It is that time of year. We are coming to the end of the journey with another class of students. As we reflect over all that has happened for the last nine months many emotions come bubbling to the surface. We look back with pride over the progress some of our kiddos have made and cringe with frustration over what may have been left undone. As we think about saying goodbye to this class as we send them along to the next phase of their academic journey we picture each individual face, some of whom have made us laugh, others may have made us cry and still others may have us wondering, “did I really reach that one at all?”
We may also find ourselves reflecting on why it is that we do what we do. Real teaching is all-consuming (both heart and soul) as we give a part of ourselves to each student. It can be the most challenging, emotionally exhausting, and highly rewarding career a person can choose. What I mean by highly rewarding is that sense of personal satisfaction and pride one gets when they know they are doing something that makes a real difference because we all came into this knowing it was not for the financial rewards. And while we know we are in it for the personal gratification, it would still be awesome if the reality was that society paid teachers what they are genuinely worth.
Since it is the end of the year, I thought I would leave you with some uplifting humor before you depart for the much deserved restorative qualities of summer break. In the clip below, comedians Key and Peele imagine what would happen if society treated teachers with as much respect and admiration as it gives professional athletes. Wouldn't it be nice? Enjoy!
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Over Spring break I had the opportunity to travel to Iowa with a friend and her father to attend the annual Waverly Midwest Regional Horse Sale. My friend’s father was selling two driving ponies. My friend was there to help out and I was just along for the ride (no pun intended). If you have never been to a sales barn, they are captivating places to people watch. From the fast-talking auctioneer to the buyers and sellers and the beautiful horses, there are multiple things going on to capture one’s attention. It also gave me time to reflect on my own biases as they pertains to certain social identities.
For me, it was most interesting to quietly observe the many Amish people who were attending the sale. Amish culture has always fascinated me. In southeastern Minnesota, these communities of traditionalist Christians live quietly among us, but also intentionally set themselves worlds apart. The Amish are known for simple living that reflects more of a lifestyle from over a century ago. They also tend to limit their contact with the modern world as much as possible, shrouding themselves in a bit of mystery, leaving outsiders to wonder about their daily lives, convictions, and beliefs.
As the day of the sale progressed I came to a couple of shocking conclusions about my beliefs about identity. First and foremost, when many people are asked to describe an indigenous person of the United States, one picture usually comes to mind, the one old Hollywood westerns put into our brains, an Indian in buckskin pants with feather head-dress and war paint. As one becomes more culturally aware, it becomes known that there are really 573 federally recognized tribes, each with their own distinct cultures, history, and traditions. Each with their own identity.
In my original archetype of an Amish person, I had held one standard image.
The truth is, among the Amish, there are different Orders and subgroups with differing rules, languages, and dialects. There is not one image that can characterize an entire ethos. Our identities are made from a collection of pieces, some self-proclaimed, others assigned, that include but are not limited to religion, race, gender, ability, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. No one has only one piece. Our lives are hyphenated. Each piece is part of our human narrative. Each piece can either connect or separate us from others.
My second revelation came as I observed a small group of teenaged Amish boys as they were hanging out together leaning against a buggy during some downtime in the sale. As I watched them, I realized they could be teenaged boys from anywhere at any time as they laughed, joked and teased each other. Even though they were each dressed almost exactly the same with homespun denim clothes, black hats, and boots, you could tell they each had their own distinct personality. At that moment, it became clear to me that as humans we are each unique, but at the core still very much the same. It is when we choose to embrace the similarities and not allow the differences to become divisive that we are able to “become proximate to the human story and find our identity in the humanity of others.” Sara K. Ahmed.
In her book, Being the Change Sara K. Ahmed outlines how teachers can develop lessons that cultivate empathy and social literacy to purposefully teach social comprehension. When students are given a safe space to voice their own story and feel comfortable with their own identity, only then will they truly have the capacity to understand another’s perspective. A much-needed skill in today’s world of political and social unrest. It begins with educators providing space to have student voices be heard and to practice kindness, compassion, tolerance, and understanding. For a review of this text, click here!
“Doing the work of social comprehension erodes the boundaries between us and them.” Sara K. Ahmed.
