My best friends when I was growing up—the ones that I kept going back to again and again for support, reassurance, and comfort—were all fictional. It wasn’t so much that I was a nerd or a bookworm per se (although I did grow up to become both), but rather that my day to day world didn’t have in it anyone who looked or acted like me: so I sought them out in books.
You see, as a kid I didn’t have any tangible women in my life with whom I really identified—at least not holistically. My day to day life was filled with men—my father, my older brothers, and most of my friends. And then there was my mom: my mom, who was 100% sugar, and spice, and everything nice—while I, on the other hand, was mainly spice. Unlike my mother, I enjoyed changing the oil with my dad, going fishing with my brothers, and shingling roofs with my guy friends. However, I wasn’t ‘one of the guys’ either: I had a Caboodle full of banana clips and Bonne Bell, Yankee Candle was my favorite store in the mall, and I wore Love’s Baby Soft every day of junior high. So, instead, I found kinship in Mallory from The Baby-Sitter’s Club series, in Jo from Little Women, and in June Osborn [Offred] in The Handmaid’s Tale.
The thing is, each of these friends were introduced to me by teachers. I met Mallory at Jefferson Elementary when Mr. Vanort pointed out the series to me one day in the Library. I met Jo at Kellogg when Mrs. Ollenberg noted in the margin of one of my journal entries that I might enjoy it. And, I met June at Mayo when Ms. Evans set her own personal copy on my desk and said I should read it over winter break (I still have that copy, by the way: if you’re reading this Ms. Evans, let me know if you want it back).
But the other thing is: I’m white and cisgender. I was also born in the United States and raised middle class. These factors made it easier for me to see myself in the books I read growing up. It also made it easier for teachers to put the right books in my hands.
Unfortunately, for many of our students, it’s uncommon for them to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and while the diversity we are seeing in children’s and young adult literature is on the rise, it still doesn’t match our student population. It only takes one look at the numbers to realize how true this is:
As BJ Epstein, Ph.D., noted in The Conversation, “we know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life.” Knowing this to be true, then as educators it’s important we ensure students have opportunities to see characters who look like them, share similar backgrounds, and have comparable personality traits. Simultaneously, it important to ensure students are reading books that provide insight into worlds different from their own.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her 2009 Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” sheds light on how her personal view of how she saw herself and who she could aspire to become someday was inaccurate and thin because of the limited types of novels she’d had access to. In other words, the mirror she had access to—the one she was able to hold in her hands—didn’t give her a clear picture of herself.
Adichie goes on to talk about how the books one reads can also create windows into the lives and worlds different from one’s own. In fact, reading literary fiction helps build empathy.
For me, this was certainly true. My world view expanded greatly through literature. Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of being black, poor, and female in America. Cisneros' The House on Mango Street helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of poverty and immigration. Dorris's A Yellow Raft in Blue Water helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of holding on to one's heritage when one is Native American and/or biracial.
No matter our cultural backgrounds and experiences, reading fiction “can usher us into other worlds—it can make us step into other realities” (Elemans).
When it comes to surrounding students with literary mirrors and windows, one of the first steps is accessing the right titles and then getting those titles into students’ hands. Below are a wide variety of resources that can help you find texts to then share with students.
Book List Resources:
Reading Challenges that Honor Diversity in Literature:
No matter what your role in education, you could be that staff member who hands out mirrors to and opens windows for our students. It’s important that we all work together to guarantee our students are able to see themselves reflected in the books they read and ensure that they’re able to build empathy for those who are different from them.
My childhood would have been rough without characters like Mallory, Jo, and June. My worldview would have been much thinner without authors like Hurston, Cisneros, or Dorris. To this day, I am grateful for those teachers who introduced me to these close friends and who showed me more of the world.
