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.

What’s luck got to do with it?

Recently I was listening to an episode of the TED Radio Hour. If you’ve never heard it before, this show takes a theme, then pulls clips from a few existing TED Talks that tie in to that theme. The host, Guy Raz, interviews the speakers about how their talk ties in with the theme. One of the recent episodes was titled Luck, Fortune, and Chance, and one of the segments in particular got me thinking about the work we have been doing around Equity in my school district. You can listen to just the segment of the show here:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/697809215/699112445

Mark Sutcliffe, a talk show host from Canada who is also an entrepreneur and runner gave a recent TEDx Talk on the role that hard work and luck play in our stories of success. Our society has traditionally put an emphasis on the idea that hard work can lead to success. The reality is though, that this is not true for all.

Hard work is an element of success in life, but it’s not the essential element… The secret sauce is luck.

Sutcliffe shares that he won the genetic lottery the day he was born. Because of the makeup of his family, their experiences, education level, socio-economic status, and so much more, Mark had an excellent starting point on the day he was born. Not everyone has those same chances. As a runner, Mark makes the analogy between our starting point in life, and the starting point in a marathon.

If you’ve ever run an organized marathon, half-marathon, or possibly even 5k, you’ve started the race with a timing chip attached to you in some way. When the starter at the front of the race says go, the timer starts for everyone that is right at the start line. But if you’re anything like me, you probably aren’t at the front of the pack. In the last half marathon I ran, it was almost 20 minutes between the time the starter said go and the time I crossed the official start line. Thanks to the help of that timing chip, my time didn’t officially start until I crossed that start line.

Sutcliffe shares that life isn’t quite like that. There is no computer chip that levels the playing field. As he points out, if you’re born as a visible minority, a member of a lower socio-economic class, with a physical disability, with a mental illness, or of a different sex, then you start your life further back. And, as Sutcliffe goes on to point out, “You carry that disadvantage your whole life.”

I was raised as the child of a middle class, college educated, white family. I remember conversations about the key to being successful was through my effort. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being told that if I worked hard in life, I would be more likely to be successful. And when I think about the life that I have led, I know that I have worked hard to get to where I am. But as I come to grips with what I am learning in my work with equity, I’m beginning to realize that not every one of my students starts at the same point. Merit does not drive all success in life, and what Sutcliffe is trying to get at is that when you start your life in one of those lucky situations, chances are pretty good that we will continue to be lucky throughout our life.

In the actual TED Talk the Sutcliffe gave (linked at the end of this post), he shares his plan to run his next marathon starting 3 hours after the official start time. His reason: he wants to remember that anyone who starts life at the back of the pack is likely to get a lot less help and support. He knows that he will most likely be running alone when he runs this marathon.

Some of our students are the ones who are starting the race a little farther back. As the people in their life who make it our goal to help them learn and grow, we have to keep remembering that some of our students may have started their life a little further back in the pack. As a result of that starting point, they may need a little more support in order to be successful.

And some of you may be thinking of someone who likely started further back in the pack and led a truly successful life. Sutcliffe shares that “When the winner comes from the back, it’s an exception, not a rule.” Hard work simply doesn’t do it all.

This past weekend, as the ideas for this post were bouncing around in my mind, the following tweet showed up in my timeline:

Before my work with equity, I probably would have said something very similar. I would have believed that everyone started on an equal playing field. The reality is though, and I think Sutcliffe’s talk does an excellent job of putting it into words, is that not all of us start at the same point. As one of the “lucky ones” who got to start near the front of the pack, I now make it a point to take Sutcliffe’s suggestion of what to do with our luck: be humble; kind; and generous. I can help those who may have started a little further back than me. I do it because it’s fair, it’s smart (there’s a cost of others not having the same opportunities that I do), and it makes me happy.

