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Co-Creating an Equitable ELA Classroom

Co-Creating an Equitable ELA Classroom

But, what is equity? 
The existence in which all people or groups are given access to the correct number and types of resources for them to thrive; This is NOT the same as equality. Equity requires teachers to understand:
  • the unique challenges and barriers faced
  • the nature of oppression and gaps in the community 
  • the deliberate action needed to maximize potential
One of my prevailing views as an educator that has evolved over time is my belief that our spaces need to be co-created with students. If you are thinking “co-created,” stick with me for a minute. I believe that the classroom is for students. Call me radical, but that’s my belief. When students co-create the classroom norms, it communicates to students that they have ownership over the space. This will set the ground rules for a student experience in which students feel emotionally safe and supported. With all norms, teachers will have to revisit them continuously, and in some cases revise them, but there’s power in obtaining buy-in from the community. 

Creating Conditions for the Learning Environment 
Many teachers and schools first begin by setting the conditions for students to engage. This can be completed using several strategies that include co-creating a classroom contract, or agreement, thinking through structures for receiving feedback from key stakeholders, and having clarity on classroom procedures.

Co-creating a classroom community where everyone feels seen, valued, and primed to engage in high-quality lessons is a critical component of an equitable classroom space. Students have many emotions and life circumstances that they are balancing, and sometimes need a window to be celebrated and to share concerns. I am intentional in providing students opportunities to interrogate their core beliefs about an ideal (e)learning environment, and developing life-long career habits. I prioritize time for students to reflect on the feeling of the classroom they want to be true. The community agreement is a “living” document that can be adjusted as needed. Strive for Agreements that BUILD (editable copy):
Communication with Families is another important component to developing your classroom community.  Note: The word “family” is used intentionally to convey the fact that in many communities, a “village” approach is taken when raising children.  Research proves that the involvement of parents, guardians, or other key stakeholders students value is a key element to student success in their K-12 careers (Henderson & Berla, 2004). If families are connected to the school, then they are more likely to be invested in the education of their children. Therefore, teachers should have a plan for engaging families and learning about who is important to the student. Communication should not be seen through a transactional lens, but rather as an opportunity to forge a relationship and trust. Interactions should be grounded by the belief that families know best and deeply care about their children. This can be done by:
  • Surveys (sample questions)
    • What are some of your child’s strengths?
    • How does your child learn best?
    • What topics do you believe are essential for your child to learn in <insert class>?
    • What’s the best way for us to connect about your child’s experience in class?
  • Flexibility in Meeting Way and Days 
  • Inviting families to school events 
  • Calling to celebrate student growth 
  • Determining how/how you collect feedback from families 
  • Advocating for school programs that engage families 
  • Listening and learning from families 
Prioritize Social and Emotional Safety
Morning Meetings - Given the often tight class structure of the ELA classroom, I leverage surveys (example) via Google classroom that students have time to complete at the end of each lesson. The survey provides space for students to share if they need a check-in, feedback they have about the class, and/or a shout-out for a teammate. My class starts with shout-outs and rotates between bringing a feedback point to the group, and highlighting trends in work. These “meetings” are quick. I maintain them throughout the year so that students always have a way of advocating for their needs, and to emphasize the importance of developing and maintaining relationships. 

Embrace Identity - Students should thrive in their classrooms. The ability to thrive connects to opportunities to be who they are, learn about others who are different and infuse what they are learning with who they are becoming. This is identity work. Furthermore, research suggests that students are more likely to experience success if the curriculum validates and affirms their identities (Noguera, 2003). Therefore, the foundation of learning should start with who we are, how we are perceived, and who we aspire to be. Self-work is for students AND teachers. When we are in tune with who we are, we can question and work on challenging systems that perpetuate prejudice and uphold white supremacist ideals. Additionally, identity work provides space to critically evaluate the role of language and literacy in our education while also reflecting on how biases influence our beliefs about historically marginalized people. Imagine how this enhances learning and discourse in classes. Students and teachers will be revisiting and revising their own stories through the curriculum (Muhammad, 2020).

From a classroom community standpoint, teachers should be mindful of how they will approach breaches to the community contract or agreements, especially when the breach impacts someone’s identity. This conversation should happen when making the agreements. Potential questions:
  • What if a commitment is breached? What action(s) will we take?
  • What if our actions cause a community member to feel unsafe? 
  • What words or actions do we commit to ensure everyone feels safe and valued?
  • How will we maintain and monitor our agreements?
  • What should you do if you feel negatively impacted by something that happens in class?
Bottom line, don’t gloss over identity. The curriculum walks in with our students. To engage in conversations about identity, I’ve created this resource (and I’m currently overhauling it). By giving students space to reflect on how their identities interact in school, teachers empower students to be their authentic selves. This sets the table for classroom environments where people are seen and respected. Remember, this practice has to watered and nourished in order to develop.

