policy, or if you simply care about the present and future of education in this country, you must read this book.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, the book is on sale (30%) through Haymarket Press. Simply buy it through the publisher and enter the code NOTATEST at checkout.

Go. Now. Buy the book. Read it. Tell others to read it too. Because, indeed, this is not a test.

Apr 08

SLA @ Beeber: Call For Teachers

Call for Teachers:

  • “How do we learn?”
  • “What can we create?”
  • “What does it mean to lead?”

These three essential questions form the basis of instruction at the Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber (SLA@B) a Philadelphia high school opened in September 2013. SLA@B is built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with Inquiry Schools and The Franklin Institute — a nationally recognized science and technology museum — and its commitment to inquiry-based science, SLA@B provides a vigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA@B learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

The Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber is looking for faculty to continue to develop and implement a vigorous, inquiry-driven, project-based curriculum. In addition, all teachers at SLA@B have an advisory class where they work with the same students for four years. SLA@B and its sister school SLA are a national models for “School 2.0,” a reform movement that seeks to harness the tools of technology, tied to a progressive pedagogy, to re-imagine what high schools can be. As such, SLA@B is a 1:1 laptop school that uses multiple resources — web-based and traditional — to create meaning and understanding.

Positions Available:

  • Biology / Chemistry
  • English
  • Guidance Counselor
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Spanish
  • Special Education

Qualifications:

  • Applicants must be PA State Certified or eligible for PA State Certification in their subject area.
  • Applicants must be committed to the idea that we teach students first and our subjects second.
  • Applicants must be willing to challenge students to work in an inquiry-driven, project based environment.
  • Applicants must be willing to work collaboratively.
  • Applicants must be willing to work in a diverse environment with students who reflect the rich heritage of Philadelphia.
  • Applicants should have a strong background in technology infusion into the classroom and be willing to see their classroom as happening both on and offline.
  • Applicants should have an interest in developing extra-curricular activities.
  • Applicants should be energetic, flexible, and have a strong desire to work with administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students to create a school that reflects SLA’s core values.
  • Applicants with multiple certifications are always appreciated, although that is not required.

How to Apply:

For more information, please visit http://www.slabeeber.org or contact SLA at teaching@scienceleadership.org or at 215-979-5620. Resumes and cover letters can be sent to teaching@scienceleadership.org but all applicants must apply through the School District of Philadelphia Site Selection Process found online at http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/recruitment/

Contact Info:
Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber
5925 Malvern Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Phone: 215-581-2107
Fax: 215-581-2109
Administrators: Chris Johnson and Chris Lehmann
Email: teaching@scienceleadership.org

Mar 28

Stewardship

Several weeks ago, I voted in favor of a contract that took me from a 12 month employee to a 10 month employee – even though I know that I’m going to work for much of the summer. The contract also now has me paying more for health care and all in, it will mean that I see about 15% less in my paycheck every week.

I voted for it, not because I really am excited to make less money, but because it was the responsible thing to do in the midst of a massive budget crisis. If we are to make the case that we, as principals, are the responsible stewards of the education of the children of Philadelphia, then we have to be willing to lead and make sacrifices for the sake of our children. I am proud to say that the contract passed with overwhelming support from principals.

Today, many of those same administrators went to City Council to ask our council members to end the political squabbling and make the hard decisions to put the children above the politics and fund our schools. Specifically, we need City Council to do the following:

  • Pass the extension of the 1% sales tax extension.
  • Shift the property tax millage so that the School District gets 60% of the revenue, not 55%.
  • Press the PA State legislature to approve a cigarette tax for Philadelphia.
  • Work with the Philadelphia delegation and the parents and students and educators in Philadelphia to demand a fair and equitable funding formula and to restore charter reimbursement funding at the state level.

These are not easy decisions for our council members. No one likes passing new taxes. But leaders do what is hard. I was thrilled that several members of council told us – unequivocally – that they will vote in favor of the proposals to create and sustain funding streams for our schools. I was honored to stand with my fellow principals today and ask City Council to do what is hard.

