Unconscious Bias

Guest post by Sari Goldberg McKeown @sgteach_sari & Jessica Liakonis @MrsLiakonis

Opinions expressed are  those of the guest blogger. 

 

I embrace education as an opportunity to inspire and empower. As an educator, it is my goal to enhance student learning as a transformative experience. Teaching is a privileged position. It  demands humility as much as respect. It is crucial that as educators, we recognize the power inherent in our role and are self-reflective about our actions. It is critical that we are mindful of our position as a role model and the kind of learning we strive to promote among students. Our students are always watching. They are always learning from us. When the image below was recently posted by Adam Welcome, it forced me to stop in my tracks. This small image has a BIG impact.

“We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.” As Jessica and I unpacked Pernille Ripp’s post “These Divided Times,” with our Voxer group #StrongTies, Pernille’s words swirled in my head. This conversation brought my own assumptions to the forefront. Do I support all stories? Do I create a space that encourages the whole truth? What do I model? -Sari

 

𝕊𝕒𝕣𝕚 𝔾𝕠𝕝𝕕𝕓𝕖𝕣𝕘 𝕄𝕔𝕂𝕖𝕠𝕨𝕟@sgteach_sari

How do you flatten the walls in your classroom? @pernilleripp @kemnitzer3 @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @MrsLiakonis @lopescommack @ChrisKauter @MrECuff

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Who’s different? What’s fair? As a society, discussions about bias, discrimination, culture, and social justice tend to happen more in middle and high schools. Educators sometimes believe that younger children may not understand these complex topics, or maybe they just want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible. However, young children have such a passion for fairness. They want to do the right thing; they want to be fair. The best though is that they notice differences without apology or discomfort. Why does your hair feel different than mine? What is that in your lunchbox? How come you have two mommies?

As Sari mentioned, while we unpacked Pernille’s post, I thought to myself, bias can be unlearned or reversed if children are exposed to everyone’s differences in a positive way. The burning question, how do we do that?  -Jessica

Searching Inward

I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. I am so grateful for the time that Pernille spent with us that week digging deep into this meaningful work. As Pernille shares in this message (that I highly encourage you to listen to), this is messy, exhausting work that is so incredibly important. Before we can do the work with our students, we need to do the work with ourselves. I needed to search inward and identify my own personal bias. Bias. What does that mean? I used to believe that word had a very negative connotation. This learning journey has shifted my perspective.

To have personal biases is to be human. We all hold our own subjective world views and are influenced and shaped by our own experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers and others. Being aware of one’s biases is vital to both personal well-being and professional success.

Our lens is created through our experiences. These experiences create our bias. That does not make our lens wrong…it just makes it personal. Believing that our lens is the only lens or the correct lens, is wrong. – Sari

The Power of a Story

Yes, Sari! We must identify our own bias first, and it’s not always easy. Once we can understand and recognize this, we can begin to teach students how to acknowledge their own. The early years are the time to begin helping children form strong, positive self-images and grow up to respect and get along with people who are different from themselves. So, how can we start beating bias? With books!

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 46 Another great story by @bwittbooks & @LondonLLadd set in 1959 about Bernard’s wish for the Red Sox to finally integrate their baseball team! @JLVacchio @miss_anderer @WilletsRoadMS Ss loved learning from the back matter! @EastWillistonSD

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Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 160 An important topic told in a fairy tale. Student discussion was powerful. Thank you @DanielHaack @EastWillistonSD @WilletsRoadMS @kemnitzer3 @sgteach_sari @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @dmgately @pernilleripp

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Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. These books can begin extremely positive and powerful discussions in your classroom, if we allow them to. We must allow them to. The experience of listening to others read aloud or reading picture books with an anti bias message provides an opportunity for young children to see and identify with characters often different from themselves. They can also experience a wide range of social dilemmas and points of view. These stories teach students how to look at events from a variety of perspectives, in other words, feel what it is like to “be in another person’s shoes.” Jessica

