Nurturing Courage in Schools

What does it look like to teach and lead for courage? What does it look like to practice courage personally and professionally? How can we nurture courage in schools? These are some of the questions our school district has explored over the past 18 months.

When we make the difficult and right choice we see great rewards including new solutions, deeper connections, and safer schools. Watch the following video to learn more about cultivating courage in schools.


We made this video when Ana invited me to give a lecture to students and families at Colégio Damas (Recife, PE, Brazil). Thank you to the Damas community for the opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons we have learned about courage. Enthusiastic thanks also to Dale Hargis for his video talents.

How are you cultivating courage in your schools? Leave a comment to join the conversation.

Enthusiastically, Dr. KFW

Somos todos mães. (We are all mothers.)

This is a story about a group of eighth grade students, a woman named Marina, a nine-year-old boy, and the power of our shared humanity.

Photo from our visit:  Learn more about La Casa MHP 

Last Wednesday, we had the privilege of visiting La Casa Maria Helena Paulina in São Paulo. The afternoon was organized by the Grade 8 Middle School Global Leaders at Pio XII. Our Grade 8 class focuses on human rights. To bring the curriculum to life, the students at Pio XII had spent several weeks collecting food, toys, and other items for La Casa MHP and they invited us to help deliver them. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We picked up a few extra bags of rice, pasta, and flour and arrived ready to help.

La Casa MHP is a free home for families to stay while their children are receiving treatment for cancer. The children’s hospital in São Paulo is nationally renowned and families come from all over Brazil and even South America for treatment. The home was started when Maria Helena Paulina was receiving treatment herself and saw families sleeping under a bridge near the hospital because they had no place to stay.

A nine-year-old boy who had been receiving treatment for five-years met us and gave us a tour.  He is small, has an amazing sense of humor, and took us through every room of the house telling great stories along the way.

During our visit to La Casa MHP I met mothers, children, students, teachers, and volunteers all showing up for each other.  A mother and I joked together about our teenage sons who live in different realities and yet are still very much both teenage boys.  My friend who works at Pio XII overheard us and said, “Somos todos mães./We are all mothers.”

After the tour, we pulled chairs and couches into a makeshift circle and sat together in the living room. Several residents, a few volunteers, and the house psychologist came to join us. I looked around and was struck by this sudden community we had formed. Marina (Maria Helena’s cousin who still manages La Casa MHP) facilitated the conversation. Our students asked questions, heard stories, and shared laughs. It was warm–literally and figuratively. We closed with a giant group hug.

Just before leaving I had a few minutes to speak alone with Marina. I knew what I wanted to say and even how to say it in Portuguese. I got about two sentences in and started crying. We hugged for a long time. Love is universal.

I am thankful that there are so many places across the globe doing important work with great love. Like La Casa MHP you can find these organizations in your cities, just off the sidewalk and around the corner. And what amazing classrooms these are for young people to learn about social inequality, generosity of spirit, and the power of human connection. There are countless people like Marina and the volunteers at La Casa MHP who are making a difference in their communities. And what important teachers these people are for our young people as models of leadership, empathy, and compassion. These are the kinds of lessons you have to learn in the context of community. These are also the kinds of lessons you have to revisit over and over again. I am grateful I had the chance to re-learn them myself last Wednesday.

May we all, always remember to take care of one another. If you are interested in learning more about La Casa Maria Helena Paulina, please click here.

Appreciatively, Dr. KFW


Culturally Responsive Teacher Education

Reflections from my semester working with pre-service teachers; plus an invitation to view our open access journal, which will restore your faith in our future classrooms.

Dr. KFW and Mr. Pinto with some of the 2040 Scholars who presented their community-based work to the College of Education

The Classroom

We meet in 133 Mumford Hall on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Mumford Hall is tucked away behind Memorial Union. It is a 10-minute walk from the College of Education and a big breath away from downtown. Mumford Hall is home to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The faculty that calls this building their home sometimes seemed surprised by our constructivist teacher-ed antics. Maybe it has something to do with the marching band instruments we integrated into our lessons on more than one occasion. In short, we made ourselves at home and we piqued some interest along the way.

We know this building now; we know the conference rooms and sunny corners perfect for gathering to host book club discussions or work out presentations on school equity. More importantly, in this building, we found a home for our class community. Here we leaned in to moments of hope, concern, vulnerability, and courage.