What are your thoughts? As you reflect on your starting point, where were you in relation to the start line? Do you believe that you have led a lucky life, or is your position in life based solely on hard work and effort? What steps to you take to help level the playing field? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’d like to listen to the entire episode of TED Radio Hour that the idea of this post came from, you can find it here:

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/697805275/luck-fortune-and-chance

And if you’d like to see Mark’s full TED Talk, check it out here:

Media literacy

democracy-cannot-succeed-unless-those-whoexpress-their-choice-are-prepared-to-choosewisely-the-real-safeguard-of-democracytherefore-is-educationAccording to the Center for Media Literacy (CML), the most basic definition of media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms.”  However in today’s world they have expanded that definition a little further and now define Media Literacy as:

“a 21st century approach to education.  It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet.  Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

If you aren’t sure why I’d be writing a post on this topic, I have 2 questions for you… 1) What bubble have you been living under? and 2) Might I join you there?  It seems that wherever you look – news, Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. – you can never seem to get an accurate answer.  One location you might see a story that says something definitely happened, elsewhere they say it might have happened, and in a third place it definitely didn’t happen.  Scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, the people I am friends with or follow have all kinds of different beliefs.  Within a couple of minutes of scrolling, I often see links to articles or headlines for articles that directly oppose one another.  It’s completely overwhelming!  One good thing to come of it?  I’m finding more time to read books, and I’m spending less time on other forms of reading.

So, if we feel overwhelmed, what in the world are our students thinking?

As I was thinking about this article, I spent some time looking at various resources for media literacy, and there were tons.  One of the resources that I found was on the Center for Media Literacy’s website.  They share that the heart of media literacy is informed by inquiry and share a four-step process:

  1. Access information from a variety of sources.
  2. Analyze and explore how messages are “constructed” whether through social media, print, verbal, visual, or multi-media.
  3. Evaluate media’s explicit and implicit messages against one’s own ethical, moral, and/or democratic principles.
  4. Express or create their own messages using a variety of media tools, digital or not.

So what might a lesson in media literacy look like in one of our classrooms?  As a brief overview, it might be something like this:

  • Choose an interesting, provocative, or possibly even controversial topic that is in the news – or if this seems too far, pick advertisements for similar products.
  • In pairs or teams have students seek out different sources that have shared that story. If this makes you nervous, maybe select the sources in advance and share those sources with the students.  Don’t limit them to print media – use videos, radio, podcast, YouTube, etc.
  • Have students analyze and evaluate their resource – I’ll share more about this process below.
  • Finally, have them use what they have learned to share their own message about the topic.

On the CML website you can download a free resource titled “Literacy for the 21st Century.”  One of the things you will find in this document is a list of Key Questions and Core Concepts.  While the free resource on the CML site will go into a lot more detail, here are those Key Questions and Core Concepts:

Key Questions:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently?
  4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Core Concepts:

  1. All media messages are constructed.
  2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
  3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
  4. Media have embedded values and points of view.
  5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

medialiteracy-image-11

And why do we need to be thinking about media literacy?  With the current political climate, it can be tempting to bury our heads in the sand in terms of talking about issues with students, however our students need to have the 21st century skills to be successful.  Media literacy is an important part of those skills.  In fact, according to CML, “helping our students to be media literate is an alternative to censoring, boycotting, or blaming ‘the media.’”

Hopefully you also see some connections between this post and our work with Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  Teaching that questioning stance will help our students be more media literate as well!

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Have you been thinking about media literacy for your students?  Have you used news articles or topics in your classrooms?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Self-Assessment

In the most recent post of the blog Teaching and Learning in HSE, Phil included a link to a short (under 2 minutes) video clip from Tom Guskey.  I’ll include the link below if you didn’t watch the clip yet.

guskeyThere were a couple of quotes that were intriguing to me.  At the very beginning, Guskey states “Every time an assessment is given…that is an opportunity to learn.”  However, he’s not talking only about an opportunity for the students to learn.  He’s also talking about the assessment as an opportunity for us to learn.  One of the best ways to assess the job that we are doing is on the consistent performance of our students.  Don’t just look at standardized scores like the ISTEP or NWEA, look at anything that you treat as an assessment, whether formative or summative, as something that is also assessing you.

I loved the strategy that he suggests of keeping a tally of the problems that students have missed.  He shares that “If every kid missed a question, that is not a kid learning problem.  That is a teacher problem.”