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 70 The Undefeated by @kwamealexander is an ode to black Americans through history: the dreamers and the doers who have made a difference despite the many injustices endured and challenges faced. @JLVacchio @miss_anderer

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Continuing the Conversation

Pernille ignited a flame within me. Jessica and I gravitated towards one another. We shared a strong desire to seek more answers. This marked the beginning of our journey. We continued to dig deep in an effort to understand our own personal bias. We explored books, podcasts, TED Talks, hashtags, blogs, and workshops that have stretched our thinking. Please click here to find the list of resources that have opened our eyes. This document also includes many of the incredible read alouds Jessica has utilized as a catalyst for these important conversations with students. (Please also reach out to us with recommendations to help support our journey!) We developed a workshop, Unconscious Bias. To date we have facilitated sessions at EdCampLI and The New York State Middle School Association Regional Conference. We designed this workshop not as experts, but as learners. Our intention is to create a space to continue the conversation and learn with others. – Sari

I read picture books to my students on a daily basis as part of #ClassroomBookADay. Recently, I decided to look back on some of the picture books I have read to my students and connect them with our current Civil Rights unit, as well as current events. Having the students explore the literature and discuss hard topics was just what we needed in order to reflect back on our biases. 

Through meaningful activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving, based on carefully selected books, our students can begin to build the empathy and confidence needed for becoming caring and knowledgeable people who stand up for themselves and others in the face of discriminatory behavior. Let’s continue to teach them the beauty of others.  -Jessica

Ed Kemnitzer@kemnitzer3

This presentation is just amazing! Great conversation on bias, putting all stories on bookshelves, and engaging all voices. Using gentle stories to talk about heavy topics. Shout outs to @pernilleripp and @dmammolito. Great work, @MrsLiakonis and @sgteach_sari.

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____________________ Thank you Sari for the Guest Post _____________________

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Keeping What Matters Most

 

Our son, Nick, sees an occupational therapist each week who does amazing work with him to help strengthen his core, quicken his response time to questions, practice his social interactions, and work on his fine motor skills. The best part is that she does all of that while he rides a horse around an arena. The horse provides sensory input and forces him to focus his core on maintaining balance, which allows his brain more freedom to work. As Nick rides, he plays Pictionary with a whiteboard, sprays water guns at targets, moves cones from side to side, identifies letters, and has conversations with the therapist and the other assistants as they walk next to the horse to make sure he stays safe while riding around. At the end of each session, he takes responsibility to prepare a bowl and feed the horse a snack to thank him.

His skills have grown tremendously since we started this therapy. We have missed going while we have been home, so we were so relieved that he was able to return last week. They had all kinds of new safety rules that we had to follow. His therapist met us in the parking lot; he had his temperature taken and had to thoroughly wash his hands as soon as we walked in. We all wore masks. We stayed distanced from one another as best as possible. They shifted the options for therapy so there were fewer clients in the facility at one time. We didn’t do some of the classroom-based exercises before he got on the horse, and he couldn’t prepare the bowl of snacks on his own. The most significant shift was that I was suddenly the volunteer walking alongside the horse. It helped to limit the number of people in the arena, but also allowed me a new opportunity to understand more about what he is working on in therapy and how he responds to the staff and the horse. I am not convinced that I am the best guide as it was much harder to hold the materials, keep an eye on his safety, and not get distracted by the beauty of the horse than I thought it would be, but we made it work.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to do something that felt “normal” to our routine until I walked through the doors of the arena. It was so comforting to do something that we used to do even though the process of doing it was different. Nick was excited to see the therapist, and I had the chance to help him share a little more about himself as we did the exercises and walked around the arena that she wouldn’t have otherwise known even though she has a great relationship with him.

As we start planning for school to look different in the fall, the first week of therapy had me feeling hopeful about what we can maintain when the process and school system may look really new for a while. A big question for me has been how to explain the shifts to staff, learners, and families. I read a great article by the Harvard Business Review that helped me to start thinking about communicating what’s to come.

