My work on antiracism

My work on antiracism

There has been a LOT going on since my last post. I’m venturing into an area that I’ve written on before, but it’s one that I can’t seem to leave behind – the concept of equity.

For the past few years, I have been on a journey of learning about the systems and structures that are in place in our society today, and how those systems have impacted many of the colleagues, friends, students, and the families I serve. That learning began long ago but was really brought home during my participation in the Undoing Racism training that all district administrators from my school district participated in during the summer of 2017. The learning has included multiple meetings and conversations with colleagues in our district as well as outside of it. It has included presentations from outside voices in the equity space (just in the past year that includes Kelly Wickham Hurst, Cornelius Minor, Dr. Paul Gorski, and Sarah-SoonLing, just to name a few). And much of my continued learning has come from books that help me to not only understand more about my own privilege but also about the oppression that I can never fully understand because it isn’t my lived experience. The stories of Amaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd just to name a few recent examples have reminded me yet again of the privilege I have and the oppression that some feel.

In the district that I work, we have defined equity as the concept of giving each individual what is needed to succeed within our global society. With that as a mission, the recent events of our world have left me feeling that I cannot remain silent. I needed to do something.

So today I sat down at my computer and I typed an email to my staff, sharing with them much of what appears above. I wanted them to know that I support them and the work that they do, whatever it may be that they are going through. I know that there are some on my staff that have to deal with the type of oppression that has led to racially motivated violence all over our country. I also know that there are some on my staff who are still working to come to grips with the privilege that we have, and the potential guilt that may be felt as a result of that. And I also know that there may be some who have not yet been able to examine the place of privilege that we live in, and want/need to learn more.

Copy of Copy of Master - Insta_FacebookIn my current position, I recognize my own power and privilege. I want to take advantage of the platform that I have. So as I was thinking about how to help be a part of the solution to tearing down the systems that oppress others, I shared with my staff a list of books that I thought might help them on their own path. I’ll share that list with you here. In order to support my staff in their learning, I also let them know that they were free to pick any of the books below, or any other book on equity that they wanted, and forward me the invoice so that I could buy it for them. I challenge my fellow administrators to seek ways that they may be able to use their budgets to support the continued learning of our collective staff. The education system is one that was built on inequities, and the only way to change it is for those of us inside the system to fight for better systems.

Just like my staff, I encourage you to look over the list of books below and select one or more of them to read so that you may also learn and grow at this time. I believe strongly in the role that white allies will play in making a difference moving forward. Hopefully, these titles will help you identify some potential opportunities for your own learning.

Stamped

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. This book is actually considered a Young Adult Nonfiction piece. It breaks down the history of our country and helps us to better understand why we are where we are now. The writing style of this book feels almost conversational.

White Fragility

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Many people believe that in order to be a racist, you have to be a bad person. What this book taught me is that good people can have racist ideas and actions. This belief about racist = bad leads to a lack of meaningful dialogue between the races.

Waking up white

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. As a white male, I don’t think I recognized the role race played in my life until fairly recently. Debbie Irving, the author of this book had her own “aha” moment. This is a story of one white person’s journey in learning about how race has impacted her own life.

How to be an antiracist

How to be an Antiracist. This is the one book on this list that I have not yet read, so I can’t give a meaningful background of the book, but I am planning to participate in a book study with some of my former colleagues this summer and look forward to learning more from Dr. Kendi.

You should know that with the exception of Waking Up White, the books on this list may be on backorder because of the number of people recommending them. I also encouraged my staff to look in multiple places for these books, starting with https://bookshop.org/ because it supports local and independent book shops, and as an added bonus, currently the prices for these books seem to be better than the prices on Amazon.

Finally, I shared with my staff that we will have a lot of work to do this fall. We will need to build a community back up that has been torn apart by a global pandemic, and one that has been hurt by the racially motivated violence that has been going on for a long time but has become so visible this week. We don’t know how long either of those things will continue to influence our lives or the lives of our students. I encouraged my staff to be thinking about what we can do to make sure that each one of us feels safe and accepted for who we are, as well as what we need to do to create identity-safe spaces for each child who walks through our doors.

