Things I Do Not Control

  • I am white.
  • I am heterosexual.
  • I was born in the United States of America.
  • I was born into a Christian family.
  • I was born into a middle class family.
  • I was born to English-speaking parents.
  • I was born to loving parents.
  • I was born into a well-educated family.
  • I was born into a very supportive, large, extended family.
  • I attended schools in well-respected districts.
  • I was born healthy.
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Some of my fabulous extended family.

I am sure there are so many more things that have made my life easy from the day I was born. All of us have ways in which we are privileged. All of us have ways we face challenges in our society. For me, being female puts me at a disadvantage in many ways.

When I look at that list above, I know that I am very lucky. I am grateful for the twist of fate that gave me so much privilege. I realize, though, that it was solely a twist of fate. I did nothing to deserve all of this. Those without so much privilege did nothing to deserve the added challenges they face.

Teacher vs. Learner – Thank You, Carla Rinaldi

I’m gonna start with the admission that I clearly have a lot to learn about Reggio Emilia (and have books winging their way here to solve that). That said, one of the things that struck me from hearing Carla Rinaldi speak was how students and teachers do not have as rigid of roles in Reggio Emilia as they do here. She spoke frequently about what the children teach us and about teachers as learners.

Carla Me and Ice Cream

Yes, I got to eat ice cream with Carla Rinaldi. Actually, she didn’t eat any ice cream because she was too full from the seafood dinner. I did not have that problem.

 

In my classroom I tell my students, “If you’re not working with a teacher come on over to the carpet.” (The idea is that if kids are working one-on-one or in a small group with a teacher they don’t have to stop. Otherwise they assume they have to.) Instead, I try to say, “If you’re not working with an adult…” I want my students to see themselves as teachers too. They teach me and each other on a daily basis.

So, I’m wondering, what’s the difference between teachers and learners? Should we make that distinction? Aren’t we all teaching and learning? Sometimes even at the same time? I would love for my students to see all of us as learners and as teachers.

Constructing Modern Knowledge, Continued

I’m gone from Manchester, NH, away from the seven others in my group, no longer in the presence of Carla Rinaldi or Edith Ackerman or Cynthia Solomon. A part of me feels the way our space felt after we had dismantled our water show. Empty. Sad.

Empty

Another part of me is still flying around full of ideas and questions and thoughts I need to process. In fact, so many that I have had trouble getting started. I’m sure Gary and Sylvia wouldn’t approve, but I tend to think of CMK as two parts. There’s the project work, done either alone or with a group. And there’s the guest speakers and educational experts who are at CMK. I’ve written a little about both already but I’ve only skimmed the surface. I say Gary and Sylvia wouldn’t approve because those two parts are intertwined. They aren’t separate things. CMK is far too well designed for that.

In spite of that, right now I’m focused on the project work from the week. Eight of us, none of whom knew each other (I’m fairly certain) before we arrived in Manchester, spent four days together creating a water show. It ended up being a bit Rube Goldberg-ish which just made it even better in my mind.

Water Show

We actually began as two separate groups who joined forces. I was in the water show group and we joined a group who was trying to create an interactive something with music and lights. I could not have liked or had more fun with my group members if I’d tried.

On our first day together we actually worked to create a plan for our project. The plan you see here came near the end of the first day after we’d talked for quite a long time, made lists of ideas and questions, and changed our minds again and again. All with lots of joy and laughter as we threw out ideas. Most of our ideas sounded ridiculous to me. I thought there was no way we could create this.

Plan

As the days went on, we worked alone or with others, conversations continued and things evolved, we walked away from ideas and threw things away. We collaborated in so many different ways. And even when it was hard or challenging or frustrating, it was still fun.

One of the things Carla Rinaldi said multiple times was about the importance of learning as a part of a group and learning as a group. I’m still working on understanding that idea. (This is why I think Gary and Sylvia would disagree with the idea that CMK is two parts. My thinking about one part is influenced by the other. As I said, they are intertwined.)

