I was recently talking to a friend about how I should probably start posting more technology focused posts on my blog. I promise I will! Technology and instruction go hand-in-hand. I see it as instruction AND technology. You can’t really talk about technology without talking about instructional strategies. It's not about JUST integrating technology. It's always about good teaching. With that said, a lot of good teaching is even beyond just good instructional strategies. It really starts with the core of who you are and how you connect with the core of who your students are.
Many of these posts are just thoughts that gripped me during the week: Lessons I learned. Things I noticed. Thoughts I had. Connections I made. Things I want to work on. Things I have been working on. General musings.
I've been reflecting a lot about topics that relate directly or indirectly to instruction- how we engage, empower and connect with students. As I sat in Jay Mark's second session of Culturally Responsive Teaching it became very clear that the act of being more open and vulnerable with students isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's quite hard. Honestly, it's something that I have always felt I was good at, but lately I've noticed that I'm only open to a small degree. I believe I have strong relationships with students. However, after talking to a colleague on my drive home from the workshop I thought, "What if I could help a student simply by talking about my cultural background?" I don't normally discuss my background. It's not that I'm ashamed of it in any way. I just don't seem to talk about it and I'm not really practiced in talking about it. I wonder if one of my teachers in high school was more open about their cultural background if I would have been less shy about mine. It seems to be coming up more and more and I noticed that as I started talking about it more with students, they have started sharing with me more. The other day I was talking with a student and in conversation she mentioned, "Well you probably don't know this about me, but I'm adopted..." She was right, I didn't. However, I immediately said, "No way, me too!" And I've noticed after this one conversation she openly talks about it. The next time we spoke, another student overheard us and jumped into our conversation because he was too. It was really a neat conversation and one that I probably wouldn't have been open to having previously.
Jay had us do a homework assignment called "My Racial History". It was a ten minute write. So, in my effort to be more open, here it is...
"I grew up in a small town. All of my friends were white and I grew up thinking I was white too. It wasn't until around third grade when some boys were making fun of me that I realized maybe I was different. I came home and asked my mom what they were talking about and we had a heart to heart conversation. From then on I felt like I spent most of my young life assimilating and trying not to be noticed. I didn't want to be different. Different was bad. It started being a thing. My thing. The thing I didn’t want people to see or know, but now something I couldn't hide from or forget. Many people and friends would say (and still do)- “I don't even think of you as Asian." I think they mean it as a compliment? It used to feel like a compliment. I felt like I made it. I successfully tricked everyone! And my response now is... "Yeah, but I am.” I successfully dodged the differences and awkwardness in high school avoiding any other Asian in the building. All three of them to be exact. I was awkward in so many different ways that had nothing to do with me being Asian and as long as those were the things that were noticed - that was cool with me.
So, as I share this 10 minute quick write, I realize that it's a bit jumbled. It's not perfect (but nothing is). I also realize that it's more personal than I would normally put out into the world. However, the lesson learned for me this week is: telling your story can have an impact on someone else. Letting students tell their story can also impact you. Let me challenge you to give students space to tell their story, whether that be in a ten minute write or a conversation. You may be surprised at what you'll find out. :)
This week I had the opportunity to join four ROHS students at the 7th Annual Oakland County Diversity Forum. The awesome Jay Marks led the workshop. It was an interesting format. Students worked on their action projects in one room and the adults, a group made up of teachers and administrators, worked on developing understanding of social justice or extending their/our knowledge in another room.
Even though I have been to multiple Mark’s workshops I always seem to get something new and different out of them. Maybe this is because I always walk into these sessions with an open-mind? Nonetheless, my perspective changes slightly based on the people I’m grouped with. I learn something new and see something I didn’t before and that to me is the BEST part of these workshops.
This time I walked away with a better understanding of the concept of space. Literal and figurative space. How can we give our students space in order to grow? Sometimes they need us to provide a physical space for them. A safe space to feel, be, and express themselves in the way in which they feel comfortable. Sometimes we as adults need to step back and give them space to lead. This took me some time to learn as an educator, but it's something I still have to continually work on.
