Knowng What you Need

Yesterday I spent the day at the beach – with my family.But it wasn’t just an ordinary day – eating ice cream and sun bathing, I needed to be there.

Last week I hit a wall – I stopped blogging daily and then wrote a less than interesting and informative piece after receiving sad news. My mentor and dissertation advisor, favorite graduate professor died after battling cancer for three years. Although I would LOVE to, I have not shared the name of my mentor here, her family has asked that the news of her passing not be shared on public media. What a sensible and normal idea .

My mentor was my role model, heroine, advocate and conscience for the past seven years. We planned to write a book together, to collaborate on projects – she was going to mentor me through the process of being a consultant. I was in one of the first classes she taught in our program and as it happens one of the last students she accepted as a mentee to work on research. She was an amazing woman, smart, intelligent, fun and really challenging for me. She spent most of her career as a writing specialist and instructor, and so would not accept anything less than perfection. I am not a perfectionist, especially in the area of proof reading – she would not accept that from me and had me write and re write papers. It took me a year to a write dissertation proposal she would accept and submit, a year and 5 drafts literally. But in the end I did it and we worked well together. This professor was an expert in social theory and introduced me to so no many intellectual ideas, writers and researchers I had never heard of. We clicked when she talked about her work with The Institute of Paulo Freire – I am a HUGE fan of his work The Pedagogy of Hope and The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. http://www.freire.org/

Our relationship was one of intellectual challenge conversations about social justice, religion, career  and being a woman in a man’s world, but we also had great conversations about places to eat in NYC and the mixed blessings of raising kids. I am not sharing this with my readers for sympathy but for three reasons – one to explain where I was last week secondly because we all need heroes, mentors, role models. She was mine, I am absolutely sure I would not have completed such challenging research and a dissertation I am truly proud of without her. In my research I discovered that the success rate between students who have effective role models and those who don’t is astounding – I will write more about it later. Lastly I am writing to remind me, us, that sometimes we have experiences that just take the wind out of our sails, it’s the same for our students, our children, our coworkers. When that happens we have to know how we as professionals can regroup and adjust – and as educators and parents we need to learn what our students and children need to do the same. Yesterday I went for a long walk by the ocean, or as we say in New Jersey at the shore – I tilted my face to the sun and gave thanks for my mentor. I am undoubtedly a better person, professional, educator and writer because she was my role model.

The New Normal – Let’s Not Skate Around It.

june 2015 019The New Norm – Let’s Not Skate Around It.

For at least a decade we have heard about the ‘breakdown’ of the family. Politicians, religious leaders, educators have lamented the loss of the ‘normal ‘ family grouping. Allegedly 50% of marriages end in divorce; single parenting is on the rise as is international and domestic (private) adoption. Non traditional families have become part of the new normal, single parents, same sex couples parenting, blended families, mixed race or bi-racial families – the new norm. Some of us have become comfortable with this sooner than others, some institutions have embraced the ‘new norm’ with greater ease. Other’s not so much. One place where the new norm absolutely should be embraced, accepted and understood is the school setting. Regrettably this is not always the case; Every time I see a school communication addressed to Mr. and Mrs. or ‘the Mother and Father’ I wonder what century school leaders are living in. When a child whose race is different from their parents is questioned about the identity of their parents it’s at the very least insensitive. I have many friends, neighbors, colleagues and family who live ‘the new normal’ and yet experience this kind of insensitivity every day. As adults we struggle to explain to our children and students what they should say in difficult situations – with my own kids we role play (yes the drama geek in me comes out) how to handle questions about family.

In my research I found that while many schools want to be diverse then do not know how to be inclusive. Being inclusive is not easy but we should start with the obvious. It means we consider the way we address letters and all forms of documentation. As parents we teach our children that ‘everyone is different’ and we check our own biases at the door. If your son or daughter’s school is not inclusive , please let them know, I have always found educators to be really open to these conversations. Often it is ignorance, inexperience or ambivalence = it is rarely intentional.

Parents are our First Educators.

june 2015 090Me and my Mum at my graduation from Fordham – I am pretty sure I learned as much from my Mum, about education and parenting. as I did when getting a Ph.D. 

Parents are children’s first educator’s – I have  added a page for parent resources and was really excited yesterday when talking to a friend who said she would love some suggestions for talking to her children about race. Unlike teaching there is no college course or expert on parenting – and I am certainly not claiming to be one. But I am happy to share what I have learned. I hope to add some resources, information and ideas for discussing ‘social ‘topics with children at each stage of their life. My research focused on the experience of underrepresented groups in high schools, students of color and members of the LGBTQ community. I have also had significant personal and professional experience with special education in public and private education and will share my experiences in the hope that it will help others.

