On Hard Conversations and Having Courage

I am so white I am like a caricature of whiteness.  You see me coming; blonde, blue eyes, tall, my Viking heritage directly responsible for the four blonde children that cruise around with me in our mini-van while we bungle the words to Despacito.  I was born white, it is who I am, but I am on a journey to use my innate privilege to be something more.  Not just an ally, but a fighter.  Someone who doesn’t just shut the door when the going gets tough but leaves it wide open.

We live in a neighborhood that does not mirror us.  It is through circumstance we came to it but by choice that we stayed.   Living among other cultures, races and identities have brought many questions to our dining room table.  Questions that were hard for us to navigate with our young children, questions who pushed our own thinking.  I shudder to think whether these questions would have been posed by my children if we did not live here.  And so I think of the choices we, as white people, make as a privileged society to keep our lives homogenous.  How we live in neighborhoods where people look like us, we send our kids to schools where they float in a sea of whiteness, we not only elect people whose values mirror our own but so do their faces.  I can choose to step away from racism.  I can choose to step away from inequity discussions.  I can choose to step away from anything that may be upsetting, dangerous, or demoralizing.

I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to discuss inequity.  If I continue to discuss racism. If I continue to discuss what it means to be privileged in my classroom.  I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not.  But the truth is, there should be no choice.  We, as teachers, are on the front lines of changing the future narrative of this country.  Ugliness and all.  We are the bastions of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

I saw this tweet from ILA

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and it has kept me up at night.  Where are the white allies?  Where have I been?  Have I done enough?  Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling a racist and prejudiced system?  It is not enough to have diverse books in our classrooms if we are too afraid to discuss diversity and what the lack of humanity for others does to our democracy.  It is not enough to say “You matter” and then do nothing to change the world that we live in.  Or to celebrate diversity and then not accept a child for who they truly are, differences and all.  It is not enough to say we are an ally if our actions don’t match our words.   I don’t need 100 clones of me, I need to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.   To offer them an opportunity to decide.   To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion.  Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So this year I am planning for even harder conversations.  I am planning on being an ally, for being a fighter, even when I get scared.  We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers?  I am so white, I am like a caricature of whiteness, but perhaps even this white person can make a difference by not being so afraid.  By listening, by asking questions, and by doing more than just saying that this world is filled with wrongness.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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Audience Wanted for Elephant & Piggie Performance Videos

The students have been hard at work figuring out how to be better speakers and they are now ready to show the world.  Next week, my students will be performing Elephant & Piggie stories to their peers while I record them. We are looking for other classrooms to view some of these recorded performances and rate them using a simple form.  Classroom audiences can be any grade as these are picture books being performed but we would especially love K-3.  While students appreciate the feedback I give them, they really need a bigger audience than just their classmates and me to grow as real speakers.

If you are interested in perhaps viewing a few, please fill out the form below.  You can view just one or as many as you want, what matters is the feedback!  You will have a few weeks turn around, so feedback will be due by the end of April or so.  I will email you further details once the videos go live.  Thank you so much for considering helping out these amazing 7th graders.

Books That Teach Us About the Experience of Refugees and Immigrants

This year in English we have really been focused on learning about others.  Others whose life experience may be so very different from our own.  Others who have so much to teach us. Others who some may tell us to fear.  So our collection of chapter books and books have grown with a focus on breaking down biases and broadening understanding.  I, therefore, thought that it would be helpful for others to see which books have helped us do just that.  Many of these books have been on other lists that I have posted, but there are a few new ones.

Picture books

What’s in a name?  As educators, we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.  What happens when a family chooses to move to the US and all of a sudden does not fit in anymore?

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat (Author), Leslie Staub (Illustrator) brings us the story of a little girl’s longing for her mother as they are separated.  The mother has been sent to a detention center and does not know what will happen to her.

Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, and sharing the story of why some people have to flee, this is another must-add to your collection.

In The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman a boy is not sure how to make a connection with others.  That is until he is given seeds and he has an idea of how to make this new gray city more like home.

What happens when a father and his young daughter set out toward the border?  In 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.  This is all about finding the beauty in someone else’s culture.

 Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh.  This allegory tells the tale of Pancho who is waiting for his father’s return from the north.  When Papa doesn’t show up as expected, Pancho is determined to find him.  The author, Duncan Tonatiuh, is a Global Read Aloud contender for picture book study.
 In Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say I am reminded of how split we can feel when we belong to two countries.  Beautiful and still relevant more than twenty years after its release, this is a wonderful way to discuss what it means to feel home.
 Sometimes the books that tell us the most do not even have words.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan wordless graphic novel/picture book is one that will mesmerize readers.

Chapter books

My Lesson Plan to Teach the #Muslimban

We were supposed to do an end of semester reflection tomorrow.  To update our reader’s notebooks.  To start our next exploration; the reading identity challenge.  We were supposed to follow my planned out days moving us along the path I have laid out for the next four weeks.  And then Friday happened and Trump signed another executive order, this one banning certain nationalities from entering the United States and stopping all Syrian Refugees from coming.  And so as Smokey Daniels has said the world is handing us curriculum and I am taking it.

Tomorrow my students will not go through our Monday routine but will instead be will instead be asked to read, to watch news clips, crowdsourced here from both sides of the issue.  They will be asked to pick what they want to read and what they want to watch.  They will then be asked to formulate an opinion about what is happening and discuss it with each other.  Their opinion is welcomed, no matter what it is.  There is not an answer they are supposed to come to.

Some have asked whether I am afraid of what others may think teaching this topic, but I am not.  This is not my attempt to sway them in any way.  In fact, it is not my job to tell them what to think, they have already proven themselves quite capable of thinking for themselves.  It is not my job to indoctrinate nor turn them into a copy of me.   It is my job to make them aware of what is happening in the world. To help them find credible information so they have something to base an opinion on.  To offer them an opportunity to critically reflect and discuss their thoughts with others.  That is what we do as teachers.

So tomorrow we will not just go about business as usual.  I will not follow my lesson-plan, I hope you won’t either.  Instead I will acknowledge that right now history is unfolding around us and the least we can do is to help students make sense of it all through in-class discussion.   Through investigation.  Through community and questioning.  I have said it before; our students are the unwritten history of this nation, what will their pages say?

PS:  Someone asked whether I would provide my students more background knowledge; they already have it due to the three week long project they did in regard to the refugee crisis in the fall.  However, I may show them the first few minutes of this PBS video or continue to keep an eye on News-O-Matic and Newsela to see what they post.

Please add your resources to the Google Doc as well.

 

3 Questions to Ask for a Critical Re-Evaluation of Your Classroom Library

“Really, Mrs. Ripp, another book about Civil Rights?” Spoken by one of my African American students as I pulled out the picture book I intended to use in our mini lesson.

Another book about Civil Rights….

His words followed me all of the way home.  Not because I was worried he didn’t know enough but because of what had followed those first words.

“You always pick those books…”

And he was right.  In my eagerness to embed more knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement into our mini lesson on advice from older characters, I wasn’t thinking about his representation to the rest of our mostly white class.  How once more what I showcased only supported a familiar narrative.  His words prompted a realization that seemingly the only picture books I used or that we even had in our classroom library featuring African Americans in them had to do with either slavery or Civil Rights.  Not every day life.  Not non-famous African Americans.  Just those two topics.  This realization has shaped a lot of my book purchasing decisions as of late and just how much work I still have to do.

I have been focused a lot on diversity of books, it’s hard not to when our world seems to need understanding, empathy, and fearlessness more than ever.  While our classroom library has been ever expanding with more diverse picks, I have realized through the help of my students that diversity is not enough.  That simply placing books that feature anything but white/cisgender/Christian characters in them is not enough.  It is a start, sure, but then how do we go further than that?

We ask ourselves; how are characters represented?

Prompted by the comment from my student, I now look for how characters of any race/skin color/culture are represented in all of our books.  Is everyone represented?  Even sub-groups that my students may not even be aware of?  Are we only showcasing one experience?  Are we only highlighting the famous people of that sub-group?  Are we only representing one narrative of a group of people that live a myriad of narratives?  My own ignorance has often led to blunders, such as the one described here, but I can do better. I can make sure that the books I bring in lead to realizations and understanding about others, not more of the same.

So don’t just ask who is represented, but ask how are they represented?  How would I feel if my own children were represented in this way?

We ask ourselves; do we have #OwnVoices authors represented?

The #OwnVoices hashtag is one I have been paying attention to as I look at the diversity of our classroom library and even on my own reading experiences.  Started by Corinne Duyvis the hashtag focuses on recommending books written/illustrated “about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups.”  That is why I know Google who the author is and what their background is as I decide on placing a book in the library.  That is why I read blogs like Disability in Kidlit  (soon to be shut down which breaks my heart), follow Reading While White which had an entire month dedicated to OwnVoices books,  and also try to educate myself on what is out there.  If we want true representation in our classrooms then we have to do the legwork to make sure all marginalized groups are represented in the books we share with students.

So don’t just ask do I have broad representation in characters, but ask do I have broad representation in authors/illustrators?

