Thursday, August 27, 2015

It's 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) 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. 

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 . Ultimately, this type of perspective tends to fall into the category of multiculturalism and yet, we our young people are more focused on relying on the STEM  myth to eliminate inequities in education rather that encouraging a rich, diverse perspective and understanding on our past. However, just as I had that hunger to learn more about my past and teaching to diverse perspectives its urgent that we also encourage our schools to embrace a deeper understanding of who is telling the story in American history. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Do Car Wrecks and Schools Have in Common: How Will We Treat Each Other, a training?

I try to avoid having crucial conversations. If there's a conflict, especially if its revealing deep facts about my character or someone's character, I'm the first one to run for the door. The impact of such an approach at an organization, working in a group or more specifically, at a school has devastating effects. In the book Crucial Conversations, four times NY Times best-selling author Kerry Patterson argues that at the heart of every conflict there is a conversation that we could be holding to better enhance our working relationships and ultimately, improve the organizations and people that we serve, in this specific case, schools. I had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate a series of Crucial Conversations workshop recently and the group was particularly small, yet contentious. At first glance, staff entered the room just as any other participants would enter, however, it was not before long that I began to see noticeable differences in this group than in others.

As I framed the work for the day, much like I have in this blog post, citing the importance of holding conversations, and sharing what results when we do not hold these conversations can sometimes be deadly. I cited the 1980's Challenger deadly explosion that left seven astronauts dead and that upon further investigation, discovered that the faulty "O-Rings" indeed did not handle cold temperatures, some information that was withheld by engineers afraid to share with their supervisors. One participant argued vehemently that it was not simply a result of people afraid not to talk one another but rather simply, "poor decision making." He was angry and rightfully so as there was not a sincere interest to be there. There are two choices that people make when they fail to communicate, either silence, the act of not speaking at all, walking out on someone or violence, which can include sarcasm, deflecting, and bullying just to name a few. I went ahead and did some role-playing where one of my colleagues took my car and crashed it over the weekend. During the role play, my partner completely deflecting and actually ended up accusing me of being a poor friend. It was definitely an act of violence but ironically, the crowd agreed with my so-called friend who, in this role-play crashed my car without telling me. One participant, who hadn't spoken at all during the entire training confidently sided with my role-playing, drunk-driving friend by declaring, after I asked about friendship: "Heck yeah, I definitely still be his friend. Good friends are good to come by." No matter that this friend lied, attacked me and accused me of being a poor friend. Nope it was all my fault. Anyway, if you find yourself stuck in conversations, review these guidelines to approach conversations where emotions are high and the person you are speaking with has a completely different opinion than you:

  • State the facts: Share what you are feeling and your perspective of the situation without any judgement statements 
  • Tell you story: include the story of the situation as you see it 
  • Ask for others opinion: ask the person to share their side of the story 
  • Talk tentatively: begin to seek understanding of the situation from both vantage points and ask additional questions as need to gain insights and common ground 
  • Encourage testing: this is where both parties begin to identify solutions to prevent future problems and restore the relationship 
As I've stated before, I'm not the best communicator, but most definitely see the framework as one in which, if used over time, can be a real tool to help personal and professional relationships thrive when values, trust, love, and hope is broken. The failure to hold these conversations severely hinders our ability to achieve greatness in our schools and one another. Otherwise, our inactions can lead to car wrecks or worse the death of the things we love and work for.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Grant Wiggins: Education and Human Hero, Part I

Grant Wiggins has passed; the heavens cheer as the world weeps. I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to work, learn and grow with Grant. He was perhaps one of the, if not the most brilliant minds in education that I have ever had the absolute pleasure of working with. Coupled with brilliance, Grant was amazingly kind, thoughtful and very down to earth. I had known Grant only for a few months working in New York City and he and his wife graciously invited me and a few colleagues into his parents breathtaking, brownstone in East Village. It was one of my first times in East Village and only a handful of times in New York City, and here I was, an educator from Detroit, sitting and planning with a man that was one of the deepest, most accomplished minds in education. I'll share more with a second posting but I just want to send this note off and recognize the passing of a brilliant mind, a compassionate kind human being, a tireless and amazing educator, and now an ancestor who perhaps left us all too soon. Rest in peace, Grant. 

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?