Curating resources & sharing stories to empower teacher & student ownership, wonder, and daring.
Author: Mary Wade
I taught 5th grade at a PYP International Baccalaureate school in Utah for 4 years, and am currently on extended parental leave until my kids start school. In between the roller-coaster adventures of motherhood, I enjoy educational blogging so I can stay in the loop and keep learning!
Snapshot favorites: Student voice & choice. Twix bars. Global classrooms. Calvin & Hobbes. Outlandish sewing projects. Teachers learning from teachers. Modeling daring to students.
This phrase, “family as appendages of an abstraction,” leaped from the page as I read John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down. While there were several points in the book with which I disagree, this one stands out to me, because it is a harrowing reminder of the ways that I once viewed family as an appendage of school, rather than the other way around. This included:
Insisting that reading logs be signed by a parent each night, even when a parent told me she knows her daughter reads for hours each day & indicated that the log would not have any value for their situation.
Questioning why on earth a parent was opting out of homework so her daughter could focus on her rigorous gymnastics practice/competition schedule.
Feeling frustrated when some families expressed dismay when we discontinued math worksheets for homework in favor of what we viewed as a more relevant, choice-based approach (“Can’t they see this is better for their kid than some worksheet?”)
Any time I viewed myself as a greater authority on a child’s needs than the parent.
I cringe at these memories. Families are a child’s most lasting community, and parents their most lasting teachers. Gatto writes,
“The deepest purposes of these gigantic networks [like schools] is to regulate and make uniform. Since the logic of family and community is to give scope to variety around a central theme, whenever institutions make a major intervention into personal affairs they cause much damage. By displacing the direction of life from families and communities to institutions and networks we, in effect, anoint a machine our King.”
It’s why I appreciate teachers like Taryn Bond-Clegg who realized that on the homework issue, rather than making mandates for or against, she could ascertain from parents and students themselves what would be most helpful for their families.
“18 years in and I still feel like I have so much to learn. As a beginning teacher I had such an idealistic view – I always knew I wanted to teach in schools that served lower socioeconomic students and I thought I would change their world – I watched ALL the teacher movies – “Dangerous Minds”, ‘Stand and Deliver”, “Lean on Me”, “Freedom Writers”, etc. I thought and said, more times than I care to remember, “Education is your ticket out.”
Can you imagine hearing that as a kid? What was I thinking? Was I really suggesting being educated was more important than the connections the kids had with their family, friends, community? Or worse, that being educated meant you had to leave behind the life and people that matter most? It’s really horrifying isn’t it? I was so ignorant.
Now, all these years later, I focus my efforts on connecting with the families, visiting the community – entering as a learner – seeking to understand by asking questions and truly listening. I try to live by Maya Angelou’s words “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I don’t succeed everyday but I am trying.”
I, too, am trying to learn & reflect as much as I can & come to know better so that once I return to the classroom, I can do better.
Of course, all this isn’t to suggest that all our kids’ home situations are ideal; far from it. But the point is that every family benefits when we focus on learning how we might support them, “seeking to understand by asking questions and truly listening.”
Last week, my daughter came home commenting about a new bathroom rule at her school: all girls now have to use the restroom 2 at a time due to the fact that girls keep writing on the bathroom walls. As a teacher, I understand why the rule was implemented. As a parent, I understand why she feels frustrated.
Since she just recently asked me to help her set up her own “real blog” (ie, can be read by a real audience), I asked her how she would feel about blogging on the subject. She took to that idea right away — especially once we figured out the speech-to-text feature so she didn’t have to keep fretting about spelling (teacher note: I really like the way speech-to-text requires the kids to pause & reflect to figure out exactly how they will verbalize each sentence).
Once she had her post written, “Fair School,” I, of course, went ahead and shared it with my PLN.
She was amazed to watch the comments pour in, and even took action on a couple of their ideas. She has since shared the post with her teacher, and she plans to try and see if she can meet and then introduce her classmates to their custodian(s) to create more empathy (Thanks, Abe, and everyone else!!)
This has also led to a lot of discussion about how we can inspire people to do good things rather than just try to get them to stop doing bad things. Not an easy task for anyone, that’s for sure, but a very rewarding approach!
Once again, I have found this whole experience to positively reinforce the concepts of digital citizenship, flattened classroom walls, and #StudentVoice. When we provide opportunities for students to share their authentic voices on things that matter to them, powerful learning happens.
I was recommended for a program designed to teach “refusal skills.”
I was pulled from my elementary school classroom to talk to police officers.
I was interviewed by my counselor on a regular basis–though I thought at the time that was just because she liked playing board games.
