Growing up in the South Bronx, one of the five boroughs which make up New York City, poverty and I were very intimate. My mom was a single parent raising three kids and did an excellent job meeting our needs. However, that certainly did not come easily for her, nor did it come without the need of support.
I was able to experience all the joy one experiences when walking into a neighborhood bodega with several food stamp bills stuffed inside my torn blue jeans. And although everyone in my neighborhood, an area roughly few miles long but supporting over 80,000 people, were in similar situations as my family, I still found it embarrassing using food stamps. I remember the feeling of shame and humiliation course through my body as I readied myself for the monetary transaction. Truth be told, I hated that our family needed help. Yet, like anyone living in poverty can tell you, the worst part is asking for it.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a parent volunteer, Donna Greason. She had told me that if there were ever any student needs, she would be happy to help. I informed her that our school actually had a resource room for students who had clothing or food needs. The only issue was that it was only accessible by walking through a teacher’s personal office and, to top it off, a key was needed. Not many students knew about the room and those who did were required to ask a staff member to open it.
Basically, if I thought using food stamps was embarrassing, I could only imagine how it must feel to be a high school adolescent having to find an adult to open a room so I may pick out food for my family while inadvertently being gawked at by the same person who opened the room up for me. But like many of us are very well aware, space is limited in just about all of our school buildings. And, as is often spoken in my household, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
Yet, when I brought Mrs. Greason to the 7’ x 7’ Support Our Spartans Resource Room, S.O.S. Room, she had other thoughts. She too had financial difficulties growing up and started questioning whether our school could provide a more appealing space. Being the only school social worker for over 1,700 students, honestly, the S.O.S. Room was not particularly on my radar…at all. It had been established well before I ever stepped foot into the building and was a group effort, mostly stocked by the generosity of other Mayo High School staff members.
Her idea was to move out of the space we were currently in and be more centrally located. The other portion of her idea was to be more selective in terms of the items we were taking in, and lastly, “make it look like Target.”
I heard Mrs. Greason’s idea and had two main competing thoughts. Thought number one went a little something like: Sure lady, if you’re willing to do all the work, I’m all for it. Thought number two was: Could we actually destigmatize poverty by changing our delivery?
Growing up surrounded by poverty, many of my classmates would still manage to come to school with new Jordan sneakers, Guess Jeans, and Hilfiger sweatshirts, although they too were living in the same poverty stricken neighborhood as I was. So, it was difficult for me to imagine students embracing walking into a resource room to grab a pair of pants and walk out with little shame. And yet, it was so much the opposite of everything most of us were brought up to believe that it might actually work!
With support from our administration, we were provided a larger room right across from the lunchroom. The room is left open, unlocked, and largely unstaffed throughout the entire school day. Meaning, students can simply walk in and out of the room at their leisure. No more hiding in a small space, no more needing to ask for an adult to unlock the room, and no permission needed. Although we have no prior data to compare how many items are coming and going, I can gladly say we estimate it to be about a thousand items every month. We count empty clothing hangers to provide us with a base number of how many clothing items are taken from the room. The difficult part of keeping track of everything is that we offer more than just clothing: we also have school supplies, hygiene products, college readiness information, shoes, water bottles, books, and--to top it off--we also have a food pantry room for our weekly backpack program.
I have come to the realization this generation of young people have come a long way since I was a kid. Students seem far more open speaking about their sexual orientation, engaging in open dialogue about different faiths, and acknowledging the importance of mental health. So, I’m not sure why it still strikes me to see just how well Mayo High School has embraced this room.
Within a year of implanting the new strategy, our room was so successful that we expanded into the hallway. Many of our school supplies are now located outside of our room and regularly stocked. Three clothing racks are also located in the hallway where students can grab a winter coat when needed. This model has opened the room up not only to those who are impoverished, but to any and all of our 1,700 students here at Mayo High School. It has really helped me reframe my initial position of what a student in need looks like. Because regardless of how much money your parents have, if you rip your jeans in gym class during 2nd hour, straight down the crack, you’re now in need – true story.
The initial planning took more than simply receiving a centralized location. In order to make the room look the part, it was going to take money. We enlisted the help of several Mayo students who were able to write grants for our room and generated about $2,000. The money was used to purchase shelving, clothing rods, hangers, etc.. Recruiting Mayo students to write grants took the burden off of my shoulders and provided students with an opportunity to give back to their community as well as provided them with a life learning experience and an additional item to add to their resume.
The next step was finding students who could be in charge of the daily maintenance and upkeep of the room. This was accomplished by soliciting the help of two student aides per semester. Simply put, there is no way any one person is going to be able to perform their job and effectively maintain a room of this nature. The last piece of the puzzle was to create a club that would be responsible for all of the behind the scenes operations involving the room.