Reader/Writer profiles - As a lifelong reader, I’ve enjoyed experiencing the fluidity of my reading and writing habits. Reflecting on how my reading and writing identities have grown over time reveals a bit about who I am. It’s a part of me that I share with students who sometimes have the binary belief that you are either a reader or not. We learn about our reading interests by reflecting on what we read, when we read, and who we enjoy reading about. Reader profiles also embrace the fact that we change over time. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to engage students in creating a reading profile that should be returned to throughout the year. For best practice, teachers should share their reading profiles with their students, and engage them in the key idea that who we are as readers changes in the same way our interests do. Writer profiles are similar. Here are templates to get you started. The template is intentional in using pictures because I believe in the power of allowing students engage using different formats. Some students might want to write, while others might want to use bullets. This profile serves to activate student reflection about who they are as readers and writers.
Independent Reading - There is so much research on the impact of allowing students to self-select the books they read (quick read here). I think of the process of updating my library in the same way that I think about updating my wardrobe (don’t judge me). It's an ongoing process. Seriously, reflect on how you’re holding space for independent reading, and what books are available for your readers. Here’s an audit to help think through representation in your classroom library. Depending on your school district, you might be eligible to order from First Book, which is what my school uses to get books for our students. They offer deep discounts so that schools can purchase more books for their students. As a rule of thumb, I usually order all of the Project Lit book selections (check for content!). Below are some of my favorite middle and YA books! I narrowed it to 6, but I could go on for months about books! 
  1. Other Words from Home by Jasmine Wargo
  2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  3. Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 
  4. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
  5. Monday is Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson 
  6. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Additional Resources:

Works Cited
Henderson, A. & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to students’ achievement. Washington, DC: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Muhammad, Gholdy (2020). Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and 
Historically Responsive Literacy. Scholastic.

Noguera, P.A. (2003). The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males. Urban Education, 38(4), 431-59.

Continue Reading »
Tanesha Forman
Don't Teach Like a Champion: Reflect, Learn, & Be Anti-Racist

Don't Teach Like a Champion: Reflect, Learn, & Be Anti-Racist

A few days ago, I posted some reflections about the book Teach Like a Champion on Instagram. My post reflected years of dissecting and re-evaluating my experience with using the techniques. To be clear, I was once a teacher who held this book in high regard, but in the words of the late Dr. Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m doing the self-work of thinking through what informs my pedagogy, and this author and these practices are not it. One repeated idea that came from people interested in learning more was a call for “alternate options.” Here’s my response.

I am a Teach For America (TFA) alum. I have worked with and for them, and I believe the basis of their mission is flawed, but this post isn’t about my TFA story. It’s about the belief that anyone can be "trained" and have a place in our schools.  We don't have to exploit communities in service of getting people to understand the depth of inequity. People don’t need to take a detour from their life goals through under-resourced communities to understand this; they can read a book. This is about the policies and procedures sold to schools, and important considerations to engage with about your educational practice. But first, my reflections.

My most deep-seated issue with the book is the lack of recognition of the profoundly flawed and inequitable systems that have created generational disparities along lines of difference, in particular, systems that have oppressed Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC). By ignoring systemic racism, the author bypasses history and presents techniques that are seeped in racist ideas about these communities. 
 If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. - Desmond Tutu
The absence of acknowledging the injustices that many students face, especially in the school district that employes the author, is telling. Yes, there is mention of building relationships in the second iteration of the book. That said, the crux of anti-bias and anti-racist education involves self-reflection, relationships, and collective action. These concepts are either glossed over or not present. Education is a liberation tool that can challenge inequity. This book presents it as a means of maintaining power and forced compliance that will “put students on a path to college.”

At face value, the desire for college readiness feels just and supportive in expanding options and opportunities for kids. However, at what cost? The book Teach Like a Champion centers on the observations of an author with minimum teaching experience in many schools that are built on the one-way street of “No Excuses” philosophy. This street doesn’t have a lane for critical thinking and critique of the school experience by students and families. Instead, it places students on a highway designed by white architects who have mapped out a racist blueprint for “success.”

The phrase “No Excuses” generally refers to charter schools in under-resourced communities that have high results. These schools also share common characteristics that include an extended school day, adherence to middle-class values and norms, emphasis on standardized testing and data analysis, a rote and prescribed process for teacher development, and a highly structured disciplinary system (Thernstorm & Thernstrom, 2004). The majority of big network charter schools (e.g., KIPP, Uncommon, Achievement First, Success Academy) were founded by white leaders with the primary desire to increase test scores and expand their networks in similar communities (White, 2015). This philosophy tends to strip students of their identities, devalue their opinions, force submission to authority, and limit self-expression (Golan, 2015). These are the unintended consequences of the model. This school experience represents the “educational survival complex” that acknowledges the historical and ongoing suffering of students of color in school systems were they “… are left learning to merely survive, learning how schools mimic the world they live in (Love, 2019).”

