A Letter to California

Thank you.

The time spent with you, I will remember all my life. Both in my memories and in the way I bring myself into the world; my life is forever altered by spending time with you and the people that call you home.

My first memories of the drive were breathtaking. The small river tucked away in the mountains; the giant redwoods wider than my car; the expansive bridge that glimmered in the bay. Needless to say, you made a lasting first impression.

But then, I felt as if I didn’t belong. Somehow everyone else seemed to belong; but not me. I smiled and tried to fit in, to work hard, to say the right things. California is not Wisconsin.

I found myself lighting up when I saw an Illinois license plate, making friends with people from Minnesota and Michigan. What was happening? You see, people from Wisconsin have beliefs about people from Illinois, from Minnesota. That they are different; that they are other. And yet, you brought us together; you showed us how similar we are; how much we are the same.

Soon, you taught me to value the things that make people different. I thought that my Christian identity didn’t have a place with you and at times people saw me as an outsider, but soon I realized one’s identity was nothing to hide in the shadows; on the contrary, it should be shared, explored, and celebrated. I learned to feel a renewed sense of pride as a Christian, and now have a deep sense of honoring people’s differences and traditions whether they share my own or not.

You opened my eyes.

By bringing together people different than myself, with different life experiences, you opened my eyes to the human beauty in this world. Across culture, across language, across sexual-orientation, gender, or geography, you placed in my life people willing to share their stories and to push me to learn more about myself and the world. At first, these differences made me uncomfortable, but soon I realized at the core of discomfort lies strength.

You opened my eyes to the possibilities of nature. The highest and coldest mountain peaks, the lowest and hottest valley basins. The majesty that makes you feel small and insignificant while at the same time leaving you in awe and thankful for time on this Earth. The rivers that bend; the pines that sway; the trails that go on forever. Over each hill and around each bend you opened my eyes to an unending horizon of beauty and possibility.

You gave me the confidence to create change.

I came to you with a quest to change the world; to change the country. I quickly learned that change has long been sought and many have tried with little success, or at least, you taught me success may look different than imagined.

You taught me that creating change does not happen over night. As the mountain and valleys form slowly, we too spend our lives taking small steps toward change. You taught me the strength and power in diversity and solidarity; the voice of the many; the voice of the forgotten. You showed me that I may not have all the answers and that listening to others is just as important as speaking up.

I am grateful for our time together and the adventures I had with you. You challenged me, you left me in awe. I felt success. I felt failure. I felt alive.

Thank you.

The intersection of anti-racism and my Christian faith

White person at a rally for social justice holding a sign that says "silence is violence".

For those of you that know me, you probably know I teach high-school math. Perhaps you know I teach in San Francisco or at a school for recent-immigrants. You also may know I identify as a white male.

For some of you, what you may not know is that I am committed to and interested in up-ending the systems that perpetuate the advantages of some and disadvantages of others. I am particularly interested in learning how to change systems that disproportionally harm black and brown students and families – including my place in perpetuating these harms. I strive to be an anti-racist.

For others of you, what you may not know is that my Christian faith is a cornerstone of who I am and what motivates me to do what I do and form the relationships I do. Listening to stories from the Bible and particularly music that tells the story of grace, forgiveness, community, and those that God asks to lead inspire me and bring me peace.

As an anti-racist, I try to broaden my perspectives. This year I’ve enjoyed reading the perspectives of Bettina Love’s, We Want to Do More Than Survive, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and Jose Antonio Vargas’ Dear America. Although, I admittedly didn’t finish the book, I began reading White Fragility, as well. I engage with a group of white educators to talk about our identities and how it intersects with the students we teach – predominantly students of color. All of this work is a good start, but I’ve found the real work (and difficult work) happens in the day-to-day work and conversations with other educators.

This past few weeks I have been part of a few conversations where I was pushed to think about my own place in perpetuating the problems that exist in these systems. Both of the comments were given by people of color in response to what I shared. Whether they intended it to or not I ended up grappling with it for a while and feeling a few things – somewhere between defensive and shitty.

It wasn’t until a day or two after these conversations when I was on a run that I started to meaningfully reflect. For whatever reason, I threw on the Worship Now Spotify playlist and the song Grave Into Gardens came on.