These protagonists taught me that being smart and outspoken, being strong-willed and brash was admirable—even if I was a woman. These authors taught me to empathize with others different from myself. Now, imagine what lessons our students will learn if we just introduce each of them to a wider array of books.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
Earlier this week, an article from EdWeek came across my desktop, titled “Learning Styles Aren’t a Reliable Way to Categorize Students, Study Says.” As someone who has lived in the world of education research, I giggled a little to myself and mumbled something along the lines of, File that in the ‘old news’ folder. Researchers have long suspected that grouping students into “learning styles” and tailoring our instruction to their particular strengths is not as effective as we once believed. I mused on how I used to survey my students and their parents to get an idea of how I should group my young learners into Gardner’s multiple intelligences and how I planned all sorts of learning activities so each group of students could shine in their particular “intelligence.” I smiled and felt a wave of nostalgia for early-career-Kim and prepared to move on to the next thing on my to do list for the day.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
Furthermore, critiques of a hyper-focus on learning styles point out that we tend to focus on what a student is good at and rarely push them to develop other skills. How do we, instead, intentionally teach students to practice those styles that are perhaps out of their comfort zone, but necessary for academic and real-world success? In the case of Fazia, what skills does she need to grow to be successful in settings where verbality isn’t appreciated, like in her second hour class?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
The roots of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLR) lie in the recognition and validation of our cultural behaviors and how they impact our learning and teaching. Sure, we are learning all sorts of protocols and skills so we can be intentional and proactive in our responsiveness. But, as Hollie states in the intro to his book, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (2018), “CLR is not something you do but something that you have in all that you do.” CLR calls on us to recognize our students as cultural beings and to provide instructional strategies that meet those cultural needs.
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
* This student is a fictionalized version of students we might see in our classrooms each day.
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
I have to admit, winter is not my favorite time of year. I love summer! I love being out on the water fishing, sitting on a deck, or basking in the glow of the warm sun. Those enjoyable moments are not as easy to do in the winter (by the way, even though I am from northern Minnesota, I am not a fan of ice fishing!).
On a brisk walk one abnormally cold, Sunday, November afternoon, I realized I don’t just like summer because of those lovely activities, but because I find myself able to stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself away from school and teaching. Then I began to wonder, why don’t I stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself during the school year? A recent conversation with a fellow teacher reminded me that as education speeds up, we keep trying to keep up. Why don’t we try to slow it down? How can we slow down during the school year? Here are some ideas that I am going to try in the next few months. I know that life is just going to get busier, so hopefully these will help me to stop, breathe, and slow things down.
Take a calming breath
According to the website The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton, “your breath is your remote control to calm your brain and body”. Here is an effective breathing technique that slows oneself down.
Here is a 30-second video that is a great guide to a breathing technique.
Visualizing, sometimes known as guided imagery, is a great tool to add to the calming breath. Visualizing a place that brings you peace, even for a few moments, can help to re-center a person. According to MentalHealth.net, visualizing creates “an element of distraction which serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus”. This can be especially helpful for assisting one’s sleep, so it is a well-spent five to 15 minutes prior to bedtime. My favorite imagery is sitting on my Dad’s boat, hearing a loon call, seeing the calm blue-green water and smelling the fresh scent of pine trees in the air. This image, along with the calming breaths, is a great way to slow down after a busy day.
If you need a place to start, you can try this video which is a guided imagery tour in a mountain forest.
Ask for Help
Anyone who knows me knows that asking for help is not one of my strong suits. I have found that it stems from expecting perfection of myself. However, this desire for perfection and lack of asking for help actually increases my stress. Asking for help and dividing large tasks between colleagues can make those stressful, large tasks seem much more manageable. Then it doesn’t just fall on one person to complete. Seek out colleagues with whom you feel comfortable asking for help and let them know you appreciate their assistance.
Know your limits
The old phrase of “just say no” applies here. As educators, we are dedicated to doing everything for our students and families. However, there comes a time when you need to know your limits and just say no to a new task or project. This simple word can be a huge stress-saver. Obviously, there are some tasks we must do, but there are other times I find myself adding things to my plate without realizing it. I have to remind myself that I can do a few things well, or many things poorly. Let something go, for now, and come back to it when you have more time to dedicate to it. Sometimes it isn’t “no”, but rather “just not now”.