When I first started teaching I would make feeble attempts to start discussions. I would ask questions and instead of giving that “teacher wait time” I filled the silence with my own voice. Preaching to the students thoughts and ideas I had. Telling them instead of teaching them. Leading them to ideas instead of having them construct ideas. The classroom was the kingdom and I was the ruler. Maybe 'teaching wisdom' comes with age. I'm not sure, but I started to get more comfortable with not being the one in the front. I started encouraging students to take the lead.
As I worked in a studio classroom I developed a better understanding of teaching. There is just something different about a Visual Arts room that really caters to small group and self-directed learning. I started to hone my style of teaching. Then my world was rocked a bit when I was moved to the high school. Now I was teaching 32 students that were sucked into a computer screen. Rich discussions were hard. Pulling their interest away from their screens was almost impossible. Students would ask questions on how to do something that I literally JUST went over. How is that possible?! It became easy to tell them how to do something and give them the quick answer. I got into that telling slump. I, again, filled the space.
So when they started to continually asking the same questions the next day and the next, and the next... I knew something had to change. It was an easy fix in the moment, but long term, they weren't really learning in the ways I wanted them to and the ways they needed to. Sometimes what’s easy isn’t always right and what’s right isn’t always easy.
"Sometimes what's easy isn't always right and what's right isn't always easy."
It wasn’t until I took a class with professor Tessmer that I developed an understanding of the socratic method of questioning. I would ask him a question and he would ask me a question. It was strange and frustrating. I wanted an answer! More importantly, I wanted him to tell me the answer. I needed an answer... but what I got was so much more. With every question he asked, I started thinking more because he challenged me to do more. I used this strategy back in my own classroom. What did I find? That it was super easy of course! Or not... Nope, not at all. However, again... what is right isn't always easy...
When students asked questions, I didn't provide instant answers. I would ask them questions back. Leading them back to concepts we discussed in class. I was met with, "Why can't you just teach me!" and I replied, "I am teaching you. We are learning right now." : ] Eventually a routine was set. A culture was set. Students knew that they were not going to instantly get answers. They were going to think about their process. They had to review activities, research answers and *gasp* talk to their peers. Some resiliency was developed. Problem-solving skills were honed. Students started to become knowledgeable through their thinking process and they developed an understanding of how they learned best. They were developing and so was I.
Now, in this new role, I have to re-evaluate what space looks like. It's not the classroom space I am focusing on. It's space given for student voice. Giving students the opportunity to have a voice and be able to take action. This seems like a much more challenging task and one in which I am happy to meet head on.
At the workshop, Jay said that the best leaders are the ones that work in the background. The ones that provide space, support and sometimes facilitate. The people that have the ability to quiet their own voice in order to give others (our students) the opportunity to rise. Honestly, this is where I feel the most comfortable. I realized early on how important it was to not only figuratively give students space, but physically.
When we reconvened together in the workshop from being separated all morning I found the students fueled by the energy of the other students in the room. We joined the students as they finished the planning for their action project. As I sat at the table I noticed that the group of students kept looking at me asking me, "What do you think?" and a lot of pauses. They were waiting for me to tell them it was right or wrong - wanting me to guide their student project. They were so sure of their ideas when I was not there, but very critical when I was present. They wanted someone to say ok and take the lead. This is when physical space starts to be important and stepping into the background is necessary. So, I excused myself from the table to let them finish up. They didn't need me. They need us (MG) to empower them to make differences and to not stand in their way. The adults in the room came to the realization earlier that morning, that the students are far ahead of us and WE are the ones that need to catch up.
"The students are far ahead of us and WE are the ones that need to catch up."
This is the lesson I learned this week. I learned that sometimes we have to get out of the way. Sometimes our role is to be in the background. Sometimes we need to let good ideas flow. Sometimes it's an easy yes that lifts the barriers. And sometimes... we need to give students space.