Friday, March 20, 2015

Work and Build: Work With What You Got

"That's real creativity. Making something out of nothing." - Bill C.

I'll be honest. I'm a skeptic when it comes to school reform and I need to stop. Even if I believe that the tool or program or service I'm providing is problematic, I am making a public commitment right here and now, to be creative, artistic and make it work in a way that ensure equity and progress for the communities I work for. In many ways, it's simply my ego and not wanting to depart from the experiences I've had working with youth and schools. The Danielson Framework for Teaching is an example as is so the Common Core Standards. Let's adjust these frameworks and modify them to make them work for us. Disadvantaged (not sure what other word to use) communities often feel the target of such reforms but what people tend to do is to not realize their own power or as I've done simply dismiss because it's not part of my personal philosophy on what's best for kids. I'll talk more about how to make reforms work for you rather than against in future posts. As Grant Wiggins has often stated, "All reform is local'" and real creativity can emerge when communities appropriately adapt and own the tools to work for youth served. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Word To Design Thinkers

For all you design thinkers, consider doing a service learning simulation to demonstrate a low resolution prototype can be used as an interactive experience for feedback. Stress the importance of users INTERACTING with the prototype as a means to solicit feedback. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Equity Access and Cultural Responsiveness

I became an educator given from my experiences as a brown youth growing up in the Detroit area and because of my strong passion to give honor to our black and brown ancestors --- the beautiful struggle for liberation and equality which has been consistently denied for over 400 years in America. I had a passion, as the award winning journalist and freedom fighter Mumia Abu Jamal has been called to be "a voice for the voiceless," to tell the untold stories, to provide a more balanced version of American history than previously told. I wanted to expose the "truth" of Columbus' so-called discovery of America as nothing more than a genocide of Awarak peoples of the West Indies and reveal the nations capitalist system as the richest on earth as one in which profited solely on the blood stained backs of enslaved black labor. So when the conversation begins around equity, I look to my passion and my past. In my youth, a deep and sincere thirst for racial identity, carefully shaped my worldview. In my humble opinion all schools should empower students to answer two key questions: Who Am I? Where do I come from? With the lack of stories and images of brown and black youth and particularly in my case as a bi-racial child growing up in the countries most segregated city, I certainly did not have access to even seeing myself portrayed in books particularly those written about the so called "development" of the Western World or for that matter taught by brown or black teacher --- as less than 2 percent of the teaching force is African American. You see black and brown people, especially women, even in this day of a black man in the "White House"are ignored from our nations storied past. Instead, we are taught to revere the same old tired stories of George Washington crossing the Delaware or the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Who is telling these stories of early America? Would the stories and experiences be told differently if we shared words espoused by free or enslaved blacks during this same time period? Why do our history books continue to be euro-and elite-centric? When will the day arise when we can embrace the voice of Native Americans and women abolitionists right next to those ideas of James Madison and Ben Franklin. Seems to me that we can learn just as much from the all voices of Americas past than continue to sterilize our youth and society with a one-size fits all notion of America history. How's that for creating more equity in our classrooms and schoolhouses? 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Teaching and Learning with Values

This past week I had the opportunity to facilitate a training on English Language Arts and the three major shifts as schools and communities implement the Common Core Standards. I also had the opportunity to set an intention for the thirty plus teachers and educators in attendance. Rather than just participate in the traditional reviewing of norms and expectations, I believe that its often equally important for people to connect with the values of their lives, those beliefs and character traits that both guide our decisions and those that we strive to be. We began by choosing five (5) values that best guide either our professional or personal life (i.e., love, hope, integrity, responsibility, flexibility, etc.) Afterwards, we were to choose one (1) value (from the original five) in which we demonstrated sometime in our lifetime. I modeled what I asked for by sharing my value (love) in which I demonstrated to my daughter from the moment I learned that I was going to be a father at a very young age. We then took a minute to think about that one value that was demonstrated in their lives. A few people shared and then one other just shouted out their value (i.e, "flexibility). We then were challenged to create a Recipe, a good "value recipe" that each participant would need to receive the very best training over the next two days. People were provided time and each table worked to create and share out their recipe. I concluded the experience by sharing the work that I had done with sixth graders in the Bronx (see above) and students were charged with creating a recipe for World Peace. I shared that this experience can be adapted to set classroom values, (and should have pointed out) that it can also be used as a way to gently remind each other when we are out of violation of those values that we established as a community throughout the year.

So now, tell me what are your values? What recipe do you need to create in your personal and/or professional life that can lead to liberation education? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alaska Schools: A Reflection

I saw the request written on a note, gently pushed on the conference table towards my laptop late during our meeting and at first I have to admit I didn't think it was real. "APTT emergency" it read. "Can you go to Alaska next week?" I looked at my supervisor and gave a puzzled look then said "Are you for real?" It was real. All of our other consultants were going to be in the field and someone from our team needed to head to the Last Frontier and lead our parent-school engagement work in Anchorage, Alaska. I wholeheartedly accepted this blessing (and thanks to my family for allowing me to go). 