I know I learned a lot as a part of this group. I learned about coding and engineering and crafting from the members of my group. I learned about the different ways we all worked and learned, something that I found fascinating as I think about my own students and how I support them.

What did I/we learn as a group? I’m not certain. What does it mean to learn ‘as a group’ rather than ‘as a part of a group’? I think of learning as an individual thing (not that it happens in isolation but that it happens within one). This is an idea that will require some ongoing thought and reflection.

Constructing Modern Knowledge, Day Two (Part One)

Yesterday was a LONG day. Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) began with a short tutorial on the Hummingbird from Gary Stager. (As I bought a Hummingbird a while back and still haven’t ever used it I’m hoping this will push me to feel more comfortable pulling those pieces out of the boxes and building something with my daughters.) After the tutorial there was a bit of time to work on our project. Thanks to Maria Knee, a faculty member at CMK who is local and a kindergarten teacher, we now have a baby pool for staging our water show and a vacuum cleaner to blow up the weather balloon we are including in said show. (If that all sounds a bit absurd, just wait. It’ll get even better over the next two days!)

Rinaldi

The part of the day that I was waiting for (and is one of the most significant reasons I wanted to be at CMK this year) was a talk from Carla Rinaldi, the president of Reggio Children. If you aren’t familiar with Reggio Emilia you may want to do some reading. (I highly recommend The Teacher You Want to Be, a collection of essays based on a study trip to Italy.) Carla is Italian and yet she spoke to us about the learning and teaching happening in Reggio Emilia in English. The idea of giving a talk to a large group in a second (or possibly more) language is astounding to me.

Rinaldi Slide

I have so much to say about this talk I don’t even know where to begin. Part of it are still ringing in my head a day later (Trust the children. Relationships are fundamental. Make visible the competent child.) There is no doubt in my mind that I will continue to hear here words and her voice in my head for quite some time. I think hearing her makes that more true than reading does. There’s something so powerful about sitting ten feet from someone and listening to them that burns it into your memory.

One of the first things Carla said (and yes, I’m calling her Carla in my head now) was, “We don’t only educate children and students, we are educating citizens.” What is happening in Reggio Emilia is unique in education, I believe, because children are seen very differently than elsewhere. The first tenet of Reggio about which Carla spoke was “an idea of a child/human being as holder of rights and potentials.” Children are not seen as less than or incapable. Children are researchers, thinkers, learners, and teachers just as adults are. It is a switch that I believe has come gradually to me over my career. I’m sorry I didn’t get to it far sooner.

The most ringing thing I heard from Carla yesterday was, “Trust the children.” She went on to say that it isn’t easy to do so but that the children have never betrayed us. Trust the children. What a different educational belief than the ones in which we live in our society. We don’t trust the children or the teachers. Trust the children. Again, it’s taken me years to come to this. How much precious time I wasted.

Along the same vein, children and teachers are both seen as researchers in Reggio and they are interdependent. Children are researching and learning about their world and each other. Teachers are doing the same and especially researching and learning about the children in their care. Carla shared the classic story of Laura and the Watch, which you can read here in the sixth paragraph. That child, a ten month old, and that teacher are both clearly researching and learning.

Finally, for the moment, Carla also spoke about the importance of relationships. Relationships between teachers and students are obviously critical, but she also spoke about the importance of relationships with peers. She also said, “The children taught us this.” It’s clear that the approach to learning and teaching in Reggio comes out of observing and researching the children in their care.

The children taught us this.

(There was so much more to yesterday. I have so many more thoughts from Carla Rinaldi as well as from our trip to the MIT Media Lab in Boston where we had the opportunity to hear Dr. Mitchel Resnick share about the lab and his Lifelong Kindergarten group and Dr. Stephen Wolfram. Those thoughts will have to wait for the moment.)

