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.

Stage-Setting

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?

Media

  • #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.

Sciences

  • 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

Mathematics: 

  • 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. 

Art

  • 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.
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The post was co-authored by Kathryn Fishman-Weaver and Jill Clingan

Names Matter

A rose by any other name still wants to be called Rose

One of the quickest ways to build bridges between you and another person is to know their name. Principals, central office administrators, and professors have many names to learn.  School districts, large high schools, and big undergraduate lecture classes lead to a challenging volume of names. Wholehearted school leaders accept this challenge.  

When we visit schools and classrooms, we don’t always know everyone’s names yet; this means we have to get to work straight away.

Baker/baker Paradox

The Baker/baker paradox suggests that if you meet someone and learn they are named Baker you’re not super likely to remember that. However,  if you meet someone and learn they are a baker you are more likely to remember their profession. It is the same word associated with the same person; so why does this happen? This works because one (the profession) conjures an image while the other (the name) doesn’t.

You can use the Baker/baker paradox to your advantage by asking students to tell you something interesting about them as they tell you their name. Put the two bits of information together:

  • Lorenzo speaks Spanish.
  • Zoe likes photography.
  • Kristen is a cheerleader.
  • Joshua plays the piano.
  • Rania is from Tunisia.

This has double advantages. First, it helps you learn names, and second, it gives you something to build on after you learn the person’s name.

Be Transparent

Let students know that their names matter to you because they matter to you. Tell students that it is hard to learn all of their names but that you are committed to working on it until you get it. And then be good to your word. When students see that I am invested in learning their names they help me with clues, laughter, and lots of encouragement.  These are all wholehearted indicators of positive school culture.

Dr. KFW and colleagues visit a classroom in Piracicaba, SP (Brazil)

As a school administrator, I visit a lot of classrooms, including classrooms at our partner schools around the world. Whenever I spend time in a new classroom, I share a little bit about myself and ask students to do the same. I let our students know that I want to get to know them and their names. Then I work really hard to do just that.

I spend a few minutes at the start of each lecture going around using the Baker/baker strategy trying to learn students’ names and an interesting fact about each of them. Later, if I can’t remember a student’s name, I apologize and ask them to remind me.  

The Calculus Party Effect

In addition to bridging humanity, names also help with student engagement. Everyone lights up when they are recognized, affirmed, and named. The calculus party effect (known to everyone else as the cocktail party effect) refers to intense sensory situations (e.g. a calculus class). In these situations, amidst the flurry of approximating definite integrals and calculating arc length,  we tend to shut out irrelevant information. However, we zoom back in when triggered by a highly-relevant phrase. What is the primary brain trigger for a highly-relevant phrase? Your name.  

In a world where there are many calls on our attention, hearing your name brings you back to the present moment and refocuses your attention on the task at hand. This is an imperative strategy for teachers and school leaders.

Names Also Matter Online 

As a blended school district, much of our correspondence is electronic. Our online teacher training includes meaningful lessons about humanizing online communication including always referring to students by name. In the online setting, you have to amplify your voice and compassion.

Recently I had the delight of receiving a collection of poems from a  group of seventh-grade students in our Middle School Global Leaders program. The students are studying with us from Brazil and so, unfortunately, I couldn’t go around the hall and congratulate them. Instead, I responded with my own  poem referring to each student in the project by name.

Pronunciation Matters Too

Because we are a global school district, some names are super difficult for my English speaking tongue. World Language Learner is a new term I am developing.

World Language Learner (Novice): Noun: A person who recognizes the importance of being culturally proficient in a multilingual world. While they are currently only fluent in one language they can say nice things, read emails, and order drinks in additional languages. This person is actively working on expanding their linguistic horizons using a variety of language learning apps often including Duolingo.

For novice World Langauge Learners, there are certain sounds that are hard to hear and even harder for us to pronounce. Don’t allow students to let you off easy by shortening their names or giving you a simpler nickname. Ask them to correct you and work with you until you get it right. Caring enough to learn names and get them right speaks volumes about your professionalism and humanity.

Sim, ainda estou trabalhando para pronunciar corretamente João.*

In conclusion, names matter or a rose by any other name still wants to be called Rose.

Appreciatively, Dr. KFW

 

* Yes, I am still working on correctly pronouncing the name João.