Most people don’t know the S.O.S. Room is actually run by a student club. They meet every Tuesday morning for 40 minutes to discuss current and future needs, donations, monthly newsletters, and social media pertaining to the S.O.S. Room. The last several meetings, however, have not been about our room but were spent discussing ways of establishing a resource room in every school across our district. They are willing to write grants, organize food drives, and donate clothing resources in order to help any school get up and running, or anything else that a school might find beneficial to establishing their own resource room.
There are many myths surrounding a resource room that I would like debunked. The most important one in my opinion is that we need to secure the room behind a locked door. If I were to provide one bit of advice, it would be to make it easily accessible to any and all students. Throughout the past several years I can easily recount only three instances where students disrespected the work put into the room. When weighed against the thousands of times students have appropriately utilized the room...there is no contest.
Some of my tips would include:
Outside of those three suggestions, any of the S.O.S. club members will be happy to do whatever it takes to help out another school because they all share the same common belief that all students can be more successful academically when their basic needs are met.
Working for educational equity is not a job for the faint of heart. It demands a sense of urgency, perseverance, empathy, humor, and,most importantly, an endless supply of humility. We can never know ALL there is to know about ALL the delicate cultural nuances that make the people around us who they are. But, we can strive to approach one another with a genuine sense of curiosity that is rooted in love and be willing to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Before reading this, the negative connotations behind the term “codeswitching” had never really registered with me; I had simply been using it as a synonym for cultural dexterity. But, because I strive to examine the moments when my implicit bias or a deficit mindset creeps in, I have been working to change my language.
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Lately, I have been thinking about my own education and how I, as a student, have changed over time. In my K-12 education, I was a successful student who was “good at school.” I did what the teachers and adults asked, I followed their examples of how to solve problems (I could follow any procedure in math when I knew the formula and worked through a few with the teacher), I followed their rules (no running, no swearing, etc.), and was always considered a “good kid.” Once I went to college to get my undergrad and later my master’s degree, I realized I wasn’t as "good at school" as I had once thought.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
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Success Ready Individual
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledg
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Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
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Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
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Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
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Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
- Brief video clips to share with students. These clips can be a great conversation starter so you can quickly discover what students are questioning or what they already know about the topic.
Visuals that clearly relate to your content or objective.
- Select visuals that will resonate with students and may connect to their interests or personal backgrounds.
- Also select visuals that give students plenty of opportunities to practice language that connects to your content or objective.
- Virtual field trips allow students to go to amazing locations without leaving your classroom.
Quick Write – What Comes to Mind?
- This Quick Write strategy activates students’ prior knowledge and provides the teacher with information regarding what students already know, or don’t know, about a topic.
- Prior to the lesson, ask or display the question, What comes to mind when I say…? Or show students a picture and ask, What comes to mind when you look at this picture? Students complete a quick write (5 minutes or fewer) about their thoughts and turn it in. (You may want to tell students that this isn’t for a grade, just to see what they already know.)
- Provide students a blank sheet of paper or a visual that relates to the content or topic.
- Students go around the table writing down words, phrases, or sentences that they think of in reference to the question, visual, or topic. Students can even draw their ideas.
Back to Rugby: an example.
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
In this post, I will explore three questions that address cultural relevancy, encourage sensitivity toward others, and end with tips to create relationship-building.
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What does it mean to be an educator now
That particular day was a humbling experience. I had just spent time exploring strategies with teachers on what it means to have a restorative practice classroom so to understand how to provide a collaborative and collegial model for all students. This particular situation stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink educational equity. As I am listening to the pain in students’ voices, stories upon stories, I realized they mirror my pain. I took notes and wondered what does real equity look like? Many students are waging an uphill battle, be it about the color of their skin, their family history, their cultural heritage, their religious affiliations, their mental and emotional health, their sexual preferences, their gender, their grades, their sense of belonging, mistakes they cannot undo, combined with the fact that they are in their formative years. One thought ran through my mind: I have not been able to sleep properly for a long time. These things keep me up at night, dreading moments of reality such as this one. I am afraid, just like my students are.
The school planned for an immediate response to address the issue before a long weekend. I went home and poured over books because the students were exploring cultural issues that are pervasive in our current lives. I looked at machine theorists who believe that the privileged few can truly understand the conditions of those who are less privileged. I considered how combining being privileged and understanding the plight of the disenfranchised can be a humbling experience, leading to sense-making (Marion & Gonzales 2014).
However, the students are right, it is true that some capitalize on the irrational nature of people in decision-making. Listening to students, asking me how much sense-making is happening in our culture right now, is humbling. Situations like this make it difficult to have meaningful answers for students.
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How do we help students with the burdens that they carry?
In my own experience, I learned that we often react to students’ behaviors based on “growth needs” but confused them with “deficiency needs.” While I support working on the needs which speak to the satisfaction of developing students’ potential, I wish to see us unafraid to confront deficiency needs.
I can’t help but think that part of this issue is lack of access. Helping students get past their deficiency needs toward their growth needs is a process. However, education is the system that enables human flourishing—not just keeping students afloat and helping them survive but giving them the tools to thrive (Strike 2007). Student readiness becomes a result of intellectual capital and human flourishing. Just as we reflect on our practice to improve as educators, we need to create safe spaces for our students to reflect on who they are, what they do, and why they should care. Because we work in loco parentis, it becomes a moral imperative to explore issues with students that touch on moral values and working at answers to change our culture positively.
