Foster Parenting

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

One Little Word 2019

My blog has had its ebbs and flows.  Life became a little complicated, and it was hard to know what stories I could/should share on this blog.  So much of my writing centered on family life as well as my teaching life.  Life as a foster mom and a literacy coach made me question what I had to say and who my audience would be.  I've discovered though, that I need to write just for me.  I need to write to sort my thoughts.  I need to write for my own discovery.

My One Little Word for 2018 was Embrace.  I chose that word because of all the ups and downs that came with being a foster parent as well as a parent to adult children.  Diving a little deeper into my PhD studies and trying to figure out my role in my day job as a literacy coach, I wanted to embrace the challenges and the new learning.  And for the most part, I think I did that.  Our girls were reunited with their mom in the beginning of August, I moved from coaching back into the classroom full time (teaching third grade), and taking on more classes in my PhD program.  The girls are doing well, their mom is doing well (Yay!), going back into the classroom has been a gift and helped me remember just how hard this job is and I've managed to keep afloat with classes.

But something has changed.  I find myself asking more and more questions.  It came to me word had to do with something about asking questions.  I chose wonder.  There are so many things I wonder about in my teaching and learning.  I am hoping my one little word will guide me into finding some answers.  I'm sure it will lead me to more questions and deep down, I hope it will reignite my blogging life. 

Here's to a great 2019!  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Next Steps in Inquiry: Gathering Literature

This is the third post in my inquiry project. Read the first and second posts to catch up.

What's Next

As I thought about how to bring multiple perspectives to my students, I knew children's literature would give me what I needed.  In search of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors (Bishop, 1990), I  turned to blogs and websites like We Need Diverse Books, Reading While White, and  A Year of Reading written by Mary Lee Hahn and Franki Sibberson.
I became purposeful in finding children's literature that represented the stories of those who have been marginalized in our White dominant society.  Reading literature with characters that represent many different communities allows students to gain a deeper understanding of those who are different from them, gaining insight not only into their differences, but also their similarities.  I wanted to give my students of color the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read, to feel valued. At the same time, I wanted my White students to see stories and worlds different from their own.  Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop reminds us in Reflections of the Development of African American Children's Literature (2012), "all children have the right to books that reflect their own images and books that open less familiar worlds to them" (p. 5).

New Characters

This summer, I reached out on Twitter asking for book suggestions.

I got introduced to some great characters and new authors.
Dyamonde Daniel (series of 3 books) by Nikki Grimes is about a plucky third grader whose parents are divorced.  She is the new kid at school and she faces challenges head on.  All of my students saw themselves in this book in one way or another.
Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi is a great early chapter book series about a second grader who deals with the every day issues of a second grader.
Cilla Lee-Jenkins (by Susan Tan) is half Chinese and half White.  She's another character full of spunk.
The Carver Chronicles series by Karen English is another great series about kids at Carver Elementary.  They are funny and yet deal with some serious issues.
Stella Diaz by Angela Dominguez is based on the author's experiences growing up Mexican-American.
These characters, among others, have become favorites in my classroom.  We have waiting lists for certain books and I've even had a few complaints that some aren't reading fast enough!  This Padlet has more ideas for book and video ideas.  I can already tell that I need to create a Padlet just for book and video titles.

 Choosing Books

When choosing books, I keep several things in mind:
1.  Is the book by an author who either shares an identity with the characters in the story or has done research on the culture or community they've written about?  (#ownvoice author)
2.  Do the diverse characters take an important role in the story or are they secondary characters?
3.  Are the characters portrayed as sharing the commonalities of being a kid?  (See 28 More Black Picture Books that aren't about Boycotts, Buses, or Basketball 2018)
4.  Do the books I choose portray other diversity besides race?

My third graders have been exploring books as mirrors and windows the last few weeks and I'm excited about the work they are doing.  More to come in future posts.  

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Digging Deeper into Inquiry: Educating Myself

I introduced the beginning of my inquiry journey in my last post.  I knew the first step  educating myself.  One of the most foundational lessons I learned was to recognize my Whiteness and the privilege that follows. I can no longer pretend that race doesn't matter.  Yes, I used to be one of those who said, "I don't care if kids are Black, Brown, pink or purple, I love them all." I've come to understand just how problematic this kind of thinking is.

