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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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Tanesha B Forman
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
Keeping Your Classroom Crisp After Spring Break

Keeping Your Classroom Crisp After Spring Break

It’s so easy for students to check out after testing and spring break. As teachers we know how critical it is to thread student investment through the end of the year. Here are some tips and tricks that work to drive student engagement:

  1. CREATE A COUNTDOWN: Keep students excited by starting a end of grade countdown!
  2. CELEBRATE PROGRESS: Acknowledge and reward your kids’ progress!  They’ve worked so hard all year - don’t let that go unnoticed.
  3. COMPARE & CONTRAST: Read a book and watch the movie; afterwards set your students up to have meaningful discussion about the two.
  4. REFLECT: Have your students create a class or individual  memory book from the past school year.
  5. RAMP UP YOUR LESSON  PLANNING: Make sure your plans are tight and expectations don’t slip.
  6. INCORPORATE (more) BRAIN BREAKS:  Again, our kids work hard!  Build in a few extra brain breaks through the day to keep them fresh.
  7. STEP UP YOUR INVESTMENT SYSTEM: Be purposeful and diligent in keeping your kids invested in your class and their individual goals.  
  8. SPRUCE UP YOUR LESSONS WITH GAMES: Get silly by incorporating games into your lessons.  My kids are ALWAYS up for Pie Face, CSI, and Four Corners, to name a few.
  9. SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: Be open about what they can expect in the following school year.
  10. PREPARE: Give students work they will do in the next grade level.
  11. PROJECTS: Allow students to do projects reflective of their best learning styles
  12. PLAN A FIELD TRIP:  Take your learnings outside of school.  Seize the opportunity to have your students learn from other environments.

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Tanesha B. Forman
Nurturing Gratitude in the Classroom

Nurturing Gratitude in the Classroom

Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
I've been exploring student empowerment and voice, and my role in creating a classroom culture that fosters the next generation of leaders and thinkers. This has led me to more lessons that focus on character education.
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.   - JFK
Gratitude is something I am trying (#inprogress) to embed in the daily language and habits of my classroom.  Why? Well, gratitude ups the positivity and optimism in the classroom and celebrates the rocky road of learning. Sometimes we fail or make mistakes, but often times those shortcomings have lessons that thankfully make us better. Below are a few strategies for cultivating the life habit of gratitude, in and out of the classroom.

1) Gratitude Journals 
Gratitude journals are perfect for capturing thankful thoughts on a regular basis. Journals give a personal space for students to reflect and collect all their grateful thoughts, and learn more about what really matters to them. Students can write to open-ended to prompts, create a story, write a list, or draw pictures that connect to gratitude. I use interactive notebook templates and a mini journal for students. I like the templates because of the variety of responses and outputs that can be used. I also use "mini" journals that don't require all the cutting and are just as effective. To take it to the next level with my fourth grade class, we have a classroom "Joy Journal" that circulates from student to student. Students can choose whether or not to share their name at the top (most do) and I assign someone to be the Joy contributor once a week. Students are only required to complete one entry.
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2) Quotes 
Quotes can be inspirational and spark engaging discussions and reflections in the classroom. As it relates to gratitude, I use quotes for student reflections by posting a quote and asking related questions such as:
   ✪ What does it mean?
   ✪ How does it connect to gratitude?
   ✪ Do you agree with the message? Why?
   ✪ How would you apply this message to your life?

3) Recognition
Recognizing gratitude and celebrating it regularly helps build the muscle memory that hopefully will extend beyond the classroom. The goal is for students to genuinely and frequently do this on their own. Strategies include having a gratitude challenge, giving awards, and posting shout outs. The more I've made what matters the most in our classroom visible, the more I've seen students making an attempt to show gratitude. As the classroom leader, I'm constantly trying to model this habit in my words and actions.

4) Gratitude Jar
Gratitude Jars are an awesome tool for classrooms to build a collective gratitude movement in the classroom. Students can place their gratitude in the jars and teachers can read them when the class needs a pick me up or a part of your morning meeting routine.
5) Classroom Meetings 
Classroom meeting are great for bring the class together and focusing on gratitude. Students can turn and talk to their peers about something they are grateful for, reflect on quotes, pull from the gratitude jar, share shout outs, or give awards. We have a little chant that we do when doing shout outs. It goes:
for all you do! 
When use this after giving shouts and students LOOOVVVEEE it! For those of us who don't have a designated classroom meeting time, think about the time before dismissal when you are closing out the lesson. As you wrap up celebrate the learning with questions like:
✪ Is there anyone who helped with you better understand the lesson?
✪ What are you thankful you learned today?

