The Therapy of Teaching

By Akil Parker

Therapy: treatment intended to heal or relieve a disorder; the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means

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 I was a classroom teacher for 13 years and to put it bluntly, being a classroom teacher gave me life. Pontificating on different topics in front of a captive audience can be cool. Delivering instruction can be cool. Mastering your content area through teaching the content area is also cool. But to me, the coolest part of being a classroom teacher is developing the positive relationships with the students that you are responsible for. Often you will even develop relationships with students that you come in contact with regularly but are not even on your class roster. This is because certain teachers take responsibility for students regardless of whether they are on their roster or not. Some teachers are responsible elders and abide by the traditional African cultural practice of assuming responsibility for all children in the community because “it takes a village to raise a child.” The school is a community in and of itself.

 I still teach even though it is in a different capacity and with far less students. But when I did teach far more students, one of the reasons that I enjoyed the positive relationships I developed is because it was therapeutic for me. I do believe that a prerequisite for this circumstance is an innate belief in the humanity of your students. I am a Black man and my students (with few exceptions) were Black boys and girls that are generally dehumanized by the western society at large on a daily basis. If one embraces this belief in the absence of their humanity then the interaction would not be therapeutic and instead stressful and contentious.

 Working with your students enables one to be reflective on their own lives. Case in point, while I graduated from high school a little over 20 years ago, I remember  many of the issues I was confronted with years ago being visited upon my students in the classroom during their own growth and development.  As a teacher, I am more of an “Olehead with Content Knowledge” than a typical instructor so I often give my students relevant advice and guidance. Some is solicited and some unsolicited. But even the unsolicited advice is never abrasive nor is it unappreciated. This is part of the reason I developed the positive reputation among my numerous students throughout the years. Analyzing these familiar situations that were throwbacks to my own adolescence in all actuality provided me the opportunity on frequent occasion to work through and grapple with unresolved issues from my own past that my students were currently dealing with in their own lives. Some of these issues I did not even know were unresolved until I confronted them vicariously by offering aid to my students.

 Sometimes when appropriate, I would even disclose to my students the account of what I had been involved in relevant to their current circumstance and we would discuss the value of the student either duplicating my behavior or taking an alternate route. These discussions were not limited to my own youth, as I would often be transparent and share adult reflections with the youth so that they could learn from mistakes that they have yet to even be placed in position to make. My hope was that years later when possibly confronted with those situations they would have an idea of how they should navigate them. As an example, I have shared personal mistakes and failures in my relationships with the mothers of my children and how these errors have impacted my children and my relationships with their mothers. I have supplemented these anecdotes with alternative courses of action that I think would be beneficial to them and wish that I had been privy to earlier on. These conversations were also meant to help the students organically develop their own critical thinking skills via experiences relevant to their lives. This overall experience of sharing was therapeutic for me as well.

With all of the popular conversation surrounding trauma, self-care and the mental health issues of students and children in general, it should be noted that many teachers in classrooms have experienced similar and even identical trauma while they were in their own youth. Much of it may not have been processed in a healthy and productive manner. As mentioned above providing guidance to students as a means of processing these experiences can be invaluable to the teacher. This practice of exposing one’s past experiences can also serve to humanize the teacher in the view of the students while still maintaining appropriate boundaries between teacher and student. Perhaps more teachers should still seek out professional therapeutic services in addition to these classroom experiences.

Another therapeutic aspect of teaching is the collegial and wholesome relationships that some teachers are able to foster with their students resulting in your looking forward to entering the school building because you know you will see your “yung buls” and they will likewise anticipate seeing you, their “olehead.” This is healthy for your psyche and the psyche of the youth as you are often a fixture in their lives. Your daily presence in the classroom and hallways gives the youth an emotional stability and vice versa. If you disagree with this, investigate the reactions from students when a teacher is absent for even one day.

When my late brother was in his final days due to stage IV stomach cancer, which precipitated a three-week school absence on my part, I experienced additional emotional discomfort the entire time because of an instinctive feeling of abandonment toward my students. The circumstances of my brother coupled with missing the interaction with my students compounded personal stress for me. When I returned to my students after the three-week hiatus, I was invigorated and temporarily distracted from the reality of my recent loss. Being reunited with my students also helped me to put things in perspective and move closer toward my original emotional equilibrium.

For me teaching has also had a positive effect on my body’s physiology. When people become aware that I am in my late thirties after prejudging me as looking like I could be in my late twenties I attribute this to the trifecta of embracing Pan-Africanism, drinking plenty of water and teaching. This is somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek response but I am certain it has some truth to it. The specific aspect of teaching that I believe serves as my so-called “Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth” is the therapy I receive from having regular interactions with my students.

I would be disingenuous if I said that I did not miss being a traditional classroom teacher. I miss my students and the organic therapy that engaging with them provides among other things. I currently offer math tutoring services which provides engagement with students but at a much smaller scale than classroom teaching does. Even this smaller scale level of engagement is beneficial to one’s psyche and I highly recommend this. As teachers, we should seek out opportunities to develop positive relationships with our students for myriad reasons; one often overlooked reason is so we can receive much needed therapy within these interpersonal interactions.

 Aluta continua. Lasima tshinde mbilishaka.

 

Savoo the Human

By, Akil Parker - Educator, Activist, Father.

I spent the last two school years teaching at Overbrook High School in West Philly. Many call it the “Castle on the Hill” at 59th and Lancaster to be exact. The school is essentially operated as a minimum-security prison by administrators, climate managers and many other staff members who are very complicit with efforts to maintain the School-To-Prison Pipeline. Per usual, most of those employed would justify complicity because they claim to be “just doing their job” and/or they lack the insight to realize how they are engaging in contributory negligence to minors. The students and the surrounding communities these youth inhabit suffer and will suffer for future generations as a result of the experience in schools like this. But there is nothing accidental about this circumstance as non-Blacks that wield political and economic power over these communities benefit tremendously while schools such as Overbrook are an integral part of their maintenance of power.

 

I once heard a young sister in the 9th grade proudly self-identify herself as a “savage.” I understood that it was highly probable that this sister was unaware of the huge amount of propaganda put forth by Europeans historically meant to convince people of African descent that we were innately savage (as a means to control us and usurp our land, resources and power) in stark contrast to the reality of our highly advanced civilizations Africans have maintained throughout history. Perhaps if the young sister had been educated to the realities of our history in a contextualized and culturally relevant manner, she would have rejected this moniker of savage instead of embracing it.

 

In regards to this particular student, I remember her being handcuffed one day after school and then manhandled while being aggressively taken from the front lobby of the building to the security office by a middle-aged negro male school police officer. She was then verbally thrashed by him because she was not “polite” and “docile” as he and the climate manager would have preferred her be while handcuffed. This is an example of school bullying that school personnel visit upon students and takes place more often than not in these types of institutions and is not widely discussed. It should be discussed much more. If this young sister was accustomed to being treated like a savage, it does seem appropriate for her to embrace the idea of being a savage or calling herself a savage. Such is the fate of many Black youth at Overbrook High School, the Philadelphia School District and beyond.

 

Many of those familiar with the city of Philadelphia might assume the above to be a fictional account due to their personal engagement with the school as well as the reputation of the school as a once elite institution that graduated the likes of actor Will Smith, basketball great Wilt Chamberlin and many other so-called “successful Blacks.” But is one successful if he/she helps maintain the status quo of a society fixated on marginalizing, exploiting, and ultimately destroying Black people? All alumni are not monolithic, but let’s discuss one in particular. Philadelphia City Councilmember Curtis Jones is an alum with a shiny photograph of himself in the school’s second floor “Marble Hall” (that students are not supposed to walk through) and he saw fit to recently honor his olehead[1] and former mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode, Sr. with a street co-naming despite the fact that he was responsible for the murder of 11 MOVE members (6 adults, 5 children) on May 13, 1985 via a C-4 bomb being dropped on their home in West Philly. The people we respect and honor indicates a great deal about who we are and what our values are.

 

In years past, the school had a population of around 2500 students in the 5-floor building in different academies meant to provide students with true educational options. Currently, there may be approximately 500 students enrolled on 3 floors (top 2 floors are closed-off) with a one-size-fits all academic track for all students in the building.  This type of institutional savagery promotes the type of identification with savagery the young sister identified with in the hallway that day.

 

From my personal experience with the students, I find firsthand that many of these students are only responding to social environmental conditions they are confronted with in order to ensure their own self-preservation in certain spaces. This is why they may identify with so-called savagery. One young brother that also attends Overbrook and was one of my best students last year goes by the name of Savoo (pronounced Sav-O). Observing him helped me to gain understanding of why some of our Black youth identify this way.

 

Savoo also was enrolled in a woodshop course that was warehoused in the classroom across the hallway from mine where there was a substitute teacher – an older Black woman retiree in the classroom as a long-term substitute. She was covering this class and trying to teach the students some basic vocational skills while there since the original teacher had moved on. Since the teacher on record had left, the students were unable to have an actual woodshop experience.

 

One day a fight broke out down the hallway. I heard the commotion and went to my doorway to assess the situation and see how I might help diffuse the situation. After everything calmed down, the substitute teacher called me over to her room to ask a question. Upon seeing me, Sahvoo said, “Yo Park[2], tell her she can’t be standing in the doorway blocking the door when a fight starts cuz people would knock her out the way to try and get to the fight to help their friends – I don’t want her to get hurt bro.” His honest and caring words hit me like a ton of bricks because in the midst of all of the daily trauma and toxicity that defines Overbrook High School in 2018, this young brother who attends daily applied critical thinking and genuine concern to a typical situation in order to contribute to the well-being of an elderly Black woman that could have been his own grandmother. I almost became emotional over this.

 

Savoo is no savage at all – he is a human of the highest order. Within his statement to me he even unwittingly echoed the words of the late Ernesto “Che” Guevera when he said that people go toward a fight because they want to help their friends. Guevera stated years ago fighting alongside revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and Juan Almeda that “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Most Black youth at schools such as Overbrook have been denied the necessary political education to render them revolutionary, but they do often jump in fights out of love for their friends and family and a desire to protect them from physical harm moreso than a hatred for the adversaries at hand.

 

I already knew Savoo was a good human based upon my interactions with him in my 1st period B-Day Geometry class. His words in that situation further solidified my opinion of him as a good human. How do I know that he, like the aforementioned young sister victimized by school police brutality identify as a savage? One day after hearing countless peers refer to him by that name and seeing him write that name on his classwork and homework assignments repeatedly I simply asked him about the etymology of the name. When I asked, he responded, “Because I’m a savage.” My rejection of his status as a savage is not intended to disrespect him at all but instead to shed light on the fact that due to the prevalence of European global dominance facilitated by their own collective savagery at the expense of other ethnicities, that type of behavior has been elevated to an elite status. Our Black youth do not actually want to be savages – they actually want to feel empowered and have agency over themselves and they have been conditioned to believe that savagery provides this. More Black elders have to get in rooms and on corners or wherever with our youth and challenge them to think about why they would even want to be a savage in the first place and if it will provide them with power and agency. Many Black youth are only attempting to live in a manner consistent with a narrative constantly fed them by European-controlled mass media that dictates often covertly that savagery is the pinnacle of existence. But even with being constantly bombarded with this negative propaganda, humanity still endures.

 

In all of these toxic school environments, these stories highlighting the humanity of our written-off students abound. It is our responsibility to recognize them, highlight them and promote them as a healthy and positive propaganda that can contribute to our own racial uplift. Shout-Out to Savoo.

