Last year I was introduced to the idea of #oneword. Something to frame my “mission” around, my professional learning choices and classroom practice. I went with CURIOSITY and followed the learning path of trying to discover new ways to teach, new paths to engagement for my students and trying to learn what is best. Looking back on the year I feel like I met my goal, that my students left looking for more, they learned about new books, they wrote in different ways, they pursued what interested them. Not only was my learning driven by curiosity but my students started to see that theirs too could be.
I decided again this year to pick a word to help me grow but hopefully also engage my students in new learning. So without further delay
I have decided that my #oneword2019 is going to be VALIANT. I wanted to fancy up BRAVE a bit haha and I love when looking at the definition seeing the term boldly brave. To be willing to stand up and stand out at the same time.
I have over the last few years been a loud voice either in discussions within my division or online against computerized reading programs. The kind of garbage that is pushed on kids as “fun” but really is just a lazy way for teachers to convince themselves they have data, never mind the quality of the data you get from these programs is questionable at best. I have put myself out there but feel there are areas as a teacher that I could do more, that I could stand up more clearly against. That I could be Valiant, boldly brave.
I want to start with the topics we discuss as a class. I often shy away from topics that could become spots where students are offended. In a community that is, by appearance, very much one demographic I avoid topics that could make the marginalized even more so. In reading A Very Large Expanse of Sea there is a moment that a teacher tries to use the main character, Shirin to be a spokesperson for “her people” she expresses the additional isolation that the teacher made her feel and as part of being boldly brave I want to have conversations on how to expand the view of my whole classroom without further marginalizing the students who need my bravery the most.
I went to NCTE this year and it changed the way I see a lot in education. Mostly I realized that there are little things that I did or still do that marginalize students because I was not aware enough of those small things. I was and still am to a degree ignorant to the things I am doing or not doing and how they might impact my students. I look at the books in my classroom library, as Donalyn Miller suggests I take an inventory and as I type this I know I have maybe 10-15 books that have POC as the main character and maybe 3-4 that have characters or themes of LGTBQ nature. I have never been opposed to having them but my students don’t tend to read them and so I don’t tend to buy them. After NCTE I saw this tweet from the amazing Kate Roberts,
After reading it I decided that I was doing a disservice to my students by making the choice for them to not have these books, it was partly out of fear, in a community that does not always display tolerance for the LGTBQ community and a lot of education needed I do worry about complaints from the kids and the parents. I do worry that someone will ask books to be removed from my classroom and I do worry that my reaction to that request will not be what I hope but instead a decision based on fear. This is where I need to be boldly brave. I need to put books that have all types of characters in them. I need my students to be able to read these characters and see them as people just like them. To break down those stereotypes and assumptions and help my students see through a different lens. Mostly though I need to be brave for the students that might not be seen. That might be searching for themselves but finding nothing in the books on my shelf. I need to read books that are as diverse as the world around us and share them with my students because we live in a diverse world even if the neighbourhoods we live in now are not as diverse.
Lastly, I reflect on how I can be Valiant with my colleagues. So many say you attract more bees with honey than vinegar. I have always had a lot of vinegar but I realize more as I reflect that perhaps vinegar is not being boldly brave. To sit back, to hear what others are saying and to respond, to give the opportunity for other voices to be heard, that shows bravery. I need to learn to temper my response to be brave enough to allow opposing voices to be heard and to learn from each other. I do think this might be the hardest part of my #oneword this year.
As teachers we don’t only owe it to ourselves to be our best, we have communities depending on us. Reflecting on how we can be better is brave, saying it out loud and acting on it? Maybe that goes far enough to be Valiant, I am certainly going to try.
Happy New Year.