Interested in more? Click here
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Tanesha B Forman
Student Voice in the Classroom

Student Voice in the Classroom

When thinking about student voice in my classroom a few things come to mind. The biggest and most important (in my opinion) is the agency students have over their educational experience, and how they are valued as members of our classroom community. While I am the instructional leader of my classroom, my students are the most important contributors to the success of the classroom.
❤ I value the (reasonable) feedback of my students as an opportunity for me to get better, and for them to learn as much as possible.
❤ I value the knowledge and experience that my students bring to my classroom and strive to create a classroom that is relevant and inclusive. 
❤ I believe that student leadership and active involvement is critical to developing young minds and citizens.  

1) Foster Collaboration 
☆Allow students to work together in groups.

2) Leverage Social Media and Technology
Do you use Twitter? Instagram? Have a class website? Teachers can use these sites to get students sharing ideas with each other, updating parents, and quickly communicating with students. Many schools are moving towards 1:1 classrooms and using Google documents, or a comparable platform for class assignments. This technology lends itself to students quicker feedback cycles.

3) Administer Class and Student Interest Surveys 
Class surveys allow teachers to collect invaluable information about the classroom climate and gives teachers a window into how students feel about their teacher. Some of the data *might* be difficult to digest, but it gives teachers a data point for which to improve and forge a stronger classroom culture. Teachers can take it to the next level (if comfortable) and have class discussions about the data. Student interest surveys, which most teachers administer during the beginning of the year are another way for teachers to get to know students and plan to leverage their interests into the class.

4) Listen 
Students want to feel heard. Even in the most challenging situations, teachers should remind students that their voice matters and that you are listening to them. When students are too upset to talk I usually say, "I want to hear your side when you are ready" and I circle back to them. Asking students key questions such as:
☆ How did that make you feel?
☆ What can be done to improve?
☆ Is there anything you want to share?
☆ I heard you say... Is this correct?
These questions reinforce that you want to listen and that perception matters to you. In my class this strategy has improved relationships with students and built trust.

5) Use Classroom Bulletin Boards & Parking Lot
Bulletin boards and parking lots are another way to gather key information from students that can amplify student voice. The key here is to respond to the data and call your shot for students by naming the changing you are making based on their feedback.
6) Incorporate Socratic Seminars
I love the discussion cycle with students! Students prep and respond to each other. Socratic seminars require students to analyze a text and engage in conversations that help each other better comprehend ideas and issues in the text. Students are solely responsible for preparing for the conversation and keeping it moving using the habits of discussion. Students come to shared meaning of the text through listening and providing specific evidence for an argument.

7) Use Show Calls to Display Student Work 
Similar to show and tell, but it's all about their work. After giving students a written assignment, or independent practice, I walk around the room giving quick feedback and looking for a student work. Teachers can select a student paper that represents a common misconception, nailed it, or falls somewhere in between. Take the paper and project it using a doc camera so that all students can clearly see it. If it's the first time doing this, be sure to set expectations or model how to evaluate each other's worth with respect. After projecting the work, lead the class through a discussion where they analyze it by explaining key strengths and areas for growth. This should be a student discussion and afterwards have students to use the feedback they gave each other to update their own work.

8) Have Students Set Goals 
Setting goals is another way to promote student perspective and voice in the classroom. Depending on the age of students, they'll likely need support with tracking goals. In my classroom we use the goal boards created with resources from the Super Hero Teacher and each student has their goal on their desk. For my students who struggled with goal setting, I taught them how to write and a track a goal for the week. Each student at my school sets a quarterly goal with their family members.

9) Give Student Choice Menus
I love these for projects and early finishers. Teachers give students a menu of options to select to do after they've completed the required work, or even as homework. I celebrate power of choice in my classroom.

10) Shout Outs
Shouts out are a great way for students to celebrate each other. Teachers can post shouts in the room or simply have a time when students can share their shout outs. Something I've found helpful is for students to understand what makes a shout out powerful. We talk about the difference between saying "Shout out to my friend Candy" versus "I'd like to shout out Candy for being a friend who listens to me and helps me feel better during difficult times."

What additional strategies do you have? Let's discuss in the comments!


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Tanesha B Forman


Dear Tanesha,

Please get over stuff! For real. I know that you are an overachiever, but it's really time for you to get over the STUFF that does NOT matter the most. You are annoyed because your classroom doesn't look like the ones on Pinterest, and your activities don't "look" as fun, and the list goes on and on.
No, you don't have your "own" classroom you rotate. The kids in the classrooms you travel to need you. 
Yes, all your school boxes are still home. You can take what you need, when you need it. 
No, you aren't going to have a classroom that is fit for Pinterest. That's not why you teach. 
I get it, there are a lot of things that are bothering you, but please stay grounded in what your students actually need. If you don't you're going to be a living version of Taco Town from the Saturday Night Live skit! For your memory, I've included the video below!
You don't see the connection??? Let me remind you. This video starts with three friends enjoying a taco, and then a voice comes out of nowhere and wants to add to it, and add to it, and add to it until it's basically inedible and quite frankly a mess. Here's the connection, you're frustrated there are so many THINGS you want to do, but can't right now. As a result, you are creating problems without purpose. Your students, families and colleagues LOVE YOU! You don't have full control over the curriculum, but your school makes an admirable effort with being culturally responsive. You do with best with what you have and students genuinely enjoy your classes.

