We can’t Read what we Can’t Access

I was at work incredibly early this morning and sitting at my computer in the silence. On my desk there was a little pile of books, to my left another behind me some more. The shelves of the classroom library in their typical Friday disarray. I love my classroom library. I love to be able to pick a few books off the shelf to book talk when I see that I have students a little less engaged in the joy of independent reading. Today I picked up The Truth According to Mason Buttle, Endling and Outlaw of Time the Legend of Sam Miracle and talked about them to my class. Within moments of finishing books were in hands being read. This repeated itself when I shared The Graveyard Book, A Tale Dark and Grimm and A Taste for Monsters. The pattern repeated and students had books in hand.

Yesterday I had a student sheepishly return a pile of books that he had collected in his locker and book bag. The same student had done this early in the week and I jokingly asked if he had anymore hiding somewhere. More appeared. I don’t have a lot of rules when it comes to my classroom library.

Class Library Rules

  1. Picture Books stay at school (I have a lot for a junior high teacher and I use them for lessons so I don’t want them going missing)
  2. Turn in the book jacket for hardcovers you want to borrow. (they are expensive and I hang the jackets on a clothesline, it looks cool)

There we go. I started with more rules. Rules like Graphic Novels stay in school, Read at least one “real” book for every Diary of a Wimpy Kid (this rule was idiotic and was eliminated years ago). I was so much more controlling about my books. They cost a lot of money and I wanted to protect them. But I realized these silly rules that have been eliminated where limiting access to my students. The rules left and reading increased. One student this year read Witch Boy and the sequels almost exclusively at home. He couldn’t stop. Now all his friends have read it. My copies of The New Kid and Crossover in Graphic novel are tattered and well loved. These graphic novels would have had limited play if I had not loosened the reigns a bit.

I love my class library and I love that my students will “shop” from it because I can invest in important books that otherwise my students might not see. I also love to have my students go to the library because we offer different experiences. In the end the goal is that my students are reading and have access to books. I never really thought of it as that big of an issue, not having access to books. I always had a library card and remember going but I also remember another experience as a kid and that was the Scholastic Book Fair. I remember going during school and being able to look at all the different books and trinkets. I remember dragging my mom there on parent teacher interview night with the hopes that she would let me pick out a book. We didn’t grow up with a ton of extra money or things but I remember occasionally getting a cool Goosebumps book or some other book like my Dinosaur fact and sticker book from Grade 1. I remember handing those stickers out and reading facts to my friends. The ownership of the book was powerful. It was MY book.

My Dad told me a story once when he went to help someone clean their home before moving. As a life long educator and reader he was struck by an observation he had they entered the home. No books anywhere. Not a newspaper, no magazines. No printed word. The family couldn’t afford extras and in their mind books were extra. In a complete flip in another conversation with a fellow educator they told me about a family in our community that is very well off. They said, as I addressed links to poverty and lack of books in the home and literacy rates, these people could afford all the books and there is not a book in the home. So it seems that beyond just the affordability of building a home library parents need to understand how much having books in the home can help their children thrive in academic settings.

As I am going forward I am playing with doing some research on home libraries in my community and the surrounding ones. Why people do not have books in their homes, if they do how many? What types/titles? I also want to look at poverty because I know that for so many The Scholastic Book Fair is one of their first experiences with realizing they can’t afford what their friends have. I want to look at this idea of home libraries to remove the often heard excuse “kids just don’t want to read” without access they could want until the end of the day but with nothing at arms reach they are without opportunity.

Of course public and classroom libraries can help but for so many those are limitations as well. Distance to the library, teachers serving as gate keepers to limit student choice. Late fees and rules that limit checkouts when a late fine is hanging over head. And we must not forget the ineffective libraries that student have at their finger tips but never touch because they serve as more of a classroom prop than a tool for liberation.

I have seen so many conversations lately around reading instruction. How reading is a human right, a social justice issue. And I agree. It is. But I am not sold on the idea that the instruction is our biggest mountain. Books need to be read, they need to be available, students should not have to hope that their teacher or the librarian will let them read the books they love or worry that because they lost a book they are on hold until they can pay the fees or replace the book.

Providing students with multiple access points to books is the first step in addressing the struggles our striving readers have but we have more work to do. We need to help those who do not understand book access see that they can help.