 

Aluta continua. Lasima tshinde mbilishaka.

 

September 27, 2018

 


[1] An elder in the community that one shows deference to and that has provided certain guidance to the younger individual identifying them in this manner

[2] Nickname given me by students; shortened version of Mr. Parker

Double Consciousness

By Akil Parker

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“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

- WEB DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

I’m going to flip or should I say depart from the more standard interpretation of WEB DuBois’s concept of “Double Consciousness” and use it as a concept we as parents, students, and stakeholders should apply to our engagement with the schools in our neighborhoods. It is imperative that we smarten up and realize that the vast majority of the time the decision-makers and those that are mere recipients of these decisions are not on the same side. This is critical to our survival as a people because in neo-colonial capitalist systems such as America there is a predatory relationship maintained. This predatory relationship is much like that of lions chasing zebras as seen on the Discovery Channel programs. The task of catching and slaughtering the zebra by the lions would be even easier if the zebra thought that they and the lions were all on the same side. Such is the case with many of us in the Black community serviced by the public schools – we are like confused zebras believing that the decision-makers have our best interest in mind.

As those serviced by the schools (students and parents), we need to be conscious of  what our own personal and collective goals are and how the school system can help facilitate us achieving those goals. We must become conscious of what the federal, state, local governments (including federal and state departments of education as well as local school boards), corporations, local businesses, ie the power structure have as its own goals. If the goals of the power structure do not coincide with the goals of those attending the schools then exploitation will most certainly occur. There cannot be a healthy coexistence of objectives in a neo-colonial capitalist system – it is mathematically impossible. There is a symbiotic parasitic relationship between the power structure and the students which occurs. We can cite some examples.

Corporations require access to cheap labor in order to minimize overhead expenses while maximizing profits. This labor source must be developed or more appropriately “underdeveloped” in order to be suitable as a cheap labor supply. (We must pay homage to the late Walter Rodney that expounded on this concept of underdevelopment of Africa and it relates here) So how can the same corporations that require this cheap labor actually want students to excel academically essentially rendering them overqualified for positions as cheap labor? Thus, when we walk into a comprehensive high school and see a banner displaying a partnership with Aramark, or any other corporation you should know what time it is.

In addition to cheap labor, we must also consider the desire for free labor by the same predatory and ravenous corporations. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution provides a loophole that maintains chattel slavery or free labor. It states that “slavery shall be abolished unless one has been duly convicted of a crime.” Prisons are akin to hotels in that many are privately-owned and operated with the goal of maximum profit via maximum occupancy. If private prison corporations such as Wackenhut or CCA along with other corporations that generate revenue from prisons can collude with music distribution corporations to advertise a very sexy criminal lifestyle, would they want students exposed to this music to excel academically as this reduces the likelihood that they will partake in this criminal lifestyle and thus be engaged with the penal system?

Politicians play a part as well. And we do not have many political exemplars beholden to the constituency such as Philadelphia natives David P. Richardson and Roxanne Jones or New York’s Adam Clayton Powell, Jr in these modern times. Often it is the same city council members, state representatives or mayor that will visit schools for photo ops on a Monday before signing into law on Tuesday a bill that will remove much-needed resources and programming from the school or close neighborhood recreation centers or ease the process of white settlers to colonize (gentrify) their neighborhoods. How could these politicians actually be on our side unless they believe that our relationship should be sadomasochistic?

Even some school administrators play their part in the exploitation. Some have little to no respect for parents or students, prefer to have their schools function as minimum-security prisons and promote a culture of mediocrity where failure is an accepted option as long as they receive their six-figure salary divided into 26 biweekly increments. Much like workers in other fields, many school administrators that harm students (and communities at large as a result) absolve themselves of responsibility and claim they are only “doing their job” because they are beholden to an area superintendent, who is in turn beholden to a superintendent, who is then beholden to local and national corporations. If these administrators were truly “on our side” they would be beholden primarily to the students and their parents in the spirit of the late Marcus Foster (1960s Principal of Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, PA). These administrators will constantly spew rhetoric about how they want the students to be ”successful” and are so focused on implementing systems throughout the building to ensure this so-called success. Successful at what should be the question. Further, whose definition of success is being applied here? Success is not some one-sized-fits-all concept. It is dependent upon an individual’s personal experience and worldview as well as politico-economic and cultural orientation. How could we reasonably believe that these administrators that behave in this manner are on the same side as the students?

How do we get bamboozled into thinking we are all in this together? Well for one, the power structure has very effective and convincing propaganda at its disposal. It enlists those we are conditioned to love, namely Black celebrities, to reinforce this idea of cohesiveness among us. They are recruited to make us think that the goals of the power structure and our goals are one in the same. This is why professional sports teams will provide schools cheap trinkets such as free game tickets or t-shirts and corporate-controlled rappers and singers will visit schools to talk or perform in order to further this charade. We also have been conditioned to have preconceived notions that all school systems are inherently wholesome and nurturing and the individuals responsible for their operation would be too. Part of the reason we get taken advantage of is that we often just “go with the flow” with many issues and never establish any concrete and tangible goals for ourselves and our children. We often dismiss this act as unnecessary because we have an implicit trust for the school system and believe it will do this for us due to its great propaganda. It can be seen as “in loco parentis” gone wild. If the fundamental assumption is that the school system is trustworthy (absent any critical analysis) then we leave ourselves vulnerable to be taken advantage of. In this case, those in the power structure can echo the words of P.T. Barnum stating, “There‘s a sucker born every minute.” And many of us have been and continue to be suckered by the power structure.

How do we prevent being exploited by the power structure? We must fully embrace a healthy skepticism around anything the power structure offers to participate in in a school setting and enact a “double consciousness.” We must be doubly conscious of both our own tangible goals and simultaneously of those of the power structure as well. Once we have this awareness, then we will be able to better discern what we should be supporting and not supporting that it puts forth.

When we begin to view public education through this lens then more of us will hopefully reach the logical conclusion that we can neither trust nor change the power structure and thus we must create a network of independent schools by which to educate our children. When the concerned parents, students and stakeholders displace the current power structure with themselves in a new school system then and only then will we be on the same side. Until then we need to exercise an astute “double consciousness” in order to protect ourselves from exploitation.

Aluta continua. Lasima tshinde mbilishaka.

Oleheads with Content Knowledge

By Akil Parker

It is ironic but still fitting that I am writing this on my penultimate day as a classroom teacher for the School District of Philadelphia. Many of my peers and students alike have questioned my reasons for leaving the public school classroom. There are myriad reasons, but one of the primary reasons would be the difficulty presented when attempting to provide my students what they need in an instructor. The fact of the matter is that my students need more than an instructor – they require “Oleheads with Content Knowledge.” There is a desperate need for an increase in the number of Black male teachers in the public/charter classrooms, but they must also be of a certain ilk or else we risk populating these classrooms with Black male teachers that will not improve the condition of our youth and communities at large. It is not enough to merely increase recruitment efforts of Black male teachers that will only further indoctrinate our youth into the logic of the oppressive western society and help to maintain that society.

 

Let me clarify the terminology presented. In the Philadelphia vernacular (descended from African cultural patterns), an olehead (or oldhead) is one that takes responsibility for those younger than he or she, one that provides guidance and wisdom that the younger person has been unable to gain on his own up to that point in his/her life. One need not be a senior citizen to be considered an olehead in this context as the relationship is relative – there are 12 year-olds that serve as oleheads to 6 year-olds in our community as they should.

 

The counterpart to the olehead in the African culturally descended vernacular is the “young bul.” This is also critical to comprehend because the young bul must choose the olehead and not vice versa despite many in the community erroneously believing that just as a mere virtue of age difference or status that they can designate a youth as their yung bul. In these situations the student must choose the teacher and not vice versa.

 

Throughout my career I have mainly taught African-American youth from low to middle income urban environments so I will comment on what I believe to be most effective for the needs of this demographic. But we must also consider that what I am proscribing for student success transcends race, ethnicity and socioeconomic level. Students will learn most effectively from elders they trust and identify with that respect them and have intimate understanding of them, their background and life experience. I term this type of teacher, “Olehead with Content Knowledge.” One of the major educational barriers for many of my students has been that they were not actually learning the material or weren’t in a classroom headed by their “olehead.” If a young person classifies a teacher as his/her olehead then that means that he/she has chosen that person and identified him as a person he/she wishes to learn from. This is a major key in the classroom due to the vulnerable nature of learning in general.

 

When we actually leave the students to their devices, we hear them tell elaborate and vivid accounts of what their oleheads have instructed them to do explicitly or have implicitly modeled for them. The tutelage can be applied to all aspects of daily existence. These oleheads may be members of their community and/or upperclassmen within the same school or course section. Oleheads that provide guidance on subjects such as interactions with the opposite sex, economic opportunities, basic etiquette, self-defense and other areas of socialization in the community should also be the individuals in the classroom instructing them in mathematics, history, world languages, sciences, etc. These individuals would have a natural ability to make the content more meaningful and relatable to the students due to their relationship with them. Throughout my tenure, I have been able to capitalize on this reality.

 

It only makes sense that a school system concerned with providing true education as opposed to miseducation of its constituency would want to populate its classrooms with teachers that embody this olehead “ethos” coupled with specific content knowledge. If all of these individuals with excessive amounts of formal education charged with the maintenance and operation of these schools are not prioritizing the placement of these types of individuals in the schools then it is safe to say that they either do not want them there or they are aggressively prohibited from doing placing them there by those with more power than they possess.

 

Throughout my 13-year teaching career, I have been classified as the “olehead” of literally hundreds of my students. When you hear the students refer to you in the 3rd person to one of their peers as “my olehead,” then you know you have been certified by the youth as an effective teacher. This is a tacit admission that this student has decided that I was fit to teach them and that he/she was comfortable receiving instruction from me. Learning is generally a very intimate and vulnerable activity that cannot always take place within all teacher-student relationship dynamics regardless of how much content mastery the teacher has. Many have heard the mantra, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This ideal is manifested here with the idea of the “olehead with content knowledge” or the term “legit olehead” as many Philadelphia youth also utilize.

 

The concept of the legit olehead is culturally grounded and in regards to a young Black male student specifically, he has a psychosocial need to identify with an elder Black male of a similar cultural grounding as opposed to a male or female of a different cultural grounding in order to manifest this educational relationship. Does this mean that the young Black male is unable to learn from men or women of varying cultural backgrounds? Not necessarily, but it does emphasize the point that the Black male has a proclivity to be taught by an elder Black male that would also be his olehead. Such is why if we as Black people are currently unable to develop our own network of independent schools, then we need to at least have a plethora of legit oleheads in the classrooms wherever our children are present. This is also not meant to devalue and diminish the need for culturally grounded Black women in the classrooms our children occupy – the sistas can be oleheads too.

 

The Black female students will also benefit from increased quantities of quality Black male teachers as well. Part of the role of the legit olehead is to be a provider for and protector of the community and its inhabitants. Young girls need to be presented with as many models of decent Black men that would embody qualities of a potential mate from a young age. This will serve to counter the amount of images real and media-driven of the shiftless, irresponsible, apathetic, exploitative Black male that may only value her as an object of sexual desire. This is far too prevalent within our community. It is important to highlight the fact that this benefit to young Black females of having positive Black males in the classroom was explicitly expressed to me as a new teacher back in 2005 by one of my olehead veteran teachers, a Ms. Siouda Chestnut. She was a legit olehead at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School to both students and teachers. I have never forgotten these words and even passed them on to others in schools where I have since worked.

