The Atlantic: “Education is not simply another commodity to buy and sell on a market. It is a shared good.”
Education Week: “In a rapidly changing political and environmental landscape, focusing on the development of global competency seems urgent.”
The Greater Good Science Center: “While stories about the impact of [social and emotional learning] may feel hopeful and uplifting to educators, parents, and others, they can also convey subtle messages that harm students inside and outside of the classroom.”
The Huffington Post: “Reading LGBTQ inclusive stories is a way to validate what [students] may be already be thinking around gender and gender roles. We are planting the seed at young ages for people to think about gender.”
The Huffington Post: “Compared to their male counterparts, high-functioning girls on the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with social ‘difficulties’ instead of ‘disabilities.’”
KQED: “The type of chest pain [this student] felt, along with shortness of breath and other physical symptoms of anxiety, are complaints some Bay Area pediatricians said they’re seeing more of in immigrant and Muslim populations.”
National Public Radio: “With Islam estimated to be the fastest growing religion in the country, private Islamic institutions are gaining the same acceptance in American education that other religious schools have long enjoyed.”
National Women’s Law Center: “Every year, thousands of girls are pushed out of school as a result of a variety of often overlapping educational barriers, including homelessness, family instability, discriminatory discipline practices, society’s collective failure to prevent or adequately address harassment and sexual violence, and the failure of schools to recognize and properly respond to trauma.”
The New York Times: “The fact that my skin color matches that of my students doesn’t give me any superpowers as an educator. But it does give me the ability to see them in a way that’s untarnished by the stereotypes, biases and cultural disconnects that fuel inequality and injustice.”
Southern California Public Radio: “[U.C. Santa Barbara education researcher Michael Gottfried] found that 12 percent of the children who took the school bus were chronically absent, two percent lower than kindergarteners who didn’t take the bus.”
The Washington Post: “The number of minority teachers more than doubled in the United States over a 25-year period but still represent less than 20 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary school teaching force.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
Toward the end of the year, my students do lots of self-reflection: Which books had the biggest impact? How did they choose writing topics that mattered to them? When did they struggle, and what did they learn from those struggles? Which strategies were most helpful? What new genres, concepts or techniques did they explore? What will they work on next year?
Questions like these help my students notice what they’ve tried and how it worked out. It helps them build behavior patterns that lead to academic success and a sense of vitality. But as meaningful as that self-reflection is, I wasn’t offering my students an opportunity to examine another crucial part of their experiences: each other.
So I came up with three additional questions:
- Who in our class supported you in an important way?
- Who in our class pushed you to think differently or more deeply?
- Who in our class inspired you by setting an example?
I knew my students might feel awkward acknowledging each other in these ways. There’s vulnerability in saying, “This person had an impact on a part of my life that’s important to me,” especially if it’s a person you don’t know well or who didn’t realize their actions were so meaningful. So before my students wrote their responses, I described how some of my colleagues have supported, pushed and inspired me. I wanted to show that I was willing to do the same, potentially difficult thing I was asking of them.
Most students had no trouble with identifying classmates, but a few called me over to ask for more help. If they had a rigid view of what “support” looks like, I asked, “Is there anyone who suggested a great book for you to read? Or gave thoughtful feedback on your writing? Or encouraged you during a tough assignment?”
If they didn’t get the idea of a classmate pushing them, I asked, “Is there someone who introduced a perspective you hadn’t thought of? Or who debated your ideas? Or who gave you critical feedback that ended up helping you revise?” I explained that getting pushed might not feel good in the moment but often leads to growth; I wanted my students to notice the value in that kind of discomfort.
I also wanted students to expand their thinking about who could be a source of inspiration: “Maybe it’s someone who’s willing to put a different opinion out there or who works really hard to improve their writing or who reads a ton.” It was hard to keep my own values from influencing what the students might say, but I tried by adding, “These are some of the qualities I find inspiring, but what inspires you is going to be based on what you find important.”
In that context, here’s what some of my sixth-graders wrote. Names have been changed, but otherwise these are their words:
- “Vincent has always been a support because we correct each other’s writing a lot.”
- “Tonya always was willing to help. Unlike others, she took time to help me instead of rushing through it.”
- “Karyn helped me by being a good partner … and always doing her share of the work.”
- “Ella always pushes me to think differently or more deeply. Whenever we peer review, she always leaves helpful and insightful questions to help me add imagery that I had never thought of before.”
- “Martin has … helped me think about our mystery book in a way in which I could set up all the clues in my head and estimate what would happen next.”
- “Hugo really digs deep and finds lots of things I can change or I can think about.”
- “Mariah really inspires me in this class. She always adds a great perspective to class discussions.”
