Lately I have been a part of a lot of conversations around equity and antiracist pedagogy and how so much of the work is being left to those who are also unfairly burdened by polices and practices that uphold those inequities.
The conversations lead by amazing educators have been eye opening and I am learning so much in how to be better for my students and colleagues.
Sometimes I get frustrated that not everyone wants to learn about ways they can help.
Sometimes I get frustrated that some are not interested learning ways they can change their pedagogy to be more inclusive, change their language, change their practice.
More than a few times this week I have been told in conversations both in person and online that we need to meet people where they are if we want them to grow.
Today I realized that is less of an expectation than we have for our students.
If a student is being a bully our advice isn’t “well victim, meet them where they are.” If a student is using racist language we do not say well until they are ready to change we all just need to support them.
Instead I suggest we should be raising the bar of our expectations for our colleagues. Educators who are leading the way in Trauma informed practice, LGTBQ and IBPOC equitable practices and antiracist pedagogy should not be expected to take steps backwards. They should be counting on us to put in the effort to meet them where they are. They are living the work and we should not expect them to waste another moment meeting us where we are while some won’t even admit they can do more than send well wishes. This couldn’t fit in a tweet. Sorry.
Ok so yesterday I wrote about the questions I have been struggling with and I don’t want anyone to think that I have solved them because I most certainly have not. But as I went to log out last night I stumbled on the wekly live chat with the amazing Dr.Jody Carrington who has an amazing book, “Kids These Days” that you can find on amazon and the audio book is amazing and she will be joining me and the #g2great team to chat in a few weeks over on Twitter so that will be awesome. Jody was doing her last weekly chat of the year and I stumbled on it just as she was talking about her closing notes. One point that really stuck out to me was the need for GRACE. Grace for ourselves and grace for others. I was in a really bad mood this weekend and all because I was not making room for myself or others to have some grace. Just that little word really helped me to get some perspective.
Jody continued to talk about the year to come and the resolutions and goals and all that fun stuff that we do every year and issued a challenge. Go Big. Set amazing goals and go for it. But she added another piece, start small. As I type this I think about those gigantic steak dinner competitions some restaurants have and how you get the meal free if you can eat it. We get all excited and order that thing because, well, free food. Then it hits the table and we just try to eat it as fast as we can because maybe just maybe we can finish this massive challenge if we do it fast enough. Inevitably we fail and are paying for it in more than one way. But what if we didn’t have a time limit that was unreachable. What if we could take a break when we needed to and come back to it? What if we could start small?
I am not a resolutions person, I set achievable goals and work towards them. Stuff like go to the gym every day but Sunday. Check. Or try something new in the classroom. Check. Read a pile of books. Check. Small realistic goals and complete them. This has been how I do New Years goals. But this idea of going big and start small sounds like it could be fun so here goes.
Goal 1- Get Healthy
This might seem like it is not a BIG Goal for people that know I work out 6 days a week but I also eat a ridiculous amount of junk. I love to go to the gym to start my day, I also love to spend my weekends sitting on the coach watching movies and eating junk food. Food has always been the issue. I get sick when I give up sugar. I imagine I am addicted to it if I was to get serious about analyzing the behaviour. SO my get healthy goal is going to be around my diet, not some restrictive weight loss measure but the actual foods I am taking in. I want to lose 40 pounds by May. That works out to about 10 pounds a month if I start January 1st. Now before anyone comes in and is like Brent that is not healthy weight loss. I have a lot to lose I will be fine. The trick will be making sure my weight loss does not impact my weight lifting because that has been the typical pattern and I can’t have that. I also want to join the 1000 pound club so we can add that here.
Goal 2- Get a reputable publisher for my book
I have this book idea that I like to tinker with but right now it is just a document on Pages. I would love it to be more. There are so many books in the field of education but nothing like what I want to do so I think it would have legs. I don’t know how to go about getting interest or even seeing if there is any but I feel like I have a voice and would like to share it beyond my blogging opportunities here, with Literacy Lenses and MiddleWeb. As part of this goal I would also need to finish the book so that really amplifies this to a BIG goal as I am struggling with imposter syndrome so badly this year I think everything I write in the book is self indulgent garbage and if that is the case I really could just stick the blog and my number 1 rated (no it really isn’t) education podcast (I should record another one of those).
Goal 3- Over come the fear, present at an international conference.
This is by far my biggest goal because I have crippling stage fright. I have had a lot of folxs ask me if I would ever consider presenting and until this year the answer has always been a big old NO. Beyond not being completely sure I have something to add that another speaker couldn’t cover, I don’t know if my fears would let me. Cut to earlier this year and getting a message in my Twitter DMs. The message asked if I would consider sharing my work as a breakout session at our English Language Arts Council Convention in May. I laughingly wrote a proposal with no assumptions that I would be selected. Then I was… I am excited about the opportunity and it is a great “start small” because the big game goal is the present one day and even this year at NCTE.
