April 21, 2017

Day of Silence

Today is the National Day of Silence. Since 1996 when students from the University of Virginia held the first event, students (and educators!) have spent a day in silence to bring awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Now hundreds of thousand of students (and educators!) participate each year in middle schools, high schools and colleges. I am on vacation this week so we decided to observe the Day of Silence on our last day before break.

Thursday, April 13, 2017
I arrive at school in my "Keep your lips locked!" t-shirt that the GSA (originally Gay Straight Alliance, now the more inclusive Gender and Sexuality Alliance) sold in 2009. I didn't start teaching (or advising) at this school until 2010 but one of the benefits of being GSA advisor is storing extra shirts and therefore snagging the best ones for myself! I began my vow of silence upon entering the building (though many people wait until the bell rings) so I respond to the steady flow of students arriving and asking to participate by smiling, waving, handing them a pen to sign the pledge on the door and pointing them toward the stickers. I quickly realize there are too many students to make this efficient and remember my solution in years past - multiple pledge sheets on a desk in the hall right outside my classroom and a pile of stickers. Moving the sign up process outside my room also minimizes interruptions throughout the day, though many students will still enter, ask and struggle to understand me pointing toward the hallway. Before school begins I realize my GSA students hadn't printed enough stickers, and also hadn't emailed me the template so I am thankful for the millionth time for my student teacher so I can remake the template and print as she starts class.

Our first period is honors precalculus. There has been a slide on the board all morning explaining why we are being silent today and my student teacher writes "READ" on the board before changing to the SET of the day - we aren't being silent to be annoying, we're being silent to make an impact. That only works if people know what impact we're trying to make. I gave a speech to each of my classes yesterday on why people might participate, what the goal is and how important it is to be respectful (yesterday was all ninth graders, they don't always think before taunting someone with "you can't answer!"). I also shared why fighting for LGBTQ rights is still important in 2017 by briefly mentioning the news of concentration camps for gay men in Chechnya. Due to block scheduling today's students don't get that speech but they get to experience the silence instead.
There are only ten students in the class (scheduling precalc during wind ensemble creates imbalances- the other honors precalc teacher has 30) so the class is normally quiet. But with both teachers and several students participating in the day of silence the room is completely silent other than pencils scratching and calculators tapping. The other students may not have signed a pledge or grabbed a sticker but they all go up to the board to write or hold up fingers to sign an answer anyway.

Fifteen minutes into the day the principal stops by to get a rainbow ribbon to show his support. I appreciated the gesture and responded with what I hope was a gracious smile, I often feel like an overly emoting mime on this day!

I've really been missing teaching so when my student teacher asked yesterday if I would help answer questions since she was nervous about not talking I leaped at the opportunity. We both grabbed dry erase markers and wrote notes to kids on the desks as we circulated. Writing everything I want to say forces me to think carefully about exactly how to phrase things. This is the point - some people participate in the Day of Silence by not communicating at all, it's a huge challenge and I applaud those who do - for us, communicating without speaking means that I stop and think about each thing I want to share, just like someone who fears harassment has to stop and think before sharing (even something as simple as weekend plans can require careful consideration of pronouns).

Having a written record of every question my student teacher asked the whole class is also a unique artifact. Sadly we haven't gotten a chance to debrief since we've been on vacation but in addition to being an important day of advocacy, I always find the Day of Silence a fascinating study of my teaching. During our second period class all of our most active participators had pledged silence. This opened up space for some new voices. It was great to hear from some of the less confident students frequently throughout the period and watch them gain confidence from the repetition. I already knew we needed to work on creating space for more students to participate but hearing so many different voices really opened up my eyes to the possibilities of what could happen if we worked on it.

