14 May It’s Monday! Looking for Summer PD Reading … Here’s One Not to Miss #IMWAYR
As a classroom teacher, building students’ social comprehension focused mainly on social activism. Personally, I also focus my efforts through doing. Whether it is cooking and serving at a local soup kitchen, getting books into kids’ hands, or volunteering to support a community member with undocumented status, I am a doer by nature, not a talker.
Sometimes, when a sensitive topic comes up in conversation, I don’t know what to say. I am a good listener, but when it is my turn to share my thoughts I often can’t seem to find the words I want. Sometimes, the words come to me later, but in the moment, my mind is blank. I want my words to honor what an individual is saying, to understand the depth of his/her story, and to open up a conversation, not shut it down. Being the Change, helped me find the words to extend a conversation so that discussions can move beyond the superficial to truly understand another individual’s story and perspective.
In this excerpt from her book, Sara responds in a tender moment:
“Ms. Ahmed!” There was another bombing last night!”
The boom of his voice brings me to a pause, brings us all to a pause….
“I read that last night, Julian. Do you want to talk about it
Julian’s question came out in a rush. “Is it going to happen to us (New York City) again? Are we safe uptown since we aren’t near the World Trade Center?”
“I would consider us safe, yes. But it depends on how you feel, if you feel safe” (75).
I want to remember this response. Her words comforted a child. Her words validated a child’s feelings. And her words opened a door for important conversations.
As I read each chapter, my notebook filled with Sara’s words. I could hear her voice in my head guiding me to examine my own biases and learn new ways to help students find value in their stories and the stories of others. Instead of shying away from a sensitive topic, or telling someone not to worry, I will lean into these topics and make space to explore these ideas. Sara’s stories from the classroom helped me think about how to validate what students say while also helping them reflect on their ideas, and the ideas of others.
Notice the way Sara teaches students how to listen:
Sara begins her lesson about active listening with students being researchers. They create a fishbowl around a small group of peers to watch for signs of active listening. With more knowledge of what active listening looks like and sound like, students head off to discuss a text and practice their active listening skills
To reinforce her teaching point, Sara reconvenes the group at the carpet and says,
“When we hear from you, I want you to focus on what you took away from listening to your partner(s). That means, rather than saying what is on your mind or making your contribution to the group, you are going to amplify or echo what your partner(s) offered” (34).
Oh, such powerful teacher language. Her word choice reinforces learning and fosters caring for others – words I want to remember.
Notice how she helps students have vulnerable conversations:
To introduce students to explore bias, Sara asks her students to draw a picture of a teacher, scientist, doctor, athlete, and pilot. As students share their drawings she fosters conversations about biases.
“Finding one of our own biases can make us uncomfortable. If you did find a bias just now, know that you’re not alone. We all have biases. The important is to be honest with ourselves and work through them, not to pretend we don’t have them” (51).
Sara’s words help students deal with uncomfortable feelings and self-doubt by honoring these difficult moments. Her words validate students’ feelings without judging them or making them feel judged. She helps students construct their knowledge and this opens up opportunities for self-reflection and change.
Notice how she teaches students to think about the perspectives of others:
Sara teaches students how to view interactions and issues through multiple lenses. When teaching students about “intent versus impact” the class examines the Cleveland Indians logo. They begin by simply recording what they see. Through their observations, Sara pushes the students to think about how messages are received by different people. We love the way she creates opportunities for students to discover and deepen their understandings.
“There is the intention of your message you are sending. And then there is the impact it has on some else or a community of people – how they receive a message. Now we’re going to take a look at the impact, or effect, that the Cleveland Indians mascot had on other people” (119).
I hope that Sara’s words will be there for me when I can’t find my own. Then, in time, I hope her words will guide me to find my own – the me who is more comfortable exploring sensitive topics with others. Whether I am in the classroom, the grocery store, my neighborhood, or at the soup kitchen, I am going to be much more cognizant of how I am listening and eliciting stories from others. My goal is to do a lot less avoiding of difficult topics and to do more leaning in and learning. I expect my copy of her beautiful book to be filled with tea stains and my notes as I read this book again and again.
Don’t miss this one. It will feed your mind, nurture your heart, and transform your teaching.
And don’t miss Sara’s podcast on Heinemann’s website. She reads a story about her father that will make you smile while breaking your heart. Thank you, Sara. Your stories from the classroom and your stories about your father touched my heart.
Now it is time to announce the winner of last week’s giveaway — Jana Eschner is the winner! Thanks to Kevin Barry for donating a signed copy of his book. Congratulations!!