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Politics and the Classroom

Politics and the Classroom

This is a guest post from Nicole Brisbane who is a former 6th grade ELA teacher and current New York State Director for Democrats for Education Reform. 

The latest presidential election had many classrooms abuzz with political chatter. Some students came in fearful about their immigration status and that of their parents and families’ abilities remain in the United States. Other students came in touting a Trump victory while some expressed deep sadness and concern over the future of the country. Teachers had an opinion and students were definitely talking about it so it lead to a pretty interesting question for teachers…to discuss or not to discuss, does politics have a place in the classroom?

Of course it does. My simplistic answer may surprise a few of you but hear me out on this one. Politics are some of the most exciting and polarizing current events happening around our students. Students are mainly exposed to the skewed and biased information their parents share, often adopting the same political views espoused by their parents and family members. Schools play a role in educating the next generation of citizens who should be civically engaged and active citizens. Moreover, what our country could with more of right now is tolerance and teaching students how to approach these issues, exposing them to all perspectives helps to build a more tolerant generation of Americans.

So the real question is, how do teachers integrate political conversations without bias? First, a teacher must be able to acknowledge his/her bias on particular issues. Helping students develop their own views is as simple as providing facts and exposure to multiple perspectives. A teacher’s role in this space is to grow critical thinking skills and help students understand information, bias, source reliability and how those intersect with one’s own personal beliefs. Imagine the opportunity to learn by discussing the Trump Administration’s decision around the Paris Climate Agreement. A teacher could have students read the agreement, read pieces written in support of and against, create points and counterpoints through discussion and have students reflect in their own written opinion piece on what decision they would have made on the Agreement. Discussion is always encouraged but a teacher must create strong norms based in respect before conversations turn into attacks.

Too many teachers, aware of their own bias, are worried it can creep in and color their student’s views. Accepting that it is human nature to have bias based on one’s own life experiences helps students start to decipher what their own moral compass is. It is crucial that as we prepare the next generation of citizens that the schoolhouse serves as a means of exposure to information and creates opportunities to think critically on pertinent issues. Teachers, it is your duty to cultivate this generation to be independent thinkers and sometimes its helpful for students to hear a teacher articulate their particular views. It can be tricky but alienating students is the last thing you want to do by engaging in this process. As a final note, it is illegal for teachers to express partisan political views in the classroom but not illegal for teachers to engage students in political issues so don’t shy away from current events. Help build our country’s next generation of leaders, voters, activists, and tolerant adults. It’s our civic duty! Schools ought to be political places, just not partisan ones.

The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy

· Avoid speculation about issues, debate policies based on facts
· Stick to open questions rather than settled issues
· Choose age appropriate issues
· Create a culture of fairness in the classroom that teaches recognizing the opinions of others
· Watch your social media: a comment deemed “a substantial adverse impact on school functioning” can get you fired, especially if it has a negative impact on your students

So what do you think? Share in the comments! 
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Supporting Student Dreams

Supporting Student Dreams

I told my 4th grade teacher that I wanted to be Oprah when I grow up. This was before Oprah was OPRAH, OWN Network, and the O Magazine. This was when (to me) she was simply the "black lady on tv everyday."  I vividly recall my teacher giggling and noting, "You can't be that, pick something else." Deflated, I defaulted to lawyer because I knew it would please my teacher and Phylicia Rashad was one on The Cosby Show. And that is where my "Oprah" dream died. Killed by a well-intentioned, but ill-informed teacher.

Rewind twelve years to my first year teaching. I was placed in a self-contained classroom serving students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. I looped with many of them for three years, and they were my first student loves. I thought I was looking out for them and giving solid advice when they shared their career aspirations and I steered them in different directions. In hindsight, I was a dream killer. So how do teacher's kill dreams? Glad you asked.