 I now understand that by ignoring racial diversity, I am  normalizing Whiteness. Remaining silent about race does more harm than good. We know from the work of Beverly Tatum in Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, that all of us unknowingly form biases about different social groups based on our upbringing and social experiences.  These beliefs affect the way we think and act toward others.  What I am seeing now as a teacher is that if I don’t talk about issues around race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, children don’t know there are other perspectives different from their own.  I used to be afraid  to bring up these topics because I worried about offending someone or receiving parental backlash, but now I know it is essential.   Teachers have the responsibility to address these issues because they are important.  We need to have conversations.  We need to read diverse literature to all of our students, not just our students of color. We need to help our students recognize multiple perspectives and points of view so that they all feel included and valued in our school. I began to ask myself where I fit into confronting this issue. “How do I, a White middle class woman, use culturally relevant teaching to help students build understanding and empathy for others, appreciate differences, and recognize others’ struggles and perspectives?

My first steps? Educating myself. I found people to follow on Twitter. I read and read some more...
scholars, teachers, parents. I reflected on my own upbringing and the biases I am living with. It's a
journey that humbles me, especially when I admit to the mistakes I've made. I have a responsibility to do my part in fighting against bias, both implicit and explicit.   I want to know better and do better as a fellow human being.  

I created a Padlet to organize my resources which you can access here.  It is a live document that I will continue to add to as I learn.  In this post, I will focus on resources that have helped me learn and grow.  My next post will highlight resources I've used with my students.

Professional/Personal Reading, Audio, and Video:  

These are some of the resources I've used (or am using) to educate myself on talking about race and culturally relevant pedagogy.  
  • Moving Beyond Colorblindness in Early Childhood Classrooms by Gloria Swindler Boutte, Julia Lopez-Robertson, and Elizabeth Powers-Costello  This article from Early Childhood Education Journal encourages early childhood education teachers to talk to their students about race and colorblindness.  It explores the work done in a second grade classroom around anti-bias education during literacy discussions.  There are some great examples of student work as well as instructional practices.

  • Waking Up White by Debbie Irving is the memoir of Debbie Irving, a middle-class White woman who grew up in New England.  It chronicles her own journey in understanding her Whiteness and her own implicit biases.  She is honest and vulnerable in this book.  I actually saw myself in her story quite a bit.
  • So You Want to Talk About Race: When a Book Calls You Out This blog post by Kelly Konrad was another wake up call to White privilege.  She, like me would never call herself a racist, but after reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijoema Oluo, forced her to examine the privileges that come with being White, able bodied, employed etc.  This book has given me many new insights.
  • Interview with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop by Reading Rockets is full of information about multicultural literature, the need for diverse books in our classrooms, and the importance of digging deep into cultural and racial discussions.  As is always true with Reading Rockets, there are resources for teachers to use in their classrooms.
  • Danger of the Single Story is the compelling Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  In this speech, she discusses the importance of understanding others' stories in order avoid cultural misunderstandings.  None of us is a single story.
  • No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching (Not This But That series) by Mariana Souto-Manning et al.  I read this book last summer and it has been extremely helpful in my teaching this school year.  The first half is dedicated to Souto-Manning's academic work in culturally relevant pedagogy. The second half contains classroom examples of teachers who are doing this work with kids every day.  It's a book that you can read quickly and have several ideas to try in your room right away.
  • Rethinking Schools is a magazine I subscribe to.  The articles focus on social justice issues.  The articles, written mostly by teacher practitioners examine hard topics and face them head on.  
  • Teaching Tolerance This website is full of lesson plan ideas for social justice issues.  In addition, their magazine is free to all.  You just need to subscribe.  I get a lot of good ideas here.
  • What if All the Kids Are White?: Anti-Bias Multicultural Education with Young Children and Families by Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia Ramsey.  

Blogs/Websites for Teachers and Parents

These are blogs and websites I go to regularly for information about culturally responsive and anti-racist teaching as well as book ideas.  I hope they will be helpful for you.
I have added new people to my PLN on Twitter.  I've learned so much from following them and participating in different Twitter chats. 