Ok so there I have laid them out and I am going for it. 3 BIG goals that I plan to chip away at is small digestible steps. I feel good about these goals and the mindset behind them. I can do hard things, I can tackle big goals and I can succeed.
The other part of my New Years tradition is picking my #oneword to guide me. This weekend my convictions on pushing for what is important in education were shaken a bit. I backed off of my point as accusations that I was unkind were hurled. I have spent the day consider this along with these BIG GOALS and I have settled on my word for the year.
Nothing big gets accomplished when we back down if challenged. The year of 2020 will be the year of Resolve. I am resolved to demand more of my fellow teachers, I am resolved in the fact that I will not stand by and not speak up when I see injustice. I am resolved in the fact that I will no leave the heavy lifting work to those who are oppressed by the weight of it all. I am resolved to provide my students with learning experiences that will not only build their intellect but also their humanity. In 2020 I will more than just look like a mountain ( a fluffy one at times) I will be one. Unflinching in the criticisms that come when others are made to feel uncomfortable because I am asking questions they do not like. I am resolved to be the best teacher I can be for my students and that means fighting for better instructional practices for all kids. It means standing up and calling out bad practice, it means questioning all of the things going on in EduTwitter in the name of creating a brand, selling books and building followings.
I am resolved to refocus on what is important. The 90 sets of eyes I am blessed to work with each day, my personal learning and the realtionships that make me better.
The last few years I have taken part and had my students take part in the whole #oneword project. Pick a word to frame your year around versus resolutions. My first year was Creativity and last year I chose Valiant. It was fun to think about ways I could frame the year around the word. To wrap up my Valiant year I took a risk and applied to do a breakout session at a conference later this year. I was accepted for it and some days I am really excited haha. Other days I am a little bit worried to full blown panicked but I will be talking about what I love so I am sure I will survive. As I have had this last week to ponder I thought I had come to my word for this next year but I am not feeling it as a guiding word for my work so I am not using it but the thoughts that brought it to the front of my mind still are pushing to be shared so without further delay, my almost #oneword2020
I have been talking to a lot of very talented and some would even say famous (they do not make that claim) teachers and so many are struggling with the idea of imposter syndrome. I have shared that struggle this year. I can’t help but wonder if the more people praise you the more this anti-praise thought of imposter status creeps in. As I was stuck in a bit of a loop on this thinking the other day I kept having a few thoughts.
Am I having my students do enough? Am I challenging them? Holding them to high enough expectations?
Am I enough?
So lets tackle these one at a time.
Am I enough?
I have these moments of self doubt often. I love what I do. I want to teach forever. But the idea of if I am good at it is always creeping around. People can tell me that I am amazing all they want, they can tell me their kids are so excited to be in my class or hoping I move up with them. This is always nice to hear but the follow up thought inevitably is why? Will I be able to help their child succeed academically? Perhaps socially? Can I get them to love reading this year? Can I help them finding their writing and reading selves? The thoughts are always there. Maybe it fuels me to be better to try harder? A lot of questions and no answers…
Are we doing enough?
I tell my kids I would go gradeless if it was up to me. It isn’t so I have to grade things. I despise marking. I have some beautiful writing that is a few sentences long and another piece of writing that is pages long but has the same amount of beauty as the short piece, a rubric doesn’t really help there. I could read one page of Rudy Francisco poetry or Nikki Grimes and find more stunning imagery than in an entire short story. SO grading has always caused me issues, I do it because I must. The attached problem though is that at times I do not know if my students are being as stretched as I know they can be. They are writing they are reading they are discussing. They are doing everything required of them. I just wonder if I am raising the bar enough. Am I accepting good when I should help them push them to great? Am I letting them say that a 75% is good enough when I know they are capable of so much more? A lot of questions and no answers.
Now here comes the exclamation
I am questioning myself and my practice because that is how we grow. I look at the Twitter education world and really question how many of us do that. There is a lot of sharing of ideas but it seems to be that there is not a lot of questioning them. When I do question I tend to get responses like, Well if you don’t like it don’t use it? But I have had enough of sitting around and watching bad practice happen because people think it is cute or because it is easy. I have had enough of activities without clear purpose. I have had enough of people making instructional decisions without being able to answer clear questions around those decisions. As teachers we often complain that we are not respected as the professionals that we feel we are. I can’t help but think if the refusal of some in our profession to exam their practices critically has something to do with the public perception. There are big issues impacting education. Poverty, Racism, Funding inequities, Book Accessibility just to name a few and I I don’t think we are doing enough to solve them. It is really easy to look at where I work and where I stand and say, ” Yup I am doing great so I have done my part” but what about down the highway? What about across the country? What about down the hall?
