As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
As the snow begins to fall, many of us could use something to help warm us up: especially something that warms us up from the inside. For me, that often comes in the form of learning something new. Tucking myself under a blanket and reading a book, gathering with friends to have a deep discussion, or taking a few hours to get lost in the learning of new skill -- all of these help me forget about the cold outside (for a little while, at least).
If you'd like to warm up a bit with some learning, consider signing up for some of these recently added PD Express courses.
As you try to warm up this winter, consider warming up with some learning.
Sign up via PD Express today!
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
As an educator I have always enjoyed the reset of the new quarter. I’d spend time highlighting things that worked in my blue plan book ( yep, I’m old school) and I’d make notes on what I’d like to change for the next quarter. One great resource to support you in this is your building instructional coach(es).
Below are five ways teachers in the Rochester Public Schools are using instructional coaches to support their own professional development and growth.
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You Pick 2
We all have those students that we haven’t connected with yet. These may be students who need an additional challenge that you want to provide or students who are not yet engaged in your class. They could also be students whose behavior may be getting in the way of their learning. Ask your coach to observe them in your class and in another setting and share the data they observed with you. They can also support you in creating a plan for how to get to know these two students better or do some research on the supports other teachers may already have in place.
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Choose a lesson you want to revamp or remodel because it hasn’t gone the way you’ve wanted it to in the past. This may be a reading that students always struggle with or a project where you’d like students to take more ownership. Meet with your coach to share what you’ve done in the past and what you are hoping to change. They can assist you in planning, resource gathering, and carrying the lesson out. For example, one middle school teacher wanted to give students more ownership in her implementation of literature circles. She worked with her coach to create a plan that included more student voice and dialogue. Her coach helped in her planning and also supported her implementation of this model in the classroom.
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Culturally & Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLRT) Strategies
As we are studying CLRT strategies your coach is a great resource for support with trying some new teaching techniques. Teachers at one of our middle schools are trying to implement discussion protocols in their classrooms to improve student voice, engagement and achievement. They are working with their coach to choose a discussion protocol, plan for implementing it, and then reflect on what worked and what they might change the next time they use the protocol in the classroom. An additional conversation is reflection on which students are being validated and affirmed with the various protocols.
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If you are being formally observed by an administrator this year your coaches can support you with a practice observation. Although coaches are not trained to score you on the CLASS tool like your administrators are, they can help you see where your strength and growth areas are. Conversation with your coach around the CLASS tool can also help strengthen your reflective conversation with your principal.
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The beginning of the quarter is a great time to lay out a rough outline of what you’d like to accomplish in the new quarter. Your coach could help you do some long-range planning and could assist you with the development of formative assessments or resource gathering within the quarter. More lesson planning templates can be found on the Curriculum and Instruction website under teacher planning.
If you are interested in any of these options, reach out to your building's instructional coach(es) or special education coach. If you are not sure who this is, feel free to email me and I can connect you with the appropriate coach.
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
Cante' waste' nape ciyuzapi ksto! (I greet you with a warm heart and handshake).
Recently, I had a conversation with a student who was feeling lonely. He wanted to go back to the school he attended last year, which is out of state. He missed his friends, he missed being part of a community, and he missed a sense of belonging. He said, "I don't really talk to anybody but my dog."
I knew this student was seeking an authentic connection. I told him, "I talk to my dog too, in fact, I dress her up. Would you like to see her in a Wonder Woman costume?" I then showed him a picture of my dog in her costume.
His eyes sparkled and the corners of his mouth turned upward into a smile. He looked directly at me. We connected.
October 8th marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognized by Rochester Public Schools, the City of Rochester, and several other school districts and cities across the United States. So, Why is this day important?
This simple act of acknowledgment of the Indigenous Peoples of this land and the contributions they have made can and will be the catalyst for Indigenous Peoples’ sense of belonging, existence, and self-worth. This is imperative; otherwise, it can be easy for American Indian students to feel like they don't belong. Others often question our identity and existence (I say ‘our’ because I am an Indigenous person) because many history books refer to us as being figures of the past: a people who did not exist before 1492. Acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day will begin to dispel the myths of American Indians being nothing but relics of the past.
The Indigenous Peoples’ history, culture, and way of life were targeted for assimilation through the boarding schools and foster care system before the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. Very few American Indian families have not been directly impacted by the forced boarding school and adoption era.
My Mother was sent to St. Francis Boarding School and eventually ended up aging out of the foster care system. She was separated from her three older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. While in foster care, she repeatedly asked about her younger sister. A few days after her 18th birthday, she was contacted by the state of South Dakota and notified that her sister was living in a town 45 minutes away and she had been there for 13 years.