 

Culturally, people of African descent are very relational in terms of their social interaction paradigm. This can explain an elder that has a positive relationship and has provided for the youth may be permitted to speak to that youth in an aggressive tone while an elder that has not established that relationship would very often get cursed out by the youth (The issue of respecting elders regardless of the structure is beyond the scope of this writing). In eurocentric neo-colonial public schools, there is an unwritten curriculum and underlying culture that dictates specific content knowledge is paramount to positive relationships and rapport. What those that manage these schools deny or fail to realize is that when positive relationships are privileged, more learning and student buy-in will take place anyway. Thus, I submit that in order for Black youth to learn more effectively there would have to take place a paradigm shift where quality relationships become paramount or at least tantamount to specific content knowledge. It is the legit oleheads that must promote this different educational paradigm, which returns us to our traditional African cultural forms of education.

 

The fact of the matter is that overall, our Black children are not effectively learning in the eurocentric neo-colonial public/charter schools. Even students that appear to excel academically and gain college admission often are not experiencing deep learning that prepares them to advance at subsequent educational levels and become responsible handlers of power. I do not believe this condition to be coincidental or accidental at all and in keeping with this belief it would be logical to commit to the revolutionary act of divesting of these schools altogether and augmenting the network of independent Black schools for our children by lending a groundswell of our support to it. The Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI) has an existent example. Short of that act of widespread support, we must have a certain type of teacher in the public/charter classroom with our children. If we are going to increase the number of Black male teachers since they are currently grossly underrepresented in these schools, these teachers should be “oleheads with content knowledge” or “legit oleheads.”

 

Special Education - are our students ashamed?

Why do you want to be part of the crowd when it’s obvious that you were meant to be yourself. Standout. Be proud. Be YOU!
— Unknown

By Victoria Robinson

Many of our students, who are classified as special education often feel as if they aren't " normal", that no one understands who they are and the stigma that can come with being a special education student. Many of the disabilities that students in special education classes are diagnosed with, a treatable and still offer students the opportunities available to their peers who may be in general education classes. One must be aware that special education classification covers a large spectrum from visual impairments, dyslexia, autism, ADHD, Aspergers and more.

 

As we learn more about special education via web sites, advocates, IDEA and foundations, we also learn that special education is more mainstream than ever. Its not a classification that labels the student who isn't understood, poor, "slow" or "special". Its a classification that lives amongst us all and makes us no different.

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One afternoon, my students expressed embarrassment for being in a "slow" class as they call it and to remind them of how they only learn differently, we googled famous people who have also been diagnosed under the umbrella of special education. They were shocked to see who was on the list, and even more surprised to see what they accomplished even with what society has defined as a blemish.

 

It's important share with our children and students that they are "typical kids", that being in a class with a small ratio, learning at a different pace, does not make them any different than their peers. We need to share with them that outside of the classroom and the school, they too are functional adults who will contribute to society and can benefit from all that the world has to offer.

Bruce Willis, star of the Die Hard series and The Sixth Sense, enrolled in a high school drama class as a way to overcome a debilitating stutter. To his surprise, he found the speech impediment disappeared when he performed. Needless to say, he used that coping tool to his advantage and now rakes in up to $25 million for his roles in action films.

Robin Williams, this Hollywood Star was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a child. He never refuses a role related to medicine - "Awakenings" and "Patch Adams" are two examples.

Cher- Disability: Dyslexia . Performed as part of the Sonny & Cher musical duo. Recorded chart-topping hits from the 1960s ("Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves") to late 1990's ("Believe").

Tom Cruise- Disability: Dyslexia (Rumors have it that he is still unable to read today.) Starred in many films, including "Top Gun", "Born on the 4th of July", "Rain Man", "Mission Impossible", and "Vanilla Sky". Both "Born on the 4th of July" and "Rain Man" dealt with disability issues in a positive way.

Inspiring Our Students: Pat and I Living Our Dreams

 

By Lloyd Knight

Lloyd Knight is the Principal at Charter Schools USA, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Mr. Knight began his career as a student teacher and has worked at every level including curriculum resource teacher, classroom teacher, and assistant principal. Before moving to Indianapolis, he was the lead principal of North Carolina for Charter Schools USA, he spearheaded the expansion of five new buildings and the largest portfolio of charter schools in the state of North Carolina.Mr. Knight is a trained peacekeeper, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Shaw University in North Carolina, and earned his Master of Arts degree in Education Leadership from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Knight is also a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, a public service organization founded in 1911.

 

About 9 years ago I fulfilled a lifelong dream.  

Growing up -- all I ever wanted was to be a teacher.  After 5 years at Shaw University, I was able return home to Newport News, VA, where I began living my dream.

To be from my hometown is to know that football and basketball are as important to the overall spirit of the area as much crossing the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to get to the beach or Norfolk Scope.  

For these reasons, the other half of my dream was to coach at my alma mater Denbigh High School.  Affectionately known as “The Dirt” it is a place where many of its students come from low-income housing yet excel to become high school and college graduates.  

While at Denbigh I did well for myself athletically and desired an opportunity to mentor and mold future athletes.  This goal inspired me to apply for the head varsity coaching position at Denbigh High School.

After meeting the head coach of my former school, I was given an opportunity to be on his staff and lead the JV basketball program.  I could not contain myself with the excitement of getting my first head-coaching job.

A dream of mine had been fulfilled.  

This was a chance for me to work with students that were just like me 10 years prior.

During early season workouts with my new team, I reflected on the anxiety I felt during my first basketball tryout.  I remembered first day of tryouts with over 150 8th to10th-grade players in the gym running until the first person during the tryout quit.  

I remembered the multiple cuts that were made and the sweat required to join the basketball team.  The day that my name was called by Coach Hochman was life changing.

 

Near the end of my first tryout as the JV coach of Denbigh High School, I was faced with a dilemma.  Do I focus on the young players and build for the future or do I go for the win? Weeks prior, I went to local middle schools to recruit students to play for our JV team.  At Passage Middle School I recruited a number of students that were already in the program with summer future league basketball.

        At the end of the tryout I decided that I would focus on both.  

I wanted to win but I would also carry a huge number of 8th grade students to build for the future.  So in a move that many shook their heads at, I kept 19 basketball players for the junior varsity basketball team.

Even with that many players remaining in the program, there are still going to be students that thought they would make the team that didn’t.  Some of the factors I used for making the team really had nothing to do with basketball skills.

I wanted students that had immediate talent that could play right away, young body types at a young age that will translate to size in the future, or leadership through academics and reasonable athletic ability.  

        If a student did not fit into any of these categories, they likely did not make the team.  After cutting down the program from over 100 8th to 10th-grade students to 19 students, I felt really good about the team that was before me.  

The following Monday we began practice.  

I remember dragging them through drill after drill of running and exercise that first day, to make sure they knew that playtime was over and that it was time to work.  

        While walking to the parking lot, I ran into this little fat kid on his bike to circles around the cars.  

He had on a dusty outfit and looked like he was still in middle school.  I asked him his name and he told me it was Pat.

He also said that he had tried out for the team, but was cut.  I immediately felt anxiety and angst.

After exchanging pleasantries, I said goodbye to the young fella and went home for the evening.

        The following day, while getting ready for practice, I noticed the same young man in the corner of the gymnasium dribbling a basketball while the rest of the team was in practice jerseys warming up in the center of the court.  

I walked up to him and gave him some dap.  

He asked if he could stay in the gym to watch practice.  I told him it was okay as long as he didn’t disrupt, and stayed out of the way of practice.  

To my surprise, Pat watched intently from the bleachers as I began to implement a system for our team.  It was almost as if he was preparing to be an assistant coach of the team.

For about a week, Pat came to practices and observed -- he never disrupted anything.  

The boys on the team didn’t mind his presence either.  They would joke with him and he appeared to have a great chemistry with them as well.

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No one clowned Pat because he was cut from the team.  Everyone knew that they had been through hell to join the team and were going through hell to be a part of the team.  

At that time, my respect for the young man was growing by the day.  After a week and a half of observing practices, I decided that it was time to make Pat a permanent fixture of our team.  

After practice on that day, I made Pat a manager for our team.

For the next week or so, Pat made sure all of the basketballs and equipment were ready for practice.  This was impressive, because remember -- Pat is in the 8th grade.

He is going to school miles away during the day and then catching an activity bus to Denbigh to be a manager for the team.  Pat could have easily have said “Screw this. I’m no one’s ball boy. I should have made the team. Why doesn’t this coach see that?”

Instead, Pat became a part of the team the best way he knew how.

He worked hard and earned his spot as a manager on the team.  He humbled himself to be a part of the program.

After a week as being manager, I saw Pat starting to come down from the bleachers and participate in drills with the team.

He would grab rebounds for players and take jump shots with the team. It was during this time that I realized that this young man had some game to him.  

In a crowd of over 100 athletes, Pat would never stand out as an 8th grader.  He was a chubby kid that was neither tall nor short. He didn’t jump very high and wasn’t quick.  What he did have that I was not aware of through the crowd of students was that he had a drive and tenacity that was unmatched.  

Pat is a DOG!  

He competes at a ridiculously high level.  He doesn’t give a damn how big your are, how fast you are, or how strong you are he was going to give you his absolute best in all things.

The more and more that I watched Pat compete, the more I knew that he deserved to be on the team.  

So, after 3 weeks of working his way into the program through the backdoor, I called a team meeting.  

At that meeting, I walked in with a practice jersey in my hand.  I addressed the team about perseverance and working diligently to accomplish your goals.  I began to talk about the work Pat had done and with a smile, I put the jersey around Pat’s neck and announced he was now a player on our team.

The sound that came from our players on that day was one of joy.  

There weren’t any haters that day.  Pat was celebrated because he earned the opportunity he was given.  

For the remainder of the season Pat played here and there.  I would only coach this young man for one season as I was called to go to Chicago to continue my education endeavors.  

I stayed in touch with many of the players of that time as they eventually graduated high school and went to college.

Pat and I never lost touch for too long.  

One of the reasons for this is because of the relationship I have had with his family over the years.  

I have fraternity brothers within his family.  I have high school classmates I had with his family.  This gave me an opportunity to watch, as the little chubby kid with the tenacity to run through brick walls became the starting linebacker and Virginia All Star Game Defensive MVP in his senior year.  

Pat didn’t stop wanting to be great after the season ended with basketball.  

He was committed to being his absolute best in all areas.  Rejection and feeling wronged in a situation like making a basketball team can take you into different directions.  

I remember a kid that tried out for the JV team back when I was in high school once approached me in my senior year.  He told me that he was a better player than me at the time and that our coach was racist because he only kept the black players.  This student (who never joined any athletic team) could not recover from the rejection of not being good enough to play.

His resolve and perseverance was non-existent.  Instead, I chose to complain with his buddies over beers.

This is what made Pat so special in my eyes.  

He took his rejection and used it.  He used the fact that I didn’t think he was good enough to eventually earn a scholarship to Shepherd University where this year he earned his bachelor’s degree.  He is now on his way to fulfill his fifth year of eligibility by pursuing his master’s at Virginia State University.

There were many students at Denbigh High School that may have been better athletes that Pat in 8th grade but no one had his drive to be better.  

The proof is in the wonderful and inspiring young man he is today.  His story is one of inspiration. I am proud to have mentored and worked with him.  He deserves to be celebrated.