The path to becoming a culturally responsive teacher is marked by countless moments, big and small, of connection and learning. We processed these together n 133 Mumford. Yet our classroom extended beyond this building.  The community was our classroom as well. In fact, thinking about teacher education as a community project is consistent with the thesis of this journal.

The Class

LTC 2040,  Inquiring into Schools, Community and Society I, is a required foundation course for all teacher education students in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. This course serves two important functions.  First, 2040 lays a foundation for understanding some of the structure, history, and issues surrounding schools and teaching. Second, it investigates the complicated and challenging nature of what it means to teach in a diverse society. The course addresses the importance of being a culturally competent advocate for all students in our classrooms.

The Idea

On the very first day of class, we posed this question: How will I create an inclusive culture to support my students’ achievement? The future teachers in our class tackled this question though reading, dialoguing, and engaging in powerful community-based work. We were so struck by their projects and insights, that we wanted to create a platform where they could share their action research with others in the education community. For this reason, we are thrilled to launch “To be of Service” the first-ever 2040 Open Access Journal. This journal will be released at our Research Roundtable on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

The Journal Prompt

Dr. Fishman-Weaver has often said, “Relationships are the heart of great teaching.” This sentiment is shared by Mr. Pinto and has become a theme of many of our conversations. In a reflective essay, defend, refute, or qualify this claim. Use your cultural immersion project, service learning experience, and our dialogues and readings as evidence.

The Journal

As usual, the scholars in our class knocked this out of the park. We hope folks across the education community dive into this first volume and are reminded that our future classrooms are full of hope and promise. In the following pages, you will read about the lessons these scholars have learned about connection, difference, and the importance of relationships. The stories are honest, vulnerable, and make it clear that our future teachers and their future students will build inclusive classrooms filled with both connection and learning.

Curious about this journal? Click here to read.  You will be so glad you did.

Enthusiastically, Dr. KFW


On the Importance of Student Leadership

As an assignment for Mizzou K-12’s newest program, Middle School Global Leaders, sixth-grade students are asked to write open letters on topics that matter to their community. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, a faculty member at the MU College of Education and director of academic affairs for Mizzou K-12, wrote this letter as an example for her students.

Dr. KFW’s article originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian

Dear Mid-Missouri Students—

While the world is not always as kind, accepting, and inclusive as it should be, young people usually are. In fact, I think your role as student leaders in our community is our most promising and positive force for change. Some of you reading this may say, “Hey, I am not a leader!” to which I smile and respectfully disagree. Perhaps we all need to think differently about leadership. A leader is someone who influences, motivates, and affects change. A leader isn’t always the loudest or most popular person in the room; sometimes, a leader is the quiet friend everyone counts on, or the person who is willing to do the right thing even when it is unpopular. Here are four ways I’ve noticed you and your classmates using your leadership to make the world a better place.

You volunteer. You help feed our community. You pack thousands of pounds of food at the Central Missouri Food Bank; you cook dinners for the Ronald McDonald House. You visit the elderly at nursing homes. You write holiday cards for children in the hospital and for soldiers serving overseas.

You organize. You plan food drives and clothing drives for children and families in our community. You established the Columbia Youth Advisory Council to advise our city on issues affecting young people. You start new clubs and organizations to change policies and to advocate for issues that matter to you. You serve as Kindness Ambassadors at your schools.

You include. You notice when someone is sitting alone at lunch, and you ask them to join your group.  Your friends have different identities, families, and backgrounds and you know they are cool and interesting just the way they are. You honor our Special Olympics athletes with rousing standing ovations.

You learn. Sometimes you make mistakes. It’s okay—you are human. Most importantly, you are willing to learning from those mistakes. I’ve heard you apologize. I’ve heard you admit that you shouldn’t have said something or that if you had it do again, you would make different choices. I’ve heard you ask for help. These humbling moments matter; learning is how we improve.

While the world might not yet be as compassionate as it should be, your leadership is helping us get there. Thank you for volunteering, organizing, including, and learning. Keep up the great work!

