Sending Light to Our School Communities

These remarks are adapted from a talk I gave at our recent International Teaching and Learning Conference

As a writer I often think about approximations. What are the words we use to approximate the multitudes we mean? One of my favorite approximations is “sending light.”  Light is the magic that makes both life and art possible. It is powerful and ubiquitous: a guiding streetlight, a sparkling birthday candle, the first pink rays of a new day, Shabbos candles on Friday night, twinkling Christmas lights framing a house, the Kwanzaa kinara, fireworks…  In this holiday season, we celebrate so many festivals of lights. 

My school community recently held an international teaching conference on light bulb moments. We focused on the strategies to find, ignite, honor, and sustain the sparks that make learning happen and keep scholars engaged.

What are the things that matter most in education?

These guideposts shine a powerful and practical light on the decisions we make, the projects to focus on, the skills we develop, and the values we strive to cultivate in our schools. 

Our annual teaching and learning conference is a special occasion to gather together as a global learning community and explore these shining lights. Last week, educators joined us from eight countries to ask big questions about teaching, learning, and resilience. 

Resilience is the ability to persist, adapt, and emerge anew. Our conference both celebrated these acts and explored the conditions needed to make resilience possible. On the dawn of what we hope is a bright new moment in education, I am inspired by countless ways educators in our community continue to persist, adapt, and emerge anew. 

I am reminded of my first trip to Brazil more than six years ago. I had just joined this school community and had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and work with some of the teachers in our program.  One day, I met a small child on the beach. She asked me questions in Portuguese and I answered in fragmented Spanish as it was the best I could do at the time.  Her older sister, who was maybe six, tried to translate. We soon gave up, instead giving in to giggling as the surf tickled our toes, cooing at the beautiful shiny shells along the sand. I went home and started studying Portuguese–language learning matters deeply to me as a school leader. 

My first teaching position was at a school that served primarily English Learners and newcomers. There I developed a healthy practice of greeting my students in their home language: sabah alkhyr, bom dia, buenos dias, habari …

In these words, I wanted to create a connection that felt like home. To put it poetically, I want my students to know that in our classroom, someone will always leave a light on for you.

A Moment of Reconnecting

My writing and research talks about safeguarding the sacred space between people interested in connecting. With hope, we are in a moment of reconnecting. The prefix re means again or back. This year our school is reimagining and revisioning, just like you. We know that the classrooms we are preparing the next generation of educators for look different from the classrooms we learned in. They are more technology-mediated, global, and connected.  

These connections transcend school walls. In fact, I believe the best way to shine a light on what matters most in education is to pay attention to the ways our students are changing the world. I am thinking of our student leaders who are organizing initiatives to support the housing insecure population in Sao Paulo, students who have partnered with cancer hospitals to perform music and collect food, and the middle school scholar who reaches out to someone new to say: “Sit here. We can always make room for one more at our table.”   It all comes back to relationships.

To close, I want to offer a revision of a famous line by the poet Marianne Williamson: As we let our own light shine, we intentionally give our students permission to do the same. 

Sending light and care to you and yours. 

-Dr. KFW

Our Small Connected World

I was recently invited to submit a poem to a unique mixed media art show. This show pairs visual artists with poets and authors to create a striking, surprising exhibit showcasing the creative process. The artists and writers don’t meet in person; instead, each receives a copy of the other’s work and then creates a response piece. 

As we emerge from eighteen months of blended and distance learning, something about this method feels familiar… Below the poem I wrote for this art show. It is my response to a black and white photo of a young woman looking out the window. I believe all poetry is autobiographical, and so, of course, this is also my response to navigating these past eighteen months as I look out of our school windows to this new season. 


Today I need only take in 

a sweet breath of air— 

heavy with ozone, 

or hyacinth, or bread 

— to know that I am loved. 

Nevermind, the times I notice 

others noticing my presence 

is not quite present. 

This birthright I carry is stormy. 

Yet, sometimes I remember 

to fill my lungs 

with flowers and dew.

Not because it makes things 

better, or brighter, or lighter,

but because it reminds me 

of the rhythmic nature 

of nature—of how 

in countless small ways

even I can keep blossoming

again—steady and soft.

Light and Shadows

It has been a challenging year. There has been heartache and loss. And yet, it’s also been a year of joy and light.  Sometimes it feels disingenuous to appreciate the light amongst the shadows. And yet, we must keep seeking good, celebrating joy, and continuing to come back to each other. 

In 2017 my family visited the tidepools in Point Reyes, California. While thinking about this new season in school leadership, I remembered my daughter’s delight in discovering these surprise ecosystems on that hazy afternoon. Here are a few verses from our visit.


The sky changes from blue to gray—an entire world opens below them. 

Snails, moss, barnacles; the fortitude of organisms 

with a special aptitude for thriving in impermanence. 

