"Black history is American history...Observing Black History Month in February gives us a chance to be intentional about learning that history."
Here we are a full week into February-- I didn't want too many more days to get past us and not share some information that will hopefully give some support for you in your classrooms as we move forward with Black History Month. I also hope that there will be some resources (see below) that you might find helpful to reach a goal of figuring out how we can include Black History in our lessons this month and beyond. Remember Black History Month doesn't just have to be our civil rights leaders (but be sure to include them too, of course!) There are many of ways to go beyond the typical inventors and sports heroes (although they are important as well!) so that every child can connect to and learn from the amazing contributions of the African American community.
Finally, like this site shares, "Black History Month has been the subject of criticism...as some argue it is unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the other 11 months. Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history."
-->Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month:
--Read on to learn why Black History Month began and to snag those resources I mentioned--
First, let’s briefly take a look at the start of Black History Month, also called African-American History Month. Carter G. Woodson—educator, historian, writer, and the “Father of Black History”--established Negro History Week in 1926. He believed that celebrating the achievements of Black Americans and others of African descent would instill racial pride in Black people, especially the children. Woodson's original Negro History Week took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
—Carter G. Woodson-
-taken from Black Children's Books and Authors
Now I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up. … But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But even more we can't afford to slow up because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life. … We must keep moving. We must keep going.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
From "The Montgomery Story," an address to the 47th annual NAACP Convention, San Francisco, June 27, 1956
We are a few days away from MLK Jr. Day. I know many of you are thrilled at the thought of the three-day weekend, but leading up to this special day, I encourage you to do a couple of things. One is to take time with your students to do something to discuss Dr King’s work and those that worked alongside him in the Civil Rights Movement. Be sure your students leave for their weekend, knowing WHY they have no school on Monday. My hope is that all students will know why the district and the nation set this day aside to honor and remember the work of Dr. King.
I'll drop one resource here that is chock-full of great ideas for you (discussion, writing prompts and extension activities) to lead conversations and reflection in your classes : Dr. King and the Movement
The second thing I encourage you to do is to find something to do in your community to be a part of in enriches your learning around the work in civil rights. I’ve included a couple local events that I think you will LOVE under the "Community Resources" tab. (There are many more events around the city that you can search for that I did not share, so find one that interests you and go! If you have kids of your own, take them too.) I took my son, Zion, last year to the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Forest Library and we both enjoyed ourselves. It is important to me that he learns why he has no school on this particular Monday of the school year. Along with a keynote speaker there will be students from DMPS sharing their art work, poetry, and creative writing.
Another amazing opportunity is to hear Dr. Yusef Salaam speak (for FREE!) He is one of the Central Park Five and has an amazing story of being wrongly convicted as a teen for a rape and murder, and as a result, was imprisoned for years. He shares that story, but also one of love, forgiveness and redemption. I had the privilege to hear him speak and I have no doubt if you hear him, your spirit will be moved.
*All the details of these two events are on the “Community Events” page on this weebly.
ENJOY your long weekend, but please consider taking some time before the week ends to think of ways you can teach your students more than they might already know of Dr. MLKing Jr.
When I think of celebrating holidays the first one that comes to my mind is Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. A big part of it has to do with how "magical" my family made it during this time of year. It still is a big celebration within my family, but it has always centered around religion, traditions and family. In the classroom, so often I wanted to create the same excitement and magic for my students around this time of year; however, I had to be mindful that I was an educator in a public school, not a Christian school, so my thinking had to shift.
Maybe you are like me and you have gone through feelings that range from: we should celebrate holidays, to we should not celebrate ANY holidays, to we NEED to celebrate holidays but need to look at the approach we are taking to do so. This article which discusses three common pitfalls to avoid with holidays is a great way to start the conversation . It shares how some teachers may really hit holidays hard in December and try to teach about Christmas around the world and the different traditions or "versions" of Christmas. With a quick Google search you’ll find that Hanukkah is not an equivalent holiday to Christmas. Instead Rosh Hashanah and Passover are holidays that would be the more important holidays within the Jewish community. And we must, of course, consider students at our school who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and talk with them about how they feel in regards to their beliefs/practices too.