Encouragingly yours, Dr. Fishman-Weaver

A Note for Adults—Although students are welcome to read this as well

Are there counterexamples? Sure. However, I’ve spent enough time in schools to know that these counterexamples are few, isolated, and almost always the product of insecurity. Let’s (1) not let outliers determine our overall impression of young people, and (2) coach students who do need extra interpersonal support by modeling compassion, affirmation, and grace. Let’s also teach that quiet leadership matters. For inspiration on what this looks like, visit local classrooms, particularly the classrooms of young students. I’ve found that children tend to understand equity, inclusion, and friendship with more sophistication and far less agenda than their adult counterparts. This is the type of leadership that can inspire us all.


Celebrating Women’s History Month

This post is part of our Culturally Responsive Teachers series

Girls and women make up 51% of the global population. Yet women’s stories, accomplishments, and experiences are too often left out of the curriculum. Women’s History Month is an important opportunity to engage in dialogues about equity, representation, and inclusion. The following resource is part of our series on culturally responsive teaching and includes activities and ideas for celebrating women’s history month in the middle and high school classroom. For some more history on Women’s History Month, see this student-friendly article published by Time magazine.

The theme of this year’s  (2018) National Women’s History Project is Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. As you and your students read stories, create art, watch videos, and complete projects, see if you can tie those activities back to the theme of persistence.

“Nevertheless she persisted” is a relatively new women’s rights saying and hashtag (2017). It originated from a reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren who spoke out against the unjust record of another senator.

Women’s History Month Guiding Questions:

  • How can we all persist in the fight for justice?
  • How have women persisted toward representation, equity, and inclusion?

Please note that our ideas are merely a starting place for incorporating these themes into your classroom. We know our lists are incomplete and we welcome your additional ideas in the comments below.


Ask your students to respond to the following questions:

  • What are the differences between equality and equity? Why should we work for equity?
  • What does it mean to honor all experiences as valid?
  • What does oppression look like in our society? How can we work to end oppression?

These questions are a springboard for exploring feminism with students. After all, it wouldn’t be possible to teach Women’s History Month without considering the importance of women’s rights movements throughout history.  

The following chart might give your students some common language around feminism.

Image Source: Fishman-Weaver, K. Teaching High-Achieving Young Women (Forthcoming Fall 2018)

Students (and adults) often carry a lot of assumptions and misinformation about feminism. These two videos by Chimamanda Adichie and Emma Watson help dispel these myths and explain why feminism is important for everybody.

Watch these videos with your students:

  • Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian activist and author, gave this widely-watched TED talk called We Should All Be Feminists.  She later published a book with almost the same content under the same title. Both the talk and the book can be excellent stage-setting pieces for your class.
  • Emma Watson gave this speech at the United Nations launching the “HeforShe” campaign. In her speech, Watson discusses the way our gender stereotypes limit us.
    • You can also print out a copy of the transcript for your students to follow along.
    • Discussion questions:
      • What surprised you about these speeches?
      • How do these speakers define feminism?
      • How is their definition similar or different from what you thought feminism meant?
      • Which examples do you think are the most important or powerful in their speeches?
      • What evidence of persistence can you identify in these speeches?


  • #MeToo Movement: Tarana Burke, a social activist, was the first person to use this hashtag on social media in order to call attention to the issue of assault and harassment against women. In 2017–2018, it gained viral global attention and has now been used by hundreds of thousands of people. Many famous people in the media, including actresses and singers, have shared their own stories using this hashtag. Writers in the #MeToo movement want to let victims know that they are not alone. This hashtag has also been translated into many languages, encouraging people all over the world to share their stories and put an end to violence against women.
    • Hold a socratic seminar around the #metoomovement where students discuss their impressions of the movement, how social media can be used as a political tool, and their proposed call to action to make their local communities safer for women and girls.
  • NPR podcast series 51%: NPR has launched a podcast series highlighting women’s perspectives on a host of important issues including healthcare, education, politics, the arts.
    • Challenge students to work in teams to write and record their own submission to the podcast series.


  • Hold a science panel “inviting” women scientists who have changed the world. Assign students to work alone or in small groups to research famous women scientists. Some names to get you started include:  
  • Case Study on Temple Grandin: Watch Dr. Grandin’s talk: “The world needs all kinds of minds.” Dr. Grandin is a scientist who was recently inducted into the Academy of Arts of Sciences for her work in the humane livestock handling industry. As a person on the autism spectrum, she has used her ability to think differently to make a huge difference in the treatment of animals. If students are interested in learning more about Dr. Grandin’s work, there is also a semi-autobiographical HBO film about her called Temple Grandin.
    • Discussion questions:
      • What surprised you in this talk?
      • How has Dr. Grandin persisted?
      • What does Dr. Grandin’s story and work teach us about inclusion and representation?