Are we really doing enough? Teaching is hard work, support from everyone to lift this load will be needed if we are going to address the heavier issues facing us all. By saying we just need to worry about ourselves we are putting way to much of the load on teachers who are already over burdened.
Last year I wrote and airing of grievances post in the tradition of Festivus and the hilarious holiday of Seinfeld. It was a fun spin on addressing the issues that cause me some degree of anxiety, angst and flat out anger. This year I plan to step it up a level and add in some Festivus Feats of Strength that I have seen as I try to balance my scales. SO without further delay here are the 2019 Festivus Feats of Strength and Grievances.
Grievance #1- Sugar over Substance
Those who regularly read my blog know that I am a dedicated Twitter learner. I love the opportunity to learn from so many educators from around the world. When I first started my Twitter learning journey I was all about the motivational messages being shared. The “How-to” guides to being an engaging teaching, the fun activities being shared, the amazing kind words being shared. I was most certainly living in a nice little bubble and I loved it. Last year around March or April I started following different educators as I felt I was missing something. Not only in my pedagogy but also simply in my community. This new groups of follows lead me to reading about the experiences of Indigenous, Black, People of Color educators and authors in the #31daysIBPOC project which can be found here. As I read about the lives and experiences of these amazing authors I felt that their message needed to be shared. So I started tweeting it out and tagging all of these “amazing” educators that held such a following in the hopes that they would also share out these voices. They did not. The sweet messages of kindness and relationship building continued. The needed conversations around equity and race were only taking place in smaller circles. It was almost as if these big names in the Kindness and Engagement movement were purposefully not sharing the messages that #31days organized by Tricia Ebarvia and Dr.Kim Parker where so bravely sharing. I have grown tired with the platitudes movement when children are continuing to be treated unfairly due to race, poverty, access to learning materials or a plentitude of other reasons. Like Uncle Ben said in Spiderman with great power, comes great responsibility but this has not been true for some of the most powerful in EduTwitter and so grievance #1 is to those who choose their comfort over the humanity of others.
Feat of Strength #1-The organizers and contributors to #31daysIBPOC
I have thanked them before but really the work of Tricia Ebarvia (@triciaebarvia) and Dr.Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) in organizing and contributing to their amazing essay project pushed me to look further at race as a factor in my classroom and the lack of diversity my students are faced with as a problem if I am hoping, and I am, to have students ready to be citizens of the world who respect others and want to work towards better. These women and so many other IBPOC educators continue to do the hard work, sadly often without pay or proper recognition, to help other (predominantly white) educators improve their practice. I am grateful to them and will continue to share their message and work and of course CITE THEM.
Grievance #2- Teachers holding on to things because they “like them”
Ok, so I have things I like. We all do and I am not advocating just throwing everything out here. This grievance is directly related to the teachers that value their things, their books, their worksheets and their activities more than they value the humanity of their students. 2020 is coming up, if you were to consult the past people thought we would have flying cars and being living on the moon. The fact is though we are still teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and arguing that since the author used it we should be allowed to say the N word (I just had to take a moment to absorb the absurdity of that last sentence). The idea that teachers are clutching so closely to To Kill a Mockingbird that they won’t even consider a text that isn’t turning 60 this year. I am not saying To Kill a Mockingbird is terrible, I remember reading it as a kid, I liked it. I am saying that the attitude that nothing can replace the things we love to use, that despite concerns raised around messages, language and othering that it might subject our students to we are going to just hold on a keep using them BECAUSE.
Feat of Strength #2 – Authors of Diverse Texts and the Teachers Who Provide them.
I am so grateful that this year I stretched beyond my typical reading life of Fantasy (I still love them) and ventured into realistic fiction and other books that are written by IBPOC authors and stories that showcase the challenges kids face. I am so grateful for #disrupttexts on Twitter and the organizers who help to provide different options to expand my classroom library. It seems like I might be mentioning them a lot lately but in the spirit of citing those doing the work #Disrupttexts is another venture of Tricia Ebarvia and Dr.Kim Parker with the addition of Julia Torres and Lorena German. The book recommendations that I have brought into my classroom based off the community they have created have provided my students so many more experiences than they would have previously had. The additional bonus is my own reading life has shifted and I am using these books in class where I might have used other more dated texts that do not represent the world.
Grievance #3- EduCelebrity Culture
It seems fame is a drug that even teachers want to chase. This year I have lost a lot of respect for educators I once looked up to. I am not going to be naming names here but if you are more concerned with pushing your next book or mentioning how famous you are and are not out their sharing actual teaching, advocating for kids first and doing the heavy lifting I am no longer interested in your message. #theEnd
Feat of Strength #3- Humble Lead Learners
The difference between a teacher seeking the celebrity status and one seeking to better the world of education is not hard to spot. I am so grateful for the examples I continue to see daily that centre the work around our students. The list is so long and they have books too but they are not turning teaching into a sales pitch. They are beautifully advocating for Reflective Readers, Book Access for All Kids, Writing Practices that are rooted in growth, actual teaching strategies and not feel good fluff that does nothing but fill teachers with a false sense of Superhero status when kids need teachers not people wearing capes. I am grateful for the examples of so many, it is time to make sure it is only those voices worthy of our kids that get the showcase in my work and timeline.
