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

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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 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!

Pay Attention to Patterns of Participation

In 2012, as a new teacher, I still remember my first staff meeting.  I was one of many new staff members, including our new principal.  As a staff, we took a moment to think about the vision of our school.  What should a thriving high school look like? Feel like? Sound like?  I was unafraid and raised my hand.  “Every week should feel like Homecoming week with all the excitement and energy it brings”.  The principal was quick to reply with a smirk, saying “spoken like a true rookie.”

I bring up this story because I believe the way voice and participation patterns exist in adult spaces greatly affects a school and organization.  Creating equitable learning spaces in classrooms begins with an equitable learning space among adults.

Thinking back now about that first staff meeting, I wonder how I had the nerve to raise my hand in front of nearly ninety staff members.  Where did I get the nerve?  Part of it, I would argue, is the fact that I was truly clueless and didn’t know any better.  But more than that, I think a large part of that nerve was because of my identity.  As a white male, society had always told me that my voice carries weight and there would be less judgement toward me if I was wrong.  I did not feel afraid or fear being judged.

That was then, in a staff that was almost completely white.  Now, I find myself working at a school with about half of the staff being people of color.

Staff meetings, both large and small, are noticeably different.  Agendas are carefully crafted with a lens toward equity:

  • all staff members taking turns facilitating meetings
  • creating small groups
  • giving time for each person to write first before sharing with a partner
  • giving each person to a minute to share their thinking, not more
  • providing sentence frames to shape the conversation

Most importantly, each meeting is shaped by the norms of our school, one of them being “step up, step back” and another “pay attention to patterns of participation”.  As a staff, a department, or a working group, we consistently monitor our participation.  It is expected that those of us that could have more status – more experience, more expertise, male, or white – become aware of our participation and do what we can to allow more voices to contribute to conversation.

Second, we process-check each meeting in our closing moves.  We reflect on whether we met all of our norms and values including leaving space for everyone’s voice.  Did anyone talk too much?  Did any specific group talk too much or too little?

There is no perfect answer to creating equitable voice in adult spaces, but I am really proud of the work my school does to move toward more diverse participation.  Next time, you’re in a staff meeting or department meeting pay attention to the different people and groups that are talking.

  • men/ women
  • white/ non-white
  • new/ experienced
  • content area

Create a conversation, establish a set of norms, check yourselves every time.  The process is never done.

Substitute? No, I’m a visiting teacher.

Recently, a colleague was out from school, and I decided to check-in on the class during my prep period to make sure everything was running smoothly.  As I walked in I heard a student say, “no mister, when we have a sub our teacher let’s us have our phones out.”  The teacher quickly replied, “I see.  Well I’m not a sub, though, I’m actually visiting teacher today.”  This was one of the wittiest quips I’ve ever heard and loved it.  He had everything more than under control.

After returning the next day, my colleague emailed our team about her new strategy for when she was gone.

“On sub days I have been trying to track student work completion and hold students accountable. I ask that the sub sign their work packets only if students have been working the whole time and not copying from others. For obvious reasons I can’t be 100% sure kids weren’t copying, but overall the sub signature system seems to work. I then make a graph of student completion by class and show it as an opening the next day. I ask students to reflect on how they did; what was successful, what could they improve, how they felt in class, etc.”

Here’s the difference of work completion from the first time she was gone to the second.Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 8.11.57 PM Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 8.12.12 PM

I love how this strategy increases accountability as well as the opportunity for students to reflect on why working with a substitute can be valuable.  Whether we end up with an average substitute or a visiting teacher, I think this idea is exciting and worth trying!

What other ideas do you use to motivate students when you are absent?

A day in the life of a teacher

This is a story that answers the question – “How was your day?”  I often answer “it was fine” or “fun day with the kids!” because there a million different details, emotions, triumphs, and failures that occur each and every day.  This day, though, seemed like an extraordinarily normal day.

The day begins with me arriving to school at 7:20, already with a knot in my stomach because I am ten minutes behind my normal routine.  I need to put the final touches on my lessons and figure out what I’m going to do in my advisory class because, at the moment, I had nothing planned (not a good place to be in but something you become skilled at figuring out as a teacher).  

7:23

I walk into the school and before I even get to my classroom a coworker says, “Hey Casey, can you come take a look at this?”  He asks about my input on an awesome idea we’ve been developing since a district math PD from a few weeks back.  I give him the my two cents without giving away that I’m internally FREAKING OUT over the work I need to complete before the kids show up.  He doesn’t have a clue about my internal affairs but he’s awesome and the idea is awesome, so I stick around.  

