We Got This – Part 3

I finished up the book We Got This by Conelius Minor this afternoon. It was a great read and has me thinking about equity as a new school year is around the bend. Here are quotes and my thoughts for chapters 5-6.

Chapter 5

Mrs. Davenport spoke. “This book was given to us, but it wasn’t written for us.p. 104

This quote was taken from the beginning of chapter 5. After reading it I started to think about curriculum guides and publishers. Pacing guides aren’t perfect and teachers should keep that in mind when planning out the year. Teachers should give themselves grace to slow down and modify instruction based on students’ needs. This doesn’t happen enough as state and local testing often regulate pacing. Also, this quote reminds me that the books and materials that teachers use should be inclusive. Do students see themselves in the books that they read? Do the illustrations accurately display our society?

“A positive interaction based on a power imbalance – the powerful interacting with the powerless – is not a positive interaction. It is a colonizing one.” p. 106

I had to read this a couple times before it sunk in. Whether it’s spoken or not, there’s a power imbalance between teachers and students. Developing a classroom community takes time and teachers often engage students in activities that promote a positive and safe environment. Students can pick up on when a teacher is being genuine and when they’re not. I believe this quote also deals with the shift in how school is sometimes designed to colonize and not necessarily embrace differences. Students don’t come to school everyday with a blank slate. They bring their culture, language, norms and so many other characteristics that are part of their individual identity. How often is this discussed and is it celebrated? This quote has me asking more questions.

Chapter 6

“We talk about entrepreneurial spirit while worshiping at the alter of the status quo.” p. 126

Teachers want students to be empowered and take ownership of their learning. It’s a powerful statement, but is it backed up by action? How can a district encourage students to innovate if the organization is quite pleased with how things are currently run? Do school districts fundamentally change when initiatives are activated?

We can certainly cannot change an entire school or even a classroom yet, but we can change how we respond to the things that happen in those places” p. 129

I believe this quote touches on the mindset of teachers. There are some things that I can change and others that I can’t. Many teachers are struggling with this right now as districts come out with elearning and hybrid plans. What’s controllable? Well, I can control how I respond and that’s a start. Realizing this gives me a small sense of calm and it’s a good reminder – especially this time of the year.

“The longer I stay in it, the more I realize that our work is more evolutionary than it is revolutionary” p. 131

I nodded while highlighting this statement. Most teachers have seen new products, resources, testing programs, and manipulatives that have been touted as being “game changers” for students. These fads tend to fade over time or are replaced with something new. Change is always happening in the education field. Teachers that stay in the classroom for years realize what’s important. Strategies or resources that work for last year’s class might not work next year. Teachers mess up, identify how to improve and become better over time. They pivot as needed and develop better practices over time. This is a good reminder that I need to recognize the small wins when they occur.

We Got This – Part 2

This post details my journey with We Got This by Conelius Minor. My school met to discuss the first two chapters earlier this week and it was a productive discussion that could’ve been longer. It was helpful to discuss strategies related to listening and getting to know our students better. This will be especially important as my district will be starting in a face-to-face or hybrid model soon and that’s far removed from the norm.

My highlighter was busy during chapters 3-4.

Chapter 3

We loved talking about giving kids voice while mocking the voices that they brought to school with themp. 48

I highlighted this statement as it resonates. It’s important to give kids a voice, but too often I also hear people in education speak about how that voice needs to change because it’s not “acceptable” compared what’s expected. By taking that stance, teachers take on the role of attempting to change a student’s voice to what’s deemed as more important and in the process they devalue what’s being brought from home. In my mind a student’s voice is part of their identity.

“Creating a change in your classroom impacts your students. Creating a larger change can impact your whole school” p. 65

Teachers want what’s best for their students. Innovation is often evident in schools and it originates (my take here) in individual classrooms. Teachers see the results, get excited (if it’s a positive outcome) and want to spread the news. Finding a way to communicate this to administration is sometimes a barrier as there are other directives and only so much time. I thought Minor was able to carefully articulate a number of ways to showcase why the change is necessary and how it may impact a larger population.

