What I Am Learning

Hey friends!

I recently got a piece of feedback from one of our awesome Content Leaders that reminded me of the importance of sharing the learning I am doing in order to continuously improve in my work. I believe that this is a key practice for all of us to maintain, both because I hope you will learn alongside me and discuss these with me, but also because it’s important for us to always be honest: none of us have ever “arrived” and finished our development.

In fact, that’s really valuable for you to share with your students: have you ever considered letting them know what you have learned at a PD, or something you are trying to work on? I feel honesty and openness about development is always key to building trust and understanding among us all.

So, for this week, I am sharing with you all some of the development opportunities I am taking advantage of, as well as some of the articles and books that have been particularly impactful to me recently.

Books and Articles:

The most consistent way that I seek development is through articles and books. Often, these will come my way through colleagues, but a lot of the time they also surface as specific issues arise, or as I recognize I need to inform myself for a session.

  • A Conversation with Linda Christiansen on Social Justice Education (Golden) – Sarah Franzen introduced this one to me because we are both working on designing a Unit Planning Series around Multicultural and Social Justice Unit Plans. Christiansen, who is interviewed here, is an amazing teacher and the author of Teaching For Joy and Justice and her perspectives on what Social Justice teaching should look like, and how to embrace it, and how to tackle its challenges is acute and inspiring. She keeps it concrete, too, which is often rare.
  • Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces (Arao & Clemens) – I read this article a while ago thanks to Sam Crenshaw, who presented it to a group of us after he had undergone a national DEI training with TFA. It’s been kind of an earth-shattering article for me because it has completely shifted the way I want to facilitate and be a part of challenging conversations about race, privilege, class, etc. This article is the foundation of many of my upcoming sessions.
  • Curriculum as Window and Mirror (Style) – Again, Sarah Franzen shared this one with me since we are planning a session together. It’s one that I have seen referenced in other sources, but there is nothing like reading the source itself. The article argues for a deeper caution in selecting texts and curriculum for students – one that goes beyond just selecting works that include identities that resemble our students’. Style argues that, instead, we must present students with a wide diversity of texts and perspectives, challenging them to not only analyze different viewpoints, but also to recon with their own. She calls these Texts “Windows and Mirrors” because they both reflect students back on themselves, and challenge them to look through to another world. Once you start reading, it just gets better and more on-point.
  • The DreamKeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Students (Landson-Billings) – We read this book recently as part of a Specialist Team book club. If you don’t know it, it is THE seminal text on Culturally Responsive Teaching. Gloria Landson-Billings focuses in on a selection of teachers whom she followed and supported in the effort to learn what it is that makes teachers (from any walk of life) effective with what has traditionally been considered the most challenging demographic to educate. Through this book, she not only demonstrates that African American students can learn, but also that at the end of the day it’s not about a one-size-fist-all strategy, but rather about some key dispositions towards teaching. While I was seeking something more in-depth, it was amazing to read the book that gave origin to the educational philosophy I feel most aligned to.
  • A People’s History of the United States (Zinn) – I have read many excerpts of this before, but the book is huge so reading it cover to cover is still a goal of mine. Especially as we have had more U.S. History teachers this year, I have wanted to increase my knowledge (and creative thinking) around the content. I have been jumping to it and reading a chapter here and there whenever I can. It is without a doubt the best account of American History I have laid my hands on, and it does an incredible job of keeping it engaging and focused on the history of the minority groups and people who actually made history happen. His retelling puts the power back in the hands of those who have always appeared most powerless. He has a student version of the book, which is A Young People’s History of the United States, for those interested in bringing it to the classroom.
  • The New Jim Crow (Alexander) – I read this book for the first time last year, and am re-reading it again now for another iteration of the book club this year. This is hands down the most important book I have read in five years, and one that has completely re-shaped my motivation for this work, and my commitment to it. It helped me learn a lot more about my privilege as well. This year, I am also pairing it with some of the awesome lesson plans that Teaching Tolerance created in collaboration with Michelle Alexander.

