Posted in Personal Development

Independence Day

About two weeks before Christmas Break, I sought out the advice of a dear friend and colleague, who has been my independent school workplace ride-and-die since 1996, to help me to craft a workshop proposal for the school’s first Social Justice Day.  Although such school-based initiatives are often given the side-eye by me, I strived to go high, and not low; after all, it’s about the students.

Now, I am an experienced workshop presenter. Since 2008, I have delivered nine presentations – to adults.  On the other hand, the Social Justice Day would offer me the opportunity to present to students for the first time in my teaching career. And, to middle school students at that.  Needless to say, I was feeling nervous, and unsure of myself.

My dear friend and colleague and I arranged a day and a time to talk by telephone. Having worked with thousands of students – no exaggeration – he suggested resources for me to consider.  Although I had a working title and outline, I needed  help with filling in the proverbial blanks, or, what I would actually do for 60 minutes.

My dear friend and colleague offered resources and talking points for me to to consider, which did force me to consider the types of activities I could do with middle school students.  Still, the materials and activities, in my gut, didn’t feel right.  Especially for middle school students. I am not sure that I would have used the suggested materials and activities for adults – at least, not for a first workshop.  In fact, I would have to present a series of workshops in order to prep a group for what my dear friend and colleague recommended.

That evening following my conversation, I scoured the Internet for activities that I felt would be more appropriate.  NO JUICE.  Feeling discouraged, I tucked the project away.

Christmas came and went. The New Year came and went. Even Dr. King’s birthday came and went, and I still had not formulated a concrete workshop plan. And, my workshop proposal had, in fact, been accepted by this time.

Then, the proverbial moment of truth: The week of the Social Justice Day program.  In fact, on Wednesday of that week, a colleague – who was also scheduled to deliver a workshop – asked me  at lunch if I was ready. I said no.  I felt stuck in a paralysis of analysis, and was actually beginning to panic.

I came home from school on Thursday, and went straight to my bedroom for a nap.  I awoke  several hours later, at about 10:30pm, and realized to myself that I had a workshop to finish. I strangely felt like I was on auto-pilot, because after spending about 30 minutes scouring the Internet once again, I landed upon two icebreakers, as well as a lesson plan for the sort of workshop I desired to use with the middle schoolers. At 12 midnight, my workshop was finally finished. With the exception of the requisite butterflies in my stomach that I always get before a workshop, I felt confident about what I was going to offer to the middle school students.

The next morning, as I explained and guided the students through the activities, I knew  I had done the right thing, and had made the right decisions. The 14 students who had signed up for my workshop responded with such interest, engagement, enthusiasm and willingness to learn.  It was all that I had hoped for, and more.

So, why was this independence day for me? I have a great deal of love, admiration and respect for my dear friend and colleague. As a result, I was deeply conflicted by what he suggested. On the one hand, I felt obligated to follow his platform.  On the other hand, I knew it wasn’t the right way to go with the students in my charge.  This is not to say that I won’t ask my dear friend and colleague for advice on future projects; I will. Of course!  That being said, I realized that I don’t have to be afraid of going my own way, or, having apologize or explain or ask permission for my reasons for doing so.  I got free.

Posted in Learning and Development

Blizzard Bags

This post isn’t about blizzard bags specifically. On the other hand, for those of us who live and teach in geographical localities where harsh winter weather is par for the course for about 4 months out of the school year, and with the guarantee of a few days of cancelled classes, winter weather triggers the question as to how students will make up those missed days of learning.

Well, obviously, they can’t.  A bunch of photocopied packets of worksheets does not replace an 80-minute class.  I also don’t believe in assigning students work for the mere fact that they’re home, all day, and what else are they going to do, anyway frame of mind.

Given that many of my students are busy, sleep-deprived, and constantly teetering on the brink of illness, I tie off the missed class, and allow them to do whatever they want to do, without any interference from me.  Which, in my opinion, is what a true snow day from school should be.  At least, it is for me. Why shouldn’t it be for the students?

Having said the aforementioned, if the situation moves from one snow day to say,two or more, then I do need to assign some work. But, it’s rarely a worksheet.  And, I like worksheets. I do. I just view a series of snow days as offering more learning opportunities than that. Especially for acquiring Spanish.  And, especially for my advanced-level students.

So, my dear students, on this snow day: Rest up, eat up, and, get caught up, if needed. I will see you soon.

Posted in Miscellaneous

DON’T Say His Name

I actually had something else planned as a post.  However, I thought this one more relevant, given the times in which we are currently living.  This comes courtesy of a beloved and brilliant former student of mine. It was originally attributed to Robert Reich, but, according to a commenter, I was given this. I always strive to give credit where it is due, and am grateful to the person who commented.

Here it is:

1. Don’t use his name. (I refer to him as #45.)
2. Remember this is a regime and he’s not acting alone.
3. Do not argue with those who support him–it doesn’t work.
4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state.
5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
6. No more helpless/hopeless talk.
7. Support artists and the arts – especially the ones speaking for all of us.
8. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it before you share it.
9. Take care of yourselves.
10. Resist!
Copy / paste to your wall.
#passiton #eachoneteach100 #RESIST #putyourworkin

Posted in Personal Development

Closure? Really?

Closure is such an odd word to me.  When one closes something, like a door or a window, for example, the thing that we don’t want to get in, say, cold air, or, a loud conversation down the hall, doesn’t.  When we close that window or that door, that’s it; the thing we no longer wish to endure or tolerate is no more.

When we talk about situations of an emotional nature, on the other hand, what, exactly, gets closed? What is it that we don’t want to get in? What is it that we want to shut out?

When I consider the situations that I have endured in my life, closure isn’t exactly the moniker I would choose to use.  One actually needs the participation of another party to gain closure – to apologize, to own up to their mistakes, to try and make things right, to simply acknowledge that they hurt you.  I can honestly say that regarding the situations to which I refer above, with the exception of one, there was no closure.

Instead, life, hopefully, goes on. Which can take years. For the simple fact that in one’s attempt to heal, one is also trying to make up for what the other party didn’t do, or, wasn’t able to do, in the case of death.  But, I am talking about people who are very much alive, and, due to their own cowardice, or self-righteous indignation, or selfishness, or lack of accountability, or, all of the aforementioned, didn’t do their part.

So, I personally reject the term, closure.  Instead, I prefer to use two other words: move on.

 

Posted in Personal Development

Challenges

Have you ever participated in a challenge of some sort? For example, a fitness challenge, or, a beauty challenge, or, even a writing challenge?

From mid-October to mid-November, I participated in a 30-day hair challenge.  It is called The 30-Day Hair Detox Challenge.  You can read more about it here.

As with anything, The 30-Day Hair Detox Challenge had its pros and cons.

Let’s start with the pros:

  1. I have stopped using coconut oil, shea butter and castor oil – both as stand-alone products, and, as elements serving as the primary ingredients in the hair products I purchase.
  2. I realized the importance and necessity of clarifying my hair and scalp on a monthly basis, and sometimes, twice per month.
  3. I discovered some wonderful new products for my hair.
  4. I joined a fun, committed, welcoming and supportive community of natural hair enthusiasts.
  5. The owners of the program are responsive to answering questions, and providing assistance.
  6. I re-learned some basics about hair.
  7. I did improve my hair by arriving at a better understanding of the effect that certain ingredients can have on it.

Now, the cons:

  1. Perfecting the “wash and go” hair style seems to be the primary focus.
  2. My hair is currently a short Afro, or, more affectionately known as a “TWA” – teeny weeny Afro.  Therefore, much of the discussion re: hair styles and hair maintenance doesn’t apply to me.
  3. Not much guidance re: hair care for those of us who exercise regularly.
  4. Focusing on hair typing is discouraged.  I, on the other hand, feel otherwise.  For me, arriving at a better understanding of my hair type has helped me to become more responsive to its needs.
  5. Not much assistance for those of us suffering from extremely dry hair and single strand knots, i.e. how to hydrate and moisturize Afro hair beyond applying product to  soaking wet hair, and using styling gels, puddings and custards.
  6. Placing a sleep cap on my head when I shower did basically nothing to revive my hair, or to impart moisture, the day after a wash and condition, and beyond.
  7. I need and like to keep my hair neat. Applying styling product and not combing it for seven days is not a good look for me.

Although I still lurk on the Facebook group page from time to time, I recognized when the 30 days of the challenge concluded that I had not fully resolved my two main issues: extremely dry hair, and single strand knots.  And, when one’s hair is as described, one is led to purchase products that are much heavier than one’s hair actually needs in an attempt to combat the extreme dryness and the knots.

I kind of gave the hair project a rest during the holidays.  Mainly because I was at a loss, and, I had become weary of the whole thing.  But, as soon as the New Year arrived, I was back at it, and did, in fact discover some techniques that I am currently trying.  Actually, they are techniques that I had discovered back during the summer, but, for whatever reason, was hesitant to try.  They seem to be working, and my hair feels less hard and there are fewer knots.  I still have some distance to go, but, I think I am now on the right path.

I certainly don’t regret having participated in The 30-Day Hair Detox Challenge, and for the reasons I outline above.  However, I still wasn’t happy with my hair, and, I was not going to resolve its remaining issues had I continued to invest time, energy in money in wash-and-gos, which my hair doesn’t seem to really like, anyway.  I learned a lot about myself in relation to persistence, perseverance, and listening to and following one’s gut instincts.

Posted in Writing

Getting Into a Different Groove

I have decided to participate in the “My One Word” Challenge for 2017. My word is…positivity.  I chose this word because I felt that I needed to demonstrate greater appreciation and gratitude for the people, things and events in my life. But, I recognized that the energy which surrounds me needs to be healthy in order for me to demonstrate positivity; what we breathe in we also breathe out. For example, if much of what surrounds us is toxic, we become toxic, and exude toxicity.

Let me begin with the positive.  Twitter has allowed me to connect with some wonderful individuals, many of whom I like and care about, and with whom I enjoy conversing, to extent that one can on Twitter.  I even have had the opportunity to meet some of these lovelies in-person. Additionally, I have been afforded some equally wonderful professional opportunities, and have enjoyed participating in enriching Twitter chats, including my newest fave and one in which I am directly involved, #WomenEdUS. Last, I get much of my news, information and commentary from Twitter, and I learn tons.

Lately, however, Twitter for me has become more and more toxic, and less and less positive. Which is lowering my spirits, and stealing my joy, due to the toxicity that Twitter seems to be exuding more of.  Therefore, I have decided to limit my time on Twitter. Back in July of 2016, I engaged in some very deep reflection regarding Twitter, and my relationship with it.  I have been on Twitter for a long time – since 2008, to be exact.  At the beginning, Twitter was fun. It was like enjoying a good meal with well-liked co-workers. It was also far more enriching, nurturing, supportive, compassionate, and empathetic.  As the years have rolled on, I am finding Twitter becoming less of these things. In a word, Twitter has become a sort of vampire, sucking the life out of me intellectually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, as well as in terms of my time. And, none of these things contributes to positivity.

Now, I realize that I have recently returned from co-facilitating a workshop at a national conference on social networking and professional development.  I still maintain the positive power of Twitter for professional learning, networking and connecting.  And yet, I gotta keep it a buck, I gotta keep it 100: One has to decide how and to what extent Twitter, or, any social networking platform, for that matter, will meet his/her needs professionally.  Furthermore, one must always be ready, and educators, especially, to step back, evaluate and regulate accordingly.

On the one hand, I keep hoping that “a change is gonna come”, to quote the late great Sam Cooke. On the other hand, I think that Twitter as a platform for my needs has delved too deeply into the dark side. Moreover, I am realizing that my voice, my ideas and my writing will neither be developed nor amplified in a series of 140-character soundbites.

Therefore, I am re-dedicating myself to my blog, and to my writing, which is the other social networking platform my co-facilitator and I discussed at the conference.  And, I am going to engage in spaces  – whether online or offline – where I stand a greater chance of giving and receiving the things that are important to me and in ways that are positive.  In short, I am getting into a different groove.

Posted in Learning and Development

Who Are We There For?

Someone on Twitter this evening seemed surprised and confused by some statements I made re: students, classrooms, and teaching.

Teachers seem to think that saying that they are members of a shared learning community with their students makes all right and good with the world. And yet, it doesn’t.

Without question, I learn from my students; they teach me things. Every. single. day.

On the other hand, I create experiences that promote learning for my students.  And my classroom is the way it is – culture, climate, arrangement, activities, and the rest – in order to accomplish this end.

I mean, if I am not in the classroom for my students, who else am I there for?  Who else is there?

She then remarked, “It (your classroom) would be different?

I finally tweeted to her the following:

Of course. Think about it. If you were to create your ideal learning space, for you, wouldn’t it be different?

 

Posted in Learning and Development

What are we preserving?

Several days ago, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter with a fellow educator.  It all started when I saw this tweet.  Admittedly, I felt some sort of way about it. Which prompted the conversation.  It went as follows:

Me: “Doesn’t this come too little, too late?”

Fellow Educator (FE): “Maybe, but despair isn’t an option.”

Me: “My Dear Brother, who is not an educator, btw (by the way), said 20 years ago that public education in the United States will matter when it hurts enough.  Are we there?”

FE: “We are there, but the powerful are exploiting that and reveling in it. It’s very sad.Worse.”

Me: “I’m a 13-year product of public education.  Those years were good ones.  I was one of the lucky ones who received a good public school education.”

Me:  “On the other side of it, I am a 23-year career teacher in independent schools . Mediocrity exists there, too.”

At this point in the Twitter conversation, we discovered that we each have both public and private school connections.  It was cool to discover these parallels.  I then tweeted the following:

Me: “So, while this conversation is certainly about preserving public education, what, exactly, are we striving to preserve?”

FE: “What we are preserving is an excellent question for discussion.”

Me: “It’s a question nobody seems to want to ask.  Because nobody wants to answer it.”

I wonder, truly wonder, if the impending appointment of Ms. Betsy De Vos will force  us to confront the question, at long last, which aspects of public education we are striving to preserve.  Like all things, there is both good and bad in public education.  That said, will the fear and loathing that many are feeling for Ms. De Vos at this time convert into decisive action for improving public education? If so, how so?

It is true: I am an independent school teacher.  That said, and, as I was saying to someone just the other day, independent school education is only as strong as public education.  In other words, public schools educate the vast majority of children in the United States.  There aren’t enough independent schools to do the job, even if they were affordable.  And, on par, independent schools are not affordable.

Children need and benefit from quality public schools in their own neighborhoods and communities, and not the charter across town, or, the independent school an hour away.  Moreover, the creation of yet more schools – whether independent or charter – isn’t the answer, either. New schools don’t necessarily bring new solutions, or better teaching and learning.  Whatever it is we are seeking, it doesn’t seem we have found it.

Perhaps a simplistic question, but I will deign to ask it, anyway: Why can’t we renovate and innovate the public neighborhood schools we currently have? Ralph Tyler, an American educator, once said that change is homegrown. Thus, it’s not imported via a charter school conglomerate, and dropped into community for instant change, like food coloring is dropped into a glass of water.  We need to become more thoughtful, deliberate, and intelligent in our thinking.  But…can we do it? And, more importantly, will we do it?

 

Posted in Learning and Development

It’s About Relationships

Last week, I talked via telephone with one of my all-time favorite people in the whole wide world.  He is my mentor, sponsor, friend, colleague, co-conspirator, and, quite simply, all-around cool dude.  We have known each other since 1996, and were introduced by a mutual friend.  He’s supported and guided me through some pretty difficult situations. Through it all – the challenges, the phone conversations, the project collaboration, and, striving to create more just and equitable independent schools – he helps me to be better as a person and as a teacher, every time we speak.  But, more about him in a minute.

My school will hold an “equity and social  justice day” program in late January, and, there was a call from the committee of the same name to faculty in late November – November 30, to be exact – to submit proposals for workshops.  Well, it was now December 11th; I had just returned from Atlanta where I delivered a workshop at the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (NAIS PoCC), and, quite honestly, I was mentally and physically exhausted. All that being said, the deadline for submission, December 15, was fast-approaching, and, I needed to get something together.  However, I was stuck: On the one hand, I wanted to deliver something that focused on how we see, or more specifically, don’t see each other, with middle schoolers- grades six through eighth – as the focus audience. On the other hand, I was struggling with creating content. Specifically, how do I appeal to this particular age group in a way that is not only engaging but also would give them something on which to build?

Enter my fabulous friend and colleague: I sent him a quick email last Monday, to which he quickly responded. After going back and forth via email re: the day and time of the impending conversation, we decided to talk on Wednesday afternoon.

As my friend and I talked, he posed a question: Do we teach in a way that is predicated on relationships? A related question was: How can kids know each other if they don’t know themselves? This points to relationship with self first, and with others second.  How well do we, as teachers, actually help kids to do either of these things?  We then talked about invisibility, and the cognitive abilities kids develop when they know self and each other.

