It’s already summer school time and I have a course titled Critical Issues in Special Education. We’re kicking off with some conversations about LRE and inclusion backed by the literature on the topic. I’ll share the articles we read here in case you want/need to learn more or brush up on the nuance of LRE.
I posted on Instagram about the trip my daughter, Isley, and I made to Lawrence, Kansas for a play her former kindergarten teacher wrote based on an experience Isley had with bullying in 7th grade. I want to provide more context to that experience first and then provide some facts and resources related to suicide prevention. I’m hoping the connection between the two will make sense as we work through it.
I know it’s hard to read but it says “Zoe G is a bitch and she is ugly Doanta F said so with those ugly ass long socks.” This was found on a bathroom wall in the middle school and Isley and Zoe knew immediately who had written it. Zoe was hurt, of course, and the girls considered a variety of responses. Ultimately, though, we decided to wear long socks for the remainder of the school year.
Isley and Zoe bought tall socks and we posted about it with a few hashtags. Former students of mine shared the story with their students who then joined in the tall socks movement. One of my former students who is now an extraordinary teacher in Brooklyn sent a box of tall socks for the girls to share with classmates who wanted to participate.
We started getting pics of long socks from California, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina (one of our sock supporters was in MY prek class when she was 4!!), and more. Zoe felt supported and seen and the message was spreading far beyond our little St. Louis suburb. We kept the long socks going until the last day of school and eventually even the girl who wrote the message came to school in long socks. Seriously.
It was an opportunity to create community from hurt and we took it. However, it did not address the root causes of the hurt nor did we have any luck in motivating the school counseling staff to support the learner who wrote the message to better understand how she was feeling in the school environment. As we often say, hurt people hurt people. Bullying is not a natural and inherent part of educational spaces – kids need our support in navigating big and difficult emotions. Why aren’t we actively and proactively providing those supports?
Fast forward a year and Isley’s amazing kindergarten teacher (middle school theater elective teacher also because of course she is) . . . Ms. Fewins and Isley connected when Isley was in her kindergarten class and they’ve remained close. The best teachers are like that – teachers for life. Ms. Fewins wrote a script loosely based on the tall socks experience and her middle schoolers edited and revised it, eventually selecting it for their spring play. We knew we had to be there for it.
As soon as we got into town, we were greeted with LONG SOCKS!
The cast told a powerful story of the social dynamics and challenges kids are facing and their individual and collective struggles to fit in AND be true to themselves. We know what adolescence brings. Rather than saying “middle school is so hard,” how about we actively work on providing kids the space to work through their emotions, strategies for navigating the difficulties, and opportunities to practice mistake making and forgiveness granting?
Ms. Fewins helped us bring the experience into the light again and to reflect on what we learned from it. Isley and I continue to feel that we didn’t do enough to help the girl who wrote the message – she has gone on to continue hurtful behavior toward Zoe. Rather than punish “bullies” after the damage is done, we should push in as much social emotional support for kids throughout their educational experience. We leave many many kids with very limited problem solving skills to continue doing harm to themselves and others. In fact, in schools we often pile on to those kids who need the most support creating amplified feelings of isolation. Restorative practices are critical for interrupting this cycle.
The mental health of our learners must be on the forefront. Rates of suicidality, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicides are all increasing and are present in very young children.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24. Nearly one of every eight children between the ages 6 and 12 has suicidal thoughts.
That’s multiple people in your class and in mine. There are no restrictions to who is affected – across genders (girls attempt suicide more than boys but boys die by suicide more than girls), across race, across ethnicity. We do know that LGBTQ+ kids who do not see themselves in others are at increased risk of suicidality. Please know and be familiar with the Trevor Project resources if you teach kids!!
We have a moral and ethical obligation to take loving care of all of our kids.
