Saturday, September 17, 2016

American History: Bewilderment and Blackface, Redefining Blackness

I've got some work to do. My niece turned daughter who happens to be black-and-Albanian, told me after I pressured her into defining black culture that it pretty much can be summed up in "corn bread" and "hippty-hop." My heart sank and realized that she really was never exposed to a deeper understanding and realization of what blackness is and can be. So, I'll be posting over the next few weeks about my ideas on how to best help her better understand her culture and most certainly embrace blackness in a way that goes way beyond foodstuff and dance. This of course, prompted me to dive into my personal black history archives only to remember the by-gone era of the Black Minstrel Show. I'll include my thoughts in further posts and how we as educators living in these deadly and tumultuous times of de-valuing of black and brown lives, can help broaden the notions of what we've been taught and how to help students such as my daughter better embrace her own culture and others as well. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Youth About Food Justice: A Madison Wisconsin Story

I had the fortunate opportunity to design and implement curriculum for the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute; the goal of the program, Growing Urban Leaders in Food Systems, is to engage high school students to be leaders and change agents in transforming the food system, particularly as it relates to public and social policy. In this quest, I was invited to  pilot one of the lessons that I designed with the a summer youth leadership program hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison PEOPLE (Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence). We worked with 
PEOPLE interns and teachers to ensure that the lesson we taught aligned with current programming needs. We learned that the students had a wide-range of experiences from visiting local farms and community centers, to becoming generally more aware of the wide range of agricultural employment opportunities that are available, typically not promoted to low-income students. Here's how the lesson went and how the students responded. 

We began with having students defining food justice in pairs and then as a class. Some individual and group definitions that emerged were: 
  • "Food Justice is ..... something that makes you feel good for eating healthy/good." 
  • "Food Justice is..... when people want to be over weight then they want to blame the law."
  • "Food Justice is..... a variety of choices made by a community to create unity around healthy        food. " 
We then went onto create a classroom definition synthesizing group responses. Our classroom definition of food justice that emerged was: 
  • "The right of everyone to access healthy food through good security and laws that maintain the process of distributing food equally."
Next, we invited students to volunteer to the front of the classroom; we handed students either a water bottle or a plastic container with Driscoll raspberries for students to interact with. Students were presented with a multiple choice question which had to do with either Flint Water Crisis (which had in previous pilots really piqued students interest) and farm worker rights with Driscolls. In order for youth to see the learning target, we modeled a food justice role-play and then had students use a rubric to evaluate our presentation of the Dillema. 

Students could choose from the following food justice issues and topics: 
  • Land Grab: Hantz-Off Our Lands
  • Restaurant and Worker Rights 
  • School Lunch and the Mystery Meat Dilemma 
  • Farm Worker Rights 
After students formed groups and we provided a conflict resolution framework to use (we had students use the acronym S.T.A.T.E. to resolve the dilemmas in each situation) the room was buzzing with students choosing clothes and props in which to use, writing their lines and a script, and deciding who was going to play which role. When it came time for each group to present their dilemma through role-play, the first group to go included a student that was actually sleeping in the class the day before. He was a totally different person completely engaged in the role as a district administrator ensuring that the lunch-lady was serving newly adopted organic and GMO-free lunches. Not only did the group do an outstanding job of building empathy for the character they played, but also began to see that resolving conflict could be achieved through a process of dialogue and understanding. 

So many thanks to George Reistad, PEOPLES teachers, and of course, the brilliant youth who jumped right in.  We've still got plenty of work and revisions to do for our curriculum, however when you set students up for success by providing relevant and engaging experiences such as food justice role plays, students enjoy learning for all the right reasons. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Many of you may already be familiar with the Southern Poverty Law Center ; if you're an educator seeking great resources on equity, diversity, justice, suggestions or conversation please be sure to check out Teaching Tolerance blog post! You will be happy that you did!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Losing Your Student: R.I.P. Eric

My former student, Eric, tragically lost his life on Sunday. I received a message on Facebook from another former student that Eric had died in a car crash. Eric was a student in my advisory as my very first year in teaching in Detroit. He was perhaps one of the most brilliant, yet, challenging students that I ever had the honor of teaching. In many ways, his brilliance and intelligence were a blessing and a curse. Eric was witty and had no shortage of confidence. I never met his father and apparently had not been a part of Eric's life and upbringing. His mother was the one raising Eric and tried her best to raise a young man in the city. I was always impressed at his ability to reason with fervor on a variety of topics and although he often had trouble empathizing for others, he had some semblance of morality. Eric had obtained an internship with Detroit City Council and left a positive impression with the staff but like many of his experiences he never allowed himself to be challenged. His exhibitions were flashy demonstrations of his natural speaking skills not of problems or sincere challenges he wanted to improve on. When asked about his passions, a cornerstone of our curriculum, Eric would simply reply, "my passion is to make money." I often had to work with his math and science teachers as Eric was cited as being consistently disruptive, left obscene messages in classrooms, and about half way into the year I really started to question, as did his mother whether or not our high school was the best fit for him. He believed he was a star basketball player who could go to Renaissance, one of the cities selective high schools in the city. His ego was both intriguing and somewhat incompatible with how I knew him (see attached lyrics he wrote). I often offered Eric alternatives for more positive approaches to his education to no avail. He was a kid for all intents and purposes whom had a great smile with little guidance for how to use his brilliance rather disrupt.  By the time we reached the end of the year, everyone, and many students in the advisory were ready for Eric to go. In many ways, he represented the struggle of so many young brothers in the city, caught between a struggle for identify, stability and pure connection. As evidence on his social media pages, he was sincerely loved by so many and effected so many lives. I just wish that I had seen more of his greatness when I was honored to be his teacher and advisor. I often reflect on what I could have done better and what changes I could have done, however, it was my first year teaching..... 
I did not stay in contact with Eric after he left our school. I may have seen him once or twice at a school event. I hope that in some way I contributed to his life in a positive way and that his soul goodness remains both here on Earth and in the heavens. Rest in peace, Eric. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