I’m curious to hear what titles you might add to this list? What books am I missing? What other ideas do you have about how we might change the system, or prepare for a return to some kind of normalcy in the fall. I know I have much more to learn and would appreciate your thoughts and ideas.

End of the school year reflections

For a little context depending on the time when you are reading this – as I write this post, it is the last official week of school during the spring of 2020. This means we are living through the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We haven’t had students at school since the middle of March here in Indiana. Much of the world has been living through a time of social distancing. I am sitting at the desk in my son’s bedroom because it is the one quiet space that I can find right now that also has (semi) reliable wifi. The nicest shirt I’ve worn in the past 10 weeks is a polo, and I felt weird the day I put it on. My wife and kids are currently working on their eLearning, Diane is a first-grade teacher, Lainey is wrapping up her fifth-grade year, and Brody is finishing up his second-grade year.

I have been sharing with people that this has truly been the strangest school year of my life, and I continue to believe that to be true. I started the year as an assistant principal at an intermediate school in the district where I have lived and worked since the fall of 2006. In October of this school year, I was asked to move into the position of Principal at Fishers Elementary School. That transition took place on the Monday after Thanksgiving break. During the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break, I was carrying a map of the school around in my pocket because it reminded me of the name of the teacher’s classroom I was about to walk into, and what grade level they taught.

After winter break, I felt like I had a good grasp of who my staff was, now I wanted to get to know them as teachers too. I spent lots of time in classrooms just looking around, listening, asking questions, and learning about personalities, teaching styles, and the feel of the classroom. About the beginning of March I was beginning to feel like I had a pretty good grasp on our school. Then came the announcement that school would be closing – initially it was for a few weeks, then our governor made the decision for the State of Indiana that it would be the rest of the school year.

For about 2 months now, we have been living through an environment of Emergency Remote Learning. In the beginning, we had no idea what this would look like. But soon, teachers were coming up with plans to connect with students. They adapted to teaching kids synchronously and asynchronously, depending on the needs of the students. I was on Zoom calls with teachers, with students. I saw teachers turn walls in their home “office” into a whiteboard type space. I saw other teachers drive in their car to the public library to sit in the parking lot because it was the only place they could get reliable wifi during the day. I think @Wes_Kieschnick says it best:

 

IMG_15E01245DD4E-1But the end of this year comes with lots of questions. What will the start of school look like? Will we be back on the “normal” schedule? Or will it be something different and unique? If you’re anything like me, then the quote to the right probably resonates with you as well (shared by @hansonhallway on Instagram). There are so many things that I simply do not know about what’s going to happen in the next couple of months. Currently August 3rd is scheduled as the first teacher workday of the year. I have big plans for what we will be doing as staff on that day, but I don’t even know if those plans will be possible, or realistic.

All of this has the end of the year having a very different feeling. In a normal year, we’d be thinking about classroom celebrations. There’d be a field day, and picnics, and so many more fun ways to wrap up the year of learning. I was recently talking to my wife, and we were both saying that even though the calendar says it’s the end of the school year, it just doesn’t feel like it should be. There’s so much that it seems we haven’t completed. But, I’ve got to trust that we’ve done our absolute best in unprecedented circumstances, and we can only be stronger after all of this!

I have been so amazingly proud of the work the teachers of Fishers Elementary School have done over the past 10 weeks! While I still am the “New Guy” at FES, I can’t wait for an opportunity to work with my team in some form of normal! I’m looking forward to walking into classrooms, hearing the sounds of learning, and watching the amazing work our staff does every day.

One thing that I am super hopeful for: that this time causes all of us in education to pause for a moment and really reflect. Take just a moment to think about these 3 questions:

  • What have you learned during emergency remote learning that you want to keep doing when you get back to school?
  • What have you always done that you now realize you should stop doing when you get back to normal?
  • What things do you wish you would have done prior to this time of emergency remote learning?