He’s earned it.

 

 

They Can’t All Be White: Why Representation Matters in our Schools

 

By: Wendy Davis

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Wendy has been a NYC Public School teacher for over ten years teaching on the elementary school level. She is now an Instructional Coach/Staff Developer and is a supporter of increasing diversity among teachers and curriculum.  

“All of our teachers can’t be white,” I stated matter-of-factly at our Instructional Cabinet meeting one morning a few years back.

My principal stared at me intently. His eyes probed me to say more.

“How can we have a school building full of black and brown kids and all their teachers are white?” I continued.

No one said anything. We all kind of sat in that statement for a few minutes. I wondered if any of them had ever even considered that before. I scanned the faces at the table. There were eight of us there. My eyes went from the square-chinned, white face of the Literacy Coach, to the blue-eyed and blond-haired ESL teacher, to the other blue-eyed and blond-haired Technology Specialist, to the white, brown-haired  IEP teacher, to the white Assistant Principal, to the African-American Math Coach, and then lastly, to the face of my African-American Principal. And then there was me, the Staff Developer, a very fair-skinned Puerto Rican and Cuban. I noticed their eyes scanning the faces at the table now. Were they counting all the white people at the table? 5 out of the 8 decision makers at this table were white. In all reality, upon a first glance, many people would add me into that number of white people because of the fairness of my skin. So let’s revise the ratio. To an outsider looking in, 6 out of 8 decision makers at the table were “white”.

Silence continued. Awkward silence. But I wouldn’t let it go.

Eventually, a conversation began and the people at the table slowly acknowledged the “whiteness” of the school building. We had a total of 4 black, brown or Latino teachers out of more than 30 teachers in the building. Which means that out of approximately 600 students, only about 120 of them had a classroom teacher that looked like them. Those 120 students had representation of themselves and their families, but what about the other 400+? I pushed a little more. What about all the other staff members? Not just the teachers. Were our black, brown and Latino students represented anywhere else in our building? And then we noticed something. It was quite interesting to say the least. We did have other black or brown staff members besides the 4 teachers, the Math Coach and the Principal. We in fact had several paraprofessionals, school aides, cafeteria workers and custodians that were black, brown or Latino.

“Think about that. What unintended message do you think that is sending our kids?” I asked.

Silence.

Then my Principal spoke. His eyes were sad. “Besides the few of us at this table, all the minorities I’ve hired are ‘the help’”. The air quotes he added around the words “the help” were sullen. It was as if he were disappointed in himself for not noticing this sooner. He did not want his school building to perpetuate media-induced stereotypes of black, brown and Latino people only being helpers or maids or subordinates.

And so began our school’s conscious effort to diversify our teaching staff so that our students could see themselves and their families in their teachers. But more importantly, so they could see that black and brown people can have any and every role in the school community and beyond.

But does cultural representation really matter? My answer would be 1,000 percent yes!  Now more than ever, in an America that is inundated with negative images and commentary around minorities, our students need to see and believe that they are so much more than what society tells them they are. According to Laura Thomas, Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, “Our children's early experiences -- including the hours spent consuming media -- shape what they imagine to be possible for people who look like them, live where they live, or come from where they came from. Simply put, kids determine what they can be based on the examples around them.”

So let’s think about that. Children spend upwards of 35 hours a week, 140 hours a month, 5,600 hours a year at school. These hours are filled with experiences, both good and bad, that they are internalizing. These experiences are shaping who they become. With that being said, how powerful and purposeful it is for students to be surrounded by people who look like them, like their parents, like their aunts, like their uncles. How empowering for a student to believe and see with their own eyes that people who look like them are important, are intelligent, are articulate, are needed.

Think about how amazingly mesmerizing the release of the movie, Black Panther, has been across the country. On television, on the radio, on all social media outlets, there is a buzz penetrating conversations everywhere. People of color are heading to the theatre in droves, dressed in gorgeous African garb as a way to embrace and shine a light on the beauty of this movie. A movie based on a black superhero, surrounded by a cast of strong, black men and women, is bringing people together in a way that was most likely not anticipated. “Black Panther became a bastion of inclusivity and empowerment for people of all colors in the audience.” (Khosla, 2018) Why is this such a big deal? Simply put, people of color have always been under-represented. Everywhere.

But now, because of this movie, there are images everywhere of young, black and brown children, both male and female, feeling magical. This movie is putting an image in the mind of our young people as to what #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy looks like. In a tweet from actress, Mica Burton, she wrote, “Seeing a whole film full of strong, powerful, educated people who look like ME not being discriminated against or mocked. No hurtful stereotypes of blacks. No ghettos or slaves or thugs... just beautiful royal kings and queens of Wakanda.” If cultural representation in a movie can bring this feeling to people of color, imagine what it can do when they are able to see themselves represented EVERY SINGLE DAY in schools and college campuses across the country.

Of course, it’s not just a black and white thing. The representation of all minorities matters. Asian children deserve to see themselves. Middle Eastern children deserve to see themselves. Caribbean children deserve to see themselves. South American children deserve to see themselves. The list goes on and on. The people of our country are not one color or ethnicity, and neither are the students that make up our school communities. Therefore, it is imperative that school staff members should be equally diverse. Let our students see themselves. It means more to them than we may ever realize.

And if you were wondering how my school is currently doing with diversifying our teaching staff, we now have 17 brown, black or Latino teachers out of 35. We are on our way. We are definitely on our way.

 

Works Cited

 

Thomas, L. (2016, August 22). Why Representation Matters. Retrieved February 25, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-representation-matters-laura-thomas

 

Khosla, P. (2018, February 21). 'Black Panther' is a huge victory for representation in film. Retrieved February 25, 2018, from https://mashable.com/2018/02/21/black-panther-representation/#E84rd7sBSaq8

Teaching the Individual

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by Malory Campbell

Malory is a second year teacher in San Diego California and has experience as a elementary and middle school teacher and special education resource teacher. She is a fan of all things the beach, sun, and coffee!

I am on my second year of teaching in San Diego, California. I have taught 5-7th grade general education. I have also worked as a Special Education resource teacher.

When I began looking for resources for my first student with Autism, I quickly pinned dozens of items on my Pinterest account. This is so great, I thought, it was so easy to find this stuff, and it will solve everything! Wooohoo teacher of the year! Right? Wrong.

 What many people don't realize when they begin working with kids who have special needs is that every case is different. What works for one student may not work with another. I gave my student with autism a stress ball, and thought it would magically fix everything. 

That it would keep him from throwing a fit any time the schedule changed. That it would keep the rest of the class from seeing him as some sort of alien.

That it would help him learn. That was my first mistake.

In doing this, I put my student in a box. I wasn't really trying to help him, I was trying to fix him. 

Now, I'm not saying stress balls are bad. For one student, it may help to ease their mind, but for another student, it may become a weapon to peg other kids with.

My student was the latter. 

I finally sat down to my computer to do some real research, not just adding to a Pinterest board. What was supposed to take 30 minutes quickly stretched into hours, reading article after article. But when I stood in front of my class the next day, I still felt like I knew nothing. 

Special Education is a huge topic, and there is SO much information out there. I felt so overwhelmed that I tried implementing as many things as I could the first day. I'm so behind, I thought, I've been this kid's teacher for 2 months and haven't given him all these supports that he needs!

That was my second mistake. 

Can you imagine how my poor student must have felt? One day he comes into class, and randomly, his crazed teacher starts pummeling him with a desk schedule, fidget toys, flexible seating, and rules (or lack of) that applied to only him? Poor kiddo.  Although my intentions were good, I could see the frustration and embarrassment all over his face. All I did was further alienate him from his peers. When I sat down to research once again, I felt defeated. I ended up calling an old teacher of mine who had always made differentiating instruction look painless and easy. 

How am I supposed to plan a lesson when I have 25 different students all with different learning abilities, different learning styles, different needs, different backgrounds - and I'm supposed to make learning FUN?! 

She laughed and simply said, "Teach the individual, not the curriculum."  No idea what that means... I thought as we hung up. 

Here goes nothing, I thought as I began writing down attributes of my students. At first it was an attempt to include things to generate student interest into my lessons, but it quickly went beyond that. Soon, I had 25 separate lists, including interests, family lives, personalities, quirks, senses of humor, behaviors, etc. 

Still unsure of how it would help, I stood in front of my class with a different point of view. 

I was seeing them, not what my research had told me about them. 

So keeping my students in mind, I proceeded to give directions for the presentation project we would work on.

I knew C hated speaking in front of an audience. I went up to him privately: C, you may present to me and one other friend during lunchtime if you prefer.

I knew M always did well on projects using colors. M, go ahead and color code your project.

I knew J might need some space spread out. J, you may work at my desk.

I knew L gets stressed over time limits. L, take as much time as you need.

When I turned to look at my class, I saw smiles. Some were even humming to themselves as they worked. Then I saw my student with autism, the one I had been worried about supporting, come up to me. Thanks for not making me the only one, he said. 

I realized that in teaching to the individuals in my class, I had taken the pressure off of my friend. I had been teaching my lessons to two groups: the typical general ed student and the typical special ed student. 

That was my third mistake. 

In reality, I should have been teaching my lessons to 25 different kids - not to two separate groups. Because each student should be allowed to learn at their own level. Once I started teaching to the individuals in my class instead of a curriculum, there was nothing our class couldn't do.

School Culture: The Principal's Greatest Responsibility

By Lloyd Knight

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Lloyd Knight is the Principal at Charter Schools USA, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Mr. Knight began his career as a student teacher and has worked at every level including curriculum resource teacher, classroom teacher, and assistant principal. Before moving to Indianapolis, he was the lead principal of North Carolina for Charter Schools USA, he spearheaded the expansion of five new buildings and the largest portfolio of charter schools in the state of North Carolina.Mr. Knight is a trained peacekeeper, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Shaw University in North Carolina, and earned his Master of Arts degree in Education Leadership from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Knight is also a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, a public service organization founded in 1911.
 

As a school leader, I have many conversations with principals during this time of year.  One question keeps entering my mind.  'What does it mean to be a student at your school?'  The questions can be considered the foundation of a positive school culture.  Of course, we must begin first with our students.  The key to building an amazing school culture is to define what it is that all of are stakeholders are supposed to be.

What should are students look like? How should they speak to one another?  

For students, this should be spelled out explicitly and taught over the first two weeks of school.  At CICS Lloyd Bond we focused on the CARRES model.  Cooperation, Assertion, Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control were used in all interactions whether positive or negative to drive home our expectations.  The dress code and rules are given to students through modeling sessions so that 100% of our students understand them.  

How should our teachers interact? What should they believe about our students?

For teachers, this is modeled through the way administration interacts with them.  Expectations like greeting each other every day and speaking to each other in the hallway in from of students sets an atmosphere of care that students will pick up on and model as well.  Administrators must explicitly say that all teachers must believe the impossible for our students or they will not have an opportunity to teach them.  We cannot move forward as an organization if there are people in the organization that put limits on our students.

Who are our parents and why are they an integral part of what our schools are?

For parents, this is established on the first interaction they have coming into our school.  All parents are welcomed warmly and given time to discuss the progress of their student.  Parents are given an expectation to volunteer within our school and rewarded when they hit certain milestones.  When major issues arise, parents that play a role in the school are notified so that the message out to community is one that doesn't get out of control.

