Summer, Classroom Communities, and You!

Greetings from August!

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Photo Credit: Karen Arnold @ publicdomainpictures.net https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=33915

I hope that you, like us, have been enjoying a relaxing summer with your family and friends. In this profession, it’s important to recharge and recenter yourself.

Many teachers also use summer as a chance for self-directed professional development. Reading new books and brainstorming new ideas, bouncing thoughts off other educators. It was great to see so many of you at Nerd Camp doing exactly that.

A lot of you are already back at school, or will be soon. I, for one, look forward to seeing your tweets about the things you’re doing as you start the school year.

We’d also like to invite you to share your work here on the Classroom Communities blog. If you’d like to write here about what you’re doing in the classroom, especially in terms of developing community and relationships, we’d love to have you!

Fill out the form at this page: https://classroomcommunities.com/want-to-be-a-contributor, and we’ll be in touch with you from there to schedule your post. Can’t wait to hear your stories!

Beyond Thanksgiving: Indigenous Books Anytime

A minute ago, it was summer. Now, the leaves have all blown away, the garden has been put to bed, the sun only works part-time, and the snow dared to arrive in my part of the world. We are eyeball deep in the season of assessments, report cards, and parent-teacher conferences. We are all exhausted. But we have a break in sight. Despite Christmas commercials insisting we should have been shopping since the beginning of October, it’s Thanksgiving’s turn next.

 

The Thanksgivings of my youth were spent at Nana’s and Papa’s house in Indiana, family and friends crowded around folding tables, eating the turkey Dad carved with Papa and the noodle kugel Nana made for every gathering. Before the long road trip there, we celebrated and did activities at school: paper hand turkeys, coloring pages of cornucopias and Pilgrims and “Indians”, writing about what we were thankful for, and once, a feast that included venison stew made from the meat of a deer my teacher had hunted.

 

As I have grown more aware of how simplified, inaccurate, and white-washed my school experience was of Thanksgiving, I will work to do better as I teach this generation of children. We will not color stereotypical portraits of Native people. We will not teach that the Pilgrims and Native people lived in harmony or in an equitable symbiotic relationship. We will not talk and read about the Wampanoag or any Native peoples ONLY for a day or two…on the contrary, we will continue to talk and read about indigenous people in ways that challenge biased perspectives of history, invites critical conversations of Native peoples’ experiences, and centers them accurately in their own stories. We will be inclusive of Native voices in our read alouds, our classroom libraries, and our shared reading.

 

November is officially Native American Heritage Month. Much like Black History Month, and other recognized cultural spotlights, they were created to draw awareness and attention, as well as, to make space for celebration and recognition. These designated months are a tremendous opportunity to educate ourselves and others about cultures, ethnicities, and identities that deserve our time and undivided attention, and intended to encourage awareness and education all year long. But they can be a double-edged sword.

 

A highlighted month does not permit us to relegate diversity to a determined frame of time, a curricular unit, or as a means of comforting the majority. If as educators, we save stories by and about Native people only for November, if we don’t include representation outside of the month, then we guarantee that they will always be “othered”. What happens when Native children see books by and about indigenous people disappear from their educational experience after Thanksgiving? They disappear, too. However, if those same children hear books read aloud and find books in their classroom and school libraries by Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tim Tingle, Monique Gray Smith, Julie Flett, and more, they find their stories and people. They find their mirrors, their representation. Representational literature effectively communicates to its readers that they are worthy, their stories are real, and who they are is valuable and whole. For the many children in our classes who are non-native, these books serve as windows, glimpses into another’s experience, a way to grow education and empathy towards those different from ourselves.

 

This November, if you are making a point to read books about America’s first people, ensure you are sharing culturally accurate, truly representational texts, and elevating #OwnVoices texts created by Native authors and illustrators. Then, be sure to read, share, and shelve them throughout the year. Make that promise to yourself and your students that the stories and experiences of indigenous people are valid and normal any time of the year. Buy some for your classroom or get them from the library. Your library doesn’t stock it? Ask them to purchase it for circulation. Research, reach out, and read. Here’s a picture book resource list from Cynthia Leitich Smith and few of my recent favorites to get you started. Images and descriptions courtesy of Goodreads.com.