Most of us have an inherent human desire to belong and to be part of a community. Our ancestors existed so we can exist. Our existence is current. Our existence is our future.
If one does not understand the past and is told things about history that are inaccurate, one begins to internalize all of that information: one may begin to believe inaccuracies about one’s self. We must recognize how the past affects us today, how it will affect us tomorrow, and how it will affect our future generations.
Our American Indian students are the epitome of strength and resilience.
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. (Sitting Bull)
If you have a question about resources available for students or staff, or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to me.
Pilamaya. (Thank you.)
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
Sam* an eighth grade student in Tammy’s* class, looks forward to her class each day. He knows that he will have time to talk with other students to process what he’s learning which helps him clarify his thinking. Tammy has a rule that she needs to get the students talking within the first five minutes of her class period. This takes different forms: sometimes Tammy writes one or two words from the previous class period on the board and students pair up and talk about what they remember; other days, students generate questions that they have related to their reading and discuss their impressions.
When asked why this works for him Sam says, “When I have to talk about what I was thinking it helps me to understand it better. I also like hearing what other people think about things that I might not have thought about.”
We’ve all heard the adage, “More student talk, less teacher talk,” but why is this so critical in learning? Vygotsky (1962) suggested that thinking develops into words in a number of phases moving from images to inner speech to inner speaking to speech. Following this theory, talk is really the representation of thinking. We want our classrooms to be filled with talking because this means they are filled with thinking.
So, how can we build purposeful talk into the classroom and ensure that it really is deepening thinking and not just a recap of Friday’s football game?
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Whatever structure you use to make phone calls home, keep parents/guardians like Casey in mind. We want to work collaboratively with our students and their important adults, and that often begins by picking up the phone.
This time of year, when I reflect on the different ways we get to know our students after the first few days of school, I often think of my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Anderson. Our first assignment of the year was to write our own obituary (yeah…super morbid, right?). I wrote the required one page of, “She was loved by her family…”, “She was preceded in death by…”, “She did this and that…”.
I turned it in and a few days later, it came back to me, dripping in red ink. I was convinced I had completely failed. As I started to read the comments on my paper though, my anxiety lifted. All along the margins, I read comments like, “No way! Your grandpa was my bus driver when I was a kid!” and “Your cousin is my best friend!” Awkward-and-anxious me suddenly knew I had someone in my corner. Mr. Anderson was making connections with me that went beyond my favorite color or which sports I play, and I suddenly cared much more about my English class than I ever imagined I would.
Throughout the year in that English class, every writing assignment came back with Mr. Anderson’s commentary along the margins, forcing me to rethink my thesis or supporting arguments, or cracking a joke about a silly spelling error. Every once in a while, I would find a post it on my desk, introducing me to authors like Jane Smiley or Toni Morrison (who is, to this day, still my favorite). Mr. Anderson had taken the time throughout the year to get to know me both as a learner and as a person who had a life outside of his classroom.
This year, you are going to hear a lot about the district’s continued work around culturally and linguistically responsive teaching practices (CLR). We know we need to think about culture and bias. We know how important it is to understand who our students are culturally and the cultural nuances they bring to our classrooms every day. That is why I’d like to provide a few “get to know you” strategies that can be used throughout the year, multiple times, to continue to build relationships and connections with your students and get to know them as cultural beings.
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Six Word Memoir
The beauty of this strategy is that is can be used multiple times throughout the year. As students feel more and more comfortable, watch their memoirs change.
For more examples, look at the Six Word Memoir website.
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- Round one: Choose a category (such as favorite colors) and tell students to divide themselves into only four groups. The students have to work together to determine which four colors will be represented. Those whose favorite may not be listed will have to get creative about which group they will belong to.
- Round two: Tell students they will now have to divide themselves into three groups. Give them another category. Again, students will have to work together and get creative to determine how they will group themselves.
- Round three: Now tell students they will have to divide into only two groups. Give them a category and let them decide how to split themselves.
This activity helps students find commonalities and make connections with their classmates. They also have to practice problem solving and language skills while they communicate with you and their classmates. You can make the categories more or less complex, depending on your students.
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Walk and Talk
This activity is so versatile. You can use it as a “get to know you” activity or you can have students reflect on class content. Once again, the options are endless. If you need help thinking of questions, check out the Conversation Starters World website.
Getting to know our students never really ends and when they know we care about them beyond our classroom, they are more likely to be present and stay engaged, well beyond their days with us. We are all on this journey together and even small steps, like making connections with our students, can help pave our way to more meaningful connections and deeper learning.
If you would like more ideas, or if you have any you would like to share, please connect with me any time.
- Will my teacher like me?