Chapter 4

“Some kids don’t feel like learning is a safe pursuit” p. 81

I cringed as I read this but also know it to be true. This outcome has to do with how/what a student has experienced during their learning journey. There’s a decent amount of pressure in schools. That pressure is different depending on the student and situation. Good grades and peer pressure all play a role. The perceived “mistake free zone” in a school isn’t attainable and therefore students don’t engage as a form of “failure” is guaranteed. Since it’s not safe they might decide it’s not worth the effort. Teachers have to proactively create a classroom community where students feel safe to make mistakes.

One of the greatest gifts that we can give children is the ability to advocate for themselves and for their own education” p. 92

I work with students in grades k-5 and it is a joy to see how students use their voice over time. As students progress through their elementary journey they develop and use their voice to communicate thoughts, ideas and personal reflections. Understanding how to approach and ask teachers about a particular question/topic takes initiative. Students won’t take that leap unless they feel safe. In order to advocate for themselves they need to develop their voice and be able to reflect on their own understanding compared to what’s expected. Student self-reflection plays a role here as well as how receptive a teacher is to the student. Being able to navigate and help a student develop self-advocacy skills is worth the time. I find this especially evident when an upper elementary student transfers those skills to middle school.

We Got This – Part 1

This summer I’m reading through We Got This by Conelius Minor. I’ve heard of the book and another teacher at my school raved about out last year. Based on the preview it looks like it falls in similar lines with two of the books that I read last year: This is Not a Test and White Fragility. I feel like understanding your own bias and privilege are the beginning steps in making actionable change. I’m continuing to read more to find out where I can make lasting impact.

The book is part of an optional study for the summer that was made available by my administrator. With all that has transpired over the last few months (George Floyd’s death, protests, awareness of inequalities … ) the district has taken a stance that equity should be a focus. How that turns out is anyone’s guess right now, but I believe we’re making strides in the right direction. The study group will be reading a couple chapters and then meeting over Zoom throughout the summer. Last week the group initially met to discuss the logistics and decided to read two chapters and meet every two weeks.

I kept my highlighter handy as I went through the first two chapters. I highlighted certain statements that resonated and kept them at limit to focus on particular pieces. I’m writing here to preserve my current thoughts.

Chapter 1

“The true masterminds – the real enemies – in this dystopia are the business-as-usual attitudes ..” p. 10

Over time I’ve realized the business-as-usual tendencies are often rooted in resistance to change. As an organization become larger balancing efficiency with what’s best for students tends to drive decisions at a school level. Being open to modifying or scrapping an idea for something else can be a challenge, especially when the originators of the system are not willing to budge or have been given a directive to stay the course.

“When we are inflexible in our naming, we become inflexible in our thinking” p. 10

Despite our best efforts, fixed labeling is evident in schools. Gifted, resource, special ed, striving, low, high, average, EL, kiddos (okay I threw this in there), are all labels. Once a label is fixed it’s trying to remove it from our fixed perspective. Being more flexible with categorizing can help evolve our viewpoint. Students are changing, growing and developing their own academic identities through experiences at home and school. Why should teachers affix a label that’s attached to a student as the individual learning process evolves.

Chapter 2

“Teaching without this kind of engagement is not teaching at all. It is colonization.” p. 28

The text before this statement mentions the importance of relationships that are grounded in a shared vision and collaboration. The word that bounced off of the page was colonization. When I hear the word I think of establishing control. Is that what school is for? I would assume if you ask teachers, many of them would say that having a classroom community is essential in creating an environment for optional learning. This quote reinforces how important it is to allow (I kind of cringe when writing that word as it assumes that it’s my decision) students to be empowered to be part of a community of learners.

“... Racism, sexism, ableism, and classism are systems”

“The hard part of knowing that oppression lives in systems too is understanding that systems don’t change just because we identify them; they change because we disrupt them.” p. 31

Understanding that racism is a system and not necessarily an act can take time to digest. Being aware that oppression exists within systems takes a critical eye in looking beyond business-as-usual tendencies. Identifying what/how a school culture silences, excludes and/or oppresses students is the first step. Then we move towards the disruption process.