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Picture Book: “A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.”

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Picture Book: “…encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other’s well-being in their everyday actions.”

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Picture Book: “Go on a Mission to Space with Chickasaw astronaut John Herrington, as he shares his flight on the space shuttle Endeavor and his thirteen-day mission to the International Space Station.”

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Picture Book: “Nimoshom loved to drive the school bus. Every day, on the way to and from school, he had something to say. Sometimes, he told the kids silly stories. Sometimes, he taught the kids a new word in Cree.”

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Picture Book: “Set in the Okanagon, BC, a First Nations family goes on an outing to forage for herbs and mushrooms. Grandmother passes down her knowledge of plant life to her young grandchildren.”

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Picture Book: “Circles are all around us. We just have to look for them. Sometimes they exist in the most unusual places.”

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Picture Book: “When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs.”

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Picture Book: “As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester—and other Navajo men like him—was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code. Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was needed to fight a war.”

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Middle Grade Picture Book: “When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her.”

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Young Adult: “#NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman.”

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Young Adult: “thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school – and first love.”

 

Is it possible to have a Daily Connection Community?

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My first post was #pb10for10 list about Relationships.  Relationships foster, nurture, and hold together communities.  I recently read I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer as a #classroombookaday selection.  I read it to foster differences.  I read it to break gender stereotypes.  I read it without realizing I would ponder this story for so much more after sharing it with students.

Maybe it was the multiple reads that let me think deeper about this story.  Maybe it was reading it slower in front of others.  Maybe it was searching for a nugget to share in this space that led me to more pondering.  I truly think it might be the message my student’s discovered about this book that I didn’t see with a quick read.

We and/or maybe just I often think about communities as groups of people I spend time with at some sort of interval.  I think about communities as a group that comes together for a cause, reason, or sliver of goodness.  I Love My Purse helped me see a community might be the same people you see every day on the path of your own day’s agenda.  Charlie begins his day with his dad, his friend Charlotte, Sam, a crossing guard, and Dad ends his day.  We might just call this Charlie’s daily connection community.

Each person questions Charlie’s purse wearing and each time Charlie answers, “Cause I want to.”  I love this response.  It’s truly all that is needed.  Eventually Charlie learns something about something each person wish they did and were hesitant to do.  Charlie takes his purse to school for another day and discovers his daily connection community is trying something small they’ve always wanted to do.  By Friday, his daily connection community is all on board with each of their wishes – embracing their hopes.

I think I pondered this book for longer than anticipated because it really shows how one person thinking for themselves can empower others to be brave and embrace their own wishes and individuality.  Charlie’s daily connection community has forever been changed.  I think what I discovered in my further pondering is how this story is about the unexpected community and how one person offers connection.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Sir Elton John on tour and on the last page of this story, Charlie is looking a little “Sir Elton John-ish.”  May we all experience some of these words from “Sir Elton John.”

There’s an extraordinary healing power of compassion and love between people.                Sir Elton John

More Than We Will Ever Know

My grandpa passed away yesterday.

I’ve been fortunate to not have too many family members die — I have a large extended family, but can count the deaths on one hand. Which means my grief is unrefined. I don’t have a road map for this.

So I ask your pardon in this post, as it comes from that place of grief.

I was thinking today about the man my grandpa was, from many different perspectives.

From one perspective, he was a devout Catholic worthy of admiration.

From another, he was a loving parent worthy of respect.

From yet another, a WWII veteran worthy of honor.

A wood worker worthy of study.

A man who loved fishing with his young grandkids.

An American autoworker.

A 2nd generation immigrant.

A lover of homemade Polish food.

Someone who helped seniors with their taxes (even when they were 15 years younger than he was!).

A man who crocheted afghans for each of his 18 grandchildren. I still use mine often, and remember fondly when he taught me to crochet.

I knew all this about him, and more. And yet, there are things I only recently learned. Stories from the war. His life as a new father.

There are, no doubt, innumerable things about my grandpa that I will never get to know. I loved him for who he was, the man I knew, but he was also more than what I knew.

Which brings me to the classroom.

