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
You may remember that one of the “Funds of Knowledge” (the assets or strengths) that our students come through our doors with, specifically our students of color, is “Linguistic Capital”. As we discussed, the Critical Race Theory, describes Linguistic Capital as “the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style” In addition, “These children most often have been engaged in a storytelling tradition, that may include listening to and recounting oral histories, parables, stories and proverbs.” I’ll focus today on that specific cultural asset as I think it may be a helpful one if you are noticing that students seem to be ‘checked out’ or you can tell your classroom management isn’t up to par and you find it's affecting everyone. Whether you're feeling some kind of disconnect or not with your students, listening to stories and honoring the storytellers is invaluable. Consider taking time to relationship-build in order to connect and share your classroom expectations once again. It is never too late to “pump the breaks” and intentionally take a step back from teaching the curriculum in order to build classroom connections.
In fact, one step towards equity in the classroom, as suggested in an article published on Edutopia is to “KNOW EVERY CHILD using STORIENTATION. Telling stories! This should make you think of one of those ‘FUNDS OF KNOWLEDGE’ we discussed: LINGUISTIC CAPITAL.
Welcoming storientation-- paying close attention to people's stories-- to learn where students are from, what they love to do outside of school, what their family is like, what are their special traditions, and to understand which stories and experiences carry a strong emotional charge for them, is NEVER a waste of class time.
"Don't subscribe to a single story about any child."
The more you know, the more you can build trust and differentiate instruction. As educators, we need to pay close attention to the stories of our students and colleagues-- embracing storientation can transform your classroom and even your school.
Storientation calls on educators -- and particularly leaders -- to notice and curate three types of story: stories of self, other, and organization. This article will unpack each of these:
Using a “circle group” is one way to share stories (if you’ve never done a circle group/restorative circle, I’ll happily come help you with this) but also through cogenerative dialogues, writing, drawing, movie-making, poetry, or a combination of these--or maybe none of these, as your students will find ways that work for them to document/create their story. Allow them to be shared and heard now and throughout the school year!
Be sure to open up about your story too. What are some things you can share with your classes to help humanize yourself? How can you make yourself vulnerable with your students? Where do you have similarities to your students’ stories that you can find a connection with them?
"Respecting the power of story will help you to create the conditions for classroom and school transformation."
.Let me know how I might help you with this ~ Cindy
This week I’m sharing an article that encourages us to examine how our biases directly effect how we teach, grade, discipline, etc.. (Yep. You, me - we all have biases.) You’ll see this article is jam-packed with great ideas to reflect upon by both Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. Chris Emdin. This article (link below) mentions briefly ‘deficit-thinking’. Next week we will have some learning together around deficit-thinking versus asset-based/strength-based thinking, so this article will give you a little food for thought before then.
“Every single person comes into social spaces with biases, and they're birthed out of stories that you've heard, experiences you may have had and, especially in a media-saturated society, perceptions of other are sort of imbibed and ascribed to us by stories in the media,” said Dr. Chris Emdin. He goes on to say, “Most teachers are trained to say that they don't see race. They wear that on their sleeve as something that they're proud of. When you're trained to give that response, you start to believe that, and when you're enacting these biases, you don't see that as the problem.”
Something to think about after you've read the article:
"Is the overall culture of the school one that encourages learning and puts the children as authors of that learning, or is it one in which the students are already presented with a deficit narrative that says they are less capable, less intelligent, less valuable to society?"
I think it's important that we, as educators, are constantly examining our culture of our school and making sure we are putting our students first and letting them be the "authors of the learning" socially, emotionally, and academically. This is something that is not easily changed overnight; however, as we continue to work and keep this at the front of our minds we will be able to see shifts in our school's (and classroom) culture.
“If you do not view a student as having the ability to be academically successful, they will not be able to realize their potential. If you view a student through a deficit lens, they will never fully be actualized,” Emdin continues, “You put a cap on what they can do before they even get the opportunity to show you” what they can do, he said. “I think that's the most dangerous thing, when you see somebody as less than they are, when you put a cap on their potential. … Once you do that enough, you put a cap on their psyche. They start believing that they're not valuable, they believe that they’re deficient, and that's the most detrimental thing to their ability to learn."
Will you see your students' abilities in order for them to be successful? Will you realize your students' potential? We have so many opportunities to make each day brighter for our students by acknowledging their strengths, abilities, and potential!