To add insult to injury, the college graduation rates of these schools are not near the national average.  One could argue, but their rates are higher than students with the same demographics in traditional public schools. Ok. Another could argue, why the singular focus on college? How does this connect to student dreams and passions? This is my critique. The use of the white middle-class life path was never designed to include BIPOC. Why not acknowledge this and empower students to deconstruct the system and forge new pathways?

I’ve written a lot more than I expected for an introduction, and I still have a ton of thoughts bubbling around that will spill out on this here blog soon. One idea is how capitalism might drive the spread of these techniques. That’s not my point here, I want to expound on my thoughts about “alternatives” to Teach Like a Champion.

Educate like an Anti-Racist
I hear the cry from teachers (many early in their careers) yearning for something to “replace” Teach Like a Champion. I am wondering about implicit undertones in the air of this cry. What do people really want? An easy button? What are they afraid of? Our kids? To be clear, there is no book, lesson plan, or framework that can be cut and paste for all BIPOC communities. We are not monolithic. The work involves actively getting to know your context, engaging in self-reflection, building coalitions, and decentering whiteness. Somewhere down the line, society tricked us into believing the teaching profession is microwave friendly. It’s not. You can't take a lukewarm person put them through a quick teacher boot camp and expect them to come out on fire for the profession. It doesn't work like that. This problem is exacerbated by bringing in techniques from Teach Like a Champion because of the need to “expedite” growth and learning. In too many cases, this looks like teachers entering communities as outsiders and imposing their will and power over students (because they are coached to) without a deep understanding of the community social contract. 

The anti-racist educator knows that teaching is about co-creating, building, learning, planning, reflecting, and interrogating with your community.
The anti-racist educator knows that this work is not prepackaged. 
The anti-racist educator embraces the self-work, relationship-work, and collective-action work required to engage and empower their classrooms. 
The anti-racist educator views their classroom with an intersectional lens. 
The anti-racist educator uplifts historically marginalized voices.
The anti-racist educator decenters their personal feelings, listens and learns from the community, and understands that “freedom is a constant struggle,” but radical change is possible (Davis & Barat, 2015).
The anti-racist educator is grounded in policies that center fairness, feedback from students and families, and ongoing self-evaluation.
The anti-racist educator understands the power of every interaction with kids and families.
The anti-racist educator knows the importance of sound pedagogy. 
There are more thoughts about anti-racist education here in this post.
When you understand the roots of the tree, you understand the fruits of the tree. - Brittany Packnett Cunningham
What Informs Your Education Philosophy?
And so I turn back to Teach Like a Champion and wonder, what is it rooted in? What informs the philosophy of the techniques included?  What’s meant by a champion? The pictures posted are taken directly from the book. These are the author’s words. Note: I do not own a copy of the book *anymore*, and I found a free online version here. Evaluate it for yourself against your philosophy of education because there are my personal opinions.
Dr. Ladson-Billings's Article
People asked for suggestions, and mine are simple:
  1. Determine your philosophy of education. What do you believe about the purpose of education? Who informs your pedagogy? What research-proven practices do you believe are essential? Why? 
  2. Engage in self-identity work
  3. Understand the community you will be teaching in. This doesn't mean you engage in cultural tourism. Listen to people from the community. Learn about the assets. 
  4. Building relationships.  
  5. Connect with educators in the building who are experiencing success. Don’t try to be them, learn with and from them. During your planning period, sit in their classrooms. Ask questions and buy them coffee or tea for the time (wink, wink). 
  6. Keep learning and unlearning. There are so many books and workshops out there to guide you. 
  7. Reflect on what's working and what's not. Keep a record of this so that you can self-evaluate. 
  8. Ask for help
  9. Remember, teaching is hard work. Our children are humans (not robots), and meeting the needs of 30-120 learners in a year (depending on your grade) is work!
**If you made it this far, and you’re thinking, that’s it?  Or but what if…? Remember, this profession is not a microwave. Commit to learning from your successes and shortcomings. Invest the time, seek out feedback, film your lessons, and keep learning and applying.  

Now What?
I'm sharing books. If you are thinking, I need to read all of that?? Maybe. Maybe not. I can't give you the work. What's most important is what informs your practice. Who are you listening to, and why? From there, we can begin to build-out our partial vision for our practice. It’s partial because we hold space for input from our students and families. AND, it’s okay to grow and change with your practice. In fact, I believe it’s necessary. Who you are listening to and learning from might change. You can read all the books and get nothing out of them, or you can read one, and it can change your teaching. It's personal and once again takes time! 