7:30

I walk into my class to prepare for the day.  Quick – make the slides, write the objectives on board, and finish the opening question before the students…. “EYYY, MISTERRRRR” (first student enters at 7:39).  Do my best to have a conversation, help kids with homework, as well as finish planning before class starts.

1st Period

In my frantic rush before school, I made groups for the students to prepare for their upcoming test.  Of course, one student says “I’m not working with that group.”  I plead, I beg, I negotiate.  Nothing.  Okay, you win.  I change the groups slightly to make things work.  The groups work really well together!  Next thing I know, one student has ventured to my desk and finds a picture of me with my family.  “How old were you?”  “Is this your dad?” “Is this your brother?” “How old is your brother?” – you know, normal prepare-for-math-test questions.  After a moderately brief interview the students continue to work but decide my family should join them (see pic).  Class finishes up fairly well.  I feel good about the class.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 6.13.40 PM
My family joins group for the math review.

2nd Period

Shit.  I’ve got one period to figure out what I’m doing for advisory.  Growth mindset – it’s my thing.  Let’s go with that.  I tell myself that I can create a lesson that will have to suffice for today, and I can always build on it in the future.  The knot in my stomach is back.  I watch a video and create an activity for kids that speak every level of English.  Magic! (or crap, depending on who you ask).  I run downstairs to print for advisory and find that my planning partner has printed the documents I need for the next day (thank the Lord).  I run back to class, proud that I was able completely avoid a panic attack and produce something of value.

3rd Period

The bell rings.  The phone rings.  “Mr. Casey, I’m just calling to let you know class C (the class about to come to me) might be a little late because they all worked so hard I gave them all Huskies!” Huskies are little statements of accomplishments when kids are caught doing great things.  I’m super excited.  Let’s keep this positive day alive!

FIRE ALARM GOES OFF.

SHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT.

I don’t even have all of my kids in my class yet.  Why is the alarm going off between classes?  Did someone pull the alarm?  Is this like Parkland, Florida? Dumb thought.  Is it a dumb thought?  Let’s get all my kids to my room, then go outside.  COME ON KIDS!!!  Okay, everybody outside.  I don’t have my green paper (to hold up when I know all the kids are with me).  Who cares.  Let’s go.  Student crying in the stairwell.  “Are you okay?”  We still need to go outside.  “No, mister”.  “I want to hear you but we need to go outside”.  We go outside.

My students are all scattered at this point and I try my best to wrangle them in.  “Mister, do you think mutations are good for humans or bad?”  “What?”  The student asks again.  “This is not the time to ask me that question”.  Student 1 hits coca-cola out of student 2’s hand and laughs.  We get the go-ahead to head back into the school.

Class C – the class that was just previously ALL awarded Huskies – now resemble that of an unsupervised 3rd grade recess in my classroom.  I decide it’s time for meditation.  “We are going to try to refocus.  You can copy down the opening, you can put your heads down and sleep, but lets be quiet and try to focus.  Let’s take three minutes.”  We take 6 minutes because I’m putting out four different dumpster fires happening all at once.  (I’m actually quite proud of 6 minutes).

We finally start class, kids complain about groups but mostly work pretty well together!  Granted, they didn’t finish nearly as much because so much time was lost to the fire alarm.  Bell rings.  Success!  Then I notice a protractor glued to the table with whiteout. Great.  “Who did this?”

4th period – Advisory

My already rushed, under-prepared advisory lesson began by the two culprits of the whiteout fiasco cleaning up one of the tables.  Although it was rather distracting to start class I felt this small ounce of pride in making students repair the damage they caused.  Advisory continues.  It goes fine.  Not the lesson of the year, but I’ve taught worse lessons.

Lunch

12:05 I hold one student back because I notice that he has not been getting along with another student who is in his math class and in our advisory.  He gives his side of the story.  I listen and try to give him feedback.  We come up with some positive actions steps which includes me touching base with the other student.

12:12 I get 15 minutes of peace.  Pretty sure I just ate my PB&J quietly and stared at a wall.

12:27 A student walks in that NEVER comes in to lunch.  Actually he is usually absent a handful of times during the week.  He comes in and we chat about life for about 15 minutes.

12: 42  Another student comes in early to class (class starts in 8 minutes).  This student is newer to the school and has very limited English at the moment.  I introduce the students and start to clean up the room and get ready for the next class.  I overhear the first student telling the second how important it is to try hard and that if you want to learn, you will.  If you don’t try, then you’re not going to learn.  My heart swells just writing about it. SO AWESOME

5th period

Bell rings and students show up.  A student shows up and makes a game out of trying to throw oranges into a cardboard box.  Orangeball?  I give him a look, he makes the orange in the box and gives me an I-told-you-so look.  Another student comes running into class dripping sweat and grabs some napkins.  Students get to work quickly!