The problem with doing this write up a week after is my note says "learn about being an ally" and I have no idea what I meant by that line. It comes right after my note about being frustrated students were using text to speech on their phones so perhaps I meant the opportunity to discuss the spirit of the silence rather than the actuality of their voice being silence. It comes right before my note about independent study so perhaps I meant the story one independent study student told (via writing) that he was asking his teacher questions about his assignment and the teacher said "you could cheat and talk, I won't tell" but he held strong and continued to communicate nonverbally. Perhaps I meant some other moment that I have since forgotten. But since NCTM I've been thinking a lot about how being an ally is an active thing. Between first period and advisory, and then again between advisory and second period there were floods of students who had seen someone else participating and wanted a sticker of their own. I am thrilled to have more people participate but never know how to make sure students are participating with the thought of LGBTQ harassment rather than the intention of avoiding being called on in class. I always fall on the side of "more participants is better" mostly for the message it sends that we as a school will not tolerate harassment, but also because while students may be trying to avoid something, they are still experiencing what it is liked to be silenced. My one small step this year was to highlight the text of the pledge where people signed up to make it just a bit more likely that they would read what they were signing.

Our independent study class is always great, it's two students who have been friends for years couldn't sign up for honors precalc because all the sections conflicted with their music class. Today it was spectacular. We started with the story of persevering in the day of silence and gave silent high fives. Then we stood at the smart board and debated whether or not to go over an idea we had worked on last class. The debate took the form of all of us grabbing markers and the eraser and writing simultaneously (which creates very strange results - the smart board can't have multiple inputs at once so it uses the most recently selected writing device and averages all the pressure points). After a good ab workout of silent giggles one of them convinced me that they understood the reasoning behind log rules and we moved on to the exponential project. It was awesome to see all of our conversations and their calculations written out across the white boards. So much math!

Part of the exponential project is to write a story including all relevant information to build your exponential model. When I pointed to that step the student who was studying vampires suddenly began flapping his arms and moving toward the other student to pretend to bite him. That student was very confused so I pointed to the title - vampires - and he immediately got into character as a rat (that model is rats who find a dump site and the population grows exponentially). At one point they are both standing on desks and I write a note to my student teacher "I'm waiting for admin to walk by." We eventually team up and manage to kill the vampire by drawing a cross, writing the word garlic and drawing splashes of holy water (student, student teacher and teacher, respectively). It's the last day before break. And did you see all that math they already did? Cut us some slack.

Our last class is contained algebra 1 - most of the students in the class have a language based learning disability on top of math based challenges on top of other challenges. Several of them were worried about us not talking or assuming that they wouldn't have to do anything if we couldn't talk, but it ended up working out great! It forced them to read, which is good, they need more practice not someone to read for them all the time if it's an area of weakness. They also wrote things more clearly and I got to play the job of runner as students wrote an answer to a question down and I delivered it to the student teacher so she could add it to the board and share with the whole class.

We wrote notes on the desk in dry erase marker and left them there when we walked away to help the next student. This was amazing for three reasons -
1) if a student forgot what they were supposed to be doing, the note was right there
2) if I forgot what I'd last told a student, the note was right there
3) if my student teacher or co-teacher walked up to help a student after me (or vice versa), the note was right there.

We (the teachers) talked about it after school when we were speaking again and we want to implement something like this on a regular basis.

Again, communicating nonverbally got me thinking about effective questions. One student was solving an equation and I wrote in front of him: "Where is your variable? What can you move?" I was able to point to these two questions alternately and prompt him through the entire multi-step equation. We have them use notes condensed into a few helpful prompts already, but maybe copying them big onto a white board would be easier than flipping back to a note card every time. Definitely something to think about!

Overall I had a great day. I am proud of all the students who participated for even just a part of the day. Some experienced how difficult it is to be silent. Some were creative about their alternate forms of communication (one even drew a speech bubble every time he wanted to share). But most of all I hope that the whole school took some time out of their day to think about the voices they were not hearing, and to consider what to do next so that all students feel safe and welcome in our building.

(Side note- this is also my April Day in the Life post. I've still been recording my year but since the intended audience has little overlap with the people who read this blog I've stopped publishing them. As we near the end of the year I'm thinking more and more about what happens with all these notes, if you would like to help with next steps of the project please let me know!)

April 14, 2017

MTBoS Booth at NCTM and Beyond!

The last few weeks my timehop has been filled with photos of my prep for the first #MTBoS booth at NCTM annual in Boston two years ago. Last weekend it was great fun to see how the booth has evolved. I really enjoyed having it as a home base during the conference so I hope others will continue to organize booths at NCTM and other conferences!