I am so grateful for the work done by many and in this issue I am shouting out Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp and the amazing attention they bring this issue. Book Access is a complicated issue with many factors but ultimately a simple solution.

Kids will read books if they can choose them and there are not roadblocks to their access.

Once Upon a time

“One upon a time, there was a boy who was invincible,” he whispered, breathing in deeply and filling his lungs with knight superpowers.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast-Samantha M. Clark

I read this line this morning. The “Once upon a time” section appears throughout the story as the main character talks about himself. I am not sure why it struck me but I thought about it all day long.

This year has been especially tough. Not because of any one thing I just am finding it difficult to find my groove. Like I am having some kind of teaching identity crisis. Which is ironic because I just finished talking identity with my students and we were creating webs. I know who I am and who I want to be as a teacher but it is like there is almost a fog that has come in and the path is not quite clear.

I love literacy work, I love to read with and to my students. I love to hear their thoughts and reflections around a text and see the beautiful words they string together. Today they reflected on moments in their lives. Writing beside pictures or items as I take the advice of Kelly Gallagher in “Write Like This”. We reviewed Notice and Note signposts as I took a moment to just sit in the brilliance that Kylene Beers and Bob Probst brought into my life.Students reflected this week on the words of Rudy Francisco and we discussed the Worlds Deadliest animals. Would anyone else have guessed a snail kills more than a shark? The power of media…

This year I have felt like there are moments that I am losing what I think is important chasing after extras.The next big thing, the cool new activities. Following these folks who think good teaching is standing on tables and performing for, instead of working with our students. The pull to be an author over being a teacher. Listening to the noise over noticing the needs.

So I start to reflect, I start to adjust. Back to the basics.

We Read, We Write, We Share

We don’t need a fancy formula. We don’t need a production. Engagement doesn’t come from glitz and glam. It comes from purpose. Authenticity.

I am adding work to our routine that addresses Social Justice and Anti-racism not because I feel students are being missed or disenfranchised because our demographics are pretty slanted one way. I am doing it because the world is diverse and I want my students not just prepared for it but I want them to embrace it. I don’t want them to enter the big beautiful diverse world with only a few experiences they might have gathered from a handful of books. I want them to be curious, inquiry driven minds that want to solve the problems of the world because they see the injustice that is so prevalent. We are going to do this through books and experiences. There are so many already doing this work beautifully and I hope we can add our hands to it.

The fog is clearing.

Once upon a time, there was a teacher, he knew what he wanted and where he was going. He got lost for a minute. But I think he has been found.

The most important work

A few years ago I attended a conference where I was introduced to a speaker named Dr.Jody Carrington. The sessions discussed emotional regulation and another talked about the concept of compassion fatigue and those in fields of work like teaching needing to practice some self care. I was immediately struck by her passion (and the swearing) but she was so dedicated to her message and the importance of helping both the kids and those working with them because our work is so important.

In the years since I have followed her on Social Media including tuning in to her Facebook Live sessions on Sundays and watching her book, “Kids These Days move from an announcement to a tangible accomplishment that I at one point owned 4 copies of and have the audiobook that she narrates.

The book is a wonderful resource when looking at a variety of important topics with actionable steps.

The kids in our care during the school day have so much on their plate that is just school related. Work load, expectations, extra curricular like sports, clubs and other activities all add up. I don’t remember a lot of multi-sport kids when I was younger. I don’t remember kids having to miss out on class because the only time they could fit piano lessons in was during the school day. We have all of these things on their already full plate and then for some they are arriving to school with a plate that is already half full with trauma, income inequalities and other factors FAR outside their control.

The wisdom found in Jody’s book and in her keynote presentations gives educators advice in how to work with, lift up and support all of our students and specifically those who are facing these significant obstacles.

Teachers need support too. Our students are often struggling and we feel powerless to do much when it is happening outside of our walls. The emotional strain is significant. A few years ago I was ready to quit teaching. I was doing everything I could possibly do around the school I worked at. I was invested in my students and burning the candle at both ends, actually the candle was really just one big fire. A single piece of advice from Jody really put it in perspective for me. “We can’t light ourselves on fire to keep others warm.” Now at the time I looked at it like I needed to take care of myself first, the whole put your mask on in an emergency before those around you. But as I looked at the words more I realize for myself it is about looking at what is left in the tank and who gets the reserves.