Books I'm Revisiting:
Peer-Reviewed Articles Are My Jam!
If you made it this far… All Love. See you soon-ish! 

Davis, A. Y., & Barat, F. (2016). Freedom is a constant struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the 
     foundations of a movement. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
Golann J. W. (2015). The Paradox of Success at a No-Excuses School. Sociology of education, 88(2), 
Love, B.L. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of        
     educational freedom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Thernstrom Abigail M, Thernstrom Stephan. No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. New 
     York: Simon & Schuster; 2003.
White, T. (2015). Demystifying Whiteness In a Market of “No Excuses” Corporate-Styled Charter
     Schools. In Bree Picower & Edwin Mayorga (Eds.), What’s Race Got To Do With It: How
     Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality. New York: Peter Lang. 
Continue Reading »
Tanesha Forman
Honoring Juneteenth in the Classroom

Honoring Juneteenth in the Classroom

Juneteenth was absent from my K-12 school experience. The first time I learned about Juneteenth, I was a college sophomore. It was 2002, and I took an “Intro to the African American Experience” course at Florida State University with Dr. Na’im Akbar. In the course, I quickly realized my high school history courses had failed me. Entering college, I had taken AP US History, AP European History, and an International Baccalaureate (IB) history class. It was clear that these courses had been white washed to exclude the rich and complex histories of Black people around the world. 

Fast forward to 2019, I was teaching 6th grade and the year culminated with an “Enslavement and Resistance in America” unit. The table below includes the essential questions and enduring understandings for the unit. Note: This curriculum is created by my school district. 
With the frame of the unit set, I looked to bring this unit to life. Juneteenth felt like a perfect match, but I want to bring this to my students. After learning about the Juneteenth and dissecting our unit, students voted to organize our school's first Juneteenth celebration.

Heading into the 2019-2020 school year, I had big plans for Juneteenth. We were going to celebrate as a K-8 school and build on lessons learned from the previous year. And then a global pandemic happened. And then the fight for racial equity for Black people was reinvigorated by the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery. I almost gave up on planning Juneteenth, but grounded myself in the reason Juneteenth is so special. This post attempts to provide a few key ideas to consider when hosting a  Juneteenth (in-person or virtual) celebration with your school. 

Know the History! 
This ain’t yo average party. The history of Juneteenth is tied to justice delayed and justice denied for Black people. This history has reigned over the Black, or African American experience in America. The name Juneteenth comes from the date, June 19, when the last enslaved people in Texas were told slavery in the United States was illegal, and enslaved Black people were “free.” When reflecting on justice delayed, the Emancipation Proclamation was effective as of January 1, 1863. On paper, the Emancipation Proclamation ended enslavement. However, word did not spread through the country. On June 19, 1865, Union army General Gordon Granger arrived Galveston, Texas, and read the executive orders that declared all enslaved people free. Celebrations took root and have existed since. Note, the delayed justice. Enslaved people waited more than two years to learn they had been freed. 

For 155 years, Black communities (especially in Texas) have celebrated Juneteenth. It’s not a typical barbecue celebration because it acknowledges our past is drenched in racism and oppression. However, it highlights the resilience and accomplishments of Black Americans in our society. It’s a "both/and" event. This was my quick synopsis of Juneteenth, but before implementing it in the classroom, learn about it. Don’t reduce it to the day Black people were “free” because that struggle continues. In learning, consider:
  • What is Juneteenth?
  • What makes Juneteenth important to Black Americans?
  • Which contributions by Black Americans impact my daily life?
  • What should white people do to honor Juneteenth? 
  • What can white people and non Black people of color do to support the Black community?
Below are two videos to get started, but get academic and lean into primary sources. 

Let the Students Lead 
Our first celebration was driven by a student simply asking, “Why don’t we celebrate that?” after we watched and discussed parts of a Black-ish episode. In that moment, I facilitated a conversation with the students about whether or not they wanted to lead the planning for Juneteenth, and what they would have to commit to to make it happen. The students were with it! 

In our first Juneteenth celebration, students completed projects and wrote a speech aligned to the unit. In this way, they knew their work would be shared and that likely increased investment. Given this was our final unit, I worked to ensure students were set up to put their best writing forward. Below are the writing prompts provided by my district:
For prompt #2, I gave students the option of completing a group project on reparations to present to the class.
In moving the event to the entire school, once again I leveraged the unit we were studying. Our final remote learning unit was Poetry. Therefore, students had a ton of freedom in terms of what they could present during our Juneteenth event. Many of them drew upon the current events of racial justice and police brutality in the Black community that in my opinion  aligned with the spirit of Juneteenth.