A Quick Introduction to Culturally Responsive Teaching

What makes you unique? What traditions are special to your family? What is dinner like at your grandmother’s? What place(s) do you call home? Your answers to these questions tell us a little bit about your culture. And a beautiful truth is that no two people will have exactly the same answer to all of these questions. Culture includes shared beliefs, customs, rituals, and traditions. My own identity and culture are unique because of the communities I belong to, the friendships I value, and the experiences I’ve had. The same is true for our students. Culturally responsive teachers recognize and affirm the connection between our students’ cultures and all aspects of their learning (Ladson-Billings, 1994). Culturally responsive practices are necessary in classrooms, relationships, and all forms of communication in order to facilitate access and inclusion.  The following post gives you a few ideas of what this looks like in our middle school and high school classrooms. Check back soon for more posts on culturally responsive teaching.

* “The use of other as a verb is rooted in sociology: to other a certain culture or individual is to treat that culture as fundamentally different from another class of individuals, often by emphasizing its apartness in traits that differ from one’s own.” (Merriam-Webster)

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Knowing that relationships are part of the fabric of culturally responsive classrooms, the following activities ask students to learn more about another cultural group and connect what they learn to their own lived experiences and perspectives. These activities can serve as a starting point for a rich dialogue around difference, identity, and inclusion.

Found Poetry

Gather lyrics of songs from a variety of performers or the specific culture you are studying. Listen to samples in class, discussing their history, significance, and meaning. Then, distribute copies of various lyric sets throughout the class, and ask students to cut up the words so that they are separated into single words and short phrases. Individually or in groups, students will manipulate the words and phrases to form new lyrics. For an added challenge, they can try to rhyme or create a steady rhythm. Encourage students to share their work and celebrate it. Those who are especially interested might choose to build from their found poem and create a full poem or song by adding their own words and ideas. You could then have a class poetry slam or concert.

Art Spark

Gather images of art pieces from a diverse group of artists or from the specific culture or historical time period you are studying. View samples in class, discussing their history, significance, and meaning. Then, ask students to pick a favorite piece — one that caught their attention or spoke to them in some way. They should then focus on just one, small part of the piece (no bigger than about 1/8th of the piece). Provide students with large sheets of paper and a variety of art supplies. Ask them to sketch the small part of the art piece in any spot on their paper. It doesn’t have to be perfect or exact! Then, have students create their own art around that piece, incorporating the “spark” into their own work. Keep this activity playful and experimental; you don’t have to be a “perfect” artist to express ideas through color and line.

Student Reflection Questions:

  • Why did you choose that work of art?
  • What messages do you recognize in it?
  • Why did you select the specific small part you did?
  • What successes and challenges did you have in using it to create your own artwork?
  • What do you hope viewers will see/think/realize/feel when they see it?
  • What does your art have in common with the original? What’s different?

Symbolic Place Setting

As you study a culturally diverse population, lead your students in a symbolic reflection. Ask each student (or partners) to research an individual from this group, collect information about them, and learn what they were/are like in a variety of areas — professionally, culturally, and personally. Then, ask students to imagine that they are inviting this person to a class dinner party.

Each student will design a symbolic place setting that represents various aspects of this person’s life. Each student will create a tangible but symbolic placemat, plate, knife, fork, spoon, napkin, and cup. (For instance, if I studied Louis Armstrong the famous jazz trumpeter and singer, my plate might be a handmade record with the title of one of his famous songs, my placemat might be a map of New Orleans, and my spoon might hold a piece of coal — all to represent his profession, where he grew up, and how he made a living before he was famous.)

After students have created their three-dimensional symbolic place settings, hold a class gathering and ask students to bring in snacks (connected to their research subjects, if possible). As students eat together, they will take turns sharing their symbolic reflections and what they learned about the people they learned about through their study. You can build from the students’ reflection to lead a discussion.

Student Reflection Questions:

  • What similarities and differences do you notice between various guests?
  • What common hopes and dreams do you see?
  • What struggles and challenges were overcome?
  • How do you relate to your dinner guest?
  • If you could ask one question of this person today, what would it be?
  • What is one thing you’ll remember about this guest and why?

Want more ideas?

  • Teaching Tolerance is a great website with LOTS of open access resources and lesson plans on social justice, global citizenship, and other topics relevant to culturally responsive teaching.
  • Check back here for more practical ideas and activities to help foster a culturally responsive classroom.

