As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say “I am not good at math”. This is from students, parents, friends, and colleagues, many if not all, I believe to have normal to well above average intelligence. On the flip side, no one really freely admits, “ I can’t read, or comprehend text well.” Why is that? Why is it so easy to admit we don’t understand or like math? Don’t get me wrong, there are many people out there that love math and are making great strides in mathematical thinking. But for many of us, something went wrong and math is not our “thing”.
We have a name for this propensity for not liking math, it is called, "Math Phobia” and it is at epidemic proportions. Math phobia is actually defined in a medical dictionary as a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear about one’s ability to do math, which subsequently interferes with the performance thereof.
This phobia is present everywhere in our society and has prompted an entire industry of memes and graphic T-shirts that promote the idea that math is hard and scary. (Underlying message, so it’s ok not to be good at it or to even try.) When we believe something to be too difficult to master, this attitude stops us from focusing on the problem we are trying to solve.
So what went wrong, why do so many lack confidence in our math skills?
Research suggests that for many of us it was the way we were taught. Math was taught to most strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. We were led to believe math was a list of rules and specific algorithms that could only be memorized and procedures done specific ways to get to the one correct answer. You were considered smart if you could compute quickly. Thinking about math this way is boring, stressful and/or unproductive. In his article, Why Do Students Fear Math, Pradeep Kumar states;
Another reason that many people feel they are not good at math is that they were lead to believe you are either born to be good at math or you were not. The truth is that we are not predestined to be good or bad at math, although the attitude that you are a math person or you are not continues to prevail. Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler says,
How does our own attitude about math affect how we teach math and more importantly, how does it impact our student's success rates?
Research suggests that parents and teachers with anxiety about algebra and equations transmit those feelings to their children and students, who then perform worse on math. Math anxiety has been recognized as an impediment to math achievement. As teachers, our attitude and confidence with math skills have a direct impact on our student's achievement rates in math.
In a recent study, Boaler and her fellow researchers recruited 40 5th-grade teachers from the Central Valley to take a 12-hour online math course she and her team created. The course, “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” covers perceptions about math, how anyone — with enough practice — can develop the brain skills to understand complex math problems, and how math is used in everyday life. The course also covers basic math concepts, such as number patterns and reasoning, and offers tips for teaching those concepts.
When commenting about the impact of the Stanford study, published in the journal Education Sciences, Jo Boaler said,
For our students to do well in math, many of us need to change our own attitudes and understanding of mathematical concepts and ideas.
Changing perceptions and skill sets is difficult. Where do we begin? The first step is to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. If you have not read it already, I highly recommend you read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.d. This philosophy has been a game changer for many. (This one, in my opinion, is also worth a second look even if you have already read it).
About a decade later, Dweck’s Stanford University colleague Jo Boaler piggy-backed off these ideas and applied it to mathematics. Mathematical Mindsets was published in 2016 applying advanced neurological research to how students best learn mathematical concepts. This book sparked an international resurgence in mathematical best practices. This is a must read for any teacher of mathematics. In it, Jo Boaler explores the power of mistakes and struggle, the concept that there are creativity and beauty in mathematics, (A concept I did not get at any time during my math education), the importance of developing flexibility with numbers and how mathematics is a path to equity.
When I first read Mathematical Mindsets, the greatest take away for me was there are creativity and beauty in math. What?!?! As a recovering mathophob myself, I was led to believe math was all about speed and (this one is from my dad who would sit with me as I cried through my math homework) you only get the right answer if you have a sharp pencil. In the book, you are introduced to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for Mathematics). If you have not heard of her before, her amazing and tragic story is worth looking up. Born in Iran, Maryam was a mathematician at Stanford who studied hyperbolic surfaces and who had in 2016 produced what has been called the “theory of the decade”. Surprisingly, Mirzakhani described herself as a "slow" mathematician, saying that "you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math." To solve problems, Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper and write mathematical formulas around the drawings. Her daughter described her mother's work as "painting". In Mathematical Mindsets Maryam is quoted as saying:
For many of us, math was taught strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. The reality is that mathematics is so much more than that. We need to make the study of mathematics more meaningful and engaging for the next generation. We need to take that leap of faith and believe that even as adults we have the ability to learn more about math concepts and with a growth mindset promote positive attitudes towards the discovery of math for ourselves and the future generations we serve. Be the teacher that promotes this T-shirt.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Best Way to Change Scores is to Change Teachers Attitudes
Challenging Myths About Learning
Jo Boaler Ted Talk: How you can be good at math and other surprising facts about learning.