My daughter takes her papa’s hand, 

they crouch down low and lose themselves in this tidepool. 

He angles his body to shield her from the stinging seaspray 

and points out a small black crab navigating the temporary ecosystem. 

I adjust the aperture on my camera trying to set up a photo 

that captures the violence of the waves as they crash against the rocks; 

the racing of my daughter’s heart as she catapults stones into the ocean; 

that soft uncertain feeling as she explores the sinking sand around these tidepools. 

(Extra)ordinary Miracles

What has this last year taught us about teaching, learning, connecting, and leading? Like the tidepools in these verses, what ecosystems of support have we discovered hiding in the most ordinary of places? How are your school communities continuing to thrive in impermanence?  What (extra)ordinary miracles of moss and haze do we have to celebrate together? And finally, in this new season, what horizons are opening before us?

The global school system I lead has always operated on the belief that the world is small and deeply connected. This year has shown us new dimensions and possibilities for our connected world. Without leaving our homes, our team has spent more time in partner classrooms around the world than ever before. With your support we have launched new programs, expanded access to new communities, iterated courses, and deepened our own knowledge about the potential for blended learning. 

As always, everything good comes back to relationships. I think about the text messages and WhatApp memes sent, the check-in calls scheduled, the creative ways we’ve come together through music, humor, and inspiring service initiatives. I think about the sympathy, birthday, and graduation cards mailed, the creative projects launched, and the difficult conversations that ended with well wishes and laughter. 

May this semester be filled with similar delights—reminders of how in countless small ways our schools keep blossoming again—steady and soft.


These remarks were originally prepared for an international school leadership conference titled, Lessons Learned, A New Season in School Leadership

Rainbow Reads (Booklist)

A Booklist Celebrating and Affirming LGBTQIA+ Youth

In our continued work to further inclusion and representation in our bookshelves and curriculum, we are happy to present our newest recommended reading list. We are intentionally releasing this list in April to correspond with our university’s LGBTQ Pride month.* 

Like all booklists we coordinate, the following collection of titles are ones that have personally mattered to us, the list contributors. These are books we enjoyed in our own reading, learning, and teaching. Further, like all booklists we work on, this is not a comprehensive list; instead, with hope, it is a modest starting place. 

This list is part of a much larger critical work to ensure that all students learn in safe, supportive, inclusive environments free from bullying and harassment. Research by GLSEN shows that there are four critical ways schools can create supportive learning environments for LGBTQIA+ students—supportive educators, comprehensive policies, inclusive curriculum, and supporting student GSAs. Like our classrooms, we aim for our bookshelves to be safe spaces where all students find authors and characters who share in their multiplicity of identities. 

Encouragingly, Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Anthony Lehman-Plogger, Jill Clingan, Brian Stuhlman, Lisa DeCastro, and Lilah (age 9)

*Mizzou Pride Month is sponsored and coordinated by the Mizzou LGBTQ Resource Center, part of the Division of Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity.


Kelly DiPucchio (Author) | Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

This delightful children’s book tells the story of two families of puppies. It offers a great springboard for discussing identity (including gender expression), diversity, and inclusion with young learners.

I am Jazz

Jessica Herthel (Author) | Jazz Jenkins (Illustrator)

From a very young age, Jazz knew she had a girl’s heart and brain in a boy’s body. Her story, told by Jazz herself, explains simply and clearly her journey to becoming herself. Jazz is a brave and beautiful spokesperson for transkids everywhere.

It’s Okay to Be Different

Todd Parr

It’s Okay to Be Different inspires kids to celebrate their diversity.  Being unique or different is special. This book helps kids grow their self-confidence and be brave.

Pink is for Boys

Robb Pearlman (Author) | Eda Kaban (Illustrator)

This children’s book invites and encourages all young people to enjoy what they love to do, whether it’s racing cars and playing baseball, or loving unicorns and dressing up. Vibrant illustrations help children learn and identify the myriad colors that surround them every day, from the orange of a popsicle, to the green of a grassy field, all the way up to the wonder of a multicolored rainbow.

And Tango Makes Three

Justin Richarson (Author) | Henry Cole (Illustrator) 

This children’s book tells the true story of two papa penguins and their baby, Tango, who lived together at the Central Park zoo.

Stella Brings the Family

Miriam B. Schiffer

When Stella’s class celebrates Mother’s Day, she isn’t quite sure what to do because she has two dads. This book celebrates the diversity of all families.

Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda

Becky Albertalli

A sweet high school love story about two boys finding themselves and falling for each other. Also, now a major motion picture.

Dreadnought: Nemesis

April Daniels

This middle grade adventure series follows a transgender girl as she navigates friends, family, identity, and saving New Port City and humanity with her new superhero powers.