Hopefully through reflection on these questions, we can better identify what it is in education that we value most. What is it that our students need most? What is is that we need most? And then we can help change the system from the inside out to be a better environment for learning and growth for us all!

Where do we go from here?

Better Normal

Last week I was on a Zoom call with one of the grade-level teams at my school. We were talking about celebrations and struggles that have come during emergency remote learning. For a long time, we have been aware that our system of education is full of inequities for our learners. During this team meeting though, one of the teachers shared an insight that really blew me away. She was talking about how her classroom Zoom calls have shown to her inequity in a whole new way. Some of her students “never have a quiet background” when they are on a call with their class. Some of her students seem to be managing their learning entirely independently while others have consistent support from their parents. Because of the current context of her emergency remote teaching, we have had the opportunity to come into the homes of our families, even if only in a virtual way. It helps us understand that some of our students may never have a quiet background or the support they need even in normal times. These inequities have caused this teacher to reflect on all that she does in the classroom moving forward. She’s already starting to make changes.

Now, before I start talking about the potential for change that comes from what is happening, I want to first share that I am completely aware of the struggles that those who are “in the trenches” are going through. I’m not the one providing emergency remote learning for a group of students. I am not the one who feels personally responsible for the students in my class meeting the standards that they need for their current grade level. I see the struggles that our teachers are going through because of the conversations I have had with teachers in my school and watching the work that my wife, who teaches first grade, is putting in. I’m trying to meet each person where they are and offer them the support they need by asking them how they’re doing and what they need.

Every chance that I get to talk with my staff, I make sure that I check in on them. I know that we (admin, teachers, families, students) have all been thrown into a difficult situation for which most of us were unprepared. I know that there are teachers dealing with illness in their family. I know that some of our teachers are trying to take care of their own children while teaching their class. I know that there are teachers feeling completely stressed about what is happening in our world. I am constantly asking teachers what our leadership team can do to help them with whatever is happening. At the same time, I encourage our teachers to check in with their students and families every chance they get. There are two questions that I hope are used to drive these conversations: How are you doing? and Do you need anything? For many of our teachers and families, that’s exactly what they need. I know that our families are also may be going through struggles. Some families have members who are ill, others may have lost their jobs, or had hours cut back. Some may simply be going stir crazy because we can’t get out and be with our family and friends as we might normally do. Whatever we can do to support them will only help build bridges between our school and our families.

But I also know that sometimes through moments of struggle, we can find great opportunities. Recently I was on a webinar led by George Couros, Katie Novak, and AJ Juliani. One of them (I honestly can’t recall which one) shared a quote from Donna Volpitta, the founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership:

Resilience is… about “bouncing forward.” Resilience doesn’t mean getting back to normal after facing a difficult situation. It means learning from the process in order to become stronger and better at tackling the next challenge.

Copy of Lobster
Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

When we think about the learning cycle, an important piece of that cycle is taking time for reflection. It’s something that we often don’t do well, for ourselves, or for our students. How many times have you walked away from a conference feeling like you’ve had so much shoveled into your brain that you don’t even know where to start with putting your learning into action? How often do you try to cram as much as possible into your teaching, not providing students time to reflect, only to find that you have to go back over that learning the next day or next week? Reflection is where growth comes from!

Last Monday I met with the PLC Lead Team from my school. There were several important things for us to talk about in the current situation, but one of the things that I shared with this leadership team was something I wanted them to take back to their PLC. I wanted to make sure that all our people spent some time reflecting on these three questions:

  • What have you learned during emergency remote learning that you want to keep doing when you get back to school?
  • What have you realized that you should stop doing when you get back to normal?
  • What things do you wish you would have done prior to this time of emergency remote learning?

Ultimately, I think it’s important for us to try to find some of the good that has come from our current situation, and then ask ourselves how we make sure that continues to happen when we return. What does school, and more importantly, learning, look like when we return? Where do we go from here? I don’t know that I have all the answers, but we’ve been given the chance to try some new things out, and I hope we look at this as if it were an experiment. We can try things, see if they work, iterate, and test again. Then we identify our successes and try to replicate in other areas.