We see our students for a limited time, from a limited angle. And from that angle, we find ways to work with them. To help them become better learners, friends, and people.

We may also find that, from that angle, we agree or disagree with them. They may be our favorites or they may be the reason we take a mental health day. They might fill our buckets or empty them.

What a disservice.

What a disservice to the people our students are, and the people they can be. Our students, no matter how much we know them, how much we learn about them, how much we love them…they are more than we will ever know. And they always, always, deserve to be treated as better than we can imagine.

My grandpa was likely a better man than I knew. Than I will ever know. So are our students. Let’s treat them like they’re better than we can possibly imagine while we still have the opportunity. Don’t they deserve someone who will treat them that way? Why shouldn’t it be us?

The Danger of Comparisons

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About six weeks ago I kept thinking, What is wrong with my 6th and 7th period block? As a group, we were consistently behind my other classes, we would interrupt each other in conversations, we weren’t getting work done, we kept making the same mistakes over and over again, we were not as joyful as my other classes.
I thought there were numerous possibilities for the causes of my concerns.

  • It is my largest class – 30 students.
  • This class is immediately after lunch.
  • There are 20 boys and 10 girls
  • There are 5 students on IEPs and another on a 504 plan.
  • There are some incredibly exuberant personalities juxtaposed with some of the quietest students I have ever worked with.
  • There are students who openly state their disdain for reading and writing.

I kept comparing this group to my other two classes. Why can’t they pull themselves together?
My other classes ‘get it’ and are typically engaged in the work we are doing. Weren’t last year’s groups were much closer-knit than this class?
Thoughts like these grew from a seed of concern to a thriving weed of dismay. What is wrong with these kids? I carried this incredibly negative thought for the better part of two weeks before I realized that the issue was not with the class, it was with me.
I fell into the trap that many of us do. I spent too much time comparing this group to others I have worked with over the years. Instead of enjoying the differences this class brings every day, I brought my negative thoughts about them into the classroom. We were in a self-fulfilling cycle of my lowered expectations. I expected them to not be able to function like my other classes, so when they didn’t function like my other classes they met my deficit-modeled expectations and I became more agitated.
I am not sure the exact moment that I finally realized for this one class that I was setting the tone of disappointment. But when I owned my behavior things began to change. Yes, this class still has moments where I wonder, what is going on? But, I am working hard not to compare them to my other classes or previous classes. I am working to accept the differences and changing how I act around them.
We are enjoying our time together more. We are learning more. We are communicating better. We are moving along a better path.
I wish I would have realized my problem sooner.

Happy Principals Month!

October is National Principals Month.  I can proudly say that I am a principal and absolutely love my job.   

I love that I get to have breakfast every morning with a couple of students to talk about how their year is going.

I love that I get to work with the most AMAZING teachers in the world.

I love that students leave me their artwork to decorate my office walls.

I love that I can change a teacher’s whole day just by bringing them a cup of Starbucks coffee or a Bayne’s cider donut.

I love that I can sneak into a classroom unnoticed and spend 20 minutes reading silently with a class of 5th graders.

I love that I get to see my kids every single day in school.

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I love that I can justify buying as many books as I want from our local bookstore because I know I am going to give them all away to students that will love them as much as I do.

I love that I have a network of principals that push me to be better each day.

I love that I can spend my lunch throwing 16 touchdown passes in one game of recess football.

I love that I have the power to discontinue Accelerated Reader and instead use the money to support classroom libraries.

I love that I get more compliments when I wear my Elephant and Piggie shirt than a suit and tie.

I love that I get to call my teachers parents and tell them how amazing their son/daughter is at teaching.

I love that I get to push teachers outside their comfort zone by nudging them to present with me at national conferences or write blog posts read by educators all over the world.

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I love that I can turn around a crying student’s day by asking them to help draw a book raffle ticket.

I love that I can call a parent at the end of the day to tell them something amazing their child did at school.  I even love the part when they cry because it’s the first time anyone has ever called home with something positive to say about their child.

I love that students slip me little bucket filler notes in the hallway.

I love that we don’t have staff cliques and everyone connected to the school genuinely cares about each other.

I love that my first principal still comes back to visit and see if he can do anything to help.