These are questions we must answer in order for us to build the type of culture that creates earth-shattering results. We must plan for these ideas before we enter the school year so that everyone is on the same page on DAY 1.

IF WE DO NOT DEFINE WHO WE ARE, THE STUDENTS, PARENTS, AND TEACHERS WILL DEFINE OUR CULTURE FOR US.

First Class - The World is your Oyster

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By Victoria Gaines - 

bacon enthusiast. queen of anxiety. rabid lover.

2018 is here! So where is your next trip? What countries have you visited? The world is your oyster -- as cliche as it sounds, it's very true. As a young girl growing up in a rural town I was always curious about the world and loved any type of road trip. I would hop in the truck with my dad or grandpa whenever I saw them grab their keys. After graduating from college, I took my first flight ever to Miami, then a couple years later I finally got my passport and I’ve been exploring the world ever since. I’ve learned so much from traveling. In each place, the incredible people, the rich history and culture, and the delicious food (can’t forget about the food) have all shaped my views of the world in some way. Below are just a few key things I’ve learned along the way from my traveling experiences.

It doesn’t hurt to learn a new language.

I took three years of Spanish in high school but I still only remember basic words and phrases. I wish I would have taken a class or two in college to become fluent. It amazes me how a lot of people in other countries are fluent in at least two languages. There’s also a chance English will be one of them. There are places where you may not have to open your Google Translate app at all, but then there may be places where you will be at a complete lost. While in Cuba I had a scary experience when trying to locate my friend in the airport. We were departing from different cities so we planned to meet at the airport at the currency exchange once we arrived. After a couple of hours of waiting I tried to ask around for help. It was difficult communicating since I knew very little Spanish. With no internet or phone service I was on the verge of freaking out because I had no idea where she was. But luckily I had a very nice cab driver who didn’t mind waiting and also helped me walk around both terminals until he found a woman that also looked like she might be lost. I know we are taught not to speak to strangers, but I’m so grateful he was there to help. Being able to communicate and connect with people in their own language can be such a heartwarming experience. So I encourage you to learn a little more about the language of the country you’re visiting instead of always depending on technology. Be open to meeting new people and engaging with the locals. You can also locate educational tours that will immerse you into the language and local culture. Are you up for the challenge?

Discover new foods

So don’t be one of those picky eaters when you’re in a new country. Try something new! Discovering new foods is such an amazing experience and you may even discover something you’ve eaten several times before with a totally new flavor. I’m a huge foodie so I’m always down to try the local cuisine. The most exotic food I’ve tried so far was a camel burger in Dubai. It was actually pretty tasty, but I did feel a tad bit guilty about eating camel meat.  

Another great experience to try is a cooking class. While in Cuba this past summer I learned about the different spices and herbs that goes into cooking an authentic Cuban meal. We also made a special mojito with honey and dark rum. We cooked so much food that we couldn’t eat it all. It was such a fun culinary experience to get a hands on demonstration with the cooking staff. I can’t wait to shake up a few special mojitos of my own for my dinner guests.

Take the scenic route.

Road trips can be fun if you have your essentials: good company and good music. It’s been a few years since I’ve driven anywhere further than 3 hours away, but I don’t mind long trips every now and then. It gives me time to think and to sing my heart out. I also like stopping in random cities. I took a road trip once from Texas to Nevada and I explored so many historical landmarks along the way such as the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, and the historic Route 66. By the time I reached Vegas I was too tired to party and gamble! But it was worth it. I’m sure I’ll make my way back to Vegas, but this time I’m definitely flying.

Design the life you want

Struggling to find the balance between adulting and living the life you want? I know it can be draining, but it’s possible. I view traveling as a form of self-care so I do my best to incorporate travel plans into my schedule. Even if it’s just a long weekend trip, I have to get away. I bought a plane ticket to Athens, Greece nine months in advance; so yes, I’m a little obsessed with planning. But there have been times where I’ve bought a flight deal spontaneously because I just couldn’t pass on such a cheap deal. Travel doesn’t always have to be planned. Just pack your bags and go. I’ve had friends that have taken the leap of faith and quit their jobs to travel or relocated to another country to work, teach, and live. So whether you work a typical 9 to 5 or freelancing, it’s never too late to design the life you want. I’m sending good vibes your way as you plan your next adventure!

Diversity in 21st Century Public Education: Facing School Inequities

By Sophia James

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With over 10 years’ experience of public service at the state and local level, Sophia James has helped guide significant initiatives and policies that address the coordination and efficiency of education and health services for children and families. Sophia presently serves as an Early Childhood Instructional Associate at the Archdiocese of New York, assisting in the implementation of curriculum, assessments, and professional development, and strengthening of school partnerships across 70-plus parochial schools. She is the founder of Education: Unplugged, a web platform for innovative programs and dialogue in education, as well as an open resource on education initiatives for young children. Sophia currently sits on the executive board of Phi Delta Kappa (NYU Chapter), an international organization for educators, and as former Chair of New York’s Young & Powerful Group, she received a citation for exemplary service to the community and state by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (former New York State Senator). She is a member of the Haitian Roundtable (HRT), a professional organization committed to civic engagement as well as philanthropic endeavors benefiting Haiti, and is also an appointed member of Community Board 8 in Manhattan, serving as Co-Chair of the Technology Committee. Sophia has also trained at the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, a leadership program that seeks to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe. Sophia holds a Master of Science in Educational Psychology from the School of Education, State University at Albany.

 

Why has it become almost the norm to find public schools across the country with students isolated by race and income? In a modern-day tale of two cities, in virtually every major city in the U.S.,  students of color are more likely than whites to attend public schools shaped by high concentrations of poverty (per an analysis of federal data). The cities experiencing the highest levels of both racial and economic segregation in schools include New Orleans and Dallas in the south, Los Angeles in the west, Chicago in the Midwest, and Philadelphia and New York City on the east coast. 

As we lament this problem across news outlets, the debate continues to increase over how to integrate schools. In June 6, 2017, the New York City Department of Education released a plan to stimulate diversity in its schools. The plan, titled Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools, presented three focal goals: (1) to increase racial representativeness in public schools; (2) to decrease economic stratification of public schools; and (3) to increase the number of NYC DOE schools that are inclusive on the bases of language, heritage, ability status, and housing status. A report from the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University (NYU), “Separate and Unequal” suggests there is modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the most diverse schools when comparing ELA and math test scores and four-year high school graduation rates. The report’s key findings highlight that students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools; less economically advantaged students in particular seemed to benefit from attending the most diverse high schools. Diversity along lines of race and socioeconomic status seemed to slightly affect achievement gaps (ie, opportunity gaps), while hyper-segregation seemed to greatly exacerbate them (ie, opportunity barrier).

Research already confirms wide-ranging benefits for students in racially and socioeconomically integrated schools, including stronger test scores, increased college attendance, and improved critical-thinking skills. “If you successfully bring these resources to high-poverty schools, it is possible to produce strong results for kids—and we know examples of excellent high-poverty schools that are doing that,” according to Halley Potter, a fellow at Century Foundation. The most common method listed by school districts to achieve integration is the redrawing of neighborhood school boundaries, seen as a controversial approach. Much of the pushback, like school segregation, cuts along racial and class lines. One illustration of the inherent challenges is seen in the neighborhoods of the Upper West Side and Brooklyn, where parents oppose school boundary changes that would bring racial and socioeconomic integration.

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Experts say high levels of concentrated poverty in schools are symptomatic of broader issues with segregation, housing, and transportation. For that reason, it would take a joint effort among school and government officials to tackle poverty and create more opportunity in several policy areas. “We're talking about housing patterns, transportation patterns, commercial development. There's lots of stuff that ultimately influences where people choose to or can live,” said Kent McGuire, the president of the Southern Education Foundation, and the former assistant secretary of the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration. 

The issue [of diversity] deserves greater emphasis and attention with students of color now a majority of the public school population and whites gentrifying urban neighborhoods of color, says Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Studies show racially integrated schools can improve education for students of all races and accomplish one immeasurable advantage: helping youth challenge stereotypes and their implicit biases toward people of different races and ethnicities. But fully realizing this goal requires teachers who are trained in facilitating courageous conversations about race, said Wells, and skilled in racially and culturally relevant teaching practices. If education leaders want to confront and undo severe racial inequities in schools and school systems, they must create opportunities for teachers and staff to engage in productive discussions about questions that many of them will consider uncomfortable.  Given how complex and how deeply felt Americans’ beliefs about race and equity are, racially sensitive topics cannot be addressed effectively through one-time workshops. If the intention is to disrupt the status quo, school leaders should have a plan and skills to shift the momentum and energy toward learning. To do this work effectively, school and district leaders need to study, honor, and understand the complexities of both individual experiences and the long-standing history, biases, and deep-seated effect of inequities in American education.

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Per NYU’s report, the condition of hyper-segregation influences student outcomes, limiting access to opportunity for the most vulnerable students. The real work of educational equity must involve expanding opportunity because the opposite of segregation is not integration; the opposite of segregation is access. Segregated schools limit access to opportunities for less economically advantaged students and students of color. To achieve equity, we must address a very frank question—a question that deals with not only how to expand diversity, but importantly how to expand opportunity. 

Several recommendations to tackle school inequities include:

  • Learning in integrated settings can enhance students’ leadership skills.
  • Integrating schools leads to more equitable access to important resources such as structural facilities, highly qualified teachers, challenging courses, private and public funding, and social and cultural capital.
  • Coordinate strategies to encourage diversity. Cities must enlist allies from multiple community agencies to coordinate strategies to promote diversity while simultaneously discouraging segregation.  
  • Reframe education. The reframing of education must imagine diversity as something beyond bodies, and proliferates the properties of knowing and being inclusive of diverse student backgrounds.
  • Recruit and retain highly effective teachers of color. A plan to desegregate NYC schools must be imagined alongside a plan to promote diversity among the NYC teacher workforce. This includes the hiring of culturally competent educators mixed with a continued effort to provide ongoing development and assessment of teacher cultural competency, using cultural competence measures, inventories, scales, and other data systems.  

Resources:

Feb 2016. School Integration Is Making a Comeback as Research Documents Its Benefits. Teachers College, Columbia University

Anderson, Melinda D. (Feb 2016). The Promise of Integrated Schools. The Atlantic

Boschima, Jane (Mar 2016). Separate and Still Unequal. The Atlantic

Kirkland, David & Sanzone, Joy (Oct 2017). Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools. The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at NYU Steinhardt.

Ngounou, Gislaine & Gutierrez, Nancy (Nov 2017). Learning to lead for racial equity. Phi Delta Kappan 99 (3), 37-41.

Potter, Halley, Quick, Kimberly & Davies, Elizabeth (Feb 2016). A New Wave of School Integration. The Century Foundation

Veiga, Christina (Dec 2017). ‘Be bold’: Advocates, lawmakers call on New York City to go further on school integration. Chalkbeat

Wells Stuart, Amy, Fox, Lauren & Cordova-Cobo, Diana (Feb 2016). How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students. The Century Foundation

Positive School Culture

By Dr. Karen Johnson

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Dr. Johnson is a Jackson, Mississippi resident, high school teacher, book lover and fan of all things Dr. Who.  She has worked in education for twenty years, we applaud her dedication!

Many business principles are built on making sure their customers have a positive experience. Customer service training, a pleasant atmosphere, and a quality product all play a role in how customers perceive their experience in a business. In education, however, this model is sometimes lacking. What so many people fail to realize is that a positive school culture goes a long way in affecting the achievement of the school.