Grievance #4- Things being out of my control
This year is the first time a feel a little bit under water. The work load is not more, I am trying to do cool things that I am excited about but it just feels off. I will keep pushing through, treading water until I find myself again but it has been a weird year and I am tired of feeling weird. I can’t control the direction of a school, I can’t control the things out of my classroom and feeling as though my voice is being lost has caused me to question what I am doing. I love teaching, I love building relationships with my students and helping them to become critical thinkers and learners. I am tired of the everything else that gets in the way.
Feat of Strength #4- What matters.
My students are some of the best things that have happened to me. I get to listen to raps crafted by a few basketball players in a response to a Whole Class Novel we have read, Students discussing their connections to characters they at one point saw no connection to. I get to read their beautiful words, hear about their weekends and holiday plans. But most of all I get to learn with them. We are challenging each other this year and I know we will all come out stronger because of it.
I have a lot more that I would love to share a grievance about but as I reflect on these Feats of Strength I have so much to be grateful for. Sure there seems to be a flood of people sharing nonsense like it is educational gold… but there are others actually doing the work. There are students in the world doing great things and teachers walking beside them. I need to shift my focus back to what matters.
The Winter Break is upon us. I am sitting here watching the Mandalorian and pondering life. Earlier this week a friend and I were talking about some of the messages we see so often on twitter and how the more common sense posts, that shouldn’t need saying, are the most popular posts. Things like “Remember to be Kind”, or “Relationships Matter” seem to flood the EduTwitter world. I don’t know if it is just because some like to wade in the shallow end of discussions or if a frighteningly large amount of educators really did not believe this before some cheesy slide or overly shared quote helped them to “see the light” Regardless I have found my Twitter lately far less motivating then it had once served in my teaching. Of course there are pockets of brilliance and educators that carry the flame to light the beacon but generally there is a lot of extinguished torches if I am going to hold on to the metaphor.
As a bit of fun I started making my own signs to poke some fun at the whole motivational signs on Twitter deal.
But this next one, while mostly some subtweeting nonsense at first, really caused me to pause and reflect.
2 years ago I had a student, who I have a fantastic relationship with now, ranting about how great a racist organization was because they were doing a number of things he agreed with. I started the corrective conversation in a calm manner. I explained the error in his thinking, the arguments void of any substance the act of racism that he was committing by celebrating the horrid talking points of a racist group. Instead of considering my points the student ramped up his efforts to “impress” the class with his offensive comments.
I lost my temper, I yelled. I broke my “stay calm” rule and the conversation ended. The room was silent, kids went back to work and the one sat and starred at me for a while before putting their head down and not working the rest of class.
It is two years later. We are sitting at the back of one of my classes, I don’t teach the student anymore but they spend the bulk of their time in my classroom. Out of nowhere they bring up the two year old incident. WORD FOR WORD. It was crazy to me at first that they could remember every small detail. I had apologized the next day. tried to “take back” the yelling. What I realized this week is that there is no taking it back. We yell and all the good doesn’t erase it. It is like yelling causes the memory to be protected. Not because they want to keep it but because it is a scar and those don’t just go away.
I think about my years coaching and the example my dad always was. Never a yeller. He might have gotten pretty excited but never did I see him yell at his players. When I see other coaches yelling at kids. It never sits right with me. I think it is why the kids know me as the one who stays positive at all times. (even though last year I got a technical)
This week I was sitting at a score table while two junior high students were volunteering to help. One possible mistake and the visiting teams coaches were complaining and arguing with the ref. An amazing example of how to build up character and motivate these kids to volunteer again.
So odd to me how inspiration comes. I sit watching this fantastic show and ponder the piles of work around me. I will get them done eventually. Perhaps some gentle reminders from my wife or an email from a student wondering about a grade. I know what won’t help me though, being yelled at.
If for not other reason to not yell as a form of motivation ask yourself how you might feel if someone communicated with you through turning purple and yelling in your face?
Motivated? I think not.
Now time to start making a list for the holiday break.
So I have had a bit of a writers block when it comes to my own blog. I think there is a lot of angst in the literacy world at the moment and I in no means am trying to trivialize any of the discussions and many are important but today I was reminded of a clear and present danger to our students and their ability to be seen in our classroom, in our coworkers feeling supported and in our teaching community and the culture some of us are trying to build.