You can choose the analogy, filling a bucket, drink from an empty glass… whatever the case. As I wrote about a while back for some of our students the world is on fire and we can’t help them if we have nothing left to give. So we need to be mindful. Help our students in need but also help ourselves and those we work with. It is ok to ask for help. Like Jody says we are doing some of the most important work.

Please join use tomorrow (Thursday 8:30 EST, 6:30 MT) for our #G2Great chat with Dr.Jody Carrington as we discuss he book Kids These Days and the powerful topics it addresses.

What a team looks like

This time of year the Gilsons, when not teaching, are at basketball. If not working in the concession, I am sitting on the bench or in the stands cheering the kids on. We love to support the kids, we love visiting with the parents but it is a time commitment and I think often other things suffer because attention and time are spread so thin.

We were at a game the other night and the rival team was perhaps the most vocal and energetic bench I had ever witnessed. They did not stop chanting and cheering on their teammates on the floor the whole game. It was “D-fence” chants on defence and a new one to me “work” on offence and it was not just a few seconds here and there is was rhythmic, they were clapping to a beat and chanting and it was motivating even as someone cheering the opposite team. They, the bench, were like a 6th man on the floor. Working in unison to lift up their teammates. It was something else. But that was not the end to this impressive display of teamwork. At half time while most coaches I know fill the time with coaching, talking to the team pointing out areas they can improve, hopefully offering compliments to what they are doing well, this teams coach stepped away. The players lead their half time discussion. They celebrated each other, they coached each other, they offered feedback constructively. There was no finger pointing, they were lifting each other up. Those of us sitting together all noticed this display of unity, team, family. It was impressive.

Looking at teaching, because it all comes back to that I leave with a few thoughts.

  • How can my classroom reflect this team more?
  • How can my staff support each other more?
  • How can my students take on this lift up versus call down mentality?
  • How do we build this within our own organizations?

We talk a lot in teaching and in coaching. We value a sense of community, we worry more about the kids than the scores, it is about helping develop character and being part of the team that helps develop awesome homes. But what about when the results are down? What about when we forget about the “WORK” what about when the kids do?

These are the moments that really define us. I am grateful I have so many amazing team members with my wife, PLN, coworkers and students. But we have work to do.

Work.

What do we do when the world is on fire?

Yesterday I was talking with a teacher in a very small school who has had 3 or 4 students this year attempt suicide or report suicidal ideations to the point of having to enter a monitored treatment program. We are talking 10 year olds. Some friends, some not but all dealing with mental health struggles that I don’t remember having experienced when I was a kid.

Today a student brought up the Iran conflicts and another wanted to talk about the fires in Australia. If it is literal fires burning or just the different conflicts in the world we have significant issues going on that need to be talked about. Our kids have questions.

I think if we took a poll we would see that mental health issues have spiked significantly from when we were young (I say that as a 37 year old, I imagine it becomes more and more rare the older we look back) I wonder if it is reported more now but regardless I do believe we are seeing students with a higher level of frequency having to deal with issues that need significant help.

Of course mental health is not the only issue, we have students having to navigate, sometimes seemingly solo the trials of poverty. Others intolerance for whatever reason. Bullying continues to be an issue in our schools. We add all of these issues together and it is a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

I wrote the first part of this blog yesterday and then this morning I woke up and discovered this tweet by the incredible Tricia Ebarvia on Twitter.

Just an example of the ingrained racism that exists in our school systems. I read this tweet and remembered a conversation where a fellow teacher mentioned their belief that “as a people” first nations don’t value reading and that is why their kids are so much further behind than their white counterparts. I was floored by the racism in the statement and more disgusted by the other heads in the conversation nodding in agreement. How this blatantly racist myth was continuing to be spread was evident to me. I was new to the division and turned to call out the racism and thankfully another teacher who had more years experience also jumped in to call out the racism but the myth still exists and continues to be used to excuse and defend the poor reading results that seem to be coming from those communities. I can’t help but wonder why we as educators are not looking at things like institutional racism, poverty rates among families on the reserve, access to books, access to breakfast and other dynamics instead of just putting the results on their culture. Probably because it is easier and many are not interested in doing the hard work to address these inequities.

