“Art is the key to creativity, stress reduction, and problem-solving. Kids who have space to create and make seem to enjoy not only the results but the process of creating art.” Ashley grade 8 Health Sciences Middle School
Meet Ashley, the leader of our afterschool art club. During a parent conference, her dad brought in a picture that this young lady had painted. I had no idea she had that kind of talent and passion for art. She was quiet in class, all smiles, but often I felt like she was overwhelmed in our day to day activity in our classroom. I wanted to get to know her more, and find a way to help her open up more in our class discussions and take more leadership in group projects and lessons.
We were talking about ways in which students could complete their requirements for our Humanities Honors program, and Ashley asked if she could start an afterschool art club. She noticed that many kids liked hanging out after school and not everyone wanted to be part of the sports program. She and a few friends spent lunch times drawing in sketchbooks and would love more time for art. I was thrilled to support her project and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
Here is the lesson I have learned this year by creating a social action project option for our students, leadership evolves when students are truly passionate about what they are allowed to create themselves. One of the things our site does is honor the aspirations of our students. We constantly evaluate what students care about by asking them in a variety of ways to share what their goals and dreams are, and then bring in materials, books, articles and projects or options for them to explore in those areas. This is just another example of the many things that go on at our site.
The first day of art club I sat in the back of the room prepared to help quiet the group, or get materials, or organize something in some way. It was soon apparent my skills were not needed, and my role would be exactly as it should be, a guide on the side of the project, there to support and celebrate the work. Ashley took over the room with this big smile and confident voice. She surveyed students on their art experience and interests, developed a sign in sheet, a calendar of projects based on student interest and gave me a list of supplies we would need. She worked with other social action projects making posters or cards or whatever was necessary to support their work. She skillfully taught art lessons and allowed other students to share their skills as well. I can’t wait to see her final presentation next week alongside other projects at our school symposium.
Lesson learned from Ashley, let them lead. Give them guidance but for the most part, stand back, ask supportive questions and get out of their way.
What is my Why?
I teach to inspire my students to use their knowledge and voice to make the world a better place. The purpose of being a powerful reader, writer, and speaker is not just to do well academically, but to use those skills to make a change and inspire others to do the same.
I am coming to the end of my 29th year of teaching, my first at Health Sciences Middle School. People have often asked why I made the move from a public school district to a public charter site, and in these political times, the question comes up almost every time I talk about my role in education. My move to a public charter was not because I was unhappy with public schools. Rather, it was an opportunity to work with my SDSU doctoral professors on a daily basis, work with a new staff with new ideas in an urban neighborhood that needs people who are passionate about the kids, their issues, and to inspire kids to do more, be more. Could I have done it at my previous site and district? Yes and no. Working at this particular site allows for more experimentation and professional freedom than I had working for a district. Going from a school site of over 900 to a school of 125 middle schoolers was the change I needed.
Here are some basic answers to common questions.Is it easier? No. Do we pick our students? No. Are kids more motivated? Less motivated? The answer is this, kids are kids, and working in any urban environment requires a passion and persistence that keeps me excited about going to work every day. Do you regret leaving the district? No, I enjoy being part of a family of educators that make decisions daily that set the tone and academic rigor and program in ways I could not in a larger system. It hasn’t been easy, but definitely worth it. I have learned a lot this first year, and hope that my experience has brought a new perspective to their work as well.
Here is an example of what makes teaching great this year. Inspiring kids to read, write and now act upon things they are passionate about. This year my students read Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde and after finishing the novel I challenged each of them to create a project that would make a difference in the world just like the teacher in the book asked his class to do. Over the next few days, I will be sharing the work of a variety of students who took the challenge to heart and ran with it.
Meet Linzeyht and Lucero, two young women who are passionate about making a difference in the world by providing assistance and support to the homeless in our community. City Heights is an area where some of the homeless reside. These two young ladies have spent the year researching ways in which to help the homeless in our community, raised some funds through food sales at school to make a donation to Father Joes, a community outreach center that supports homeless families and individuals. They are presenting what they have learned about the homeless situation in our city and will be sharing information and ways in which we can all step up and help in big and small ways at our school Symposium next week.