If you are using good planning methods, with backwards planning of your units of study, and you start with the end in mind, and you get to that end and the kids missed something that you feel you taught, take a moment to reflect on how you taught that skill.  The easy out is to say “the kids didn’t get it”.  The much harder reflection for any of us to make is to say “maybe I didn’t do a great job of teaching this”.  When that is the reflection we make, it allows us to use the assessment as a way to improve our own teaching.

hl-podcast-cover-large-1024x1024As I watched this clip from Guskey, the comments about self-assessment made me think of a recent episode of the Hack Learning Podcast titled How One Simple Tool Helps Uncover Your Biases (you can follow this link to go to a page where you can listen to this episode).  Hack Learning is a podcast that was created by Mark Barnes, a classroom teacher, author, and publisher of the Hack Learning Series.  While the topic in this podcast is a different form of self-assessment, I feel it is worth sharing.

As you know, we all have biases.  If you have never taken an implicit bias test, google it and give it a shot – you might be shocked by the results.  Our biases can creep into our conversations in the classroom with students.  What we have to remember though is that those biases can have an impact on the learning that happens in your classroom.

hacking-engagementIn this episode of Hack Learning, Barnes shares a portion of the book Hacking Engagement by Jim Sturtevant.  In the book Sturtevant shares a story from early in his teaching career where, as a world history teacher, he professed his position on what might be considered a controversial subject.  He felt that the majority of the class was on board with him, there were some head nods, and they agreed.  After the lesson, one student came up and said “You should be careful about promoting your views so passionately.  I don’t agree with you, and I’m not alone.”

Sturtevant’s initial reaction was that it was no big deal – this is the opinion of one student.  Who cares?  But as he reflected further, he came to the realization that by sharing his controversial beliefs, he was erecting barriers between himself and students.  As he goes on to say in the text “Why in the world would I want to alienate certain kids who may not agree with me on an issue.”

Think about your own interactions with peers, in person or on social media.  When someone expresses a bias that you don’t agree with, what do you do?  You might choose to avoid that person, you might end your friendship, or you might choose to block the person on social media (this is something that I definitely saw happening on Facebook during the most recent election cycle – I saw several friends share that they had blocked or unfriended everyone who’s beliefs opposed their own).  Our students will do the same things if we express our own biases, especially if they do not view things the same way as us.  We might even end up alienating the families of those students as well.

So, what can we do to help us identify our biases and avoid building those barriers between ourselves and our students?  What Sturtevant did was to create a Teacher Disposition Assessment (TDA).  As a world history teacher, there were several aspects of his curriculum that could be seen as controversial.  He identified those things that had the greatest potential to be controversial, and then created a statement from it.  Here is an example of one question on his TDA:

“Muslims should be restricted from entering the United States”

  1. Sturtevant strongly agrees
  2. Sturtevant somewhat agrees
  3. Sturtevant somewhat disagrees
  4. Sturtevant strongly disagrees
  5. Sturtevant’s opinions on this issue are unclear

Every statement included the same five options as a response.  He then took the statements and created a SurveyMonkey to be able to allow students to respond anonymously to the TDA.  As he says “It’s fine to be provocative; such statements will engage your audience.”  Sturtevant uses the TDA as an exit ticket at the end of the semester, but he feels that it could be used at any time of the year.

Sturtevant suggests debriefing after you receive the responses.  You can share the results with your class and ask students what it says about you and their perceptions of you.  He has even gone so far as to create an anonymous Google Form where students can give advice a feedback on times that biases pop up in the classroom.  Finally, Sturtevant asks his students to monitor their own actions moving forward.  He has found that completing the TDA has led students to think about their own actions and behaviors, and has led to some amazing in class conversations.

Talk about a strong self-assessment.  Asking your students to assess your biases based on statements and action in your class – that takes some guts.  But think about what that says to your students.  You are telling them that you are aware of the fact that you might have some biases, and based on your results, it may even lead you to make adjustments to your own statements and actions.  You are also showing them that you want to prevent the barriers that we might accidentally create when we let our biases creep into our teaching.  It’s important to remember that we all have biases, and those biases can impact teaching and learning.

I’m curious if there are any out there who have had issues with biases creating barriers.  Maybe it happened when you were a student and a teacher or professor said something that didn’t sit well with you.  Or maybe you realized later that something you had said or done had created a barrier between you and one of your own students.  If you’re willing, share your experience in the comments below.