I would prefer to be dedicating all my writing to the work I love with my students. They are powerful little humans (some not so little) but I would be ignoring this, that I have a voice to address, if I did only that. So while I plan to include some of their awesome work in what I discuss today I really need to talk to my fellow White educators, especially the ones who refuse to examine their practice or keep asking others to do the work for them that they are more than capable of doing themselves.
So to begin and to help out with the tone police. Yes I am annoyed and feel free to read this post that way. I am not being negative but I refuse for one more conversation to just step away to protect the feelings of those who show no care for the feelings of others. If my talking about your shirking of responsibility to analyze your libraries, book choices, classroom activities and general attitudes towards equality, representation and respecting the voices of IBPOC teachers and student makes you uncomfortable just sit in it and think. Like Dr.Laura Jimenez said this morning on Twitter
But sadly this is not what happens. So many just dig their heels in, grip that book, movie, activity tight and repeat the phrase, “I just love this…” it is almost like they don’t hear the concerns. don’t see the problem. It is almost like they don’t hear or see the person raising the concern. Today I noticed a part of a conversation, part because I muted a consistent violator of the “not all white people…but I like to teach (insert book) even though it is racist individual who was in it. But amazing and way to patient educators, all women of colour were taking the time to try and explain to this individual why they should be looking at other texts than the ones they hold dear. Again this was met with resistance. I struggle to understand how when someone tells you a particular book makes them uncomfortable there is this continued resistance but when others call you out for this act and you cry negativity and meanness your feelings should be honoured. If you are somehow in this spot and still reading I want to be clear, if you do not value and honour the voices of Educators who are asking you to please stop using damaging texts or activities I do not honour your feelings and I will most certainly be using a tone.
We so often fall to the pattern of asking those requesting the respect and understand to take on the load of teaching us as well. Why it takes an IBPOC educator to explain why books with racist messages are inappropriate for the classroom is already beyond me, but asking them to then keep repeating themselves until it finally sinks in is offensive. And distracts them from the beautiful work they are already doing.
Dr.Kim Parker is one educator of many that puts in so much time to build other teachers up but it is time we take on the work of learning for ourselves my white teacher friends. I have learned so much from Dr.Parker and so many other that I will be tagging at the end of this post because of their brilliance but they owe me nothing. I owe them. I owe them gratitude for continuing to have patience with folx who just can’t let go of privileged thinking and behaviour and helping me to see this for what it is. I owe them a coffee or books or whatever they want when I finally get to thank them in person for inspiring me to be better. But my readers we need to stop adding the work to their shoulders.
Today someone was talking about a film that featured a white teacher who “saved” her students of colour. The person was praising the wonderful story. Another person commented about the “white saviour narrative” it promoted and how too much time is given to those stories. This critique was of course responded to in the typical fashion, “Well I liked it and I won’t let some negative person ruin this story” POINTING OUT RACIST THINGS DOESN”T RUIN A WONDERFUL STORY IT TELLS US THE STORY ISN”T WONDERFUL.
White teacher friends who continue to hold on to terrible practices like making students reenact slave trades or write letters home from concentration camps, who hold tight to their “To Kill a Mockingbirds” or “Little House on the Prairie”, to the teachers that love their picture books that represent children of colour as stereotypes because it was your favourite book as a child you need to be better. I am begging you because you are hurting children. You are contributing to racist ideologies at the very least and if that doesn’t bother you then you are very likely racist and are going to call me mean and go find someone that shares your love of “The Canon” and continue to be you.
To those that have a desire to be better like I did when Dr. Jimenez called me out from my ignorance a year or so ago after an obnoxious “Hey not all white people” response to a concern, there are so many people willing to help but do not put the work on them. Do the work and support theirs. Audit your classroom libraries, novel sets, read-alouds. Be critical of your practices and aware of the message you send with what you place value on.
Do you value all the students in your room?
Do you value the voice and opinion of brilliant educators who share concerns?
Do your choices provide your students with chances to see themselves and others in multiple ways that respect them as unique people and honour them and their culture?
If the answer is no to these questions or your actions provide that answer you have work to do. Stop asking others to do it.
Feel free to @ me I am tired of being nice.
If you want to learn more from far more brilliant educators than me please follow @booktoss@TchKimPossible@biblio_phile@triciaebarvia @nenagerman@juliaerin80@ChristieNold and so many more. There are countless amazing educators doing the work that is needed. These are a sample that have influenced my thinking greatly. Please take the time.
Now without further delay here are some promised snapshots of class work.
This week it seems the opportunity to discuss language be it written, read or spoken, and the power that comes with it has popped up many times in class.
My students came in at the end of Wednesday for their last period class after a long weekend and were very excited to talk about the fact that Don Cherry was fired over comments that many perceived as racist others claimed xenophobic and at the very least ignorant regarding immigrants to Canada while on National Television. One of my students proclaimed that he shouldn’t have been fired because of Freedom of Speech so we addressed myth number one.