This is about the children of our city, which means this is about our city and our future.

When SLA students asked me about the contract the principals just signed, and they ask me why I voted for a contract that lowered my take home pay, I told them simply, “Because I care more about you than I care about the money they took.”

Now, we need our political leaders to speak powerfully and clearly to our students and say, “I care more about the children of this city than I care about political posturing.”

We – the principals I stood with today and the politicians who serve in City Hall – are merely the stewards of our city for the amazing young men and women who will inherit it. We will be judged by the quality of our stewardship. It is long past time to be worthy of that stewardship and simply, powerfully do what is right.

Mar 04

The Wisdom of the Room

This is related to EduCon, but it’s also just about pedagogy.

I was sitting in a session at SXSWedu where a panel of educators were talking about how they had achieved a new initiative for their school. It was an hour-long session, and really, after about ten or fifteen minutes, it was clear what they had done — it was cool — but after that, the panel quickly got into the weeds about some very specific details about their implementation. I was sitting next to a friend, and we were quietly challenging each other about how this idea could work in our schools. And I realized that what I wanted was the chance to sit and talk about that idea with a few folks around me – in short, I wanted a more “EduCon-y” session.

I wanted this group to challenge the folks in the room to think about how the idea would work in their worlds. I wanted to be able to consider the stumbling blocks to the idea. I wanted to be able to collaborate.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t ever a place for panel discussions – there is. If you follow my twitter stream, you’ll know that I was in seventh heaven watching Randi Weingarten, Peter Cunningham and Valerie Strauss debate assessment and accountability. But when you have an idea about how to make schools better, letting people have the discussion and debate and engage fully in the idea will greatly enhance the probability that those ideas will stay with the folks in the room… and even better… you greatly increase the probability that some really novel ways to think about the idea will come out.

When it comes to playing with ideas, we need to remember that the wisdom of the room is something that needs to be respected. And when it comes to our classrooms, we need to remember that honoring the wisdom of the room also — and importantly — is a powerful way to ensure that students will more willingly engage in the idea itself.

Feb 28

School Should Be More Than This

One of the things that drives me crazy about the way we talk about school in this country is how much so many people are willing to settle for “Do no harm” when it comes to their child’s school. Even teachers struggle with this problem with their own children. When I speak to groups of teachers, I often ask the teacher-parents in the room this question – “How many of you have – at that moment of separation from your child in the morning – have thought about their school, ‘Please don’t screw them up too much today?’”

It’s scary how many teachers raise their hands.

School doesn’t have to be whiz-bang fun every day. Learning is hard work, and often times meaningful learning experiences are really hard when one is in the middle of the struggle. So this post isn’t about calling for school to be all sunshine and roses all the time – I’d worry about that too.

But what I worry about is how much school is about anything but meaningful learning experiences. How many teachers in America would reward the student who found a way to demonstrate a novel way to he learning they had done rather than just follow the directions? How many schools actively encourage students to seek out learning experiences beyond worksheets and checklists and tests as a matter of common practice? How many schools justify bad pedagogical practice by saying, “I’m just preparing you for [middle school / high school / college / the world of work?]” How many schools move to an authoritarian response to students as a matter of course, often criminalizing non-criminal behavior?

And yes, schools are under siege right now. Budget cuts, unfunded mandates, the ever-shifting sands of new standards, new tests, new policies are all making it harder, not easier, to co-create profound learning experiences for and with our kids. And when that is combined with the tired pedagogy that already exists in too many places, the result is a toxic combination that does much to quell any joy of learning for kids.

We have to do to better. We can do better. Schools can be vigorously active places where students and teachers push each other to be better today than we were yesterday. Schools can be places our students want to be. Schools can be places where kids learn that they are capable of more than they thought possible.

We really should accept nothing less.