As a 20-year veteran, I have worked in three different high schools and believe me, school culture matters! It affects the morale of the employees, the motivation of the students and even the perceptions the parents and community have of the school as a whole. In my negative experience, it became a chore to report to work. It's hard to be motivational for students when you feel that administration is blaming you for all the ills of the school and provide no support. As a result, teachers are barely engaged with the school itself, instead they just come to work and leaving at the end of the day.

The students are very perceptive and it shows in their behavior and achievement. We had conversations about the feeling that the people in charge have given up on them or why some teachers don't make an effort to teach them. They even noticed how some teachers seem to be disregarded by administration and it made them angry because these were the teachers they felt was trying to help them. It was very disheartening to hear the negative thoughts perpetuated by the parents and the local media, who don’t realize these thoughts are taken to heart by the students.

Without a top down change, the atmosphere of the school is only going to get more oppressive.  Part of the issue stems from the viewpoint of the school leaders.  Many leaders, especially in urban schools, tend to view students as “problems”, not people and base their approach on stemming the “bad behavior” and removing the “bad kids” from the environment.   It also oppresses the teachers who are trying to make a difference in students’ lives

With my positive school culture experience, it was like a breath of fresh air. The feeling of being valued as a professional and as a subject matter expert was exciting. It makes you want to do more because you want to bring your very best to your classroom and your school.  Administration plays a huge role in this culture because they respect their teachers and treat them as change agents, not competition.

The students also buy into the positive culture.  They grow because their voices are being heard and valued.  They thrive off the positive reinforcement for behavior or academic achievements.  They strive to bring community pride and recognition to the school because it makes them feel good.  It also makes them feel as they are a part of the school community.  This “feel good” attitude is reflected in test scores, academic achievements, and school pride. 

Both staff and students also feed off the feelings of higher morale.  There are positive relationships between the students and the teachers.  Are there never behavior problems?  Of course, there are, but there are also fewer referred discipline issues because teachers are often able to handle more of them on their own because of the relationships that have been built between the teachers and the students. 

Positive school culture is always a work in progress.  Administrators do not change overnight and neither do teachers.  For those who have been in education for a while, the biggest change comes from forgetting what you were taught regarding student discipline and being willing to incorporate new ideas and methods.  While there are many programs out there designed to promote positive school culture, most administrators will come to realize there is no one approach that will work.  Methods have to be cultivated to fit the needs of the students. 

It is also important to involve parents in the process.  Involving parents in implementation of the positive school culture benefits the school and the students.  Parents can help their child take ownership in the school community as well as assist in fostering community pride in the school.  It also helps reduce discipline issues because parents are aware of the school expectations and many parents will ensure their child is in line with those expectations. 

Positive school culture ensures that academic achievement has a place to grow.  A positive school culture allows the focus to be on developing scholars instead of constantly deriving ways to enforce discipline.  As academic achievement increases, discipline issues decreases and growth continues.  In turn, it develops a school where teachers and students thrive and the community supports it.  It becomes a win/win for all involved.

 

NCLB, fan or not- it was groundbreaking legislation.

by Victoria Robinson

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Victoria Robinson, Brooklyn native,  is an educator passionate about having real life connections in her classroom. She focuses on teaching her students about self love, forgiveness, and the rewards of hard work. She has managed to combine her academic inspirations with her love of reading and loving her only daughter. 

 

Teacher education programs and certification routes vary from college to college to state to state without a unified system to determine teacher quality and effectiveness. The need for policy that sets the standard for teacher certification and accountability can possibly lead to a regulatory system that benefits all stakeholders. Determining why teacher education programs and certification routes have not been under the microscope per researcher Wilson (1995) is because for years teaching was not viewed or valued as a profession and was used as a placeholder as many decided on other careers. The impact of this resulted in classrooms and schools having revolving doors of educators and lack of consistency and commitment. Wilson (1995) also identifies that retention was a challenge and the stigma, low pay, and difficulties associated with teaching caused many to completely avoid it as a profession. These issues impacted how schools and students performed academically and lead to the passing of No Child Left Behind in 2002, which in 2015 was replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act. Although NCLB has been replaced its accountability directive directly connects to my problem of practice which aims to determine if teacher education programs impact teacher quality/accountability- which in turn impacts student performance.

What is the relationship between teacher accountability and student academic performance, the initial steps of teacher accountability begins with the completed teacher education program and certification process. Once the teacher enters the classroom communities want to be sure that the most qualified teacher has entered the room to teach their children. When NCLB was passed, the act included stipulations on teacher accountability in public schools. This was met with resistance and controversy however it set a standard and responsibility on the classroom teachers effectiveness which was contingently based on the students’ performance. NCLB attempted to set standards for teachers during the certification process and afterwards with required testing to demonstrate mastery of their content requiring that teachers earn a graduate degree to become educators. It was a controversial policy that was supported and challenged, and even with the high level of resistance, partially due to the teacher and school accountability parts of the bill, as well as withholding federal funds to schools who did not comply, many viewed it as targeting teachers with the blame. NCLB did however set standards and routines in place that later resulted in an improvement in reading and math scores nationally as reported in 2005 by The National Assessment of Educational Progress.  As my research continues, it will be interesting to compare the outcomes of NCLB compared to ESSA seeing that only NCLB addressed teacher accountability and effectiveness.

In 2001 President Bush proposed The No Child Left Behind Act out of concern of underperforming schools, academic progress disparity between white and black children, as well as concern that the American education system was not on par with other international education systems. The stipulations under the law were deemed as required, as there were mandates that schools must meet or additional action would be taken. The passing of the bill took less than a year, being introduced in March 2001, passing in the House of Representatives in May 2001, passing in the Senate in June 2001, agreed to by the House in December 2001, and signed by President George W. Bush in January 2002. The timeline of this legislation encountered numerous steps, after President’s Bush’s introduction to the House, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and review hearings were held. This initial stage included bill markup sessions with modifications and feedback provided to amend the bill. Once amendments were voted on, the bill continued to the next process of additional review by a rules committee. Weeks of debates occurred and when the amendments were ready for voting, the voting process was stalled when the House was unable to acquire quorum. Additionally, the process was stalled months later when the Senate insisted that another committee be created to review the suggested amendments made during the previous months.

During these months of drafting, making revisions, and debating on NCLB educators across the country were vocal on the policy, in favor and against. However, as an educator during that time, I could connect to the reason the policy was drafted based on the needs I witnessed in the public schools I taught in. It was obvious during those years that NCLB’s implementation stemmed from two main areas that appeared to be plaguing public schools, teacher hiring practices and defining teacher quality.

 

Teacher hiring practices

Over the last decade, earning a college degree has become more accessible and compact and available in numerous formats from traditional in person lecture format to online degree programs, as well as compact fellowships with trainings and workshops. The profession of education has experienced these changes with the inception of alternative teacher education programs including inner city based teaching fellowships and national organizations like Teach for America founded in 1989. The increase of these alternative routes of becoming an educator in addition to the traditional teacher education programs that include four year degrees earned with completion of 130+ credits has led to a discussion on the quality of teacher that each option provides and the modified preparation of teachers in America.

Hiring shifts are most evident, according to Feng (2015) in charter schools as there has been an increase since school year 2005-2006 in the hiring of TFA corps members in charter schools. In New York City alone in 2005 there were 488 crop members hired at 17 charter schools compared to data from 2000 where only 160 were hired from TFA and more than 300 were hired with traditional teacher certifications. Researcher Goldhaber (2015) shared findings that were even more concerning around teacher hiring. His research revealed that schools in urban areas that struggle with recruitment often turn to Teach for America for staffing needs and this can lead to one school district hiring a high number of teachers who are not equipped with the skill need in that school. The likelihood of hiring these teachers with limited training and experience and placing them in high need classes and subjects will have a long-term effect on the students and the community. Cranston (2012) surveyed and interviewed school leaders on what they look for in hires and investigated how teacher quality manifested into poor academic student performance.

           

Defining Teacher Quality

Defining teacher quality allows aspects of research to discuss possible influencers on student performance.  No Child Left Behind, implemented in 2002, plays a significant role in defining teacher quality. When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed with the goal of closing achievement gaps, standards were set that included teacher quality requirements. Congress included that teachers who were certified alternatively and teachers who completed four-year preparation programs are both considered highly qualified (Hanna, 2011). No Child Left behind mandated that all K-12 teachers be “highly qualified” by 2006 and numerous quantitative analyses have resulted in the findings that teacher quality is among the most important school related factors affecting student academic achievement (Hanna, 2011).

NCLB was a ground breaking piece of legislation that aimed at returning the power and responsibility to schools, holding schools accountable, setting high stands for all stakeholders, and setting goals to improve the quality of education. Although NCLB was not completely successful, the policy did attempt to remedy an issue. Now that NCLB is defunct and ESSA has more inclusive and encouraging directives, perhaps the connection between teacher quality and student progress will become clearly defined.

 

           

                         


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


References

 

 

 

 

Cranston, J. (2012). Exploring School Principals Hiring Decisions: Fitting in and Getting Hired.

 

University of Manitoba. 2012.

 

 

Feng, L. (2015). Financial Incentives to Promote Teacher Recruitment and Retention: An

 

Analysis of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Problem. SREE Spring 2015

 

Conference.

 

Goldhaber, D. (2015). Teacher Effectiveness Research and the Evolution of the U.S Teacher

 

Policy. The Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.


 

Hanna, P., Gimbert, B. (2011). Falling Flat: Certification as an Insufficient Indicator of

 

Teacher Quality. JNAAC, Vol 6, Number 2, Fall 2011.

 

 

 

National Council on Teacher Quality. Building Teacher Quality in Baltimore City

 

Public Schools.

 

 

 

Wilson, D. (1995). Learning from Experience: History and Teacher Education. American

 

Educational Research Association.

 





 

 

Education Reform in a Mann’s World

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by Tanesha Dixon

Tanesha is a native New Yorker living and learning in Richmond, VA. She serves as an Assistant Director of Student Affairs for a private university where she saves undergrads from the fun college mistakes we all made. Tanesha is also an education activist, free thinker & fan of all things Octavia Butler. 
 
 
Horace Mann (May 4, 1796 – August 2, 1859) was an American educational reformer and Whig politician dedicated to promoting public education. He served in the Massachusetts State legislature (1827–1837). Educational historians credit Horace Mann as father of the Common School Movement.

Fighting for educational equality means we are willing and able to dissect and examine its structure on a continuum. Improving college readiness means understanding disparities in early childhood literacy. Criticism of post-college preparedness requires educators to be critical of the pipelines our students navigate at every academic, economic, and political crossroad. If activism serves to promote reform along these measures with hope to improve society, then in my concern for educational accessibility across race, class, gender, and many other identities, the concept of education as “a great equalizer of the conditions of men” is at best, a presumptuous ideal and at worst, extremely cliché.

I am familiar with this overused quote from Horace Mann, and ashamed as an educator to know very little about his place in American history and education. I do some quick research of the northern politician-abolitionist-education reformer, looking for untapped context around Mann’s overused edict. Education as a public good? Agree. Treat education as a respected profession and equip the field with trained, qualified teachers? No argument there. Schools as venues to build character and a training ground for workforce development? Between my understanding and criticism of the history of urban education according to Tyack and my place in higher education, often tasked with preparing young adults to think, communicate, and lead in business and industry, I can get behind that.