A few of the things that I’ve gathered in conversations with teachers involve the motivation of students. Several people have noticed that doing things the same way we’d do it at school simply won’t work. There is a reason that TED Talks are only about 15-20 minutes. It has a lot to do with the amount of time a person – even the adults at a TED Conference – can focus on topics. If adults need things broken down into 15-20 minute chunks, we can’t expect our students to sustain for 30-45 minutes of lecture via video. Some of the things that I think learners need right now are choice, ownership, and empowerment:

  • Choice in what it is that they are expected to learn, or choice in how they show what the know.
  • Ownership in the selection of an issue that matters to them.
  • Empowerment to seek out their own geeky interests in the topics you have already been learning about, or that relate to your content or standards.

Another issue that’s come up with this new way of learning comes in the form of feedback to students. Right now we have many students participating in asynchronous learning, submitting work when it’s finished, and then waiting for feedback from one person. I’ve watched my wife spend hours a day responding to student work on Seesaw – she’s teaching first graders. I imagine that this feedback issue gets harder the more complex the content. I’ve always loved the quote “What are you doing for the kids that they could be doing for themselves?” Through the utilization of Flipgrid or discussion board formats in your learning management system, you could make the kids part of that feedback loop. If you use the concept of a Single Point Rubric (more on that in this post from Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult Of Pedagogy), kids can easily give one another feedback on areas for improvement of examples of ways that kids have exceeded the standard. I also feel that self-assessment with a single point rubric can be so valuable because it causes students to reflect on their work and learning. More often than not, they are harder on themselves that even you might be!

While these are shifts that may make emergency remote learning easier, they are shifts that could also support learners when we are able to return to school, whenever that may be.

What are your thoughts? Have you reflected on the three questions above? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Intersection of the Soviet Union and COVID-19

IMG_3941This is me when I was in junior high. I know… Great haircut, right?

When I was in seventh grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Courtney. He was my social studies teacher and was truly one of the more interesting teachers that I had in my middle school years. The recent developments with COVID-19 have me reflecting on one of the long-term projects that we did while in Mr. Courtney’s class that year. You see, I was in seventh grade during the 1991-1992 school year. If you don’t remember the time, this is the year of the fall of the Soviet Union.

As a child of the 80s, I remember living through a somewhat constant level of… Fear? (That doesn’t feel like quite the right word now, but I’m not sure what works better). Also, there was some incredible music and hair! Anyway, there was this awareness of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Who knew when things could erupt into a real war? But during the late 80s and early 90s there started to be some changes in the structure of the Soviet Union. Things really came to a head in 1991. This isn’t a history lesson, so I’m not going to go into the details of what I recall from the time.

Mr. Courtney, in a moment of great wisdom, made a decision to pivot with some of our learning. I’m sure that the fall of the Soviet Union was not on his curriculum guide for that year, but world history was. He knew that we were living through a moment of history. As an assignment during that school year, Mr. Courtney had us begin a journaling activity. We were asked to take newspaper clippings from the daily news about what was happening in the Soviet Union, as well as how it might be affecting the rest of the world. Then we were asked to write a journal response each day.

It’s got me thinking about what’s happening right now. All of us are living through a moment of history. What an authentic learning experience to bring into what we’re already doing. (And please understand, I’m trying to be really cautious not to use the phrase “opportunity” because this is a scary time for us all, and that word sounds kind of icky to me given the context of what’s happening around us. Sometimes authentic learning isn’t the topic that we’d ideally choose, and yet we go with it.)