Feb 17

Teaching About the Jordan Davis Murder

[This post represents the work of a group of educators and education activists who wanted to help educators  help students process the verdict in the Jordan Davis murder trial. Many of us wrote from our experiences both in and out of the classroom, and as such, many of us used “I” statements in talking about these ideas. The writers are Melinda Anderson, Joshua Block, Zac Chase, Alexa Dunn, Bill Fitzgerald, Matt Kay, Diana Laufenberg, me, Luz Maria Rojas, John Spencer, Mike Thayer, Jose Vilson and Audrey Watters. You can also link to the Google Doc or the whole thing as a PDF. Everything written below is collaborative. This document is Creative Commons - Share Alike. I only add that as educators, this is a way we can make the world just a little bit better - by talking, by trying, by teaching. There are many other ways our society has to address the issues that Jordan Davis' murder demands we face. But as teachers, we have our classrooms. We can all can start there. -- Chris]

As educators we believe that we have a responsibility to use our classrooms to help young people grapple with and address the messiness of the world around them. In collaborating on this, what we know to be true is that there is more than a single lesson plan here. The issues raised by the Jordan Davis murder trial touch deeply on issues of race, law, social justice, and any and all of these issues could be a course of study. What we hope to do is offer a number of ways for teachers and students to think about the case while knowing that no one way, no one day can possibly speak to all of the challenges this case represents.

What follows is an attempt to organize what was a 15-hour brainstorming session into a few organizing concepts – 1) things to consider as a teacher when tackling this subject, 2) ideas and resources around teaching about / toward the Jordan Davis murder verdict, and 3) some concrete lesson plans that teachers could use that examine the verdict from several different lenses.

General Thoughts About Teaching Toward The Jordan Davis Murder and Verdict:

  • Many teachers are a little uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, to have these conversations, but that’s exactly why we need to have them. Importantly, these conversations also need to happen among the adults in the building as well. Many of the ideas in this post could also be used for professional development sessions with the adults.
  • Pay attention to the context of your classroom. If it is a predominately white classroom, please don’t use the minority student as the “expert informant” whose job it is to “tell it like it is.” That’s a whole lot of pressure to put on a kid. On the same note, if you teach in a school where students are mostly African-American (or students of color in general), share how you feel about it, how it makes you angry and sad. Then give them space to talk about it.
  • Give students the permission to process in a way that represents who they are. Some kids want to talk about it. Some want to listen. Some want to blog about it. I’ve had some kids sketch their ideas out in word bubbles or in art while we try to make sense out of the tragedy. Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
  • I would caution teachers that some kids (including African-Americans) might not feel as crushed by it as they do. Some students have normalized injustice. Some students have seen things that we can’t fathom and it’s hard for them that their own stories of injustice were never deemed “newsworthy.” Some students are just not that interested in the moment in an even that feels “far away” from them. Kids don’t want to feel emotionally manipulated by any adult – especially a teacher. (very important to remember, well said)
  • I think it helps sometimes to make the distinction ahead of time that discomfort doesn’t mean “unsafe.” It might not be a comfortable conversation, but hopefully it will be a safe, trusted environment. I know that I’ve had to go over this concept when talking about racial injustice in immigration policy.
  • On issues that have significant emotional impact, I like to start the class with the opportunity for personal reflection and thought-gathering before getting into group discussion. One process I used was to open the class with a background reading, and give students blank index cards. After they have read the background piece, they write one adjective describing their thoughts on the piece. Then, the cards get collected and displayed in a publicly visible space. This process creates the room for people to all get familiarity with the issue, along with some time to collect thoughts/emotions before starting discussions.
  • Keep developmental level of kids in mind. The way I talked with my older son (3rd grade) is different from how I’ll talk to 8th graders.
  • Plan the lesson, not as scripted, because you cannot script this conversation, but be aware that just having an open-ended conversation with kids may unintentionally create the space where kids don’t feel safe or o.k. to have the conversation. Small group discussions, writing prompts, time for reflections, and the setting of norms for these conversations can help to create a place where kids feel safe to have what will quite possibly be a very uncomfortable conversation.
  • I think it’s important to say that we will not “solve” this problem in an hour-long class, and we have to be thoughtful about owning that upfront.
  • That said, it is important to really be aware of time when dealing with topics like this. it isn’t fair to kids to get so caught up in the conversation as to lose track of time and then just “dismiss” the kids when class is over without giving students the opportunity to have some closure on the conversation you are having, even if many of us are at a place where we have don’t closure on what actually happened.

