Countdown to Mix!

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is just a few days away! Don’t be nervous. In our 12 years of experience, we’ve found that Mix It Up at Lunch events generally go off without a hitch. And, even if you do happen upon a few “hitches” along the way, the event will be a success as long as your students interact with someone new.

Keep these last-minute items in mind to keep you on track as you count off the days until Mix:

Make a Publicity Checklist
Do you have your publicity in place? Plugging Mix via these outlets can get the whole school excited.

  • School calendar(s)
  • Morning announcements
  • School website
  • Posters and fliers
  • Press release to local TV, print and online media. (Use this press release template.)

Plan for Photos and Videos
One of the best ways to capture the success of Mix It Up is to give student photographers or videographers the opportunity to shoot the Mix event or interview their peers about their experiences. Also, consider asking parents and school staff to take digital photos and video recordings so all the wonderful moments are captured. (Remember to make sure all your recording devices are charged up and ready to go on the day of the event!)

Please share your images with us via Facebook or Twitter using #MixLunch. (Make sure you get student and family permission before you share!)

Roll With the Day
If there’s some small setback in the days leading up to the event, remember not to panic. No matter what happens, your event will be a success if your students mix it up and have fun in the process. 

Have an Attitude of Gratitude
This wouldn’t have happened without your organizers. A small gift to show your appreciation is always a nice gesture. Think about a gift certificate for ice cream, coffee or a popular local restaurant. And do something nice for yourself, too. You’ve earned it!

Catch up on more Mix 2014 info here.

Second Webinar with Michelle Alexander

Teaching Tolerance is hosting a second webinar with Michelle Alexander on Wednesday, October 29. This time, we will be introducing Teaching The New Jim Crow, a teacher’s guide that helps educators bring The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness into high school classrooms.  

“In many ways, this is a dream come true,” says Alexander in her introduction to the guide. “I have long hoped that a set of materials would be created that would support high school teachers who want to explore the myriad issues surrounding race and justice in our society, and who hope to use my book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, as a resource. I am thrilled that Teaching Tolerance has created The New Jim Crow curriculum, specifically designed for students in grades 9-12.”

During the hour-long webinar, participants will be introduced to the content of Teaching The New Jim Crow. The guide follows the arc of the book and equips teachers with the tools and strategies to distill for their students—step-by-step—Alexander’s sophisticated arguments and analysis of mass incarceration. At the core of most lessons is an abridged excerpt of a chapter from The New Jim Crow. These excerpts provide opportunities to couple literary instruction with substantive learning about pressing social and racial justice issues. Other key features of the guide include: 

  • A collection of 10 lessons closely aligned to topics and themes of The New Jim Crow.
  • Tools that equip educators to teach about race and racial justice.
  • Alignment to Common Core State Standards.
  • A compendium of strategies aimed at understanding the book’s vocabulary, close and critical reading, and speaking and listening.
  • Text-dependent questions to guide reading and assess comprehension.
  • Activities that prompt students to engage in collective action toward change.

The relevance of the topics addressed in The New Jim Crow to high school students goes without question.

“Young people watch the news or hear about these events and they deserve a better education about the causes and consequences of the path that we as a nation have chosen,” Alexander said in her first webinar with Teaching Tolerance. “The recent killings of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown give this topic heightened importance and urgency. Understanding the nature of the criminal justice system in the United States and what can be done to change it is among the most pressing concerns of many, many young people today. That’s why we ought to be willing to tackle these issues in our classrooms.”

Join us on Wednesday, October 29 at 6:00 p.m. (CST) as we preview Teaching The New Jim Crow. You can register for the webinar here. Also, if you haven’t seen the first webinar with Michelle Alexander, an archived version can be found here.

Thinking Like a Mountain

Several years ago, I used Aldo Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” to broaden my students’ perspective-taking skills in matters relating to the natural environment. In this essay, Leopold explains how he and others with him shot and killed a wolf on a mountain just for the excitement of doing so. As he watched the wolf die, Leopold suddenly realized that “there was something in those [the wolf’s] eyes known only to the wolf and the mountain.” Leopold explains how, without wolves, deer proliferate and eat the vegetation that grows on the side of the mountain. Once this vegetation is gone, other plants and animals disappear as well. Without the vegetation to provide stability on the slopes, even the mountain itself becomes at risk for destructive landslides. The entire ecosystem of a mountain changes when wolves are no longer present. The mountain, Leopold suggests, lives in mortal fear of deer and depends on wolves to keep the population of deer in check. 

