See Matt’s Video on Teaching Channel: Encouraging Students to Take Action
A petition is a concise, direct, and powerful tool to teach the essentials of civic engagement.
After going through a few cycles of civic engagement projects in my classroom, I found that what distinguished effective projects from mediocre ones was the ability of the student group to articulate a clear and appropriate demand that was addressed to a specific target audience. To help students think about the criteria of an effective “ask” and its relationship to a target audience, I have all of my students write a petition as their first semester history final. The petition serves as a “trial run” for their civic engagement projects and as a checkpoint, midway through the year, to define and practice the fundamentals of civic engagement.
I didn’t come to the realization about the importance of a petition project in terms of teaching civic engagement on my own. This conclusion was the result of many conversations and an inquiry cycle that was supported by the history department, both at my school site and at the district level. I think this is crucial to point out because teaching for civic engagement depends on several supportive conditions, primary among them the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers. My teaching has grown tremendously through the conversations I’ve been able to have with my colleagues in the space created, and funded, by my school and district.
It was in an inquiry cycle during my first year of completing civic engagement projects that a colleague asked, “What do you think separated the effective projects from the not so effective ones?” This simple question helped me identify the differences between two specific projects.
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.
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.
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
While there is currently more LGBTQ representation in media, politics, and entertainment than ever before, school can still be a challenging place for LGBTQ kids and kids who are questioning and discovering who they are. Here are some tips for making your classroom a safe and inclusive space for all of your students.
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.
I honor and admire Design Thinking for many reasons — its ingenuity, how engaging and rigorous it can be for students, and ultimately that it serves as a vehicle for Deeper Learning. But mostly I value Design Thinking because it gives me hope — hope in the power and potential that it holds for our students as human beings. Design Thinking has the unique power to leverage the intersection of equity and innovation through deeper learning and empathy.
There is no greater respect you can show a student than to respect his or her culture. As an African-American male, I’ve lived through examples — and nonexamples — of what it truly means to be culturally relevant.
I became fully alive in the 10th grade when my Language Arts teacher opened the pages of the Harlem Renaissance to me, and introduced me to Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. But beyond those authors, she made Shakespeare relevant for me. She also made many other writers that are traditionally outside the canon of Black authors available in ways that made sense within the context of my own life.
Have you ever wondered about the impact your culture has on the way you teach? Do you think about how each student in your room comes from a unique and different context, and how that context may shape their learning experience?
To begin a conversation about the impact that one’s culture — i.e., race, gender, age, economic status, language, ethnic distinctiveness, and values — has on teaching and learning, we’re hosting a guided learning group on Teaching Channel’s Teams platform. Recent current events, the growing desire to discuss race in the classroom, and the impact of social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, all speak to the need for a space to articulate, reflect on, evaluate, and refine our understanding of culture in the classroom for the benefit of our kids, and our society as a whole.
Teacher’s lounges are full of coffee cups with cheesy slogans: “Teachers Change Lives,” “Children are the Future,” “To Teach is To Touch a Life Forever.”
But though they might seem trite, the thing about these slogans is that they’re 100% true.
When we’re witnesses to inequity, it can be all too easy to feel powerless. But while everyone can take action, teachers are uniquely positioned to change the world. It’s what we do. We have the power to help eliminate hate by filling students with empathy for one another. It’s our responsibility to give all students a chance to succeed, to love the kids who need to be loved the most, to reform hateful habits.
In a world that often is not equitable, we need to create classrooms that are. Showing our students how to live with respect and empathy for each other teaches them skills that will impact the future. We are not powerless. In fact, we have an imperative responsibility.