Ideas and Resources For Teaching The Jordan Davis Murder Verdict:

One Possible Lesson Plan: Target Age – Grades 7-12

Warm up: What is Justice? Provide examples. What is injustice? Provide examples. Discuss.  Collect examples on the board or digitally.

Provide students with scenarios that allow them to take a stand on whether something was just or unjust. Suggestions – students can jot down their thoughts first and then use the ‘stand on a line’ or ‘opinion continuum’ activity for students to indicate where they fall on the just, unjust spectrum with each of the scenarios.

Scenario 1: A family is forcibly interned (confined for political or military reasons) for 2 years because they are American citizens of Japanese descent and the government decided they were dangerous. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 2: Homeowners lost their homes in order to make room for a General Motors plant to be built.  They were fairly compensated by the government for the cost of their property but were not given a choice to sell or not sell.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 3: 16-year-old drives while drunk and kills 4 people. He receives probation and no jail time for the crime.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 4: Children are removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools where they are taught that their native language is bad and must learn English, take ‘western’ names and adopt western customs in order to fit into American culture better. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 5: A man was released from death row after 15 years when DNA evidence was used to clear him of wrong-doing in the murder of his cousin. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Then introduce the basic facts of the Jordan Davis case, including information on Stand Your Ground and self-defense – ask students to write down questions as they hear the facts of the case.  Allow time for question and answer time.

Have students develop statements about how justice and injustice relate to this case.

Play/read different perspectives of people after the verdict.  Discuss the emotions and frustration felt by many Americans as a result of the verdict.

Talk about action steps… if one wanted to speak out against or DO something … what are options.  Brainstorm and then teachers shares ones not mentioned. Such as:

  • Register to Vote – Encourage Parents to Register to Vote
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Discussions with parents/family
  • Use social media to bring about awareness amongst peers
  • Keep up to date with current events and issues of social justice
  • Be aware of local issues of injustice
  • Lead a school wide day on issues of social justice
  • Start a youth group to discuss issues of social justice and bring awareness

Resources to continue the conversation:

Another Potential Lesson Plan: Target Age – 7th – 12th Grade:

I think lesson plans that bring up pertinent questions that help kids wrestle with the subject are most useful. Especially I would like the lesson plan to help kids see that Jordan Davis is emblematic of what happens in schools via zero tolerance and black males disproportionately affected by suspensions/expulsions. When does an innocent high school student become “intimidating,” “threatening” or “suspicious”? That’s why “Stand Your Ground” laws are so flawed – because its underpinning is that bodily harm or death is justified if the person feels intimidated or threatened – people can feel threatened if they are scared or paranoid about their safety. How does “intimidating,” “threatening” or “suspicious” look in their classrooms, their schools, in their daily interactions outside school – by exploring from their own experiences, that to me as a parent would be most valuable. My son has said that he notices people judge him and his friends by their appearance, depending on how he’s dressed. It makes him feel self-conscious. Maybe explore those concepts:

Journal Entry:

Have you ever had a moment where you felt that someone judged you because of your perceived race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and/or manner of dress? How did that make you feel? Or have  you ever judged someone based on those perceived attributes?

Discussion:

In small groups, have students discuss their personal reactions to the journal entry for several moments. Then ask groups to share out with the class what they discussed.

Transition / Class discussion prompt:

  • What are your concerns when people make judgements based on those perceived attributes?

