Eating Like a King

As much as I love being an educator, really and truly my greatest joy is being a mom to my four awesome boys. They can frustrate me and tire me at times, but they also amaze me, make me laugh and remind me of how great the smallest things in life can be. One of the things I love to do for them is pack their lunches. Yep, they’re old enough to do it themselves, but I love picking each item and finding new things they might like for lunch. I love that they open their lunchboxes in the afternoon and are reminded in that small way how much they are loved.

Riding home tonight with my 12 year-old, he once again  touched my heart and made me laugh. He is so good at making us laugh….

12yo: Thanks for the chili in my lunch today, Mom. It was really good. I sprinkled some of the cheese you gave me on there. My friend really likes cheese and he was hungry. So I let him have the rest.

Me: Well that was very nice of you to share, sweetie.

Devin: Yeah, it’s funny. The kids who have parents who pack their lunches always seem to have enough food. But my friends who pack their own lunch or buy school lunch, they’re always still hungry.

This led us to a discussion of how some houses don’t have as much food as ours and how many families depend on the school lunch because of that. He sat back for a moment and took it all in, shaking his head to show he understood.

After a moment or two of quiet, he said “Yeah, I realize I pretty much eat like a king”.

Oh, that boy! :-)

Please Let There Be School!

I live in central North Carolina. Numerous jokes abound about how winter weather-namely in the form of snow and ice- can shut down the South. And it can. The infrastructures just aren’t set up for it and I’m fairly convinced that we only own about 3 snow plows for the entire state.

The past two weeks have seen our students attending school for 1.5 days. Yes, 1.5 days out of 10. My 2 boys still here at home and in school have watched movies, televisions shows, played in the snow, read, played on the computer, played indoor basketball and just about driven each other crazy at times. My oldest who is out of school this year, has sequestered himself in his room when he is home to avoid all us pesky folks who have been hanging out cramping his style. My other son was home last week as his residential high school was on trimester break. So it has been a house full of boys!

Our little gravel country road is still a mess of snow and ice. It never sees direct sun, so until it warms up for several days, it will stay that way. Tonight the phone rang and it was the school’s number. My heart stopped for a moment and I immediately thought “Please let there be school tomorrow!” I don’t just want my children out of the house (okay, maybe a little :-)). I want them to go learn. Not that they can’t do that here. But they actually enjoy the world that is school. They have great teachers. They are social beings. They play sports. We’re ready for a return to our regulary scheduled programming here.

As I see pictures (and Facebook posts) from the midwest and northeast, I realize how lucky we are that it has just been two weeks of this. I’m sending warm thoughts to my friends in far more wintry places. But, I’m still ready to send my kids to school tomorrow. Thank goodness for teachers! :-) I bet there are a lot of parents in a lot of places who appreciate us a little more after numerous snow days. That alarm tomorrow morning will be a sweet sound!

Are We Having the Right Conversations?

I came across the piece I wrote a while back. It is resonating with me today, so I thought I’d throw it out into the world again as I continue to think about these important ideas…

Closing the Achievement Gap: Are We Having the Right Conversations?

This year marks my twenty-second year as an educator. I’m hard pressed to remember a time when the phrase “closing the achievement gap” was not present in my every day reality. The phrase has compelled us to disaggregate data, examine curriculum, create programs , buy programs created for us, delineate the difference between “equal” and “equitable” and define how to insure no child is left behind as we race to the top. Some gains have been made. And, yet, we still have not closed the gaps between our white students and our students of color across the board.

As I ponder this reality and I talk to parents, students, teachers and school staff, I find myself asking “are we having the right conversations?” Often, when we talk about student achievement, we disaggregate the data, come to a conclusion such as “Our students of color are not doing well in reading.”. Then our response becomes ‘Let’s develop curriculum/buy a program,” which we do. Then we disaggregate the next year’s data only to find any gains made are minimal at most.

Over the last eight years of my career, I’ve spent less time worrying about what program to use and more time directly asking my students what schools can do to help them be academically successful. The students’ responses confirm what I found myself asking. We aren’t having the right conversations or drawing the appropriate conclusions. When the students share their insights, much of it focuses on school attitudes and environment. The classrooms where they feel successful and exhibit academic success are classrooms where teachers greet them at the door, know their names and something about them as individuals, connect learning to their lives and to the larger world and classrooms where teachers address issues of race. It’s only after students talk about these aspects of the classroom that they begin to address the topic we typically focus on- curriculum.

So, why aren’t we having the right conversations, then? Honestly? For me, it’s been about 1) not knowing what I don’t know and 2) being a little scared of the conversations. There’s very little in our teacher education training that prepares us to talk openly and honestly about race or to even understand we should be talking about it. And once we are in the profession, our professional development focuses on our specific content area or the larger initiatives mandated by governmental and institutional bodies. So, how can we be better prepared to have the conversations we need to have? As a literacy educator, I believe strongly in the power of research and reading! Here’s a list of some of the books that have helped me on my journey to a better understanding of what I need to do as an educator to insure the success of all of my students:

The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children
by Gloria Ladson-Billings

We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools
by Gary R. Howard

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom
by Lisa Delpit

Courageous Conversations About Race
by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
by Anne Fadiman

How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You: Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies
by Bonnie Davis

We’ve worked hard through the years to try and close an ever-present achievement gap for our students of color. We need to continue to work hard, but we need to shift our focus. Rather than focusing solely on what we teach in the classroom, we need to have open, honest conversations about race and what the implications of that are for us as teachers and for our students- all of our students. When we can do that, we can begin to focus on the environmental changes that need to occur to create learning spaces which invite and allow the success of our students of color.

