Sunday, March 19, 2017

Speaking Louder Than Words #KidsDeserveIt

Over the past year or so I've really been thinking about the messages we send.  Those things we do that speak louder than the words that are coming out of our mouths.  

Back in January of 2016, I wrote a post called "My Journey: Race, Economics, and White-Privilege".  That post was my first time to really dig into my thoughts, preconceptions, and my own upbringing and how that affects all that I do....even when I don't realize it.

And as I've worked with the students and teachers I work with now, and those I've met while traveling and presenting, I've seen so much.  I've learned so much.

I always talk about how social media changed my life.  How it got me out of my bubble and really opened me up to other ideas, beliefs, upbringings, and so much more. Even while traveling this week in Italy, my wife (who is not active on social media) made the comment of "Every time we travel I gain more of an understanding and appreciation of the way others live.  It's so different than us, but that's ok!".

When I was flying back this week I kept coming back to this thought of how sometimes all we consider when living our lives are the things with which we were brought up with.  Then I remembered this episode of the tv show "Switched at Birth" that aired a few weeks ago that dealt with racial bias.  And it got me thinking.  

There are so many messages that we send that speak louder than anything coming out of our mouths.  And sometimes we don't even realize those messages are being sent because we've never thought of the implications that are being expressed with our actions.  Here are a few that came to my mind....

1.  The people we work with

I work in an environment that is 85% minority.  We have about 50% of our students who are Hispanic and about 35% who are African American.  But when I look at the staff that works at our school, it is not reflective of our student population at all.  And that bothers me.  And trust me, it's not from a lack of trying to diversify.

But when we only have 2 classroom teachers who are African American and only 6 classroom teachers who are Hispanic, out of 47, what message does that send to our students?  When our students walk down our halls they see the instructional aides or the cafeteria workers or the custodians as the only consistent faces of their culture.  It sends a message that "my race is less than".  That "white people" are the ones who will be teachers and leaders.

And we teach all of our students that they can be anything they want to be.  That they are capable of greatness.  But in my conversations with some of our older students, this racial inequality of our teaching staff has actually come up.  Our teachers "don't look like me, so they don't really understand me".

That's why it's so important that we consistently show students the faces and backgrounds of people from ALL cultures who are successful.  That we celebrate diversity (and not just during a month pre-determined by our government).  That we learn and grow ourselves in our understanding of all backgrounds.  That we bring in those from the community who come from different walks of life.  We can do better at this and we have to do better at this if we want to make a real difference.

2.  The way we treat each other professionally.

I can't tell you how many times I've had a student tell me that I know Mrs. So-And-So doesn't like Mrs. So-and-So.  Not because they've seen them fight, but because of their actions.

When I've asked kids how they knew that, they've mentioned seeing one teacher completely ignore another on purpose, or taking a different recess so they didn't have to be around them, or laughing behind their back when they say something, rolling their eyes in conversation, or even having a teacher talk bad about a teacher during class.

We tell kids to be nice, not to bully, and to find a way to work with their classmates.  But when they see the teachers they look up to do that exact thing, what are they supposed to believe?  So often we act like children are too young or ignorant to really pick up on things, but you'd be surprised at how much kids really do pick up on.  

3.  Language

With over 50% of our population being Hispanic, there's a lot of our students who speak Spanish. Because of that I've been very cognizant of the fact that everything I send home must be in Spanish.  But even more than that, I want the signs and things posted around our school to also be in Spanish and it's something I've been working on!

When parents walk into a school and see that everything is written in a language they don't speak or understand, I believe it sends a message of "our language is the only one that matters, learn it or too bad". I don't ever want our school to feel like that.  I want our parents to feel like they can navigate our halls and understand that different things that we have posted.

4.  Books we read

A few months ago I wrote a post for the Scholastic Reader Leader blog called "She Looked Like Me".  Even the books we choose to read ourselves, or read out loud to kids, or have on our bookshelves speak to our beliefs.

Think about the books you're reading or are reading to children.  Do they have the same type of characters every time. Is it always a male protagonist?  Is the girl always having to be saved? Does the boy have to succumb to male stereotypes? Are the characters always animals or pale complected? 

It is so important that we select books to read to our students that represent a variety of cultures and ideas.  That show characters in new lights.  That empower those who are typically placed on the sidelines.  

Reading builds empathy.  And we have to be reading books ourselves with characters unlike ourselves. AND we have to be filling our shelves with those books as well.  To give those options to our children, so that they can find characters that look like them, but also find characters they connect with that are nothing like them.

There are so many more things that we do that speaker louder than the words that escape our lips.  My hope with writing this post is that it makes you stop and reflect on some of the things you unintentionally do in your own life that may be sending a message you don't want to be sent.

Our kids are so impressionable.  They soak it all up.  Little ears are always listening and little eyes are always watching.

So today, let's break down more barriers and let's raise up kids who are not only told they are wonderful and unique but seen it reflected all around them.  Let's allow our actions to speaker louder than our words ever could.  Our #KidsDeserveIt

Friday, March 3, 2017

Blank Pages #KidsDeserveIt

"When we spill our emotions onto blank pages, we can see, through words, the problems that plague us. It is a unique way of healing"  Travis Crowder

Writing, and blogging specifically, have been such a great release for me. I still remember when I started my blog a few years ago. I was terrified to share my thoughts and ideas with anyone and to allow them to see my flaws as person, but also as a writer. I remember making my blog completely private so no one else could see.

As time passed I began to open my blog up for others to glance upon. And then as I became more comfortable in my writing skin, I even began to blog about personal things in my life. I blogged about my frustrations with my skill set at my job, the death of my grandparents, the struggles with students/parents, and more.

And it began to connect with others. But even more so than that, it helped me put my fears, thoughts, dreams, emotions onto a blank page, and work through them.

It taught me I wasn't as alone as I sometimes imagined myself to be. It allowed me to use my stories and experiences to help others understand their own. It connected me with people in ways I had never been connected before.

As I took this idea of writing from the heart, to my students, I watched their hearts pour onto the empty pages as well. I shared my stories with them and in turn they shared their stories with me.

Writing is scary. It opens you up to silent judgements and when you're honest in your writing it can allow you to bare your soul.

But writing also has the power to change lives. I've always felt that my thoughts and experiences were more deeply reflected in my writing than when I tried to tell them orally.

I read the quote at the top of this blog post, from Travis Crowder, last week. It moved me immensely. And I think it hits the nail on the head. Writing is the act of spilling emotions onto the page. It begins as a process for us to get our thoughts out, but when we share that writing it can lead to an even deeper experience.

Writing allows us to see our emotions instead of just feel them. And when we put that writing down on paper, and when we are brave enough to share that writing with others, it can also bring a sense of healing.

I absolutely love reading those heartfelt, honest, genuine, soul searching blog posts. Those ones that you know that person just had to put on paper or else their hearts would explode.

So today I encourage you to write. To put it all out there. But even more so I encourage you to share your stories. Stories are what unite us, they are what builds empathy, and they are what reminds us we aren't so much alone in what we're going through.

Fill those blank pages.