But What Can I Do? Recognizing Our Role in Ending Systemic Racism

David E. Kirkland shared a piece today about the power of teachers to change the world. As is the case whenever David shares his voice, it is eloquent, poignant and truthful.

David writes “For many Black males—myself included—classrooms bury potential, and good-intentioned teachers evict from the pliable imagination of young people a limitless real estate of fluid possibilities.” 

He goes on to say “However, this moment demands something greater than policy resolutions. By changing laws, we would find ourselves lucky to somehow change people’s behaviors. We need heart and mind solutions; we need to change how people think and feel. For that we turn to education. We turn to educators.”

I read Dr. Kirkland’s words and I was transported back to the young white teacher I was when I walked into my first classroom 26 years ago this month. If I read his words then, I would have been convicted, I would have been fired up. I would have believed with every ounce of my being that I was not that teacher who would evict the limitless possibilities from my students’ minds. But I know now that I likely did and continued to do so and, on some days still today, do so. Never with malice or intent. Never with forethought or decisiveness. But through not knowing. Through not understanding my privilege, not understanding what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls “culturally responsive pedagogy” and what Django Paris challenges us to see as “culturally sustaining pedagogy“.

Today, in light of more senseless murders, in light of rhetoric that attempts to cast these two black men as the “problem”, I find myself asking yet again, “But what can I do?” And then David’s words remind me, “Healing and humanizing classrooms matter most. They have the power to move our assumptions away from the stale and negative deficit assumptions that strip away Black humanity and toward those complex narratives of people that build humanity and nurture sensitivities toward that humanity in ways that abolish pre-existing internal and external contracts of bigotry and violence.” 

And, so, I share a few of the lessons I have learned on this journey to being an ally, to being the type of educator who convicts students with the limitless possibilities they possess and trying to create classrooms and learning communities which seek to drive away those negative assumptions. I am so far from having all of the answers. But my hope is perhaps through sharing some ideas, our classrooms which serve our young men and women, future police officers, educators and politicians will become the places where our students learn to change the world.

  1. Understand Your Own Biases and Prejudices:  We all have them. What many of us need to understand is that it doesn’t make us awful human beings. It makes us human beings. Our brains are wired to form patterns and beliefs over time. Those biases drive our actions. The problems arise when we do not raise these biases to our conscious level so we can counteract the negative ones through informed, conscious choice.   Harvard’s Project Implicit has a bias test you can take.  Our brains receive thousands of messages through images and media, the books we read, the music we listen to. Right now, too much of the rhetoric around the killings of black men in our country says “they were thugs” “you shouldn’t resist arrest” “he had a record”. Those messages subconsciously seep into our brains.  We must remain diligent in counteracting them in ourselves and in others.
  2. Be a Reflexive Practitioner, Not Just a Reflective Practitioner: Gillie Bolton in her book Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development explains reflective versus reflexive practice. Bolton explains that reflection is when we ask WHY? And then we seek the answers to that why through exploration of theories and texts and the wider sphere. Reflective practice means I change my pedagogy, my classroom configuration, the activities that I use in teaching. She defines reflexivity as finding ways to question our attitudes, theories in use, values, assumptions, prejudices and actions of habit. It is to understand a common phrase used in equity work “we don’t know what we don’t know” and to examine that which we do not know. Reflexive practice means I look to myself and my beliefs and how they are at play in my classroom. For me, reflexive practice has meant I have had to challenge and change how I conduct my practice. As a white teacher I have had to come to understand what David Kirkland and Jamila Lyiscott and Ernest Morell and many others have challenged us with – to find that pedagogical third space basing our classrooms on where our students ARE, not where we want them to be and seeking as educators ,who may not look like them and share their experiences, to truly understand them.
  3. Learn, Read, Listen: Who do you follow on Twitter? Facebook? What books and blogs do you read? If your timeline and reading list are filled with those who look like you, think like you and act like you, then expand your horizons. We can’t know what we don’t know if we aren’t open to it. If you are unsure where to start, try these names: Jamila Lyiscott, Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz, David E. Kirkland, Ernest Morrell, Pedro Noguera, Sonia Nieto, Jose Luis Vilson, Lisa Delpit, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Paul Gorski, Jeff Howard….and then find out who they follow, what they read. Look into organizations like Teaching Tolerance and the National Equity Project. Be open to the new ideas. Understand some of it will make you uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable.

