All your planning is about to pay off! On Tuesday, you will join thousands of schools across the country—and abroad!—in celebrating Mix It Up at Lunch Day. Thank you for being part of this important community.
It may seem counterintuitive, but take some time now to think about the days after your Mix It Up at Lunch Day. Over the 15 years we’ve been mixing it up, our research has shown that scheduling a couple of follow-up events allows Mix to have a deeper impact on your school. You and your core group of organizers put a lot of effort into this. Make sure you get the most value out of your event all year long.
No need to do much detailed planning right now: You have plenty on your plate for the next several days! Just remember to talk with your key organizers (maybe during a quick post-Mix meeting), and bring up some of these ideas later in the year:
- A second lunch event in the winter or spring
- A community-improvement project in the neighborhood with “mixed up” work teams
- A formal study of the social boundaries and divisions at your school
- A mural capturing the spirit of Mix It Up at Lunch Day
- A community showing of the Teaching Tolerance film Bullied
We can’t wait to hear about how your day goes. Share with us via email, Facebook or Twitter (using #MixLunch). If you have permission from your students and their families, we’d love to see and share pictures and videos!
If things go really well at your school, now is a good time to consider applying to be a Mix It Up Model School so others can learn from your success. The application will open in January 2017. Check out how last year’s Model Schools made their events so successful.
The community of educators here at Teaching Tolerance would like to give you our sincerest thanks for all of your hard work. Without people like you, there would be no Mix It Up at Lunch event. We’ll be thinking about you on Tuesday!
If you’ve been hearing about blended learning in your school district, you are not alone. Blended learning is an approach to teaching in which students do part of their coursework in class and part of it online. An increasing number of school districts are using blended learning to make learning more accessible for all students.
There are as many ways to teach blended-learning classes as there are teachers. One of the more popular models involves credit recovery, a process through which students make up credits for classes they failed by completing the work they didn’t finish before. In this model, students are given modules of work to do at their own pace. Another popular model is to teach a traditional class but have students in class only a few days per week. In this model, students complete coursework outside of class and come to the classroom for teacher-planned activities that need to be done there.
Many teachers are hesitant to adopt a blended-learning program, and their concerns are justified. Since part of the coursework is done online, teachers often fear that blended learning is just a way for administrators to pack classes with more students and eliminate staff to save money. Blended learning has also been a huge part of the credit-recovery model and, therefore, many believe it doesn’t have a place in AP or standard-level classes.
Students are also sometimes reluctant to participate in a blended class. Some of my own students were unsure about signing up. Some were worried about not having anywhere to go during the school day when class was online that day, or that I would not be available to help them if needed. Others, like this student, were concerned that not much learning can happen when technology is there to tempt students away from classwork.
All of these concerns are legitimate and, if a blended-learning program is not implemented ethically, thoughtfully and with the input of all stakeholders, at least one of them will most likely come to bear. However, as Sam McElroy writes on Chalkbeat, “Strong teachers can use blended learning to help all students in new ways.”
Credit recovery, for example, allows students to receive credit in multiple classes in a shorter amount of time, getting them back on track for graduation. Since students of color graduate at lower rates than their white peers, blended credit recovery can be a powerful tool to help more students at risk of not graduating get their diplomas. In my district, this model is also part of our initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. By keeping kids connected to school and getting them back on the path toward graduation, the likelihood of them dropping out or getting into trouble significantly decreases.
Blended learning can also offer students who are already “on track”—like my AP literature students—a taste of what college will be like, with the safety net that high school provides. Attending class only a few days per week and doing the rest of the work on their own time is a similar situation to what students encounter in post-secondary institutions. Like many districts, mine provides extra help to students who need it. We require that, if a student has incomplete work or a grade less than a 75 percent in the class, the student attends class every day until their grade improves. This encourages students to complete their work but also allows time for extra assistance. Furthermore, students who are trying an AP class for the first time truly benefit from the blended-learning model.
In my blended course, students come to class two or three days per week. On those days, we do activities and have discussions that can only be done face-to-face. On the other days, students do not have to report to class though they can if they want. Instead, they have digital classwork: discussion-board questions, response journals, AP practice tests, articles to read and sometimes even small-group work. This frees up my class period on those days for students who need extra help. Students who are struggling can come see me to discuss assignments, ask for enrichment activities or simply discuss the text we are reading to get a better understanding. Even in the couple of months I’ve been teaching this class, I can see clearly that this is helping my students who may be taking their first AP class ever and who might have struggled through the course without this extra help.
