With all the scary news about ICE raids happening around the country, there are also positive and exciting events happening. People are rising up all over the country to support immigrants. Immigrants are becoming empowered, even as the deportations continue. In my town, actions have been taken to show clear support of our undocumented families.
Our district's school committee has passed a resolution to protect our school from ICE raids. I am proud of our superintendent and the committee for supporting and protecting the undocumented families we serve. Many of them are very frankly scared; the resolution gives clear guidelines on what to do if ICE shows up at our school doors.
Soon, my school will be launching an immigration story project, inspired by my students' immigration story books from months ago, and in collaboration with the Family Diversity Project (familydiv.org/) - more on that in a later post.
Whether or not you have immigrant students and families in your school, it is important that we teach our students about immigration - not only the Ellis Island years, but what it looks like now. Remind your students that everyone has an immigration story - unless they are 100 % Native Americans. Here are some resources in case you are interested - educate yourself, and then educate your students. Enjoy, share, and post in comments if you have more resources.
Actions are illegal, never people
Last year at this time, I was happy only if I enclosed myself in my classroom and focused on my group of students and the ELL program at my school. I felt stifled and micromanaged, and morale and school spirit were at an all-time low.
A year later, and 7 months into new leadership, the difference in the air is palpable. Problems still exist and always will, and there will always be disagreements or people who are unhappy. However, our new leader has breathed life into our school with her art education, enthusiasm, incredibly deep caring for kids, understanding of teachers, and what she calls "Patty Bode's crazy ideas". An accomplished art educator who has extensively taught, presented, and written about art, social justice, and multicultural education, Patty has more energy than most 6 year olds I know; she is the kind of person who gets to work early, having already gone on a 5 mile walk and done 3 loads of laundry.
The transformation in our school is evident all over. The entrance to school has cutouts of many hands that can be seen through the windows with the words "Open minds, open hearts, open ARMS" (also the acronym for our school). The cafeteria is a vibrant place with games, coloring, and puzzles available for students on the days we can't take them outside for fresh air. Classrooms are busy with creative and engaging work.
Some of Patty Bode's crazy ideas have happened already or will be happening. Take the entire school, including the administrative staff AND the custodians to see "Hidden Figures"? Sure! Why not? All grade walking field trips to see dance performances at our local Fine Arts Center? Let's do it!. Be the first public school nationwide to host the Family Diversity Project's "Portraits of Transgender People" photo exhibit, and then pilot our very own exhibit of immigrant families in our school? Yes!! Patty has a "let's make it happen" attitude that makes you think you really can make it all happen.
Other exciting events at our school include a digital citizenship curriculum, led by our amazing librarian Peter Riedel; a viewing of the film "Screenagers", about overuse of screen time and its consequences; more integration across subjects and teams; and the return of inquiry groups, led by teachers, as a cornerstone of professional development for teachers.
Patty has brought a sense of "by any means necessary" for reaching our students and their families. Beginning in the summer, she made home and work visits to reach out to families and make them feel welcomed. This gave me a sense of freedom to be able to say to families, "What time can you meet? We will make it work." I have a group of 6 or 7 Latina moms I text with updates, questions, or concerns, and I would challenge anyone to tell me those moms don't want to be involved in their kids' schools. They text me back right away and often, and they know we care about their kids. It is just this kind of thinking outside of the box that some families need.
But most importantly, I think that teachers at our school feel heard. Most people know that they can stop by Patty's office for a chat any time the door is open, and they don't always need an appointment. Patty goes to team meetings often, and in staff meetings listens to concerns with a patience I admire. Teachers do not feel afraid to make their voices heard, because they know that at heart she is also a teacher. She is also not above donning an apron and coming to my class (or others!) to engage students in a color-mixing/hand-painting activity to follow up on a discussion we had about melanin.
The purpose of this blog post was not so much to show my esteem for Patty, though she is pretty great. The purpose was more to show how important leadership is to a school. There was a time when I thought it didn't matter who was leading our school, because we teachers knew what to do and how to do it anyway. Now I realize how it feels to have an instructional leader who can really influence and change a school for the better. Lucky me, I am able to work with her and my co-AP closely in this process. I'm learning SO much.
This one goes under the category of "you win some".
Yesterday was the first day of Black History Month, and while I could have chosen to not mark the day, or to wait until I had a better, more complete plan to teach, I didn't. Instead, I pulled together a powerpoint in about 40 minutes that did what I needed it to do for my students and me. I wanted to give some context to this group of kids, who for the most part did not have background information on this topic. In addition, I wanted to maintain a social justice focus, and not just talk uncritically about a few famous African-Americans. And, to make it more challenging, I had to make it comprehensible to the wide range of English abilities in my class without making it overly simplistic.
The slideshow turned out to be very effective and interactive. I had students each read a slide, so they all participated - and my student who speaks the least amount of English was the power point clicker. We analyzed some paintings by African-American artists as well as relevant images by using the now familiar to my students "What do you notice? What do you wonder" visual thinking strategy.
My students were totally into it. Maybe it was my energy; maybe they were just interested. Maybe they had all gotten enough sleep the night before and breakfast that morning. Whatever it was, I was able to sustain their engaged attention for about 45 minutes. They asked interested questions, they offered information, they helped each other understand it all.
Who knows why, but it all coalesced into a great lesson. Some days, I put hours into a lesson and it just doesn't click. And there are days where I rush to prepare, and magic happens in the classroom. Yesterday was one of those priceless days.
In case you have ELL students and feel it might be useful, here is the slideshow (I hope it can be easily opened!)