- Will I be treated with respect in the classroom?
- Will my ideas and thoughts be honored?
The first week of school is a critical time to set the foundation for the learning and dialogue that will happen the rest of year. Although it’s tempting to rush to the logistical (how to find the syllabus, online textbook codes, grading policies, etc.), what students really want to know is how you’ll connect as human beings in your classroom. Here are five ways to start building positive relationships within those first critical days in the classroom:
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- Blue: What do you value?
- Green: What do you love to do?
- Brown: What would you change about the world if you were able?
- Yellow: If you knew it would work out, what are some risks you would take in life?
- Orange: What is something about your family?
Be sure to share your own responses as well!
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5 Questions to Ask your Students at the Start of the School Year
- What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?
- What are you passionate about?
- What is one big question you have for this year?
- What are your strengths and how can we utilize them?
- What does success at the end of the year look like to you?
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This year we interviewed student panelists as a part of our new teacher orientation. One of their recurring messages was: “we value teachers who care about us as people and get to know us outside of class.”
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- Have students write a unique fact about themselves on a small piece of paper.
- Ask students to roll this up into a ball and then divide your group in two.
- Engage in a snowball fight, trying to have the least amount of snow balls on your side.
- End the fight. Then, pick up one snowball and form a circle.
- Read your fact aloud. Whomever's fact it is says, “That is Me!” Then, that student grabs a snowball from the floor and reads the fact aloud.
- Have each student repeat 'step 5' until there are no paper snowballs on the floor.
The more we know about our students as learners and humans the better we’re able to support their growth. Here’s to a wonderful year of human connection!
How to Foster Creative Thinking and Create Greater Opportunities
In March of 2017, Tanya Menon shared her Ted Talk, “The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven’t Met Yet” (imbedded below).
However, Menon shares that while strong ties might feel good, there is strength in weak ties. Paraphrasing the work of Mark Granovetter, author of “The Strength of Weak Ties,” Menon points out that most people get their jobs from and have creative ideas sparked by those who share only weak ties. In other words, individuals you just met or know only tangentially are often the ones who will foster your creative thinking and create greater opportunities for you.
There are three suggestions that Menon provides for how we might widen our social universe. As she shared these, I saw clear connections to how these ides might impact us as educators, which I summarize below.
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Use a more imperfect social search engine (expand your social footpath)
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Be courageous traveling your social universe
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Reach out to people as partners rather than as resources
Finally, Menon offers the suggestion that we nix the common metaphor of “life’s a journey,” because in this metaphor “you're a passenger on the train, and there are certain people with you. Certain people get on this train, and some stay with you, some leave at different stops, new ones may enter. This one [metaphor] is passive: being a passenger on that train, and it's quite linear. You're off to some particular destination. ” Instead, she suggests replacing this metaphor with that of an atom; one where you’re “bumping up against other atoms, maybe transferring energy with them, bonding with them a little, and maybe creating something new on your travels through the social universe.” While in real life I love a train ride (those of you who know me realize how true this is), I love the poetry found in the atom metaphor—there is something beautiful in the constant change, growth, and renewal found in this scientific imagery.
Imagine classrooms and school buildings were our students and our staff become atoms rather than passive passengers: their potential for creativity and opportunities skyrocketing both inside our schools and out!
If you would like to explore Menon’s ideas further, or should you think of more applications for the world of education, we here at Secondary C&I would love to collaborate with you. Together, we are sure to foster some creative thinking and create some great opportunities!
Summer is a great time to reflect on our educational practices. Combine that with Pride Month, and it’s only fitting to reflect on how our practices specifically impact our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families. How can we as educators work toward a space where all—including our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families—feel safe and welcome in our classrooms and schools?
To compile a list of ideas on this topic, I anonymously surveyed three dozen LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies, many of whom are current or former students of the Rochester Public Schools and some of whom currently work in the district. I looked for what themes arose from their feedback, and resoundingly these were the four key takeaways:
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Build Your Knowledgebase
A few places to start:
Know the statistics.
- 4.5% of American adults publically identify as LGBTQ+ (with younger generations of Americans, specifically those born between 1980 and 1999, that percentage is almost double at 8.1%), according to this 2017 Gallup poll
- 5.1% of American women identify as LGBTQ+, compared to 3.9% of American men, according to this 2017 Gallup poll
- 8-18% of 9-11th graders in Minnesota identify as LGBTQ+, according to a comprehensive survey of Minnesota high school students shared in this 2017 Minnesota State Health assessment (see page 14)
- If I see 150 students in a day, anywhere from 7 to 27 of them likely identify as LGBTQ+
- If each of my 150 students were from two parent/guardian households, roughly 15 to 55 of the parents/guardians I work with in a year likely identify as LGBTQ+
- If I work in a building of 100 teachers, approximately 5 of them likely identify as LGBTQ+
Know the terminology.