I’m not afraid
To show You my weakness
My failures and flaws
Lord, You’ve seen them all
And You still call me friend
‘Cause the God of the mountain
Is the God of the valley
There’s not a place
Your mercy and grace
Won’t find me again

For the first time, I thought about how the beautiful message of God’s love for us intersects with antiracism work: not as an excuse to continue in ignorance, but to seek conversations that push us to grow, feel uncomfortable, and – at times – defensive and shitty. Knowing at the end of the day the Lord knows my weaknesses even before I do and still calls me friend is an invitation to continue this difficult but important work; to break the systems that continue to disadvantage some and build a world that honors all people.

Anti-racism work is difficult and, speaking in the skin I’m in, makes me feel defensive and like a shitty person from time to time. I think grace is the missing puzzle piece; unearned forgiveness. I find it in my Christian faith and the words of the Bible, but for those non-Christians still devoted to anti-racist work I think it’s still important to offer the same grace to each other – not to stand still or not engage in the work, but to challenge ourselves to move forward and despite our failures and flaws still call each other friend.

Support for Beginning Teachers

The goal of this post is to organize and share different teaching fellowships that equip beginning teachers with the skills, relationships, and support to become skilled educators and leaders at their sites. Please share other opportunities! We can organize and make a long list of ways to give support for beginning teachers.

1. Hollyhock Fellowship Program (U.S.)

Cohorts of teachers attending Hollyhock fellowship.
(photo credit: Stanford Hollyhock website)

Features

  • A 2-year program of professional development
    • ​2 weeks in residence each summer at Stanford University with workshops focused on teaching one’s core content area & examining issues of equity in schools
    • Online coaching sessions throughout each school year with expert practitioners & peers
  • A $2000 stipend for participation
  • Travel, room, and board expenses paid during each summer residency
  • 18 Continuing education units (Each CEU is equivalent to 10 hours of PD)

Requirements – High school in U.S. (English, Math, Social Studies, Science)

  • Between 2-7 years of teaching experience in science, math, history/social science, or English
  • A teaching position at a high school where >50% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch
  • 2-4 other teachers from their same school apply (maximum team size is 5 including applicant)

2. Knowles Teaching Fellowship (U.S.)

Three teachers looking at a computer screen together.

Features

  • Supports early-career teachers for five full years because learning to teach well requires time, effort and resources.
  • Knowles Fellows may be awarded grants to cover expenses associated with purchasing classroom materials and engaging in professional development.
  • Fellows may choose to use half of their allocated funds for stipends. These stipends are intended to help Fellows reduce debts they may have incurred and the financial burden teachers often bear—both of which are factors that contribute to sustainability in the profession.
  • Supports them to plan and reflect on instruction, talks them through challenging professional dilemmas, and supports them through personal challenges. Staff also observe Fellows teach and coach them into improvement that is Fellow directed.

Requirements High school in U.S. (Science and Math)

  • Must be a beginning teacher
  • Not intended for individuals who are pursuing teaching as a way to strengthen a resume. If you are not committed to teaching for at least five years, this Fellowship is not for you.

3. Trellis Teaching Fellowship (Bay Area – CA)

Give a listen to the words from Trellis leadership team.

Features

  • Scholars receive six years of financial and professional support.
  • Five years of mentoring from accomplished math and science teacher mentors.
  • Affinity space with peers to discuss intersection of identity and teaching as an act of social justice.

Requirements Middle school/ high school in Bay Area, CA (Science & Math)

  • Applying or accepted to a partner teacher preparation program (UC-Berkley, SF State University, Sonoma State University)
  • Able and excited to learn to teach in partner, public middle and high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Ready to commit to working in California public schools for the next six years
  • Believe STEM teaching is a form of social justice

Season 2: A Letter to Educators (You are enough)

A letter written by Krista McAtee and read by mentor teachers from the organization called Trellis.

Check out Episodes from Season 1.
Remember the day it the schools shut down? What were people thinking, saying doing? Look back through episodes from season 1 talking about the first moments and decisions that got us here to distance learning in 2020.

Looking for other ways to ground yourselves and rehumanize the work? Check out “Rehumanizing Mathematics” episode from the Abolition Science podcast.