I Wish You All the Best

Mason Deaver

This book is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

Almost Perfect

Brian Katcher

Taking place in very familiar midwest surroundings, Almost Perfect  examines a blossoming relationship that becomes a bit complicated when the main character finds out his love interest is not who he thinks they are.  

Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game

Abby Wambach

Olympic soccer player and co-captain of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion Team, Abby Wambach offers us new lessons on leadership and success. This tour de force skyrocketed to the bestseller list and has been called a must read. A great read for high school students and adults. 

Note: There is now also a NEW Young Adult Version of this book out.

The Hours

Michael Cunningham

This book is a creative, masterful retelling of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and explores the stories of three generations of lesbian/bisexual women. 

This is How It Always Is

Laurie Franke

This gripping, full-hearted novel is a mother’s story of raising and loving five children. This midwestern family includes two parents, four sons, and one transgender daughter. Beautiful, heart-breaking, and important.

We Are Okay

Nina LaCour

This is a beautifully written, poetic story about loss, grief, friendship, love, and hope. 

The Starless Sea

Erin Morgenstern

This stunningly beautiful story tells of a character who meanders a magical, underground world of imprisoned pirates, ghostly ballrooms, magical libraries, and whispered stories in search of his purpose and his love. LGBTQIA themes are not unpacked in this book. Instead, it’s a love story that recognizes that love is love is love. 

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit 

Jeannete Winterson

In this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age and coming-out novel, Winterson explores a character figuring out who she is and the complicated, painful consequences of being a lesbian teenager in a conservative Christian, evangelical world.

Additional Resources

Florescendo in Schools

A Letter to my Team (Adapted Slightly for This NEW Space)

April 2021

Dear Team, 

I am writing to you from northwestern Iowa. A bird flitters outside my grandmother’s kitchen window. More than forty years ago my grandparents moved off the farm and “into town.”  I’ve spent more holidays, summers, and long weekends in this kitchen than I can count.

After coming here every few months for my entire life, this past year has been strange, long, and lonely.  However, yesterday, I got to hug my grandmother for the first time since January 2020. That first day we spent together it felt like no time had passed. The next day we looked at each other and cried. 

My grandmother is 92 years old. Before she and my grandfather were married, she taught in a little, red, one-room schoolhouse. While she always shakes her head and says she doesn’t quite understand it, she loves to hear about my work as a school director at Mizzou Academy, a global, online and blended school system

This weekend she asked what big projects we were working on and what we had learned in this long last year. I told her about supporting elementary students across our home state. She asked about the curriculum and wanted to hear my thoughts on how all this “computer school” was going.

I told her about our partner schools in Brazil and Vietnam; the closing of school buildings, reopening, reentry, and closing again.

“What has the school year been like for them?” my grandma asked. “And how can teachers welcome and support students back into the classroom?” 

Our team has been thinking a lot about these same questions. Stephanie Walter and I just wrote an article for Edutopia on centering student wellness during school reentry

Florescendo on Campus

Last week I spent a lot of time working with administrators across campus. Amongst the spreadsheet and number talk were two distinct bright spots. First, was the resolved support and celebration we experienced across campus for the work of Mizzou Academy. Over and again, we heard campus officials remark that the work our team is doing to expand access to educational solutions is making an impact. Whether you are a seventh-grader, a new teacher, or a school director, being seen and affirmed is life-giving.

The second bright spot didn’t have anything to do with work. 

People kept asking me if I had seen the bright white magnolia tree in front of Jesse Hall. The tree became a symbol of spring, returning, and reopening. In Portuguese the word for blossoming is florescendo. I think of this word as a combination of flower and crescendo.

After three days of people asking me if I had seen the tree, I drove my mother to campus, so we could have a look for ourselves. We stood socially distanced from two small groups who were also taking photos of the blossoming tree with their cell phones. All three groups were speaking different languages, we pointed at the bright tree and smiled, the corners of our eyes crinkling up above our masks. 

Flowering Tree near the Administrative Building, University of Missouri

Florescendo for our Team

It has been a challenging year. There has been heartache and loss. And yet, it’s also been a year of joy and light. Lately, I have been thinking about this contrast.  Last week, my friend and colleague, Jill taught me the word chiaroscuro, which is a technique artists use to represent both light and shadows.  

Sitting here at my grandmother’s kitchen table, I scan my inbox thinking of what I want to share in our weekly newsletter. There are a lot of bright spots: student exemplars, appreciation notes from families and partner schools, affirmation of the wonderful and compassionate work you all do. Among these highlights from last week, I can’t help but notice the more than the usual volume of bright personal updates from our team. Here is an incomplete list: 

  • Our World Language Chair and his family adventured along the Buffalo River. 
  • One of our Language Arts Lead Teachers enjoyed a visit with five of his grandchildren.
  • Another Language Arts lead performed a gorgeous essay for her congregation.
  • Our Assistant Principal celebrated her niece’s wedding. 
  • Our Science Chair’s daughter learned to ski.
  • Our Social Studies Chair’s son is embarking on a new career. 
  • Our Speech and Debate Lead packed his car and drove from Buffalo to Columbia. 
  • Our Middle School Coordinator celebrated his dad’s retirement. 
  • Our Math Chair is helping our math team train for a new competition.
  • Our Technology Specialist celebrated a birthday.