My friend emailed me some resources, and made some suggestions re: activities.  The workshop proposal, as well as the workshop itself, came together. Here is my proposal:

How do we make real connections with others? Through surveys, reflective writing, small-group work, stories, role-play, and case studies, we will explore invisibility as a form of bias.

I am still working on the specifics, but, I was finally able to assemble the words in order to frame what I want to accomplish, and how I want to accomplish it with the students. The workshop itself  will continue to unfold in the weeks ahead.

As a youth, it really did not matter to me how my teachers felt about me, or, how I felt about them.  In fact, I was rather indifferent to my teachers. After all, I was there to learn, and they were there to teach. Besides, I came from a loving, supportive, and structured home, and, quite frankly, had no expectations of my teachers for emotional support.

As a result of my own relationships with teachers, becoming the teacher that I am today has not emerged without a lot of pain, struggle, and deep self-reflection.  A case in point: During the 1999-2000 school year, when I landed at a new school following three years at my previous school, the upper school division head and I had many conversations about the topic of student-teacher relationships. Despite all of the time she spent with me, talking, I just wasn’t getting it. For me, my subject-area knowledge and expertise were the most important aspects. I finally asked the division head the following: “Which is more important –  my skill as a teacher, or, my relationships with students?”  For her, unequivocally, it was the latter.

Looking back almost 17 years later on those conversations, I realize now that the relationships I build and maintain with my students are the most fundamental. The fact that I see them, I hear them, I worry about them, and I hurt when they are hurting, enable me, in fact, to teach the skills and the content.  Moreover, in a strange twist of fate, it was the relationship that the division head strived to build and maintain with me and, it is the 20-year relationship that my friend and I have built and nurtured, that have allowed me to be seen, heard, worried about, and cared for.  It’s about relationships.

Posted in Writing

Connecting to One’s Voice

On Wednesday afternoon, December 7, I flew to Atlanta to attend the annual National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference, where I presented a workshop session on Thursday morning with my fabulous colleague, Sherri Spelic.  My other fabulous colleague, Chris Rogers, was unable to attend, but was with us in power.  Additionally, Chris contributed the inspirational and thought-provoking reading/pair/share activity in which attendees actively engaged. Speaking of attendees: there were approximately 30, more than I think either Sherri or I anticipated. Our workshop was entitled, “Blogging Beyond the Classroom: Online Engagement for Professional and Personal Growth.”

Upon returning to my school the following Monday, several colleagues asked the inevitable questions: “How was the conference?”, and “How was your presentation”? To which I responded, “Great!” and “Wonderful!” to both.  But, it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to sit down with a colleague at lunch that afternoon that the words to convey the experience came to me: Writing, and more specifically, writing via a blog, connects teachers to their voice.  This could not be more true for me as a Black teacher in an independent school.

Independent schools, by design, were created for the wealthy white elite – male and female alike, but mostly male – as islands of privilege, and incubators of racism and white supremacy.  To be certain, independent schools, for the most part, have been greatly transformed over the years to be more inclusive and diverse, and have taken up the banner of equity and social justice in a variety of ways. Still, privilege, racism and white supremacy are inherent in the culture of independent schools, and are elements which they must continue to dismantle.

For all of the many good things independent school teaching have afforded me for nearly 23 years, I also recognize that the culture and climate of independent schools can be especially challenging for people of color, both professionally and personally.  They become places where we are often unable to be real, to be authentic, and to speak our truths, which can prove intellectually, emotionally and spiritually damaging. As a counterweight to these challenges, writing for me is a sense-making tool: I am figuring things out, and reserve the right to be as culpable and as imperfect as any other human being. Additionally, writing has not only allowed me to speak my truth, but also to be heard, to be affirmed, to be healed, to be cleansed, and to be renewed.  It has allowed me to have a voice when I otherwise would not have one, and, in the process, to arrive at a new level of understanding. For nearly ten years, writing via my blog has connected and re-connected me to my voice, to my true and authentic self.

I hope that the workshop my colleagues and I delivered has inspired at least one attendee to begin to blog, or, to jumpstart an existing blog.  But, more importantly, I hope that at least one person was inspired to connect to his or her voice, for that one voice will touch many.