Computer that shows You Got This

Written by a lead-mentor from the teaching-mentoring organization Trellis. Look here for more information about their work.

Dear One, 

I so much want you to know that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

I know there is so much to do, so much to change, so much to know, so much to advocate for, so much to understand, so many young folks, so much hurt, so much injustice, so much heartache, so much pressure, so much responsibility.  So, so, so, so much!

At times it is completely overwhelming, paralyzing, often it even actually makes us ache.  We feel it in the pit of our stomachs, or in the throbbing of our heads, in the tightness of our backs and shoulders…in the exhaustion, …so much to fix, so much to heal, so much responsibility.  Sometimes it is even difficult to catch one’s breath.

And please, breathe.  Remember to breathe.  All you can do is your beset.  I know you are ALWAYS doing your best.  Remember that you cannot do anything if you are paralyzed or ill!  No matter how much our hearts break with the injustices we see, our breaking apart cannot heal the injustices.  We cannot get mad enough to make anger disappear.  We cannot judge enough to extinguish judgement.  We cannot be sad enough to make sadness go away.  Our self condemnation does nothing to elevate others.  We cannot fight enough to create peace.  We cannot feel enough hurt to facilitate healing.

All of those sefl message of NOT enoughness do not do ANYTHING to make anything better.  You have so much on your plate and shoulds, why spend ANY precious time, energy or emotion criticizing yourself?  You are doing your best.  You are here!  You show up!  You care!  You love those kiddos!  You put your hear and souls into this work.  This is absolutely the most important work to be done!  Right where you are… being there with those young ones.

You are doing your best.  Part of doing your best also means self compassion and self love.  We can teach the young to love themselves, ONLY by modeling…. They really don’t care what we say.  They care what we do.

How are you practicing self love?  How are you nurturing and honoring yourself?  How are you modeling this for your students?

You are honored!  I honor and appreciate you so deeply. I know it needs to be expressed more often… Who you are, what you do, how you show up changes lives, changes the world.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude that you are right here in the moment.  I am filled with awe and appreciation for all you do to contribute to this crucial, all important work!

Please let these words sink into your being… into your heart.

Please practice noticing all the ways you make a difference.  Even and especially in the ways we stretch and grow…even in the discomfort of growth, you are making a huge difference in lives.

You took on the MOST important job in the world and just maybe the absolute best way to make the biggest difference is to care for your precious, irreplaceable, unique, valuable, loveable, self!  Cultivate, remember, practice, notice the Love that you are, the gift that you are to the young people, to your friends and families, to the world!  You are a gift!  You are a gift!  You are a precious, beautiful gift to the world! 

Notice this!

Feel this!

Drink this in….

Allow this Love to fill you up!

Know that Love is the care of your being and it is when you know that you will be able to reflect this to those around you.  We are all mirrors.  We are mirrors… We look at the world to make sense of who we are… What do you want to reflect?

Practice knowing your goodness, your wholeness, your beauty and gifts.  And then you will become a more and more clear mirror for those around you.

You are a gift!

You are precious!

You are so important!

You make a difference!

You are a treasure to those around you!

You are a gift!

Episode 4 – Equity and Voice, A Call for Change

Home: COVID Collaboration & Giving Back To Schools

Want to donate to communities in need? 
Check out this page!

Episode 4

This episode of COVID Collaboration we talk with three educators that share their experiences and advocate for change. Coronavirus has made us question the way we teach students, the way we grade them, and has challenged us to connect and communicate with all families. The guests paint a picture of equity issues that have arisen long before COVID-19 but have become more apparent, and push us to give voice and opportunities to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What is your equity stance?
What lines do you connect with?
What questions come up for you?

If you are new to thinking about equity on a deep level or have already begun the journey, join us in conversation on twitter @covidlearning or comment below to join the movement. Let’s rethink education during COVID and build systems grounded in communities that can commit to providing all students the tools and opportunities they need to flourish.

Related Content:

Highly recommended is another perspective from Stanford University professor Jonathan Rosa on the podcast School’s In: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/equity-in-school-communities-during-coronavirus-guest/id1239888602?i=1000470142943

Apps for communication and outreach to families.