Constructing Modern Knowledge, Day 1

 

The first day of Constructing Modern Knowledge has been, so far, all about figuring out a project and getting going with it. The group I joined is working to create a water show. That was our initial plan. Pretty broad, huh? As the day went on it seems to have evolved into a water show that will demonstrate the water cycle – a mechanical dragon (we’re creating and programming) will shower water into two places, a pool and a bucket. The bucket will have holes in the bottom so the water can ‘rain’ down. Then we’ll have a place where the water mists (as in the second picture below) to show condensation.

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We also want our water show to be interactive so some of us are working on side parts. I worked with these two to create a water wheel (they built it out of legos and I did the coding in Scratch and got the Makey Makey set up). Tomorrow we’ll have to determine exactly how people interact with it to make it move or stop.

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We’ve got more time over the next three days and some very ambitious plans but today was a good start. At the end of the day we gathered in groups to reflect. Based on those reflections, I have some:

  • I spent portions of today not participating and I know I wasn’t alone. The conversation was over my head and I didn’t have anything to contribute (or I didn’t think so and since I’m willing to talk A LOT it seems like a safe assumption). I observed and listened and tried to learn but I’m sure I appeared passive. Do I/we allow our kids to do that? Or do I/we push those kids to ‘get involved!’?
  • In that same vein, at times the conversation was over my head for long enough and I felt overwhelmed and zoned out. I didn’t take the opportunity to learn more about the coding or design plans. I’m sure I wouldn’t be okay with letting my kids do that. (I feel especially sympathetic to my second language learners as it felt like another language at points.)
  • Lots of folks talked about the struggles working in a group. The challenge of convincing folks to do the idea you have or to give in and go along with someone else’s (certainly less impressive) idea. One person talked about how it’s easier to just go away and do what you want or what you’re good at than it is to be a part of a group that isn’t all on the same page (as is true of groups most of the time). It got me thinking about how much more I need to support kids in working together rather than just throw them in groups and hope for the best.
  • Near the end of the day I was using Scratch and Makey Makey and finally feeling like I was getting it (again, at a very, very basic level). It felt great! Others in my group weren’t there and I just ran with what I was doing. I didn’t take the time to explain to them or let them try it. I’m sure they felt as lost as I had felt earlier. I’m struggling with whether or not that was okay. I was just getting it and I wanted the feeling of success. Maybe I needed to just do it because it was still so new. But was it reasonable to leave them out of the progress?
  • It’s interesting to note the different ways people approach something they don’t know. I always assume I can figure it out. It might not be pretty, I might turn to google, I might ask a lot of questions, and it might be a slow process, but I’ll get there. Others want to have things modeled for them or explain to them. I don’t think one way is better than the other (actually I think there are reasons each way is great and other reasons each way stinks). I just need to remember that not all of my students are going to approach learning in the same way I do.
  • There was lots of talk about hitting roadblocks or wall and how that felt. Some folks needed to take a break, walk around, clear their minds, and come back with a new perspective. Again I wondered if this was something we would allow students to do? There was also conversation about how it feels when you hit a wall and someone else suggests something that seems so obvious but hadn’t occurred to you. It’s both wonderful not to be stuck any more and awful to feel like you missed such a clear answer.
  • Finally, also quite a bit of discussion about how intimidating it can be to see others being successful when you feel so stuck. Sometimes the others aren’t even actually being that successful, it’s just your perception of it. But it can be intimidating and demoralizing. You want to feel that success but you aren’t. Some people might find that motivating, but most of us just feel disheartened.

That’s a lot for me to chew on right now! Tomorrow will include more work on our project, a talk from Carla Rinaldi, and a trip to Boston to visit the MIT Media Lab with Mitchel Resnick and a talk from Stephen Wolfram.

Do All Lives Truly Matter?

As some folks feel a need to debate if it should be #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter I’ve seen some wonderful analogies to help them understand why BLM is happening. One person wrote about attending multiple fundraisers for breast cancer cures. She said no one comes running in to those events screaming about the importance of colon cancer or skin cancer or some other disease. Another described someone going to see a doctor for a broken bone. The doctor addresses that bone, the doctor doesn’t say, “Well, what about all these other bones?”