Let’s come back to this “conditions of men” part, Horace. Picture it: America, 1848. The “conditions” of our nation were not our among our men’s shining moments. Mann was not looking past the conditions of less fortunate white men–farmers, factory workers, the occasional adolescent derelict but otherwise, your good Christians to reform education. His education activism was to serve “men”—100% (white, cisgender) men, not those three-fifths not-quite-human men and certainly not the likes of my black womanhood. As he stated in his report to the Massachusetts State Board of Education, “some men are to toil and earn, others to seize and enjoy… but all should have an equal chance for earning.” Come on, Mann. #notallmen, I guess.

I also am trying to understand the conditions in which men across economic disparities would become equal at the hands of well-trained, likely well-off, teenage women. This is during a time—1848, 2017, whatever—where women were not trusted with much of anything. Voting? Defending our country’s freedoms? Vying to be the leader of the free world? Nope, no can do. Paying and training women to equalize the conditions of men and society? An idea that just might work. According to Horace’s reform, it’s a Mann’s world, but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl…because who else is going to teach these white children? I wonder who was equalizing the conditions among the women of color who were educating their villages, building their children’s character, preparing them for the farce of their perpetual servitude workforce in 1848? Spoiler: it wasn’t Mann.

I’m telling you what you already know, or have considered in your educator subconscious. Education is in shambles and we reformers—teachers, educators, counselors, activists, and politicians—make daily attempts to answer the million-dollar question. A steal, really, when your Secretary of Education DeVos proposes to reduce Department funding by $9 billion, but still wants you to rest assured knowing that she and the Administration will “ensure every student has an equal opportunity to receive a great education,” even the “educational needs of the nation's most vulnerable students, including poor and minority students and students with disabilities.”

Educators, who comes to mind when you think of education reform and activism? I think of people like Septima Clark, Ruby Bridges, and Ms. Rosa, the woman who would sneak the hot chocolate machine from her overnight job at BP for the school holiday party. I’m not saying Horace Mann was trash or anything but if he’s considered the father of American public education, shouldn’t I know his name and legacy? Why isn’t his work in my historical toolbox as an educator?

 

TRUST is the magic friend of Uncertainty

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By Jessica Leigh-Lyons

Jessica Leigh Lyons is a coach, a facilitator, and a writer who helps people create an Internal Compass that guides them on their life path so that they can navigate big life decisions with confidence and clarity. You can find more on www.jessicaleighlyons.com

There you are, kayaking down the river of life. Let’s call her Uncertainty. Maybe you know EXACTLY where you’re going. Maybe you have no freaking clue, and the fog is so thick, you’ve stopped paddling while you wait it out. You feel calm, but alert, paying attention to any clues that might speak to your next “right” step.Suddenly, a huge ugly toad tries to crawl up onto your kayak. Doubt has made his entrance. Doubt starts whispering to you that you have no idea where you are, that you’ve not grown enough, that you’re not worthy of the next step and don’t have the right qualifications.

Recognizing the difference between uncertainty and doubt is critical in tackling our dreams, big projects, and authentic connection. As Doubt crawls up, you panic. Your throat gets tight and fear drops like a stone in your belly. In your fear, you take your paddle and ferociously beat on the Doubt toad.

GET OUTTA MY BOAT, you scream.

Or MAYBE, you get lethargic and can’t think or move. You feel like a failure. Doubt is so heavy that your boat gets stuck in the muck of the river. A client recently told me she loves the adventure of life, the uncertainty, but doubt cripples her. Every. Time. This nuance is critical. If you want to get out from under doubt and back to the the adventure, there are some tried and true steps to get your kayak moving again.

1. Get intimate with Doubt and Uncertainty. If you don’t know what it feels like in your body, you’re more likely to be afraid of it. A meditation teacher recently asked, “What is being known?” As Doubt creeps in, what happens?

When I feel doubt, I get nervous. I bite my nails. I find myself scanning Facebook to *see* but not engage. There’s a list that builds in the back of my mind, but I don’t take action. I get fearful of all of the rejection that’s headed my way. I start listing my failures. So much Doubt.

2. Name it. First, you needed to reflect on what it feels like to experience doubt. You can’t name it if you don’t know what it feels like. This is a step in building your emotional diversity. Just like biodiversity keeps a healthy biome, studies like this one show you need to practice knowing the nuances of your emotions.

3. De-permanent it. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, she points to the power of feeling like a condition you’re experiencing is permanent: recognizing that we’re not at fault. Instead of using language like I AM doubtful, use language like I’m experiencing doubt or I’m feeling doubt. This subtle but significant language difference helps our brains make an important switch. When we say I am doubt, I am fearful, etc, we make ourselves think that’s what we ARE that emotion. We are not. Experiencing our emotions allows us to see that it will pass, realizing it will not last forever.

4. Try reframing it. Often, when we name emotions like Doubt, we take the heaviness out of the equation. We can now paddle our kayaks, even with Doubt squatting in the back. It’s less heavy. We see our Doubt for what it is, but we don’t let it stop us. “I’m nervous as heck for this job interview, and I can see that Doubt is creeping in.” Choosing Uncertainty has an element of trust and curiosity that Doubt does not.

5. Stretch your Trust muscles. One of my favorite hands-on exercises is to get to an improv class. The entire process is uncertain. You have no idea what your teammates will say next and you have to roll with it. Make a dinner without following a recipe. Schedule an outing with a friend withOUT a plan. Follow your instincts for an afternoon. Build more Uncertainty into your life AND WATCH how you build your Trust muscles.

One thing I’m certain of: the more we know our own distinctions between Doubt and Uncertainty, the more we build connections and communities where Uncertainty is celebrated and supported in deep, humbling trust.  I’d love to know where you’re noticing your Doubt. Where are you embracing Uncertainty?  

To the next riverbend you’re navigating,

Jess

How to Make Navigating Uncertainty Fun

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By Jessica Leigh Lyons

Jessica Leigh Lyons is a coach, a facilitator, and a writer who helps people create an Internal Compass that guides them on their life path so that they can navigate big life decisions with confidence and clarity. You can find more on www.jessicaleighlyons.com

As an elementary school teacher, my days consisted of lesson plans, laughter, and inquisitive questions by ten year olds. But when I hit burnout, I decided to make a change.  I woke up to find myself in a cubicle with coffee, my computer, by myself with my thoughts. At first, I was overjoyed by the silence. That didn’t last long. As time wore on,I felt a twisting sensation of anxiety and a dull panic that never left accompanied by an ever-whispering question: What do you want?

Truth be told, I had no idea.

I started calling it the fog of uncertainty and I began searching for how we navigate through unknown times. Sometimes uncertainty arises from external events like a storm.  Our partner gets a job in a new city and we move or we suffer a devastating loss of a loved one and it rearranges our world. Other times, uncertainty is like the current in the ocean. It’s internal and below the surface. We have a thought, a doubt, or a fear creep across our mind and suddenly, we feel unsure about how to proceed.

When life feels uncertain and we can’t see around the corner, many of us have a habit of getting anxious. This is normal, because ur brains are designed to be mindless. For example, you don’t have to think about when to take your next breath while you’re reading this, your brain naturally does so. If we had to think through everything that our bodies needed to function, we’d never get to put our passion into the world. However, when our brain happens across a circumstance that it doesn’t have previous data for, it panics. When we feel like we are drowning in “what if” or “what might have been”, we go back to play with “what is possible”. Choose an innocuous statement and then try three different types of responses. Let your brain shut it down and notice how you stop yourself when you’re feeling uncertain.

1. Try on your “NO”

I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market. No, I can’t write my blog for ringlet market because I have too many deadlines on my plate right now. No, I can’t write my blog for ringlet market because I’m having writer’s block.

2. Then try “Yes, but…” I’m going for a run today. Yes, I’d like to run today, but I don’t have enough time in the schedule. because I don’t have enough time. Yes, I’d like to run today, but I don’t have any workout clothes clean. Etc.

3. Use YES, AND!

I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market. I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market AND I’m going to include an improv game. Yes, I’m writing a blog for Ringlet Market and I’m going to include an improv game AND I’m super excited to talk about navigating uncertainty. Yes, I’m super excited to be talking about navigating uncertainty AND to tell people that it’s NORMAL so we learn to PLAY instead of get anxious.

You can use different statements or play with the same statement. The trick here is to allow your brain to play with possibilities so that you can learn to navigate uncertainty with ease.

What Brings You Here?

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By Tenesha L. Johnson, MA.Ed

Tenesha L. Johnson was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, NY, where she lives with a true passion to educate children and young adults. Her professional background has led her to dedicate more than 14 years to higher education in a variety of leadership and advocacy roles at colleges and universities throughout the tri-state area. Tenesha currently serves as a counselor and lecturer for the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program at CUNY York College. Prior to joining CUNY, she served as the Assistant Director of Residence Life for Judicial Affairs at Saint Peter’s University and Health Professions counselor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. She’s also served as an adjunct lecturer at four-year and community colleges throughout New York and New Jersey.
For the past several years she has served in a leadership capacity with anti-bullying campaigns, The Girl Scouts of America, current and former board member of Blossom Sisters Dance and Performing Arts Center, as well as B.A.S.I.C.S International. Tenesha is an active member of the Long Island Beta Psi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. In 2013, she founded an organization called The Dancing Nerve, a dance arts program for children and adults living with a disability. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies and Business Administration, as well as two graduate degrees in Educational Leadership and Supervision, and School Counseling. She is currently pursuing an advanced certificate in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

As the new school year approaches, educators from across the nation will ask a classroom of student’s one of the more important questions they’ll be probed to answer in their lifetime.

 ~ What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? ~

Many students will respond with one of the familiar prestigious career choices. I’ll be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer or maybe a nurse. While naming their professional goals is sure to spark a lively and full conversation, I wonder if we, as educators often overlook the importance of helping our students dig deeper into the motivation(s) of their pursuit. Have we been honest about all that it takes to reach that goal? More importantly, have we forgone the candid conversation about how a student’s drive for success has the ability to impact their long term achievement?

An early conversation during my Freshman Seminar courses at CUNY York College has always been, tell me what brings you here? New collegiate scholars, you could’ve been anywhere else in the world today, but you’re here with me. Why? You’re making a commitment for the next four years, only to have your name printed on nice paper and placed in an expensive wooden frame? Let’s not forget the possibility of the enormous debt that may follow you for the next few decades. Are you sure about this? What will make you different from the college student 2000 miles from home who graduated with a “nice paper” in their hand as well?

The most common responses I hear are, a) I’d like to make enough money take care of my family b) this is a family tradition c) I’m not sure why I’m here, in fact I’d rather be working instead.

These are all honest and transparent responses for new students in transition. Now, now where do we go from here?

The truth is, this generation has been charged with the task of navigating a fast changing world of economic and social uncertainty we’ve not seen in many decades. The road to success is quite congested with students and their families that all want the same thing that you want. SUCCESS!

If our students’ motivation before they arrived at the final destination is led solely by material gain, what will happen when their dreams aren’t realized as planned? How do we help prepare our graduates for the day after graduation?

I believe that a motivation led by the student in the driver’s seat, is what has the potential to set an employee apart from other candidates in a large competitive work force. Academic preparedness and the strengthening of hard and soft skills; including purposeful networking and professional relationship building can be part of what offers the foundation for resilience when the internship/job interview falls through. A clear motivation is what will help our students “Bounce Back” and persist in the face of disappointment.

While the diploma/degree provides evidence of their commitment to the completion of a task, it doesn’t always indicate all that they’re capable of when plans veer off the straight dotted line.