1) Using Statistics to Detour Students - Somewhere in my walk of life I internalized that if boys told me that they wanted to be athletes, I had to push back because the possibility of them doing so was slim to none. The statistics were ready made for me. There are more than a million high school football players. Of the million, about seventy-two thousand will play college football. Only about two hundred and fifty will be drafted into the pros. Therefore, the odds of making it to the pros is about one in four thousand. The key fact that I failed to disclose to my students was that I don't choose the one. Teachers should leverage statistics to communicate urgency around their goal. Consider the following prompts and activities:
  • The average athlete works out  XX hours a day. How are you balancing time to workout and complete your school work? 
  • In order to become a professional football or basketball player, you have to attend college. Let's make a plan to make sure you are prepared. 
  • Are there electives in high school you can take that will give you experience with ...? 
  • Research people who are currently in the field and note commonalities in their pathways. Did they all go to college? If so, which ones? Did they take certain classes? Are there people you can connect with to learn more or serve as a mentor? 
2) Not incorporating the dream into the classroom - Teachers have a million (or so) things on our plates. We get into our routines and sometimes miss key opportunities to promote or connect student aspirations to our classroom content. For example, after telling my teacher that I wanted to be Oprah, she could have invited to me "co-teach" with her. This could have been as simple as, "Tanesha, let's give you a chance to practice public speaking. Can you come the front of the class and explain how to ..." See, nothing too big outside of what we already do, but it demonstrates our commitment to them living out their life goal. Need help with other common-ish dreams? I got you.
  • Lawyer - "A quality of lawyers is critical analysis and strong argumentation. Can you please explain another way this problem can be solved? OR Can you explain the counter argument for this assertion? 
  • Musician - "Professional musicians practice for hours and listen and learn from other musicians. Can you bring in a beat or song that we can play during (indoor recess, do now, dismissal)?"
  • Doctor - "Doctors help people who are hurt feel better." Name instances where students  help the classroom community
  • Actor - "Actors are able to convince viewers of their role. Read the next part with correct..."
  • Scientist - "Scientists demonstrate a tremendous amount of curiosity and problem solving. Let's look back at our experiment what is one flaw in our thinking... OR How might scientists use the information in this article to ..." OR encouraging students ask questions about our world and create hypotheses 
3) Comparing/Devaluing Student Choice - Teachers know what it feels like to be devalued. Sometimes, we unintentionally pass that on to our students. Imagine a student saying, "I want be a chef," and we respond, "Ok." Another student then says, "I want to be an environmental engineer," and we respond, "Wow, that's awesome and a great way to look out for the earth." What does our response to the first student communicate to them? Our students long for our approval, and we have to be mindful of our responses to them.

4) Having Fixed Mindset - Consider a student who is not doing well in math stating they want to be an accountant. If their teacher says, "You're not even passing your math class" OR "Math isn't your strength" then they are assuming the student will never improve. Instead, consider statements like, "Being an accountant requires a strong background in math. You are currently working on ___, focus on ___ to build skill."

There are a few important considerations. Last year, I had a student tell me she wanted to be a unicorn. She was completely serious. No joke. Truth is there's a zero percent chance of her turning into one. How'd I navigate this? I told her that. Yes, I violated rule #1. However, I told her that unicorns are magical, unique, and legendary. I encouraged her to consider how to incorporate those principles into her life. I even created an activity for her to find her inner unicorn. The bottom-line is be supportive and listen to students. I believe in student choice and that includes their full ownership over their life. I view myself as a conductor between them and their life passions. How do you support the dreams of your students? I'd love to know!

All Love.

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Colorism and the Classroom

Colorism and the Classroom

“Why are the girls wearing their hoodies outside?”
A few years ago, while teaching in Florida I had an interesting encounter with my principal. The entire 5th grade team was outside for field day when I spotted something that sent me back to my middle school experience. Almost all of the Black girls were wearing their hoodies. We were in FLORIDA. It was April or May. My principal asked, “Why are the girls wearing their hoodies outside? It’s too hot for that.” Hot or not, I knew my darlings were standing and suffering in the name of not becoming too “black.” They were avoiding the sun. The psychology of this is well documented and extends across ethno-cultural communities. What teachers might not realize is that colorism might be a covert factor impacting classroom culture and student achievement.