The first point in the article is to acknowledge your own anxiety. I am nervous, very nervous about how we will make the process of school work in the fall while following the safety guidelines and still meet the needs of our families that need childcare. I am nervous about the gaps in learning or experience that may be happening for our learners. I’m nervous that they will miss out when we can’t give the reassuring hugs and high-fives we are used to. What I am not nervous about is our ability to maintain our relationships with our learners and grow them in new ways. We’ve bonded during this time at home, which has deepened many of our relationships with learners and families. Those get to continue and get to keep growing no matter how we provide schooling.

Nick’s relationship with his occupational therapist was not different. His ability to complete the tasks and work on his skills was not different. We just did it differently. He was super quiet in the arena, which honestly surprised me and helped me to learn more about him in that setting. He still talked the whole way home about his horse and the experience just as he usually does. I know I will be anxious as we drive there and as we walk in again this week, but I am hoping that goes away with time.

“Listen for the need underneath the question” is something I have practiced a lot recently. When a parent, staff member, or school leader gets frustrated, it sometimes takes asking many additional questions to get at the root of the concern or the reason behind the issue, which is almost always a genuine fear about something. To help build our skills in understanding one another and ourselves, we are working on summer professional development options for our staff that include having critical conversations about challenges, trauma training, mindfulness, and compassion resiliency. We all need to be able to see one another through an empathetic lens more than ever and give each other grace. Our stress as a collective society is high, and our composure tends to fail us when we are stressed. We need to prepare as best as possible for strategies to reduce stress in our schools, for and with our staff, as well as learn how to have more open communication about what is happening so we can acknowledge our fears and build hope whenever we can.

We have seen some absolutely inspiring efforts by our staff and learners that we continue to try and capture and share. It is hard to always stay focused on those positives, but they are also ways to find strength as we move into our next steps. I have seen teachers doing evening bake-offs with learners online, daily video announcements to celebrate birthdays and accomplishments, safely going to homes to drop off supplies or check-in, creating videos with shared books, songs, and poems, writing personal notes, sending “flat teachers” to each learner, and many, many more. We have worked to support our community and help our learners find their passions during this crazy time. I get to ask our leaders and staff about those moments to help them see all the positives and make sure we recognize the impact of those remarkable connections. The Harvard article said, “Asking, “What’s one of the worst things you’ve ever overcome or endured?” helps people tap into sources of hope and fortitude from their own stories.” Our stories of what our staff has done with learners and families during this time, as well as what our families have done on their own, are perfect sources of hope and fortitude to carry us forward through our next challenge.

As I start to find my way back to social events and daily activities, I think a lot about one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” I certainly feel changed by much of what has happened and what I know is coming. Some days it really gets to me, but it has not reduced my desire to do the work we get to do each day with learners and families as I know how much it matters no matter the setting or the format in which we do it.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Distance Learning, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

COVID-19 & Education:

Guest post by Shelly Vohra: See the prior posts in the series.

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child.

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap.

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands.

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time.

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all.

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Using a Lens of “Gratitude”-

Guest post by Debbie Tannenbaum (@TannenbaumTech)

This past week was probably the best week I have had since schools closed for COVID-19 on March 13, 2020. I have felt more productive, more centered and most of all, more focused. As I reflected on the week, I identified lots of things that I did differently this week, but one really stood out.

During my morning walk with my dog Monday morning, I was listening to an episode of George Couros’ podcast, The Innovators’ Mindset. In this episode, number 18, he shared five ideas for improving mental and physical health. Idea #1 was to approach life with a lens of “gratitude,” but he shared gratitude using a new approach to me. He explained after reading an article by Tim Denning called the Most Important Way to Measure Your Day, he modified what Denning shared to identify three simple questions to ask yourself daily.