For the lower grades (K-2). Teachers read the book Juneteenth for Mazie, which is a solid read. It uses the word slave instead of enslaved people, but teachers at my school are equipped to talk this through with the kids (yes, the babies get the truth)! My school purchased this unit from LaNesha Tabb and Naomi O’Brien to use with the book. For the older kids, we presented what Juneteenth is, leveraged videos, and allowed them to explore and research on their own. 

For a school celebration, one strategy is having a theme. Our first year, the theme was “Until We Are All Free” and this year it was “Still Celebrating Freedom.” The theme can help shape the program. Students and teachers submit work for the show and that’s how it is built. It can be as long or short as you want. The first year it was an hour and a half, and the second year (on Zoom) it was about an hour. Below are a few pictures:
Invest the Community
The third big action step is investing the school community. This means other teachers, administrators, and student families. I created a letter for parents requesting donations, but I told the students that it wasn’t mandatory, and they should actually discuss what they were planning with their parents or guardians. I did used the money that my school reimburses teachers for buying supplies. I believe it was $150. My school also donated an additionally $200, which was more than enough to get food from Popeyes (I used my teacher negotiation skills). I took the lead in communicating with our leadership team and other teachers. The first year we had the band and dance teams perform, which required some coordination. Additionally, my team worked to create a special schedule for the day.
With the virtual Juneteenth, we took the same approach. Weeks ahead of the event, I presented Juneteenth to the staff, asked if there interested in participating, and clarified expectations. Given the nature of the internet, we decided to film the performances and put it together in a video in order to account for tech issues. 

Lastly, hold space for the team to reflect. Black Americans have contributed so much to this country and have yet to experience “liberty and justice for all.” Below is one of the performers who remixed the National Anthem. 
oh say can you see
the Blacks killed in daylight
for too long we wait 
for human decency 
the flag with red strips and white stars
does not represent us 
but we ask and we ask for too long and we’re tired 
those cops took their air 
and now the ground burns everywhere 
cus the truth has revealed
that racism is still here 
oh say does the bill of rights matter to Blacks
say this “land of the free”
still holds us in shackles 

Continue Reading »
Tanesha Forman
Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist Work is Priceless

Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist Work is Priceless

Y'all realize you can't buy #antiracism, right? - Tiffany Jewell 

There’s something about the current times that has me in my feelings and my mind more than usual. About a week ago, Tiffany Jewell (support her on Patreon) posted “Y’all realize you can’t buy #antiracism, right?” on Twitter. At first read, I nodded my head and let out a laugh. I quickly shifted to looking inward. I thought about my role as an educator in perpetuating the false narrative that anti-bias/anti-racist work was something could be packaged or sold. Have my actions been complicit in furthering this belief? Notice, where I started. I pored over my mindsets and my actions. Then I thought, if anti-racist work could be bought, I am pretty sure that Oprah, Jay-Z, and all of the Black billionaires would’ve linked up and branded it for the world. But alas, that ain’t how it works.

Important to note, I have a Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) store that I am migrated over to my blog. Yes, I sell lessons and resources I’ve created. Why? My reasoning would take up this entire post, but do we need to talk teacher salaries? Honestly, many teachers have side hustles to fill salary gaps. From selling fingernail polish to T-shirts to working a second job, teachers do it all. For me, my gift is in creating and connecting. That said, I never want people to see me or my work as an easy button. Hence, one of the reasons I am migrating my work to my blog community. I’ve been thinking about social justice, racial justice, internalized oppression, and everything in between since I started as a teacher. Check here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for few of my dated posts (wink). That’s why I started this blog. I needed a place to house my feelings and wanted to build community with folx in the same spot.

Important note number two. I have failed and lost myself too many times. I’ve tried to take shortcuts, detours, and have just stopped. Internalized oppression has left me bruised, confused, and seeking validation.  Most recently, I created a session for TpT that makes me cringe, but also reminds me of the work I have to do. I live in a glass house, I breathe the smog, I fall down, sometimes I can’t see the forest, but what brings me back is my ability to take a critical lens to my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Self-examination is the key, and the only way forward. This cannot be bought.

Many times I hear people saying do the ‘work.’ I’ve broken down the work into three “priceless” categories – Self Work, Relationship Work, and Collective Action Work. Let’s explore self-work.