“…teachers believe they are doing a good job of treating holidays equally, but there are still problems, usually arising from lack of awareness or information.”
I know a common theme that occurs before and after break is asking students what they want for Christmas or what they received for Christmas. I would be lying if I said I had never done this or asked students to tell me about all of the exciting things they’d be doing/had done over their break. I did this my first years teaching, and quickly learned that I would not do it again. I had some students who had long extravagant lists and received every item on the list. I had other students who had high hopes & received very minimal items. Break from school for some students is an exciting time of traveling, celebrating, and doing fun activities with the family. Other students' breaks may look a little differently and their break may cause them anxiety for reasons known or unknown to us.
To help support you with holidays: I have shared a few ideas below to help you through the month of December and all year long:
"Help students understand that although not everyone celebrates the same events, all holidays are equally valuable. There are no right or wrong holidays.”
Finally, remember to always center students around the 4 anti-bias goals.
These goals are:
1. Nurture each students' self-identity within a context of a group identity.
2. Promote each students' comfortable interaction with people who are different from them.
3. Foster each students' ability to think critically about bias.
4. Cultivate each students' ability to be an activist and to stand up for himself or herself and for others in the face of bias.
Have you heard of the term, “School to Prison Pipeline”? It is a phenomenon that pushes students, disproportionately minority students and students with disabilities, along with LGBTQ students, out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at alarming rates—it favors incarceration over education.
When I first started teaching 16 years ago, students were suspended all.the.time, every single day. Administrators and teachers (myself included) never really thought twice, it seemed, about sending students home for the day or even for days on end. Ask anyone that's been in DMPS for a long time and they’ll tell you too how “times have changed” with discipline and suspensions. I can imagine, even if you’re a few years into this career, you’re already seeing how things have evolved. Truth be told, at first it was really difficult for me to understand why administrators didn't just send kids home, but eventually, after digging a little deeper into statistics and the negative effects of suspension and the benefits of restorative justice, I’ve been able to make a shift in my thinking.
This article, Race, Discipline and Safety in U.S. Public Schools explains how it is not only systemic policies harming our students. It is the biases and practices enacted in individual classrooms, and it begins as early as pre-school.
"In 2010, more than 3 million students [in the US] were suspended from school, or double the level of suspensions in the 1970s. Meanwhile, more than a quarter-million were 'referred' to police officers for misdemeanor tickets, very often for offenses that once would have elicited a stern talking-to." Not only do children miss out on learning when they are at home, but a suspension can be life altering. Did you know suspension is the number-one predictor— more than poverty—of whether children will drop out of school, and walk down a road that includes greater likelihood of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs, and imprisonment?
“For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system- a direct consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education.”
Zero-tolerance policies may seem like the answer to bad behavior in the heat of the moment, but they're not; This short-term fix is based on fear. It focuses only on the rule that was broken and the punishment deserved. Instead of trying to make things right, it responds to the original harm with an additional harm. It doesn't get at root causes, doesn't try to repair the damage to relationships, and fails to prevent recurrence. “The apparent expediency of a punitive approach is typically attractive to teachers and school administrators. In fact, it makes our schools neither safer nor smarter, and has a disproportionately negative impact on students of color.”
So how do we get to root causes? One place to start is restorative justice, which might look like reentry circles/conversations after a suspension did take place or "circle groups" to problem-solve to avoid a suspension. Restorative justice empowers students to create a safe and respectful space to talk through concerns instead of fighting through differences. Adults can share power with youth and recognize the opportunities where youth can work in authentic partnership with adult allies to improve the effectiveness of the school's restorative justice initiative. The goal is to elevate youth voice!