Activity:

Have students read the New York Times article on the Jordan Davis case:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/us/florida-killing-over-loud-music.html

In small groups, have students take on the following questions and then share out:

  • Why did Michael Dunn see Jordan Davis as a threat?
  • Why did Michael Dunn feel threatened by someone sitting in a car, listening to loud music?
  • Why do these kind of thoughts surface in people’s heads when they see a black person?
  • Would things have been different if Jordan Davis was a white kid sitting in his car, listening to loud music? Why or why not?

Big Questions:

  • What does it mean when institutional decisions (for example, court cases, school policies, employment opportunities, housing) are influenced by this kind of pre-judging / stereotyping?
  • How does it affect us if we believe a decision was made because of the way someone perceived us due to our perceived race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and/or manner of dress?
  • What does it mean when laws or policies like “Stand Your Ground” or school suspension policies have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color more than whites?

Summary:

  • What can be done to help people be better informed about those they see as “others” based on the perceived identifiers above?
  • What needs to happen to make sure that laws and policies do not reinforce existing inequality in our country and in our communities?
  • What can we do as a community to begin and support that work?

Potential Lesson Plan: Target Age – 7th – 12th Grade

The goal of this lesson plan is to give students the chance to talk about the trial, about their feelings about it, and then do meaningful, real work that allows them to address the problems they see in the trial / the law.

Do now:

Read one of three articles about the trial:

Give students blank index cards. After they have read the background piece, students write one adjective describing their thoughts on the piece. Then, the cards get collected and displayed in a publicly visible space. This process creates the room for people to all get familiarity with the issue, along with some time to collect thoughts/emotions before starting discussions.

Discussion:

  • What do you think of the verdict? Was justice served? Why or why not?

Short write – Potential Topics:

  • What is the relationship between the way I feel about this personally and what I can do as a person in America?
  • How is what happened to Jordan Davis relevant to me?
  • How does this compare to my world? My experiences? What does it say about America? My city? My state?

Activity:

In small groups, come up with an action plan about what can be done to make a more just society / country / community. Some potential activities include:

  • Blog post about “What should society / can we as a community do after the Jordan Davis murder trial?” – maybe even an open-ended blog post with several options (a brainstorm of blog topics crowd-sourced in small groups)
  • A letter to Jordan Davis’ parents
  • A letter to local politicians
  • An Op-Ed for the local newspaper
  • A meeting with local law enforcement to discuss concerns around the case.
  • Given that the Jordan Davis murder verdict is not something isolated, it would also be good to brainstorm with students about any plans/interest for ongoing involvement/activism.

Summary:

  • How do we deal with a tragedy and work to make change?
  • How do we act in the public good when we are angry, sad, frustrated, hurt, scared?
  • How do we do it as a community and not just as individuals who feel all of the above emotions?

Final thought: Thank the kids for being willing to engage in the conversation. And tell them you love them. And mean it.

Feb 16

Again.

Jordan Davis – a 17-year-old young black man – was shot and killed by Michael Dunn – a 47-year-old white man.

This is not in dispute.

Jordan Davis was shot and killed by Michael Dunn.

And while Michael Dunn was convicted several of the charges against him, he was not convicted of the murder of Jordan Davis.

It happened again.

I think of the many young black men I teach and have taught who could have been Jordan Davis… who could have been Trayvon Martin… and those are the cases that made the New York Times, and be sure, there are too many that did not penetrate mainstream consciousness.

I think of the many conversations I have had with students of color who have talked to me about “Walking While Black” and the many struggles my students face on a daily basis.

I want to write about how Tuesday we will go back to work at SLA at trying to do the work of listening to each other, of trying to make our corner of the world better, of talking explicitly about issues of race and how they affect us all.

I admit that right now it is hard to do that. Right now, I simply feel for Jordan Davis and his family. I simply worry about my kids — the ones I teach and the ones who are mine — who grow up in a world where this can happen.

But that is right now.