WhatsApp: used by many families and communities with ties from outside the United States.
WeChat: the main social-media/ communication platform from China.

Music Credits:

Episode 3: How to Grade During the Coronavirus

Home: COVID Collaboration & Giving Back To Schools

Want to donate to schools? Check out this page!

How do we grade?

What does equitable grading look like? Some districts suggest grades should be pass/ fail. Others say we should continue grading as usual. Others say we shouldn’t grade anything new at all and keep the old scores.

If you are looking for the easy answer to grading, this isn’t the place. What we offer are some unique perspectives from the book “Grading for Equity” written by Joe Feldman and couple of unique perspectives from educators that have grappled with the way we can give students and families feedback instead of or in addition to traditional grades. How are we communicating what students know to families?

Are grades just getting in the way? Let’s just give all students an A? Talk to the families and communities you serve – their voice is often missing!

Hear the thoughts, share your voice, share your story of teaching and learning during the COVID-19. Thanks for being here.

The three featured voices of Episode 3:

  • Melissa Hills – special educator from Wisconsin. (@hills1106)
  • Rori Abernethy – middle school math teacher @ Denman MS, SF, CA
  • Lizzy Dutton – high school math teacher @ Mission HS, SF, CA. (@erdutton)
Recent blog post by Joe Feldman, author of Grading for Equity.

Music Credits:

  • Intro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music
  • Transition 1& Outro – Shook Twins, “Shook Twins-Dec2016-LIVE”
  • Transition 2 – Radical Dads – “Recklessness”, Live at WFMU.

Episode 2: Allow Yourself Grace When Teaching

See other episodes: Podcast Home

Hello educators! How are you doing with teaching? What are you excited about and with what are you struggling? How do you allow yourself grace?

In episode 2 we look at a few examples of teaching in the first weeks of distance learning. Some teachers use more traditional methods of making videos for students to complete homework and some are ready to try out new online applications like Nearpod, Seesaw, and Padlet. Comment below or let us know on Twitter @COVIDlearning – what are your favorite resources and in what ways are you collaborating with others?

As always, we pause to think about the perspectives of educators serving traditionally under-represented students and remind ourselves the permission we have to allow ourselves grace. Here is a list of resources you can use and share.

Thanks for being here.

https://medium.com/@erinraab/best-of-kid-centered-resources-for-parents-educators-at-home-b7cc3ce8eb62

a big red heart

Music Credits:

  • Intro/ Outro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music

Episode 1: Where do we even begin?

See other episodes: Podcast Home

In March, 2020 we got the news that schools would be closed, first for a few weeks and now it seems, indefinitely. We relive the first days and hours of getting the news by talking to educators about their initial thoughts, experience, and wonderings.

Hear the stories of administrators and teachers as we begin the conversation about what school looks like in the time of COVID-19. If you have a story to tell about your experience please comment below or reach out on Twitter @COVIDlearning.

We may be isolated at home but, as always, we are better together.

Let’s collaborate.

Stack of binders and papers teachers packed up to transition to distance learning.
Teachers packed up curriculum, printed work packets, and prepared for distance learning.

Music Credits:

  • Intro/ Outro – Scott Holmes – “Upbeat Party”, Inspiring & Upbeat Music

8 ways I am using this time to grow and learn

As teachers, we get so much of our purpose from pouring ourselves into others – our students, their families, our colleagues. All of a sudden everything grinds to a halt and we find ourselves dropped in this unknown area of working from home with the expectation of helping from afar – through online classrooms and resources. I am a teacher, as is my partner, and it already feels different.

For teachers, we are used to making hundreds of decisions in mere minutes as we orchestrate the learning needs of our 20 or more students. And now, we are deciding if we should put on pants for the day or just stay in bed to read that book or watch one more Netflix episode before we check on our students’ progress. I predict it will be easy to fall into habits of summer or maybe unhealthy, sloth-like moods, but for my mental health and physical well-being I have chosen to frame this time as an opportunity.