- “Sometimes writing gets stressful, and when that happens I sometimes get tense, but Anna always stays calm, and I admire her for that.”
- “I have read Ned’s work, and it has inspired me to write more and check over my work more carefully.”
Most students named three specific classmates in their responses, and everyone named at least two. A few students were unable or unwilling to recognize classmates who pushed or inspired them: “I really don’t think any of my classmates have pushed me, but Ms. Porosoff does and my family does.” And a few said everyone had helped: “I don't think one person inspired me, but I think everyone I worked with inspired me in a way.”
What was particularly exciting was that students didn’t acknowledge only their friends or only kids who get the best grades or who are the most vocal during discussions. Also, they didn’t name only students who share their social affinities or belong to traditionally privileged groups. The students were able—at least in the moment—to see each other, appreciate each other’s contributions and build a sense of solidarity.
Porosoff teaches English at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and is the author of Curriculum at Your Core and the upcoming EMPOWER Your Students: Tools to Inspire a Meaningful School Experience.
When I was a kid in the secondary grades, one of my greatest fears was tests. Despite the fact I was an “A” student, I hated them. Being tested scared me: I would get stomach aches, cry and claim I did poorly on them, even though I always did well. My parents even offered to pay me to get a “C” so I wouldn’t worry so much. (I never got paid.) I have no idea why I was so afraid. I liked learning, I liked school, and the pressure to do well was almost nonexistent then.
Today testing stress begins at an early age. Years ago, I was in an East Oakland elementary school and the halls were covered with posters, made by kindergarteners, to cheer on the older kids during testing. Frankly, getting 6-year-olds to partake in the culture of testing made my heart hurt.
The focus on testing has become so intense that teachers feel enormous pressure. And students share that pressure to perform. I’ll never forget a second-grade teacher telling me that one of her students was throwing up because of how nervous she was about tests.
Although I believe in assessing student performance as one way to determine if good teaching and good learning is happening, I think tests often miss the mark. Plus, important achievement often goes unrecognized because it’s not “tested.” Many teachers share this perspective. And with each testing season, teachers are looking for strategies to lessen the pressure on their students.
The good news is that mindfulness helps calm everyone down about the process of testing. Instead of worrying about tests, being present for them enhances students’ chances for success. (A recent study suggests that the daily program of Inner Explorer, an online mindfulness platform, increases students’ performance in reading and science and reduces discipline-related events.) Asking students to take three deep breaths before a spelling quiz every week prepares them to do the same before taking tests for which the stakes are higher.
Even small, mindful actions will help students. Students can put their hands on their bellies and observe their bellies getting bigger when breathing in and getting smaller when breathing out. Or they might notice the shoulders rising with each in breath and falling with each out breath. Tying the movement of the breath to the body can help students anchor their minds when they feel anxious. Paying attention to the breath stimulates the parasympathetic “rest and digest,” calming part of the autonomic nervous system and bringing the body into a state of equilibrium. Because the exhalation is actually what stimulates the relaxation response, children—and adults!—benefit by breathing in for four counts and then breathing out for eight.
Testing is a difficult time for students, families and teachers. If you have a student who struggles with testing anxiety, try using the following role-play, centered on breathing, to help relieve their stress. Really, practicing this type of visualization with all students can help them be in the present moment while taking the test instead of worrying about the test. Once they’ve done it a few times, they’ll be prepared to use this strategy during actual testing.
Today we are going to bring mindfulness to test taking.
Schools use tests to see how much you are learning.
Tests can have interesting effects on students.
What are some of your feelings about studying for tests?
What are some of your feelings about taking tests?
Today we are going to bring our mindfulness to taking tests.
Imagine you are in class and I am about to pass out the test.
As I do so, close your eyes and begin to practice your breathing by paying close attention to each time you breathe in and each time you breathe out.
Take five mindful breaths, breathing in calm and relaxation and breathing out any nervousness or fear you have about the test.
Breathing in…and breathing out. Now take four
slow breaths on your own. (Give students 40 seconds to take those breaths).
Now imagine yourself picking up your pencil and holding it gently between your fingers. Take three more slow, deep breaths here. (Allow 30 seconds of silence.)
Imagine yourself answering the first two questions. They are easy and you feel good.
Now imagine that the third question is a little confusing. Instead of getting nervous, you put down your pencil and take three more breaths, each time breathing in calm and breathing out the confusion. (Allow 30 seconds of silence).
You look at the question again, and you decide to answer it or return to it later. No biggie! The next questions are not hard for you and you feel good.
At the end of the test, if you had skipped any questions, you return to them, taking a few breaths before working on each one. You do the best you can and finish the test.
You put down your pencil, feeling good about sharing what you have learned with your teacher.