  1. Did I learn one new thing today?
  2. Did I help or inspire one person:
  3. Did I show gratitude to someone who had a positive impact on me?

Prior to this , I had been recording 3 things that I was grateful for each day in my journal. So I decided to experiment with this practice this week and from Monday on, I answered the three questions above. I have to admit that I was amazed by its impact. Suddenly, I looked at each day as an opportunity.

  • What was I going to learn?
  • Who was I going to help or inspire?
  • How would I show gratitude to people who had a positive impact on me?

It is shocking how when you specifically focus on or are more aware of something how it reveals itself more often. That’s what happened to me this past week and it was transformational.

What did I learn this week?

I began the week by learning about the idea of framing gratitude with these three questions. This led me to be more conscious of other things I learned. The biggest thing that I learned this past week was the awareness of how it felt when you needed to persevere through a hard task. As my Monday blog post shared, this helped me have not only more empathy for my colleagues as I asked them to try new things this week during trainings, but more patience. It made me more reflective as I worked with my colleagues and increased my sense of gratitude as many took risks and tried new things using technology.

I also learned this week how much I missed interacting with students. I had not seen any students since March 13th, but this week, I was invited in to model technology into three classrooms. Yes, I was happy to share new ways to use some of my favorite edtech tools, but seeing those faces I missed so much, it made me realize how important my interactions and relationships with students are.

Who did I help or inspire this week?

This past week, I provided four trainings and had eight hours of virtual office hours. I knew that I had been busy, but writing down who and how I helped people made me feel so grateful to have the opportunity to help and inspire some many people.

This past week, fifteen people attended one of my trainings. Nine of them learned about Pear Deck, while three learned about EdPuzzle and another three learned about Flipgrid. In addition, sixteen people came to my virtual office hours. But two people specifically shared feedback that warmed my heart.

  • “You are a life saver.” One of my colleagues shared as I helped her learn how to trim the end of her synchronous learning session.
  • The band teacher at my school shared at our CLT how she was using Flipgrid to have students share their instrumental practice in a moderated grid and then was able to give them individualized feedback!

How did I show gratitude to people who made a positive impact on me?

This question helped me to ensure that I shared appreciation for those who had a positive impact on me. As a result, I ended up sending emails and tweets that I might not have sent otherwise.

The first group of people I thanked for their positive impact on me were the teachers who invited me into their synchronous sessions to model edtech this week. I wanted them and their students to know how much it meant to me to connect with students again. I also wanted them to know how much I appreciated them giving me some of their valuable synchronous minutes.

I also thanked some people who had made a positive impact on me through their suggestions of healthier habits. Last Saturday at a WW meeting, a friend suggested taking more movement breaks. I ended up adding circles to my journal and filling them in as I took more breaks. This Saturday, I thanked her for inspiring to add this healthy habit to my day. In addition, last Saturday, during a #crazyPLN chat, Matthew Joseph discussed training as a way to be more positive. I used to train- last year, I trained for my second half marathon. But since then, I have stopped running. Until now- this week, I began and completed Couch to 5K Week 1. I am so glad that I did this.

Lastly, I want to let George Couros know the positive impact that his blog made on me this past week. That is one of the reasons I wrote this week’s blog post. Like George, I am a work in progress. His strategies, especially the first one, really helped me this week and I hope me sharing this will encourage others to listen to his podcast and be as inspired as I am. As I begin this new week, I plan to continue these practices. I can’t wait to see what else I discover as I view life more using a lens of “gratitude.”

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

When Schools Resume

Guest Post by Kathryn Starke (@KathrynStarke)

Opinions expressed are those of  the guest contributor.

 

Schools and districts across America have been closed for over a month now, and many schools are closed through the end of the year. It is sad and shocking for all of us. Teachers and children can’t wait to be back in their classrooms. Unfortunately, it will not be anytime soon. Therefore, teachers and parents across the country are sharing their passion and purpose in the teaching and learning process in a variety of creative ways. I have seen car parades through neighborhoods, teddy bear hunts in windows, nature scavenger bingo boards, and daily food delivery to bus stops. I have seen educational companies and some authors provide free access to their learning tool and NFL athletes help families Tackle Reading at home. This is an unprecedented event in our history.