We ask ourselves; how are books highlighted and selected?

Gone are the days where I haphazardly selected books to put on display or book talk.  Now my displays and selection process takes a little bit more time; which books are put out to grab for students?  What do the covers look like?  Who are the stories representing?  I also do not “just” put African American books on display for February to celebrate Black history month, but have them out all of the time.  My students should be immersed in a diverse reading experience at all times, not just in carefully selected months.

So don’t just grab a few books to put out because they are new; grab books that will offer students a wide reading experience and will expose them to new authors/titles that will broaden their own world.  Do not reserve diverse texts for a few months but have them on display at all times.

While I have grown, I have a long way to go.  My wish-list of books right now are a few hundred titles deep, especially as I focus on the sub-groups that are severely underrepresented in our library.  I am still educating myself, seeking out new titles, and seeking out those that know more than me.  If you want to see books that are getting added to our classroom library, follow me on Instagram as I share all new titles there.

One picture book that I urging every one to read and buy is this one

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When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Fleet.  

From Amazon:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

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.

With Just One Simple Tool…

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“This is nothing special…”

“Others have done this better…”

“Who am I to share…”

How many of us have thought or even spoken sentiments such as these as we have published our ideas, spoken up at staff meetings, or even invited a colleague in.  The imposter syndrome is real and I think many of us live it.

While we can all agree that we should know better, sometimes our own voice shouts louder than those who are thankful for the ideas we share.  This is how I felt writing my new book, Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration.  Who was I to share on global collaboration?  Who was I to tell others how they could integrate technology in a seemingly more meaningful way to empower their students? Who was I to say that I knew something about this, after all, I am not the only one doing just this.  And yet…

We are never the only ones doing something.  There are very few original ideas in the world.  Instead we live in a world that creates off of each other, that shares wildly so that more good can come of it.  Integrating technology tools to create more meaningful experiences seems easy because it is.  We do not need millions of dollars worth of new technology to collaborate with the world, that just makes it easier, instead what we need are just a few simple tools.

So you start with Twitter…

Perhaps it is a classroom account, perhaps it is your own personal one.  You create purposes for the tweets you send.  For example, when a child finishes a book, you search to see if the author is on Twitter and then you send them questions, compliments, perhaps even needle them for  some sequel information.  Imagine the deeper understanding that happens when a child realizes that this author is a human being who has more thoughts they would like to share.  Even if the author doesn’t reply you can still see what they tweet about and discover a whole new dimension to them.  Sometimes helping a child get hooked on a book happens after they have read it and they all of a sudden see the person being the experience they just had.

Or you go to Twitter and you ask for people to become your audience for something your students have created.  Perhaps they are speeches, perhaps they are nonfiction picture books, perhaps you need others to Skype in live to be judges for a poetry slam.  Whatever it is, you ask for others to sign up and they agree.  Or you go to Twitter and you invent a hashtag surrounding a common purpose like Karen Lirenman and her students did when they asked others to take a picture of the view out of their classroom window and share it with the world.  People did and her students learned that our views look quite different.

Perhaps you ask others what the temperature is.  Perhaps you ask others to be your editors.  Perhaps you create a story only told through tweets.  Perhaps you ask for experts to connect with your classroom so that your students can understand something more deeply.  Perhaps you ask for help in solving a challenge or ask for a recommendation or send out challenge questions to others.  Perhaps you ask for a longer partnership to occur between your classrooms because so many other people out there are probably teaching the same curriculum as you are.

Perhaps Twitter is not your tool of choice.  Perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or scary, or perhaps you are not quite sure how to use it.  That is okay too.  This is not a post heralding the power of Twitter, instead this is a post talking about connecting with others.  Because this is what is easy in regard to global collaboration; finding others.  But you won’t know that until you start asking.

So find your tool and find out how you can make what you are already doing more meaningful, more powerful, more engaging for the kids you teach.  How can you give them the power to connect with others so that they can see the relevance of the work they do?  How can you impact the world, but even more importantly, how can the world impact your students?

We speak of creating more empathetic human beings, of the power vested in us as the creators of the future.  We speak of creating deeper learning opportunities but then run out of time when it comes to bringing the world in.  We run into filters and restrictions.  We run into our own nervousness, our own fragility when it comes to taking risks.  But I am here to tell you; embedding global collaboration throughout what you already do is not hard, it may take time, and thought, and planning, but doesn’t all great teaching?  So pick a tool, look at what you already do and ask; how can bringing others in make this better?  What can others bring to this process to make it more meaningful?  Then trust yourself and try.  You will never look back once you do.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.