Every time I leave a Jay Marks session I'm competely exhausted... in the best possible way. I've said this before, but Jay really creates thoughtful activities where it's impossible for you not to be 'in' the session. This time around I was prepared to be 'in the moment,' share information about myself with people I have never met before, and reflect heavily outwardly and inwardly- the latter being the most important as it leads to growth and possible new perspectives.
I have written posts about the Social Justice cohort sessions that many of our Royal Oak Schools teachers attended last year. A lot of the topics and activities were ones we did before, so I won't repeat that information in this post. However, as I said to a fellow colleague: "In my opinion, you really can't think about these topics enough." Even though I've done many of the activities, I find that I have new thoughts and ideas as I work through them again a second or third time.
Let me just dive right into this post and give a little background for new teachers and readers. This year I am part of a four session learning experience about Culturally Responsive Teaching. Much of the time of the first session was dedicated to getting to know ourselves and our own cultures, coming to a definition of what it means to be 'culturally responsive,' and for some of us, maybe even identifying some of our own biases in the process.
Before joining these workshops with Marks, I may have had a narrow view of culture. I have always attributed culture to ethnicity, but I really didn't take into account the whole picture or person. One of the activities I love is the cultural portraits (and it's not because I'm a Visual Art teacher <3 :) I love the activity because it's personal, you can see where people are in their own journey, and it's visual. There's something powerful in the gallery walk. Looking, reflecting, discussing and ultimately seeing similarities and differences. Recognizing where we are and where we need to go in our own process.
I really tried to think of categories that formulated the foundation of who I am as a person. Totally easy right? Yeah... totally... Interestingly enough my categories really had nothing to do with my race/ethnicity. Though it's a part of me, it doesn't define who I am. Even though it has shaped me as a person and affected pieces and moments of my life, I don't base everything about me on the color of my skin. However I am very aware that this may not be the case for someone else. If I'm being honest, I have been afforded certain luxuries and privileges based on my upbringing and the color of my skin.
Another activity that we did at the social justice cohort (last year) was the group activity where we linked arms (privilege walk). Jay would ask us all questions and if it applied to us, we would step forward. In the end, you could see the levels of opportunity with each group/individual. I knew I probably would fall somewhere in the middle. Not the top and not the bottom. But I guess I didn't realize how far back I would be from the top group (which was 100% white). It gave me a different perspective on privilege. Something I always knew I had, but didn't realize the how large the gaps were.
Much of my own cultural identity has been blurred between two worlds. Since I was adopted into a Caucasian family I have certain perspectives and privileges that I came to realize as I became older. However, outwardly on the surface I am Asian-American. That is my category, but it is not that which defines me. A weird place to be in the world, I think. You're not part of any one group, but receive the positive aspects of both- and also the negative. This is something that I have had to think about and process as an adult many times over.
So how does this connect with teaching? Anyone...? Anyone...? Bueller...? Bueller...? Why does it matter to know our cultural selves? Why does it matter to know our students' cultural identities?
A simple answer is that by knowing our students cultural backgrounds, we are really getting to know our students as individuals. A lot of what I heard in the discussions were the words 'mindful,' 'appreciation,' 'perspective,' 'sensitive,' 'understanding,' 'accepting...'
To me at the very core of culturally responsive teaching is relationships. As a teacher you have to be invested in your students. It's not just supporting them academically, but helping to support their development into becoming a well-rounded individual/citizen. We know that relationships are at the center of everything that we do in school and in life. As I continue moving forward developing a better understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching I want to make it a goal to be more mindful of...
Interested in knowing more about the Social Justice Cohort and Culturally Responsive Teaching? Reach out! :)
How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You
Day 2 seemed to go much more smooth for me personally than day 1. I think part of this had to do with the fact that I had no idea what to expect. If I didn't mention this in my last Social Justice post, Jay and Naomi create an experience in which all members need to be immersed in. You don't have the option to not be. And honestly, that's really refreshing. I find myself thinking about the sessions hours and even days after. You also need to be ready to be vulnerable. That's part of this process. There is a level of uncomfortable that is embedded throughout the learning experience. This is the piece that I had the most difficulty with. Being open is one thing, but trusting a group of strangers and your colleagues (acquaintance status) is another. The first session really did a great job at priming us for the work ahead.