Before starting, we have to acknowledge that all of our students see color (yes, even kinder darlings). In the 1940s, two psychologists conducted (highly contentious) studies with African American kids to determine the impact of segregation on their psyche. The researchers used dolls to study attitudes about race. Generally speaking, the kids assigned positive attributes (e.g. nice) to the white doll, and negative ones (e.g. bad) to the black doll. This test was not without controversy and criticism, but it showed and continues to reveal generations of internalized bias based on the social construct of race.
if you’re brown, stick around;if you’re yellow, you’re mellow;if you’re white, you’re alright.”“If you’re black, stay back;
Somehow this Big Bill Broonzy song about Jim Crow laws was remixed and spread during my childhood. Furthermore, I spent the majority of my adolescent years dealing with issues of colorism (and racism). I became acutely aware of the differences in the shades of “black,” and internalized that I was at the “end” of the spectrum. It’s taken me a lifetime to rebuild my self-image. I want to be the change for my students as this oppressive concept continues to thrive in the experiences of our youth. My hope is that by bringing awareness to the issue, we can work to counter its negative and lasting effects.

Colorism versus Racism
Let's take a quick look at colorism. Colorism is a term largely credited to author Alice Walker who defined it as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Meaning two people who identify with the same racial identity can be treated differently based on their skin tone. It usually preferences people of color with light-skin over dark, and is a form of internalized racism. Colorism is present across a range of communities including African-American, Asian, Latin American, and others. Racism is prejudiced attitudes or acts against people based on their real or perceived racial identity. At the root is the belief that one race is inferior to another. In understanding the nuance between these two concepts, we have to hold two truths. The first is that people of different races can have the same skin tone, and the second is that people who share the same race can have different skin tones. There’s so much documented about colorism that you can find here, here, here, or just by doing a quick Google search.

In the Classroom: Kids See in Color

I want my light skin back. -5th Grader 2017
This year I was struck by a student who came back from spring break a slight shade darker. I looked at her and said, “Wow! You’re glowing and look so refreshed.” Her response was, “I want my light-skin back.” I tried engaging with this young lady, but all I received was on onslaught of shrugged shoulders. Do you think you’re beautiful? (*shrug) Do you wish you would’ve stay inside more? (*shrug) Do you hate your skin color? (*shrug) Do you want to be white? (*shrug, followed by “uuuuggghhh no”)

Honestly, I was at a loss. This was a revolving issue in my classroom throughout the year with kids. I had a conversation with another one of my students about why she was standing in the shade. I shared my struggle and how I'm writing a book about a girl like us who hides from the sun and loses her power. She drew a picture for me and told me she could relate. I also noticed trends. I overheard boys talking about crushes on the girls with lighter skin tones. During indoor recess there definitely a hierarchy that formed around the girls with lighter skin tones. During outdoor recess almost all the Black girls congregated in the shade. A student who identified as biracial was called white and to some degree isolated. I was alarmed, but not shocked. I had to intervene.

So what now?
I won’t pretend that I am an expert. As a dark skinned black woman I continue to struggle with self love. I can empathize with my students struggling with self-image, and aspire to be the teacher I wish I had as I stood in the shade, hiding from the sun. But what if you’re not a person of color? As teachers, we can continue to build our knowledge and skill so that we resist oppression at all levels. Below I’ve compiled strategies that I’ve tried and ones that I will use in the future based on the research I've conducted about this topic.

Be Present. Listen out for words and phrases that students might use that related to skin complexion (e.g. you’re a pretty dark skin girl…you’re black’re not're darker than...). If you don’t understand something, ask the kids. Show them that you’re interested in learning and affirm them as the unique wonderfully made people they are.