I love that I can be sitting at my desk and I can hear my secretary tell a telemarketer, “I am sorry, Mr. Bailey is out of the building right now.”

I love that students come down to my office to read me their stories they write during writer’s workshop.

I love the screams I hear up and down the hallways when the March Book Madness winners are announced each week during the tournament.

I love that I can watch teachers try new things, even if they fail spectacularly.  

I love that students aren’t scared to go to the principal’s office.  Instead they rush in with smiling faces to borrow a book from my principal’s bookshelf.

I love that I get to be an elementary school principal.

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Happy Principals Month to my fellow principals!

 

We Teach The Girls

We teach the girls.

We teach the girls
with braids in their hair
curls down their backs
and perfect pigtails

Purple hair
shaved skulls
and frizzy ponytails.

We teach the girls who wear
flouncy skirts
glittery tees
and fuzzy big boots

Basketball jerseys
hand-me-down shirts
and baggy blue jeans

We teach the girls who love
double-dutch
dancing
ponies
and princesses

Football
skateboarding
dinosaurs
and superheroes

We teach the girls who color with
pink
purple
and sky blue

Black
orange
and royal blue

We teach the girls who dream to be
ballerinas
actresses
and fashion designers

Firefighters
engineers
and monster truck drivers

We teach the girls who feel
shy
introverted
and unseen

Confident
bold
and strong

We teach the girls with
scrapes on their knees
paper cuts on their fingers
and sore texting thumbs

Wounds on their wrists
bruises on their back
and pain in their bellies

We teach the girls who have been told
what it means to be a girl
as if sugar and spice
and everything nice
could define it

We teach the girls who have been told
they need pink Legos to build castles
they throw like a girl
they must greet relatives with a kiss
that dressed up means wearing a dress
that cute is more important than curious
that sentences should always be qualified with “I’m sorry…”
be nice
be polite
wait your turn
stop being bossy
you’re emotional
you’re sensitive
you’re inferior
you’re less than
you’re not worthy

That people exist only in binary systems
female, male
rich, poor
straight, gay
black, white
missing the millions of shades of gray, and brown, in between

To wear shirts that read
“Allergic to Algebra”
“Future Trophy Wife”
“I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework”
(Can a girl get an empowering message or stegosaurus shirt, please?!)

We teach the girls who have been told
love is conditional
affection is earned
it’s probably their fault
“No” is a fluid term
their body is not their own
not to tell…

We teach the girls. All of the girls.
We have the opportunity to teach the girls to
demand apologies like Serena
reclaim their time like Maxine
speak out like Malala
sit down like Rosa
stand up like Gloria
play like Billie Jean
organize like Fannie Lou
face challenges like Helen
influence like Oprah
write like Maya
speak like Emma
create like Coco
express like Beyonce
lead like Indira
tell their truth like Christine

We teach the girls
and we teach the boys, too

They all need to know that girls are
complex
capable
powerful
and more than worthy

Because someday
soon,
even now,
the girls will teach us.

 

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Creators Create Community

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Last week I had the pleasure to listen to author Cleo Wade speak.  She wrote Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life and is an activist.  This year I’m doing some thinking around creating and was surprised to hear her start talking about creating.  My notes included these thoughts; creating is in our DNA, individuals have the capacity to create, and “creators create community”.  My ears perked up even more because I knew I wanted to find some moments to reflect on community and share in this space.

She gave us a question to ponder, “Where have the ambitions of building community gone?”  She urged us to think about the act of this question a sacred task.  Other notes I jotted included

  • communities give us opportunities to choose to unite
  • communities bonds of spirit
  • communities help us rise above our concerns

My students don’t get to choose to share a classroom with each other.  Their class placements is done for them.  I realized reflecting on the first thought, they do get to choose to unite with each other.   I believe one of our roles as a teacher is to help our students make that choice in hopes of creating a spirit of cohesiveness.  If we have a feeling of cohesiveness perhaps we can rise above our own concerns and make a difference for each other and beyond.

I would respond to Cleo’s question and ask her to look within classrooms for ambitions building communities.  May our work help carry to spaces outside our schools and help people connect in person with others.