In this first full week of April, the ground is soft with spring and possibility feels palpable. To quote my colleague, Jeff Kopolow, “Whatever holiday is yours right now, dayenu, which freely translated from Hebrew means: May it fulfill you.”

Thinking of you all and wishing you the happy blossoming of a bright new season. 

Warmly, Kathryn

Women’s History Month – Middle and High School Resources

We love Women’s History Month and are happy that it has arrived again! Yet before diving into these resources, it feels essential to say that happiness is an incomplete description of our feelings about this important month. As we consider the narrative arc of women’s history, it is not always (or even often) a happy history. The complex history and activism that has brought us to today includes violence, discrimination, exclusion, and fear. However, it also includes resistance, hope, and yes, tremendous moments of joy. 

For several years now, we (Jill and Kathryn) have partnered together on creating Women’s History Month resources for the middle and high school classroom. As we consider the 2021 theme: “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced,” we choose to honor women’s voices, and we seek opportunities to celebrate spaces of joy, including those spaces where joy is a form of resistance. We are also proud to include resources and activities suggested by several of our colleagues. Teaching women’s history is a community endeavor.

Last week, I (Kathryn) listened to an interview between Dr. Edith Eva Eger and Brené Brown. This conversation was transformative, and I’ve now told nearly everyone I know to listen. Eger is a clinical psychologist, international lecturer, and Holocaust survivor. When asked why she wrote her story, she shared that so much of the literature by Holocaust survivors was written by men and that humanity also needed to hear this story in a woman’s voice. 

Representation is powerful. Dr. Eger speaks as a daughter, a sister, a mother, a grandmother. Hearing from these perspectives is essential as we strive for more complete histories and her-stories. As we approach this Women History’s Month, we are proud to present a series of classroom activities that honor valiant women and women’s rights activists, that acknowledge and celebrate powerful acts of resistance against injustice, and that amplify the tenacity and hope of women’s voices. 

As I (Jill) sat here pondering Women’s History Month and this year’s theme, “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced,” I thought about what the word “valiant” means. Usually when we hear the word “valiant,” we think of it in terms of battle, in terms of soldiers fighting in war with valiant bravery. For years, women have fought with valiance, some on the battlefield of war, but many on other kinds of battlefields. This year’s theme honors those women who fought with valiance for the right to vote. Their battlefields were the pervading misogynist culture in which they lived, the streets on which they marched, the paper on which they wrote. Each of these women used their voices, their valiant voices, to fight for that freedom to vote. Some of these women lost their families. Some lost their friends. Some lost their very lives. Now, we all stand on the shoulders of these valiant women, and we have the challenge, the honor, and the opportunity to carry on their legacy. May we, also, refuse to be silenced as we raise our own valiant voices together with the women who have gone before us and those yet to come. 

The resources herein are intended to be a springboard. This is not a complete curriculum. These activities do not correct the missing voices and histories in our curricula; they do not complicate the canon enough on their own. However, we hope they are a powerful starting place. We hope these resources are seeds that grow well beyond March. 

Yours for the journey, 

Kathryn Fishman-Weaver and Jill Clingan

Essential Questions for Students
What does it mean to use your voice for change?
What voices are missing from our histories?
What voices would you like to learn more about?
Essential Question for Students
What revisions or reimaginings does your curriculum need to be more complete, increase representation, and celebrate women voices?

Who the Suffrage Movement Left Out

Recommended by: Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

Level: High School     Time for lesson: 3-4 x 30 minute sessions

Activate Prior Knowledge: True or false? The 19th amendment guaranteed all women the right to vote. This is false. In our continued effort to teach a more complete history, this lesson explores the women the suffrage movement left out and celebrates Black, indigenous, and Latina women who fought for more inclusive voting rights. 

Session 1 – Expert Groups: Divide students into groups of 4. Assign each group to one of the following articles. 

The U.S. Suffragette Movement tried to leave out Black Women. They showed up anyhow. (The Guardian)
How Early Suffragist Left Black Women Out of their Fight (History) 
How History Classes on the Women’s Suffrage Movement Leave Out the Work of Black Voting Rights Activists
Unlearning History: The Woman’s Suffrage Movement (PBS)

The group will become an expert on this article by completing the following information: 

Article Name, News Source, Author
Summary of Key Points, Terms, and Concepts (Bullet points is fine.)
Questions this article raises for your group
The most important takeaway

Session 2 – Jigsaw Groups: Once the group has become an expert on their news article, jigsaw the class, so that students are in new groups with a representative from each of the original groups. Students should then teach others what they learned in their research and then work together in the new groups to synthesize information. 

