Week of May 8, 2017

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Dear Staff,
A few weeks ago Joy shared the segment below in her weekly memo to staff. While this topic looks very differently in the lower grades verses, we believe these are worthy things to consider…so much so that we have dedicated the entire retreat to explore the notions of “diversity,” “otherness,” and “hard conversations.” We found Joy’s words to be timely and thought-provoking and wanted to be able to give K-7 staff members the opportunity to ponder them as a precursor to the upcoming retreat. Thank you, Joy, for your guidance and leadership as we navigate this unfamiliar terrain. These are the times that define us as a community, and we continue to be so grateful to be surrounded by people who challenge us to think deeply and push us to become more understanding and compassionate.

From Joy:

“Something to Ponder: I keep rolling around the topic of hard conversations in my head and I want to reiterate a few things and share my own personal experience this week with my own class of students. As I shared at staff meeting, it is absolutely critical that we facilitate deep and civil discussion within our school community. While I believe we all agree that it is never our intention to sway our students thinking about controversial matters, that should not translate to avoiding discussions. Please, please, please know that it is never my intention to give the message that I want you to avoid facilitating tough discussions. As I have heard many of you say, frequently, we want to teach kids how to think, not what to think. The more I reflect on this challenge, the more I believe that I mostly want to teach students to ask lots of questions. This journey of mastering civil debate is a critical part of our teaching environment. We never want to give our students the impression that healthy conflict is bad. We want to be transparent with our parents. If we have strong and loving relationships with all of our students, they will know that they are safe to think and question.

So….my class this week: On Thursday, we had a very direct and open discussion about the notion of having difficult and uncomfortable discussions and why we are not doing it more as a community. I reminded them that I believe that conflict is a good thing and that it enables us to talk and broaden our perspective which I think always leads me to better decisions and ideas. In short, when I am challenged and questioned as a leader, I make better decisions because the decisions reflect OUR perspective rather than MY perspective. I highlighted that in the past two weeks, we have had a Presidential Inauguration, Women’s March, Pro Life March, Cabinet Selections, and Executive Orders all in the news but I am not hearing folks discuss it at school. The discussion was great and the kids shared the same things that many of us are probably feeling; fear of conflict, fear of being attacked, fear of hurting someone’s feelings, fear of being misunderstood, lack of knowledge, etc. I told them that our staff has all the same feelings and that many of us feel inadequate to facilitate these complex conversations when we are all in the same process of exploration. I reminded them that our goal as teachers is always to ensure that discussion and debate happens in a safe and honorable way where all students feel respected. I also owned that many of us do not fully understand the complex issues which also makes us feel vulnerable as teachers. Lastly, I shared that we also want to make sure we handle our conversations in a way that doesn’t come across as trying to influence WHAT our students think but to instead, provide a place where they can continue their investigation of how to develop their own ideas. I reminded them that my job as facilitator is to help think of questions from all perspectives. We had a lengthy discussion about ground rules for healthy debate and I asked them to choose one of the topics above to discuss on Friday. They selected the recent Executive Order regarding Immigration. After class on Thursday, one student told me that she was very nervous about class on Friday; when I asked her why, she said that she was afraid she would get upset and that her emotions would take over and cause her to use words that do not accurately articulate her thoughts. I reminded her that we would sort through it together BUT that when our words don’t come out right, we just ask for the opportunity to restate. I had two students who also came after class and told me that they were sad they were going to miss class on Friday as they really wanted to “talk about this stuff.” My take away; they are curious and want to know but are afraid to ask. Friday rolls around (Mr. Johnnie joined for an impromptu visit so he can certainly chime in with his perspective) and I think the discussion went really well. I wanted to set the state for everyone to connect “real people” to the topic we were about to discuss and I also wanted to evoke empathy and consideration for others in the room from the get go so we started with two questions: 1) Does anyone in the classroom have family or friends who are directly impacted by any changes in immigration requirements? and 2) What do you each of you know about your own family’s heritage and roots? We immediately learned that three students in the classroom have dual citizenship and one student’s father was born and raised in Iran. These brave students shared their family stories. Mr. Johnnie shared that his family was searching their ancestry and identified their home countries in Africa prior to being forcibly brought to America as slaves. Wow…some important stuff shared right off the bat. The folks who shared were kind enough to share some stories about their families and what they knew about the “why” they ended up in America. We then moved into a basic K-W-L format for discussion. I led with, “What do you know or what have you heard and wonder if it is fact?” Kids shared and to be honest, we ran out of time. The discussion was calm. Different perspectives surfaced but it was handled beautifully. Everyone gave me a thumbs up at the end and we will continue on another day. I am sure that I could have done this in a better way and that I could certainly improve upon my approach and lesson, but my main goal was to stick my foot in the water of a difficult discussion in a classroom environment so that I could be reminded of the challenge that I ask you all to take each day in your classrooms. While I am 100% sure that I have students in that classroom who have very different beliefs and political affiliations, I do think that the discussion felt peaceful…..at least this time. No easy answers for sure but I truly want students to feel safe to ask questions and discuss these topics.