I strongly encourage you to find time to listen to this podcast recording of Sara as she talks about becoming proximate and the importance of giving our students a voice. This is a cornerstone of Culturally Relevant Teaching.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
At a conference nine years ago, I attended a session on choice-based art education and was challenged with the question, "What can you start saying ‘yes' to instead of ‘no?'" This question, in reference to my teaching philosophy, did not challenge me to ignore the standards or classroom expectations. Instead, it challenged me to think about the choices my students could make to take control of their own learning in order to increase differentiation, autonomy, and engagement. From that point, I committed to letting go and allowing more choice in my classroom, finding ways to say ‘yes' instead of ‘no.'
Choice in the classroom forces a teacher to let go of some control and take a big risk. It has to be a slow process. I began this journey nine years ago and still, at the beginning of each school year, I start very small and simple by breaking down what I am going to teach into three areas:
First, I look at the standard and ask myself, "What do my students need to learn?" and I create my objective based on that. I then post it in our classroom so I always have something to reference when a student comes to me with a question that typically starts with, "I was thinking...Could I…What if I...?" When my students come to me with these questions, it is the first sign that they are feeling confident enough to take charge of their own learning.
To keep things simple, I begin by offering students only a couple of centers and then I add to their choices throughout the year. I always know ahead of time which choices will be offered (e.g. what art media is available, art exemplars, and books to reference), but keep an open mind for ideas beyond my own that the students may come up with as they work with the objective. Finally, when presenting the choices, I provide explicit instruction on how to make good choices, how to use the centers (many visuals and examples) and how the choices can apply to their learning.
As the students work, the teacher's role is to guide, push, monitor and document. Here is where it typically feels like control is lost because students are working at different paces. A great analogy of this moment comes from one of my favorite books, Engaging Learners Through Artmaking by Douglas and Jaquith.
A good friend once compared a choice-based classroom to the large and busy South Station in Boston. People are constantly in motion, people are getting information from various sources, people are coming from a variety of places and heading in a great many directions. When one looks across the room it may seem a bit confusing, but each rail commuter has a destination and knows where to get the required information and ticket. (Douglas & Haquith, 2018, p. 24)
The key part of this excerpt is the last sentence: "...each commuter has a destination and knows where to get the required information." For a choice based classroom to work, the students have to be aware of their destination or objective and know where and how to get the resources they need to be successful. The teacher circulates the classroom guiding the learners back to the objective, asks questions to push their thinking, makes sure the students are on track, and monitors and documents where all students are at with their learning/work.
My biggest priority and the thing I will not let go of is creating a safe and welcoming classroom community. A choice-based classroom requires a community where the students feel safe in taking the risk to make their own choices. This type of classroom builds confidence in the learners but only if they feel their ideas will be valued and respected. Students feel competent when they believe they know what to do to be successful and feel capable of mastering the challenges ahead of them. The choices provided need to offer different levels of competence which allow the students to find their comfort level. A common fear about offering choice is that the students will just choose the easiest option but that's not the case. Students make a choice where they feel comfortable to begin their work and build on their prior knowledge.
This approach supports multiple modes of learning to help support the diverse needs of our students, which is why it can be utilized in any classroom. Students choose something they feel confident in, whether working on math skills, reading, or writing. The teacher then pushes and scaffolds new concepts that are attached to what that student already knows. As long as a safe classroom community is established, the students typically welcome this push and if they aren't ready for it, they will let you know and you can try again in other ways.
Choice in the classroom is not something to just jump into because if the teacher doesn't feel competent and comfortable with this new philosophy, the students' learning will get lost as the teacher learns. But the old adage of "go slow to go fast" will keep everyone on track to the new way of differentiating and creating a learning environment for all to feel engaged and successful.
This post brought to you by Tiffany Erie, Elementary Art Teacher
Yesterday I walked into the Kellogg Newcomer classroom. Immediately I took in the lovely and soft hum of multiple languages simultaneously creating their own symphony. I heard Arabic, Somali, Spanish, and Chinese, each with a beautiful flavor of culture and diversity. As I smiled to myself I thought "I wish more teachers and students could enjoy this harmony". The Newcomer teachers flowed beautifully and efficiently between teaching academics and supporting students' cultural and linguistic needs.