Please add to the conversation. Are there resources you've found to be helpful?  My next post will focus on resources to share with children and activities I've tried in my classroom.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Wondering While I Meander Through Inquiry

It's been awhile since I've posted.  Mainly because I've been trying to figure out where I fit into this blogging world.  I've been wrestling with ideas, trying my best to articulate my journey and wondering who I am writing for.  I'm a full time classroom teacher who is working on her PhD.  I vacillate between being a practitioner and an academic.  I certainly don't feel like a scholar and yet, I want to be scholarly and reflective as I deconstruct my teaching and work to be better at what I do.  And, so, I need to write for myself.  I need to question myself - my beliefs and my practice in order to better understand.  And if I have any readers, I hope you will join the conversation to push my thinking and learn alongside me.

Some Background on One Line of Inquiry

I am a middle class White woman who grew up in rural northwestern Ohio.  I went to a Catholic school where most of the students were White.  The only students of color were the children of migrant workers who attended our school during the harvest season.  They were there in the fall and left before Christmas, only to return again in the spring.  My family did not have open conversations about race when I was growing up.  We didn't have to.  It was part of our white privilege.  Implicit bias surrounded me.  We locked our car doors when we drove through "dangerous neighborhoods."  Adults told racist jokes that we all laughed at, even while I cringed inside.  It wasn't until a Black man was introduced into our family that I began to stand up to the outward and implicit racism around me.

I would have been the first one to say that I was not racist.  I threw around phrases like, "It doesn't matter what color a person is, we are all the same inside." When I saw a Black Lives Matter sign in someone's yard, I would think, "Well, really, all lives matter."  I was color blind and didn't know any better.  I even remember thinking when I was a younger teacher that I didn't need to worry about diversity and equity issues in my teaching because I only taught White kids.  My eyes were opened when I read Waking Up White by Debbie Irving.  I was astonished at what I learned and at the same time, ashamed to admit my own contributions to  racist beliefs and practices.  I wanted to be and do better.  From that point, I set on a mission to educate myself.  I began following people on Twitter who were talking about these issues, found blogs and podcasts, and read and read and read. I will share those resources at another time.

I also had an experience last year when some fifth grade boys questioned the book Ghost by Jason Reynolds. There is a scene early in the book where a character is describing the facial features of another character and the White boys reading the book thought it was racist.  They couldn't believe their teacher chose that book (little did they know that I had ordered that book for our book room) and were sure their parents wouldn't want them reading it.  One even said, "My mom says we aren't supposed to talk about these things."  At first I was confused, but then realized that they equated talking about race with being racist.


Lucky for me, I am taking a children's literature class with Dr. Mollie Blackburn. Our assignment is to complete an inquiry project that incorporates children's literature in some way.  I knew right away what I wanted to explore:  "How do I as a White teacher support my White students in reading and talking about race?"  I teach in a school where 87% of our student population is White and where 99% of our staff is White.

I went to Rudine Sims Bishop's foundational text, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors and I got started.

First thing on my list: update my classroom library.  I needed more books by authors of color and with characters of color, and not just characters who achieved something great, but characters of color whose stories are about the ordinary things that kids and families do.  I read a lot over the summer and I purchased and borrowed books to bring into my classroom.  (More on this later)

We did some identity work (thanks to Sara Ahmed's Being the Change), which laid the groundwork for our next steps...

We will begin to read books as mirrors this week.  I am wondering what books and characters my students will see themselves reflected in. How will they identify with these books and characters?  How will this reading change them?  Will this reading set the groundwork for building empathy in my students and will this work transfer into their own personal lives?  Can I do this work?  Do I know enough?

These are only some of the questions I grapple with.  As it always is with me, these questions will lead to more questions.  It's a journey and I know that as I walk this path, I will make mistakes. But I am also certain that I will grow and learn and become a better teacher because of this experience.

Please share your own experiences or thoughts in the comments.  I would love to further this conversation.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Celebrating #PB10for10

 This is one of my favorite times of the year.  The beginning of school always brings feelings of excitement and anticipation.  Add to that a bevy of picture book ideas and what more could you want?  I am happy to join Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek in their annual Picture Book 10 for 10 event.