Reflect on what makes you laugh or smile
According to the website The Science Alert, researchers at the University of Maryland “have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels – something that can lower your chance of heart attack”. Furthermore, the same researchers found that laughter could boost ones’ heart rate and the production of certain antibodies, which can strengthen ones’ immune system. Considering how it is quite easy to get run-down and sick in education (especially since those of us in the education field are exposed daily to many illnesses), couldn’t we all use a few more antibodies? Each day, I try to find one thing that a student does that will make me laugh and remind me why I love teaching. I sometimes even jot down the funny statements students say on a post-it note and stick it on my computer. That way, when I am stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I read that little statement, smile and remember why I love what I do!
In the next few months, as the winds blow colder, the snow falls heavier, the workload gets crazier, and my stress is high, I hope that these five simple stress-relieving techniques will help me to slow down and enjoy life more.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
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
Casey* got an email yesterday from his daughter’s teacher. He instantly panicked. In a few sentences, it seemed the teacher was informing him that his daughter was having severe behavior issues in the classroom.
So, Casey reread it. He vacillated on what to do. He called his spouse. He called a friend. He vented to co-workers. Eventually, he went back to the source: he re-connected with the teacher, but this time over the phone.
Hearing Casey’s voice, the teacher sensed his anxiety and assured him that the email had been misunderstood. The teacher had meant to convey, I’m going to explore some ways I can best support your daughter; but Casey had interpreted it as, your daughter needs some immediate behavioral interventions.
This misunderstanding, and all the anxiety that came along with it, could have been avoided by skipping the email and picking up the phone instead.
As teachers, our lives are hectic. We have to manage our time, and often an email appears to be the quickest route for parent/guardian communication. We hop on Skyward, grab the parent/guardian’s email address, open Outlook and we’re off—just a few clicks, some tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, and we’re all set. Communication home is done. But, in truth, it’s rarely that simple.
In my last classroom, the phone was on the other side of the room from my computer. Calling home meant (1) clicking into Skyward, (2) writing down the number [and crossing my fingers that it wasn’t a long-distance number since my classroom phone blocked such calls], (3) walking across the room to dial, (4) crossing my fingers that the parent/guardian picked up, while also (5) crossing my fingers that if s/he did there were only questions asked that I could answer without having to reference something on my computer which was still across the room... But, despite this complicated process, it was worth it.
Calling home has power:
While, calling home can may be daunting to some, here are three ways to make it more manageable.
| 1 |
When thinking back to when my brothers and I were in school, the phone calls my parents received from teachers and administrators were almost always negative. One of us had been in the principal’s office, one of us had an unexcused absence, or one of us was struggling in math class. Where were the phone calls when I had been selected to attend a poetry workshop, when my brother got a ribbon in the science fair, or when my other brother had managed to not be in the principal’s office for an entire month?
This is where the strategy “8 Greats” comes into play.
If you’d like to read more on this idea--or similar ones--consider exploring the following:
| 2 |
Make a Sandwich
I’m from the generation labeled as ‘xennials’. Much like many of my millennial counterparts, I am uncomfortable making phone calls. I’d prefer to send a text, an email, or even leave a voicemail. The thought of actually having to talk on the phone with someone gives me anxiety.
Whether you are of a similar generation or are simply not sure what to say once you get someone on the other end of the line, the “Make a Sandwich” strategy might be for you.
Start each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive opening.
In the middle, add in the details, listen, and adjust. Know that the more complicated or negative the message, the more effort we need to use when selecting our words and tone.
End each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive finish.
If you’d like to read more on this idea, consider exploring chapter 6 “Positive Communication with Parents” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore; as well as chapter 13, “Delivering Bad News.”
| 3 |
Making phone calls doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A few years ago I worked with a middle school teacher who often had students make the calls home, whether the news be uplifting or difficult. There was power in how these students took ownership of communication with their parent(s)/guardian(s).
This is where the strategy “Quick Calls” works well.
No matter what information is shared, imagine the conversations that will happen between those students and those parent(s)/guardian(s) when, later that day, they get picked up after school or sit down at the dinner table.
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 post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
*The name of this parent has been changed for data privacy purposes.
Well, we are officially rolling with the school year! The new supplies are in their places, new routines are being solidified, and classrooms are buzzing with new learning. We’ve introduced ourselves to our students and had them introduce themselves to us. There have been all sorts of ice breakers and “get to know you” activities. We know that this student loves dogs, this other one loves to dance, another one loves music, and this one over here loves to read science fiction. Our traditional “get to know you” activities are really great tools to gather information about our students. We talk about them a lot at the beginning of the year, but I’m proposing we don't stop doing them once the shine wears off of those new school supplies.