The box still has some things in it from the original booth, has some new things and has run out of some others. It would be nice to restock, but what we need the most is people - one to be in charge at each location and more to volunteer. There are two stages to volunteering: 1) giving your name ahead is the only way we're allowed the space - we basically have a deal with NCTM that we can have a booth if we bring people to the conference 2) we need people to hang out at the booth and invite still more people to join in (choosing your exact time commitment can wait until 1-2 weeks ahead). Sign up for any aspect for Orlando, Chicago or D.C. on this sheet.

Most items photographed are in the traveling box but we ran out of others. If you'd like to replenish some of the supplies you can bring them to a conference or contact Suzanne. Hopefully someone will continue to update "What's in the box??" And yes, I really do mean someone else. I made all those google docs editable. If you want to be in charge of a location I'll share the whole folder of printables and info with you (though I'm not sure what you'd need that's not linked from this page) but I'm not in charge of these. We need volunteers to run these or else they don't happen. I have a contact at NCTM that I'll put you in touch with and that's the sum total of my role. Please sign up to help spread the word that there's an awesome crew of educators just waiting to share their ideas with anyone willing to read them!

April 5, 2017

Starting Small: Civil Rights

After writing my plan last week I shared the ideas with a few people. We decided that if I didn’t trust people to ask productive questions (and others agreed this was a justified concern) we weren’t really ready to jump all the way to a privilege survey. I was at a loss of how to start a conversation on equity if people couldn’t even acknowledge their privilege, but then I learned that the attorney general’s office was scheduled to give a presentation on Friday. The whole school attended (half at a time) and I went in armed with a pen and notebook, ready to gather some ideas. Luckily one of the district staff members who ran last year’s professional development on cultural competency was there. She’s really enthusiastic and does great work, but that session went poorly because they overestimated people’s comfort and readiness to have conversations on cultural competency. She was excited that I was pushing administration forward but having learned from her experience last year said the privilege checklist was way too much to do this week.

The presentation was on discrimination and how the attorney general’s office works. The speakers were not the most dynamic but the information was useful and the students clapped for the civil rights section. They posed a few sample scenarios where someone’s rights were violated and so I thought that would be a good place to start – we could have students discuss whether different situations were illegal. I proposed this new plan to the principal and he wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose the interactive aspect of the plan so I decided to have students do the agree/disagree by walking to a side of the room activity with scenarios. I shared this idea with the district staff member and she agreed to come visit on Monday to make a detailed plan with me (the assembly was Friday). When we met on Monday we spent the majority of the time getting her caught up with the whole story and my ideas. One thing she said stuck with me – yes, having people add things to our bulletin board was frustrating, but there was a conversation happening and there were no racial slurs or other seriously concerning comments. While the community isn’t educated on equity, at least we’re not battling hate speech! Then she had some helpful thoughts on how to focus the limited time we have (45 minutes with staff to prep for 30 minutes with students the next day). Most importantly – for this first activity we should be focused entirely on the law. No one is sharing opinions, the teacher’s job is to say, “this is what the law says.” She headed out and I spent my evening making slides

Aside: At this point I feel like I’ve had the same conversation 500 times. There are two reasons for this – first, it’s the biggest thing on my mind and second, all the conversations are happening in isolation. I have an idea and run it past my student teacher. I send an email to administration and people who have offered to help plan. My principal stops by to discuss. I’m working while the independent study students are in my room and I ask them a question. I update my lunch group on the newest iteration of feedback and ideas. This seemingly small task (plan a 30 minute advisory activity) has taken over my entire week. I talked to my therapist about this – it’s not news to either of us that I don’t know how to do anything without giving it my absolute best effort even if it interferes with other things I have going on. My new year’s resolution was “just say no” for exactly this reason. However, she also notes that I am obviously passionate about this and if I want to continue working on equity at school I could decide to make it a priority (aka drop something else or otherwise set limits). This week I was able to drop everything to have meetings, talk to my principal whenever he stopped by and spend my evenings making plans because I have an awesome student teacher who has picked up my full schedule. Each time I have to scrap an idea to come up with a new one I thought, “This isn’t my job! I wrote that email last week because I was mad they hadn’t followed through.” But then I have a new idea and I’m excited about it and if feels great when other people are excited about it too. I’m going to need to decide where to draw the line soon because there’s a lot more work to do and I need to decide if my next email will say “Great! We’ve completed step one, let’s meet to make a long term plan and get to work!” or “Great! We’ve completed step one. I’m willing to attend a meeting to brainstorm next steps but I can’t be the one doing the rest of the work.”