This is not comprehensive. It’s a place to start. If you still want to know more, listen and learn from your students. Some of my greatest lessons have come from them. Much of what I have come to understand has come from the years I spent co-facilitating culturally sustaining pedagogy work with high school students. Our students have so much to teach us.

But what can I do? A lot. We just need to be willing to do it. Tamir and Eric and Alton and Sandra need us to. Their classmates need us to. Our world needs us to. Hearts and minds need us to.


A Found Poem


From words collected in a week’s reading….


As I stand dusty and awkward on the road of indifference,

I yearn for measures of tenderness

To wash over me like warm island waters.

I yearn for a dream deferred, a golden storm,

the voice of the wind.



The night has been long.

Voices recite a story.

A prayer.

Invite joy into conversation.

Revise my spirit.

Cleanse my soul.

Sing to me soothing joy,

Words profound.

And why should I stay behind?

Poetry Time Again

It’s National Poetry Month. This is the third year I’ve attempted to take on the challenge of a poem a day for the month. And, true to form, I am already two days behind! I think my record is 12 poems for the month. So I am setting a goal of 15-18 this year.



Grassy hues of green

Roll down sloping hills.

Sunlight glints off sparkling waters

Sending shards of light across the quickly shading field.


Bovine bodies cascade through the fields

As the sunset casts pinks and purples across a fading blue sky.


Night settles in

And stars peek out from the inky sky.

The moon peers across the horizon

Inviting a sleepiness across the fields.






NCTE 2015- From Ooops to Aha! Reflexive Practice

In November I was gifted with the opportunity to co-facilitate a session at NCTE with my colleagues and friends, Gary Anderson and Karen LaBonte. Our goal was to explore the ideas of reflection and reflexivity in our practice as educators. We were joined by some fellow educators who helped guide small group reflection/reflexivity. Thank you to:


Russ Anderson William Fremd High School
Jennifer Ansbach Manchester Township High School, New Jersey
Jeana Hrepich Antioch University Seattle
 Kim McCollum-Clark Millersville University
Cindy Minnich Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, Pennsylvania
 Cheryl Mizerny Cranbrook Schools
 Meenoo Rami Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Amy Rasmussen Lewisville High School, Lewisville, TX
 Jennifer Roberts San Diego Unified
 Lee Ann Spillane Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida
Andrea Zellner Oakland Schools, Pontiac Schools

We each reflected on a time in our practice where we moved from being reflective to being reflexive. The idea for this stemmed from a piece by Gillie Bolton. The following are my thoughts from that day. Several folks asked if I would share this, so here it is. Sorry for my procrastinator’s delay!

As I think about the journey I share here, I truly believe this concept of being reflexive in our practice has wide implications for so much going on in our world today. Our beliefs guide our actions, for good and not so good. Only when we are more willing to explore this will we stem the tide of so many negative trends in our society.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

NCTE 2015    Minneapolis, MN

Today our goal is to for all of us to understand the role of reflection and reflexivity on our practice.

When I think about being a reflective and reflexive practitioner, I am drawn to my journey as a white educator who has spent most of her career working with students who don’t look like me.

Reflection told me as a young teacher I was not reaching all of my students, especially my boys of color. It compelled me to seek out ways to be a better teacher, specifically in the area of writing. I understood how to assign writing. But my ability to understand how to teach writing was limited by my own knowledge and experience. Reflection drove me to seek out new information and voices like Nancy Atwell’s and mentors like my colleagues in the Writing Project.

Reflection caused me to notice how little my students were reflected in the books on my classroom shelf and in the bookstores. It drove me to expand my own reading, to use hashtags like #weneeddiversebooks. To throw in a Maya Angelou poem, a short story by Amy Tan, a piece by Gary Soto.

Reflection reminded me I wasn’t communicating as well with parents as I should. So I created a class newsletter and utilized the school wide electronic communication venue.

Bolton explains that reflection is when we ask WHY? And then we seek the answers to that why through exploration of theories and texts and the wider sphere.

And so I was a reflective practitioner as I tried to find ways to engage my students of color in classroom. Yet, there were still disconnects. It would have been easy to resort to thoughts like “well, they’re just unmotivated” or to subscribe to media and societal portrayals of people of color and to lower my expectations of my students and to exonerate myself from any more responsibility for their success.

But my failure with many of my students of color did not sit well with me. So I looked for resources, to help me understand how to be a white teacher of students of color. I began a windy, bumpy journey towards understanding what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls culturally responsive pedagogy. It is a journey that many days still leaves me with more questions than answers. It is a journey that I believe epitomizes what it means to move from being a reflective practitioner to a reflexive practitioner.