Freedom of Speech does not equal Freedom from Consequence.
Because my class was not so much up in arms about his racist comments, that I challenged next, as they were his “rights” being violated I want to discuss that first. I think as teachers we are doing kids a disservice by promoting this idea of Freedom of Speech over all things. The amount of times that a student makes a rude remark, a racist or homophobic remark and when corrected claim Freedom of Speech would be hard to keep track of. This week alone I have heard it multiple times. This time I decided we needed to take a step back and discuss. It was helpful that their Social Studies teacher told them to ask me my opinion on this topic. When it first came up I told them it didn’t matter what I thought about Don Cherry personally but that we need to look at the power language holds. That as a language arts teacher I love it so much because of the power words have to make us better, to fill us up, to feel. The power stories have to make us connect. But I followed with the power words have to do harm. Spoken aloud words that tear us down stick, they erase the proceeding words that may have been great because the stain of the offensive, harmful words distract us from the rest. On reflection I remembered last week as a students gave a fantastic book talk in class, he was animated, the class was into it. As he wrapped up he said to the class, “If you don’t read this book (dramatic pause) well you are gay” My immediate reaction was shocked, students gasped and I took the moment to discuss why this was not ok. That using calling people gay as a way to knock them down was not only inappropriate but it was offensive. He recognized his mistake and we discussed how his choice of language distracted from an otherwise great book talk. I still struggle with how to address the use of racially insensitive comments in class and even racist terms being used with as the kids say “permission” from their non-white friends. It is a constant discussion but I am hopeful that they will see how damaging and harmful these words and this language can be. Even yesterday I spent the last moments of the day explaining to a student why it was not appropriate to refer to another students culture as “your people” when discussing a restaurant. While these might not be big moments they are teachable ones.
We need to raise awareness to create change
Yesterday and well every day I see teachers, mostly white, refer to their friend group on Twitter as their “Tribe”. Every day I see IBPOC educators doing the work correcting this word use. Requesting that another word is used as Tribe has significant meaning in their culture and would rather it not be thrown around. Often those asking this simply request are met with aggression. I am always disappointed when I see this display of whiteness so deep that we can’t even admit that perhaps a cute instagram post about your “Tribe” with some cute clip art hold more value to you than the human being asking you to respect their culture. The idea of “when we know better, do better” made famous by Maya Angelou (not some Social media post attached as a hashtag) is one I try to live by. I use to joke about someone who has inspired me being my Spirit Animal, I think at the time I claimed it was Carol from The Walking Dead. I had multiple folx call me out in this as insensitive to first nations people and the suggestion was made to self edit and use Patronus from Harry Potter instead. It was an easy adjustment that was followed by an apology for my initial missteps. Last week while writing a student asked me to read through an initial draft. We sat down and I began reading. At one point he referred to a character in his story as disabled. I asked him where he was planning to go with the character and why “disabled” he said it was because the character was really annoying so, you know, disabled. I asked them if they understood what ableism was. How discriminating against disabled people by using disability to describe a character in a negative way was something they needed to change. Their attempts to self edit became all just more examples of the same. You can I am sure imagine the words. We talked about representation we discussed a need for compassion and how our word choice matters. I am hopeful as I prepare to look at finished drafts that this problematic wording was removed.
The power in words.
I discussed with my kids why words hold so much power. We talked about the transformative experience both fiction and non-fiction work can have if we are open to being changed by them. I always go back to Kylene Beers on this. Reading should change us. It should teach us. It should help us grow. My students are still developing an appreciation for the world around them. They are still working to understand the power of language. I am still learning it too. I am grateful for all the examples I have that help me to see the power of words. As I sit on a Saturday watching Disney + writing and planning I am preparing to start some book clubs. My students are going to jump in and explore amazing characters and beautiful words crafted by authors of all different backgrounds. The idea to reach beyond where we are and move to something more empathetic, more accepting, more inclusive.
This week I read an amazing post by Doug Robertson also known as @TheWeirdTeacher on Twitter and it can be found here. It is a great post that provides some commentary on the depth of messages that those in influential “EduTwitter” leadership roles are promoting while ignoring more or less some really important issues. The post really renewed some thinking I have been having lately.
Last May when I was so lucky to stumble on the #31daysIBPOC month of amazing posts I was eager to share them and hoped that they could be amplified. To my dismay many ignored the calls to share them but stuck to their brand messaging. When I and others challenged this action we were met with, “Why can’t you be kind?” At the time I questioned if my words or deeds had in fact been unkind. It caused me to pause and back off on my pushback.
This week I have read many posts about “ignoring the negative” or “Don’t listen to the critics” I am sure it is only a coincidence that in the same week Doug’s post which referred to some messages as Cotton Candy we also see an uptick in calls for people to be kind, or ignore those who are negative from many of the same voices Doug called out.