Tuesday morning (yesterday? Wow!) I had a great meeting with three (white male) administrators. They were really excited about the plan and were willing to hear what I had to say as well as what the district staff thought. They gave some good feedback on tweaks to make on the slides, asked some clarifying questions and started thinking bigger picture. It was interesting to realize just how comfortable I felt talking about privilege, equity and rights. I have certainly recognized that I have many privileged identities for a long time, but it’s only in the last year or two that I learned about intersectionality (an idea admin was hinting at but didn’t have the vocabulary for) or the extent of my privilege. Apparently the attorney general’s office said something about discrimination against white people in the second presentation (I went to the first one). I wish I’d been there to hear exactly what it was because based on what I’ve read I don’t want anyone (especially our people in power!) to entertain the idea of reverse racism. I didn’t engage them in that debate on Tuesday but I also didn’t include anything about it being a possibility in the slides. I had to leave to catch my flight before the staff training this afternoon (I’m actually typing this on the plane) so I’m curious to hear how it went and how the implementation with students goes tomorrow.

The Final Plan:
Use the Wednesday staff meeting to train staff by running the activity before they run it with students on Thursday.

Divide staff up into groups of 20-30 (easily done by telling them to separate based on the grade level they have for advisory). Have a teacher facilitator, an administrator and a district staff member in each room. (District staff decided not to run it so it didn’t seem like “here comes the district to tell us what to do!” Teacher facilitators were chosen from a group who had attended a training on cultural competency recently.)

For each slide, have participants walk to one side of the room to show their vote. Allow them to share with the group why they made their choice. Go to the next slide to show the correct choice and explain why. For the staff training – make sure that everyone is comfortable with the vocabulary for that question. Also remind them that they should allow productive discussion but they can avoid any uncomfortable discussion by saying “today we’re just talking about what the law says.” 

Acknowledge that all staff will have varying degrees of confidence facilitating these discussions but hopefully this feels manageable (and remember that staff are paired in advisory).

Know that if there is good discussion thirty minutes is not long enough to run this activity. Not to worry! It’s better to have an engaged group learn some of the things than to make them feel like they aren’t heard.

I wish it weren't so late at home now that I'm off the plane, I really want to text someone to ask how the staff trainings went! Tomorrow...

March 29, 2017

Identity and Privilege - Staff and Student Training

I threw a big enough fit about some vandalism on my bulletin board (quotes from GLSEN if the photo is hard to see or you want your own poster) and now I have an awesome opportunity:
30-45 minutes with staff Wednesday to prep them for advisory Thursday
30 minutes with students in groups of 15-20 Thursday (we have a weekly advisory period used for a variety of purposes)

The vandalism has mostly been someone adding another paper saying "dear white students, you're not racists." So I want to provide everyone an opportunity to talk about identity, privilege and labels.

I just found out this morning that I will have time next week so this post is mostly me organizing my thoughts but I'm absolutely looking for feedback. I'm honored to take on this task but also recognize that I have more privilege than most of my students as do most of the staff, so I want to take on this task carefully.

Step 1: I took this buzzfeed survey and deleted some so it fits on one piece of paper (double sided). I mostly deleted the ones that didn't apply to high schoolers but also deleted the ones that were too straightforward (I am white. I am heterosexual) because I'm trying to be as non-confrontational as possible while confronting privilege. (relevant Twitter convo)

Plan: take the survey (both in the staff training and the student advisory). During the staff training give them a couple minutes in silence and then a few minutes to talk at their tables. Have them write questions and concerns on sticky notes. Whole staff discussion easily derails so I think I'll attempt to limit it. Make some slides with guidelines:

If kids say "that doesn't actually happen!" while reading the checklist calmly respond "it does" and otherwise maintain general quiet during survey time. Once students are done with the checklist staff should invite students to share things they notice or wonder. Instruct staff to limit their own interference in discussion, let the kids speak. They should allow students to share their personal experiences but do not ask anyone to speak for one of their identities. Acknowledge that having privilege can feel uncomfortable - there's no need to feel defensive or guilty. You didn't choose most aspects of your identity and no one is blaming or accusing you of being racist. We are asking you to stop and consider what someone else's experience is like. Address any of the sticky notes that weren't covered in that outline.