The health and safety of others becomes the primary concern. Curriculum should not be a priority. Copyright should not be a priority. Digital learning is not accessible to every home. Not every child has a parent at home who is able to work with them. Just like in the classroom, differentiation is key. Teachers should feel empowered to create their own lessons and share their ideas with their students. Elementary school parents do not care about grades or attendance at this time. They want educational ideas and support, and most importantly, they want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Therefore, educators should focus on the new school year. So, what will happen when schools finally resume? Will every child be passed on to the next grade? Will every teacher receive the reading support they will need to effectively support these vast gaps while maintaining their designated grade level literacy objectives?

According to the most recent report by the National association for Educational Progress, sixty- four percent of all fourth-grade students in America are unable to read proficiently. The number increases to seventy-eight percent of fourth-grade students in low-income areas. When schools finally open, which may not be until August or September, the focus on learning will be a priority and it is going to need to change. Children will return to schools without six months of formal reading instruction. Some of our children will be significantly behind. The teaching and learning process will have to adjust. One hour of reading instruction will not be enough. It is in times like this when innovation and creativity in school communities will make the greatest impact and should be encouraged.

Teachers will need to feel supported and empowered to make decisions to match the needs of their students. They will be tasked with having to conduct remediation, intervention, reteaching, and teaching. One solution may be to incorporate transitional grades in the fall. For example, a first-grade teacher may be reviewing kindergarten standards while introducing new first grade standards. Another idea would be to group children by reading and math abilities multiple times throughout the day. One to two hours of daily language arts instruction will not be enough in the fall. Literacy needs to be at the forefront of instruction through all content from pre-K to fifth grade. This means we need to incorporate the five pillars of reading instruction or the “science of reading” in every lesson including math, science, and social studies. Team teaching across grade levels is another option. We have to think outside of the box.

Kathryn Starke is a national urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, author of Amy’s Travels and Tackle Reading, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, an educational publishing company. She created the annual Tackle Reading initiative supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

 

 

 

When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Metacognition and Why it Matters in Education

Some of my thoughts during this remote learning time.  Image created by Kitty Tripp for my book In  Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking.

An important part of learning and teaching is the art of reflection. As teachers, we need to be reflective in our practice so that we can continue to grow, be prepared to meet our students’ needs, and evaluate our own skills and growth. It is important that we model this same practice for our students so that they can develop their own reflective practices and build skills of metacognition in preparation for their future. Metacognition enables students to reflect on who they are, what they know, what they want to know, and how they can get to that point. I’m not an expert but this is a topic that I’ve become more interested in so I started to look into multiple resources to learn more.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition, a term that was first defined by John H. Flavell in 1979, is basically thinking about thinking. With metacognition, we become aware of our own learning experiences and the activities we involve ourselves in our paths toward personal and professional growth. We are better able to understand ourselves in the whole process of learning and can develop skills to think about, connect with, and evaluate our learning and interactions each day. But how and why is metacognition important in education?

It has been identified as an essential skill for learner success. Therefore, do we need to design specific lessons focused on metacognition for use in our classrooms each day? And if so, how can we make this happen?

From the beginning of the school year, I noticed some responses from students when it came to learning, the struggle of learning, and making mistakes. I also noticed that many times students were okay with avoiding an answer or accepting that the answer given was incorrect and did not push themselves to understand why or how to improve. It made me wonder if we need to be more intentional about working with our students on metacognition each day and how can we include it in our teaching practice.  My initial reaction is that it does and while I feel as though it is something that I have been doing, I need to be more intentional and consistent about doing more to promote metacognition with my students.