We teach college students and we are so fortunate to have these conversations with students pretty regularly. I say fortunate because we are fortunate to be a resource and to be trusted and to be able to connect our students with resources. Unfortunately, far too many faculty are not considering the many and heavy demands on our students. In fact, far too often, they’re piling on unnecessarily. We know our courses are not the only or most important thing students are grappling with. We know our deadlines are, for the most part, arbitrary. We accept our students are humans with full lives and our responsibility is to partner with them in their learning. (More on that another day)
We will keep talking about this but I wanted to share a compilation of national resources so you have vetted places to go when you need them.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.8255
You have local resources as well. If you have a resource you want to share, send it to us and we will add it as well as post it on our social media. We can provide a space of hope and of care for each and every kid.
What is this “real world” you speak of?
Who defines it?
Is it the same “real world” for everyone?
I was recently in conversation with colleagues about class attendance. Now, full disclosure, I do not have an attendance policy. I know my class is not the only thing going on in the lives of my students. I know they have to make choices with how they spend their time and I do not sit in judgment of those choices. I encourage open communication, I want to know if you aren’t coming (if at all possible) because I’m a worrier and I care about you. The ‘why’ you aren’t coming isn’t my business. I do not attach points to attendance or the ever elusive but pervasive concept of “participation.” If you’re missing a lot of class, I ask if we can talk. I want you to get the content, the knowledge, the learning, the experiences, and I want to help remove any barriers I possibly can. I want us to work together and I try to be a trustworthy and empathetic person who can serve as a resource.
So, that’s my approach.
My colleague said a student emailed saying they were going through a traumatic breakup and wouldn’t be in class. The colleague said nope. Another colleague said, when you’re a teacher, you can’t just stay home when your heart is broken. The real world doesn’t stop for your break up.
We get personal days and sick leave and we can and should use them in ways that support our overall well-being, right? We need to learn how to engage in self care and boundary setting and mental health awareness and care. Teachers are not martyrs or superheroes or angels. They are humans with the wide range of human emotions and experiences.
I wonder about things like perfect attendance awards (why?) and the “in the real world, you’ll be expected to . . . ” framing that builds and reinforces anxiety and this run yourself into the ground, work 24/7 mentality that is literally killing us.
What if we modeled self care? What if we respected boundaries? What if we taught students to ask for what they need?
This week, I had a number of long, stressful days. So, on Thursday, I cancelled a few things and worked from home, caught up on emails, scheduling, feedback, some writing. In all day meetings on Friday, I talked with a colleague who had done the same the day before, took a “mental health day.” We both said “GOOD FOR YOU!” to each other. Where did we learn this was okay?
We didn’t. We both expressed guilt and shame and a feeling of embarrassment about it.
In the words of the perfect Jonathan Van Ness, “who gave you permission to be so amazing?” I’m giving you permission to set boundaries and to teach students to do the same. And here’s the tricky part – respect the boundaries they and others set. We must take care of each other.
How have you learned to care for your own mental health and well being? How do you extend that grace to others?
We often are asked for resources on a variety of topics so I am creating a space here to share readings, books, videos, modules, movies, that we use and love. If you have resources, send them our way!
Bradshaw, W. (2013). A framework for providing culturally responsive early intervention services. Young Exceptional Children, 16(1), 3-15. Bradshaw, 2012
Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality Around the World, 1st ed. Darling-Hammond, Burns, Campbell, Goodwin, Hammerness, Low, McIntyre, Sato, & Zeichner ISBN: 978-1119369608
Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom From Young Children At School by Carla Shalaby
Not sure I love this video but it’s assigned in my course this week so we’ll see what kind of discussions come from it.
When I was a child, my mother would take me to swimming lessons at the local pool. After she dropped me off, I would watch through the changing room window for her to drive away. I would then quickly leave and run home. She would complete some errands and I would be waiting at the kitchen table for her to arrive. Mother persisted in taking me to the lessons and not until several years later did I fully understand her reasoning. She didn’t know how to swim and she wanted her four children to have that skill. I am forever grateful for her persistence.