Positive Images. Review the materials you use and pictures you hang to ensure that they represent a range of colors in different contexts. For example, if hanging notable African Americans in the arts, consider Lena Horne and Leontyne Price (both members of Delta Sigma Theta #mysorors). When teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, discuss the reasons the NAACP choose to make Rosa Parks the face of the bus boycott versus Claudette Colvin. Yes, this is complex, but one factor was the belief that Rosa had “the look” needed to represent the movement.

Diversify your Library. Look through your classroom library for diverse visual images and characters. A colleague brought up that we needed to make sure that we have books with characters of all shades, especially darker complexions. This is not black and white. Show the range of multicultural experiences, perspectives, and looks. Represent the complex nature of identity.

Self-Reflection. Evaluate your treatment and perspectives of others along the lines of skin complexion. There are reports of students with darker skin receiving harsher consequences for teh same infractions as peers with lighter complexions. Ask yourself if you’ve shown favoritism within a group ... and create a plan of action to guard against/correct this.

Promote Self-Love.
Students need opportunities to build their self image and esteem. Have students think about what makes them unique and the qualities they are most proud of.

Lastly, I feel compelled to name that there’s something about the experience of young women with colorism that is different than young men. Dark skin men have been able to transcend (to some degree) the stigma associated with their skin tone. Perhaps this is due to the arts and sports - I can’t say with certainty. This is juxtaposed against the criminalization of black men that uses images and stereotypes to invoke fear in the masses and justify excessive force by law enforcement.

I'm curious to learn more about what you've experienced in the classroom. Please share in the comments!

With Love,

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Black Lives Matter: A Teachable Movement

Black Lives Matter: A Teachable Movement

In the daily grind of teaching, we can get stuck in neutral when it comes to seemingly controversial issues. This is the point where our engine is on, we’re in the car, we can go anywhere, but choose to go nowhere. Neutral is comfortable. And safe. It’s clean cut and straight laced. But…

Teaching is messy. And rewarding. It’s life changing. And complex. It’s about the constant drive forward. And engaging students in matters of the heart. It’s an act of love that allows students to raise questions, engage in decision making and problem-solving so that they are prepared to be the next generation of leaders.

The next generation of leaders need to be able to grapple with multiple perspectives and draw conclusions. They must be able to listen, and respectfully disagree. They must be able to develop an argument and articulate counterarguments; But before they can, they must be given the opportunity.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took root with the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. It was battle cry against anti-Black racism. As the days, months, and years passed, a number of cases involving the murder of Black Americans - particularly males, garnered national press and deepened the cry of black lives matter. It became a public movement to raise awareness about the injustices faced by black women and men at the hands of vigilantes and public servants. The phrase is intentional and direct. For some, it's affirming, and for others it's controversial. Some saw its rise as an attempt to stoke racial flames and further divide the nation. Others saw it as a needed step forward in shedding the light on injustices and the continued fight for equality. It’s divisive, complex, and multilayered.  It includes so many perspectives and nuances. It is also fertile ground for cultivating conversation, divergent thinking, and global awareness of current events. Yet in still, I've noticed teachers (and school districts) shying away from the topic.

As a teacher, I'm faced with thousands of decisions, but none more important than what to teach and why. I’m certain that teachers during the Civil Rights Movement faced a similar dilemma; How do I teach students about the events happening around them? Before answering the question, we must first learn for ourselves and embrace the value of current events as a teaching point. This post will largely provide context on why the BLM movement should be a part of our curriculum.
*Caveat* Some teachers don't have the liberty of teaching what they want, but most, I dare say all teachers teach beyond the curriculum. We are the masters of finding loopholes, extra time, and teacher discounts. We can find time to affirm and educate our scholars on a movement they are living through.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.  - Marcus Garvey
1. BLM a continuation of the CRM. Our ancestors who fought against Jim Crow laws and scarified more than I can imagine, did so in the name of access and equality. They sought to live out the words of our Constitution that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We can’t deny the progress the country has made, but we'd be mistaken to accept where we are as the end destination. One of the principles of the Black Lives Matter organization is "We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people..." This organization calls out cases where Black people have been victims of the laws of street, and not the courtroom. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Mike Brown. Freddie Gray. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Too many to name. Students can evaluate the generations of protests for liberty and compare and contrast tactics and progress. Or consider pro/anti BLM perspectives. Is the organization anti-police/establishment? Let students decided based on research. It is in this place of unease that we can equip a generation to be builders and informed citizens that lead our country forward. I'm sure there were teachers who didn't agree with the Civil Rights Movement and thought actions by Black Americans and allies were the problem and disruptive to society. A viewpoint would not be accepted in the overwhelming majority of schools today.