Mindsets and Biases. We all have biases. Our brains are processing millions of pieces of information every second. This causes our brains to group what we are processing, and as a result we develop biases (this was the quick, none psychological explanation). My working definition of bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group that impacts fair judgement. Biases are formed from our experiences and the messages we’ve absorbed from the world around us. We can have biases around race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or any other identity marker. We have explicit bias, or attitudes or beliefs about things, people, or groups that we are consciously aware of. We also have implicit bias, or unconscious bias.  Implicit bias refers to attitudes or beliefs about things, people, or groups that impact our actions, or read of situations in an unconscious manner. These are DANGEROUS, but can be unlearned! We have invest in better understanding our biases so that we can take direct action to counter them. Data proves that implicit biases create inequitable barriers for groups to overcome. This is especially true in our schools. 

As a teacher, I am always taking in information and making snap judgments (I am using “I” intentionally here). The data about Black kids in the American school system is real. Let’s review some data from the US Department of Education:

  • During the 2015–16 school year, Black students represented 15 percent of the total student enrollment, and 31 percent of students who were referred to law enforcement or arrested – a 16 percentage point disparity.
  • Black girls accounted for another 14 percent, even though they only accounted for 8 percent of all students. 
  • Black students and those with disabilities were also over-represented in school-based arrests. 
  • Data from Child Trends indicated that 54 percent of middle schools and high schools where at least 75 percent of the student body identified as Black had a sworn law enforcement officer or security guard in 2015-16.

These numbers are not by happenstance. We see this same trend in our society at large when it comes to wealth, prison populations, and CEO numbers. Implicit bias, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and inequity all play a role, but knowing this is why I start with myself.  A few places I reflect on include:

  • What messages have I internalized about different communities?
  • What generalizations am I making about my students or the people I work with?
  • How are my biases impacting the school community I serve?
  • Where does my archetype about schooling come from?
  • What archetypes do I have about what it means to be a student? How do I react when students do not match my archetype?

Once I understand my tendencies and attitudes, I act. For example, I was noticing that how I viewed behaviors by my Black kids varied by skin tone and size. I was not reading situations the same when they were coming from smaller and lighter Black boys than larger and darker Black boys. With a tendency to be more negative with the latter. This level of honesty and reflection is what it takes. In thinking about my actions and delving into why something is happening, I am able to become aware and adjust/correct my actions. I do this by:  

  • Reflecting on single stories and how they can be harmful in the classroom.
  • Confronting stereotypes I hold 
  • Filming my lessons and reflecting on my actions and reactions to various students.  Who did I engage with? Why?
  • Interrogating my tendencies - Who do I call on for errands? Who annoys me? What am I thinking about students when grading?
  • Reflecting on how my personal life story impacts that decisions I made in the classroom. How am I centering myself in the classroom? What messages have I internalized about my school community? Students and families? 
  • Learning out loud – I own when I make mistakes and it impacts students, families, and colleagues. I apologize and work with them to determine what can be done to move forward. 

All -ing verbs. These actions are in progress and ongoing. The list could go on and on, but remember it is personal work! It can’t be bought. Yes, there are resources like books, podcasts, or journals that would be helpful with engaging in self-work, but the key lies in getting real with yourself. In summary:

  • purchasing a book off a list of anti-racist books because in 2020 you’ve realized you have work to do – 17.99
  • the pack of erasable highlighters and pens used to markup the books – 14.98
  • implementing the information learned and engaging in self-critique – PRICELESS!

Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination. -Ibram X. Kendi

All Love.

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Tanesha Forman
Poetry and Social Justice in the Secondary Classroom

Poetry and Social Justice in the Secondary Classroom

Poetry is many things. It is:
an art form
a creative expression of emotions and feelings
a layered form of communication

As an ELA or social studies teacher, there are a number of ways to leverage poetry to delve into complex topics. One way I do this, is by making the connection of using poetry as a tool to engage in social and racial justice issues. Historically, there is a precedence for this. Much of the poetry derived during the Harlem Renaissance, was created by Black American poets seeking to reclaim and announce a strong sense of racial pride while denouncing the oppression and discrimination. Poets such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay used the art to send a radical message of resistance and liberation. Modern day poets such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Jaqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, and Kwame Alexander have used poetry to convey the complex and full lives of Black and Brown people. Their poems convey the passion, pride, and progress of individuals who have been marginalized. The messages presented in poetry are compelling, inspiring, and deserve discussion beyond the traditional elements of poetry. Students should discuss the power in poetry.
“She tells me words give people permission to be their fullest self and aren't these the poems I most needed to hear?”  ― Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X
Classroom Implementation
To start this lesson, brainstorm terms that will give students to the power to discuss the meaning of poems using common language. In a perfect world, these words will have had some place the classroom so this would be more review than teaching. That said, begin the lesson discussing key terms and if you have the time, link the terms to events either past or present that have had a social and racial justice center. If students are unfamiliar with this, cast a wider net by inviting them to think about songs that have broader societal message. Teachers can also use pictures from social and racial justice movements to discuss and reflect messages and personal reactions.
Posters used to develop a common language
Once students have grappled a bit with key terms and language, move forward by using a poem with a racial or social justice message. Below are a few examples:

  • Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni
  • Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
  • Dreams by Langston Hughes
  • Everyday We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Herrera

There are a number of ways to engage students in conversations with the poem, see my Google classroom example here. I present the poem with guided questions that are open ended and allow students (individually or in groups) to discuss the key questions. Below is the bulletin board version that students will add post it notes to throughout the week.
Bulletin Board Example
“We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained. – Nikki Giovanni
 After completing the reflection with the class, provide students with an opportunity to write their own social justice poem. Leverage the elements of poetry (stanzas, rhyme, figurative language) in leading students through the process of writing their poem.

  • Epic: A long and narrative poem that normally tells a story about a hero or an adventure.
  • Free Verse: A non-metrical and non-rhyming style that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech.
  • Just Because: A type of poetry that address stereotypes and perceptions. Each stanza starts with Just because I am, 3 lines that start with “Doesn’t Mean,” and ends with a line that start with “I am.”
  • Haiku: Three-line stanzas with a 5/7/5 syllable count. This form of poetry also focuses on the beauty and simplicity found in nature, or comparisons. 

After students have workshopped their poems, celebrate their success with publishing event. Given the topic of social justice, ask students if they are willing to share their poems and how? Do you leverage social and racial justice when teaching poetry? As a learner, I would love to connect in the comments.
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Tanesha Forman
It’s in the Details: A to Z Anti-bias/Anti-racist micro moments

It’s in the Details: A to Z Anti-bias/Anti-racist micro moments

One question I often receive is "what are anti-bias and anti-racist actions I can take on a daily basis?" A great question, but I am no expert...who is? I am a teacher seeking to do better by my school community every time I step in front of students. That said, I get it wrong. I learn. I do better. Below is an A to Z (draft) list of actions that all teachers can take to make their classrooms more welcoming and inclusive spaces.