I paired the discussion of this essay with a “Council of All Beings” group activity. This exercise calls for participants to “step aside from their human identity” and take the perspective of another life-form such as a wolf. (Students could also take on the perspective of a mountain, river, forest and so on.) This exercise was originally created by John Seed and Joanna Macy to help people feel deep empathy for the myriad species and landscapes of the earth.

The response from the students was exactly what I was hoping for: enthusiasm and positive comments about new insights they’d gained. Several students commented on how this activity reminded them to consider more than themselves when deciding on a course of action. While the focus of both Leopold’s essay and the Council of All Beings exercise was on considering how our actions impact the natural world, some students commented on how we should also think about other people before we act.

I was teaching college students at the time but have since worked with elementary teachers who used this same idea with their students, some as young as third grade. The teachers’ responses were overwhelmingly positive. Several teachers noted how all the students loved this activity—even the hard-to-motivate students. In working with the teachers, I suggested these six steps:

  1. Introduce Leopold’s story in a way that’s appropriate to the level of your students. Invite students to comment on why “Thinking Like a Mountain” is a good title for this essay.
  2. Introduce the Council of All Beings activity by briefly discussing the meaning and purpose of a council. If applicable, you might relate this to a student council where students can express their concerns about what happens at their school. Explain that the purpose of a Council of All Beings is to give other creatures a chance to express their concerns about what is happening to them because of human activity. Tell the students that they will each take on the role of an animal and speak for that animal at the council. 
  3. Have each student choose an animal and research how human activity might be impacting that animal. Students should also make a mask of their animal and write a script for what it will say at the council meeting.
  4. On the day of the council, have students sit in a circle and then, one by one, speak for their animals.  
  5. After all the “animals” have spoken, allow some time for a sharing of feelings and thoughts. Encourage group problem solving around the concerns expressed by the animals. Include a discussion about what we could do as humans to help the animals. If possible, identify several specific steps that could be taken at school and at home.

After the council, the students’ masks could be displayed under a “Thinking Like a Mountain” heading.  Some schools, after initial Council of All Beings exercises, have prepared theatrical productions of the council to share with others. One teacher had her students mentor their peers in another class through the steps of preparing for a Council of all Beings.

I found that the Council of All Beings can be used as an effective cross-disciplinary exercise at any level of education. This exercise not only fosters imaginative and critical thinking but also addresses a number of language arts, science and social studies goals. Most important, however, is the way this exercise helps students think outside of themselves and develop a sense of compassion and caring for all living things.

Wilson is an educational consultant and curriculum writer.

Intervene With Mean - Part Three

This post is part three of a three-part blog series that explores how to help students transform bullying behavior. The series mirrors the three levels of intervention outlined in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Level One applies to the 80 percent of students who are responsive when explicitly taught about acceptable behavior. Level Two addresses the 15 percent of students who need social skills training and tools to help them stop bullying. Level Three (the focus of this blog) addresses interventions for the 5 percent of students with persistent bullying problems who need intensive supports.

I hope that someday we will learn the terrible cost we all pay when we ignore or mismanage those people in society who most need our help.”

--The Honourable Judge Sandra Ann Hamilton, Provincial Court of Alberta, Calgary, Canada

Damon Smith was suspended more than 15 times for bullying. “You start thinking it’s cool,” he said. “You think you’re going to come back to school and catch up, but unless you’re a genius, you won’t. That made me want to mess up even more.”

This blog offers suggestions for how to help the 5 percent (PBIS Level Three) of youth who, like Damon, have serious, recurrent problems with bullying. Nearly 60 percent of boys classified as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24. Forty percent of them had three or more convictions by age 24. Clearly, these students need behavioral support—and these supports can positively affect both victims and perpetrators. By helping aggressive individuals change their patterns, we not only improve their lives—we prevent harm to others.

Transformation—Not for the Faint of Heart

Once a serious pattern of bullying has begun, the process of transformation is slow and requires a long-term commitment. Involve the family, school counselors and everyone who works with the student. Take time to review all documentation of the student’s bullying incidents, and get to know the student both by talking with and observing him. Are there patterns to the behavior? What antecedents and triggers do the student or staff notice before an incident occurs?

There is no one strategy that works for all students. Each strategy requires consistency and patience to find positive qualities in the student and to give the student a voice, helping her learn accountability without shaming her. But all effective strategies require planning and the belief that young people can change their behavior.