2. The current reality. While some movements come and go, this one seems to be here for the long haul as Black Lives Matter chapters continue to spread across the world. Teachers can guard against misinformation by researching these chapters and their activities. For some of us it might take us out of our comfort zone, and that's okay. I think of my professional growth in same way as any other field. I can't imagine a doctor still using a stethoscope to diagnose major illnesses when medical advances have proven far more reliable methods. In the same way, we can't afford to turn a blind eye to the time and teach a "safe" curriculum that ignores our darkest hours and silences certain points of view.

3. For our students. Many of us teach in communities serving large populations of students of color. We have students who enter our classes fearful that they, or a family member could be next. This internalized fear is a LEGITIMATE concern. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995, 2009) contends that schooling should be responsive to students in culturally relevant ways that support academic excellence and challenge the status quo Regardless of our class composition, we have to teach against fear so that our students know the facts. Bottomline: This is not a Black American issue, but an American issue. It is complex, and requires intentional and direct action with our students to address many of the deep rooted issues that permeate our society. Additionally, our students are talking about it anyway. Last year during recess the following occurred:

- Student: Mrs. Forman, do the police hate black people?
- Me: What makes you think that?
- Student: Well, I saw on the news that police keep killing black people.
- Me: Are they killing all Black people?
- Student: No, but a lot?
- Me: Are they killing the majority of Black people?
- Student: No, but the news said they killed a black man in his car.
- Me: Where did this happen? Did you catch why?
- Student: I don’t know they just killed him Mrs. Forman.
- Me: There has to be more there. Do you think police officers just walk up and kill black people?
- Student: I don’t think so… Student runs away and continues playing on the playground.
- Me: **Deep sigh**

I’ve had/overheard countless conversations like this about this topic (and more). These quick conversations make me think about my role as a teacher and how I can serve to get beyond I don’t know. But the news said. Students need information to allow them draw their own conclusions about the legitimacy of the BLM movement independent of teacher personal opinions.

I'll be posting a "how-to" blog in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I've gathered some of my go-to resources when tackling topics and events that are not readily available in textbooks.

- Black Lives Matter: To know what the movement is about, I had to conduct some research. The first place I started was with the website itself.
- Teaching Tolerance:This is A MAJOR HUB! It contains numerous resources that assist teachers with driving towards standards while uplifting the voices of traditionally marginalized groups. The lessons include objectives and links to key resources.
- Teaching For Change: Another source of information and lessons that has a long standing reputation of assisting teachers will empowering their school communities to raise their voices and tell their stories and realities.
- PBS: I've found a lot of articles and videos that work well with my scholars and spark intense conversations. Note: Many of the resources are geared towards older students.

Teacher Books to Read
: There are so many books I can list that deal with issues of diversity, but for this topic, I have a top five. These books go beyond the topic and get into the complex history of Black Americans. These books (in my opinion) provide context for teachers to better understand barriers that served as catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement. In lieu of summaries, I'm positing non-affiliated links :)
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle T. Alexander
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Fictional yes, be still informative)
- For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Ya’ll Too by Christopher Emdin
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- This is Not a Test by Jose Vilson
- Multiplication is for White People by Lisa Delpit
Student Books to Read
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - High School
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely- High School
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers
- We Are All Born Free by Amnesty International - Elementary/Middle Read Aloud
- A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara- Elementary
- March Graphic Novels by John Lewis (get the entire set) - Upper Elementary/Middle
- Daddy There's a Noise Outside by Kenneth Braswell - Elementary/Middle Read Aloud

      Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that's just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.
     Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Because this is such a dear topic, I am giving away a starter pack. It will include two teacher books and two students books. *The giveaway has ended.* Enter below, and as always, let me know what you think! Agree, disagree, neutral... let's talk it out in the comments.