To learn more about working being done locally with restorative justice as an alternative to punishment, check out these links. You’ll notice DMPS’ beloved, Mary Decker quoted on THIS PAGE. The same organization has created a video sharing the “Let’s Talk” program. (At minute 4:40 you’ll see Hoyt's very own, Mr. Goodhue): LET'S TALK VIDEO
In addition, access this toolkit for combating the school to prison pipeline: TOOLKIT
Finally, take a few moments to watch this spoken word poem, "Simon Says". It's a pretty heavy poem about the school to prison pipeline. See if this doesn't do something to your teacher-heart and minds. Every time I watch it, I get goosebumps. *Warning: there is one profane word
When I think of how Thanksgiving was taught to me I have some clear memories of elementary school. We dressed up as pilgrims and Indians, and we put on a play for our families. I also remember drawing pictures that I was so proud of that looked a lot like the skit: pilgrims and Indians sharing corn and pumpkin pie and turkey. When I reflect on these common activities that happened in schools (I hope they still don't) when I was young I cringe to think about what was taught to me and how I believed that to be truth for so long. Do you have memories of lessons in school or at home that are similar to mine? When did you finally learn the truth around Thanksgiving? Today think about what you know/don't know as the truth around the “First Thanksgiving” and reflect on how you interact with your students around the content. Simply put...when we know better, we do better.
What my teacher asked us to do was not right. We appropriated a culture by dressing in stereotypical outfits as we created headbands to wear. The Wampanoag people did not wear the elaborate headdresses depicted in European paintings of the “First Thanksgiving” (The depiction of them in headdresses breaking bread with the pilgrims is not historically accurate). There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. In order to appreciate, students must understand the historical context of such dress, the religious and cultural significance, the ways in which Indigenous peoples have been oppressed and their culture appropriated. Without such understanding, students cannot appreciate the culture for what it is. While my elementary teacher’s goal may have been to engage her students and have “fun” dressing up as First Americans to help us relate to history, it was not the right way to go about it. Objecting someone’s culture is not about being politically correct--it’s about recognizing that wearing someone else’s culture as a costume diminishes the significance of their cultural dress, and is particularly harmful when there is a history of oppression related to it.
I think it’s important that we accurately teach history- especially so our student don’t end up like me (or maybe you too?) who felt as though I was misinformed/lied to by my teachers/adults in my life. Students are forming their ideas about how they interact with the world, and how the impacts of historical events ripple through to today. Presenting a false narrative about the “First Thanksgiving” and the Wampanoag people allows students to frame the relationship between Indigenous peoples and white European colonizers in a way that softens or outright erases the unconscionable violence and destruction of nations that took place in the 1600s and beyond. While November is Native American History Month there is trouble in only teaching about Indigenous peoples for one month. We perpetuate the idea that they shouldn’t be taught/discussed year round. This also goes for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and others. With all of this being said I have a some resources both for teachers and students and below I have share some tips as you move through this topic.
This resource has a ton of links within it to support your learning as well as your learning with students:
Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in School
Lesson Ideas and Resources:
'Equity means that PEOPLE should receive what they need to achieve their potential, and their race and other aspects of their identity should not prevent access to opportunity.’
We spend a lot of time in our school & district talking about race, specifically Black/African American males, because we know that this is where we still have much work to do in terms of academics (college and career ready, academic growth, proficiency) and in tackling the disproportionate numbers of referrals. (By the way, I don’t mean that we avoid writing them necessarily, but that we tackle our beliefs about writing referrals: Who do we write them for? What language do we use when writing them? Do we try to problem-solve and deescalate before we write referrals? What is the outcome we expect when we write them? Have we considered if these behaviors have happened before and what factors might influence the problem so we can address the 'root of the problem' so we can avoid a referral altogether?)
With all that said, I want to be clear, equity isn’t just for a certain demographic, race, gender, or social class, etc., equity is for ALL PEOPLE. Equity at school is about building the capacity for all students – we must leverage their value, their voices, and their leadership. We need to reflect deeply on what we, as educators, feel and believe about our students of color, ELL students, children identified as low SES, and so on; we need to be mindful of what we see as “deficits” in order to see areas for US to change and grow. The shifts in our mindsets and beliefs don’t happen just because we attend a PD or read an article, rather the shifts come after the PD and the reading when we begin thinking critically about ourselves.