If unsure of what the letters in ‘LGBTQ+’ stand for (or in ‘LGBTQQIAAP2S’ for that matter), take a few minutes and look into this. Consider starting by watching this short video:
Remember that everyone is unique.
Each individual’s ‘gender identity’, ‘gender expression’, ‘sexual attraction’, and ‘emotional attraction’ is very unique, as shown the graphic below.
Keeping this in mind, be careful not to pigeonhole individuals based on past experience or understanding. It is easy to let LGBTQ+ celebrities, stereotypes, and/or personal acquaintances drive one’s perceptions of what an LGBTQ+ person should look or act like, but in reality there is as much variation in what LGBTQ+ persons will present as and act like, as there are with cisgender heterosexuals.
This word came up over and over again in the survey responses. In order to truly understand LGBTQ+ students, staff, and families, one has to listen to what they have to say. When an LGBTQ+ individual shares an experience or a concern, this is an opportunity to broaden one’s understanding of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that being heard often feels a lot like being respected, valued, and loved.
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Ensure a Supportive and Safe Space
If you teach in a classroom or council out of an office that is safe place where LGBTQ+ individuals will be respected and heard, then post a sign that sends that message. This past week I have been working in one of RPS’s middle schools, and many teachers and counselors send a clear message of support in this way (as shown in the attached image).
Recently, the Minnesota Department Education shared that according to the 2016 Minnesota State Student Survey LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to feel safe in school, more likely to be bullied, and in turn more likely to attempt suicide.
If you’re looking for resources to help you address LGBTQ+ bullying in your classroom/school, consider trying the website Teaching Tolerance, specifically this webpage which focuses on LGBTQ+ bullying and bias.
Use the correct pronoun.
Many teachers have students complete a survey or fill out an informational notecard at the start of the year; if you do this, consider adding to it the question, “What is your preferred pronoun?” This opens the door for students questioning their genders to safely request the pronoun with which they each identify. It’s important to know that when an LGBTQ+ individual prefers one pronoun but then a different one is used instead, it can be very hurtful: a sign of unacceptance or a lack of willingness to understand.
If you would like to learn more about the importance of pronouns, consider reading this GLSEN’s educator resource page on the topic (GLSEN stands for ‘Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’).
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Some simple ways to demonstrate LGBTQ+ inclusivity are:
Use non-binary language and examples.
In the survey, many current and recent RPS student pointed out that it seemed to them the only time LGBTQ+ examples were provided were in FACS and Health classes, and even then it occurred rarely. I know this is something I personally was guilty of in the classroom. As an English teacher, when crafting a sentence that students were to then edit, I could easily have referred to a family with two mothers rather than one with a mother and a father… Likewise, when using Clip Art in a PowerPoint presentation, I could have easily used a picture showing two boys talking by their lockers, rather than a boy paired with a girl…
Perhaps verbal shifts would be the easiest to make in the classroom. When talking about prom, asking “Have you bought tickets for your dates yet?” sends a much more inclusive message than, “Boys, have you bought tickets for your girlfriends yet?” When talking to a married female parent, guardian, or coworker, asking about her “spouse” sends a much more inclusive message than asking about her “husband.” (For more examples of why subtle language choices matter, read the previously published C&I Blog post Digging into Diction.)
Include LGBTQ+ references in your class.
Not shying away from LGBTQ+ aspects of your content is another way to send a message of support to LGBTQ+ individuals.
I’ll use another English example, seeing as that is my background. If I am teaching American Literature and we are reading The Crucible, I likely will share with my students facts about Arthur Miller’s love life, most famously his relationship with Marilyn Monroe who seemingly served as his muse for some of his works. However, if in my next unit I teach Walt Whitman and gloss over his relationship Harry Stafford, who was both his lover and his muse, just as Monroe was for Miller, I send the message that heteronormativity is preferred my classroom—even if the signs hung at the front of my classroom say something different. Additionally, as an English teacher, I could easily have books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters on my shelves interspersed with all my other books that students can check out and take home to read.
If you don’t know where to begin in this area, here are some possible resources for you:
- CCRLT’s Responsive Reads website, specifically:
- The website We Need Diverse Books
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If you’d like to learn more on this topic, consider exploring the following resources:
- Minnesota Department of Education’s Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students
- Minnesota Department of Education’s Family, School and Community Engagement—Modal Five: Diverse Cultures and Voices Toolkit
- Rochester Public Library’s Pride Page: here they post about local RPL LGBTQ+ events and link to many useful websites
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