It starts with us

As educators, we need to be able to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in our teaching practice and think about them so that we can best provide for our students. We need to guide students to develop these same skills by modeling it for them and then by supporting them as they build their own metacognitive practices. With an increased focus on the importance of developing skills in social-emotional learning (SEL), metacognition plays an important part in the SEL framework. Through resources such as CASEL, which sets forth the five areas of focus for social-emotional learning, we can now learn more about how to find the right resources and the best strategies for helping our students develop these essential skills.

For our students to be successful in the future, they need opportunities to develop skills that are transferable beyond high school to do whatever it is that they ultimately decide to do once they graduate. They need to be able to self assess their needs in learning, areas of potential weaknesses and identify their strengths. Students then need to know how to use this information to plan their next steps. While the world of work will continue to change, some of the essential skills that students will need the most will stay the same. Skills like the ability to set one’s own goals, to problem solve, to analyze the tasks that they have before them, and to evaluate any challenges that might come along the way. These skills are in alignment with the three phases of metacognition: planning, monitoring, evaluating. Each of these is essential in the learning process and students need to learn how to reflect and to self-direct to the next steps.

What does it look like in the classroom?

In my classroom, something that I have noticed more each year is that students often possess self-doubt and lack of confidence in responding in class. When called upon to respond, students try to avoid answering by saying “I don’t know, I won’t get it, I can’t do it.” Any of these statements are often followed by “please call on someone else.” By avoiding the chance of being wrong, or extending the conversation, it does not help students to understand exactly what it is they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and how to push through to figure it out. I’ve been there. Even as an adult and educator, I struggle with this at times. But the difference is that I can push through it because I think back to my own experiences and try to relate to my own students that it is in our control to take the steps we need to go beyond the “I don’t know.” We have to say “I don’t know…yet.”

Following the “Power of Not Yet,” by  Carol Dweck, we need to place emphasis on adding that one word to the end of those statements and helping students to self-assess and determine how they can get there.

Strategies to promote metacognition

  1. Relationships: I believe that it starts with building relationships that are supportive and which promote two-way conversations in the classrooms. Creating a space where students feel comfortable answering and making a mistake, where failures are expected and welcomed as a boost to the learning experience, and where teachers model the same for students.
  2. Think aloud: Sometimes I have just talked one-to-one with the student and asked them to share what they know. Giving students the chance to think through it with you, or by rephrasing the question, can be a simple way to help them push through that productive struggle and develop their own strategies for when they feel that same sense of doubt.
  3. Share ideas: I try to share learning strategies and ways to help students question their learning process, figure out how they learn best, try different strategies and then take time to think through how a particular one worked for them or didn’t. Sometimes helping students to identify their learning style will lead to a quick boost in confidence and build self-confidence in learning.
  4. Resources: There are many strategies for metacognition. Catlin Tucker shared four strategies for metacognitive thinking and how to get students to think about their learning. These are easy to get started with and provide a way for students to build comfort in sharing their learning and help us identify some areas they might need some help with. Ideas include SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), weekly exit slips, video response or reflection tools, and ongoing self-assessment documents. For these, I think of using things like Google Forms, FlipgridSynth, or a tool like Kidblog for student reflections. There are many strategies available for educators to get started.
  5. Visible thinking: Help students to make thinking visible. Whether using an outline with questions or prompts and having students fill in their thoughts or trying a strategy like sketchnoting, where students can jot down ideas and make connections to learning, these can be beneficial for all learners. Some other strategies like Think, Pair, Share, or “I used to think…but now I think…” and others that have students interact with peers and also build on prior knowledge are helpful for students to build metacognitive skills.

Regardless of the method we choose, the end goal is the same: to empower students to drive their learning, build student agency, and foster a growth mindset in learning. We start by providing the right support, share our own experiences whether we struggled or we’ve had success, and showing our authentic selves to our students.