Effective Models for Change

Below are two different models designed to provide intensive and ongoing support for chronically aggressive students. Unlike many of the suggestions offered in Parts I and II, implementing these strategies requires training or even bringing in specialized staff members. It also requires significant time and coordination, often occurring in combination with weekly or biweekly meetings with a counselor and small-group, skill-building sessions coordinated with teachers.

1. Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) is a tool often used to gather relevant data about students who have chronic behavioral problems. The process includes observations, interviews and referral to school records to gather detailed data regarding notable triggers for student behavior, antecedents, reaction patterns and consequences for the behavior. The FBA also incorporates data on the student’s strengths, skills and past behaviors, and the effectiveness of previous interventions. This analysis is often done in collaboration with counselors, behaviorists and special education staff. The information is used to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan that is continually monitored and updated. This intensive model not only helps students stop unwanted behaviors but offers positive replacement behaviors.

The Functional Behavior Assessment Checklist is a template for organizing this complex data. It includes the specific information that needs to be gathered and an explanation of how to complete the plan. Because this process is complex, specialized training is necessary to implement it.

If your school doesn’t currently offer FBA as a means to intervene with youth who bully repeatedly, you can introduce the tool to your administration by sharing the complete process overview, as described by PBIS. The overview includes information about when and how to use an FBA.

2. Ross Greene’s book, Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them, outlines a process of Collaborative Problem Solving, a model written for schools to use with the most difficult pupils. Collaborative Problem Solving for schools adapts a model that has been effectively used in inpatient psychiatric units, residence facilities and juvenile detention centers. Greene’s approach involves very intensive work by a trained teacher or counselor working with the student over time to identify what he calls “lagging skills” and finding solutions and alternate ways of behaving. Lagging skills refer to behavioral weakness in very specific situations, such as difficulty handling unpredictable events and adopting inflexible or distorted interpretations of an incident (“everyone is out to get me,” “you always blame me”). In this model, the student is taught to identify which of the lagging skills is most significant and provided intensive support to help him change it. Once success is achieved with one skill, the support team tackles another, relying on the belief that success breeds more success. Greene encourages educators to remember, “Kids do well if they can.” 

Working with some of our most challenging students is likely to cause intense frustration, even for highly trained staff members. But the most powerful thing we can do is to help those who have the hardest time, and bringing evidence-based models like Functional Behavioral Analysis and Collaborative Problem Solving to your school is an important first step. Offering these services lets students know we have not given up on them. Building meaningful relationships with these students—not only when an incident occurs, but before, after and in between incidents—helps us find their positive qualities. The message these interventions send is, “I believe in you and I know you can do better, and I will be there to stand with you as you work through this.”

Cohn-Vargas is director of Not in Our School and coauthor of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty—first observed in 1993. The United Nations has designated this year’s theme: Leave no one behind: think, decide and act together against extreme poverty.

Teachers regularly plan and deliver instruction to leave no one behind while knowing that wealth and poverty impact our families, our communities and our schools. We asked the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board (TTAB) to share with us how they teach their students about wealth and poverty. We want to share what they said and invite you to add tools and strategies from your classroom.

“What resources and strategies do you currently use to teach about wealth and poverty?”



  • Encourage young children to share solutions to the unfairness they observe.
  • Compare historical fiction excerpts about poverty to current fiction excerpts and ask students: What’s the same? What’s different?
  • List resources and organizations that support awareness around (in)equity and invite guest speakers to the classroom.
  • Encourage colleagues to explicitly discuss implicit bias related to wealth and poverty, specifically the difference between looking at those in poverty with empathy or scorn. 

“How do you include your community and families when teaching about wealth and poverty?” 

  • Use picture books that depict how communities have resisted and grown in poverty.
  • Invite speakers to discuss human rights violations with students.
  • Look for opportunities to engage in joint projects instead of community service with students.
  • Take students on a local labor history walking tour with labor organizers.
  • Ask families for input; build home-to-school connections.
  • Generate and maintain a dialogue between the student and his family around topics related to wealth and poverty.
  • Leverage community resources.
  • Offer service-learning that forges partnerships between students and members of the community.
  • Identify gaps in resources locally—and then examine economic systems of injustice more broadly.

As we continue to produce materials that help you reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and provide equitable school experiences for our country’s children, the topic of wealth and poverty remains one we must address. 

We want to hear from you!

How do you leave no one behind? Let’s think, decide and act against poverty together.

Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

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