We have been on a journey this year as a district diving into the pool of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. We have had time to explore and implement strategies that help us to level the playing field and provide equal access for students.
In the world of EL, culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning are at the heart of what we do. We see the assets our English learners bring with them and strive to help them to grow academically and socially in a sometimes new and confusing world of American education.
How then can we tie together the work we are doing in our classrooms and put a slight twist on it to assist our English learners? Here are 10 simple, and yet powerful things we can all do in our classrooms to enhance our culturally responsive teaching and learning for our ELs. The infographic below is from Tan Huynh.
1. Pronounce ELs' names correctly. I purposefully chose to put this as number 1 because I feel that this is the most simple thing any teacher can do, and yet can have significant negative effects if mispronounced. For many students, hearing their name mispronounced can make them feel alienated and as if their culture is not valued. There is a very funny, and yet poignant, clip from the Ellen DeGeneres show that makes this point quite clearly.
2. Refrain from substituting ELs first name with an English nickname. Does anyone want to be called a name that is not what they have chosen to be called? Simply ask what they would like to be called and then practice saying it repeatedly until it is as easy as saying "Jon Snow" (for all of you Game of Thrones fans).
3. Invite ELs to use their home language. Not only does it bring a beautiful new harmony to your classroom but students feel that their language and culture is valued. It is an opportunity for ELs who speak the same language to have time to connect with one another.
4. Read books with characters who share ELs' experiences. Here is a great book list that provides books at different age levels. Also, check with your Media Specialist. He or she is a great resource for finding culturally responsive books.
5. Encourage ELs to share the connections between their lives and the topic. ELs bring with them a plethora of experiences. Create a community where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences through the content you are teaching.
6. Expect ELs to engage in the same learning experience and learn the same content as non-ELs. ELs can do the work. Our job is to provide them the scaffolds and supports to get them there.
7. Have ELs work with non-ELs. We do not learn in isolation. Providing opportunities for ELs to work with non-ELs allows students to not only learn from each other academically but also culturally. ELs also have much more opportunities to develop academic language when they are with their native English speaking peers.
8. Explicitly teach students how to respectfully collaborate. Strategies such as Campfire Discussions and Gallery Walks provide students opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
9. Use ELs' experiences to activate prior knowledge. When building background knowledge or activating prior knowledge, provide many examples from different cultures. Do not assume that all students have the same experiences, but instead provide experiences and examples that many students can connect to.
10. Permit ELs to process content in their home languages in addition to using English resources. Providing students the opportunity to clarify concepts in their first language provides comfortability in learning and also transfers this knowledge into learning English.
Let's keep diving into the pool and creating harmony for our English Learners through culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
All of us have those days where we wished we could press rewind and start over. But there is no rewind button. We just have to keep on keeping on and hope that whatever has crept into our day to sour it dissipates as soon as possible. I would like to share a recent experience I had with my dog, Walda. (Did you really think I would write a blog post without mentioning her?)
While this girl is no longer considered a puppy (she turned 3 on April 2nd), she does possess an endearing puppy-like quality. Man, this girl has done so much for me. She’s licked my face, rested her head in my lap, brought me her tug toy to play with, you know, all the typical doggie-companion stuff. But just a few days ago, I realized what she has done for me in the vein of personal/spiritual growth.
I’m an introvert so I don’t speak openly much about what is bothering me. If at any point you and I have had a discussion where I’ve shared a piece of myself with you, I love you and I’ve watched how you react to myself and others. Well, this girl here is super friendly to everyone she meets (I’m pretty sure she’s an extrovert), so I’ve shared many things with her. She’s always super happy when I come home and it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been gone--5 minutes or 5 days--when I walk through that door, it’s always a reunion for the ages.
Now, back to what she taught me a few days ago. I came home and, just like clockwork, she got all sorts of excited: zoomies, pet my belly, here’s my tennis ball, tippy-tappy with her big-girl paws, circle-circle-circle.