The synthesis activity asks these new jigsaw groups to prepare a five minute creative presentation on what they have learned about the suffrage movement from this research. Students may choose to prepare a poster, PowerPoint, song, poem, mini-lesson, or skit. Presentations should demonstrate thoughtful engagement with the reading (including quotes and citations), creativity, and collaboration. 

Teaching note: You may need to extend this session to a full class period to give students enough time for presentation preparation. 

Session 3 – In the final session of this lesson series, student groups will give their creative presentations. Ahead of presentation time, it may be helpful to go over class norms around being present, respectful, and positive. Either following each presentation or following all presentations, facilitate a discussion on what went well in the presentations. 

What did this group or our groups do particularly well? 
What made you think in a new way?

Before closing the series, facilitate a synthesis session using the following questions as a guide.

What has our class learned as a result of this lesson series? 
What are YOUR takeaways about the suffrage movement? 
How did this lesson change what you knew about the 19th amendment? 
What do the individuals we studied teach us about equality, activism, inclusion, and change?

Possible Extension: There are several specific activists named in these articles that students may have been unfamiliar with prior to our lesson. As an extension you might assign individual or paired research on these historical figures.

The Suffrage Movement—History Mini-Project

Recommended by: Anthony Plogger

Level: Middle School – 6, 7, 8     Time for Lesson: 3x 45 minutes

Activity Description: In this activity, students will conduct research and create a mini-research project to share with their peers and teacher either on poster board or Google Slides. In this project, students will learn more about an important figure from the Women’s Suffrage Era.  

Teaching note: You may want to prepare a more complete and inclusive list of famous women from the Suffrage Era by reviewing the articles linked in the lesson “Who the Suffrage Movement Left Out.”

Students will be responsible for writing in their own words (not copying and pasting). As they prepare their project, they should answer the following:

When?Include date of birth and date of death.
Who?Who was this person? Include biographical Information.
What?What are they famous for? Include important things they accomplished.
Where?Where were they from? Where did they do most of their work?
How?How did this person change history?
Why?Why did you choose to research this figure?
ExtrasWhat else did you learn that surprised or inspired you during your research?
ImagesInclude at least one image per slide (if using Google Slides) or at least 3 images (if creating  a poster).

Stacey Abrams—“Truth Seekers”

Recommended by: Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

Level: Highschool Grades 9-12    Time Suggestions: 4 x 20 minute reflective lessons

Background. Stacey Abrams, a lawyer and voting rights activist, says that, “Effective leaders must be truth seekers and that requires a willingness to understand truths other than our own.” Abrams is truly one of today’s history makers.  She is responsible for mobilizing 800,000 people to register to vote in her home state of Georgia in advance of the 2020 elections.

Activity Description. Explore a recent TED Radio Interview with Stacey Abrams. This 25-minute podcast is framed around her identity as a student and contains powerful messages for students and student leaders. 

Media Link

Spread the listening out over four days. This will give you and your class about 5-8 minutes per day or roughly one big question. Reporter Manoush Zomorodi’s questions and Stacey Abrams’ stories point to purposeful reflection and personal connection. After listening to each short segment, give students space to process, make connections, and discuss. Try a different processing method each day including free writing, Socratic seminar discussions, and whole group dialogue. Close the week with a whole class discussion of key takeaways from Abrams’ interview, any new intentions students want to set, and a list for future research questions. (See the possible lesson extension ideas below.) 

Lesson Extensions:
Explore Abrams’ run for governor in the state of Georgia followed by her subsequent work around voting rights. What lessons can we learn from her work? 
Research the history of voting rights, voting suppression, and voter mobilization in the U.S. How does the U.S. voting process compare to other countries?

“…but I won’t be the last.” 

Recommended by: Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

Level: Middle and High School (6-12)   Time for lesson: 30-60 minutes

One history maker that may be on your students’ minds is Vice President Kamala Harris. When Harris took the oath of office on January 20, 2021, she became the first woman vice president in the history of the United States. She is also the first Black person, and the first Asian American to hold that position.

In her acceptance speech, Vice President Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last.”   

Media Link: Watch an excerpt of this speech here

Questions for class discussion (adapt as needed for your grade level): 

What does it mean to be the first? What are your responsibilities? 
How does seeing more lived experiences represented in leadership positions change things? 
What had to happen in history to make this (and other) groundbreaking firsts possible?

In Vice President Harris’s speech she mentions several identities including race, ethnicity, and gender. Our different identities intersect and contribute to our worldviews, perspectives, and experiences. This idea is called intersectionality, and it was proposed by legal scholar and professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Questions for class discussion (adapt as needed for your grade level): 

What identities make you you?
How do your different identities intersect and inform your perspectives, worldviews, and experiences? 
Are there times when certain identities are more foregrounded? If so, what are those times? 