Remember, the stuff on the walls is not going to teach the kids. This isn't about YOU it's about what's best for kids, and you're blessed to teach them!

Stay Gold,

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Tanesha B Forman
Exploring Identity and Privilege

Exploring Identity and Privilege

As I continue to grow as a teacher, I explore who and I am, and why I teach. Being a teacher is an important part of my identity, but there are so many other parts of my identity that are intertwined into the "WHY" I teaching. I've also realized that my students are also thinking about their identity. I took a bold step forward and decided to engage with my students... and I'm loving every minute of it!

What is identity? The qualities, characteristics or beliefs that make a person who they are.
Why discuss it? You and your students already do!  Ever heard students teasing each other with the phrase "what are those?" Yes, this is connected to identity. While it seems like a harmless pop culture phrase, it's essentially an attack on someone's socioeconomic or social identity. It's essentially saying the shoes that you are wearing are off brand, or not the latest. Sounds pretty innocent right? Well, I hate to share how many times I've consoled upset scholars about being asked this, and how many times they've shared the connection to what their families could or could not afford. This is a very basic example, but I've dealt with students making assumptions about the identities of others (e.g. calling a Latina student white, or a biracial student black). Middle school (IMO) is all about identity and exploring who we are. As a teachers most of us are having organic in the moment conversations with our students; so why not be planned and give students a space through which to discuss what they're already discussing...their identity.
How? There are a plethora of activities that give students an opportunity to explore their identity. The majority of them I am sure many teachers have used in the past (told you that you already to it). One intentional move that I made when discussing identity with students was simply naming what we were doing. We are going to discuss our identity. This means the characteristics that make us who we are. Part of our identity may be visible to others and while other parts aren't. Sometimes people will make assumptions about our identities that may or may not be true. Some parts of our identity might change over the course of our lives, and others will not. 
Click here for this activity

Below are a few activities that connect to identity
♡ All About Me crafts
♡ I AM poems
♡ Growth Mindset activities
♡ Journals
♡ Autobiographical Writing
♡ Family Trees
♡ Find Someone Who
♡ Roll and Share (with dice)
♡ Show & Tell
♡ Life Map
♡ Student Questionnaire

What is privilege? Privilege is unearned access to resources only available to some people as a result of part of their real or perceived identity.
Why? Whoa, I'll admit this is a difficult concept to grasp for anyone, let only middle schoolers! Part of my teaching philosophy includes my belief that I am teaching the future. Therefore, they must grapple with and challenge their position in the world. In my class, 100% of my students identify as people of color. They are having ongoing conversations about events in the world and our community that intersect with race, class, and privilege. As a teacher I could shy away from this, but I choose not to. I embrace the discomfort in order to benefit the future presidents, athletes, teachers, doctors, botanists, and whatever else that sit in my class.
How? This is all my opinion as there's no manual (that I've found) on discussing privilege with middle schoolers. I wanted them to have a "seat at the table," access to knowledge about the world, and an opportunity to spark curiosity and conversation within our class about the intersectionality of identity and privilege. Strategies:

♥ Discuss the definition of privilege
♥ Use scenarios to provoke thought on how we can use our privilege to help others
♥ Have students reflect on the privileges they don't have and how that might impact them
♥ Ask meaty questions like "how can privilege create a system of oppression?" or "how can we use our privilege to make the world a better place?

A Few Big Ideas:
  1. Privilege doesn't mean that your life is easy. 
  2. There are different parts of our identity that may afford us privilege which include: race, socioeconomic status, language, country of origin, gender, religion, education, ect. 
  3. Everyone has multiple layers of their identity and areas of privilege. 
  4. All privilege is not equal. 
  5. Sometimes privilege is based on perception versus reality. 
  6. Privilege is complex. 
As a teacher I've jumped all in with creating a social justice and global citizen movement in my classroom. It's taken a pinch of courage, a dash of creativity, spoonful of humility, and bowl of research. Do you discuss identity and privilege in your classroom? Have questions? Concerns? I'd love to connect with you in the comments.

Interested in a full unit on identity and privilege? Click here!
With ❤,

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Tanesha B Forman