Reposted from https://hawkhopesblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/unteaching-and-unlearning-is-intellectual/
The “apprenticeship of observation,” introduced by Dan Lortie (1975) provides a lens through which we can consider why preservice teachers (and the general public) may feel they know all they need to know about teaching and learning. They went to school, kindergarten through 12th grade, at least, and have had numerous teachers across their educational experience. As a result, they may enter into a teacher preparation program with the belief that they know what teachers do, why teachers do what they do, and how they, as teachers themselves, will do it better.
High quality teacher preparation programs typically prepare candidates through a mix of theory, evidence-based and best practices, and field experiences. Teacher educators and preservice teachers often struggle with the disconnect between the preparation program’s teachings and the practices and strategies preservice teachers experience in their field placements. This is when we must also tackle “unteaching” of misunderstood or misinformed educational practices and “unlearning” of the things we think we know about what it means to be a teacher.
Unteaching requires us to acknowledge some of the commonly-held beliefs and practices prevalent in schools and classrooms; as well as to challenge those practices that are problematic with evidence and applicable strategies. For example, in early childhood teacher preparation, we are charged with unteaching shaming and punitive behavior management systems such as clip charts because these systems persist in practice. Simultaneously, we teach the evidence about social emotional development, community building, and trauma-informed care, which are all in direct conflict with systems like clip charts. Both are critical to future teachers’ ability to eschew traditional systems and instead implement best practices in meeting the needs of their learners, teaching the behaviors they want to see, and honoring the individual and unique needs of each child.
Unteaching is hard work but unlearning is even more challenging. The “apprenticeship of observation” is so powerful. Unlearning is the act of letting go of ideas, beliefs, and practices we believed to be true, effective, and valuable. When presented with more compelling evidence for an alternative approach, we unlearn the previously held belief and replace it with a new belief. Years of watching disruptive kids be removed from class, conforming to threats of punitive consequences (e.g., your grade drops one letter grade for late submission), and expecting school success to be measured by compliance with rules, many future teachers struggle to adopt more equitable, intentional strategies focused more on teaching than on punishment. As I have become more intentional in implementing unteaching pedagogy in my courses and interactions with preservice as well as inservice teachers, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges we face in creating inclusive, accepting, responsive learning environments for learners and teachers.
In an attempt to “bridge the gap” (is this the most overused phrase in education?), I, along with my colleague and friend at James Madison University, Dr. Mira Williams, started a website with an intentional social media presence in an effort to make our own unteaching pedagogy and unlearning practice visible to other teacher educators, teachers, and learners.
Social Media As A Tool
We started by building a Facebook page for sharing blog posts and resources with a growing community of teachers. However, on advice from a trusted marketing expert/friend, we branched into Instagram. Do you know that there are thousands of teachers on Instagram who post about their lessons, their resources, their struggles, their wins, their processes, their thinking, and their outfits of the day? Neither did we. The hashtag teachersofinstagram has over 3.7 million posts as of today and the Instagram teacher leaders boast upwards of 40,000 followers. Where are teachers going to share resources, ask for support, get new ideas? Instagram.
Our site, @teachingisintellectual, attempts to provide bite size best practices to our small but growing community of followers. We use apps such as Word Swag and PicLab to create visuals in order to communicate an idea or to pique interest for a click over to the blog. We engage with the growing number of teachers we follow as well in order to contribute to the community and build relationships. We have learned so much about what teachers want support with, where they look for solutions, and how they challenge each other on matters of unteaching and unlearning simply by following, participating, and listening.
The culture of education dominating teaching Instagram is in many ways different than what those of us who no longer teach in PK-12 environments may believe. The #teachersofinstagram have taught us innovative classroom practices. For example, just this weekend, a third-grade teacher we follow on Instagram posted an anchor chart she made with her students about consent. The post has since gone viral and national news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC ran stories about her post. Popular education Twitter accounts have tweeted about it with many prominent voices in education boosting its’ reach. Teachers are using their social media presence to get the word out about their work. They are telling their own stories. We are simply listening. We then use our resources as partners to respond in ways that are useful and supportive of the unteaching and unlearning of flawed practices with a focus on replacing them with better strategies.