And I walked right past her without acknowledging her because I was in my own head commiserating with my own thoughts. She came in the room, jumped up on the bed, laid down, and let out a big sigh. A mirror. I saw my reflection in that moment. I didn’t like what I saw. I had to own it because even though she had nothing to do with what I was dealing with, I still made her pay for it. I felt awful.
I asked Dr. Cecil White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased) one time why it seems we suffer so much from historical trauma.
He looked at me and said, “We have forgotten how to use our natural medicines.”
Great. Now, here comes a discussion on roots and herbs. And, because I hold much respect and admiration for this Elder, I need to listen to what he is going to say.
He must have sensed what I was thinking, because he then said, “Our laughter and tears, we have forgotten how to use our laughter and tears.”
I know I always feel good after a laugh or a cry. But why? Our tears release cortisol. If that doesn’t come out during a good cry, it stays in the body and can cause all sorts of negative effects. Cecil was a very wise man. He never carried himself as if he were a walking library. He was a relatable guy. I am forever grateful to have spent time with him and I appreciate his words and lessons.
His brother, Albert White Hat (Rosebud Sioux Tribal Member, deceased), was also well known for his Lakota language and culture revitalization work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In this video, he talks about the importance of forgiveness and what can happen if you hold onto anger.
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
Working for educational equity is not a job for the faint of heart. It demands a sense of urgency, perseverance, empathy, humor, and,most importantly, an endless supply of humility. We can never know ALL there is to know about ALL the delicate cultural nuances that make the people around us who they are. But, we can strive to approach one another with a genuine sense of curiosity that is rooted in love and be willing to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Before reading this, the negative connotations behind the term “codeswitching” had never really registered with me; I had simply been using it as a synonym for cultural dexterity. But, because I strive to examine the moments when my implicit bias or a deficit mindset creeps in, I have been working to change my language.
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Lately, I have been thinking about my own education and how I, as a student, have changed over time. In my K-12 education, I was a successful student who was “good at school.” I did what the teachers and adults asked, I followed their examples of how to solve problems (I could follow any procedure in math when I knew the formula and worked through a few with the teacher), I followed their rules (no running, no swearing, etc.), and was always considered a “good kid.” Once I went to college to get my undergrad and later my master’s degree, I realized I wasn’t as "good at school" as I had once thought.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
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A colleague introduced me to the book Drive by Daniel Pink. The first two chapters really hit me: they highlighted what we are doing in education now, noted what we can change, and identified why it is important that we do. Both chapters hit directly upon motivation. The chapters “The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2.0” and “Seven Reasons Carrots and Sticks (Often) Don’t Work. . .” tie into what we see in our classrooms every day, even though his book is spun more for the business-world. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you do!
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
Looking at ways to motivate students in the classroom and comparing it to what has been done in education for years, John Hattie explores the effect size of these different actions, noting if they have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on our students. As secondary teachers who we all likely taught in a system that was incentive driven, we need to start taking a closer look at what we are doing to motivate our students and to help them be active, life-long learners.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
What is visual literacy?
“Graphics of all sorts scaffold striving readers since images offer a more accessible entry point into information than text on its own. We can’t exclude kids from information simply because they are below grade level in reading, so offering an array of visual entry points allows striving readers to continue to wonder and learn regardless of their reading level.” (Harvey and Ward Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Learners, 2017, p.81)
Why are graphic novels great?
- They are explosively popular with people of all ages.
- They contain sophisticated themes and complex storylines.
- They make complex content accessible and concrete.
- They are gateways to other reading experiences.
- In recent years graphic novel adaptations of classics and series have come out: Babysitter’s Club, A Wrinkle in Time, Wings of Fire and more!
What constitutes a graphic novel?
What skills can students develop while reading graphic novels?
Feel free to connect with Nicole via email or phone
The Truth about Graphic Novels
How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills
Reluctant Reader or Visual Reader? Making the Case for Visual Literacy
From Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers By, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
I believe every student is growing in some area of life and below are ten ways to categorize individual growth. People are often seeking how to prioritize their lives and this is also a strategic plan to keep things in the proper perspective.
Feel free to connect with Taylor via email
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