But this isn’t just a project to these young women. Health Sciences Middle School students worked at Father Joe’s and the Ronald McDonald House last year serving meals to families who needed our support. The program did not continue this year, but that did not stop these young ladies. This is a photo of the three of us at Father Joe’s yesterday at 5:30 am, serving breakfast to clients at the shelter. These young women were kind, and positive and responsible. They not only served breakfast but at the end of the shift they sat with a family with a few little ones and helped out and had a morning chat with the kids. Unlike so many adults I know, they didn’t judge. They didn’t have pity either. They see these families for who they are, good people who are struggling to make things work. So what is my why? Teaching my students to ask themselves that very question, and then supporting them as they strive to follow that passion wherever it leads.
I am declaring the Summer of 2017 a season of writing and renewal. I have been carrying so many posts in my head I am truly ready to burst. I keep thinking, I need to write that down, I need to post that. But then life happens and it just never seems to appear. But today marks the first unofficial day of summer, and my promise to myself to take the summer as a time to post again. I am about a year away from completing my doctorate. It feels like has the soared by, and then other days where I feel like it will never happen. I can tell when it began because this space is so empty, while other writing spaces and work spaces have been so full. I have a list of post ideas, images, tweets and beginnings of a variety of chapters, notes, and stories that need to be placed somewhere.
I can’t believe that this new adventure both in grad life and school life has gone almost undocumented in this space, but that is about to change. I miss this space, and although Twitter and Facebook hold images and short quotes, it just isn’t the same. My computer is full of academic writing, of reports and papers and summaries, but now is the time to bring my voice back to the work. I This third year of the program is all about writing. At first, I thought I would never see this space again, but then as I took
This is the last summer of the doctoral program, and it is all about the writing. At first, I thought I would never see this space again, but then as I took the time to review my past posts, this is the place where so much of the work began.
So consider this an invitation to my writing process. At least through the summer, this space will come alive again. Words need a home, thoughts need a place to land, and I hope that throughout the summer you find the time to join in the conversation. Pull up a chair, a cup of coffee and let’s chat awhile.
We watched the Inaugural Address last week. It wasn’t just a passive activity. We watched the respectful and peaceful passing of power from one president to the next that has occurred now 45 times. We studied the Oath of Office, breaking down each of the words to completely understand what it means. For those of you who need a refresher, it states in the Constitution this:
Oath of Office
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The purpose of the inaugural address is to bring the country together and lay a framework, however general, as to where we are going as a nation. At the end of the Inaugural Address, I immediately shut off the news feed before all the commentary began. I simply wanted students to listen to the speech and come to their own conclusions without the political banter of one side or the other influencing their initial thoughts. We as a class had a discussion about what they thought were the main points of the speech and then I asked them to write their own inaugural address. If they had the microphone, what would they tell the American people?
Here are some of their thoughts and ideas.
