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