After six hours of flight time, and some panoramic views of gigantic mountains and sweeping rock formations, I slowly arrived to the conclusion that I was entering into a very special place on the Earth. As our flight descended, I noticed intense cracks in the earth drift into the wide endless ocean signs of ice and cold slowly melting away. Immediately, I felt a shift in my soul. Looking out my small plane window, I notice the feeling might have much to do with the magnificent mountains that covered us all here. 

I went right to work. I arrived at Lake Otis Elementary which was surrounded by huge skies and massive mountains, met with several teachers, the principal and our district partner who kindly shepherd me the into the first class room I was to observe. I'll need to write more about my thoughts and experiences in the schools but for now let me depart for a moment. 

Let me please make a disclaimer. I was a person who has some poor biases sometimes and Alaska was a place that I envisioned complete with packed dogs, igloos and Eskimos. Nonetheless, Alaska humbled me, threw my biases' out into the Bay of Alaska, and reframed my thinking and experiences in life in a much more concerted and concentrated way. More on this later, but for now...

Alaska Fun Facts: 

* Diverse is First: A middle aged brown skinned mother stood up during our ice-breaker and declared with proud authority, "My daughter and I are ALASKAN women." This sentence is still plastered in my mind like snow capped Mount Denali.  

* Funky Dividends: Every single man, women and child receives an annual check from the government from the dividends yield from the sale and distribution from the Alaskan Pipeline. This effected parent attendance at our meetings because, as I found out from other teachers, many marginalized, disenfranchised parents were out "shopping, eating" and celebrating. 

* Students Attend Meetings WITH Parents: This was a big departure from our practice however, having students in attendance with their parents encouraged greater ownership of the take-home activities, goal-setting and the like.  

* Lots of Alaskans Not From Alaska:" Most folks that I spoke with came from all different parts of the "Lower 48" to come to Alaska.

* "Being Polite Only Takes a Minute:" A parent told me this as he offered a chair to me. I really like this quote.

* Anchorage School District - Most Languages, Most Diverse: Over 80 percent of students speak English in the school district. The remaining 20 percent? These students speak over 99 different languages making it the most diverse in the country.

My biases exposed. My gratitude for the people, geography and particularly the energy of Alaska.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Making Our Schools More Human

Detroit Future Schools, an organization whose work is deeply embedded in using digital media to create more just learning spaces for teachers and students recently got me thinking about this idea to "make our schools more human." How do we do this when our students often arrive in our communities with such dire needs and pressures from policy makers cry the need for greater accountability through PARCC and SBAC assessments? Are the two mutually exclusive? I beg to argue that they are not but just require us organizing our schools and communities into places where shared leadership is not an idea but a living and breathing organism. Its where we as a collective of teachers, school administrators and support staff, all take responsibility in developing professional learning communities and dividing the work to accomplish the amazing and be the people we are waiting for. Our culture, the collective conscious and communicated, norms, values and actions of people, reflect this elevated energy; in fact we might begin to see the following emerge: 

* No one person being burden with everything 
* Everyone has voice 
* Accountability for both students and community 
* People feel validated 
* Systemic improvement 
* People begin to feel belonging from the beginning 
* Students can feel that teachers and staff are united towards a common cause 

This culture is conducive to not only realizing the collective power and energy of the school, but also can organize, design, draft, revise and implement powerful, highly engaging and challenging curriculum that aligns to the rigors of these new, untested, assessments. It's only by working together, as a collective, can powerful curriculum provide exemplary student achievement. For so long, much of my beliefs centered around designing  powerful curriculum for optimal results; but as I facilitate and learn, I'm discovering no one can achieve these results unless there is collective, transformative power, sustainable and cultivating in nature, that pulls on strengths, identifies potential gaps (as well as determine what type of gap we are dealing with and provide necessary training) and then make goals and appropriate plans to change. It is in this spirit that I am inspired and fully engaged with the work in the communities I dedicate myself to. Peace* 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Who Are We? Defining ourselves telling our own story

I had the pleasure of spending two days in Oakland with super smart and passionate people. One of our tasks in the small group I worked with was to answer this question from an organizational standpoint: Who are we? Now, my first thought was that this is a highly intellectual and philosophical question. Who are we? Who am I? Why are we here? The longest un-answered question ever right? So what a great opportunity and honor to be able to answer this question for purposes of our work. We had over 200 responses from others and our task was to synthesize in order to present to the leadership team and peers. We began to discuss the commonalities and listed them out on chart paper; however, it soon became clear that the responses begged to be organized into a series of values (i.e., empathy, trust, flexibility, etc.) rather than some other set. Since we didn't want to loose the flavor of the philosophical nature of the question, the presentation begged that we simulate a Slam Poetry format to use rhymes and flow as a way to share. I'm currently reading a book by yoga teacher Baron Baptiste entitled "Being of Power" and he suggests that "we don't actually 'figure out' who we are," and suggests that such is "a quest for finite answers." He suggests that the way we come to understanding who we are is by giving up what we are NOT. Maybe this is too deeply esoteric but is there something that might apply to our work in communities serving mostly people of color in the U.S.? Might we peel back the layers like an onion to reveal our true selves (which doesn't always have to be a return to Africa?). So asking ourselves this question must not be something we answer but a poem that we continue to write and draft over time.