This summer, I had lots of time to think about work I began during the last school year around Rudine Sims Bishop's 1990 Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. I want my students to see themselves represented in the texts I read to them.  In the same way, I want to provide "windows and sliding glass doors" where students can see into those lives that are different from their own.  It is through that lens that I base my list which you can see below.  There are so many books that I want to add to this list, but I had to narrow it down.  If you have other books that fall under this category that you love, leave a comment below. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Powdered Sugar Donuts

I am joining TWT's Slice of Life Tuesday where writers share stories from a slice of their lives. 

When I was a little girl, my family would spend vacations at my grandparents' cabin in Geneva, Ohio.  Most of the time, it was two or three families smushed into the 2 bedroom cabin with the kids all piled in the loft above the living room.  The days were filled with swimming in the river, playing cards, water fights, going to town to the five and dime store. 

The weekends were extra special because that's when Grandma and Pop would join us and Grandma always brought Hostess powdered sugar donuts - the small ones.  Pop started the day early, sitting on the swing that overlooked the river, his yellow coffee mug in hand.  On those days, I got up early because I knew I could grab the box of donuts and bring them outside with me.  I would hop up next to my grandfather and we would swing back and forth, eating donuts, the powder coating my fingers and clinging to my lips.

This morning I woke up early and snuck out of the cabin where we are vacationing in PA.  At first it was just me, the birds, and frogs sitting out under the pergola, book in hand, mug of steaming tea nearby. 

It wasn't long before I saw Destiny peek around the corner. still in her pajamas.  I had an idea.

I went inside and grabbed the box of donuts I had bought last night.  She poured herself a glass of milk and together we headed back out to the pergola.  As we ate donuts, I told her the story of my grandpa and me.  It was a glorious morning filled with smiles, stories and powdered sugared lips. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

#CyberPD Being the Change: Listening with Love

I am joining the summer #CyberPD community as we read and discuss Being the Change by Sara Ahmed.  

I was thrilled when I learned that this book was the one chosen for #CyberPD. This is a topic near and dear to my heart especially in our state of current events.  It is more important than ever that we are agents of change and support our students in doing the same.  Sara quotes Peter Johnston on p. 31, reminding us that the actions we want our students to take begins inside their heads.  We learn over and over throughout this book how important our language is and how messy this work can be.  Chapter 2 especially had an impact on me.

"If we want our kids to truly respect one another we have to meet them where they are, consider interactions from their perspectives, and find teachable moments along the way" (p. 31).  

This is hard but necessary work!  Not only do we need to consider others' perspectives, we need to create space and opportunities for our students to learn how to appreciate others' perspectives.  Sara makes a great point in using the word "mentor" instead of "teach" (there's that language thing) because she says, it's important that we are practicing these skills too. I would add that we practice these skills both inside and outside our classrooms.

Listening with love, the title of this chapter elicits powerful emotions inside of me.  Living the last 2 years with  foster daughters who have traumatic backgrounds has opened my eyes to the importance of listening with love and considering their perspectives during difficult situations.  There were many times that I was quick to come to a conclusion (usually negative), that changed when I came to better understand what was going on in their minds.  As I look forward to the next school year, I will have students in my classroom who also come from trauma.  Their needs are different from typical students and I want to make sure I provide a safe environment for all.  Listening with empathy lays the foundation for creating a space where all feel safe to communicate their beliefs and feelings. 

I appreciate the activities, sentence stems, and ideas for addressing tensions that are provided in this chapter.  I've highlighted so many parts of this chapter that I want to remember.  Here are a few:

  • Social comprehension is not always comfortable.  It strives for awareness and understanding, not consensus and compliance.
  • Consider:  Are there other ways to see this?
  • This work is messy because it is authentic and it deals with human beings.
  • Listening requires us to consider and utilize perspective, evidence, and language, connecting the new to the unknown, and we evolve as a result.
  • Our goal is to treat listening as an act of love.
  • When heated talks arise, we need to listen better.

I am looking forward to delving deeper into this book and continuing the conversation with others.