Another student – usually absent from my 1st period class – shows up in my 5th period class.  He’s kind of distracting but he is being quite respectful just trying to get to know other students.  “What class are you supposed to be in?”  “It doesn’t matter.”  I check the schedule and give his teacher a call.  “He’s supposed to be in the office.”  Ah.  That explains it.  I call the office to let them know.  I pull up a chair and have him work with a group until the AP shows up. “I wasn’t even distracting anyone!”  A part of me is sad because he was engaging well with students but I owe it to his teacher and whoever he was disrespecting that there was follow through.

Class is working so well I change my lesson plans and let them continue to work together and teach each other until the end of class.  I gave out a Huskie to the other teacher in the room and tell everyone to write a Huskie for someone in their group because they worked so hard!

6th Period

Class starts fairly quickly.  I note that when the bell rang there was only one opening out (showing they are ready to start class).  A student leader starts class, another randomly yells nonsense.  Take a minute break, dude.  The other teacher in the class tells me the teacher across the hall is also in the hallway taking a breather – that kind of day.

Mister, I want to take my test.  Mister, I want to check my grades.  Mister, is this right?  I pause the class and tell them how great they are at asking questions and being aware of what they need but terrible at timing.  I get the classes started.  Some work better than others but overall it felt, meh to good-meh.

End of the day

Take attendance, start looking at tomorrow, look at and respond to emails, clean up the classroom.  I try to get out of school early around 4:30 because I have tutoring at 7PM where near where I live, 45 minutes away, and a good chunk of papers to grade waiting for me at home.

How was my day?  It was fine.

Understanding the Importance of Fixed Mindset

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 4.57.57 PMNow that grad school has finished up, I have more time to reflect on the multitude of great experiences that took place over the last year.  One of the best fanboy moments came when I was able to meet with Carol Dweck.  I was working on a curriculum centered around growth mindset and my teammate and I were lucky enough to get 30 minutes to bounce ideas off of the celebrity known as Dweck.

My main take away from the meeting was that mindset is much more complex than many educators portray it to be.  For example, the talking points around growth mindset tend to be “growth mindset is good” and “fixed mindset is bad”.  As teachers, we emphasize the importance of developing a growth mindset and communicate they need to have the proper mindset in order to find success.

Walking away from my meeting with Dweck, I realize that fixed mindset gets a bad rap.  She explained that fixed mindset isn’t this awful thing that we need to get rid of at all costs; instead, she talked about how fixed mindset is your mind’s natural reaction to new and challenging situations.  It is your mind’s natural defense mechanism.  By asking students to get rid of a fixed mindset we are asking them to become inhuman and ignore their body’s natural reactions.

Instead, she proposes teaching students to become aware of the moments in which fixed mindset presents itself.  “Give a name to your fixed mindset”, she said.  Recognize that it is a part of you and when it shows up, acknowledge it by name and thank it for trying to protect you.  Tell it that you need to push past that uncomfortable feeling for the moment because there is an opportunity to grow.

As an example, I named my fixed mindset Jeremiah.  I was at IKEA earlier this week.  My first time there. Guys.  It’s super overwhelming.  I’m a small town boy and this building was bigger than my town.  I wandered my way around and finally got to the nightstand/ dresser section, which is what I was looking for.  I was finally there, and I didn’t know how I was supposed to buy the items I really wanted.  I snapped my friends, telling them how dumb IKEA was and seriously considered just leaving and going to Target.  I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do.  I was sweating.

I didn’t know it in the moment, but these are the feelings that arise when fixed mindset is afoot:  stress, being overwhelmed, anxiety, frustration.  I didn’t know my way around the store and rather than asking an employee and risking looking stupid I kept to myself for WAY too long.  Finally, I went up to an employee and asked “I’m so confused.  How do I buy a dresser?”.  I hadn’t formally acknowledged Jeremiah, but I did finally decide that to figure this out I needed to risk looking stupid to learn how to buy the furniture I needed.  In the end, they explained it to me and, sure enough, now I know how to buy furniture from IKEA (yay me!)

So next time you talk to students about growth and fixed mindset, don’t hate on fixed mindset.  Instead, have students give their fixed mindset a name and help them become more aware of the moments fixed mindset arises in their life.  You can always start with yourself.  When do you find yourself getting defensive or upset?  Is your body just trying to protect you from failure and/ or looking stupid?  Once you become aware of the moments your mindset is fixed, it’s easier to consciously alter them into moments of growth.