BLM

From 5chw4r7z’s flickr

I have absolutely no doubt that every life does matter, every life is special. I also have absolutely no doubt that some lives, in our society, are not seen that way by many. I’ve heard enough people talk about my students and my students’ families to know that their lives are not as important to many as they should be.

Most of what I hear people say is so common, so typical, I think many people wouldn’t even notice.Comments about ‘these students’ need or ‘these students’ should or ‘these families’ don’t. Sweeping generalizations that begin with ‘these students’ or ‘these families’ should be a red flag. If what follows those two words isn’t something you’d say about your neighbors or your friends, it’s time to pause and rethink the statement.

I’ve admitted before to my own racism. I’m not proud of it but I am reflective enough to recognize it. I can feel it as I skim through Black Lives Matter protest photos on Flickr. I see images of young black men standing up, arms raised, energizing a crowd and I can feel two emotions. One is positive, a feeling of excitement and hope that this is happening. One is fear of a powerful, young, black man. I can recognize that fear and fight it. Or I can pretend it isn’t there. Pretending doesn’t help me. It allows my bias and racism to continue without a struggle.

As a teacher my racism is not a matter of life or death for someone. I’m not armed. I don’t have that sort of power. That’s true for the great majority of us. Our racism won’t directly endanger the life of a person of color. Our racism is more subtle, it’s danger is more insidious, harder to fight in some ways. If I hold lower expectations of a student because of their skin color or their socioeconomic status or the way they talk or the music they listen to or how they dress, that’s dangerous for them. It’s not as visible. But it is harmful.

I’ve just begun reading Christopher Emdin‘s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. On page 10 he writes:

For teachers to acknowledge that the ways they perceive, group, and diagnose students has a dramatic impact on student outcomes, moves them toward reconciling the cultural differences they have with students, a significant step toward changing the way educators engage with urban youth of color.

I’ll suggest this statement speaks far more broadly than just urban youth of color.

We are still a society that values some more than others. I think that’s been true of all societies for centuries. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we are different, better than those of the past. We have a long way to go to truly live the idea that All Lives Matter.

No Words of My Own

After waking up twice in recent days to learn of black men killed by police I have no words. Instead I’ve spent time combing through the words of others.

One of the first I read came from Rafranz Davis, Another Night, Another Shooting. She has a perspective I, by fate of birth, do not, that of a mother of a Black son. The quote that really got me was:

Discussing it and not planning a funeral is a privilege.

Damon Young, at VSB (VerySmartBrothas), wrote a piece that was shared widely among folks I respect. He looks back at his reaction to previous killings and what that means for him now.

The act of reacting to the state sanctioned murders of Black Americans has chipped away at me. So much so that everything I’m saying and doing and thinking about this right now feels rote and perfunctory. Like I’m reading from a script, or going through a pre-game walk-through in a hotel ballroom.

Tamara Russell wrote What Do We Do Next? about ways teachers can support kids in dealing with these killings.

Interestingly enough, with something like this, you would think that teachers would be thinking of their own students and closing ranks on a definitive way that lets the families of their students know that ‘we stand with you’.  On the contrary, what is currently happening, more and more, with each ‘viral killing’ is more teachers defending the police who have done the killing.  The comments are everywhere.

Justin Cohen has advice for white folks.

2.  What happened to Alton Sterling is, in fact, about race. If you are tempted to change the subject to something else, please resist that urge. Police kill Black people at a rate disproportionate to both criminal activity and their presence in the population at large.

Chris Lehmann got two posts off in the past couple of days. A Deadly Combination:

The promise of this country is everywhere. The possibilities and progress is here to be had. But we are a country drunk on racism and drunk on guns.

And together, those two things are a toxicity that will erode the best, most noble ideals of what America can be.