It’s our hope that each educator will be intentional in sowing seeds of confident, capable and spirited energy into their students, as they pursue their individual success and accomplishment.

Education is Activism- Part Two

By Shannon McFadden

 

            I did not expect to write this soon, but the events that took place in Charlottesville, VA got my Twitter fingers moving. Charlottesville, VA 2017, is reminiscent of Charlottesville, VA 1997, 1977, 1957, 1937, 1917, and 1897. The astonishing thing to me, is the fact that we, as card-carrying Americans, are surprised that this can be going on in America. Now. How could this demonstration of hatred and bigotry happen now? The answer is quite elementary, my dear: education.

            When I was a student in elementary school, we learned about American History, from the perspective of good, God-fearing Christians. Those who believed in the creed that all men were created equal, and that Jesus is the perfect example of humanity. Fast forward to middle school. American history, and the watered down version of the Trail of Tears, the Slave Experience, and the glowing reviews of the Forefathers. The Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution were discussed at length, yet, the stories of the oppressed were glossed over. There is a saying: history is told from the side of the winner. In the American education system, we are not the authors of our stories. There are no Native American history books, discussing the brutal murder of an entire people, all in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. No Japanese American history books, discussing the Holocaust-type conditions of America, circa 1940s. There is nothing discussing how Pacific Islanders were treated in the same fashion of Native Americans, where their homes made the “perfect” military base. Not to mention the lack of information on the Mexican inhabitants of Texas. Our students only learn history, from the aspect of white supremacy, which creates a sense of false superiority and false inferiority.

            In urban centers, there are so many opportunities to learn history, from different viewpoints. We live in areas where knowledge is overflowing. Everyone has a computer in their hands, where researching a topic can happen in minutes. We are afforded the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life, where traditions are held close, but evolution is welcome. This is not true for many Americans. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. In Calvert County, MD. In Shacklefords, VA. Where the only exposure one has to history, is through the public school system, the private school system, and homeschool. With this being the case, it is impossible to understand differing viewpoints, as only one point is taught. History books are written by publishers, who want to promote the idea of one America, and know the only way to instill this ideology, is through education.

            What are teachers to do? Well, first, we need to refute the lie. There are several different versions of the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of the Irish. Aspects of American history, which are deemed as “ugly”, have been given less and less space in American history. How many of you actually learned about the concentration camps, full of Japanese Americans, in America? With little time spent on learning history, each generation is unable to fully connect and relate to each other. This is how Charlottesville, VA occurs. There are so many children, yearning to learn the truth, to understand why their parents are so adamant about preserving a “rich” history. We are seeing nothing new. We are seeing the product of propaganda that is being taught to our children, through a free and appropriate public education.   As teachers, we need to combat the notion that the book is right. The book is not right. We need to use our teacher unions to fight for a fairer version of history. We need to pull together our resources, and promote the telling of stories from the side of the oppressed, the loser.

            Howard Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which discusses the founding of the American educational system. It discusses how education was created to maintain the social status of the upper class. As more poor whites fought for respect, the school system began to evolve. As teachers, I charge you to read this book. This is how we understand our role. We are liberators. How can we liberate, if we settle for modified history, where liberation is not at the forefront. We are disgusted by the acts of bigotry, yet we allow the stories of the oppressed to go untold. We are the tellers of these stories. Teach your students about the Crusades, and create lessons connecting the Crusades to World War 1 and 2. Explain to them the role America played in combating Nazism, while there are Americans who follow that ideology. This is not about Black and white. This is about teachers stepping up, and declaring that we will not continue to enslave the minds of our youth. We are here to expand their thoughts, their outlook on life, and to give a voice to the voiceless. Activism begins in the classroom. Activism begins with us.

Education is Activism

By Shannon McFadden

Shannon McFadden is a former educator, CEO of a small tutoring company, and Director of Quality Assurance for a non-profit organization. With a true passion for children, Ms. McFadden has spent most of her life, advocating for those who cannot fight for themselves. Born and raised in Baltimore County, Ms. McFadden received her undergraduate education at Spelman College, completed graduate courses at Howard University, and is currently attending Walden University. At Walden, Ms. McFadden is working on her Masters in Forensic Psychology, concentrating on juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention programming. With a hunger to invest in our children, Ms. McFadden plans to open a multi-generational intervention program, targeting at-risk youth and their parents, providing comprehensive services to meet all needs. Ms. McFadden currently resides in West Baltimore County, with her amazing daughter, Sharise.            

 

 

I was asked to write an entry on the education and activism, and I had the hardest time, attempting to start this wonderful article. What tone of voice I should use, should I add statistical data, and how special education is connected to the prison system. But, I changed my mind in the middle of my article, and wanted to discuss activism, and how teachers are activists.

                Activism seems to be taking a front seat lately, thanks to social media. Everyone seems to have an opinion about something, most of which are not grounded in any facts. We speak on the Freddie Gray death, the lack of convictions given to police for killing unarmed men of color, the murder of trans men and women, and the wonderful presidency of Number 45. We believe that activism is participating loudly, drawing attention to ourselves, and being infamous in certain circles. We find the Deray McKessons, the Shawn Kings, the Umar Johnsons, the Colin Kaepernicks, and the Shannon Sharpes intimidating, questioning whether we are doing “enough” for the children that we interact with daily. We fail to understand the full magnitude of the impact that we have.

                So, as an educator, how are we activists? First, teaching is not about testing and data: it is about liberating the mind. It goes beyond the behavioral management strategies; the system-approved curricula, filled with evidenced-based practices; and the framework, outlining the time spent on each standard. Teaching is giving the child the confidence, the skills, and the ability to expand their minds, and wanting to change the world for the better. Somehow, in the midst of testing and certifications, we forgot that. We forgot that a child is more than just a PARCC score, a HSA score, a DC-CAS score, or an MSA score. We try so hard to get great evaluations, we forget that a lot of our kids, the ones where school is a place to eat, feel loved, be safe, and feel secure, are not interested in data. They look to us to fulfill a need.

                As educator-activists, we are the frontline of defense. We cannot seek to educate children on empty stomachs. It is our duty to feed them. It is our duty to create the safe space, giving our students the ability to be children, even if it is only for 6 hours. Some teachers may disagree, but that is due to their personal experiences, and where the schools these teachers are employed. It is easy to ignore the role of an activist, when social injustice is not staring you in the face every day. As educators, we have to remember why we are in this field: we are here to liberate, to inspire. Every lesson should be to give our students, the ones without hope, hope. The chance that the world willingly takes away. We cannot be afraid to discuss social injustice in our classrooms. Let’s face it, we can easily make a lesson from anything. We are innovative!

                Activism is who is we are. Educators inspire, create leaders, and invoke change in the world. We have to get back to the essence of who we are. This is more than a paycheck. This is more than in IMPACT score. This is more than an evaluation. We literally are looking in the eyes of the next Barak Obama, Marcus Garvey, Steve Jobs, Jane Elliott, Nikola Tesla, and Phyliss Wheatley every single day. But, we only choose to inspire those from certain backgrounds. We have to get back to our roots, back to who we are. Without education, there is no activism.

What I learned when I stopped giving zeros

By Richard House

A passionate educator, Ricky House has spent the past four years in the classroom and is a graduate of the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Education where he served as an Urban Fellow and Masters of Arts in Teaching Candidate. Upon completing his internship at Pittsburgh's Brashear High School, Ricky moved to Baltimore to begin his teaching career in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools teaching Eighth Grade social Studies and serving as a Team Leader at MacArthur Middle School on Fort Meade. One of the highlights of his time at MacArthur, was a lesson in which he has his students research the disparities the media shows between black teens and white teens. This was done in connection to a lesson on the Baltimore Uprising in April of 2015. Ricky is currently a seventh grade social studies teacher at Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia where he manages the schools chapter of My Brothers Keeper  https://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper where he continues to maintain his educational philosophy of rigor, relevance, and relationships as a way to achieve classroom success.

This past spring as co-lead teacher of the Social Studies department in my school, I challenged myself and the other teachers in my department to stop giving zeroes and replace them with forty percents. I did this for a number of reasons and having tried it for a marking period, I can honestly say I will never give zeroes again. As more school districts around the country shift towards “no zero policies”, educators should come to understand the benefits of these policies and how they can push students towards the mark of success.

I must be honest that when I started my teaching career, I was taught not to give zeros as an intern in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The district had a “no zero” grading policy in place so it was that much easier for me to become accustomed to the idea when I began my teaching career in Maryland. My first year teaching a student could receive a grade no lower than a 40 which was equal to a not handed in and they received 50 if they did some portion of the assignment. Many teachers argue that these policies make excuses for children and show students that they can still get by, just by doing the minimum amount of work required. We need to stop for a minute and realize that giving zeros is simply not fair.

1. Most districts grade on a ten point scale: Most school districts as well as colleges and universities across the country grade on a ten point scale. That means that there is a ten point range for each letter grade from A - D except when it comes to failing grades. If you fail an assignment in most cases you can receive anywhere from a 0-59. This is simply not fair. Once you start receiving consistent grades below 40%, it becomes harder and harder to climb out of the hole that has be dug. Our goal as educators should ultimately be to help our students achieve success, not prevent them from rectifying mistakes.

2. No Grading Policies will help students confidence: After I stopped giving zeros in the spring of this year, I noticed that students who had been struggling to pass my class all year now realized that they had a chance to pass. Yes, many of these students had failed my class in previous marking period as a result of not completing assignments, but I noticed these same students were not motivated. In many cases, especially with middle schools, students tend to lose confidence the lower their grade sinks throughout a marking period. They get to a point where they think that the grade has sunk too low and they cannot recover. Policies like this help prevent that.

3.These policies focus on growth rather than mistakes: As educators we have got to get to a point where we realize that our job is to prepare our students for success and help them grow, not to punish them for their mistakes. No Zero Policies help measure a students growth over time which should always be the goal. Adolescents make mistakes and at this stage in their lives empathy and compassion from educators can go a long way. As educators we have to understand that we are not perfect and we cannot expect our students to be. Yes, we have to prepare them for a life that will not always be as generous and forgiving, but quite frankly giving a child a zero does not lower the bar in any way. Students who are not going to complete the work are still going to fail, but at the same time these same students will have the opportunity to recover without feeling like they’ve dug a hole to deep to recover.

While I understand that these policies will not be popular with all teachers, educators have always been willing to adapt to change and we must continue to do so. A 2016 Washington Post Article stated

“But many are critical of the shift, arguing that teachers are losing important tools to enforce diligence and prepare students for college and the workplace. They say that artificially boosting student grades can mask failure and push students through who don’t know the material they need to know to actually succeed.” (Washington Post 2016) .

Surely this is a worry of many educators, but no zero policies do not reward students for not doing work. A student who does no work throughout an entire marking period is still most likely to fail. Another question, we must ask ourselves as educators is “How is failing a student preparing them for college and the workforce?” If a student is consistently not handing in assignments, our goal should be to address the root cause of this problem and attempt to help them, get back on track, not punish them.

As educators we must be cognizant that not all of our students have the same learning style nor do they learn at the same pace. No Zero policies will truly help us transition from a grading system that focuses on punishment and one’s inability to recover after a series of mistakes to one focused on growth and is driven by a theme of equity. Finally as educators sometimes we become so focused on setting the highest of expectations, that we forget why we became teachers. A little empathy and compassion can go a long way.