Step 2: Many of those statements might seem small, but having your identity criticized, called out or belittled isn't okay. Microaggressions as mosquito bites video. Allow staff to discuss at table and write questions/comments on stickies. Allow students to discuss.

Step 3: Teach the word intersectionality. People have many identities, they might experience privilege in some areas but not in others. Talk about how to use privilege where you have it.

Step 4: Equity vs. equality definitions. We are in the process of becoming a sanctuary city so it would be nice to work that in too. Day of silence announcement.

How long is 30 minutes? If advisors and kids are having a good discussion the survey could be a 30 minute activity. If not hopefully a good set of slides will get students thinking about these important ideas even if advisory isn't the ideal platform for conversation. I'll definitely address the vandalism with the staff but I don't want to make the advisory about responding to an issue. We talk about different things every week so they don't need a reason for this discussion.

January 29, 2017

What Can I Do?

I don't enjoy politics. I never watch political TV shows and I mostly avoided reading about politics before this year. This past week has been intense - it's hard to look at social media but it's also hard to stay away (please try to find some balance as part of your #radicalselfcare). There are a lot of ways to make a difference on any issue (you have a voice, use it wisely) but let's talk about specifically standing up for education.

We can stand up individually and share what we know about any edu-jargon that's being used. For some of us that means informing ourselves from reputable sources first (the charter schools in my district aren't the only types of charter schools).

We can share experiences as a group - I'd love to get our inside #MTBoS projects like one good thing and day in the life to a broader audience.

We can join and be active in our professional networks because the 60,000 members of NCTM could be a powerful force. They are already tracking policy changes (did you know there is a monthly capitol report? I just discovered it!) and have had representatives in closed door meetings with high ranking politicians in the past. You may have noticed people tweeting about being on committees in the past and wondered how to get involved. Mostly it seems that NCTM selects people by nomination - either someone on the committee knows you or someone else nominates you - but you can also volunteer! I wish the latter system was the norm. I've been asked to be on a team (last year) and a committee (the next three years). While it is an honor to receive an invitation from Matt Larson and I was appreciative enough to accept, I wish that someone who was excited about these topics rather than merely willing could be serving instead. (I'm really throwing myself under the bus here... I promise I did a good job, enjoyed working with my team and will be an enthusiastic helpful member of EMC.) There are 15 committees and two positions open up per committee each year. Read about them, check them out and volunteer for the ones that interest you! I received my email for EMC in October but I don't know if that is when all the requests go out. There's not time like the present to fill out that form though! Especially because...

If you've already served on a committee then you can apply to be on the board! Those nominations are due by March 1 so this is more time sensitive. NCTM is looking to work with MTBoS people - they've made that clear by attending TMC, merging with the Math Forum and asking advocates of our community to serve on their teams. NCTM is not the perfect organization (yet!), but it's the professional organization for our career of choice and we should be making it work for us. Yes, I definitely wish that capitol report was an RSS feed, but both @NCTM and @mlarson_math were impressively responsive even over the weekend as we asked questions about this process (shout out to Carl for setting a reminder to have this discussion).

We know so many people think they're an experts on education, just ten days ago Trump called it a very easy subject (I don't pretend to know if that was genuine or sarcasm, feel free to form your own opinion around minute 12:50). We need to work together to stand up for our students and inform the public around the important issues in our field. Please leave a comment with what you're committing to do and if you need help!

I'm committing to completing my year in the life of a teacher project but I'm wishing there was something we could start doing with all that material sooner than this summer when the year ends. I'm hoping someone will take my "quotes like a page a day calendar" idea and turn it into something cool. It could potentially work with one good thing as well...