I know there is plenty to be worried about and this situation is by no-means something to wish for, but since we find ourselves in this moment (quarantined or not) we need to reframe the moment into one where we have time to learn, to grow, to challenge our minds and our bodies in ways that we normally do not have with the traditional pace of life. It is also time to slow down and reflect about our lives and our dreams. We will come out of this on the other side and how we use this time could be the difference of setting us up for the next great thing or returning us to the same place of stress and anxiety we currently find ourselves or have found ourselves. Here are a few things that I am committing to during this time away from school:

1.) Don’t stay up late. Wake up early and exercise.

Gyms are closed and I’m definitely not getting in as many steps as I would be teaching! It would be easy to use “closed gyms” as an excuse to not work out but, physically and mentally, I know that I feel more refreshed and happy when I exercise. That means going to bed by 11PM and up by 6:45AM so I can start working out by 7AM. It’s only push-ups, dumbbells, squats, and planks but it’s something. Also, once my foot heals I’m hoping to get out running.

2.) Organize all the reading and professional development I’ve learned or am learning.

I’m in the middle of reading a really thought-provoking book right now, Grading for Equity. I think what I am reading is really powerful and wonder how I could have conversations with my peers about what I’m reading. I have started to summarize the chapters and questions posed by the author to make a “learning guide” I could use in the future with teachers to help them think about the author’s arguments without the need to read the whole book. I am also interested in organizing what I’ve learned about race as it pertains to teaching and thinking about how I can organize the different things I have read into something coherent to share with others. I’m not sure what either will look like or how they will be used but they are both things I find valuable that I would love to incorporate more in my teaching and share it with my peers.

3.) Make a calendar!

In addition to the things on this list, I have regular teaching duties that I need to perform. To motivate myself and have something to look forward to @sivanichalebra inspired me to make this and fill it in. I have my exercise on the calendar and my mornings are dedicated to school work of one kind or another. The afternoons and nights are more open which I am choosing to fill with things from this list!

4.) Learn and practice a new language!

There has never been more time to learn a new language than now! I have used Duolingo for over a few years now (on and off…) but my new plan is to spend 20 minutes a day learning Mandarin (I already speak decent Spanish). A good chunk of my students speak it and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time! It is important to remember that you’re not going to master it by using Duolingo but maybe listening to a podcast (like the Duolingo podcast) in addition to practicing on the app would help you become a stronger understander of a new language!

5.) Listen to podcasts.

I’ve been listening to podcasts whenever I have some downtime. I’m not someone who can work productively and listen to a podcast, but I enjoy doing dishes, folding laundry, going for a walk and listening to a podcast. I find it interesting and engaging which is something that may be lacking these days without school or work.

What I am currently listening to: This American Life, Dave Ramsey (new to me as of two days ago), The Moth, and Fish Nerds. I’m open to other suggestions! 🙂

6.) Play guitar, learn banjo!

Besides blogging, my mind needs some kind of creative escape. I have a guitar that I don’t play nearly enough and a banjo that I don’t really know how to play. This is the perfect time to sit at home, watch a videos, and start strumming along. Music can be soothing and I’m hoping this acts as a creative outlet and a way to bring peace to my mind as I wake up each day reading the newest terrible news.

7.) Reach out to friends and family!

I have finally had time to call my family. As I have more time at home I hope to call more people in my life and catch up with them. I might not be able to be with them but we can still hang! Tentatively planned this week is a virtual game night with my family (located in three different states) and a virtual party with games (my friends located in the general area).

8.) Be nice to people.

We are all in this together. Our county, our state, our nation, our world. Wash your hands, keep your distance, but don’t lose sight of the human dignity that each and every person deserves in person or online. Respect the authorities as they help in these crazy times, buy a gift card from a local shop that is going to be struggling, and look out for one another.

This will be a formative moment for all of us and the mindset we have will go a long way toward making it out the other side stronger and prepared to tackle the challenges that await us. Stay safe everyone!

Clear Expectations and Direct Feedback

February is has always been a difficult month for me.  It always has been, and I predict it always will be (at least in the current system as a teacher).  It is cold; it is dark; it is that perfect sweet spot where the beginning-of-the-year expectations have seemed to be forgotten, energy is drained, and the end of the school year is too far away to smell hints of its sweet release.

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 7.31.54 AM

Although, I probably could write about the coping strategies needed to get through these difficult weeks, I’d prefer to share something I’ve been thinking about in regards to classroom expectations during this time.