In the article, "A White Teacher’s Suggestions for Doing Right by Students of Color"
by Justin Minkel in Education Week Teacher, it says: “Children of color need books to be mirrors as well as windows.” I believe this is true in all areas of instruction, not just in the literature we choose. Consider the power in your students seeing “images of themselves” in the posters hung on walls, graphics you share on PowerPoints, and in the video clips you choose to show. I believe this holds true not just for our Black and Brown students, but also for the children with disabilities (what about a poster of someone in a wheelchair or on crutches?) Let's also consider how powerful it would be if you found graphics that are inclusive for your LGBTQ students as well.
A place to start to find some titles of novels is the Scholastic’s We Need Diverse Books catalog, but search other places too and see if you can get them purchased for your classroom. You could also download an image of book covers and print them in color to get yourself some inclusive “art from literature” for your classrooms. In the article, Minkel reminds us, "One mother reported that her children had this to say about the books they were reading in school: 'It’s always about slavery and racism. Once in a while, can’t we read about black kids just chillin’?'"
We Need Diverse Books is also a great place to explore for titles and new ideas so your students can see themselves reflected in the pages they read. Take a look for yourself: diversebooks.org/
Check out some of these poster links for you to use in your Science and Math classrooms too! I've had these six posters ( www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=14570 ) printed poster-sized at the DMPS print shop in color and I clicked 'laminate' while I was at it-- they turned out really great! On this same link, below each of these posters (which are all of women, and even some women of color) you'll find there is a short introduction to each of the featured scientists as well as recommended reading for both kids and adults. To download any of the posters, click the image or the "download poster" link. Easy peasy.
I also received this resource from Sara Earleywine: https://www.beyondcurie.com/
When I clicked to see these it says: "Beyond Curie is a design project that highlights badass women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics". Badass women in STEM? Yes!! Get these on your wall, y'all! (These posters are really amazing, even if you're not teaching Math or Science, you should still click to see these!) Sara shared that you have to have ‘rights’ to these, however, you’re in luck because Hoyt has purchased these and she has a digital copy for anyone interested. Ta-da!
There is SO MUCH MORE out there on the ol’ world wide web, just search and Google images. (Edit: Here's a new site I just discovered. BEAUTIFUL prints available to you: amplifier.org/ )
Are you on Pinterest? Beautiful inspiration on there as well. Download some images and print in color. Boom! You’re on your way to a culturally inclusive classroom on your four walls, your door, and even in the hands of students when they are reading in your classroom!
*Scroll down to find the short article I mentioned, "A White Teacher’s Suggestions for Doing Right by Students of Color"
A White Teacher’s Suggestions for Doing Right by Students of Color
In this article in Education Week Teacher, Arkansas teacher Justin Minkel notes an
important “disconnect” in U.S. schools: 80 percent of K-12 teachers are white, while 51 percent of students are children of color. “White teachers like me have to love our students of color enough to learn how to teach them well,” says Minkel. His suggestions:
• Small daily actions – “Our students of color are often starved for anything and anyone relevant to their identities and experiences,” he says. His first graders were enraptured when he showed a YouTube clip of the Hamilton cast performing at the White House.
• Literature – “Children of color need books to be mirrors as well as windows,” says Minkel. There’s no shortage of material, starting with Scholastic’s We Need Diverse Books catalog. High-quality books and magazines need to be prominent in guided reading groups, read-alouds, and classroom libraries for independent reading. Texts about people of color shouldn’t shy away from issues of oppression, but there should be a balance. One mother reported that her children had this to say about the books they were reading in school: “It’s always about slavery and racism. Once in a while, can’t we read about black kids just chillin’?”
• Guest speakers – There are all too many negative images of African Americans and Latinos in the media, says Minkel: “We have to provide our students a constant stream of writers, artists, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and other competent and caring men and women of color to counter that poisonous programming.”
• Upstanding – “When you hear other white people – including fellow teachers – make racist comments, speak up,” says Minkel. “It’s OK if your face turns red, you blurt out something that doesn’t quite line up as a sentence, or it takes you 12 hours to come up with the line you wish you had said. The important thing is to make a little gash in that conversation so the comment does not go unnoticed or unchallenged. Part of white privilege is the ability to speak against racism without being quickly discounted by white people in power as people of color often are.”
• Listening – “I continue to marvel at the patience, kindness, and generosity of spirit shown to me by African-American and Latino friends and colleagues,” says Minkel. “To learn from them, I have to remind myself to stop talking and instead listen deeply to their experiences, perspectives, and advice… We can’t be afraid to ask a question of a colleague of color for fear we’ll look foolish or clueless.”
“How Can White Teachers Do Right by Students of Color?” by Justin Minkel in Education Week Teacher, August 15, 2018