This year, I’m seeing an additional benefit to the blended-learning model in my AP class: I have more students of color this year than any other year. This is partly due to heavily increased recruiting efforts in my district and partly due to an embrace of the course’s structure. The race gap in honors and AP classes is a long-standing equity issue. Add to that varying levels of English proficiency and differing English dialects being spoken in the home, and there is often a disconnect between what the students want to write about the literature and whether they are able to write it in ways that will be acceptable to an AP grader.
What I hear from my students of color most often is that they are unsure of their academic abilities because this is their first AP class or because they have done poorly on a previous AP test. I encourage these students to come on off-days to talk about their work. I can give them extra help or enrichment, or I can help give them the confidence boost they need to succeed in a difficult course. Because I've had more time to work with these students individually, I'm seeing tremendous growth very quickly, more so than I have seen in past years.
Whether students are trying to graduate on track or are taking an AP course for the first time, the blended-learning model has the potential to provide them with the support they need not only to survive school but to thrive in it as well.
is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.
“You are in a world where you can feel what other people feel. Now what?”
This is just one of the scenarios players will be presented with when they embark upon the online gaming experience Face the Future. Developed by Facing History and Ourselves and Institute for the Future, this FREE “game for social change” will convene students, educators and community members from around the world. Participants will imagine what the world might look like in 2026 and consider both the positive and challenging implications of this possible future. The game will take place over the course of 30 hours on November 13 and 14. Sign up today and learn more about how to play!
Here’s the idea: Participants watch a video about a futuristic scenario and then share what they think might happen in this possible future. Other players can then build on these ideas, show support or suggest alternatives for how to navigate future challenges. The result is a growing web of collaborative ideas that reimagines the future of empathy and civic participation. This experience will encourage collaboration and stimulate conversation about how we can all be upstanders—not bystanders—in the future as well as today.
Sound confusing? It did to us too, at first. But we talked to the individuals who played the prototype version, and they were unanimous in their enthusiasm. The bottom line? Face the Future is an engaging, free, low-stakes way to get your students thinking deeply about empathy and the kind of world they want to live in. The Educator Toolkit can help you make the most of the experience before, during and after. (Sign up here to get an alert when the toolkit becomes available).
To sweeten the deal, classroom teachers can apply for $200 participation grants to make the gaming experience extra special for students. (Think ice cream or pizza party while you play!) The application deadline for grants is October 30.
We hope you and your class will join us and students from across the country, as well as Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Northern Ireland and France at any point during the 30 hours of available game play on November 13 and 14. Face the Future will be like nothing you—or your students—have ever experienced. Game on!
When I met Shayla, my “Little Sister” through Big Brothers Big Sisters, she was so shy that she wouldn’t speak to me. Our first meeting involved Shayla, Shayla’s mother, the match specialist from the organization and me. Everyone, with the exception of the specialist, was a little nervous.
Shayla’s mother said that her daughter had been writing a lot of notes lately, and Shayla passed me a note that read, “I like reading and writing notes and I hope you do too.” She was about to turn 7 and, like me, was wondering exactly how this relationship would work out.
Shayla is now 13 years old; she’s a tall, beautiful, intelligent middle school student. Over the years, we have been on many adventures together. People often think she is my daughter or niece—but sometimes they get confused because Shayla is African American and I am white.
This is not unusual for Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs. As I’ve previously written, the majority of the “Bigs” (adults) in every group activity I’ve been a part of have been white or Asian, and almost all the “Littles” (children) have been African American or Latino. For a long time, I hid my discomfort about this disparity and didn’t bring it up with Shayla.
Finally, I asked her what she thought. Shayla told me that it didn’t bother her at all, that she liked being in the program and that she didn’t care what people look like. She spoke definitively and quickly changed the subject.
I didn’t press her further but remembered something: I met Shayla right as school was letting out for summer after her first-grade year and got to know her pretty well over the next few months. And when Shayla started second grade, I asked her how she liked her new teacher. She turned to me with a wide smile and said excitedly, “My teacher is black like me! She looks like me!” Her teacher actually didn’t really look much like Shayla, but she was African American and that was enough for a 7-year-old who had only had white teachers up until that point.
The idea of race is obviously very different for a 13-year-old than it is for a 7-year-old. Recently, Shayla explained to me that she feels very included when she visits my family. She added that it doesn’t matter that we all aren’t the same race because we care about each other and she feels like we are family. But Shayla’s 7-year-old self was overjoyed that her teacher looked like her, and I can’t help but wonder if she had wished for that in a Big Sister as well, even though we are a good match personality-wise.