All Love.
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White Teachers: Let's Talk About Race...NOW!

White Teachers: Let's Talk About Race...NOW!

Guest Post: This post was written by a colleague, Jeff Reamer who shares my passion for real talk! He's also willing to share additional resources and/or context. Please keep the conversation going in the comments! 

I was once at a professional development in which a group of predominantly white teachers was discussing the importance of academic English proficiency for students of color. Many teachers mentioned access to opportunity; others discussed college readiness. At one point, a white teacher stood up and said with a laugh, “Sure, kids need to know how to use proper English in order to be successful in school, but they also need to know that this is just how you speak in polite company!”

I was struck with what this mindset meant for the students in this teachers class. I’m sure the teacher believed they were saying something humorous or helpful (at the very least, neutral), when, in fact, they had committed an act of racialized aggression, aimed directly at the students they teach every day.

And we all do it. Alarmingly often.

For white teachers, the impact of our racial blind spots on our students’ relationship with school is heavy. White teachers who do not work to understand race and privilege, and discuss how these realities play out in their classrooms, almost certainly alienate, hurt and invalidate the experiences of students of color that sit before them each day. Young people notice this, even when we don’t, and the consequences are clear; the failure of our schools to provide a meaningful education for so many students of color speaks for itself. Public schools are predominantly white institutions into which filter most of our country’s Black and Brown students: we need to do the work, and we need to do it now.

Here are some ways to get started.

Do your own work first. Bringing race and privilege into your classroom begins, unequivocally, with you working on your own racial identity. The power differential that exists between a white teacher and students of color is mostly invisible to a teacher who hasn’t exerted enormous effort into unearthing what it means to be white. For example, in a literature class, it is easy for a white teacher to refer to academic English as “proper” or “correct” English. It is also easy to levy a judgement against words that have different meanings in different contexts as “wrong” or the student who uses them as “inarticulate.” Imagine, in whatever limited way you can, what it might feel like to hear that the Spanish your family speaks at home is somehow “improper,” or the patois that your mother speaks is “impolite.” It is invalidating, it signals “you don’t belong here,” and it happens all the time. Which brings me to my next point…

Learn to talk about coding. In this country, powerful white institutions (such a colleges) are comfortable with one iteration of English: academic English (sometimes insidiously referred to as proper English). This language is assigned power in our society largely because of its association with the white middle class. This does not mean, however, it is any more valid or complex than any other form of English (or any other language spoken in this country, for that matter). So, learn to recognize the beauty in other forms of English and languages that are not your own, and embrace that, despite not having equal power, they are equally meaningful. An example:
Teacher: What is Lysander doing in this section of the text?
Ky: He’s finessing Hermia. He says, “One turf shall serve as pillow for us both.” He’s trying to get with her.
Teacher: Solid evidence. Now translate “finessing” and “get with her” into academic English.
Ky: Um. He’s testing his limits with her…to see if he can become romantically involved? And she denies him.
Teacher: Ooh. I like it. You could also say, “She rebuffed his advances.” Rebuffed means denied in a context like this one.
Pay attention to language here – Ky is translating one English into another; his ideas are right from the start (and his expression of them emotionally satisfying), and he then simply translates them into a code he can use in another context. This is bound to lead to some giggles, and some exaggerated “white-sounding” formality at times. Relax. It’s fine.

Listen to students, especially when what you hear makes you uncomfortable. Then engage. In the same unit from which I pulled the earlier dialogue, I try as hard as possible to find examples of actors of color cast in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Problematically, the only readily available video recording of this play features an all-white cast. Kids notice immediately, and to explain away this iteration of racism in the name of academic expediency is to invalidate the pain this lack of representation can cause for many of my students.

