DO NOW: What is Whiteness?

Social Justice & Equity
Editors Note: This post was originally published on Catherine’s blog on Medium.

DO NOW: What is Whiteness?

After taking out their supplies and getting ready to engage, my students reacted to the question I’d written on the board as their “DO NOW.”

Some students giggled. Others made faces  –  perplexed, overwhelmed, entertained. A few began to chat with classmates. Some looked at me hoping for guidance. My co-teacher, having just entered the room, said, “That’s a great question!”

After giving my students time to react, I told them I knew it was a difficult question, but I wanted them to think about it. I told them there were no right answers, but they should draw upon their lived and learned experiences  —  and that I expected them to try to respond.

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Video Playlist: Coaching for Improvement, Equity, and Quality

Getting Better Together

My first year as an instructional coach was a learning year.

I was experienced as a department chair, but the role of an instructional coach was a bit different. For starters, I was in a different district. The District of Columbia Public Schools have a robust approach to coaching called LEAP — Learning together to Advance our Practice. This method of coaching almost mirrors how assistant principals observe, except for the evaluation component. It was an adjustment at first, but LEAP has helped me to hone my craft as an intentional observer.

The school where I coach and teach, the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was America’s first Black public high school. In the first half of the twentieth century, this school was an elite institution, which attracted an extraordinary faculty. (Watch as I give a tour of the school’s museum.) Today, we remain a committed and extraordinary faculty; however, like many urban public schools, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a high-poverty school that has historically experienced high staff turnover. Nearly half of my ELA department is either new to the building or new to teaching.

Finally, understanding the human dynamic present within the feedback cycle is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Teachers are humans, just like every other professional, and their humanity must be maintained throughout the observation and feedback process. At the same time, however, instructional coaches and other school-based leaders must see the potential in each teacher and design learning opportunities that help them to see potential in themselves as well.

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Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain

Podcast anewkindofPD

Editor’s Note: Interested in Culturally Responsive Teaching? Listen to our #anewkindofPD podcast episode featuring Zaretta Hammond. Subscribe here on iTunes or Stitcher for reminders of new podcast launches.

This school year, I have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and asking hard questions about how they can better serve their under-performing students who are disproportionately English learners, poor students, and students of color. They are working to incorporate culturally responsive practices into their classrooms.

I believe culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a powerful method for accelerating student learning. But truth be told, most educators are not really sure what it is or what it looks like. For some, it seems mysterious. A number of leaders discount it because it seems too “touchy feely” or only focused on raising students’ self-esteem, when they need to raise achievement levels. But CRT is so much more than that. It’s the reason why I wrote Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

Two of the biggest challenges I see teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, is understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language. This simply isn’t true. Here are four other big ideas about culturally responsive teaching to keep in mind: Read more

Design Thinking, Empathy, and Equity – Part 2

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post Design Thinking, Empathy, and Equity, that was published earlier this year. It feels particularly timely to share after the racially divisive and violent events that marked this past month.

I have no doubt that our students will return to our classrooms in August with questions we’re afraid or unsure how to answer, and possibly with fear and frustration. I want to offer up the following as one possibility for how we can move our collective equity work forward. Building empathy in our students is a beginning step toward the creation of a more loving society, and perhaps design thinking can get us there.

When engaged with fidelity, the design thinking process is a rigorous one that truly engages students in deeper learning. If we’re grounding this work in equity, the process shouldn’t be rushed. In fact, the seemingly fluid process of design thinking should include pauses. Such pauses should take place after students have started building their empathy muscles, and are approaching the stages of prototyping and testing.

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