I was an interventions kid.
Though I didn’t know the name until after starting teaching, my higher-than average Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score is one of the reasons I became a teacher. I knew I wanted to be there for other kids navigating tumultuous terrain. The more I learn about just how pervasive ACE’s are, and their profound impact on health over a lifetime, the more convinced I become that teachers everywhere must become deeply familiar with them.
Where can we start?
We can begin by recognizing the seriousness of the issue.
NPR shared this graphic to illustrate some of the many health risks associated with ACEs:
As Dr. Nadia Burke Harris points out in her excellent Ted Talk below,
“Some people looked at this data and they said, “Come on. You have a rough childhood, you’re more likely to drink and smoke and do all these things that are going to ruin your health. This isn’t science. This is just bad behavior.”
It turns out this is exactly where the science comes in. We now understand better than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children…there are real neurological reasons why folks exposed to high doses of adversity are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior…
But it turns out that even if you don’t engage in any high-risk behavior, you’re still more likely to develop heart disease or cancer.”
We can work to identify & discuss how it is impacting our local community.
Here in my state, we are currently facing a youth suicide crisis that has school leaders at a loss. They are desperately searching out better prevention programs and better research to identify warning signs. As we look for answers, I hope that we look to better understand the role of childhood trauma. After all, “An expanding body of research suggests that childhood trauma and adverse experiences can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including attempted suicide among adolescents and adults” (source); a person with a score of 4 is 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than a person with an ACE score of 0. And that rate continues to climb with higher ACE scores.
We can reframe our mindsets regarding student behavior.
We can challenge the assumption that kids’ poor behavior is always intentional, willful, or personal. As Stuart Shanker writes in Self Reg:
“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volition, choice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”
Kids who have experienced trauma are often in what is known as “toxic stress.” Of course, this does not mean we give them license for poor behavior, but it does mean we can take an understanding-driven stance (see this excellent example which takes a look at when we choose to focus on routine and compliance vs dialogue and compassion).
We can cultivate an environment where kids feel safe. This includes maintaining a sense of normalcy, cultivating self-regulatory skills (art, mindfulness, etc.) & building resilience by helping them to identify their strengths & to develop confidence in using those strengths for problem-solving.
This is especially important because even for kids who have high ACE scores, positive influences can still make a profound impact. As the earlier-mentioned NPR article states:
Remember this, too: ACE scores don’t tally the positive experiences in early life that can help build resilience and protect a child from the effects of trauma. Having a grandparent who loves you, a teacher who understands and believes in you, or a trusted friend you can confide in may mitigate the long-term effects of early trauma, psychologists say.
Below are some concrete resources you can apply today in these efforts.
For the many of us (67%) that have at least 1 ACE, owning our stories and offering our kids hope can be powerful.
I can turn the fact that I was an interventions kid — the ugliest aspects of my childhood — into something beautiful. Indeed, I’m grateful for the fact that when I had a student tell me her parents were splitting up, I could look her in the eye and tell her that it can be ok — not the chipper pep talk of “everything will be ok,” but a glimmer of hope that someone they trust has been there, too, and knows it isn’t necessarily all over.
I’ll close with another of Nadia Harris Burke’s statements from her Ted Talk: “The science is clear. Early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime. Today we are beginning to understand how to interrupt the progression from early adversity to disease and early death…This is treatable. This is beatable. The single most important thing we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say, “This is real and this is all of us.” I believe that we are the movement.”
I still recall my surprise as a kid to discover how unlikely animals cultivate symbiotic relationships. Particularly the crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird (for the longest time, I had no idea Tomie de Paola’s “Bill & Pete” was based on science)!
As fascinating as these studies are of working relationships in the animal kingdom, I think their value goes beyond observational science. An inquiry into symbiosis is a great way to get kids thinking about concepts like collaboration, relationships, and problem-solving.
That was one of the reasons I was so excited about receiving “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison from Penguin Young Readers, along with the invitation to participate in its book tour. It finally gave me the push to share the following resources to help students inquire into symbiosis.
Resource #1: “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison
Beginning with a definition that introduces the way symbiosis isn’t necessarily as clean as we might think, Friends Stick Together sets the tone that it takes time to learn to work well with those around us.
I especially loved the zany Levi the tickbird (his “epic” air guitar solos were my favorite). His over-the-top behavior, especially when contrasted with prim Rubert the Rhino, definitely reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, Tacky the Penguin.