In a team meeting with the fourth-grade teachers at my school, we began talking about an authentic writing assignment of a pandemic journal. Students can write about their lived experiences of this time around COVID-19. Students could share what they’ve learned about the virus. And to go with it, we talked about using resources on newsela as a way to read about COVID-19, viruses, and so much more of what is happening in the world. Here are just a few ideas I had around teaching during this period of COVID-19:

  • Create an informational brochure about viruses. Include ways to avoid spreading the virus, information on how long the virus can live, etc.
  • Have your students write a persuasive letter convincing their neighbors of why they shouldn’t be playing together with their friends right now.
  • Have your students learn about how a disease can spread through some of the amazing graphics from the New York Times here (or any of the other great graphics out there).
  • Have your students record a video showing what they are doing in their own homes to help keep things clean and prevent any potential spread of the virus within their own homes.
  • Have students use Wakelet, or something like that, to curate a list of news items that they find interesting relating to the world around them.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind in the short amount of time I spent thinking about it, but I’m certain that the chances for learning are endless. Here’s the thing, we sometimes get caught in what our curriculum guide says that we “need” to cover. At least here in Indiana, we know that we won’t be giving any standardized tests this year. While I’m not suggesting that we should throw out the curriculum guide completely, we can think critically about our standards and how we might be able to meet the learning goals of our students with a meaningful and relevant learning experience right now.

I still think about the assignment that Mr. Courtney gave us when I was in seventh grade, not because I want to reflect on the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather, I think of it when I want to talk about a model of what it means to be authentic and relevant for our students. I think about it when we contemplate how to be responsive to the world around us.

What things have you done with your class as a result of what is happening in our world now? Have you adjusted your plans? Created learning opportunities for your students that relate to what is happening in the world around us all? Share with us in the comments below a little about what you have tried, or are planning to try.

Listen to the students

Voices of Students

I’ve recently been reading a couple of books that have me thinking about innovation – both in terms of education, and in terms of the world as a whole. I’ve seen lots of different ways to define innovation, but the one that I think is the simplest to understand, and that I find myself going back to again and again is the one that George Couros shares in his book The Innovator’s Mindset – Innovation “is a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” Just because something is new, that doesn’t necessarily make it innovative. Handing our teachers the hot new tech tool won’t make that teacher innovative, but it is possible that the things they accomplish with that tool is innovative because it makes learning for our students better!

I think it’s also fair to say that all of us that work in education know that there are students that our current system of education is not working for. I bet anyone who teaches or works in a school is visualizing at least one student, if not several!

I recently heard a quote, I think it was on a podcast, but I was driving and I didn’t write it down at the time, but the concept stuck with me (to be honest, I can’t even tell you what podcast it was on, I tried to figure it out, but can’t recall!). The gist of what the speaker said is that an innovator looks for resistors. When they design a product, or are working on a redesign, they don’t want to talk to the people that the product works for. The feedback they get from those people is simply that they like it. Any true innovator wants a room full of the people who the product is not working for. If a designer can create a product that better meets the needs of those that the product is not working for, they are usually able to come up with a design that better meets the needs of all the potential customers.

So what does this have to do with education? That’s what you may be wondering… Think about the kid that the current education system is not working for. When we think about the concepts of Universal Design for Learning, creating a system that benefits our kids who struggle doesn’t take away from the learning of those who the system is currently working for. It typically leads to better learning opportunities for all our students.

The next time you get a chance, take a moment to listen to your students, especially the ones who are really struggling. What do they say they need to be more successful? I’m an adult and I struggle to sit for long periods of time – If I can’t do it, why should we expect our students to be able to?

Have you ever made changes because of feedback that students shared with you? How did it work out? Did it benefit more students than just the person you were trying to help? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Time

Today I was sitting in a meeting with colleagues. During the meeting, we had a conversation around the idea of whether we were a person who led through checklists, or if we were one who led through the rally cry mentality. I know that for me, definitely trend towards the rally cry side of things. I like to think about big ideas, about making change happen, about causing good trouble, about being a ruckus maker for the benefit of all the learners in my school (notice the intent of learners – that’s not just students). But the tradition in educational leadership has trended more towards the checklist mentality.