**Note: This list is not a checklist. It's not intended to be used to say "I do that so my classroom is anti-bias and anti-racist." The work is in ongoing learning, honest reflection, and direct action. It's a belief in constantly questioning and challenging the status quo. I reserve the right to change my views as a evolve as a person.  
  • Apologize when you make a mistake. This is an underrated action, but demonstrates leadership and ownership for teachers. It models vulnerability for students and makes space for them to feel comfortable with failing forward. 
  • Build relationships with students and their “families.” Students have a network that exists far beyond school. Make an attempt to get to know the people in their lives – not for transactional purposes. Lean in and connect with families so that you can learn from them as the experts of their child, and partner with them for the sake of the student. Note: Families can refer to parents, guardians, coaches, mentors, cousins, friends, ect. 
If our first response to student behavior is to look for something punitive to do to kids, we are not looking for relationship. We are interested in regulation. No one likes to be controlled.   - Tamara Russell (Mrs. Russell's Room)
  • Celebrate student personal bests and growth. Each student brings a unique set of skills, strengths, and opportunities for growth. It’s not best practice to limit them with comparisons and “absolute bars” for achievement. Recognizing growth opens the door for teachers to see and respond to each student's specific needs.
  • Discuss race, class, privilege, power, gender identity, diversity & student career and life interests.  Equipping students with the language and knowledge of our history that is rooted in inequity will empower them as they navigate a world where they are bombarded with stereotypes, microagressions, and racism. It also counters the narrative that such topics are "taboo," and provides space for students to reflect and process on issues that might currently impact them. A discussion increases the likelihood of students feeling seen and validated. Additionally, take time to get to know student’s why. Check out this post on how to support student’s dreams and aspirations. 
  •  Encourage students to focus on their internal locus of control. Let students know the importance of doing what they can to impact situations and knowing when to step back. Discuss situations that extend beyond their sphere of control and strategies for moving forward. 
    Example from Missing Tooth Grins
  • Foster a classroom environment with a sense of belief and belonging. Be intentional about the direct actions that you take to let students know they are welcome and belong in your classroom – as they are. Does your classroom or school have:
        • gender neutral bathrooms?
        • diverse books in the library?
        • time for students to share their interests?
        • student led goals? 
        • teachers who welcome students into their classrooms?
        • classroom contracts/rules created by students? 
        • representative signage? 
  • Give asset based feedback. When assessing student work, leverage their strengths as a tool for pushing them. Build them up by what they know and can do. An asset-based approach focuses on building relationships and an understanding of students rather than punishing them for what they don’t know or can’t do yet.
  • Have students evaluate their work. Self-reflection is a major life skill. Allowing students to reflect on their work taps into their why and increases their ownership for their work. It also gives teachers a window into how students feel about the work. 
  • Increase student classroom responsibilities. #ownership The classroom should not revolve around the teacher, but rather the students. Below are ideas, but not all encompassing. The bigger idea is focusing on inviting students into the process of managing their education. Can students choose:
      • their partners for group work? 
      • activities from a choice board? 
      • their seats?
      • classroom jobs?
  • Just do the work. Prioritize reading, researching, and rethinking your teaching practices. The “work” is not linear, but the continuous practice of self-reflection and self-awareness regarding what and how you are leading your classroom. Here’s some resources (no affiliate link):
- ADL (see their curriculum) 
- This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
  • Know your triggers. Understand how your beliefs and views about a situation influence your reactions in the situation. Get meta and reflect on the root causes of your triggers. BE HONEST and go beyond surface level thinking. Is there something about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and/or other lines of difference that influence how you respond in a given situation?
  • Listen to student perspectives. I solve 99% of issues with students by listening to their truths. There are times when we aren’t aligned and times when I realized that I’ve made an error, but students should be allowed to share their perspective and teachers should recognize that we miss things in the classroom.
  • Make a plan for what to do when triggered. After digging deep and reflecting on your triggers, make a plan for what you will do if you encounter that trigger again AND steps you can take to restore relationships that might have been impacted by your response when triggered.
  • Normalize and celebrate differences and individuality. We are all unique and have unique experience, backgrounds, and personalities. This is the fabric of life that allows us to connect, agree, and disagree with others. It’s who we are and to be seen, we have to recognize difference. Regardless of the physical makeup and demographics of your classroom, there are differences.
  • Observe and address negative student interactions and bullying. The students are watching and noticing how we react to their interactions. They are wondering if there are bright light lines and given age and grade, sometimes challenging one other. As educators, we have to be vigilant and responsive to student relationships.
  • Provide a space for students to gather their emotions (e.g. Calm corner). We all need moments to chill out and gather ourselves. The stresses and dynamics of any classroom can be overwhelming. A non-punitive space for students to reflect truly humanizes the spirit of being a kid and needing time away from others.
Click here to see full the post
  • Quit holding grudges, they’re kids.
  • Represent differences as strengths. In the last few years the tag #representationmatters has trended on social media. Personally, we should always reflect on how we are holding space for diversity. This is regardless of the demographics of our classroom. 
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.    - Audre Lorde
  • Stop with all the student v. student, student v. teacher competitions. A little competition isn’t the worst thing. Be mindful of FERPA guidelines and how we are pinning students against one another and sharing data. Additionally, I believe it’s never a great practice to include classroom “management” practices that pin the teacher against students. Yes, I get the difference between a staff versus students basketball game. I'm thinking of the old school point for the teacher if a student does something that breaches a classroom expectation. This creates a negative form of peer pressure that can lead to bullying. 
  • Teach the truth. For years, the country has suffered from a fantastical view of history. From Christopher Columbus "discovering" lands that were inhabited by people, to Martin Luther King being solely rooted in nonviolence and kindness. We have sensationalized history and erased the truth about hardships and perspectives. Teachers play a critical role in providing students a pathway to analyzing historical events with truth, not rose tinted lies.  If you are a primary teacher, LaNesha Tabb and Naomi O'Brien are doing the work, run check them out. 
  • Use learning activities that allow students to share and shine. Students learn in different ways and have different strengths. Consider activities that give students an opportunity to show what they know. Think about how lessons can incorporate different learning styles. 
  • Value and plan for wait time. It might seem like a small action, but giving students time to process before requiring an answer can go a long way!
  • (e)Xamine the messages. What does your classroom say to students. Whether you are someone who color coordinates with a full theme, or minimalist with only the essentials, take time to consider what the environment says to students.
Click here to read the full caption
  • Yes, see color! It is 2020, colorblindness isn’t a thing. Stop with the, “I treat all my students the same because I don’t see color” beliefs. That’s crazy! Kids with the same racial backgrounds see color. Please view this post on colorism for more information. 
In a colorblind society, white people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). 
  • Zoom in on who/what is centered in your classroom.  Evaluate your curriculum. Who is being silenced, and which voices are being uplifted? Why? How are you challenging dominate and factually incorrect historical events (hello Thanksgiving and Christopher Columbus). Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, Juneteenth? If yes, are you highlighting the achievements and major contributions of individuals and groups, or exploiting their pain and suffering?
Fryberg, S. M. (2010). When the World Is Colorblind, American Indians Are Invisible: A Diversity Science Approach. Psychological Inquiry, 21(2), 115-119.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to engage. What are other actions teachers can take?

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Tanesha Forman
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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Tanesha Forman