Online Resources:

  • Teaching Tolerance – This website is simply incredible, and it features everything from Lesson Plans to Curricula to Articles to Primary Resources and more! They created the Anti-Bias Framework as well, which has taught me so much about age-appropriate learning outcomes when it comes to the four domains they have outlined: identity, diversity, justice and action. Spend a few hours on here and you are sure to leave with more than you can handle.
    • In addition, they recently released the Perspectives for a Diverse America website, which allows you to find lesson plans and Primary Sources aligned to an essential question and one of the above domains. It’s a constant source of inspiration when I am planning example lesson plans, etc.
  • Zinn Education Program: Yep, it’s the same guy who wrote A People’s History of the United States but this time it’s a website chalk-full of lesson plans and resources and ideas for teaching students about the less canonical aspects of history. They always encourage exploration and inquiry rather than teachers telling students what’s right. Their lessons focus on everything from the Civil Rights movement to Art, to Music, and more.
  • Teaching Channel: Whenever I am seeking to re-align myself with what the best classrooms in America look like, I turn to the Teaching Channel to gather ideas. Their videos are simply awesome, and they share tons of great approaches to supporting learners, inquiry-based classrooms, and more.

Experiences and Opportunities:

  • Our most recent Whole Team Meeting, which was held on Wednesday, March 25th, was really incredible. We have recently hired someone to lead us in thinking about local issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness while keeping a focus and clear lens on students. They have been outstanding experiences. This time, we all traveled to the small town of Monsanto to visit the DELTAPINE seed company, a huge business and employer here in Mississippi. We started the day by looking at some of the highly technical jobs they have on offer but which they are struggling to find local Mississippians to fill. We asked ourselves the question: How are we preparing our students for these jobs, or any real-life opportunities? In what ways can we ensure that we are supporting them and our teachers to practice situations that are rigorous not because they are abstract, but because they are applicable and interesting? We then got a tour of the processing plant, and learned some interesting facts:
    • 30% of Mississippi works in Agriculture
    • 86% of farmers are White
    • 13.2% of farmers are African American
    • The average age of Mississippi farmers is 60.4

With this information in mind, we considered what the future will look like for Mississippi, as well as what the opportunities could look like for our students. It was a huge window into a part of our State that I so often see, but very seldom think about.

In the afternoon, we met with participants in a Greenville non-profit called Youth Builds. It’s an organization that works with high-school dropouts aged 16-22 to help them get their GEDs and into jobs around their community. They work with Habitat for Humanity on projects, have physical education aspects, and an incredibly strong culture of positivity, perseverance, and high expectations. We had the privilege of hearing the stories of the people whose lives had been changed by this program, as well as the vision of the woman who started it all. Needless to say, it was an incredible opportunity to expand our understanding of our communities and the assets within them.

  • Human-Centered Design Course – I am currently in a TFA-led course on Human-Centered Designing, which is completely online. Besides learning a TON about what a full-scale, semester-long course can look like (without too many webinars and mostly independent or small group learning), I heave been focusing on a set of actions that basically ensure that, as you design experiences and structures for others, you are listening to their feedback consistently while still keeping a disposition towards action – prototyping, testing, etc. It has been really cool to come up with crazy ideas and share them with partners (and some of you!).
  • Rural School Leadership Academy – While this hasn’t started yet, I am proud to have been accepted to the 2015 RSLA cohort. I am hoping to learn a lot from this experience, starting with examining and developing my leadership in Rural areas, and what it might look like for me to become more deeply involved in the communities I care most about here. I am also always wavering on whether or not I want to be a principal or school administrator one day, and I hope this program will give me clarity on what that might look like, and whether or not I would enjoy and have the impact I want to have in that role.

Okay, that is likely WAY more than you all wanted to hear, but I hope that sharing this illuminates some of the areas in which I am constantly seeking to grow and learn so that I can better serve you and your students. In addition, I hope this creates some touch-points for us: read an article or check out a resource, and let me know what you think!


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