I think that this checklist leadership has led to an education system that relies on their checklists. I think that those checklists are what cause us to pull out the same activities from year to year, not being responsive to our students, not being responsive to the environment around us. It’s why in January we write stories about snow even when there isn’t any snow on the ground, or why we might spend a lesson in science on what a full moon is even though if we were to look at the night sky we might notice that the moon is currently in the new moon phase.

If we operate on checklists, our system is going to stay the way that it is. And here’s the thing… The system as it is can be hard to argue with for some. If you teach in a school that “does well” on the standardized assessment, even though you operate from that checklist mindset, it’s going to be hard to convince you, or your families, or maybe even your students, that there might be a better way to make learning happen.

But I believe there is a better way, because our checklist mindsets create kids who think in checklist ways. But our world doesn’t need checklist thinkers. In a recent article from Forbes (The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking For In 2020), the following list was shared:

  1. Data Literacy
  1. Critical Thinking
  1. Tech Savviness
  1. Adaptability and Flexibility
  1. Creativity
  1. Emotional Intelligence
  1. Cultural Intelligence and Diversity
  1. Leadership Skills
  1. Judgment and Complex Decision Making
  1. Collaboration

Or you could take a look at the list of Key Attributes that Employers Want to See on Students’ Resumes (click here). This survey, put out every year by National Association of Colleges and Employers, doesn’t list skills that could be achieved by checklist thinking anywhere near the top of their list.

Excitement and CuriositySo, my mindset is that education needs a little bit of a jolt. A swift kick in the behind. Because the system as we know it doesn’t help create students who are prepared for these skills listed above. Not to mention, I’m very fearful of any system where its users enter with excitement and curiosity, and exit feeling bored and disconnected. Visit a kindergarten classroom… After you get past all the hugs and stories, you’ll see learners who are excited to tell you about the littlest details of their curiosity. But somehow, by the time they reach late elementary or middle school, that excitement is mostly gone.

These fears drive me to a lot of conversations with other educators about what schools could be. About what we need to do to create a system that our users exit just as excited as when they enter, but with all the skills listed in the lists above. What’s hard about those conversations – so many of the educators I have those conversations with are checklist thinkers. They have the thing that they do every year because it’s the first month of school, or because it’s almost winter break, or because it’s the middle of winter and no matter what it looks and feels like outside we’re writing our snow stories.

And here’s the thing that drives me crazy. As soon as I start talking about my admittedly crazy ideas, as soon as I share a little bit about what it might mean for us to truly adjust what we do to be more responsive to the day to day needs of our students, and be responsive to the future needs of our society, I almost immediately get one word thrown back at me…

TIME

And I get that, I really do. When we live in a checklist mindset, our most important factor of those checklists is being able to check off the things on the list. And that means we have to do it at the time that we plan on checking it off.

But when I’m talking about change, that means we need to go into design thinking mode. When I say the word innovator, who do you think of? Maybe Einstein, or Edison, Tesla, Jobs, Musk, Wozniak, Gates… Those are the people that we think of as innovators. As we get into a problem-solving mindset for education, I want to remind you of a quote from Einstein that I love:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.”

You see, Einstein got that our ability to solve a problem doesn’t lie in the solution itself. Rather it lies in the ability to appropriately identify the problem. And if you were able to talk to Einstein, or any of the other innovators that I listed above, you’d learn that one of the last things you do in an innovative design process is start to allocate resources.

Time is a resource.

Let me say that again a little louder for the people in the back:

Time is a resource.

And as a resource, it’s not part of our innovative discussions. As educators, there are definitely some resources that we can’t solve. We probably don’t get to pick the location of our school. We typically don’t get to make many changes to the physical building itself. We can’t ignore our state standards of learning. But what happens within the walls, the pedagogical decisions, the allocation of staff, the assignment of students, those are all things that can be adapted. There are schools who have found ways to build regular collaboration time into the school day for teachers. There are schools who have removed a grade-based system, and instead meet each kid right where they are in terms of the instructional decisions that need to be made. Other people have figured out ways to make these innovative things happen. And they didn’t let that pesky issue of time get in the way.