It is therefore my job to engage with this valid criticism as valid, and counteract that reality as best as I can.* First, we spend time criticizing the portrayal of these characters (which are not given any physical descriptions in the original text) as all white. Then, we reimagine. Students are free to interpret the text in any way they choose (as long as it stays true to the Shakespearean language we are learning) after first reading and seeing scenes. This has yielded incredible iterations of the famous Hermia and Helena fight scenes (one of my favorites featured two students reimagining this fight as one their Trinidadian aunts would have).

*Note: This is not a replacement for representation of authors of color in curriculum.

Seek out your own resources. In your attempt to increase your cultural competency as a teacher, figure it out yourself. Or, rather, amongst yourselves. It is not the job of your students of color to “teach you how to teach them,” nor does that responsibility fall on teachers of color on your staff. It is our responsibility to figure this out. The internet has given us easy access to books by authors like Christopher Emdin, Lisa Delpit, Dr. Beverly Tatum and Jay Gillen; you can also get some great resources from Teach4Real or The Algebra Project. You can look in your area or in your organization for white racial justice affinity groups. Or, start your own. This seems like a lot of work because it is. One of my favorite thinkers in education, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, often says something to the effect of, “It took white people hundreds of years hard work to create this mess; it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get out of it.”

Embrace the struggle. A word of warning to all you would-be warriors out there: at times, this will feel unbearably messy, and we need to learn to let ego go. One of the side effects of welcoming conversations about race and privilege into your classroom is that kids will explore your responses to a set of ideas that they may have seen as off-limits in school (or at least in white teachers’ classrooms). For example, when you explain coding and engage with it for the first time, students may press you with difficult-to-answer (but fair) questions about you and your whiteness.
Sometimes (a lot of the times, at first), you’ll get it wrong. And that’s only ok if you commit to doing better next time. The students in your room cannot afford to have you recoil because you were made to feel uncomfortable – uncomfortable moments are not the plan backfiring. In some ways, they mean the plan is at least starting to work.

Whatever you do, do something, and do it now. The consequences of white teachers keeping conversations about race and diversity out of our classrooms are dire. For so many students, it makes school irreconcilable with their daily lives, with what they see on the news, and with what they hear in their communities. School becomes a place in which students feel unwelcome. For some, it is a hostile attack on their cultural identities. It takes work for us to understand this because we do not experience this as white people. However, underlying our job descriptions as white teachers is a responsibility to learn how to embrace discussions about race, even when it feels like it would be easier not to.

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Dos & Don'ts of an Inclusive Classroom

Dos & Don'ts of an Inclusive Classroom

Teachers are responsible for so much in a given day. Nothing is more important than ensuring that students are safe (emotionally and physically) and positioned to give their best effort. Teachers play a critical role in setting the tone and creating a strong classroom climate. Below are a few dos and don'ts that are a not a catch all, but a starting place.

1. Do Represent - Regardless of the demographics of your classroom, students need to see themselves and others represented in the classroom. Review your books, project units, math problems, quotes and other instructional materials and double check that names and visual images represent students from different backgrounds. #representationmatters
DON'T use stereotypes to guide decisions. All black american students aren't fans of Hip Hop. Additionally, if you have a class with one person of color, don't call on them to read the problem/story with character you perceive to be similar, or look to them as the voice of an entire group of people.

2. Do Affirm - Get to know students and their background. Affirm them by learning how they learn best, what makes them tick, what keeps them engaged, and how to best communicate with them. For example, in some cultures, looking people in the eyes can be considered disrespectful. 
DON'T force students into practices that don't work for them, or take a "one size fits all" approach.  Remember, fair is not equal. 