For framing, this past week was one of the more difficult weeks of the school year.  A 1st period class was nearly empty one day, one third of another class was consistently late to each day this week, and larger relationship issues between students and between individuals and myself seemed to escalate to more than the normal level.

As a teacher, it is easy to get angry at students.  They are late, they are playing, they are misbehaving, and they don’t seem to want to give any respect to me or the other students in the class that are on-time and prepared, ready to learn.  I tried all the stages of “pre-anger” as I’ll call it:

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 9.33.10 AM

These are my go-to moves, but they just weren’t really addressing the root cause of why these students consistently were having trouble following these expectations.  Sure, kids had bad days and needed to check-in about big things happening in their life, but it was clear that the problem was larger than that.  It was a good chunk of students in a good chunk of my classes. I’m not a fan of blaming the kids or writing them off as “lazy” or “unmotivated” or even using the crazy things that are going on in their life as an excuse.  Instead, I looked inward at the ways in which I set clear expectations in my classroom and communicated my needs with students.

To help frame my thinking, I reflected on some work I studied from David Bradford, a researcher and professor in the business school at Stanford University.  Bradford talks about the deep need for clear feedback on behaviors.

“All feedback is positive if it is regarding behavior because we can change our behavior.” (Bradford, 2017).

Bradford writes about the interpersonal cycle in which between two people there are actually three sets of realities.  First, the reality of person A, who has their own needs and personal motivations; second, the behavior by person A which is a shared reality between the two people; and third, the reality of person B who receives, interprets, and responds to the action.  It is important here to note that the intent of person A can often have a different effect what was intended.  Without direct and clear communication and feedback person B is left guessing.

“When we don’t know why the other acts the way they do, we start to guess. This is a natural tendency because we want to have some sense of how the other person might act. We believe that if we understand motivation that it will reduce future uncertainty. (Bradford, 2017).

(Bradford, 2017)
(Bradford, 2017)

Based on these thoughts, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I present myself as person A.  In teaching, I have my motives of encouraging all students to learn English (I teach emerging multi-lingual students) and math.  I have the needs of sleep and more time, often worn from meetings and other responsibilities held as a teacher-leader.  And, I have the situations of tardy students, students talking over other students, and the larger issues of support I face each day in my classroom.

In my mind, I am being reasonable, and it’s the students that are unreasonable.  But, Bradford’s work makes me question whether I am actually clear with students.  Are my motives clear?  Do students understand my expectations?  Do they understand why those expectations are important to me, to them, or to the learning process?  Are students left to guess what is expected from them or how I will respond?

I reflected on the things that I wanted to see more consistently in my class and focused on the positive things I was looking for, avoiding the negatives.  For example, instead of saying “don’t throw things”, I wrote “respect the space and property of others”.  These were the five expectations I created:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Sit at your table. 
  3. Use professional language.
  4. Listen to others. One mic.
  5. Respect the space and property of others and Mr. Casey.

Finally, I thought about the ways in which I exert my pre-anger strategies.  As a teacher, I have become skilled at remaining calm even though I am severely frustrated.  Are the students aware that I am feeling frustrated as I go through those steps?  Are they aware that I am getting more frustrated by the moment and their behavior is contributing to the frustration?  How can I be more clear about how I am feeling before I reach step 4 or worse?  I decided to make it as clear as possible.

IMG-0738

Along with my expectations, I plan to post a “mood meter” in the front for all students to see.  My hope is that if students have the information they will be able to make better decisions and lessen the need for pre-anger steps one, two or three.

“Feedback is information that gives the recipient options. What they do with it is their choice. They might accept it now or there might be other things they work on.  People will change when they are ready to change – not when you are ready for them to change!” (Bradford, 2017).

I’ll try it out starting Tuesday when we are back to school.  Wish me luck and feel free to share other expectations/ strategies you use to make things clear for students. Teaching is a process and reflection is key.  We can’t make February less cold or less dark, but we can be clear in what we expect from students.

My challenge for others is to think about the interpersonal cycle in your own life with friends, family members, co-workers, or students.  How can you be more clear about your own needs and motives in order to more meaningfully connect, inspire, and influence those around you?

Reference:

Bradford, D. (2017). Effective feedback and the developmental process.