Photo Credit: Kathryn Fishman-Weaver


  • Organize a Women in Math Event: Brigham Young University recently came under scrutiny after their advertisement poster for an event on Women in Math featured only men.
    • Imagine that your class is hosting a Women in Math event (that features women mathematicians). Divide students into groups and assign them (or have them choose) a woman whom they would like to research. Each group should create their own Women in Math poster featuring the mathematician they researched. Students’ posters should include biographical information, significant contributions to mathematics, and any obstacles the mathematician had to overcome in order to persist in her professional path. Students can then present their poster to the class at your Women in Math event. Possible women mathematicians include:
          • Hypatia
          • Sophie Germain
          • Mary Somerville
          • Ada Lovelace
          • Sofia Kovalevskaya
          • Florence Nightingale
          • Emmy Noether
          • Dorothy Johnson Vaughan
          • Marjorie Lee Browne
          • Katherine Johnson
          • Svetlana Jitomirskaya
          • Maryam Mirzakhani

Language Arts

  • Literature Studies – Study the works of Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Tillie Olsen, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Atwood, bell hooks, Ursula K. Le Guin, Katha Pollitt, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker
  • Study the works of women poets including Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou,  Rupi Kaur, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Mary Oliver, and Audre Lorde.  Analyze these poets’ work for our themes of persistence, personal storytelling, mental health, and representation.
    • Extension opportunity: Ask students to memorize or create a reader’s theater on their favorite poem from this study to perform at a class celebration. For inspiration, watch Sarah Kay’s performance of “If I should have a daughter.
  • Organize a Women’s History Month Book Club:  Possible titles include:
      • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson,
      • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Middle School),
      • I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai,
      • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson,
      • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
      • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
      • “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell
        • Review these books in advance for mature content that may or may not be appropriate for your grade-level courses.
  • Host a Socratic Seminar on Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”:
    • You can also find three lessons on this short story from the National Endowment for the Humanities website.

Social Sciences

  • Exploring History: Divide students into 50-year groups beginning with 1700. Ask each group to research the important legislation, major trends, and accomplishments in the women’s rights movements.  This resource from the National Women’s History Project is a great starting place.
  • Intersectionality: Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to explain how our multiple identities (e.g. race, class, gender, ethnicity, etc.) intersect to create complex and compounding experiences in social space. For example, what it means to be a Black woman in America is different from what it means to be a Black man in America or a Latina woman in America. Ask students to make identity maps exploring their various personal identities.
  • Proposals: Challenge students to write proposals for which woman who should be featured on the new $20 bill.  
  • Explore mental health: Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”: Read and analyze this story together. Then, encourage students to research treatment options for mental health, particularly for women, around the time this story was published (1892).
    • Extension opportunity: Students can also compare and contrast mental health treatment and/or stigma from the 19th century to today. 


  • Four Women Artists – Divide students into four groups to research and create art: Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Helen Frankenthaler, and Annie Leibovitz.
    • Host a gallery event:  In groups, students should research their assigned artist, learning more about her biography, key themes, and style. Then as individuals, students should create original works in the style of their artist. Host a gallery event showcasing the biographies of these artists as well as the students’ works of art.
      • Note the Annie Leibovitz group will need access to a camera. The other groups will need paint.
  • Collage – Provide students with magazines that they can go through to cut out words and pictures to create a collage. Collages should include images, text, and a call to action. Potential collage themes include:
    • Gender & Culture
    • A Feminist World
    • Body Image
    • Rewriting Gender Stereotypes
    • “Nevertheless She Persisted” (this year’s National Women’s History Project theme)

Additional resources:

  • The National Education Association (NEA) offers resources and lesson plans for Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12. 
  • Teaching History offers resources for Women’s History Month, including quizzes, printables, and lesson plans.
  • The National Women’s History Museum has an extensive library of resources for students and teachers, including biographies, lesson plans, posters, and electronic field trips.
  • The website Science NetLinks contains lesson plans that study the achievements of women in STEM fields.
The post was co-authored by Kathryn Fishman-Weaver and Jill Clingan