There are resources available like Benchmark Education, or posts which share example prompts we can use to get started. It is important that we help students understand that who they are now does not define them for the future; meaning that mistakes or areas of weakness in learning are just starting points for our learning journey.  Metacognition is critical for helping students work through these challenges and when we model and integrate self-assessment,  look at prior knowledge, and then evaluate what we need to know and determine our next steps, we build those metacognitive skills.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Guest post: Teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt

Be patient during the COVID-19 pandemic

As schools throughout the nation close for the remainder of the year, take a minute to consider what this will mean for thousands of teachers who are doing their best to educate our children. School leaders and local officials are scrambling to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority, and as we retrofit our education system on the fly to meet the needs of millions of students, we ask for your patience and understanding.

Schools are not designed to adapt quickly

Be kind to teachers who are on the front lines navigating school closures in an education system that is, like so many institutions, incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it by the outbreak. At best, the expectations for most teachers right now are loosely defined by school leaders. Many teachers are trying to patch together inadequate distance learning programs without guidance. This is not the time for parents to use social media platforms to compare teachers or to publicly complain about a teacher who is slow to adapt. Our nation’s teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt, so please show some grace if you are irritated.
During normal times, school districts take several months, even years, to institute changes in curriculum and instructional methods. Expecting teachers to do this at a high level, with no time to prepare, during a national emergency is ridiculous. If you feel the need to share feedback with an educator, consider what would be helpful before you hit send. Negativity toward a teacher at this time will bruise deeply and could limit the creativity of teachers trying their best to meet student needs. A measured tone is imperative if you feel discouraged as a parent and wish to share your frustration. Trust me, teachers wish they could meet the needs of every student and family they serve.

More than the internet

Connecting and teaching students in a distance-learning environment is not akin to a teacher simply jumping online and presenting academic material to students. Conducting meaningful virtual instruction requires dedicated professional coaching for staff, and it also requires significant training and practice for students and families. Most teachers have never been expected to integrate remote learning into their curriculum. The instinctive knowledge teachers have spent their respective careers amassing has a vastly different application online, and most educators have never been trained to deliver robust instruction in that format. In addition, the inequity of student access to technology and broadband internet service is woven into the challenge of teaching students remotely.

Teachers are pros at building relationships

Teachers are well versed in building relationships with students so be grateful for the teachers who are trying to maintain their connection to students. This connection — virtual or in-person — is critical for academic and social-emotional growth. Our best educators specialize in making those human connections and they are experts at molding positive relationships, devoting their talent to create a culture of learning, and contributing to the school culture. Those indelible skills for expressing care and demonstrating a commanding presence may translate online for some teachers, but it is unfair to expect it to happen naturally.

Teachers are stuck waiting

Many of our teachers can’t share with you that they are at the whim of school leaders and state mandates that are not always communicated to them effectively. While teachers are on the front lines of most communication with parents and students, they are not always armed with the information parents seek. Your child’s teacher understands your concerns about assessments and grades, your child falling behind and your desire to have access to more resources. Teachers are trying to be flexible and they do not want to throw their school leaders under the bus by voicing their misgivings to you and fueling the anxiety parents are feeling.

Uncertainty and sadness

Educators lament the loss of the celebrations, getting that last high five, hug or final word of encouragement to students. Teachers have been working hard to get your child to the finish line, and in a career that has always included clear beginnings and ends each school year, this new reality is bewildering. Many educators are helping their own children cope with the loss of a traditional school year while they also cope with the same reality as a professional. Not being able to grieve the loss of the school year together is tough on the children and the adults who serve them. Teachers wonder if their current efforts are making much of an impact on students. In some cases, only a handful of students are still connected to school and that is disheartening. Teachers are used to receiving regular feedback from students and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Moving forward

The best thing you can do to help teachers is to unite with them and let them know you appreciate them. If you feel the need to share your concerns about school district policies and local programs, reach out to school leaders. Our educators are committed to serving all children and we know that we’re in this together. Teachers and school leaders throughout the country care deeply about the health, safety, and engagement of their students. Right now our teachers need your support.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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