Favorite Resources, commutes and difficult questions !

NPR ( National Public Radio) is one of my favorite resources for news, current events and commutes ! Although sometimes it can leave you stunned, despairing and speechless ( even me) – It is a great resources for educators and parents.

My NPR listening has been stunted this past few weeks on my commute – although school is out my son and his friend are participating in a summer program for rising 8th graders at my school. They commute with me daily, I tried listening to NPR with them, but they just talked over it, and they are so darn happy and pleased with themselves it’s hard to tune them out. Today one asked me if it is true you can be born with the wrong gender – I am processing that one and will blog more about it in the future. It’s an important topic and one American schools (and society) is really just beginning to grasp.

Back to NPR – this is a story from a couple of days ago , thankfully technology means I catch my news fix later in the day. Its a challenging story but one I urge you to listen to.The author Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Black man, this is the letter he has written to his son about growing up Black in America and the ‘myriad of evils that spring from racism…that endanger the body.’I can’t help but reflect on how different our two sons will experience life because of their race..

<iframe src=”http://www.npr.org/player/embed/421469553/421684524&#8243; width=”100%” height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”>

Ta-Nehisi Coates Looks At The Physical Toll Of Being Black In America

Between the World and Me

Talking to students about race – A difficult balance

IMG_0116 (2)

It is 20 something years since I began to teach – I usually roll my eyes when people begin sentences with statements like that, but bear with me. For 20 plus years I taught subjects that involve conversations about race – badly. Social justice, personal and social ethics, Christian ethics, morality, English literature, West Indian Literature, Afro-Caribbean literature.  Theatre studies, drama, play writing, I once taught a class of 11th graders Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. I am white; I had one white student and 23 students of African descent, Bahamians. I did a terrible job. 

Three years ago I observed a teacher I respect and admire discuss Mockingbird much more effectively than I ever did with her class of sophomores. Until one of the students, a Black student asked the teacher why she said “the N word” instead of the word “Nigger”. Silence fell – we looked at each other and she said very calmly “I could never say that word, not here, not with my friends, not in private or public, never”. It was a powerful moment as an observer I was privileged to experience – and humbled to admit, I did not have the answer. We- the teacher and I spoke to her supervisor, also a master teacher, well qualified and well-educated and we all had different answers and perspectives. He said, rightfully one could argue, and that the teacher had to do what she was comfortable with. Between the three of us we had not had a class, a course any aspect of our education that prepared us to ‘teach about race’. My dissertation topic was crystallized.

How we talk to students about race, how we use language in our classroom, if we ignore topics of race, if we don’t discuss national events that shock and hurt us we fail as teachers. I am not saying this teacher failed – far from it. But I would have.

Three years later having immersed myself in the topic of education for justice specifically the experience of our Black, Latino and LGBTQ students I am more convinced than ever that we – educators MUST discuss race with our students. It’s a difficult balance but has to be done, otherwise this perpetual cycle of racial violence, segregation, disparity and injustice will never end. Ever.

It’s a balance, I get that – we may fall off but we have to move forward.

 

Some resources I recommend are:

Talking About Race in the Classroom by Jane Bolgatz

Courageous Conversations by Glenn E.SIngleton & Curtis W.Linton

With gratitude to the student and his teacher for pushing me in this direction.

Changing the way we speak

IMG_1453Being mindful of our language is so important as educators and parents – I recently presented my research to a group of 30 + professionals and am embarrassed to admit I used the word ‘minorities’. As I said the word, I also recognized that it was not a good way of describing the ‘marginalized’ in our society – but I’m not comfortable with ‘marginalized’ either. One of the participants, a colleague and friend I have known for some years corrected me immediately – ‘under represented’ . Thank you David. I promise never to use the word again, and have replaced  the ‘ m word’ with ‘under represented’ in all my work .

It’s great to be a presenter and national conferences, it’s even greater to learn from those participating.

noun, mi·nor·i·ty often attributive \mə-ˈnr-ə-tē, mī-, –ˈnär-\

: a number or amount that is less than half of a total

: the group that is the smaller part of a larger group

: a group of people who are different from the larger group in a country, area, etc., in some way (such as race or religion)

“Minority.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 July 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minority&gt;.

underrepresented
adjective un·der·rep·re·sent·ed \-ˌre-pri-ˈzen-təd\
Definition of UNDERREPRESENTED

: inadequately represented

“Underrepresented.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 July 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underrepresented&gt;.

 #curapersonalis2015 #inclusionnottolerance

Inclusion Not Tolerance in Our Educational Communities

Moving from tolerance to inclusion is a bold – yet apt – ambition of any school community.
Bleasdale and associates is a small , personal group of professionals offering professional development for educators, leaders, school boards, and parent advocates.

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