3. Do Keep High Expectations - All students regardless of their backgrounds deserve to be held to highest expectations. Teachers should be explicit with their expectations so that students are clear on what to do in order to be successful in the class. Celebrate these expectations in a manner that communicates your commitment to students and their learning trajectory. 
DON'T make excuses for students, or base high expectations based soley on the normative culture. 

4. Do Address Breaches - When something happens in the classroom that takes aim at someone's identity, it must be addressed. Not addressing it will have an impact on your culture and how students feel in your classroom. Children may say something to you, or their peers that is offensive, and as the leader of the classroom, teachers have a responsibility to address it. We aren't perfect, but we are the adults. Not sure how to respond? Consider the following:
*Take a moment to recognize what happened
*Journal activity
*Ask the person(s) impacted what will help
*Have a peer conference
*Discuss it in morning meeting
*Use an "Anonymous Jar" to have students write out their thoughts/feelings and discuss 
DON'T - Make light of serious situations, or ignore them. Remember, not saying something, says something! 

5. Do maintain relationships with key stakeholders - It's not always easy, but continuously make an effort to get to know the people who matter the most to students. There are some natural moments that we have (parent/teacher night, report card pickup, ect.), but teachers should have touchpoints in between those moments. Not always easy, but proves to students that you care about them beyond the four walls. Additionally, consider getting to know how guardians like to receive their communication (text, email, call). The tough part is restoring relationships with guardians that might not have gotten off on the right foot, or that have taken a turn in the wrong direction. I've experienced this more times than I've wanted and will say that it's humbling and a must. 
DON'T only contact parents/guardians when there's an issue, or as a the "main consequence" for students.

What additional strategies do you have? Please leave them in the comments! 
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CSI In the Classroom: How I turned my classroom into a crime scene

CSI In the Classroom: How I turned my classroom into a crime scene

My school has student “expeditions” which are week long deep dives into a particular area of interest for students.  The purpose of expeditions is to create a general learning experience that exposes students to a particular professional field.   I was assigned to create “CSI” in my classroom (despite no background knowledge other than what I’ve seen on TV...).  It’s an awesome idea, but it was difficult to find resources specific to this type of experience.  So I forged my own path. 

The Crime Scene Investigation lesson set the stage for students to utilize a number of skills such as sequencing, inferring, speaking and listening, and teamwork.   I broke the unit into three sections: skill builders, mini-cases, and “the big case”.  

Skill Builders - In order to set my students up for success, I created 5 different mini lessons to prepare for the case they would solve.  They learned about:
  • Fingerprinting 
  • Handwriting Analysis 
  • Footprints 
  • Tracking and Collecting Evidence 
  • Interrogating and Interviewing 
* I purposefully left out anything with blood and DNA because of the nature of my students’ experiences and my limited background knowledge.

Each student received a “training manual” with resources needed to complete the five skill builders.  I also incorporated pages for students to earn “gold stars” based on their participation and effort. 

Mini-Cases - My students lost their minds over these! Mini-cases gave students the opportunity to practice the skill builders before I assigned “The Big Case”.  Each student was given a clue (or two) and they had to work together (as a class) to create a timeline and develop theories about what happened.

The Big Case - All of the skills students learned helped them to solve “The Case of the Missing Mascot.” We transformed our principal’s office into a crime scene where students assigned stations to evaluate in small groups. After the investigation, we convened in our classroom where each group presented  the information they gathered with the rest of the class to solve the case.

Extras -  As I previously mentioned, the CSI lesson was meant to expose students to a professional field, so I pulled out all of the stops to make the most genuine experience possible.  These are not integral to the lesson and are truly bonuses to help get students into the CSI mindframe:
  • Badges - Each student had a personalized officer badge to wear during the investigations. 
  • Booklet - Students had individualized booklets to track notes and learnings.  
  • Nametags - To hook my students on the first day, I created name tags for their desk with their names scrambled.
My students were in love with this lesson and I will definitely incorporate it into my classroom again in the future.  My approach can easily be adapted, that said, if interested, check out my CSI Guide inclusive of all materials used in the unit. 

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Tanesha B. Forman