When considering equity, we need to believe that we can teach all students and that all our students can learn, even when (especially when!) we set high expectations. I want us to remember our perception data we discussed earlier this week. So many students said they don’t believe they are smart and gave us their reasons why they hold this belief about themselves. One of the steps to equity in this article is to become a “warm demander”. It's explained more here: The Teachers as a Warm Demander
Warm demanders are teachers who “expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential...” What might happen to our Hoyt students’ beliefs about themselves if we spoke life into them and “convinced them of their own brilliance”?
Finally, I encourage you to take some time to also reflect on your self-efficacy. Do you believe you can teach all students at a high level? “Teacher efficacy is when teachers believe in their own ability to guide their students to success. For over thirty years, researchers have explored the link between teacher self-efficacy and student achievement. Research suggests that teachers with a strong sense of self-efficacy tend to be better planners, more resilient through failure, and more open-minded and supportive with students. Collective efficacy is when a staff of teachers believe that together they can inspire growth and change in their students.” And according to John Hattie, professor and education-researcher, “collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.”
Imagine what your classroom will look like when you ramp up your teacher-efficacy and the beliefs you hold in all of your students’ abilities to achieve. The sky is the limit!
As I watched the video below I reflected a lot about my practice as a teacher, and how I approach my work now. Josh Parker started as a substitute teacher, actually he was a sports producer before starting his career in education. He was the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year, and is now an instructional coach at Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School. Josh talks about our heart, soul, and impact through our promise and actions we make. He says, "A promise is a declarative statement you make in your heart, scream in your soul, or state through your actions. It's your mark that you leave in this world, and the standard which people judge who you are."
As you go through the video there are some questions I want you to reflect upon:
I think Josh says it best in these two quotes:
*The video should start at 28:10. If not, fast forward to that mark to hear Josh Parker speak.
Have you been hearing about how powerful Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is in the classroom? Social and emotional learning is all about children (and adults) having the skills to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Having a SEL “toolbox” to reach for in order to teach critical social competencies is necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills. There are SO many ideas on the internet, but I'll share an easy "tool" that worked great for my in my classroom for building relationships/SEL. You'll also see a link in this post to some wonderful "SEL tools" that might work for you too!
When I was teaching, I used to try to start each class period with my students standing in a circle around the room (If you can’t do each class period, or you want to start small, consider starting with a “Monday Meeting” or carve out some time to wrap up the week with a “Friday Send-Off”) We would use those few minutes at the beginning of class for “Wish-Wells and Celebrations”. Anyone that wanted to could share either of those things, or simply pass, and not say anything at all. For example, you might hear: “I want to wish my grandma well. She is still in the hospital.” Or “I want to wish my uncle well, he was deported last night. I am worried about his family. We are all scared.” or “I want to celebrate my cat’s birthday today! We’ve had her for five years now.” or “I want to celebrate that I just got back a Math test and I got my first 3 on it!” You can see these things that students share in the classroom circle may be anything from disheartening (the hospital and deportation) to silly ( the cat’s birthday) As long as you set up expectations for sharing and listening and create a safe space, including agreements like, “What’s said in here, stays in here," you will be well on your way, in just a few minutes time, for some outta sight Social and Emotional Learning = community building/trust/relationships!
This is just one example of ways to begin including some SEL in your classes, but this post has THIRTEEN other good ideas:
www.edutopia.org/article/13-powerful-sel-activities-emelina-minero Scroll through and which ones best suite you and your students. Since SEL can be such an important part of a child’s day, you can (and should) start them any time. It's not too late if you haven't built them into your class routine yet. If you've never done anything like this before and it feels uncomfortable- try them anyway; that's when we grow- in the discomfort. I bet you’ll be surprised with how much your students enjoy that time with you and each other. Get your kids connected socially and emotionally and watch them start to make gains academically.
*And remember, SEL doesn't have to be just a specific, set-aside time of the class period (like my example from my classroom) it's ideal to have it embedded throughout your time with students.
“When you pay attention to each other, not only does it build a sense of community, but we’re more able to understand other people,” says Janet, a 12th-grade student.“If you're able to understand people at a younger age, you could work better with them as adults. That changes how the future generations will be. People can be more accepting, more helpful towards each other.”