Extension and Literature Pairing

Regardless of age or grade level, children’s literature is a powerful conversation starter in the classroom. Below are two new children’s books you might use to jumpstart these activities. Both titles explore some of our key history maker themes including intersectionality, leadership, hope, and change. 

Ambitious Girl  by Meena Harris 

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio

Questions for discussion: 

Questions for Discussion:
What stands out to you in this book?
How does this book make you feel and why?
What messages does the narrator offer in these books?
Do these messages reimagine or maintain the status quo?
What do you think was the author’s purpose in writing this book?

Follow up: Challenge students to create their own bookpage. Creativity and courage encouraged.

Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Recommended by: Dr. Sherry Denney

Level: Middle Grades (4-8)   Time for lesson: Daily 30-45 minute lessons for 8 days

Activity Description—”Political Speech” 

Rose Wilder Lane was the famous daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. By trade, Rose Wilder Lane was a journalist and novelist of considerable political influence at the national level. In fact, she has been credited as one the founders of the American Libertarian Movement. Among many novels and professional articles she penned, she wrote a book in 1920 with Charles K. Field called, The Making of Herbert Hoover. The book was published before Hoover became president in 1929, and was foundational in the promotion of his image for the American public. President Hoover and Rose became friends, and many of her personal papers are on display in Iowa at the Herbert Hoover Library’s special Rose Wilder Lane Collection. 

For this activity, students will pretend they are a politician. They will be inspired after reading the political activism of Rose Wilder Lane, and so the activity is to create a 30-second videotaped ‘political’ speech highlighting their core beliefs about justice and freedom for all. 

Day 1 & 2: Focus—Collaboration and Active Listening Skills

Divide the classroom into four groups and assign them one of the references provided. Allow students time to research the life of Rose Wilder Lane. Encourage them to explore the history of the era in which she lived and come up with additional facts to share with their group members. Ask them to focus on Rose Wilder Lane’s dedication to the virtues of justice and freedom.  

Day 3: Focus—Rough Draft 

Reassign students from the different groups into pairs. Give them time to share what they have learned in their groups with each other, and do any additional research they want to do. In pairs, they should start to outline their script for their political speech and come up with a rough draft*.

*Circulate around the room (or breakout rooms) and check on the content of their speeches and offer assistance.

Day 4: Focus—Final Draft 

In this session, students will remain in their pairs and continue working on their scripts. Their partners will be serving as editors and camera operators for the final piece. At the end of the session, they should have a final draft of what they are going to say* and prepare for their videos (including appropriate timing).

*Circulate around the room (or breakout rooms) and check on the content of their speeches and offer assistance.

Day 5: Focus—Collaboration and Active Listening Skills

In this session, the final drafts can be amended as needed prior to making the recordings. This is the session where they will record their 30-second video speeches for their partner. 

Days 6 & 7: Focus—Video / Collaboration and Active Listening Skills 

The class will come back together to watch the speeches. Ask them to note how the speeches make them feel, and how their motivation towards social and political change has been affected.  

Day 8: Focus—Collaboration and Active Listening Skills 

Have the students get back into their original groups and discuss the experience. Have them focus on the meaning of “empowerment” and how each of them can become change agents for the future. Use some of the time to have them share their reflections with the entire class.


“Well-behaved women seldom make history”

Recommended by: Nina Sprouse (Adapted from PBS Resources)

Level: High School Grades 9-12; World History, Sociology, and/or Psychology   

Time Suggestions: Thirty minutes in class, one hour for homework

Background. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history“ in the 1970s. It quickly became a slogan for girls hoping to break the mold. Today, these words appear on t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, greeting cards, and all sorts of Web sites and blogs. What started out as a line in an obscure article has grown into a larger movement, and represents how women have made their “voices” heard throughout time. 

Activity Description. For this activity, students will identify stereotypes about women and men, and learn how Anne Bonny broke the traditional gender stereotypes. Then, the students will create their own profile on another “rule-breaking” woman in history. Examples could be Harriet Tubman, Hypatia, Cleopatra, Mulan, and Queen Elizabeth.

Provide a definition of the word “stereotype”. Then, asks the students to list some stereotypes that they feel represent males and females. The Introduction to Gender Stereotyping resource can provide some additional guidance.

Next, explain to students that they are going to learn about Anne Bonny—a woman who defied the stereotypes of women of her time. Watch the video below, as well as review the Anne Bonny resource document. Discuss specific ways that Anne broke the rules.