And For White Teachers in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter:

These issues come into our classrooms, whether we acknowledge them or not. And as Pia Martin (among others) reminds us, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism. We, as white teachers, do not have the luxury of pretending the world doesn’t impact our classroom and our students.

Dean Dad, a former Political Science professor, wrote Criminal Justice Programs After Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

I’m no Platonist; I don’t believe that knowing the good and doing the good are the same thing.  But if I didn’t believe that knowledge and reflection matter, I wouldn’t have become an educator.

Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, wrote Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering for the New York Times.

The video of Mr. Sterling’s death allows us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice. There will be protest as his family and community try to find something productive to do with sorrow and rage. Mr. Sterling’s past will be laid bare, every misdeed brought to light and used as justification for police officers choosing to act as judge, jury and executioner — due process in a parking lot.

A piece in the Washington Post gives us a picture of Philando Castile through the eyes of families and staff at the school at which he worked.

Rebecca Penfold Murray, who has two 5-year-old children at J.J. Hill, said Castile seemed to know every student’s name. He knew them, too, carrying on conversations about their classrooms and their interests as they made their way through the cafeteria line each day.

BoingBoing addressed how clearly the 2nd Amendment and the NRA’s beliefs don’t apply to Black people.

The National Rifle Association has been silent after Wednesday’s police killing of Philando Castile, a 32 year old black man who had a conceal carry gun license, and whose legal right to that weapon played a key role in his death.

Surprisingly enough, if you want to know about all the people who have been killed by police in 2016 (and 2015), The Guardian is tracking this information. You can quickly see total number as well as breakdown by race and state. You can search by individual or filter by a variety of information, including armed/unarmed, gender, age, and more.

Project Implicit does some fascinating work around bias in a variety of ways, including racism. You can take one of their tests here and gain some insight into your own biases. There is no question in my mind, even without Project Implicit’s tests, that I am racist. It is something I will continue to fight every day.

Respond with Care

The end of the year is hard. Every single year. It’s hard for the kids and the teachers and the parents. Everyone feels overwhelmed and stressed. It results in people responding to one another in ways that hurt, ways that lack care. I know I do it. I see it again and again.

Battle

from my former colleague and friend, Glennon Doyle Melton

I try to hang on to this idea. I have no idea what is going on in people’s lives. They deserve my care.

This is most difficult for me to watch when it is an adult and a child. This time of year results in many power struggles between teachers and students. This time of year is when many teachers lose patience quickly. This time of year is when many teachers take away recess or play time or send notes home for things that would have been fine just a few months ago. Many teachers. Myself included.

My goal is to respond to others, especially children, with care. (Thank you, Nel Noddings.) My thinking is that if a child is struggling with something, if there are challenges in this child’s life that are resulting in behaviors that drive me crazy and I respond with care and love, then that’s the right response.

If the child isn’t struggling with something, if the child is just being a pain in the tush or defiant for defiance sake*, and I respond with care and love, where is the problem in that? What is lost because I have responded with care and love rather than with anger and recriminations?

I have no idea what sort of weight others are carrying. No idea what struggles they face or pains they are feeling. This is true for the children around me and for the adults. Those adults I see who I feel are not showing children love and care? Those adults deserve that I treat them with love and care. That’s even tougher for me than when it comes to children.

Love and care. That’s my mantra.

 

 

*I’m not convinced children are ever truly just being a pain in the tush or defiant for defiance sake. I know it can look that way to us as adults, but I strongly believe there is always something more going on.

 

Schools Serve All Kids

School boards are often only discussed when we are frustrated by their actions. That’s certainly been true for me for most of my career. I like and respect most of the members of my school board and I have been to several board meetings over the years. (Twice to celebrate my National Board Certification, when I certified and when I renewed, once to celebrate being nominated for Teacher of the Year in my district, and once to speak to the board about technology use in the classroom. I’m clearly not active when it comes to the school board.) Mostly I think about the board when they do something I don’t like.