One of my favorites from the article is #13, the “Appreciation, Apology, and Aha” activity. Have you students get in a circle at the end of class to share an appreciation, an apology or a realization. The teacher in this article says, “Help students share helpful, not harmful words. ‘I often say, Appreciations, apologies, and ahas should be something that you genuinely think will be useful for people to hear.’”
He has his students snap, clap, or shake both hands when they hear something that resonates with them. “We snap to let people know that we hear them without exerting our own voice in their narrative.” Students shake their hands when peers share things that are emotionally charged. The teacher can get this started by saying, “Let’s shake it up for that.”
Take a look at this 60 second clip on using the "Appreciation, Apology, and Aha" activity:
Luvvie Ajayi speaks to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. As we continue to go through the year and do our work around equity this is bound to happen. Luvvie's words hit deep. Here is the part that resonated with me:
“And I feel like everyday that I’m speaking truth against institutions and people who are bigger than me and forces that are more powerful than me, I feel like I’m falling out of that plane. But I realize comfort is overrated. Because being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable. And all comfort has done is maintain the status quo. So we’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable by speaking these hard truths when they’re necessary.”
Luvvie will challenge you to think about if you will be the first domino to fall? What will it take for you to be the first? As you listen to the video I challenge you to think about will you be the first domino to fall? What will it take for you to be the first to fall?
I bet we all have one of those little songs or phrases we were taught as young children. Here’s mine: “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in the year of 1492.” Our nation has even named a holiday for Christopher Columbus, yet all of us know, he was not at all the first person to "discover" America -- he invaded a land that was already home to our Native American Indians. Indigenous Peoples’ Day can be a powerful day for you, as a classroom teacher, to debunk this myth that comes from a Eurocentric lens.
“Teachers have the power to change the practice of celebrating Columbus to a practice of celebrating indigenous peoples’ presence, endurance and accomplishments."
If you plan to talk about Columbus Day with your students, consider teaching about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, “A better story—and better point of focus—is one that celebrates indigenous peoples who not only pre-date Columbus, but who persist and excel in an often hostile U.S. social and political environment.”
Take a moment to check out a couple of resources that I'm sharing today that may help guide your thinking as you prepare for next week.
You’ll see that this Teaching Tolerance link offers activities to engage your students in a different story as we lead up to Columbus Day: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/reconsider-columbus-day
If you want to add a creative edge to your lesson on Indigenous People’s Day, I’m including a link with resources that are from Indigenous writers who share their stories of both past and present. So many ‘best sellers’ and ‘classics” are riddled with stereotypes and misrepresentation, so this is a way to offer another ‘counter-story’ to what your students may have learned about Native Americans in our country. Many of the books that are shared are for young students, but some are for older kids too. Don’t underestimate the power of a “read-aloud” even for middle schoolers, especially after you taught a lesson on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. (As you read, put the beautiful images from the book up on the big screen so everyone can be a part of the read-aloud.) Think of ways to create a lesson around the book you choose and the message of the story. Think back to “Cultural Wealth” and find a connection between these stories and your own students’ cultural wealth and how these children’s books might resonate with your students. Check those out here: https://medium.com/embrace-race/indigenousreads-by-indigenous-writers-a-childrens-reading-list-c3b558d1d94a
“Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is basic to children's beliefs about society. For many youngsters the tale of Columbus introduces them to a history of this country, even to history itself. The ‘discovery of America’ is children's first curricular exposure to the encounter between two cultures and to the encounter between two races. As such, a study of Columbus is really a study about us — how we think about each other, our country, and our relations with people around the world. The Columbus myth teaches children whose voices to listen for as they go out in the world — and whose to ignore.”
Finally, I’m including a link to a Special Edition from “Rethinking Schools” which includes many articles like, “We Have No Reason to Celebrate an Invasion”, “Native Americans: What Not To Teach”, and “If I Had Five Minutes to Spend with Students”, a short article written by LaDonna Harris who is Comanche, but also the President and Executive Director of Americas for Indian Opportunities. She is a voice for Indian civil rights. (Scroll down to page 74 for her story) https://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC44_scans/44.monograph.rethinking.columbus.1991.pdf