(2008) Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, National Mathematics Advisory Panel (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC).
St.Myers, Andrew; Carey, Bjorn (15 July 2017). "Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies". Stanford News. Retrieved 17 July 2017
Jacobson, Howard (29 July 2017). "The world has lost a great artist in mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
The Llama Llama books are favorites in our house. I’m fairly certain we own every one ever written and have read each of them no less than a dozen times each. The other night my daughter and I were reading Llama Llama Mad At Mama. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, let me bring you up to speed. Llama and mama have to spend the day running a bunch of errands and Llama is not pleased with the plan. One of their errands is a trip to the grocery store. As mama is shopping, Llama is getting increasingly agitated until he escalates to the point where he totally loses control; Llama throws things, knocks things over, kicks his feet, yells and eventually begins to cry. When we reached this point in the book, I turned to my daughter and asked her how she thought Llama was feeling. She answered me then turned to me and said, “Mom, how do you think MAMA LLAMA was feeling here? I know Llama is very upset but mama must be too! I bet she is embarrassed by his choices. I think she also might be worried that something is really wrong with Llama. But I also know she is mad because look at her face! Poor Mama Llama!” WOW! This mama was incredibly proud! Like I said before, we have read this book at least a dozen times and this was the first time she keyed into how Mama Llama was feeling. Her reflection that night got me thinking about the power of using characters in literature to teach social-emotional learning.
Social-emotional learning is such a big topic in education right now that this month's entire edition of Educational Leadership is dedicated to this topic. Everyone is talking about the importance of teaching these kinds of lessons in school. Yet I know that as a classroom teacher, I would have been hard-pressed to add one more thing into the learning day! With so many expectations already on our proverbial plates, how can we do even one more thing? However, teaching social-emotional learning through literature doesn’t add a new expectation to teachers’ already jam-packed curriculum - it can easily be incorporated into reading routines already in place. Here are some ways to begin building in this type of learning with the system you already have set up.
Read It & Reap
When reading a book with students, take the time to make connections between what students read, their personal values, and the world around them. In the last decade or so there has been a shift away from doing this with kids. This happened greatly in part because of the increase in the weight being placed on standardized tests. Our goals for student learning became much more academic focused. “If a question wasn’t text dependent, then it wasn’t a good/necessary question. We stopped asking anything (or nearly anything) where the inference couldn’t be drawn directly from the text.” (N. Boyles) Certainly we need to dig deeply into the texts we read for academic reasons, however, go back to those same books you have previously read and revisit them. “This time, ask questions related to social-emotional problem solving to begin discussions that raise students awareness and encourage them to rethink their own responses to challenging situations.” (N. Boyles) Having these types of discussions may actually take you into the Common Core’s comprehension standards that are sometimes overlooked (author’s craft, purpose & point of view, use of illustrations) and deeper levels of Webb’s depth of knowledge system.
There are numerous aspects to social-emotional learning. Instead of trying to hit them all, be selective and target 4-5 over the course of the year. Here are 5 that have been identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning because each competency can be addressed through several related focus areas:
Notice the first two are centered on the individual and the final three address interaction among individuals. This progression makes complete sense; how can a student manage their relationships with others until they are able to identify and manage their own feelings and self-perceptions?