Grossman, the director of program development and outreach for Inner Explorer, is the co-author of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress and the co-founder of Mindful Schools.
We were having a classroom discussion when things got really interesting: A student, almost out of nowhere, mentioned that five people had been shot in our city over the weekend. As the facilitator of the discussion, I decided to connect his comments to our conversation: “Is violence natural?” I asked. This question sparked a deep dialogue about how weapons and anger relate to our views of the place people have in nature. We had started the class by talking about nature as trees and birds and how our ideas of nature were formed by experiences at parks and in the woods, but this turn in the discussion got us below the surface to a level where we could analyze rather than just describe. This level of critical thinking was essential to meeting our course objective: to assess how people’s ideas about nature have shaped the past, inform our present and will create our future.
The course I teach, Global Environment, includes reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond and several other texts about the general role of European imperialism in shaping the world we live in today. These readings offer important ideas for us to think about, but they haven’t really engaged students in the past. A recent course I took inspired me to shift the focus from the readings and content to essential questions designed to address the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards related to identity and diversity. Through these questions, students explored why they didn’t think people and the things we make—like guns—are part of nature, how other cultures think about nature and where students’ own ideas come from. This approach provided an opportunity for critical and creative thought, as well as a motivation to explore the content from different perspectives.
During the course I took, we dove deep into Teaching Tolerance’s curricular tool, Perspectives for a Diverse America. Studying critical literacy with this tool in mind led me, for the first time in my career as a science teacher, to make a conscious effort to include diverse voices and ways of knowing in my daily practice. Most of my ideas about nature had come from reading authors like John Muir and E.O. Wilson—after all, my teachers had told me that these were the naturalists—and I had never critically examined the fact that all of them look more like me than my students.
But when I made the effort to include articles that discussed nature from scientific, artistic and traditional ways of knowing, written by authors of different cultural backgrounds, we all became immersed in the complexity of varying perspectives and deeper knowledge. Students appreciated not reading an academic text written by yet another white man. Lucille Clifton’s poem “The Earth Is a Living Thing” mingled in their minds with Raymond Pierotti and Daniel Wildcat’s Traditional Ecological Knowledge: The Third Alternative. Pierotti and Wildcat’s discussion of the Rock Creek and Oglala Lakotas’ perspectives on nature shared space in students’ brains with the philosophies of the Akamba and Chagga people of eastern Africa, presented in Bakanja Mkenda’s “Environmental Conservation Anchored in African Cultural Heritage.”
The week ended with a student-led discussion, and we all connected American Indian and African ideas that humans are threads in a web of life. We recognized that we can follow the thread of violence through evolutionary history back to the first time two animals fought for resources. We reflected on how Muslims and Christians agree that nature was God’s creation and that people have the obligation to be stewards of it. We accepted that our American ideas are formed by the collision of European, African and indigenous cultures in the age of imperialism and colonization. Our group realized that we connected with the ideas of our African ancestors more than our European ones.
We didn’t agree on what nature is or our place in it, but there was general agreement around the table when one student said senior year was way too late to have thought about these things for the first time.
Widmaier is an instructional coach and science teacher at World of Inquiry School #58 in Rochester, New York. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.
American Civil Liberties Union: “Every day in our nation’s schools, children as young as five are charged with ‘crimes’ for everyday misbehavior.”
Alabama Public Radio: “A recent investigation by Education Week shows that in the 2013-2014 school year, about 110,000 students were physically punished nationwide. That’s in part because in some states … tens of thousands of students are paddled every year.”
CNN: “Nearly 1,500 economists extolled the economic benefits immigrants bring to the U.S. and urged Congress to ‘modernize’ the country’s immigration system.”
The Huffington Post: “While [cutting the Lead Risk Reduction Program] is just a proposal at the moment, one thing is clear: poor black people, especially children, would be hit the hardest.”
The Huffington Post: “‘Last-dollar free-college proposals such as the Excelsior Scholarship don’t address the college affordability inequities at play in our country.’”
National Public Radio: “Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent.”
National Public Radio: “The idea for ‘Latin History For Morons’ grew out of a tough chapter for [John Leguizamo’s] family when his young son was being bullied in part because of his Latino heritage.”
Newsweek: “‘On the surface, the argument is about bathrooms, but at a deeper level, it is about whether or not transgender students will be included in our public education system. … If transgender students cannot safely access a bathroom, they cannot safely attend school.’”
The New York Times: “New evidence indicates that schools have contributed to these disparities [within ‘gifted’ programs] by underestimating the potential of black and Hispanic children. But that can change.”
Salon: “‘This report finds that this funding [building, buying, leasing] is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard. … Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy.’”
The Washington Post: “Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.