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Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Call to Action: Vilson and Lehmann Speak

Jose Vilson and Chris Lehmann are leaders in education circles.

Recently they both called for action with regard to racial injustice and prejudice with The Silence of Our Friends is Violence and Charleston and Teaching Children.

I'm thinking of their words and how I will follow their lead in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Vilson writes, ". . .it's important for educators to create safe spaces for their students to share their opinions not simply impose ours." I can follow a colleague's lead in this respect by starting the year by offering small group lunch meetings for every child to discuss how they're feeling about school, what they need, and what they believe we should be learning about. This will open the door to positive dialogue and belonging. Further I can offer similar meetings for family members and open the door to this discussion at Curriculum Night.

I will also share this post with my system's superintendent, assistant superintendent, and principals of the elementary school, middle school and high school to see if we can fine a time early in the year to have a dialogue with families about racial justice, belonging, voice, choice, and inclusivity with regard to our school community. During the summer, I'll read more and begin to follow #educolor more religiously to develop my knowledge too.

Lehmann writes, "As teachers, we have an obligation to teach our children to examine the systems of thought that perpetuate hate and prejudice so that our students can work to change them." One simple way to respond to Lehmann's words is to use Flocabulary's Week in Review current events rap each week to promote a discussion about world events. Giving students time to share what they know and how they feel about these events invites voice and follow-up study and response as well.

Lehmann also writes, "As teachers, we have an obligation to teach all of our children that equity and justice are not just the cause of those who face oppression, but the cause of all people who believe in the promise of a better world." As a teaching team we need to discuss how we will teach the concepts of equity and justice from the start of the year when we develop learning community protocols (constitution) and when we study current events and our nation's history. Also, as Lehmann suggests, we need to tie this study to the discussions we have about making a better world and also tell the stories of people who have done this in the past and are doing it now. Our Global Changemakers project at the end of the year is an excellent venue for this. Attendance at the Harriet Tubman play and possibly a tour of Boston's Black Heritage Trail will also support our study in this regard.

Further, in response to Lehmann's words, "As teachers, we have an obligation to teach all our children that it is not enough to passively hope for change, rather we must speak to the world we wish to create, work for the world we want to see," we have to teach children to speak up and advocate for what they need and what the world needs, and we have to provide avenues for students' voices in this regard. The service learning that is well established at our school is a terrific avenue for this work.

When Vilson writes, ". . .we've chosen to flip the idea that we only talk about standards, content, and iPad apps," he calls me to think deeper about the work we do in schools and the conversations we have online and offline to build better learning communities. I wonder what questions would prompt a good #edchat conversation about justice, advocacy, and contributing to a better world. Perhaps we could start with one of the following questions:
  • How do you make time in the classroom to talk about and act upon issues that matter deeply to students?
  • How do you share and discuss current events in the classroom?
  • How do you examine equity and justice in the work you do with and for students?
  • How do you make lessons culturally relevant, timely, and valuable to children?
  • How do you face prejudice and injustice in your own school, classroom, or community? 
  • How do you invite and promote student advocacy?
I invite you to add to my thoughts and give me more to think about as I let the wise words of Vilson and Lehmann root in my craft and learning in the days to come.