Expect the Best

Each and every word we use has power. It sounds a little cliche, right? Though this concept has been ingrained in me since childhood, some recent interactions with my peers have reminded me of the power our words have to shape the lives of those around us. Though we use them constantly, their frequency does not diminish their importance.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble” -Yehuda Berg

On Monday, September 25th, 2017, an individual in my Educational Technology and Design lecture made the choice to use their words to commit an act of white supremacism based on discernible bias. This hate speech was conveyed via TodaysMeet, an online backchannel devised to give students the ability to communicate in the quietest way possible. To begin the conversation, each student logs into the provided link with an anonymous username and can then leave comments throughout the lecture in order to collaborate on ideas and concepts introduced. Participating in the discussion is not mandatory but is used as a supplemental form of instruction.

As we were wrapping up our conversation about global collaboration, the following interaction took place:

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Most recent content appears at the top of the screen. Screenshot image from TodaysMeet on Monday, September 25, 2017.

This class-wide interaction showcases blatant discrimination and bias while supporting white supremacy. The anonymous identity of this individual should not promote passiveness in the response. Acts of white supremacism are intolerable and should always be directly addressed.

As a student, I was infuriated. It took everything in my power to stay in my seat. Every part of me wanted to take a stand on stage and engage the class in a teachable moment. However, I decided to put trust into the hands of my professor monitoring the backchannel and hope for the best.

The only comment shared by the instructor via TodaysMeet was, “Everyone has the right to choose.”

But should we? Is it okay for educators to feel uncomfortable teaching students solely because of their different racial or ethnic backgrounds? This is a question that has haunted me since last Monday. I believe the answer should always be no.

Each and every one of my students deserve to have the best possible education, regardless of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. No exceptions.

 


In reaction, I have submitted a bias report to the university’s Bias Response Team but by no means do I believe this is sufficient action. If an instance like this took place publically, I can’t bear to think what some future educators may be saying in private. This event is proof that a more active approach to diversity education needs to be in place. I have reached out to both the Dean of the College of Education and the Department Head of the Department of Teaching expressing my concerns related to diversity education requirements in all education majors. If there is not already progress being made, I hope to take action.

This seems to be my motto lately: If you do not make yourself an active part of a solution, you are part of the problem.

 


Classroom Application

This event has made me reflect on the environment I hope to foster in my classroom. I want my room to be a place where students feel comfortable embracing all of their identities and have the ability to express themselves. Without this base, I do not believe I can build an effective classroom community. I also hope to never back away from a teachable moment, no matter how difficult the topic may be to discuss. Though I want my students to learn fully the content instructed, I also recognize that some of the most powerful lessons they will learn will have nothing to do with the standards assessed.

As educators, let us lead by example and expect nothing but the best from our students and colleagues.

Featured image credit: Memphis CVB “DeNeuville Mural” https://flic.kr/p/apsNr5

Gaming to Learn

I have always criticized my gamer friends. With often times seven hours per day spent behind the screen of games like World of Warcraft, I was awestruck, to say the least. Their habitual reliance on video games seemed childish and unreasonable to my book-lover eyes.

My recent viewing of a Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal titled “Gaming can make a better world,” worked to change my beliefs.

As it turns out, my World of Warcraft friends were doing much more than playing mindless games, they were on the verge of genius. This game has given them the tools necessary to solve real-life problems such as hunger, poverty, climate change, and global conflict. However, how do we draw those skills from the screen to real life?

I believe the answer starts in our schools. We need to empower our students to believe they can achieve just as much in the real world as they can in virtual ones. This can be accomplished by implementing games such as World Without Oil into our curriculum or creating our own games. It time we start looking past the limits of our textbooks and open our minds to the possibilities gaming can provide our students.

So, game on my friends. Set out to find your epic wins and lead your students to do the same.

WORLD OF WARCRAFTS & DIABLO III ARTS” by foeoc kannilic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Giving Thanks

My family

Clean water

Everything

Good health

This moment

I was the last in line, but unlike previous years, I already knew what I wanted to say.


Each Thanksgiving, all the Aharts join hands around the dinner table and share our thanks. Laughs are had, tears are shed, and memories are made as young and old stand in unity. To me, nothing can surpass this moment.

As always, I have more things than not to be thankful for. I always have food on the table, my dog by my side, good books to read, family and friends whom I adore, and opportunities abound. However, my courses this semester have made me thankful for things I otherwise took for granted.


This Year…

I am thankful for the opportunity to pursue higher education.

I often times take for granted the fact that I am able to attend the University of Northern Iowa. Due to my circumstances, I have been set up for success. Whether it be my educational opportunities, past employers, socioeconomic status, race, or abilities, my privileges have given me the upper hand in many situations. I hope to never see my college career as a right, but rather to view it as an opportunity I was lucky enough to have seized. There are far too many who would give anything to be in my shoes but never had the chance. With my foot already in the door, I plan to hold it open for many more to pass through.

Thank you, UNI, for providing me with more than I will ever be able to repay you.

I am thankful I can leave my home and feel safe.

Growing up in the secure neighborhood of a rural town, I never had to think twice about leaving the house. Now, nothing has changed.

My living arrangements have always been located in areas with much lighting, frequent police presence, and reputations for being safe. However, these characteristics have minimal impact on my safety; I recognize my identities as the ultimate reasons. The fact that I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual, female, gives me the security of safety when leaving my home. Though I still may be a victim of violence, I am blessed with the ability to rest assured that I most likely will not be found as the victim of violence due to my identity. For that, I give thanks.

Pictured in this week’s featured image is my cousin. This photo was captured during our Thanksgiving festivities. 

Expanding My Library

For the past couple of years, I have been stocking up on young-adult literature to fill the shelves of my future classroom. With totes full of these texts, I am just now realizing just how much shelf space I will need to host all of them in my room. Recognizing that I may not have much shelf/storage space in my future classroom, I have set out to find a solution. Since expanding my classroom is not an option, my solution sits beyond the walls of my classroom.

One great way to integrate technology and minimize paper copies of books in my classroom would be to invest in eReaders. It would be fun and interesting to fill my eReaders with as many titles as I could! Since I am always living on a budget, resources such as GooglePlay offer more than 50,000 free eBooks. There is no way I could personally provide my students with the plethora of literature they could have at their fingertips with eReaders.

Of course, the bookworm in me will still keep around plenty of paper copies, but hopefully, my eReaders will be able to hold more books than the walls of my classroom ever could.

 

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Kindle 3” by Zhao ! is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Library” by Stewart Butterfield is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Teaching Creativity

The idea of instructing our students to be creative sounds a little backwards, right? Though I believe we are all born with the innate ability to be creative, sometimes we can grow out of it. The concrete reality of our lecture style instruction promotes the discontinuation of creative thinking. This often leaves our students with little wiggle room to stretch their brains, hindering them from their full potential. Now is the time to reflect on the long-term outcomes of our instruction.

 

This week I read an article by Robert DeHaan titled “Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science.” Though science is most definitely not my area of study, I was able to pull a few applicable notes from the essay.

DeHaan believes the musts for creative thinking education include:

  • model your own creative thinking
  • create a safe space
  • connect other subject areas to your instruction
  • ask too many questions
  • encourage students to evaluate other points of views
  • make the content relevant to the “real world”
  • be explicit
  • encourage reflection

Our instruction should always aim for students to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the content instructed.

Classroom Application

After reading this article, I have been reflecting on my own instruction and the goals I have had in place. Though they have been aligned with the Iowa Core standards for literacy and 21st-century skills, there was little thought put into fostering creative thinking. I recognize the potential for future implementation and look forward to adding a new set of goals to my lesson planning.

Please comment with any creative thinking tasks you have implemented in your own classrooms!

 

Choose Wisely

This past week I have been reflecting on the power our words have on those surrounding us. Similar the theme of Expect the Best, this post will dive into a few words I am going to eliminate from my vocabulary. In the journey to increase the inclusivity of my language, I plan to also hold those around me accountable. There is no time like the present to reflect on the origin of our words and understand the impact they can have on members of our communities.

Here are just a few of the words I am actively working to eliminate:

  • Guys (to refer to a group of people)
  • Crazy/Insane
  • Lame

 

Though the list may seem far from mighty, the task at hand is large. Until now, I had never kept a tally of how often I say these words and it honestly appalls me. Though I have grown up believing they are okay to say does not warrant their validity. As an educator, it is my responsibility to set the precedent for my students. However, eliminating these words from my vocabulary is not enough. The next step is to call out others who misuse the terms. Hopefully, this plan will aid me in choosing my words wisely and expecting the same from my colleagues.

 

I look forward to continuing my journey toward a more inclusive vocabulary.

 

Refill

The time has come. The inevitable chills of late Autumn have settled and the coursework seems to be never-ending. We are all ready for a break.

In such a demanding time, it is easy to forget about the most important element to success: self-care. It is all too easy to continually push taking care of ourselves to the end of our to-do lists. Though it may seem selfish, it is essential to fuel yourself before you can give to others. When you are running on “E,” you are not only hindering yourself but also your students.


Do you and your students a favor.

Read the book

Plan the trip

Call the friend

Take the walk

Watch the movie

Get the massage

Your students and future self with thank you.

 

White Rage

This week I am beginning my journey with the University of Northern Iowa’s Diversity Common Read. This year’s read is White Rage by Carol Anderson. This book explores American history in terms of white violence in response to black progress. I have no doubt this experience will open my eyes to the extensiveness of the problem. While I dive into this book in the next few weeks, I would like to draw connections between the text and my classroom experience.

As you may recall in my recent blog post, Expect the Best, instances of white supremacism are not far from home. I am still shaken by the events of that day, but it helped me come to the realization of something important: I am the active agent of change. As a future educator, I owe it to my students to be fully aware of the issues they face.

I hope White Rage will provide me with a stronger historical knowledge of the issues at hand. I believe it will be a great connection to my library. If you have any other book suggestions for me, please feel free to comment them on this post! I am always looking to expand my personal library!

 

To see what I am currently reading, direct your attention to the Goodreads bar at the bottom of my page!

Featured image credit: Sheila Sund “Beehive black and white”

Dive Deeper

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a battle you know nothing about.” This quote by Wendy Mass has always been one of my favorites. It can often be found doodled in the margins of my notebooks and scattered on sticky notes I use as bookmarks. In times when I am quick to judge, this quote reminds me that just as myself, everyone is carrying their own baggage.

I was reminded of this quote’s importance as I read a portion of The Freedom Writers Diary this past week. This book depicts the journey of a young English teacher, Erin Gruwell, as she shapes the lives of her “unteachable” class through the power of literature. Before she could even begin, she had to overcome the mindsets of her students. Up until their freshman year of high school, they had no reason to believe books had anything to do with their lives. In order to prove them wrong, Erin had to get to know her students better than any other teacher had before. So began her journey to unpack her students.

 

gang involvement

internalized negative image

 criminal records

no family history of school success

societal expectations

no sense of safety

short lifespan expectations

Erin’s students were coming to class with more than just their backpacks on their shoulders. Rather than having them leave their “baggage” at the door, she invited them to embrace it. She worked vigorously to build connections with her students and introduce them to role models. She used all she learned to aid her in the search to find literature which showcased some of their own experiences. Suddenly, reading meant something to them.

By providing her students with these opportunities, she allowed them to be active agents in their own learning.  

 


Classroom Connection

I have every hope for my classroom to be a place where students feel as if all of their identities are valid and embraced. I know this cannot be possible if I do not take into consideration the battles each of my students are facing. No matter how big or small, they are making a monumental impact on their careers as learners. It is my job to help them effectively channel their experiences to the content instructed.