Tuesday, I will redouble my efforts to teach the world we live in.

This verdict must serve to remind us that there is no such thing (to quote SLA teacher Pia Martin) as passive anti-racism. This verdict must remind us that institutional racism is the norm in this country and therefore we have to actively work to do better. This verdict must remind us that we are nowhere near being the country we need to be for our citizens of color — and, therefore, for all of us.

 

Feb 13

Teaching Kids: Good For Teachers Too

[One of the cool things about being willing to talk through what you actually think about teaching is that sometimes you stumble across new ways of thinking about the things you think. This post stems from one of those conversations.]

Anyone who has ever heard me talk about what I believe about teaching has probably heard me talk about the difference between the statement, “I teach English,” and “I teach kids English.” It is at the core of what I believe about how we can make schools more caring, human places. Most of the time, we talk about this in terms of how this can make school so much more powerful for kids, but it’s also an idea that can make school so much more powerful for the adults as well.

One of the things that we worry about in our profession is teacher burn-out. It’s real. The job is exhausting, and there are any number of factors that can cause teachers to lose their effectiveness and lose their passion. One of those reasons is that it can be very difficult to keep finding the energy to teach the same thing over and over again for a forty-year career. And if you think of your teaching as “subject first,” not “student first,” maintaining love of the subject can get really hard. But our students are forever new, often (to me) fascinating, and as infinitely variable as we can imagine. When we focus on always learning who are students are as the first and most important thing we do, we can find one more way to sustain our energy for the work we do.

 

Jan 20

Both/And, Priorities and Working Toward Anti-Racist Schools

Earlier this week, Melinda Anderson wrote How Long Will We Tolerate Racial Profiling In Our Schools for Good Magazine. It’s an excellent piece that uses an experience her son had in school where an administrator chose to deal with a less-than-fantastic moment her middle-school aged son and his friends had in the lunchroom as a springboard for talking about zero-tolerance policies and the negative effect they have on all kids and especially on children of color. (For the fortunate record, the administrator in her son’s situation chose a far more appropriate way to deal with the kids’ behavior.) Go read her piece – it is outstanding.

What is interesting and frustrating is that many commenters, both on Twitter and on the site, have pushed back that this had to be about race. “Zero tolerance,” it is argued, “is bad for all kids, so why is this about race?” To make that argument is to ignore that zero tolerance — and policies like it — have created the environment where black students – primarily boys – are suspended at disproportionately high rates. And what was so wild to me was that her piece pointed out more progressive disciplinary policies such as restorative justice are good for all kids and good for kids of color… and that led to this exchange on Twitter:

And that led me to blog, because she’s right, and I wanted to explore that in greater detail.

There seems to me to be a difference between saying, “This is good for all kids, and it happens to be good for kids of color too…” and saying, “This is good for kids of color and good for all kids too.” The first doesn’t make inclusively humane practice the focus, rather putting it as an after-thought. The second recognizes that we have to understand that school – as an institution – too often is authoritarian in nature and those authoritarian practices, while bad for all kids, have disproportionately affected students whose existence is already on the margins of the dominant white culture in America.

Karen Mapp, in writing about ways schools can create better parent-school relationships, writes about the idea that parents bring the ghosts of their own experiences into their children’s school with them. We have to understand that our students do that as well. More than that, they bring all that they are — all their experiences — with them as well. For students who have reason to believe that the overarching society is not one that supports them, school cultures where punitive disciplinary policies are the norm can — and quite likely will –serve to further alienate them. We must actively work to ensure that does not happen.

As educators, therefore, we need to be cognizant of the work we have to do to create more equitable schools. It is of the utmost importance that we examine our policies, procedures and structures to ensure that they do not reinforce the worst of what we see around us in the world. Restorative justice and other progressive disciplinary policies are powerful moments of “Both/And.”  In doing so, we can make great strides to ensure that the work we do is good for students of color. What’s pretty cool is that we’ll create schools that are better for all children, too.