In The End It's All About Your Critical Friends

The National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) is an organization that I have been informally involved with since I began teaching. The non profit organization focuses on promoting more equitable practices through the use of engaging protocols and the development of critical friends groups. The idea here is that if we can ensure that everyone, including, parents, students, teachers, school leaders and community folks all have a voice and are able to fully reach his/her potential the school can better position itself for student success. This work is not easy. My first attempt at using the Tuning Protocol in the classroom was met with some what mixed results. Although I was eventually using the protocol in one of my first professional development sessions with our middle school colleagues and then eventually at a national conference (the first time that I presented on such a platform), I was not fully trained in the use of such protocols which sometimes led to people not being protected - a contradiction for why NSRF developed this work. So ever since that revelation, I really felt the need to become a certified facilitator with NSRF and better understand how the protocols were to be used and organized. After a few failed attempts at trying to get my employer to fund the work, I eventually took the deep dive and paid for my very first professional development session. The conference took place in Los Angeles, CA (and didn't get to visit my one of my favorite museums ever)  and required an entire week of working from day until late afternoon learning, building, deconstructing and honing my skills or rather our skills in the use of the protocols. It was a great use of both my time and money. Not only did I come away with new skills and a deeper understanding of how and when to use which protocols and for whom, I also learned about the importance of pre conferencing and carefully preparing everyone for the experiences of the protocols. The way the week was structured was brilliant. We all had to facilitate and then participate in one of the protocols. In this way, we got plenty of practice and also feedback from one another. I'm also thankful that I got a chance to build new friendships with people from all around the country. If you get a chance, please check out all of their free protocols and feel free to give me a shout with any questions on how to best use them and avoid some of the mistakes that I made - all whom you serve will certainly appreciate it. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Its Not What You Say....

It's an old cliche; stop and think about your voice and the impact it has on others. I'm not suggesting that you sound phony but be authentic and use a voice that is good for you to deliver and for others to hear. What is it about the sound of someone's voice that keeps us coming back for more? The research suggests that music has a profound impact on babies pre-natal. How do we use our voice to create and empower rather than to destroy and break? I'm becoming more acutely aware of my own voice and how I use it. I'm discovering my own emotional state as well as my intent as I'm speaking. Think of all the speaking we as educators do but we do not get voice lessons (as Grant Wiggins mother suggests, "How in the world can you engage young kids and make the teaching clear without having a trained voice?" nor are we made to be aware of the effects of using different tones in our voices (just as strings on a guitar) to give different vibrations. Wouldn't that be an interesting study to see how teachers voice determines student outcomes? Our voice must come from a pure place and a knowledge of who we are as a person. Notice the pitch, tone, and feeling behind your voice when you can. It's all about how you're saying what you're saying that makes a difference. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Curriculum Representing the Contributions of All People

I was so hungry to learn about my so-called blackness that by the time that I entered my sophomore year, I had stolen the single copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley at my predominately white high school 15 minutes north of  Detroit, Michigan. I justified the stealing (in my adolescent mind by saying that no one else was going to read it) and began to read and learn more about African American history that year. Last year, during our professional development session, I was asked about teaching a 4th grade Unit on California Explorers. Here were some central questions that I posed to the teacher (while she stared at me wide eyed): 
  • Does the curriculum represent the contributions of all people (women and people of color, for example)?
  • Who is telling the story of exploration? What would this story be like if it were told by the natives? How would that change how we viewed the events taking place? What would the story be like if it were told through the eyes of the Earth? What would she say? 
  • How are you teaching for transfer? What kinds of meaning do you want kids to make from this? 
  • What adjustments and modifications are you making for your English Language Learners? How are you including all students in creating a collective story about explorers? 
  • What is exploitation? Who was exploited and for what cause? How did explorers view the land as compared to original peoples? 
  • What was the land (i.e., California) called before the explorers captured it? Should we honor the previous name? Why or why not? 
  • What was the primary motivation for peoples moving west? How did those motivations continue to shape the geography of the state? 
  • Who are the "winners" and "losers" of this time in history? 
  • Is there one "true" narrative when it comes to this period in history? 
  • Should we "celebrate" the explorers? How did they interact with natives? How did natives interact with explorers? Who is telling the story here? 
  • What was the impact of "treaties" in the absolution of land? 
By the time I ended my rant, I'm sure that the teacher had dismissed most of what I had said, which caused me to really reflect on my approach on coaching teachers on incorporating diverse perspectives into historical narrative. To be honest, that's a challenge because I am so passionate about this notion about including all peoples stories into the narrative of our past. I also referred her to the Zinn Education Project  and Rethinking Schools . Let's move beyond the STEM  myth to eliminate inequities in education and include multiple perspectives when studying the rich fabric of our nations past. We have to ask ourselves: Who's story is it anyways?