Media Link Anne Bonny— 

(1) Choose a woman who made history (either one of the five featured or find your own).
(2) Research her, record both basic facts about her as well as a short synopsis on her life, and then state how she broke traditional stereotypes.
Lesson Extensions: 
Research cultural stereotypes in other countries. How do they differ from the ones presented in this lesson?  
Investigate “rule-breaking” women in your community, state/province, or county history. Report on what you have discovered. 
Write a story about the life of the women researched for the assignment. The text should set up a story by introducing the event/conflict, characters, and setting.

Women Poets – Introduction

Recommended by: Lou Jobst

Level: Grades 5-12; English Language Arts

Time Suggestions: 20 minute intro; then 30 minute research, 60 minutes to prepare presentations, and 10 minutes per presentation

Background. The contributions of women poets is vast. In this introductory lesson, students will explore the work of women poets to become more familiar with voices they may not have known previously and to study key poets that they resonate with and want to explore further. 

Activity Description. Start by sharing poems by some of your personal favorite women poets.  You might choose from such poets as Dickinson, Moore, Plath, Giovanni, Kenyon, Sexton, Angelou, Clifton, and Browning. Share why you were drawn to these poems, pointing to specific lines or themes that resonate with you.

After introducing poets and poems that you resonate with, have students work in small groups to explore poems more deeply and find a poet whose work they resonate with. Working individually or in small groups, students should create a brief bio, direct the class to copies of the poem, and then present their bio and some verses of the poet’s work with enthusiasm. 

Media Link Poetry Foundation –

Teach Living Poets – Intermediate Lessons

Recommended by: Jill Clingan And Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

Level: Grades 8-12; English Language Arts   Time Suggestions: 1-2 class periods per poet

Background.  Melissa Alter Smith is the founder of #teachlivingpoets. The core values of this group include: 

* get poetry into the hands of students.
* complicate the canon, to open the door wider of which poems are taught in the classroom.
* provide students with poetry that reflects their identities, backgrounds, and present circumstances.
* facilitate students’ discovery of new ideas and people who are different than them.
* center the voices of BIPOC poets, LBGTQ+ poets, and poets with disabilities.
* celebrate the arts in schools, especially poetry.
* empower students’ voices through reading and writing poetry.

We (Jill and Kathryn) are inspired by this mission and wanted to be sure that our Women’s History Month teaching resources included living poets who embody the 2021 theme, complicate our classroom canons, and connect with students in new ways. The three poets listed below are three that we love to teach. Of course, these poets are only a starting place. If you are interested in finding more living poets to teach in your own programs, you might start with this list:

Lesson 1: Amanda Gorman—Poetry in Public Places

Watch Amanda Gorman’s TEDTalk, “Using your voice is a political choice.”

After watching the video, answer these reflection questions:

In what three ways does Gorman say that poetry is political? Is there anything you would add to her list?
Gorman states, “Poetry has never been the language of barriers; it’s always been the language of bridges.” How do you think poetry can build bridges? What barriers could poetry knock down? 
Gorman believes that “All art is political.” How is art political? What are some examples of art being political (think about poetry or other literature, dance, visual arts, drama, etc.). 
At the beginning of her TEDTalk, Gorman asks two questions: Whose shoulders do you stand on? What do you stand for? How would you answer those questions?

Class Poem
Brainstorm your answers to the two questions Amanda Gorman asked at the beginning of her TEDTalk: Whose shoulders do you stand on? What do you stand for? Gorman answered those questions this way: I am the daughter of Black writers, who are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.
You can use these sentence starters or create your own:

I stand on the shoulders of _____________________________________.

I stand for ______________________________________.

When each of you is finished, stand in a circle. Take turns reading the first line around the circle, then the second. 

At the very end, read these lines in unison:

We are the children of our ancestors. We stand for the stories only we can tell and for the change we will be in the world.

Class Collage

Watch Amanda Gorman read the Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
You can find a transcript here:

Find the lines in Gorman’s poem that speak the most to you. Write out those lines on a piece of paper and use the rest of the paper’s empty space to draw or paint an image that illustrates what those lines mean to you. Create a collage on your classroom wall of these images and words.

Lesson 2: Nikki Giovanni—Poetry for Social Change 

Engage—As an intro to one of Nikki Giovanni’s most famous poems, show this recent clip of the NASA Perseverance Rover landing on Mars.

The NASA scientist’s voice you hear in this clip is Swati Mohan.You can read more about Mohan’s work and other Indian women scientists who are breaking down boundaries here.  

With your class, discuss the role of perseverance in science and change movements. 

We’re Going to Mars—Nikki Giovanni is a famous American poet, as well as an advocate for racial justice and women’s rights. In her poem, “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars)” she writes that “the trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans.” Before exploring the poem together, ask students to journal independently on this idea. 

Listen to Giovanni perform this poem at a Civil Rights Celebration at Virginia Tech, where she serves as a professor. 

Giovanni covers a lot of ground in this poem. Give students time in small groups to review a transcript of the poem and to share their reflections on the following questions.