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.
| 1 |
SOME COMPLETED STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
- An online survey. At our final 2017-2018 new teacher training session, Heather Willman shared this online version, created by teacher, author, and speaker Pernille Ripp, who uses a Google Form to collect her data.
- An essay reflection. I have personally used this type of end-of-year data collection as well. (An added bonus here is that I was able to give them feedback on their writing, while simultaneously collecting feedback on what they took away from the course as a whole!) Here is the prompt I used a few years ago with my juniors in AP Literature & Composition, along with a few examples of student responses:
SOME STUDENT EXAMPLES FROM PAST YEARS
- Small group reflection. Vanderbilt University recommends using a small group approach to collecting end-of-year feedback from students. You can read more about this method here.
- Explain the purpose of the survey to your students. If they know that you are going to use the data, and how, they often take it more seriously and provide you with more precise examples. In the past, I have gone so far as to share will students how I have adjusted which texts I use in the course, how much homework I expect students to do over long breaks, and how I no longer expect all assignments to be typed—all decisions made based on feedback that students shared in the end-of-year surveys in years past.
- Share examples of helpful vs. obstructive feedback. Sometimes students need a quick reminder of what constructive feedback looks and sounds like. If a student writes, “Your class is dumb,” not only does that hurt my feelings as the instructor but it also does not help me make changes for future students. However, if that student instead writes, “I don’t understand why grammar matters, so I hate our Tuesday grammar lessons and find them boring”...well, now that’s information that I can work with. Making students aware of this difference seems to help them weave more constructive criticism into their answers.
- Ensure students have enough time allotted. When students are rushed, they may skip an open ended question or two, misread a question, or even circle answers at random just in order to be done in time. This type of inaccurate data is misguiding later on when you go to reflect on the responses.
- Consider anonymity. Some students will be more honest with you when they know their name is not attached. Then again, without names it can be hard to follow up with any personalized feedback that should be addressed right away. Again, consider what your goal is in collecting the data, along with when you’re giving the survey (if it’s the last week of school, for instance, you might not have time to follow up on responses so names would not matter anyway).
- Look for trends. Sometimes you will have data outliers, but as soon as you have three or more responses that send similar messages they deserve our time and our attention (sometimes the outliers do too, for that matter). Once you notice trends, record them.
Ask yourself hard questions. Take a look at your trend data. What does it say about your classroom, your course, your own instructional practices, the demographic of your students? Frankly, this part of the process can be hard. In the past, trend data has made me turn inward as I wrestled with a wide variety of issues, some of which included:
- Many students indicated not having computer access at home. Can I continue to expect students to type everything?
- Multiple students noted that they struggled with Cold Mountain as their book group novel. What could I replace it with? Could I just eliminate this title and make groups a bit larger?
- Too many students noted that this is the first English course that they’ve taken where reading Spark Notes wasn’t enough—they had to think about the texts. What (likely hard) conversations can I have with my co-workers to ensure that we’re all asking students to think about their reading, not simply recall plot/characters/etc.?
- Make a list of intentions. Data collection often isn’t worth the time it takes unless it helps you in some way. To ensure you take action on what the data indicates, make a list of intentions and then save that list in a place where you know you will reference it as you lay out your plans for next year.
- Share your intentions with your PLC. Ideally, others in your PLC gave the same (or similar) survey, which allows you to share the trend data and merge your list of intentions into one unified set of goals. An added bonus is that when you share your intentions, research shows you are more likely to act on them.
- Preserve surveys that will help you refuel when running on empty. I have a “Why I Teach” folder. I borrowed this from a mentor of mine, Sandy Nieland (teacher at John Marshall), who shared that she uses this as a way to refocus when she starts to get distracted by negative forces. For this reason, I pull surveys that have particularly kind comments, insightful reflections, or purposeful remarks and hold on to them. In times of high stress, I pull these out and remind myself why all the stress is worth it in the end. In recent years, I’ve shifted to an electronic version of this folder, taking pictures of such reflections, as you can see here:
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective