Small Steps to Become a Better Advocate for Social Change

I do not write this post as an expert.  Nor as someone who knows more than others.  Where there are areas that I feel I know some things, this is not one of them.  And yet, how many of us, and by us, I mean white educators, are trying to do better in our classrooms when it comes to creating an awareness of the world we live in.  Trying to be better educated so that my students can become better educated when it comes to social justice, equity, racism and a host of other systematic oppressions happening to many in our nation.  So this post has been percolating as I have been on my own journey to know more, to teach more, to learn and to stand up.  To be a part of the solution rather than just a part of the problem.  So please read this post as a starting point.  Please take these ideas and do something bigger, do something more, because that is what I am doing.  This is a just a beginning to change, a small step on a long journey.

So what I have done to get further on a journey of enlightenment and activism?

I have listened.

Because of my own inherent privilege.  Because of the color of my skin.  Because of where I live, my financial situation, and the fact that I have the ability to walk away from things that other people cannot, my job is not to speak right now, (although I guess you could say this blog post is speaking in some ways), but instead to listen.  To listen to those who know.  To listen to those whose voices have been silenced.  To listen to everything that is shared.

I have learned.

The job of others is not to educate me when I have questions.  I have a computer.  I have the time.  I have a vast social network of really brilliant people who share thoughts, articles, book, speakers, and anything else that might help educate others and so the least I can do is pay attention to what is shared.  To read what is out there.  To realize and to remember that there is so much to learn.  To remember that while this may feel like an educational quest of sorts for me, that for others this isn’t a choice of exploration but instead life.  That this is not about MY journey toward a better place of understanding but instead about the bigger journey of others.

I have found experts.

I am so grateful to all of the people who are out there for us to learn from.  Communities like Educolor, We Need Diverse Books, and Reading While White push my thinking and lead me down a rabbit hole of reflection and pursuit of more.  Fiercely intelligent women and men like Val Brown, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Cornelious Minor, Rafranz Davis, Shaun King, Debbie Reese and Rusul Alrubail push my thinking and lead me to others who I can learn from.  Find your own people to follow.  Find those that will push your thinking.  An event I excited about is the #CleartheAir chat happening on April 4th or the free EdCollab Spring Gathering happening on April 8th.   The reason I come back to the people I mentioned before is because they make me think about all the things I need to work on, not because they placate me and tell me I am doing a great job being an ally.  It is not the job of them to educate me, it is my job to be educated.  So join the conversations but listen first.

Stay.

Don’t walk away from hard conversations.  Don’t block people who point out your mistakes.  Don’t react in anger.  Learn something.  Read the uncomfortable.  Realize your own shortcomings. You will be embarrassed at your own ignorance, you will get upset, you will feel like you are right and others are wrong.  Just stop.  Reflect.  Then learn something.  This is bigger than me.  This is bigger than us.

Critically evaluate your curriculum.

I work for a district that gives us an immense amount of freedom to create relevant learning experiences.  I am grateful for that.  That also means that we can tear apart the curriculum we teach.  So examine what you are teaching, how you are teaching and look for hidden biases.  Look for your own assumptions.  If you are teaching history, which I think we all do in some way, whose history are you teaching?  Who is being represented as normal in your classroom?  Who is the status quo?  No curriculum should get a free pass because it is a tradition or because it is not that bad.  Start with tomorrow’s lesson and take it day by day; what is the story being told, how are people represented?

Create a chance to learn.

I think our students deserve to have a chance to formulate opinions about the world we live in.  My job is not to shape the opinions of my students, but instead to offer them a chance to create opinions.  Even in polarized communities, and perhaps particularly in those, we should be looking at bringing in the hard conversations that are happening around us.  So, find a way to weave the stories out there.  If you have to teach compare and contrast; why not compare and contrast opposing media sources?  If you have to teach how to annotate, why not annotate articles that have to do with the travel ban?  Think of the ways you can bring in current and relevant topics so that students can be educated on them and shape their own view. Otherwise, our silence speaks volumes.

Bring others in.

There are many reasons I love Skype or other technology but one of the biggest is how it allows me to bring other people into our classrooms to speak to the students.  Right now our world seems driven by fear of “others” and so utilizing technology we have an opportunity to bring those “others” into our rooms.  If students live in a predominantly one-faceted community, speak to experts that do not share their same experience.  If students have biases, bring in people who break those stereotypes.  While it is not the job of others to educate us, create opportunities for your students to interact with classrooms that do not mirror their own experience through globally collaborative projects like The Global Read Aloud or any of the ones found here.  We cannot stay afraid when we are educated.

Critically evaluate your classroom library.

Just like your curriculum establishes the norm so do the very books kids read.  It is not enough to have diverse books if they only feature books that show one or two experiences of others.  It is not enough to have books that only highlight certain aspects of a culture.  I wrote about how I assessed my own classroom library here, but it is bigger than that.  Buy #OwnVoices books, speak up for better diversity in publishing.  Spend your money supporting authors and illustrators who are typically underrepresented and then share those books with your students and others.  Amplify and continually push your own thinking on what makes a quality book.  Be critical as you read books yourself and ask what message they tell kids.