My biggest take away so far…..we don’t have to know everything to have a discussion, we have to be willing to ask questions and seek answers from many different sources so we can gather info and figure out our own thoughts. I was able to facilitate this discussion without knowing or sharing the answers….and, in fact, I openly admitted that I am very confused and have many questions myself.”

How to Be a Culturally Responsive Teacher

Julia Thompson, a practicing teacher for more than 35 years, considers what it means to have a culturally responsive classroom and the steps necessary to create one. Adapted from the 3rd edition of her book The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide.

julia thompsonby Julia G. Thompson

In the early years of the 21st century, we are constantly and unconsciously bombarded with messages from the various societies that surround us. From restaurant choices, music, sports, fashion, and all forms of popular media to proceedings as significant as wars and threats of terrorism, we adults function in a culturally diverse world. Our students share that world with us, and they need our help in learning to negotiate the complexities of a multicultural society.

One of the most enduring strengths of the public school system in America is the variety of cultures that meet peacefully in thousands of classrooms each day. In classroom after classroom, students of all different races and cultural backgrounds study together.

At a time when school systems are scrutinized and criticized from many sides, classroom diversity is one of our nation’s greatest assets.  Click the link below to read more…..

http://www.middleweb.com/9471/culturally-responsive-classrooms/

Week-At-A-Glance

Monday, May 8th
Garren to Huntersville Oaks
Tuesday, May 9th
Coppola to the Laurels
Wednesday, May 10th
Admin out of the building – Yearly Reflection and Goal Setting
Nancy Lauro – Teacher Leader
Whitley to Huntersville Oaks
K-7 Mandatory Staff Meeting – EOG Training w/ Angela
Thursday, May 11th
Admin out of the building – Yearly Reflection and Goal Setting
2nd Grade Law & Order Performance
Westbrook/Sharp to Williams Place
Friday, May 12th
Staff Retreat! No School for students.

Upcoming Dates
May 16 – Last Day of 6/7 Branch Electives
May 15 – Last Day of 6/7 Arts Electives
May 15 – 4th Grade Economics Fair
May 15 – Senior Take Over Day
May 16 – 5th Grade Science EOG
May 16 – Emily Schultz Baby Shower after school
May 18 – ELA EOG – Grades 3-7
May 19 – Math EOG – Grade 3-7
May 18-19 – 2nd Grade to Rescue Ranch
May 23 – 3rd Grade Poetry Slam
May 24-25 – 7th Grade Ropes Course
May 24-25 – Holocaust Museum
May 26th – Kindergarten Screening; Required Teacher Workday
May 29 – Memorial Day Holiday – NO SCHOOL
May 30 – State of the School
May 30 – 7th Grade Change Project
May 31 – Last Day of School (5th Grade Moving Up) (6/7 Dance)
June 1-2 – Teacher Workdays
June 1 – CSD Graduation at Belk Theater

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