I want to use these Social Justice posts as a form strategy harvest and reflection. I think these are great resources to use in the classroom in some way. It doesn't just have to be used in just this way. Hence the beautiful part about teaching - you get to decide. :)
We did a quick reflection of what we could remember from last session. Jay and Naomi had us use the 5-3-1 approach. Independently, we had to think of 5 words. After that we had to come up with our 3 top picks from our list of words. Then we had to group up in what Jay called our 'critical circle' and share them with the group. We listened. We collectively picked one and then had to share out to the entire cohort about why.
I am not going to lie... this was uncomfortable. We all lined up soul train style. A line of people on one side of the hallway and a line of people on the other side. Jay detailed out the rules. He would read a question and if it applied to you, you would cross over to the other side. There was no talking. Me being who I am, I focused on looking straight forward and listening to the question to make sure I interpreted it right. For some reason, it didn't feel right to look to see if other people crossed. The questions were pretty personal and a bit uncomfortable at times. At times I didn't want to cross, but I did because I wanted to honor the process. There were others that I felt I should cross, but I didn't because again I wanted to honor the process. Some of the questions were "Have you ever bullied someone?", "Is cultural identity an important piece of your life?" At one point, I was the only person to walk across...
Passion. Personal Awareness. Skills. Knowledge. We filled out our personal assessment chart and then interviewed a person in the cohort. Jay provided us with a matrix to take notes on to 'get the story'. It was a way to document and still be an active listener. They got to talk for 4 minutes. We got to respond for 4. It was very structured, but gave everyone voice. A nice focused conversation.
PASK Handout 2
Listen. Affirm. Respond. Add information.
Jay and Naomi introduced us to this strategy to help us navigate difficult conversations about Social Justice issues. We shared our racial history. The group took 10 minutes to write their history in anyway they wanted to (narrative, timeline, list, etc.) Then we found someone in the room that we didn't know to practice the strategy. My partner was Tim from Oxford. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Tim and getting his perspective. I like this strategy because everyone gets heard, they get affirmed and you have space to add information or expand.
LARA Handout 2
I'm not sure what this strategy is called. We grouped up again with the goal of discussing the homework articles. The directions were that someone had to read a quote they found interesting in the text. Then round robin about our thoughts toward that quote. The round robin was allotted 3 minutes and then the person who read the quote gets the final reflections. We did this until everyone went. Not everyone read the text in its entirety, but that didn't matter. Everyone was still able to contribute their thoughts and reflections.
We read the article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. My only gripe about this activity is that I didn't get enough time to read. I take longer to read because I'm reading for comprehension. I want to fully understand the content before speaking to it. As we read, we filled out the four A's text protocol sheet (assumptions, argue, agree, aspire). Then after, we grouped again and discussed round robin what we wrote down. It was a good way to create discussion from individual insight.
4 A-Protocol Handout
The Color-Line Exercise
I really liked this activity except for the fact that we did it outside and it was freezing! :) We all stood in a line locked arm and arm. This was another silent activity. The goal was to stay locked to your partners for as long as you could. Every time Jay said something that applied to you, you took one step forward. You were NOT allowed to look back. As suspected, I was left behind, however, I did hypothesize that I would be in the middle zone (which I was). At the end the front row turned around to look at everyone who got left behind. It prompted discussion on privilege and gave a visual representation of where people were at. Sometimes a visual representation is more powerful and sometimes it validates thoughts/feelings.
1 minute Journal
One quick strategy to note is the one minute journal. Jay gave us a question, "What resonated with you from this morning activities?" and we had to write non-stop for one minute and share out. Sometimes I think that 1 minute isn't enough, but writing non-stop gives you little room to overthink and for me, sometimes that's a good thing. : ]
My question to you is... how can you use these in your classroom?