A Port in the Storm

It is raining here. Okay, raining is an understatement. It’s pouring. It’s the proverbial cats and dogs out there. Every phone in the room just buzzed with a weather alert about flash floods. Yet, here I am at work this evening. It’s the last night of our twice a week evening tutorial for middle school and high school students. Our wonderful college volunteer tutors ended their year last week and are off pursuing their summer plans. So, I’m here filling in. I have to confess, I really didn’t want to get in my car and drive here tonight. It has nothing to do with the kids. The weather really is a little scary right now.

But here I am. And here I sit with 5 students who braved the elements. 5 high school students looking for a place to study. 5 young men. 5 Latino young men. I hear so much about achievement disparities. I spend my days looking at how to make our schools and our classrooms more culturally responsive. I hear from students who want to learn. And, honestly, from some teachers who don’t believe they can.

I look at these young men here tonight, I listen to their conversations with each other as they ask to borrow a calculator, check their answers with each other, confirm what they have for homework and laugh together. I realize we have created a safe place for them. This is their port in the storm, both the figurative one raging outside right now and the storm of schools and a society that often rage that they will not achieve.

I am grateful that we can create this place for them and for the many other students who have attended on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout the year. My greatest hope is that we will create schools which serve as safe places for students, places of high expectations and caring support which propel every student to reach their greatest potential.

What if….

A poem for Poem in a Pocket Day.

 

What if…

…every parent, educator, significant adult that touched a child’s life TRULY believed in their capabilities?

…a library card was easier to get?

…guns were harder to get?

…we sent every baby home with books of their own along with the formula samples?

…the public understood that teaching is a calling, not just a job?

…we paid teachers commensurate with all the jobs they really do?

…we learned to disagree constructively and work towards compromise?

…people voted because they understood the issues, not because of party affiliation or what someone told them?

…politicians stopped making educational laws and let educators govern themselves?

…we understood our implicit biases and how they guide our actions?

…we all laughed a lot more?

…we all hugged, high-fived and shoulder slapped a lot more?

…no teacher ever had to spend money out of their own pocket for classroom materials?

…school lunches were actually healthy AND tasty?

…no child ever knew what it was like to be physically, emotionally or spiritually hurt?

I won’t stop dreaming of no more “what-ifs”. I won’t stop hoping for no more “what-ifs”. I won’t stop working towards no more “what-ifs”. What if we all did?

Humbled…

Yesterday was a day of amazing amazements. I received a follow up email about a possible future project that was, well, one of those messages that just makes you breathless for a moment. Can’t give details (sorry! No specifics to give just yet!). I received 2 boxes of books from wonderful friends to share with teachers at a workshop later this week. And then an email arrived to tell me I was nominated for a Bammy Award. I have to be honest- I thought it was a joke. Then I clicked the link and was just stupefied by this honor. Me? Really?! I thought for sure they made a mistake. There are so many voices out there right now. So many people I respect and admire who have things to say that I think are so much smarter than what I have to share from my little corner of the world. And I had to laugh, because whoever nominated me doesn’t know that I am absolutely horrid at self-promotion, one of the things they encourage you to do as a result of this award.

I may not win. That’s okay. It just capped off a wonderful day that reminded how very truly lucky and blessed I am to get to do what I do and to know the people I know.

Building Bridges- A new start and a reflection on ASCD

I started out wanting to revamp my blog so that it would address the idea of teaching as rocket science. And then I went into a slump and did a lot of soul-searching. Who am I to think I have anything to add to the conversation? What would blogging accomplish? And so I tucked away my aspirations.

But here I am again. Because there is so much to say. And Ralph Ellison’s words jumped off the page and there was the title, the idea I was looking for. Education is building bridges. The bridge between the art and science of teaching, between students and teachers, between teachers and families, between content areas and time periods. A bridge connects. And connections are powerful in the learning process.

The power of connection became much clearer to me over the last few days as I have been here at #ASCD14. So much learning. My brain is full. The weather has been beautiful. And downtown L.A.- well, it’s L.A. Connections came in so many ways. One of the most powerful being  meeting educators from all over the world. Today 2 educators from Palau came to my presentation. And I rode the bus each morning with a contingent of teachers from Jamaica. We come from different places, but we are connected through our love and passion for educating kids.

Connections came as people I met online,who have become friends, this weekend made time in their busy schedules because I had travelled cross country. My friend, Aly, drove in to downtown to have brunch and hang out at an eclectic bookstore. We are connected through a passion for books and reading and a love of education and kids. I value that connection. And I am grateful for a friend who makes time in a busy schedule to foster that connection we have and deepen it.

And then there is my friend, Cathy.We are connected through books and reading and a love of watching kids learn and grow. And we are connected because we are moms ourselves.  Cathy,who was only able to attend the conference for one day-the day I happened to be presenting- and who came to watch me present and support me. A connection that started on the thin thread of tweets and facebook statuses and has deepened to a connection that would elicit such a gift of time and support.

So, I’ll look to build bridges between thoughts and ideas, between research and practice, between the culture of my students and the culture of school. Building bridges takes time. You’ll find me here for a while. Building bridges.