Friday, July 20, 2018

#CyberPD Week 3 – Finding Humanity in Ourselves and Others

I just finished the book Unwritten, The Story of a Living System:  A Pathway to Enlivening and Transforming Education by Lori L. Desautels and Michael McKnight.  One of the quotes that has really stood out to me is “Schools are not machines. Schools are a network of human beings who feel, think, behave, and function within a human system that is alive and never static.  Schools are living systems” (2016, pg. xi).  The entire book is a manifesto for making our schools more human and less factory-like.  Much like the town on Camazotz in Wrinkle in Time, our children are forced through curriculum and grade-levels, without the recognition of each child’s humanity and individuality.  At the same time, with the movement to standardized curriculum is stripping away the individuality of teachers.

How does this connect to Chapters 5 & 6? Sara Ahmed encourages us to recognize our Universe of Obligation in which we feel responsible to defend, protect and “upstand” for.  Our department is currently re-thinking how we prepare teacher educators who will be able to address social-emotional needs in schools, provide individual education plans and personalized learning for each child, and help children aspire to careers of their choice, not just college-bound.  As teacher educators, we need to model social consciousness, social justice, and social imagination with our pre-service and master’s level teachers and to do so, we need to change teacher education which has been entrenched in the same factory model as K-12 education.

As I’m reading Sara’s book, I’m wondering how I’m going to implement these ideas in my courses with pre-service teachers.  These last chapter challenge us to be aware of who and what we stand up for (upstanders) and recognize that our intent of communication may be different then our impact.   Many of the books listed in the resources stacks starting on page 135 are books that I have shared, but tend to use them under the category of “diverse” books.  I appreciate the blog from Chad Everett that Tammie Mulligan shared about that discusses how labeling some books diverse and others non-diverse creates a binary, and we really don’t know how children are going to perceive the books we have in our classrooms.

I also appreciate Sara’s comment that “My parents raised me to do small things with a big heart” (pg. 133).   She goes on to state, “There is no magic formula for making the world a better place.  It happens in the moments we break our silent complicity, embrace discomfort, and have candid conversations about what stands in the way.  As educators, you and I are tasked with giving kids opportunities to show compassion, to be upstanders, and to realize the impact they have in society” (pg. 134).   My goal is to share this book with my faculty and work together to model the types of humanity we would like our pre-service teachers to experience and take into their classrooms.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

#CyberPD Week 2 – Lenses Color Our Perception of the World

The inspirational community of #CyberPD is reading Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies for Teach Social Comprehension by Sara Ahmed.   If you are interested in joining the study, check out our amazing facilitators, Cathy's post here or Michelle's post here.  Here is the information for the rest of the book study:

This may not be a revelation for many of you but bear with me for a convoluted reflection.

Two years ago, I was introduced the Gallup’s Clifton Strengths. My new campus is a Strengths-based campus, which means freshman and transfer students are provided codes to complete the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment.  This assessment consists of 177 paired statements that asks the test taker to select the one most like them. After analysis, which has been refined over 40 years, the person is provided their top 5 Themes, with personal insights on how they work together.  These themes answer the question “How do you absorb, think about and analyze information and situations? In other words, what lenses are you using to understand the world.

I took the assessment and my top 5 are Input – Learner – Intellection – Activator – Positivity.  In short, according to Gallup, I 1) crave knowing more, 2) are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions, 3) have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve, 4) can make things happen by turning thoughts into action (but can be impatient), and 5) am upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.  When I read my report, so many habits, inclinations, and decisions in my life made more sense.  But, the biggest revelation was that these themes guide the way I view the world, and not everyone sees and interacts with the world similarly.  For example, with Input/Learner/Intellection bundled together I LOVE questioning, learning, and growing.  I constantly crave new experiences and ideas.  I have a million questions in my head every day. But, guess what, not everyone does.  My husband, who is basically the polar opposite of me, can be exhausted by me.  This clearly can lead to conflict – not because the other person is being mean, stubborn, or contrary – it is because they literally see the world differently than I do.  I’m more often than not, wearing rose colored glasses, where others view the world through other tints.

What has this to do with this week’s chapters?  First, microaggressions.  To start with full disclosure – I am a white, heterosexual, middle class white woman, who might have worked her way through college, but my entire childhood was filled with expectations of literacy, engaged citizenship, and higher education. In short, I am privileged.   When I joined the Army Nation Guard, I felt a few slings of sexism and harassment, but compared to my colleagues of color, different sexual orientation, race/ethnicity etc. I had it easy.  Microaggressions are easy to miss, because my privileged lens doesn’t pick up on it.  

Have I inflicted microaggressions on others? After reading this chapter, I think it is an unequivocal yes.  Have I assigned identities to others without knowing their real stories? Absolutely. Have I allowed a typical identity label to bias my thoughts and interactions with someone? Unfortunately, yes.

Second – Our News – My lenses make some things UTTERLY important to me, but they have no bearing on others.  The question I have on my mind right now may feel like it needs an immediate answer, but when the person I’m interacting with has just gotten bad news, is on a way to a meeting, or is writing an email – my question is secondary, as best. I need to be mindful of this as I have barreled into situations with my agenda, rather than recognizing other people’s “news”.   This has so many implications for my work with both undergraduate and graduate students.  I need to know their news to know what is important to them.

So, where do I go from here?  I hold fast to Maya Angelo’s quote, “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”   In my intellection head, I know that I do these things – I need to move my mind, heart, and spirit to do better – each and every day. I need to be constantly cognizant of what lenses I’m bringing into an interaction and recognize that the other person is wearing their own – and honor their lenses to be able to understand it. This book has been a wonderful reminder of the importance of this!

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

#CyberPD 2018 - Muddling Together

After just lurking last year, I’m back to participating in #CyberPD.  This year’s selections is Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies for Teach Social Comprehension by Sara Ahmed.  If you are interested in joining the study, check out our amazing facilitators, Cathy's post here or Michelle's post here.  Here is the information for the rest of the book study:
Throughout the first chapters, Sara Ahmed emphasized making connections – between teachers and students and students amongst themselves. These connections erase the boundaries between “us” and “them”.  I almost immediately found many connections to Sara Ahmed.  Like her, I’ve taught in public, private, and international classrooms.  My international experiences highlighted the importance of student identity work and finding common ground to work through differences.  
As I was reading, I was taken back to my classrooms in Brazil, Lithuania, and Aruba where we completed “Where I’m From” poems, found poems of personal culture on top of cornmeal painted flags of students’ home countries, and Personal Identity and Culture collage.  For my third-culture kids (TCK), exploring language, identity, and culture was personally relevant and important as many of them were born in one country, lived in another, and had parents from two other countries. 

Yet, as I was reading, I was reminded of how important this identity work is for students in the States.  Each student comes to the classroom with their own story, and too often I’ve assumed I knew their story from looking at them.  As I’ve moved into teaching at the higher ed level, I used some of the same techniques with my undergraduate students – the identity web that Sara Ahmed suggested and a collage.  But, that was in the multicultural class, where is seemed to fit.  I would like to see how I can weave this into my literacy classes, as our identities influence how and what we read and write and how we teach literacy.

Dr. Roberts, in the Forward, highlights Sara’s suggestion of “muddling through these [instruments] with your peers before you engage with your students.”   Identity work is risky work.  Right now I’m at a stage of life where I’ve lost many of my former identities and I’m struggling to redefine myself.