I feel like it’s easy for these kinds of books on friendship to get overly didactic, but I feel like Harrison struck a good balance, thanks in large part to her humor. Be sure to check it out when it comes out
Resource #2: “The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse” by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
Ok, so this one is total make-believe symbiosis. But it’s still a fun way to get kids thinking about how we can rely on and help one another.
Resource #3: How Wolves Change Rivers by Sustainable Human
This resource is much more direct to the science of symbiosis; it’s a great launching point to discuss the complexity of relationships.
I am currently about halfway through my “longterm sabbatical” from teaching as I’m home to raise our little ones until they are at school. I’m amazed how fast the time has whipped by since the day I was put on bed rest, but I know that by the time I return to the classroom, much will have changed in the education world. Blogging and tweeting have been privileges for me to stay involved, but I’m also grateful for this unique phase of my life during which I have more time to take action in my community. For me, these opportunities all blend together to help me grow as a parent, teacher, citizen, and person.
And I, too, am driven.
I am driven to never stop learning.
I am driven toward authenticity.
I am driven to identify practices that put learning in the hands of — learners.
I am driven to learn how to empower kids to become powerful 21st century citizens and healthy self-regulated human beings.
I am driven to learn more about my community so I’m better prepared to serve them when I return to the classroom.
I am driven to model the very kinds of design thinking and action that I hope to see in my students (both my current very small ones and my future classroom ones).
I am driven to stay current with quality children’s literature so I can give timely recommendations and cultivate myself as a reader.
I am driven to share thought-provoking resources to help current classroom teachers inspire wonder and meaning in their students.
I am driven to always be able to say with confidence, “I am a teacher!” AND “I am a learner!”
My almost 8-year old recently came home sharing how she has been struggling with another kid in school that has been teasing her. She described the embarrassment she feels when he does this, and the way it often embarrasses and upsets her classmates as well.
After listening, I asked her if she’d like to watch a video about how we might respond to bullies. She agreed, so we watched this one by Brooks Gibbs that I’ve shared here before:
Our favorite part was when Brooks responded to “You’re ugly!” with, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks” (it’s now an inside-joke we share, quoting it pretty much daily).
We talked about everything Brooks explained: power, not playing the game, resilience, not caring what others think. It all seemed straightforward enough.
But as much as my daughter enjoyed and seemed to understand the video, she still had some hang-ups on all those concepts. Responding that way seemed too embarrassing. And how could she really just not care about what other kids think?
And it hit me. Even with all the love and support my daughter receives, this still gets really complicated for our kids when it comes to the actual process of building resilience skills. It takes a lot more than the occasional fun pep talk and advice. Building resilience skills is hard, messy work.
So here’s what our process looked like:
First, we discussed weighing the embarrassment. “Would you rather respond in a way that might make you feel a little hesitant or embarrassed now, but that will get the bully to stop in the long-run, OR would you rather just keep feeling humiliated and embarrassed again and again and again as the bully decides he/she can get to you?”
Second, we rehearsed some role play, as advised by Josh Shipp. It actually surprised me how tricky this was in practice, which is probably why Josh describes the kinds of responses we shoot for as counter-intuitive. So, we went with the baseline bully insult, “You’re gross!”
Response idea #1: A casual, “Hm. I don’t think so.” But we realized that the bully might take that response as an argument and feed off it (“Well, I think so because I KNOW so!”)
Response idea #2: A passive, “Ok.” But then we realized that the bully could still possibly take that as, “Oh, she doesn’t know what to say? Let’s do it AGAIN!”
Response idea #3: With a smile, “Yeah, sometimes I do do gross things.” We knew we were on the right track there, because it shows the bully she’s not bothered by the insult. Of course, we continue to joke about adding, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks.”
Best part was when she came back and told me she has been training all her friends at school on these concepts! She specifically told them that when they respond with, “Stop, you’re hurting my feelings,” that bullies love that (Brooks’ hilarious bully voice: “That’s the point, stupid“). They even practiced role-playing together!
I know this is the first of many resilience skills-building sessions we’ll need to have. But I’m grateful to understand now the way we need to go deeper and work through a messy but worthwhile process!
As I have begun volunteering with our local bicycle committee, I have been amazed at the many ways other volunteers have made an impact on our city. But despite progress, it is with great sorrow that I learned a teen I used to teach was recently killed while crossing the street in my old neighborhood.
This tragedy has strengthened my resolve to contribute however possible. As I work toward clarity and purpose, I have found myself yet again on another iteration of the design thinking cycle, this time with my commitment toward better design. Here’s what it currently looks like:
Look, Listen, & Learn:
As I have renewed my research efforts, I have sadly uncovered direct opposition to design when it comes to taking measures to make room for all people using our streets.