First, my favorite opening line:
“Thank you all. It ‘s a pleasure to be the new President of the United States of America. Thank you to the former presidents for taking care of our nation. Now it’s time to put my two cents in.” Asli
Here is a sampling of what was said…
“I’m glad that people still believe that America can change and be better. In this moment, we all need to come together no matter what race you are or what background you come from. We must come together to bring America to it’s strongest point.” Tatiana
“I will make college less expensive because I know now education matters for everyone’s future dreams and goals. ” Yanaili
” I will do my job to help you all. I won’t say I will be perfect, but I will do my best to make you safe and bring jobs. I will fight for all the people in America, and I promise to do my best to support you.” Evee
“To the American people, as our nations 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said,” The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Unfortunately though, I was not alive during FDR’s presidency, but his words moved me and gave me strength. I believe we should not fear the unknown, or anything for that matter, an that the future is in our reach and that we should grasp it without hesitation.” Johny
“We have passion and intelligence to do whatever we put our minds to, we have the drive. We strive for freedom. We strive for our voices to be heard, and we strive to make our world a better place. Together as a nation we can and will do whatever we put our minds to. With all of our unique and creative minds the world will change.” Ashley
“Higher education will become more affordable for those who want to take it seriously. The education system will be improved to teach kids in their own way at their own pace. Men and women will no longer be paid a different amount for the same work. People will be heard and will have a voice in making decision to benefit the country. I will try to do good and help others. I want you to remember me as the president that did their best.” David
“I will build new roads, highways, railways and laws. I will repair the parks and schools. This will add jobs.” Enesto PG
‘I will defend boys and girls who are different color so they don’t deal with racism. Also, so people have equal rights and threat each other with respect. I will help those in need and help their families who are sick and need medical help. I will give those medical insurance for those who can’t afford it and need it. My important point for our country is we help those who can’t help themselves.” Jocelyn
“I want to help change how people see each other, because we are all the same even if we have different skin colors or are a different gender, or don’t look how people think they should. Inside we are all the same.” Destiny
“I want this country to be the best it can be. I believe anything can be accomplished together with passion, perseverance, and grit. As President, I will try to make the country work together to be the best.” Leo
These are idealists, dreamers, our future. There will be those that read this and be tempted to down play their sincerity, or question how we will pay for this or that. But in the end, kids have it right. We need to work together. We need to keep people healthy, educate them, provide safe neighborhoods, and create an economy that allows everyone to take care of their families. I for one. am excited to be part of supporting these young minds to grow up and be part of our democratic process.
I have postponed writing this page because I simply didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to wake up and think that the phone call I received a few weeks ago was just some horrible dream, and yet the days and weeks passed, and I knew that 2016 took some amazing people, one of which was one of the best educators and human beings I knew, Annie MacMillan.
Now Annie Fo Fanny as I loved to call her was a bright spot in my life. She was one of those teachers that spent her entire career with students, at one school, lighting the lives of mostly second graders year after year. She was a solid foundational rock in the community, and in both my personal and professional life, long after we parted ways and I moved on to different schools, different roles, and accepted different challenges. She was the constant support and cheerleader, and never hesitated to “Let me tell something….” about whatever she was thinking, or thought about what you were doing. She was tough, she was loving, she was true, and she made me and everyone she came into contact with a better person.
I was trying to think of how to honor a woman who meant so much to so many, and to somehow encapsulate her essence. I remember when I left Bostonia years ago, I wrote a letter to the staff letting people know what I learned from being there. I pulled out of my files this morning, as it reminded me so much of Annie because many if not all of those lessons somehow came back to her.
So my dear friends, I present a few of things that I have learned from being blessed to know and love the great Annie Mac.
- Be generous with your time and knowledge. I have so many great memories sitting in the “pod” just talking with you, about life, teaching and family. You were always listening with your mind and heart, truly listening because you knew that being truly present was always more important than anything you had to share yourself. I am a better mother, friend, educator, and person because of it.
- Laughing until you can’t stand up is the best therapy to a stressful situation. Everyone needs to laugh and smile when they think of you, because no matter what the road, you took it on with strength, grace and humor. I don’t recall a day I didn’t laugh when I was with you, no matter what the challenge.
- A chocolate drawer brings people together. Enough said.
- Support someone in the decision that is best for them, even if it is difficult for you. I watched you coach admin, teachers, students, friends and family in so many ways with kindness and your no nonsense “let me tell you something…” and we were all better for it.
- Be generous as an educator. Your wealth of materials filled so many classrooms after you left teaching. My daughters for one, who literally grew up in your classroom, eventually becoming a teacher and gaining a second grade classroom of her own. Through your generosity, she has been trusted with the Arthur collection, Junie B. Jones, science and history books, and so many books and supplies that her generation of second graders will now come to know and love because of you and the team. And in those books are the notes, and post-its that show how much you planned, and how much you loved teaching. We should all have careers we love so much. Your work lives on.