Unless I’m missing something, that 24 hours a day thing is kind of consistent everywhere. Others who have made massive changes to the way they do education don’t have any more time than we do. They’ve just chosen to allocate that resource in a different way. They’ve chosen to change their dispositions, to change their mindsets.

So here’s where I am right now. I’m ready to throw the whole system out on the table. From soup to nuts, what’s not working? What might work better? Let’s try things. Let’s ideate as a staff. What do our kids need in order to be able to leave our building just as curious as the first time they set foot in it. Let’s put it all out there. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Then, let’s start testing. Just like how SpaceX must test each and every part in order to build a rocket that can do this:

We must be willing to ideate, innovate, test, reiterate, and test again. Eventually we can land our own system that creates students who are ready to leave us with the skills that employers need.

This IS GOING TO BE A MINDSET SHIFT for us all! But I’m on board. I’m ready to start testing, start trying, start building. These kids are too important to not.

They are all “our” kids

So, I’m just going to put it out there – there’s something that I’m really struggling with right now. I have noticed in every building I’ve worked in that there are some who define the students they teach based on the labels that they have. And even more so, the teachers define themselves by those same labels.

Advanced, resource, disabled, ENL, poverty, trauma; these are just some of the labels that can be used to describe the children who walk into our schools each day. And then, it seems that there are some who ascribe those same labels to the teachers who work with students who fall into these subgroups. And those labels also creep into the mindset of some of who work with students who may fall into these subgroups.

I have witnessed situations over the course of my career where a classroom teacher refers to the resource students in their classroom as “your kids” when talking with the resource teacher. I have also seen teachers who work with advanced students refer to their class as “my kids”, sometimes implying that the work they are doing with those advanced students is somehow significantly different than the teachers who work with students who are not advanced. There are a few things that bother me about language like that. First, it groups all of the students with these labels together. It implies some type of sameness. But each child is a unique human being with specific needs, wants, and desires. Second, it sends the message to all who hear it that certain students may not be as important. And third, it creates division among the teachers in a school, which goes against the idea of collective teacher efficacy.

This mindset is something that is hard for me to wrap my mind around – and I think that’s partially because of the role that I had in the classroom. For the majority of my teaching career, I taught science (yes, I taught many other things over the years, but science was the subject that I was assigned the most). In my years, I often had students who had IEPs, ILPs, FBAs, etc. But as the science teacher, I never received support in the form of a push in or pull out. The students who needed additional support had to receive it from me. Now, that’s not to imply that I was perfect. Many times, I had to work with a resource teacher, or an ENL teacher, to have ideas about how to adapt what I was trying to accomplish. Ultimately though, I was the teacher of service for every kid who walked into the classroom. I saw it as my job to take ownership of each and every student.

Was it perfect all the time? No. Did I have missteps and struggles? Yes. Were there times I may have felt defeated and wanted to throw in the towel? Absolutely. But when I kept my mindset focused on doing my best work so that each student who walked into my class would learn and grow, I found small wins that would keep me working to do better.

So, going back to that mindset that some have about “your kids” as compared to “my kids”… I think it’s important that we remember the impact that may have on a student. We may feel that those mindsets are something that we can keep to ourselves, but I believe that students can sense when a teacher doesn’t truly embrace them as a full member of the class. Our nonverbals tell our students our intent. Based on your intent, students will decide if they like you. Students will not work for you or learn from you if they do not like you. I’ve always loved this quote:

Watch your thoughts

I don’t want to credit this quote to anyone in particular because some research has shown versions of it going back to a Zen precepts, Chinese proverbs, Navajo beliefs, and even Ancient Roman leaders.

What I guess I’m looking for is a mindset shift. Instead of seeing students who fall into certain subgroups as someone else’s responsibility, we need to work towards an understanding and belief that all the kids that walk into our classroom, our building, our school system, or even our world as OUR KIDS. We need to be sure that we take ownership of the students that we work with, no matter what label they may carry. Because, as Brené Brown has said, “We all want to be seen, known, and valued.” That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I can get behind. Who’s with me?