Bolton defines reflexivity as finding ways to question our attitudes, theories in use, values, assumptions, prejudices and actions of habit. It is to understand a common phrase used in equity work “we don’t know what we don’t know” and to examine that which we do not know.

And so, reflexive practice has meant I have had to challenge and change how I conduct my practice. As a white teacher I have had to come to understand what David Kirkland and Jamila Lyiscott and Ernest Morell have challenged us with this week at NCTE- to find that pedagogical third space basing our classrooms on where our students ARE, not where we want them to be, and seeking as educators who may not look like them and share their experiences to truly understand them.

Reflexive practice means my writing workshop includes model texts from hip-hop and from writers who infuse primary languages other than English into their writing. It means my students write to tell their stories, to share their voices, to speak out to change the world. It means their voice is honored.

Reflexive practice compels me to not just hashtag #weneeddiversebooks, but to actively work to make available texts that reflect the many realities of my students’ lives. But it also means I look critically at texts. Sharon Draper said in a session on Thursday that we don’t just need diverse books we need quality diverse books. It means when I look at texts, I look through the lens of my students to insure their stories are represented with dignity and respect. And that the authors on my shelf mirror them as well.

Reflexive practice means I do not correct my students language to standard English because I am their English teacher, but to honor the language they bring and teach them the power of understanding how to code switch their language depending upon audience and purpose and time and place.

My reflexive practice means I don’t just communicate with parents, families and caregivers, but I invite them to work with me so that we can insure every student who walks through the door achieves to their highest potential. It means understanding that the significant adults in students’ home lives know them and have insights to share with me so that I may learn.


I’d like to give you a challenge for next year here at NCTE. It is easy to attend sessions with educators high on our list of those we admire, to find sessions that offer us fresh ideas for practices already in place in our classrooms. But I’d like to challenge you, if you did not this year, to attend one session, just one, that challenges your belief system. Find a session that pushes you out of your comfort zone, which brings to light something you didn’t know you didn’t know. And when you do, be open to it. Share with others. Recognize how you shape your surroundings. Ask critical questions. Deepen your practice in new, exciting and scary ways.


Thank you.



Bolton, G. (2005). Reflective practice: writing and professional development (2nd ed). London ; Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Sliceless in NC

I haven’t blogged for the Slice of Life challenge in days. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, just not on my blog. The transition to a new job, a new family routine, has worn me out.

But more importantly, the time I could have been “slicing” I’ve been doing my most important job…being a mom. I love being an educator. I love rich discussions about student learning and planning curriculum. And as much as I love all that, it comes nowhere near how much I love my boys and being their mom.

Each of my four boys is a unique, amazing person. They share some similar likes and traits. But they are more different most days than they are alike. Two are cross country runners. One likes running in the heat. One likes running in the cold. One is a soccer and baseball player. One is a soccer and lacrosse player. All are musicians. We have a drum set, percussion instruments, a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keyboard and ukelele in our house.

My husband and I have worked together to make sure that, except on the rare occasion, one of us is always at their sporting events or performances. For me, there is no greater joy than watching my boys do something they love.

I am so very appreciative that my new boss says “Yes, of course you need to leave to get to your boys’ game.” I’m not sure I could work for someone who didn’t feel that way.

So, the times I haven’t been “slicing” I’ve been “Momming” and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Sunrise- #SOL15



I am taking advantage a few, unexpected quiet moments this morning to write…

My new job brings one big change: a commute. I’ve never had to commute very far to my job. As a working mom, we lived in the same district I worked in and my boys went to daycare/school in when they were younger. My husband has had a commute in the past, but he now works from home. So, we’ve switched places in a sense.

This first week the commute is not bad. It’s new and novel, so I don’t mind the traffic or the length. But I know in the coming months (and hopefully, years!) there will be days when I will be less than enamored with this part of my day. I’m taking time each day to find some small moment to celebrate. I’ll revisit these moments on those days when the traffic becomes frustrating and I’m stressed about the extra time in my day for commuting. I know how easy it is to get caught up in the stress, the negative, the frustrations. And, so, moments like this morning’s sunrise hovering over the trees are moments I’ll remember, savor and be thankful for.

Too Tired to Write… #SOL15

Is that possible? Can you be too tired to write? Is that an excuse? Would that work in our classrooms? How would we respond to a student who used this statement? Does the act of writing require energy? So many questions. I should write about th….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz