Tag Archives: personal history

Shaping stories

This morning my fellow #ASCD13 attendees and I had the opportunity to hear Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Maya Angelou. Both were spirited, frank women with amazing experiences and accomplishments in their lifetimes. As Maya Angelou was speaking, I got a text from my 9-year-old daughter saying she missed me and hoping I was having fun. In response, I told her I loved her and missed her, too. I told her that I was listening to a famous author (and so much more) named Maya Angelou, and that I would have to tell her about her when I got home. Sending her that simple message was a powerful moment for me. How do I support my daughters growing into strong, funny, confident women like the ladies I had the privilege of learning from this morning? What are a couple of quick themes I’ll take from the morning conversations as an educator and a mom?

Every person has a history.

Both women were intentional in sharing their their history. O’Connor as a cowgirl on a ranch and Angelou as a toddler taking the train near cross country have evolved into some of the most influential women we’ll ever know. We need children to know and be proud of their history as they grow. As a mom, I have two Ethiopian-born children and two biological children all with their own unique experiences. In our schools, every one of our children has an evolving story impacted by factors that impact their own perceptions and actions. As adults we model the value that history by sharing our own stories, including both successes and times of challenge.

As educators we have a responsibility to honor & respect that history.

My friends and I also discussed what might have happened if these women were consistently told they couldn’t do what they aspired to along the way or didn’t have anyone that gave them an opportunity. What might we all have missed if these women had been totally stifled? Transferring to our current context, what might happen to our students if their stories are not honored and respected? Often we are asked to make decisions about children that simply don’t take these stories into account. Other times our decisions are challenged by those who don’t know a child’s whole story or philosophically believe in one-size-fits all approach with regard to discipline and student learning. Regardless of our role, we simply can’t ascribe to that; we need to shape consciousness of those around us (Fowler) to move this mindset forward.

How have you found ways to honor student stories? How have your tried or seen others worked to promote a philosophical shift to consider those stories as we support our students? Maya Angelou talked about being rainbows in the clouds for each other. Let’s do that for our kids and consider it a great privilege to be part of who they become.

Critical memories: Shaping our practice

This morning I read a blog post by Principal Jimmy Casas. In this post, Jimmy talks about a home visit on which he accompanied his principal earlier in his career and how that’s played out in his current role and philosophy of serving students. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter; his commitment to his school community and the education community is evident.

Reading about his experience took me back to a time earlier in my career that shaped my current practice and, really, shaped how I viewed others from that very moment. I was a 6th grade language arts and social studies teacher. In my fourth year of teaching, there was a point mid-fall that one particular student was exhibiting some attention-seeking behavior; at that time, it seemed immature and as his teacher I found it frustrating. I decided it was time to call mom during my prep and ‘tell’ her what I was seeing in the classroom so we could correct his behavior. Fortunately, I paused after telling Mom I had some concerns about behavior. She asked if anyone had shared what was happening at home. No one had, which is a different, disappointing post altogether, so I asked her to share. My student had 4-year-old twin brothers, and Mom shared that one of them was stricken with a cancer that he was not likely to overcome. I vividly remember leaning on the doorway of my classroom on the telephone, appalled that I had jumped to this conclusion that a student was choosing to misbehave when his family was essentially in crisis. Sadly, he did lose his brother in the months that followed.

I was also pregnant with my first child that year, and my team teacher and our classes threw a baby shower for me. My student, G, remembered a yellow flower container that had fallen from my desk and broken months prior. As a gift at the shower, he gave me a yellow candle holder and candle hoping to replace what I had lost. I’ve kept that the past 11 years as a reminder of what he lost and the challenges that are part of our students’ daily lives; I’ve kept it as a reminder that we MUST take time to learn our students’ stories and consider how we can support them rather than punitively punish or prematurely judge. I’ve kept it as a visual cue to keep me from making that mistake again for I still need that reminder from time to time.

Jimmy shared his home visit; I’ve shared my story about G. What moments significantly shaped how you view students, families and your role as an educator?