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

Sunrise

 

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

Connections… #SOL15

I am amazed when I encounter folks who don’t see the value in social media or an online presence. And I’m not talking people my parents’ age. My dad LOVES Facebook :-) I’m talking people my age or younger. Several interactions over the last few weeks have reminded me how powerful the connnections are that I have made via social media or been able to continue because of online connections:

-the student who contacted me after 7 years

– posting a status update about my new job and looking at the list of people who “liked” the post…former students, old friends, people I have met via Twitter and FB who I still haven’t met in person, people I have met via Twitter and FB who have now become dear friends, former colleagues, new colleagues

-getting a text that same evening from someone who has gone from online PLN member to dear,dear friend and spending an hour on the phone the next day with that same person to talk about our adventures and careers

-sharing the Go Fund Me page for our service trip this summer with high school students and having friends from all over the country contribute

-having an author whose work you love, “Like” your blog post!! (*happydance*)

-getting access to articles and research from tweets and FB I might have missed otherwise

-seeing pictures and “hearing” stories from my former student babies as they lead wonderful lives

-posting a question and crowdsourcing the amazing brilliance of colleagues across the country

-getting a text my first day at my new job from someone who started as an online colleague and has become a wonderfully dear friend

 

And that is just in the past few weeks! Technology can be a nuisance and too much information and input at times can be overwhelming. But I’ll take all the pitfalls if it means I can continue to have these connections. They are just too powerful to ignore and my life truly is better because of them. How lucky am I?!

Missing: Please Help Me Locate My Weekend! #SOL15

It’s Sunday at 9:18pm. And I am trying to figure out where the heck the weekend went! Because the house certainly isn’t clean, the laundry is still not done and I don’t remember reading or relaxing. It must mean that someone stole my weekend! ( Or at least an hour of it.) Perhaps my weekend got lost in the baking for the fundraiser or the six hours sitting at the table selling baked goods or driving children around or checking and sending emails to organize other fundraisers or having dinner with my mentee to celebrate her 18th birthday. Maybe…

 

I still have 2 hours and 38 minutes of my weekend. Off to try and fit in laundry, relaxation and reading…provided I don’t fall asleep first.

 

What We Teach Our Children-#SOL15

 

Warning: Tonight’s blog piece is a rant. Feel free to pass it by.

 

I am one of those people who has a hard time saying “no”. As a result, I’ve become the lead parent working with a teacher to take a group of 18 high school students to Guatemala this summer. Our goal as a team was to work together to fundraise to cover costs for the whole group. We’ve been working on this for months now.

 

This weekend I’ve become frustrated. Just like with so many things, 80% of the people seem to be doing the work 100% of the time. And the most frustrating part? Parents are not encouraging their kids to help with the fundraisers that are helping to pay for the trip and SAVING the parents money. This weekend we have an event. I spent over 4 hours there today. No adult is signed up for the second two hour shift tomorrow. I put a call out telling the parents I really did not want to be there all day again tomorrow and asking that someone else please step up. One parent did. A parent who has already helped with every event and offered resources and additional fundraising opportunities. There are other parent chaperones. Three of them have contributed almost nothing at this point.

 

With two months left to fundraise, we are seriously short of our goal. Now the lead teacher and I are left to try and figure out whether we back off the team goal and send everyone a bill while trying to figure out how to divide the money already raised fairly. Or do we tell those who have participated they can sit back because those who haven’t need to step up and be  responsible the rest of the way?

 

What frustrates me the most is what these parents are teaching these kids about being part of a team and about working for something you want. One of the parents is an educator who told me they thought the whole team concept was ridiculous and that is should be every student for themself. After all, that’s why we don’t use cooperative learning in the classroom, because team stuff just doesn’t work. (yeah, don’t even get me started on what my response to this person was!)

In the end, all I can do is make sure my boys work with the team and teach them the importance of hard work to get something you want. Because the power of what we teach our children, carries on and is part of the legacy we leave them.