Use A New Lens
Many of the books we choose to read with students could target a multitude of the skills listed above all in one text. However, discussing all of them will likely overwhelm students (and likely you as well) and you may miss your intended target. Instead of using a text to discuss various SEL categories, select one skill so students are able to think deeply about specific issues. This can be done with many books - even books that weren’t specifically written with teaching SEL in mind. However, there are many authors out there who have written books around the different areas of SEL learning. Here are some lists that may help guide additional book selections:
25 Best Kids Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
50 Must Have Picture Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
Hearts and Minds: Picture Books That Strengthen Social-Emotional Learning
Social-Emotional Learning Diverse Book List for Grade PreK-8
As I reflect back on reading with my daughter the other night and her reaction to the text, it reaffirms for me how much children learn through books and the characters they meet there. Though Llama Llama is a favorite in our house (and my daughter has obviously connected with the characters and is learning a great deal about emotions) I recognize that it may not be the best fit for you and your students. Hopefully, though, you will be able to find other texts that you are already using, or perhaps a new one from a list, to try your hand at incorporating some intentional social-emotional learning within your classroom.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
If you’re anything like us, now that the school year is well underway a question or two has begun to surface. Questions focused on areas where you'd like to grow as an educator, such as:
Whatever your question, our team wants to help you access the PD you crave, which is why we are again offering an independent study professional development opportunity for staff.
Still on the fence? Here is some of the feedback from past participants:
If you’re interested in this opportunity, sign up by December 7, 2018 via the link above. Know that you can enroll as an individual, as a partnership, as a PLC, or as department.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to connect with your site staff development chair, an instructional coach, or an implementation associate. We'd love to help you get started.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate;
Below are 8 suggestions for supporting our American Indian students and families:
For more information on the ideas touched on above, consider the following:
Pilamaya. (Thank you.)
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
- training in which an athlete alternates between two activities, typically requiring different rates of speed, degrees of effort, etc.
What is agency and what does it have to do with education? Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. Ultimately this is what we want for all our students. If students have developed agency, they are meeting all the criteria listed under the ‘Student Achievement’ section of the RPS Graduate Profile. These criteria include the following: Critical thinkers, ethical contributors, skilled communicators, effective collaborators, resilient learners and success ready. In other words, they are independent thinkers and are actively participating in achieving their own success.
The bottom line is that we as teachers, just like our students, learn best when we are intrinsically motivated. We need to collaborate with our administrators and staff developers in designing sustainable professional growth opportunities that meet our needs as well as aligning to district and site goals.
Independent Study for Individualized Learning is the second framework that allows teachers to personalize and facilitate their own learning. Participants choose their focus area, control their own learning schedule and collaborate with a member of the C&I team to advance their own professional development. Information regarding the next round Independent Study will be coming soon.
In summary, let’s not wait to be rescued, if we are going to survive and better yet thrive, we need to become active participants in our own personal and professional growth.
When do we start? There’s no time like the present! In order for ENVoY to become the norm in our classrooms, we should use it to develop healthy relationships with students.
Transition to Seat Work
When getting a student’s attention, remember to use The Above strategy. Find your freeze body spot, low breathe while listening to the wave. Smile. Do your Above, Pause and Whisper. All three must be done together in order for it to be most effective.
Remember your Modes of Interaction: Raise your hand, Speak out, and Turn and Talk. Be mindful of your voice in terms of tone, volume, speed. Don’t forget to Ride the Wave by listening to the ups and downs of the volume in your classroom. Never underestimate The Power of the Whisper. If you need kids to follow directions…Whisper. They naturally have to lean in to figure out what you are saying and the calm quiet voice helps to calm them down. Make sure that your Actions Match your Words and pair your verbals and nonverbals. In this strategy, less is more so make sure to eliminate verbal clutter.
Make sure to give students Exit Directions. Visuals allow a child to be more independent and self-sufficient. In these visuals, include the categories need, do, put and then in order to give the students structure within the task. Be sure to ask, “Are there any questions?” and make revisions. This allows students to process the information a second time. Be mindful of the Most Important Twenty Seconds (M.I.T.S.). During this time the teacher stands still while the students are engaging in the work. Use nonverbal actions to address students who approach or have clarifying question.
During seat work make sure that you are a guide on the side (Influence Approach). Sitting or standing to the side or at a 90 degree angle helps avoid a non-verbal power struggle. Keep your eye on the prize to allow your child to think. Use a private voice to increase safety. During seat work it’s important that you take the canoe rather than the jet ski. Your movement will pull working students off task. Stand and scan. Develop skills to allow them to get your attention during work time. Keep your breathing LOW and slow. If necessary look down and take a long deep breathe giving yourself a small break before addressing students needs.
Feel free to connect with Paula via her email
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