Speak up.

I am now contradicting myself because I just said to stop speaking, but there is an area where we need to speak up right away; the critical underrepresentation of POC as speakers, authors, leaders, and even teachers.  If you are at a conference where the line up is all white; ask questions, raise a ruckus.  Look at authors getting deals, being represented, being featured – who is getting the attention?  Same thing goes for in your own district; is there a plan for attracting POC to teach in it?  Is there any sense of urgency?  If not, create one.  Our schools, our conferences, our learning opportunities should reflect the diverse society we live in, not the whitewashed one that is currently portrayed.  So use the platform that has naturally been handed to you as a white person and use it for good.

There is so much more to be done.  There are so many things I still have to learn.  There are so many mistakes I will still make as I try to grow myself, lord knows, the road is long ahead.  But I hope that these few things I have shared here can offer you a place to start, some people to follow, some things to read.  I urge you to go on this journey; our students deserve it and so do our own children.

 

On Hygge and What It Really Is

I am not wearing wool socks right now.

There are no lit candles in my classroom.

I am not smothered in blankets, nor playing a board game with a loved one.

I am not slowing down, nor contemplating life.  I have not cooked an elaborate breakfast before I started my day.

And yet, “jeg hygger” right now in my classroom.  The morning is quiet and dark, I am content, I have my tea and a new day awaits.

This past year, it has been interesting being a Dane outside of Denmark.  It seems as if everywhere I go, my entire culture has been distilled into one word, “Hygge.”  (Not pronounced hoo-ga by the way.)  Strangers have asked me for tips, my friends have shared their own experiences, and I have smiled, laughed and tried to explain that hygge and being “hyggelig” is not something you create meticulously.  That yes candles may be a part of it and so are warm blankets and fires and laughter and love and books, don’t forget about books.  But if you think that that is what hygge is, then you are sorely missing the point.

As the elements of hygge have been sold to the world, they have become just another form of cultural appropriation.  There are, indeed, practical explanations for most of them; we wear warm socks in winter because it is cold, drafty, and sometimes dreary during our dark winters.  Candles are for reminding us of the sun which we don’t see for long stretches of time during those same months.  Books are because Denmark believes in an educated populace and so we have amazing libraries all around our country.  Growing up we played board games because we didn’t have devices and we had very few channels on TV.  Cooking together was much more economical and practical than eating out.

So what is hygge, in the eyes of this Dane?  It is hard to say, although I have been asked to explain before.  Hygge just is.  But perhaps part of what it is can be said like this; it is a state of contentment.  Of being at peace with yourself and others, even if just for small chunks of time.  Of being in the now, whatever the now is.  Of comfort when the elements seem rough, but also about not taking yourself too seriously.  About gentle when you need to be. About love.  About togetherness even if you are alone.

So before you try to create an atmosphere of hygge, before you make your life overly complicated searching for an elusive state of something; don’t be fooled. Look around, check yourself; are you content?  Are you happy?  If yes, then you may already have mastered the art of “hygge” and you didn’t even need to wear warm socks.

 

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Oskar and I reading a book together in our messy living room – this was hyggeligt

 

 

 

On Turning Older

 

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Birthday card from a student today – one year closer to death, I love it 

 

I turned 37 today.

Every year I receive an email from myself on my birthday, a letter from the previous birthday reminding me of what is important.  Asking myself the questions we tend to ponder when our birthday rolls around and our own mortality becomes more apparent.

This year I noticed the pattern; are you slowing down?  Are you relaxing?  Are you eating better?  Are you exercising more?  Like the ghosts of long lost new years resolutions, my birthday letters have become reminders of what I should be doing but don’t.

As I see my children grow older, I feel my own years adding up.  I don’t feel old, but I know in the eyes of my kids, I have never been young.  I have never been a teenager, nor an early twenty-something who had no idea what her future would hold.  Instead,  I have always been Mom, someone who seems to have many things to do and who sometimes raises her voice or is tired. Who sometimes misses that amazing dance move or that quiet moment playing.  Who sometimes tries to be everywhere at once and thus ends up being nowhere.  Who never misses the big moments, but is sometimes absent from the small.  Who carries more guilt about how she uses her time than should be allowed for anyone.

And so as I drove home this evening after a day of celebration, it struck me that perhaps I am going about this whole life thing a little bit wrong.  That perhaps it is not about changing habits, although, I should do all of those things, that perhaps it is, instead, about changing my attitude.

Perhaps the change I need to make this year is not to do less work, but instead to enjoy the things that I do more.

Perhaps it is not to slow down, after all, when does that really work for most people, but instead to live in the moment of what I am doing and find pleasure in that.  Because is it not in the mundane details that our lives are lived?

To stop feeling so guilty and instead embrace the things I am doing rather than pining away for the ones I am not.

So for the year ahead, I will enjoy more.  I will not try to fight the battle against time or carry the guilt of all of the habits I cannot seem to change.  I will find the pleasure in what life has to offer, even the details we seem to never notice and be at peace with that.  Be at peace with myself.  That is the gift I can give myself right now.  And for right now; that will be enough.

 

 

Introducing Passionate Readers – My New Book

When I moved to 7th grade English, I didn’t know how much this change would affect me.  How I would spend more hours than I had ever spent trying to help all of my students like reading more.  How their reading truths would shape me as a teacher.  How there would be lost sleep, but also triumphant moments of knowing that what we did together made a difference to a kid.  That what we did together meant that a child might actually keep reading or even start back up.

I have shared our experiences here.  I have spoken about it wherever I have been invited.  I have taken the words of my students and held them up for others to learn from because they have taught me so much.  Through their insight, I was able to become a better teacher, even if I still don’t have all of the answers.

And so I wrote a book.  A book to hold all of their ideas.  A book to hold all of mine.  A book to take the ideas of others that have pioneered better reading instruction and meshed it with what we are asked to do within our English instruction, within our 45 minutes, within the confinement and the pressure we feel.  And I asked a woman I admire so much if she would read it and possibly write the foreword.  I couldn’t believe it when Donalyn Miller said yes.  After all, her groundbreaking book The Book Whisperer is one of the books that gave me the courage to change in the first place.

I have poured every ounce of truth that my students gave me into this book and this book is now ready for the world.  Or, almost ready.  With a release month of July or August – the book is written and now I am ready to reveal its cover.  So world; meet the book that I hope helps others.  Meet the book that I hope will be inspirational for those who need it.  Meet the wisdom of the kids from room 235D and may their words be a light for you as they were for me.  To pre-order your copy, go here.  

Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child (Paperback) book cover

 

The February UnSlump Yourself Challenge

Aah February; a month of love, of reading, of waiting for spring if you in the Northern Hemisphere.  While February may  be the shortest month of the year sometimes in teaching it can feel like the longest of them all.  While I love this month for the work I can do with my students, I find that sometimes the dark nights and cold Wisconsin winters can be positively slump inducing.  Rather than dread the slump, why not do something pro-active?

So this year I plan on doing my very own unslumping challenge and you are more than welcome to join me.  Every day for the month of February, I plan on doing something to either reinvigorate myself or make a difference to others.  It will not cost me much money but will hopefully instead lead to a deeper level of gratitude for the incredible job I have, the amazing students I get to teach, and the wonderful people in my life.

Here is what I plan on doing – to see the document, go here 

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I will be introducing this in the Passionate Learners book club as well if you would like to have a community to unslump yourself with.  To join, go here.  And remember; we choose how we feel about our days, even when we feel the influence of others. Here’s to an amazing February.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Portals We Create – A Guest Post for The Nerdy Book Club

I have loved The Nerdy Book Club for many years.  How can you not?  To find a community online of such amazing people is not something that happens often.  So I am honored to share part of the guest post that they featured yesterday, a day that marked marches all over the world standing up for our rights.   Please make sure you go to the site to see the rest, subscribe to the blog (it gets delivered right in my mailbox) and then sign up to be a guest blogger.  They are always looking for stories…

I don’t remember the first time someone told me I should be fired as a teacher in response to work my students had done.  I know it was several years ago.  I remember the fear though, how it felt like a bucket of water was thrown in my face.  Here I thought we were doing good work, and yet others vehemently disagreed.  I was not fit to be a teacher, couldn’t my district see that?

I do remember the most recent time I was told I should be fired.  The internet has a way of bringing hate into our lives, whether we ask for it or not.  It was in response to a video that Microsoft had produced surrounding an exploration we had done as a class.  For several weeks we had investigated the refugee crisis all in an attempt to come up with our own opinion on what the role of the United States should be in it if any.  My 7th graders had dug in with gusto, using the skills that we incorporate on a regular basis to disseminate the information they were uncovering.  They used all of those skills we teach our students when we ask them to read closely, to questions, to clarify, and to create opinions all of their own.  Microsoft created a short two minute video about our work and highlighted how we had reached out to a refugee, an amazing woman named Rusul Alrubail, who is an Iranian refugee living in Canada and changing the world herself.  She had graciously shared her story with us via Skype, the students had had so many questions.  She happens to be Muslim, as are many of the refugees from Syria, a fact that many commenters could not get past.

As the video was posted I saw the comments roll in.  Some were grateful to the learning opportunity my students had had, but some were not.  I was an example of everything that is wrong with our society.  I was indoctrinating.  I should be fired.  How dare I expose them to Islam?  I felt fear for the first time in a long time; even though the logical part of me knew I had done nothing wrong, but what if “they” came to my school?  What if “they” came to my house?  When people hate they do it to hurt, they do it to make others afraid, and for a brief moment in time, they succeeded.  I was afraid for my job, for my family, for myself.  But then I scrolled further down and a comment caught my eye.  It was from one of my students telling someone that they had no idea what they were talking about.  That they would know if they were in our classroom that I do not tell my students what to think, but instead just ask them to think, to have an opinion, to figure out the world because this is the world they will inherit.  In that moment, I stopped being afraid, because if my 7th grader could have that courage.  If my 7th grader could find the words to push back.  If my 7th grader felt that they had the right to educate, then I certainly did too.

To read the rest of the post, go here

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.