I teach in a very large, very wealthy district just outside of Washington, D.C. It’s not a district that typically moves quickly or with great innovation. I think our sheer size hampers that but we also tend to be somewhat conservative in our decision making. That has frustrated me on many occasions.

100 Day Group 4

My kinders this year. I don’t know if they are straight, gay, trans, or what. They are my kids and they all deserve to be cared for and safe.

 

At this moment, however, I am thrilled with my school board. Last year they updated our nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity. That caused something of an uproar and the school board was sued by a student and a conservative activist. The suit was dismissed. That was an impressive step forward, especially in an area that rarely gets out in front of controversial issues.

This week the board amended our school handbook. Changing our policy was good, but also pretty meaningless. There wasn’t really any meat on those bones. Changing the school handbook means that there are clear ways for people to take action if (when) discrimination based on gender identity happens. Needless to say there are some unhappy people. This was not a unanimous board decision, it passed 9 to 3.

You can read quotes in the Washington Post article from board members who were against this change. Their quotes read as though they are concerned about how this will be implemented, what will it actually look like. I think that’s a question anytime you change policy or regulations. Stating the new expectation isn’t going to specifically address every possible question, instance, or issue. That will happen over time. But it certainly isn’t a reason to leave these students, these children, at the mercy of the discrimination and bullying they have faced and are facing.

As a school system we serve ALL children. We must teach them AND keep them safe. It doesn’t matter how you personally feel about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, or anything. If you work in a school system you serve every child there and you must teach them and keep them safe. If you can’t do that because of your personal beliefs, then it’s time to rethink your job choice.

Let Them Get Away With It

As a society we seem to be very concerned about somebody getting something we don’t. I think that’s a big piece of Trump’s popularity. I’m guilty of this when cars don’t merge when the sign says to merge and at the last minute they want over. I don’t want to let them in. Why should they get to go ahead of me when I waited in line? But really, what does it cost me to let that go and let them in?

Merging

from Marika Luders’ flickr

 

As a society we don’t seem to like it when somebody ‘gets away with’ something. I see this with teachers when they are sure a child’s excuse is just that, an excuse, not a valid reason for a late assignment or lack of preparedness. I see this with teachers when they are sure a child’s behavior is defiant or purposefully challenging rather than a response to anxieties or stresses.

Let’s think this through. If I’m sitting in traffic because we all need to merge and I merged when I saw the sign but others didn’t, what does it cost me to let them in? A minute or two extra maybe? Depending on how many people wait and get let in. If I don’t let anyone in what do I gain? An extra few seconds? Some of those people are probably jerks, rushing ahead and not wanting to wait. But maybe some are distracted by an unhappy child in the car or thoughts of an illness in the family or a serious work stress happening. Maybe that’s why they didn’t get over. Why not presume the positive and let them in?

With children maybe they are conning us to turn something in late or get a second chance. Maybe their behavior is just them being little jerks. (We’re all jerks sometimes.) What if we presume the positive? What if I respond with patience and generosity rather than with frustration and anger? If they are truly struggling with something then my response is the right thing to do. If they’re being little snots then they were shown a little love. Everyone could do with a little love. Even the snots.

If we regularly respond to children as if they are conning us or being jerks we teach them something significant about our beliefs in them and about how to treat others. I believe they will quickly learn that they way to treat others isn’t with kindness, patience, generosity, love, but with anger or cynicism. We’ll see that in them quickly. They’ll respond to us as we’ve responded to them. It becomes quite the vicious cycle. We respond without care so they respond without care.

By second grade children will have this pretty well figured out. They may not be able to put it into words, but their actions will show us their understanding. It’s awfully hard to convince children once they’ve internalized expectations of being treated with a lack of respect or care. Once children have learned this message we have to work doubly or triply hard to convince them that we believe in them, that we care for them, that we respect them. We should make it our aim every day to show them we truly do. Even, no especially, the cons and the snots.