- It is important to teach about history. Annie, you will be happy to know you taught me that history is a living, breathing thing, and not just about “dead people.” You got me “on the ship” and your passion for history and social justice lives on in the work I do with students today. Thank you for never giving up on getting me to understand the value of stories, both past and present. You and my dad are having a great laugh over a cup of coffee in heaven at the moment as I try to teach civics in this trying time.
- Build a team in your life. You had such a way of bringing us all together. The talent show tradition being just one example that brought our entire community together, staff, students, and families year after year. It wasn’t just the endless rehearsals, and lists and revisions on that famous yellow pad, but it was the love and passion that brought us all together year after year, and then to an exhausted dinner afterwards. It was that love that I try to bring with me in new ways every where I go. You taught us to find passion, to bring out the best in people, and to create traditions in a digital time when we spend more times with our face in a screen than facing each other.
- Live life out loud. Scream for the Aztecs, yell BUNCO at the top of your lungs, argue passionately for kids, and never leave a room without having let people know you were there.
- You taught me to live in the moment, to take risks, to be silly, and to love unconditionally. I hope to be half the woman when I leave this earth that you were.
- And finally, always have a scrunchie, and when life gets tough, adjust that ponytail and kick ass.
It is not lost on me that we celebrate your life on Dr. Martin Luther King’s Day. You were your own civil rights leader Annie, in so many great ways. I still can’t imagine that you are really gone. I keep expecting you to pop your head in the door, with that big smile and infectious laugh. I love you and miss you so very much my friend. So I will carry you in my heart, that forever vision of you walking down the hall, ponytail swinging, yelling out for all to hear, “Good morning friend! Let me tell you…”
It has been an amazingly challenging week. The election has brought out the best and the worst in people. I have never felt so confused, angry or frustrated. I am not just talking about the results of the election, although it did not go in my direction. I am talking about the aftermath. I am talking about the rhetoric, the violence, the overarching lack of respect for discourse that is fanning throughout the country.
Everyone has been voicing their opinions. My Facebook and Twitterfeed is blowing up daily on one side or another. One of my favorite blog posts of the week was this one by Tim Urban on his blog Wait But Why? http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/11/its-going-to-be-okay.html He brings a little reality to the situation, we are in some ways screwed, but we will survive this. Since I never heard of this blog before, thank you Facebook feed for this connection. He inspired me to post my own thoughts this morning.
Here is my response and plea to you my friends as we move forward as a nation.
- Stop saying you are moving to Canada.
I am beyond annoyed with people who are screaming to the rooftops that they are moving to Canada. Seriously? Things don’t go your way and you are leaving the country? That type of response is exactly why we are in this mess. You can’t pack up your toys and go just because the vote didn’t go your way. We have serious issues to face in this country, beyond your being frustrated. Check out this video montage I created that highlights letters my students wrote to the Future President. Do you see these issues? Do you care about our future as a nation? I do, and I am not leaving, we have work to do.
2. Did you vote?
When you look at the numbers, it is astounding.
We had the lowest voter turn out in 20 years, 20 years! With everything at stake, that is our response? I am not sure what is more horrifying, the daily rhetoric since the election, or the fact that over 55 percent of eligible voters sat this one out, and continue to do so. We talk about the popular vote vs. the electoral college, and I pose this for your consideration. The popular vote according to this data was to not vote at all. That my friends, is a much more serious issue than what can happen over the next four years. We as Americans sat this one out. Literally sat this one out. There are more protests this morning and nasty memes on my feed, but where is the outcry about the number of people sitting this out? Why is it that over half our nation, who live in a democracy based on the ability to choose our representation, choose not to? I know I had many discussions with people who said they disliked both candidates, and so therefore were not going to vote. By the way, in my home state of California we had more initiatives on the ballot than ever before, so if you sat this one out on principal, you sat out on a lot of other legislation that will directly effect your day to day life. But not voting? This trend in my opinion will be the demise of this country much more than whatever happens over the next four years. How do we bring people back to the table and the conversation? How do we encourage civic responsibility? How are more voices heard in the next election?
3. Stop vilifying the other side.
Not everyone who disagrees with you is a horrible human being. We are pretty split down the middle when it comes to this election. Today I will host a football party with my friends and I know that there are a variety of votes that will be sitting at my table. They are not horrible human beings because I disagree with some of their views. We have been friends for decades, had political discussions and they are not racist, homophobic, misogynistic people. They have concerns about the future of their children, the economy, the state of the world just like I do. If we continue to draw these lines that I am 100 percent right, and you are 100 percent wrong, we will never get anywhere. Why has it become that common ground is the enemy? I am not saying there are some pretty horrible people out there at the moment saying horrific things, but I am saying that is not the majority.
4. Violence and Hate Speak will not be tolerated in my world. I will speak up.
To deny that some are using these election results to promote hate and bigotry would be naive. Just this week a student at my university was targeted.
The perpetrators chose her based on her religion, stole her wallet and her car. The things they said to her during the robbery clearly made it a hate crime. Luckily she was not physically hurt. Our university community acted swiftly and with compassion and determination to support this student and denounce the vicious act. How we respond to any and all racism and intolerance is critical to creating a country we can be proud to call home. That takes courage and I believe that the millions of people who live and work in our great country are better than the pockets of people that promote hate and violence. We just need to stop sitting on the sidelines and waiting for someone else to answer the call. In case you’re wondering who will fix this mess, look in the mirror. Collectively, we need to look in the mirror.
Yesterday I had quite a discussion with a friend of mine from the other side of the political spectrum. What I am learning is that I will not be silent and disrespected, but I will not be disrespectful. I was trying to explain what it means to create a safe space for students and people in general. I told him “I teach in a safe space school. I believe in creating safe spaces in all areas of my life. It baffles me why you think compassion and support for others is a weakness. There seems to be growing thought in this world that respect for differences is a limited commodity, that by supporting someone means I hate another.”
I have mixed reactions to the safety pin symbol that is popping up all over the newsfeed. I think it could easily be viewed as a simple hashtag, a trend that says, “hey, I am here for you for now, because yeah, it’s on Facebook, twitter, Instagram etc…” I’m not saying wearing the pin is a bad idea. We need to vocally and physically create places for people to feel safe and supported. If you really want to help, don’t just wear a pin. Do something. Say something. Use your privilege and experience in this world to make it better for someone else. That does not mean however you model the same intolerance in your own views. Listen. Really listen to things and views that are uncomfortable to hear. Respond. Act. Be responsible.
And finally, Be kind.
Yes, I said it. There is power in choosing kindness. It is not weakness to highlight the positive things happening in this difficult time. It does not negate the real work that needs to be done. It does not allow me a free pass to ignore the difficult conversations that need to happen as we move forward today, tomorrow and the weeks, months, and years to come. But it does provide grace. And I think we can all use a little more of that.
Writing is hard. That is just the plain and simple truth. Well I guess to be more explicit, writing well is hard.
These past few weeks I have hit a crossroads in my doctoral work. I struggle with time, time to reflect, to work, to breathe, to have family time, to be a wife, a mom, a student, and the teacher my students deserve. I don’t know if I am going to pull this semester off if you want to know the truth. For the first time in my all or nothing writing style, I have come to the scary conclusion that I might not make my deadline.
I don’t know how to fit in more time to write. I have scheduled every inch of my life down to the minute, and I mean literally. I have my groceries delivered to the house, an indulgence I gave myself when I figured out I could squeeze another hour into my schedule if I shopped with a few clicks of a mouse instead of wandering through our local Sprouts health food store. My kids don’t live at home, and my husband only sees me at night, usually with my face in my computer screen. I was making it work, and then inevitably, like always my body reminded me once again I need to sleep, and I caught the wicked cold going around this fall. So I made my annual trip to urgent care, got meds and an admonishment to rest or else. I would like to say this is an unusual event, but in looking back on my Memories on Facebook link, I am usually sick every year around this time. Not a good track record frankly.