For instance, last summer a local paper ran a report with the tone that pedestrians “assuming right-of-way” are foolishly getting themselves hurt and killed:
“UDOT director of Traffic and Safety, says 94 percent of crashes are a “behavior decision,” not a road design. None of it matters if pedestrians don’t take advantage of safety features or if drivers are distracted or blow past them.” (Source)
Yet in the wake of this tragedy, a common response has been a demand to know more about how design can improve that road’s safety. Residents of the neighborhood even state that far from serving them, the surrounding roads have functioned as walls, compelling them to drive rather than walk even 2 blocks to the local rec center to stay safe.
This has led to more in-depth investigation into Complete Streets policies, one of which is currently being considered in my city.
Ask Tons of Questions:
What do Complete Streets mean?
What do Complete Streets not mean?
What are the costs of Complete Streets policies?
What are the obstacles in designing roads that permit all people to freely and safely navigate their communities (not just bicyclists, but pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, children on scooters, etc.)?
What has been the impact of Complete Streets in other parts of the country?
How do Complete Streets impact local economies, in addition to health, safety and environmental factors?
Understand the Process or Problem:
In response to my many questions, my research has been expanded to a more in-depth understanding of Complete Streets, including these informative videos from Streetfilms:
“It’s extraordinarily important that we find ways to make our communities more accessible to all the people that want to use them, and allow for kinds of transportation that are more sustainable in the long-run.” (from above video)
Benefits of Complete Streets I’ve found include (but are not limited to):
Provides long-term savings as it avoids the need for expensive retrofits later on.
Many small road improvements that make a big difference come at little to no added cost.
“allows for an efficient and optimal use of limited resources: time, fuel, land, public health, the environment, and money.” (source)
Complete Streets have been found again and again to decrease injuries and deaths (source).
Protects the most vulnerable of society (children, the elderly, people of color, and the disabled), thus addressing issues of equity (source).
Quality of Life:
Encourages healthy active transportation, walkability, and even a sense of community as people have options to travel on more attractive, pleasantly landscaped areas.
Provides “green dividends” that allow people more money to spend elsewhere
Improves access and foot traffic to local business (source). (During a test ride for a new local bus system, transit co-vice chair Sherrie Hall Everett commented, “[Though the road is still] under heavy construction, and many have been concerned about the sidewalks being narrower…what I didn’t anticipate was how much more I noticed the stores, how much closer they felt and related to the street. I noticed the windows and what was going on inside and felt more of the energy of their presence”).
Public transit improvements:
Considers how many people have access to bus stops from their homes.
Improves comfort and convenience of stops, speed of service, and measures that lower congestion. (source)
addresses pollution through a combination of more active transportation, better public transit, and lowered congestion.
allows people to complete trips (39% of which are three miles or less in metropolitan areas) in a zero-emissions manner (source)
More importantly for the context of our local concerns, I have also uncovered some important facts that debunk notions that it’s not about design. These I have turned into graphs, which has lead me to…
The most important finding is as follows: on average, 45% of bicyclists and 50% of pedestrians in the last decade had no contributing factors in the crash, a figure that has been on an upward trend. This means that even when they’re doing everything right, a significant portion of people who are walking and biking are still getting hurt.
Furthermore, pedestrian deaths and injuries have been on the rise in my state over the past 10 years.
Create a Prototype:
In this case, the prototype was an event where I attended and voiced some of what I shared above; our city Planning Commission met to review a proposed Complete Streets Policy for our city, along with feedback shared by another city department that seemed less than supportive of the policy. Below is a clip beginning with a moving response from one of the commissioners, Jamin Rowan, after hearing from all the community members and reading the other department’s feedback:
“It is time we demand to revisit those standards…It is not an amendment in our constitution to be able to get in your automobile and travel down the road as quickly and conveniently as possible. Our society and culture has operated upon that assumption. It has become a de facto amendment and I’m tired of it. And I think the people that we’ve heard from tonight are tired of it…I’m not in favor of defending old codes instead of defending the vision that’s outlined in this [Complete Streets] policy…Streets are one of our most valuable public spaces…This is one to fight for and not let it get watered down.”
Highlight & Fix:
Mainly, I learned that I should write down my talking points before making formal presentations. I plan to do so for the next phase of the design thinking cycle…
…Launch to an Audience:
Next week, I’ll be presenting to our City Council members.
I’m looking forward to continued iterations of this design thinking process. I hope to convey a strong sense that the quality of our communities and of our very lives depends on good design.