Two things became clear that day in moving forward: collective impact and collective wisdom. Maltbia & Power explain that “leveraging diversity is the collective impact of individual and organizational responses to differences in both the workplace and the external environment in pursuit of personal and organizational objectives” (2009). Collective wisdom creates the space for us to hold conversations that matter to build on these objectives. Brown & Isaacs showed that “people already have within them the wisdom and creativity to confront the most difficult challenges” (2005).
This is a lot to digest.
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How do we as educators move forward to meet deficiency needs for our students so they all can start examining their growth needs?
As Rosenberg explained it, challenges us to give from the heart, from a place of abundance and not scarcity, to replace alienation with compassion (2015). On that day, nonviolence as a response helped us to align the unexpected under a single cause to make the situation work for the good.
In our attitudes as educators, it is important to remind our students that boldness is not defined by disrespect or a lack of acknowledgment for others’ situations. Challenging others with divergent views should be based on charitable truth. Such an approach gives everyone involved a chance to look at their own response and actions, a chance at arriving at the truth, a chance at reaching for and finding compassion. The same chances we want for and give ourselves. In this way, we become the ones who work to develop cultural skills and sensitivity with both individuals and groups to advance a collective goal (i.e., here we are, we are all in this together).
Feel free to connect with Mrs. Haglund via email
Becoming Culturally Responsive in Math Class
- How do I engage all my students in class?
- How do I find what works best for them to learn and to participate in class?
- How do I get students to stop saying things like: I am not a math person, I have never been good at math, or I don’t know why you think this year would be different?
How many of us, while sitting in meetings or presentations learning about CLR protocols, are left wondering, how do I use these in my math classroom?
While there is no quick fix or one simple solution, here are a few things to consider and try in your classroom that will engage your math students and create more culturally responsive learning spaces.
Recently, I came upon an article by Mark Ellis (access it here). In his piece, “Knowing and Valuing Every Learner: Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching,” he defines the idea of culturally responsive mathematics teaching (CRMT) as, “creating a learning environment focused on mathematical sense making in which each student feels valued for who they are, for their ways of engaging mathematical reasoning, and for their contributions to the collective success of those within the classroom community.” He goes on to talk about how CRMT requires teachers to (re)consider the mathematics learning environment they’ve created and how well it reflects these four elements:
- How am I ensuring my students learn mathematics with coherence?
- What connections and relationships will help them to build conceptual understanding?
The second element, “Engaging and Valuing Identities,” has these questions to think about:
- How do I learn about the experiences and interests of my students?
- How do I communicate that these experiences and interests are valued in relation to their learning of mathematics?
When addressing “Sharing Authority,” think about:
- What instructional routines do I use to scaffold students’ engagement in productive mathematical discourse and collaboration?
- Who is given mathematical authority in my classroom? Who is not?
Finally when thinking about the last element, “Applying Mathematics”, ask:
- How do I integrate concepts into instruction that are more relevant to my students?
- How am I helping my students to see ways to use mathematics to analyze and address issues within their community?
In this same article, Ellis goes on to share some examples of what CRMT is not versus what it is, since there are often misconceptions. There are shown below:
As I dug more deeply, I found this article by Omiunota Ukpokodu, published in Multicultural Education, which summarizes the types of questions teachers should be asking themselves to be self-reflective. She states that “culturally responsive mathematics instructional practice must first begin with teachers setting high expectations for all students, holding themselves personally responsible if their students are not achieving, creating motivation by demystifying mathematics as culturally neutral, and scaffolding students’ learning to ensure their success” (53). I liked this idea because it focuses on what I can do as a teacher to help all my students, rather than make excuses for why students are not achieving. Frequently asking ourselves as teachers these self-reflective questions pushes us out of our comfort zones, puts the focus on our students, and helps us become more culturally responsive teachers.
These questions include:
- Who is learning math in my classroom and who is not? Why/why not?
- What is my expectation for each of my students in mathematics learning?
- How am I scaffolding instruction for student mathematics learning?
- Do I use word problems that are familiar to my students?
- What social and community issues am I integrating into mathematic curriculum and instruction?
- Do I allow student so contextualize their thinking when practices and solving mathematics problems?
- Am I open to divergent thinking and problem processing style?
- Do I look only for the right answer that I know?
- Do I look to understand students’ strategies and logic when they engage in mathematical problem solving?
- How caring and supportive is the learning context I foster?
- How did each of my students do today?
- How was I responsive to each of my students today?
Identifying Empowering Teaching Practices. Multicultural Education. Spring 2011. 53.
To continue to grow and learn more about CRMT, consider follow the following people on Twitter:
Reimagining the Mathematics Classroom by Mark Ellis. You and your students will be very grateful that you did.
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