But back to my writing problems. This space is blank because I don’t have time to post anymore. I am too busy trying to write for work, and write for my homework, and of course, that elusive doctoral paper that just looms over my head like a large raincloud, waiting to dump all over me. I began this journey with so much hope and promise, and now I wonder daily if I made the right decision. Why am I doing this? What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said already? What if all this work turns out to be nothing, another report on a shelf, a biblio number someone pulls up on their screen when researching for their topics, all for what? What can I add to the already crowded landscape of research out there, and will anyone ever read it? Sitting at the doctoral table, I wonder like many of my own students if I belong here. As you can tell, I have been living in a fearful place lately, so the words are not coming to the page easily.
But like always, because I am blessed to surround myself with amazing people, I write on because I have a support system that believes together we can do this. I have a family that pours me more coffee (making sure some of it is decaf), shuts down my negative talk, and drags me to the gym a few times a week to make sure I keep my sanity. I work at a site where everyone, and I mean everyone, is a researcher of some sort, and the level of professionalism and dedication makes a better person just for being there.
And then there is that nagging voice inside, that doesn’t go away no matter how frustrated I get, that keeps telling this story in my head
It isn’t my story really, it is the story of the students I have worked with over the past thirty years. The faces of those I have taught well, and those that I wish I could bring back into my classroom and teach again, because I know so much more now. Its the stories of my students tell me through their writing, the real writing that means something to them years later when they come and see me. It is the desire to tell the world that all students deserve a positive space to learn, to be heard and taught how to powerfully speak and write at the larger academic table, and not shut down or categorized to a more convenient track due to language or circumstance. It is trying to fit all this passion into format I struggle to master, transferring passion to academia, to make my work more than the numbers and citations, but to give validity and recognition to the strength and power of my students that so many see with a deficit lens. It is the struggle to tell a compelling story, one that will shine light on the challenges we face while letting the light of the brilliance of these students shine through. I guess I answered my own question, yes I have something to say, now I just need to continue to hone the right words to say it.
Working with new partners broadens your horizons. Holly and I met Randy Depew first in digital spaces working with KQED Letters to the President materials. We had some quick emails but were looking forward to working with him face to face. It is interesting this digital world that can isolate people can also build relationships. I posted our presentation here, check out all the great things available from KQED, all of them FREE, the favorite four letter word of educators. Truly some great stuff.
When we met Randy yesterday morning, I knew right away it was going to be a fun day to present. He was relaxed, and funny and made us all feel at ease. You never know when you are put together with someone to present how it will go, and we had a great time. How can you not like someone who takes notes like this during a long winded speech from a state politician? We talked about it at dinner. I asked how he learned to draw like that, he said he does it to focus his listening in large groups. When he is in that large group lecture environment, he has to draw because he can’t focus otherwise. He would be thinking of ways to keep still, and the sketching allows for movement without being noticed by others. He says he doesn’t plan what he is going to draw, they just appear, how cool is that? And then I think of my students, several I have gotten a sketchbook because they too need to doodle or sketch to focus in class, and I smile because I can now see their future.
Not all conferences are great, but this one truly is a great learning experience. I haven’t done a lot of work with the California Subject Matter Project, but I plan on doing more. It is great to have integrated content people all working together on educational and equity issues for kids. All the presentations have been full of practical ideas and great discussions. I look forward to this morning as well.
Here are a few more glimpses into the day. Happy Wednesday!
We have been working hard this week reading the student letters on the Letters to the Future president site and writing our own thesis statements. Here is the presentation we will be using this week to start building our arguments. Click on these padlets for a closer view.