Two days ago when I was pushing back on a quote that basically implied kids who work hard and give it their all will achieve their goals it was implied that I was somehow trying to crush the dreams of kids by saying we should not perpetuate that myth. That we should tell kids that trying hard is great but making room that there are factors that society needs to work on, systems in place that require some kids to work so much harder that society needs to address. I was greeted by a white educator (I would normally not point our race but in this instance it provides context) telling me they are sick and tired of white middle class educators talking about the barriers that keep kids from achieving their goals. Saying that the claim bordered on White Supremacy. I feel in some way they must have misunderstood what I was saying. Or they misunderstand white supremacy but regardless they wanted to shut down the conversation, they wanted the nice little fairy tale that hard work pays off for everyone to continue. It doesn’t. Some of our students will need more support than just their hard work and we as a society need to provide that support through challenging and changing this system of inequalities.

These last few weeks I have made clear my distaste for the message that kindness cures all. I am not in any way against kindness. I think it is support important. I do not however find the message around it profound. Kindness is common sense and being unkind is not generally the source of the worlds problems. My bigger issue comes when I see how much EduTwitter, which I am an active participant holds tightly to the one small act of kindness message. This Starfish idea. I read that fable the other day again and thought it was such a nice story, the boy was right, making a difference for that one starfish was a great act for that one starfish and yes if everyone on that beach was chucking starfish back in the ocean maybe we could save all the starfish but they are getting washed back up tomorrow because that is the system. Kids are not starfish and telling a sweet story and doing one small kind act is not going to fix the system.

Our kids worlds are on fire. Racism, bigotry, mental health issues, poverty, opportunity gaps, achievement gaps, bullying, world conflict, social media and the spread of misinformation that contribute to the rise of anxiety not to mention underfunded education programs that disproportionately impact communities of colour are hurdles that require more than simple acts. The other day I made the comment it is like trying to put out a fire with an eye dropper and the more I see the more I know this to be true.

Yesterday I talked to my kids about the world water crisis, we also talked about Iran and Australia and other things too. We addressed misinformation and the need to examine sources for accuracy. Going forward I am going to focus more on “tough” topics. I am going to work on compassion, empathy, kindness and action. Even a million eye droppers will not put out a fire. The heat would evaporate those little drops before they make a difference. We need educators and communities coming together to address the issues causing our students lives to be in turmoil.

Their Worlds are burning. We need to do more.

Hello Tomorrow

Tomorrow we head back to school. The break has been pretty relaxing. I did less work than I should have, I watched a lot of movies and listened to some awesome podcasts. I should have read more but reading slumps happen and I have a lot of books waiting for me when I am ready. I use to beat myself up about not working very hard on down time. But I am getting better with the concept of GRACE. I am not as hard on myself as I was even two years ago when I thought I needed to spend every minute outside of school…doing school.

I think about this idea of grace when it comes to our students. This week kids are going to be either excited to come back or like many adults mourning the loss of their holiday. Behaviours are going to be on the rise and our ability to handle them with grace will be at a low because we have not had to practice that particular brand of patience for a couple weeks.

Beyond that I think we need to remember that not all of our students had a fabulous break. I think about the kids who have parents that can’t take the time off or can’t afford to do the fun things, get the great gifts that others are so excited to tell everyone about.

In the past I made the absent minded mistake of giving kids time to share how their break was. I never considered that this would be problematic. I thought I was just being the KIND teacher who was giving his students some free time to share and celebrate their fun break. Now instead of kindness I consider empathy.

Tomorrow is a great reset. It is any day not just after a two week break. We are too hard on ourselves and too hard on our kids some times so tomorrow I practice Grace and Empathy. Both will require a little work and patience. I challenge everyone to do the same.

I love the return to school. I also have high anxiety over it. It is ok for teachers to not be excited give yourselves some Grace as well 🙂

A Quick Post

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.

Words Found

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.

I am resolved that the rest just doesn’t matter.

Not yet the word

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

The 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.

  1. Am I having my students do enough? Am I challenging them? Holding them to high enough expectations?
  2. 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.

Are we doing enough? Let’s lend a hand.

Feats of Strength/Airing of Grievances

Background

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.

In closing

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.

Happy Festivus!