I do think there is an issue with Twitter voices ganging up on others, I do think people could be generally more gracious than they are. But I don’t think calls for kindness always apply and I worry that some have weaponized the accusation of being unkind to simply hide from the tougher conversations.
A few months ago a rather highly celebrated Twitter educator made a few posts that were questioned for their content and insensitivity. Almost instantly accusations of being unkind were fired at those who questioned him by his followers. Painting people as mean when they call out bad practices or bad takes on a situation has become common place.
A few weeks back a podcast accused those who speak out against Teachers Pay Teachers as an “echo chamber of negativity”. Painting those who disagree with “us” as mean or unkind is far easier than having a genuine discussion or conversation.
It would be fantastic if we could all just focus on being nice and everything would be better but that is not the reality for so many. When looking at issues of inequality, racism, poverty, trauma we as educators can’t just hope for kindness to clear the way. Calling attention to the fact that some issues are so much larger than a soundbite is not unkind, it is not being negative. It is realizing that we have so much more work to do.
I think being kind is important, I wish everyone would try to be kind more. Part of that could be demonstrated with a little grace when called out or in. Instead of calling for kindness when made uncomfortable reflect on why you are uncomfortable. I use to be one that would ask why people were so negative, why they had to call people out. Then I realized what was at stake.
Basketball season is kicking off pretty quickly. The final days of football and volleyball season are fast approaching. Tryouts for basketball are soon to begin. I love attending student sporting events. I love to support the kids and cheer them on. Last year I was honoured to work with a team as their motivational support person or bench cheerleader. I am fine with both terms. Lately I have been reminded of a few points that trouble me about sports in school and I just want to put this out into the universe prior to the next few months in the hopes that perhaps, by some miracle, we can get things right because we have not in the past.
Last year we talked about “we are students first” as a way to address the topic of academics and athletic involvement. We would ask kids how they were doing in their classes and stressed the need to show up for them but we didn’t do much past that. I think to a degree not being sure how far we push the importance. This year a coworker who coaches a different grade approach me with an idea of a grade/effort minimum. The idea being that we would set a baseline of 70% but would consider effort when that 70% was not reached for students to be eligible to play that week. I have to admit I love it. I think to have an expectation for our students to achieve is important. I also think that some students, working their hardest, can find that 70% hard to achieve, I would have struggled to do that in math. I floated it by my students and to be honest a few were very upset. They are capable but would rather visit and play on their phones. A few were worried but after assurance that their effort would get them there they were ok. One student exclaimed, “Guys we are students first” it is sinking in. It was a little disheartening to hear from different adults they thought it was a bad idea to expect this of our kids. We are going to agree to disagree.
Later this month our school is hosting a Province wide tournament for Volleyball. I am missing NCTE for it (I will survive) and have been appointed as the organizer for security. I have a job breakdown but mostly it was the create and emergency escape map with locations of important spots marked and to set up barricades and signage. An additional point is to remove any unruly guests. In my time as a spectator and coach in High School sports I have only witnessed a small amount of spectators be escorted out of the event. 90% or those people have been parents. What is the message that is sending? You are not asked to leave for a questioning comment, you are not asked to leave for calmly questioning a call of an official who just happens to hear you and you are not asked to leave for cheering for your team. You are asked to leave for being abusive. Either rude to refs and other teams or to others in the stands. I can understand the emotion that is involved when cheering on kids, grandkids and neighbours, heck I received a technical last year for losing my temper in a moment of weakness. I apologized after to my players. Last night we sat at a football game and as the refs made calls against one team their fans who we sat among yelled and screamed rude remarks, when the winds changed and another team was the target of the refs calls they cheered while the other team began to attack the refs who they had just been cheering previously. I looked around at the adults who surrounded me and saw their kids watching them and learning. Learning that it was ok to be rude, to insult others all in the name of cheering on your team. What is the message we are sending? We can be better.
When things go sideways
This week as I visited with a student who wanted to show me some instagram all about sports fights, you know the bench clearing ones of baseball fame. On Youtube today I saw a moment like this play out at a High School sporting event. At first I was confused at what was going on. It seemed a team was celebrating their win over the home town team in the middle of the field as happens as a football game ends, especially one that determines who continues on and who unfortunately turns in the equipment. I was disappointed as things unfolded in the minutes after the clock ended but will live forever in video. A player from the home team rushes the winning team and began shoving their players. Emotions are high and people are disappointed. I get that so surely the adults would step in but no this video showed something different. An adult motioning for their team to rush to join their lone teammate. I looked back as I could not believe this was possible. To my surprise it looked almost as if the adults, THE ADULTS, provoked the whole incident. A few on both side of the ball broke up the little scuffle but other adults argued with each other pointing fingers. The video ended and I was disheartened. Disheartened because I know kids that would think this display was AWESOME. I know adults who would encourage this. I have sat with them in bleachers, I have heard the things they say about kids on other teams and kids on their own. As someone watching a video I only had one perspective but the perspective I had was not pretty.