I asked this question of an old friend who used to work for Big Brothers Big Sisters in another state, and he said that one of the first things that Littles would ask for was a Big who looked like them. This is not unique to one organization; similar disparities can be found in most majority-minority schools and programs across the country.
Eighty-two percent of all public elementary and secondary teachers are white while students of color make up about 49 percent of the student population. This means that many children of color never or rarely have an educator who looks like them. While a caring, dedicated teacher of any racial or ethnic background can make a difference for students, educators in the majority don’t often have to think about what it would be like to never have an educator who shared our racial background.
As a white person who is both a volunteer and a teacher, I admit that this realization was uncomfortable for me. But I believe that the first step in overcoming any inequity is realizing that it exists and being willing to name it. Without examining our whiteness or the racial disparities between teachers and students, we're supporting a system in which many children of color never have a teacher who looks like them. And when I think back on what that meant to Shayla, I know we have to do better.
Harris is a teacher, tutor, writer, editor and author of Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom.
What my district deems “the incident” occurred during my first year teaching at a high school in the Greater Boston area. This incident was no different from incidents that happen every day in schools across the United States. A teacher or a student (often white) does or says something culturally irresponsible toward an individual or a group of people (usually of color). In the case of my school district, a teacher used the word plantation during a confrontation with a black student. Initially, the district attempted to handle the issue internally, but not to the satisfaction of both parties involved.
Without belaboring the details, what came to pass was an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and subsequent diversity training directives. Most of the time, the story ends there: The government righted a wrong and gave clear directions for resolution. But what about the students and educators left after the mandated training? In my school district, this is when the real conflict (and positive changes!) began.
The OCR created a plan for the district, but fortunately the district had already taken steps that aligned with what the directives spelled out, such as diversity training for the teachers and assemblies for students. The Anti-Defamation League led a teachers’ conference, from which even the most cynical of educators gleaned some nuggets of insight. The next schoolwide events were two student assemblies during which a third-party group performed skits about race and culture, and then asked questions to the students. The first assembly progressed uneventfully. The second, however, did not make it through the first skit before chaos broke out. As the facilitators passed the microphone around, students raised the topics of “Irish slavery,” criticized affirmative action and made a variety of misinformed comments laden with racial prejudice. The assembly stirred underlying tensions, and many student relationships were damaged by these careless comments. The faculty and I dealt with confused and disrupted students the rest of the day and into the next week. Yet, out of the strife, a rich conversation emerged.
First, teachers and administrators quickly sprang into action and formed the Next Steps Committee to address student, family and teacher responses. While some of the committee’s work was to fulfill the remaining demands of the OCR, much of its efforts were in direct response to the students’ needs for research-based information on race and diversity. The assembly had illustrated that students wanted to discuss race but had neither the skills to engage in difficult dialogue nor the knowledge to do so successfully.
Next, the English and history departments taught lessons on active listening and race, respectively. These lessons, while not particularly groundbreaking in pedagogy or content, communicated to the students that their school was prioritizing new values and provided a common language going forward. Faculty members co-taught the lessons, which presented a united front to the student body. In the post-lesson surveys, students commented positively on the collaborating teachers and the research-based approach. The teachers were not experts but communicators of well-established, factual information. Students of all backgrounds appreciated that teachers didn’t preach their own beliefs but instead used evidence and outside sources to promote cultural responsibility (our district’s term for taking ownership of our actions and creating an inclusive environment).
Additionally, the students in the social justice club, Do the Right Thing (yes, they named it after the Spike Lee movie!), worked with teachers to create representations of various races in classroom materials and provide a safe place to discuss race.
Perhaps even more important to lasting change was the grassroots engagement that sustained them. Teachers acted as equal shareholders in creating a new climate, and students noticed. The teachers who participated in Next Steps or attended Do the Right Thing activities and meetings became visible to students as allies. Students know their teachers will be there for the next incident, when a public figure espouses racist rhetoric, when a fellow student calls them a name. Doing professional development in culturally conscious teaching doesn’t have much of an impact if students don’t think their teachers have their backs. Our school district’s journey ended up being about so much more than race. We were doing the hard, rich work of creating a welcoming environment for every student, every family member and every teacher.
Edsall is a social studies teacher in the Greater Boston area.