Reference: Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.

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This post was coauthored by Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Stephanie Walter, and Katherine Sasser

 

 

Everyday Acts of Grace, Transforming Our Instructional Teams

My friend Michael turned 73 a few weeks ago. I sent him a birthday email. He thanked me and then swiftly turned our conversation to the heavier topics of faith and social justice. Did I mention that Michael is a rabbi? He asked me about my thoughts on Tikkun Olam (translated from the Hebrew as: to heal, repair, and transform the world). He asked where I saw Tikkun Olam in my family, work, and research. Since it was his birthday I wanted to deliver on this question. Hence began the Tikkun Olam Workplace Exercise.

Members of the Mizzou K-12 Instructional Leadership Team

As an academic, I am trained to think big. However, as a mother and a teacher, I also know the importance of thinking small. As usual, small proved more valuable. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been paying attention to examples of healing, repair, and transformation in our school district. Throughout this reflective exercise, I kept coming back, not to macro trends, but to everyday acts of grace. I learned that the task of healing, repairing, and transforming workplaces begins in these smaller exchanges. Below are some examples I noted during this exercise:

  • One of our division chairs opens my office door. I know she was up late working with a group of our new teachers. I look up and ask how I can help. She says, “I just came by for a hug.”
  • A member of our student support team and I are meeting to go over some administrative tasks. By the end of our meeting, our conversation has moved to our late grandmothers. Our eyes moisten with nostalgia as we swap memories of learning to play cards and baking with these women who shaped us into the people we are today.
  • A math teacher stops by my office. He is just back from an ob/gyn appointment with his fiancé. He holds his phone to my ear and plays a recording of his baby’s heartbeat.
  • The laughter coming from the front office is contagious. Our staff is taking a wellness break by doing the cha cha slide.

Around this point in my observations, it was becoming clear to me that there were already many everyday acts of grace at play in our office. As a leader I wanted to  find a way to commit to and value them.

  • I tack a chalkboard to my office door and write this question: Who are you thankful for? During the week the board fills up.
  • I am on a Skype call with one of our curriculum writers. We talk about his partner who is recovering from a stroke. We rejoice in his small but steady improvements. When I hang up, I say a prayer for his continued healing.
  • Instead of our traditional check-in meeting, my supervisor and I take a walk. It is the first warm day in nearly a week. The trail is muddy. On the way out, we share our worries and concerns, by the way back I notice we are sharing our hopes.
  • Our administrative assistant has just gotten some good news. I stop by her desk with  chocolate.

The list goes on: cups of tea shared, pauses to appreciate the snowfall on campus, good news texts, photos of our children and students’ accomplishments, sympathy cards… The more I paid attention, the more I learned that healing, repairing, and transforming the workplace happens not through organizational initiatives, but through quiet commitments to nurture moments of grace. None of these everyday acts of grace took very long: a moment to enjoy our humanity, a moment to support our colleagues, not as co-workers, but as human beings. As a leader, these are moments well spent.

I challenge you to try the Tikkun Olam Workplace Exercise in your own schools and districts. Start by noticing the places where humanity is already at play in your break rooms, hallways  and teacher’s lounges. Track these moments, collect them in your inbox and notebooks, store them like achievement data or spending plans. These don’t have to be particularly dignified. In my own district, our wit is often, weak; the moments we celebrate, small; the hugs we share, awkward; and the wellness breaks we take, clumsy. A beautiful thing about everyday acts of grace is that this is an area where we don’t gain anything by measuring performance or presentation. Imperfection can sometimes even be an advantage because we aren’t after perfection but authenticity. Real people are seldom perfect.

I know that healing, repairing, and transforming, doesn’t sound particularly high-performance; it sounds touchy-feely. I made that same mistake when I first approached the problem. Remember, I started by thinking big. The Tikkun Olam Workplace Exercise taught me that as is so often the case in leadership questions, the answer is actually in the “small” details. Everyday acts of grace aren’t auxiliary to teams, instead they are the very fabric that makes teams work.  During this exercise I noticed that our staff and faculty engagement, morale, and achievement, all increased. People work hardest for missions they believe in, and for people who value them. Laughing, celebrating, grieving, breaking bread, and even crying together, have the potential to heal, repair, and transform our schools, offices, and districts.

Appreciatively, Dr. KFW