What are your favorite lines from this poem? Why are you drawn to those lines?
What historical allusions do you need more information about?
If this poem had a thesis statement, what would it be, AND do you agree with that thesis? 
Remember, where we started this lesson by listening to Swati Mohan announce the NASA Perseverance Rover had landed successfully on Mars. How did watching that video clip and learning about Mohan influence the way you heard Giovanni’s poem? 
Phenomenal Found Poetry: Pair Giovanni’s “Ego-Tripping” with Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” Ask students what these poems have in common, what literary devices the poets employ, and why we need poems like this. Then ask students to create a found poem from one of or both of these texts to give to a phenomenal woman in their own lives. 
Allowables: Giovanni’s poem “Allowables” has been used as an analogy for police brutality against African Americans. Read this short poignant poem together and discuss how poetry can be used for social change. Challenge students to utilize metaphor, like Giovanni, as they author original poems on social issues that matter to them. 

Lesson 3: Sarah Kay—Spoken Word Poetry

The heart of poetry is voice. Often, that voice is one-dimensional, black and white on a page. Poetry teachers recommend that students read poetry aloud, however, for a reason. The voice of poetry is not just the words; it’s also the rhythm of those words and the spaces between them. Spoken word poetry occupies a space within poetry where it has a literal, out loud voice, a Voice. Poetry, just like politics and protest, is such an apt space for an out loud voice because in poetry, just like in politics and protest, that voice is refusing to be silenced.

Spoken Word Poem Option 1

Watch one of Sarah Kay’s poems so that you have a feel for spoken word poetry.

“If I should have a daughter….”
“A Bird Made of Birds”
“An Origin Story”
“The Type”
“Mrs. Ribeiro”
“Dreaming Boy”

Brainstorm political topics that you are passionate about where you want to use your voice. Write a spoken word poem that uses your voice to express that passion.

You may find inspiration from the Poetry Foundation’s collection of Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment.

Host a performance of these poems for your class or also invite outside guests.

Spoken Word Poem Option 2

Watch Sarah Kay’s TEDTalk “If I should have a daughter….”

At the end of her TEDTalk, Kay asks the audience to think of three things that they know to be true. Kay’s three things she knows are true are “that Jean-Luc Godard was right when he said that, ‘A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end, although not necessarily in that order.’ I know that I’m incredibly nervous and excited to be up here, which is greatly inhibiting my ability to keep it cool. And I know that I have been waiting all week to tell this joke. Why was the scarecrow invited to TED? Because he was out standing in his field.”

She then goes on to say, “So these are three things I know to be true. But there are plenty of things I have trouble understanding. So I write poems to figure things out. Sometimes the only way I know how to work through something is by writing a poem. Sometimes I get to the end of the poem, look back and go, ‘Oh, that’s what this is all about,’ and sometimes I get to the end of the poem and haven’t solved anything, but at least I have a new poem out of it.”

Write down 3 things you know to be true about women and voice. 
Write down 3 things you want to know more about women and voice. 
Write a spoken word poem about the three things you know to be true, the three things you want to know more about, or both. 
After you write the poem, reflect on how you might have had a moment of, “Oh, that’s what this is all about.”

Addendum (2022)

One of my favorite things in the world is receiving messages from students and their families. This week I heard from Grace (and her mom, Julie). They wrote that this post was helpful for a recent social studies project Grace completed on women’s history.  While I am thrilled to hear that, I was most struck by Grace’s wise suggestion to include content on the surprising history of Wyoming’s suffrage movement. Great idea, Grace! I am adding it here.

Wyoming’s Role in the U.S. Suffrage Movement

Article 6 of the Wyoming state constitution (1890), made Wyoming the first state to guarantee equal suffrage regardless of gender in the nation. However, their work on gender equality began even before statehood. In 1869 when Wyoming was a territory, they became the first state or territory in the U.S. to grant the following rights to women:

  • suffrage,
  • rights to hold public office,
  • own and inherit property,
  • and the guardianship of minor children.  

 Other important firsts followed this legislation including Wyoming appointing Esther Hobart Morris, the first woman Justice of the Peace in the U.S. on February 17, 1870. In Wyoming, women served on juries as early as 1870. It was over 100 years later (1973) when all U.S. states passed similar laws allowing women’s participation on juries.  

The history of this important legislation in women’s rights in complicated. Many who advocated for it were motivated by reasons other than gender equality. These included free publicity and racist rhetoric. Some men hoped that this legislation would attract more women to the area. At the time of the law’s passing, men outnumbered women 6:1. While many of the debates about this legislation were not recorded, those that have a written record, include racist rhetoric about the new rights granted to formally enslaved populations through the 14th and 15th amendments.

Extend your learning.

Wyoming’s official nickname is “the equality state.” Is that an accurate nickname? Defend your answer with specifics. This should include additional research on your part. Below are three resources to get you started.