Moving to my lovely town introduced me to the joys of watching basketball. We were the SUPERFANS. Last year I had the opportunity to coach and saw my kids in a different way. Stressed, under pressure to perform. I wrote about it last year as our season ended here Things have not changed for our kids. They still have school piled on them, the expectations of their fans, the hopes of their parents, the entertainment of a community. In our communities they play an amazing role as student athletes but the first word is students. We need to remember that and do our best to help them succeed there to remove that stress. The other areas of concern that I have are out of our student athletes hands. They are in ours. Adult spectators and coaches we need to be better. This might not be a popular opinion by many who read it but High School sports stopped being about you (adults) when you finished High School. Coaching is about lifting students up to celebrate them, not pushing them into the fray. Being a supportive fan is not about cutting down others but about lifting up those we are there to support. There are so many eyes watching. I will always be there to support my students both in the classroom and the stands. I hope if I step out of line someone reminds me of what is really important.
Today I started the day by playing with a room of delightful 18-month to 3 year olds at church, had a delightful meal with family and read a good chunk of my current read The Toll. I had a goal to finish it this weekend but I won’t quite make it. As Julie and I drove out to her parents with the beautiful mountains on the horizon I could not help but think about the things I am grateful for on this still snow covered Thanksgiving eve.
First I would like to start with my job. This year has started a bit bumpier then I am use to. I would chalk it up to interruptions and familiarity. I have looped with some of my kids for 3 years and so we are looking for new ways to engage and work with beautiful text. The biggest struggle is that for one of my classes this term we only meet 3 times a week and it just so happens that on those three days we tend to have things come up that causes class to be cancelled. It has been difficult finding a flow that works. But I am grateful for their energy, I am grateful for the group that comes ready to write so many beautiful words last week that I wrote about taking the time to celebrate. I am grateful for the student that has already read more novels from start to finish this year than all of last year…one. I am grateful for the ones that make me stretch and look to other ways to engage them because it only makes me better. See, gratitude is a mindset. I can choose to focus on the cloud or the silver lining. Today I am choosing the silver lining so here goes.
Things I am grateful for
A wife who supports me in my rants, learning and book buying. Not every wife will accept that their husband spends hundreds of dollars some times a week on books. That they would prefer to stay home and learn through reading articles or participating in educational discussions online. Most certainly not all wives will patiently listen while their husband rants about everything that has annoyed him that day. Julie does though and most of the time supports the rants. On occasion she doesn’t agree but that helps me to fully explore the topic as well.
Friends who push my learning. Not all teachers from small rural Alberta towns have been blessed with the friends that I have been blessed with. Many of these friends are fellow educators who I have connected with over our shared experiences some double as mentors. Daily I have the opportunity to visit with Dr.Mary Howard, I have not met many who have the passion she does for kids and learning she has been a constant support since sharing my blog years ago and she is a constant gift with the learning she shares. My friend Travis Crowder and his work inspires me to be a better teacher daily. He is an artist and the work his students produce is magic. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. I spent a day with Donalyn Miller this week. Julie and I had the best time visiting with her over dinner and then learning from her the following day. If I were to have a list of teachers who have influenced me the most in my practice Donalyn would be among the top and the gratitude I have that I can count her as a friend at this point in my teaching career is immeasurable. There are so many more educators that I count among my friends that push me in the best ways to continue to learn and improve. I could never list them all.
The students I get to work with every day. I am grateful even on the tougher days for all my students. They bring a joy and enthusiasm to the day. I am in my third year at my current assignment. My first year I taught a group of 8th graders, 44 of them I think, they told me in the past that teachers hated their group. I could not imagine it. We bonded that year. I have not taught that group the last two years. But a day does not pass that a few of them do not come by my room during a prep to visit or even while I am teaching (we are working on that) just to chat. Sometimes they just want a snack and I am grateful they know where to go for that as well. We talk books, how their lives are going, what their classes are like. They bring me treats they have cooked in foods class, I am particularly grateful for that, and they just reinforce what I know. That when we build relationships with students they last far longer than the time we teach our kids.
Things that frustrate me. This might be an odd one for the gratitude list but I am grateful for these challenging situations and people. They help me to centre around what I know is important. I need to likely focus less on them but they fuel a certain fire that I can use to keep going when I need it.
I have so many things to be grateful for. Tomorrow morning it will be my gym, some good breakfast and time to finish The Toll (fingers crossed). I will be grateful for the chance to plan my week and look at new and engaging ways to work with my students. I will be grateful for the day off from work that gives me the time to do all these things. It is crazy to think we are already half way through our second month of school.