Today I attended a conference that I had been very excited about. The kind of excitement usually reserved for the first ice cream cone of summer. The kind of excitement that kids feel on field trip days. The kind of excitement when you realize Coco has just come out on Netflix. You get the idea.
I was excited for a couple of reasons. The first reason was Val Brown was going to be there. Val has single-handedly done more for me on social media than anyone else. She showed me kindness and compassion during a difficult time on social media. Because of Val, I was able to dust my sorry behind off and get back into the world of social justice. This has not only lead to me being a better human being but directly impacted my teaching of social justice to my students. Val Brown has directly impacted my students.
Val was one of the facilitators of the Teaching Tolerance workshops today. “Teaching Tolerance provides free resources to educators—teachers, administrators, counselors and other practitioners—who work with children from kindergarten through high school. Educators use our materials to supplement the curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create civil and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcome participants.
Our program emphasizes social justice and anti-bias. The anti-bias approach encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives. Our Social Justice Standards show how anti-bias education works through the four domains of identity, diversity, justice, and action.” Tolerance.org
One of the ice breakers that was cool was the moving poetry. We wrote four lines that told our name and things about us. We then walked around until the stop signal was given. We then got into groups of three and read our poems. This was a cool activity. I have to admit that I thought my use of woke, the numbers in line two, and sliding my name in there was underappreciated by my triad!!!
Another activity I really enjoyed was listing 8 things that identified me. We then had to cross off seven of those things one by one until based on which was the least essential to who I am today. The first couple were easy. I was surprised how much I valued my ableism. I was left with English language. I am my language. How I think, act, and communicate are all tied to English.
Another activity we participated in was inside and outside circles. One of the questions we discussed was what is the hardest thing when talking about race. My answer was language. It’s hard to speak about race when you are worried about offending someone by using the wrong words. Should I say black, African American, Person of Color or something else entirely? What if I mess up and say something racist? I don’t want my ignorance to be confused with racism!! Learning the language allows us to have these conversations with some comfort. To be honest I am still not 100% comfortable when talking about race. The language is always shifting. The more I learn and have the conversations the better I am getting at it.
The second question we spoke about was the beneficial part of talking about race/racism. Speaking of race to my students and colleagues is the only way we are going to address the issues we have in America. Personally, I want to leave a positive mark on the world. Teaching my students about race will help me in achieving this goal. Learning the history of and current effects of racism early in their lives will hopefully allow them to interact with each other in a more accepting manner. It will also help my students of color feel that their skin is something to be celebrated instead of looked at as a deficit. I don’t know how often they have conversations about race outside of my class.
One common belief we were asked was if the gap in achievement among students of different races is about poverty and not race. I thought it was more to do with poverty than race. The document they gave out explaining why I was wrong spoke about “stereotype threat”.
“Stereotype threat is defined as a situational predicament in which individuals are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their group. It is the resulting sense that one might be judged in terms of negative stereotypes about one’s group instead of on personal merit. Research over the past 15 years has shown that stereotype threat contributes to low performance among African Americans, Latinos, and the poor, but also among women in math and science, the elderly in memory, and even whites in athletics.” (link)
I would also venture to say that if Hattie’s work is even half correct teacher expectation has a huuuge roll to play in student success. We know that there are mostly white teachers teaching students of color. If those teachers have low expectations for their students this could be a reason for that as well.
The most moving part of the entire day was when we had to dissect a case study from the Justice in Schools site. I would highly recommend you click that link and read the study. Our group had to decide should the department use the Muslim registry as a debate topic. This mirrors a lot of what we see in public these days. Our group adamantly agreed that setting this question up as a debate would show that putting all Muslims in a registry would be seen as a viable option when presented as being one side of the debate. That is not, should not, and will not ever be an option that could or should be tolerated.
If we look at history the Jews and the Japanese were put into databases and ended up in internment camps or being put to death. What would a Muslim student’s reaction be if this was actually put up as a debate? In the case study, this line stood at to me, “It’s also our responsibility to ensure that we are upholding basic democratic principles like tolerance, equality, and human rights.” Debating a Muslim database would not be ensuring tolerance equality nor human rights.
One major theme of the day was active listening. One of the activities we did was we had 90 seconds to speak. Our partner could not say anything. They could not give us verbal or body language feedback. The first time I did that I spoke for 15 seconds. My partner and I then stared at each other for 75 seconds. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. We answered the questions numerous times using this active listening technique. It definitely got easier the more we did it. This is a skill that I will be bringing back to my students to work on for sure!
I will finish with my classic grows and glows of the conference:
Glow: The people that were there. I am not gonna get all social media name dropper on here but good lord was there a boat load of fantastic people that I spent my time with.
Glow: The facilitators. Hoyt and Val were amazing! The tone was set very well by the leaders. They shared their stories when appropriate and stepped back when needed.
Grow: Fresh mozzarella sandwiches need balsamic vinegar. Cmon now!!
Glow: The DJ
Grow: Mel needs to sharpen her rock paper scissors game.
Glow: My table rocked. They were much smarter than I was.