We aim to grow our reach in order to use our platform to inform our research but also to provide a hungry, deeply committed community of educators with the resources they are seeking to unlearn ineffective practices. Additionally, providing preservice teachers access to teacher leaders on social media who are making their innovative, creative work visible, shows what is possible. The #teachersofinstagram are modeling best practices in real time with real students in real classrooms. We believe partnering with these teachers and learning from them could be a critical 21st century step in bridging the much-talked-about research to practice gap.
So, I wrote a quick little response. It’s just a start.
Forget your privilege. You went to college, for many years, and many brilliant people helped you get where you are today. You are a college professor because your doctoral advisor saw potential in you, taught you the wily ways of academia while guiding your research, your writing, and your learning. Doctoral programs are an amazing opportunity to read, talk, learn, grow. You had that opportunity. You are undoubtedly changed from the experience. Yes, it was hard. Yes, you made sacrifices. Yes, you had uncaring professors along the way. But you had an opportunity that many only dream of. Never forget that.
You have also earned your degrees. You’ve secured that much sought-after tenure track/tenured position. You have accomplished so much. But can you really not remember what those undergraduate days were like? The stress, the lack of sleep, the bad food, the no money, the roommate stuff?
Require expensive books. Particularly when you then assign only two chapters. Choose accessible readings. Provide multitudinous means of accessing readings. Assign readings intentionally and engage students in applied learning to grow their surface understanding from the reading. You’re the expert. Teach.
Assume. Unless you have trust with your students, you can only assume you know nothing about their lived experiences.
Use Grades As Punishment. Grades should reflect progress toward mastery of content. Period. That’s it. That’s what grades are. Communication about learning. If you use grades to threaten, punish, or coerce students, you’re doing it wrong. Docking a letter grade for a late assignment is unethical. Maybe try asking the student why the assignment was late, or better yet, have a relationship with the student that allows her to come to you first.
Office Hours Only. You do know your students have full lives outside of your course, right? They have jobs, maybe kids and families, other courses, commitments, responsibilities. If you set your office hours at the time convenient for you and you are inflexible in meeting with students outside of that time, you are communicating that your time is more valuable than your student’s.
Think Your Time Is More Valuable Than Your Students’. It’s not.
Expect Students To Improve Without Feedback. Feedback is teaching – it’s an iterative process and, as the teacher, your participation is required. If you hand back papers with letters or points on the top, your students have no information about how to improve. Assessing learning is feedback for you on your instruction, your assignment, your students’ learning. Provide transparent feedback so your students can progress toward mastery of the content. Yes, it takes more time – it’s also your job, do it well.
Fail To Teach. Additionally, if students address you inappropriately in an email, provide them feedback to improve. As a female professor, I invariably get emails addressed to Mrs. Newton. I reply with a “Hi, Student, my name is either Dr. Newton or Jen once we’ve actually met in person.” Guess what. That’s all it takes. Rather than being frustrated or writing a heated, ego-driven post on social media, provide feedback, tell students what you expect, allow them to meet your expectations.
Waste Students’ Time. Busy work, extraneous readings, anything that does not result in extending students’ depth and breadth of knowledge, is a waste of time. Sure, you can assign anything you want, you can give students 10 points for bringing a dog to class and they will beg, borrow, and steal to get a dog, but what are you teaching? That teachers are manipulative and that learning is at least secondary to control. Use their time wisely.
Shame or Condescend Students. To colleagues, friends, on social media. Ever. Every time I see one of those “It’s on the syllabus” memes, I die a little inside. You are imperfect. You forget about the occasional faculty meeting, deadline, oil change. Hopefully, there are people in your life who help you out. Maybe you could be that person for a student. Yes, they’re imperfect. So are you. Choose empathy.
We know students don’t really read the assigned reading, right? There are loads of reasons for that. Textbooks are cost prohibitive, the reading is cumbersome, too long, irrelevant from the student perspective, it’s tedious . . . just to name a few. As instructors, we implement various strategies to encourage, incentivize, motivate/manipulate students into doing the reading.
I’ve done it.
Reading checks. Guided notes. Entrance tickets. Summary notecards. Come with three questions from the readings.
For a few semesters, I started off with reading checks that asked specific questions regarding the content from the reading. And graded them for accuracy. 3/5. 1/5. 5/5. Then, when my students learned that I was serious about reading checks and they came to class having read, I would give them a sheet of paper that said, “tell me your childhood pet’s name.” (I didn’t do this specifically. But I could have.)
Because the point is the reading, right? Not the reading check.
But by assigning point value to the reading check, that is why I was communicating was important. And I didn’t actually believe the reading check itself was important. I did more reading on the evidence and rationale in the “ungrading” model and decided to move my gotcha points into partnerships. This is where commitment logs were born.
Commitment logs are individual, self assessment accountability tools I use to engage students in their own learning. I set learning intentions and success criteria for the class session but I ask students to set their own learning intentions and success criteria for our time together. Sometimes students will write something like “I will stay awake for the whole class” or “I will learn three new things.” Wherever they are, I’m good with it.
It’s not fancy. It’s just an ongoing commitment to their learning, their own accountability. Because some days their heads and hearts are not in my engaging, brilliant pedagogy. And that’s okay. They set goals for themselves. And, more often than not, they exceed their goals. I think there is something to the act of writing it down, of focusing on an intention, that allows them to attend to their time in class with me a little differently. Reading checks never affected engagement. Commitment logs do.
At the end of class, they make an exit statement. They write about if they met their success criteria, why they did or did not, what they learned, remaining questions they have, concerns they experienced during class, anything they want. And I respond to every single one prior to our next meeting.
I did ask a midterm and final course evaluation question about the commitment logs. Students were overwhelmingly positive about the activity. Since, I respond to each person each week, I am also able to keep a quick record of our relationship as it develops, the student’s self perception and assessment, and concerns or questions that appear more than once across students. It has unexpectedly provided a relationship-building strategy as well.
I’ll post the blank document here for anyone who may want to try it. Let me know how it goes for you! How do you engage your students in their learning and in self assessment?
I have dreamed of this moment for seven years. A fantasy from 11th grade still replays itself in my mind with crystalline clarity: My first day of school as a teacher. I’m wearing all professional black clothes with my hair slicked back in a bun. I’m stricter than I need to be because I want my students to take me seriously. I’m cool and aloof and ooze authority and respect. I talk about learning and brain growth and the value of hard work until we suddenly have an inspirational “Dead Poets Society” moment. The students leave, backpacks slung over one shoulder, talking about how they can’t wait for tomorrow. They jump, fist in the air – and freeze frame!
My real first day was nothing like that.
When I realized that baseline data must be collected before I could implement any learning community activities as per my goal and research this year, I immediately accepted the fact that my students’ first day of class with me would be… unorthodox. I stood at the door as they walked in, asking each student to say their name as they wrote it down so that the first time I heard it would be the correct way to pronounce it. The first thing they saw upon entering the room was a sign saying, “Welcome to Physics! Grab a baseline survey from the Pick Up station (near the door) then take a seat and begin the survey.” Once the bell rang, they had seven more minutes to complete the survey before I gave my two minute introduction to myself and to the course. The rest of the class was spent doing a Group Juggle with squishy bird shaped toys in order to start getting the students comfortable and familiar with each other.
Collecting Baseline Data: An Abrupt Start
Norms and expectations are easiest to establish at the beginning of a group’s existence. That means that the best time for me to introduce the notion of a learning community was the first day of school. So, as unorthodox and abrupt as it sounds to have the students silently submit a ten-question survey about learning communities as soon as they walked in on the first day, it was a necessary action in order to get the least biased baseline data that I could. Well, if I had been more zealous in my quest for unbiased data, I probably could have covered up our giant community calendar and “Welcome to Our Physics Fiesta!” decorations but I put a lot of trust in the students being slightly too overwhelmed by their first day of school to be so analytical of the wall decor.
The baseline survey consisted of two free response prompts and eight Likert scaled prompts that asked students to circle a number between one and eight where one implied that they “strongly disagree” and eight meant that they “strongly agree”. Heather had given me some advice and information about the benefits of using more versus fewer and even versus odd numbers on the Likert scale. I decided upon a scale of eight quantitative points because an even number denies the students an opportunity to respond with a true neutral. I also chose eight points on my Likert scale because it would allow me more clarity into the differences in the students’ choices than a smaller number would while still remaining mangable for me to record by hand. With the prompts, I tried to tease out what students knew about community oriented learning and how they felt about it.
The Part With The Numbers
To record the data, I created a Google Sheet in which the columns represented each survey prompt and the rows represented each student’s responses. I included their name or initial in my Google Sheet so that I would have the opportunity to compare a student’s responses throughout the year. I made a separate page for each class period as well as one total group page. Google Sheets was helpful in that I was able to include a cell for each prompt that calculated the class averages and the grand total averages for that prompt. The prompts and their all-class averages are as follows:
- What the phrase “sense of community” means to me: (free response)
- I have experienced a sense of community in previous classes. (4.78)
- I like feeling a sense of community in my classes. (5.5)
- I learn better when I feel like I am a member of my classroom community. (5.48)
- I am familiar with the term “learning community”. (4.62)
- What “learning community” means to me: (free response)
- I feel confident in my ability to learn physics this year. (5.50)
- I feel confident in my ability to pass the physics course this year. (6.04)
- I believe that having a sense of community will help me succeed in the physics course. (5.88)
- I believe that participating in a learning community will help me succeed in the physics course. (6.09)
- I feel a sense of community with the people in this class. (4.71)
- People in (our school district) have a shared sense of community. (5.41)
Reflections and Analogies
I’m still processing the information. I’m still figuring out what the data implies and how the averages compare across the class periods. I’m still interpreting data and sorting through rumours of remarkably high failure rates last year and re-takers this year. I’m still hearing and reading comments from students who are terrified of physics and have a wide range of confidence in their abilities. While I’m chewing on my data like a cow on its cud, life in our classroom has moved forward at lightning speed. In the last two weeks, we’ve discussed the traits of a learning community; we have drafted, finalized, and displayed our top five community agreements; we have learned each other’s names; we have developed routines with daily greetings and exit tickets; we have helped each other review mathematics concepts; we have run through the halls in a particularly fun pursuit of problem solving; and yesterday, we decided to believe in the power of “yet” by turning around each sentiment in which we express doubt in our abilities. Gone are the days of “I can’t do math”, there is only room today for “I’m not good at physics yet.”
I, too, am taking on the power of yet. I’m on a steep, but manageable, learning curve when it comes to my lesson plans and preparing materials. While each day of class so far has left me in love with my new job and with the communities we’re building, I’m not quite at the level of preparation that I’d like to be… yet. I will get there, I know it. With practice and experience, I will leave behind twelve hour (or more) days at school. There will come a day when I have nearly everything for the next week planned and printed the Friday before. So too will the day come when I will write these blog posts when I mean to write them instead of a week later like I did with this one. I’m not too worried and I’m not letting any of these current slips or shortcomings overwhelm me with personal disappointment. Heather and I have talked about this project being my “lizard’s tail”- the thing you never want to drop, but can lose if necessary to survive. I’m nowhere near needing to drop my “lizard’s tail” but I’m glad to feel secure in my plans and priorities.
New teachers and veterans, what is your “lizard’s tail” this year?
What is your yet?