holding the center.

Every plan is different. Every plan is right. Every plan is wrong. These are some of the broad generalizations I have learned in the last few days of our new realities of distance learning and separation. While I feel very confident that our leadership team and teachers have made the right decision to provide a slow roll-out, of course, we are all craving time with one another, especially our students. As we’ve had these initial video conversations this week, I see the spark in the eyes of some of our children and hear the messages that clearly harken to introvert (I love distance learning! I can work at my own pace. I can be in my own space.) vs. extrovert (I miss my friends. I miss the lunchroom. This is not my favorite.) divide.

This has led me to think deeply about the changes in the role of school as the center of community in the last 30 years since I left elementary school. In my childhood, we loved school, but it was not the center of our world. Playing after school in the neighborhood with friends and family time were the centers of my world as an elementary child. (Now, it is important to point out that this was also a public school childhood versus an independent school childhood.) From the shifts in connectivity provided to us through digital tools and social media to the explosion of after-school programming and high-intensity athletics, what serves as the center has changed. Not for better, not for worse, just changed. This is particularly true in independent schools like mine where student’s geographical locations are dispersed throughout a large and traffic-laden metropolis. School is the center of our connectivity. School is the center of our world. 

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Neighborhood Friends before Halloween 1988. (No idea what I was supposed to be.)

Finding ways to hold to our center and redefine our center during this time of distance has become paramount. Creating spaces for our students to connect to teachers and each other is key, but so is redefining what our center might mean. I am finding that increased length walks with my dog (with appropriate distance from others) has helped me, a strong introvert, find peace from 6+ hours of daily video conferencing. I know some families and friends who have craved more connectivity and sought out small group virtual play dates with one another. Some families are re-committing to family games and circling ’round the dinner table. My own sister, a parent of teenagers whose sports, arts, and schooling has been canceled-with little/no distance learning plan, remarked at her increased time to spend with her teenagers; a novel concept in 2020!

No way is perfect. No way is ideal. But we are all, as Brené Brown put it in her new podcast, Unlocking Us, experiencing FFT’s (bleeping first times, or frustrating first times for the non-cursers) in this time of unparalleled uncertainty. Patience, grace, flexibility, and hope are critical character qualities, always, but especially right now. Anger and fear are totally normal and need constructive, healthy outlets. Schools and families are working very to determine and hold their center amid chaos. And if we hear no other message, let this be the one: the center will hold, perhaps even stronger, with so many stories to tell.

Onward, my friends.

 

 

Adjusting.

We have a new normal all around us. The new normal can sometimes change by the hour. On a typical day, I would walk 4-6k steps per day just at school. My day would include meetings with teammates, popping into classrooms, planning ahead, and putting out day to day firest. Lunch would have lots of vegetables lovingly prepared by our kitchen FLIK Dining staff. I would walk past the fish tank and talk to the sea of Nemos and Dories. My desk stands up and my body rarely sits.

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In my new normal, we are effectively using a virtual meet platform to conduct more frequent leadership and team meetings. I am completely surrounded by my two fur children who remind me if a squirrel invader, neighbor dog surveillance, or the sweet amazon truck by singing the songs of their people in a robust forte. My desk is my dining table and for the first time in 18 months, I have a window with sunshine. I have three different screens available to meet up and connect, plan, write, and follow up. I’ve used the time to explore new tools to provide asynchronous learning while still giving a human face and voice. My workday starts around 7:30 as normal and goes as long as it needs to, for now. My teams have seen me making lunch, correcting my furry co-workers, and constantly trying to find the best angle to avoid my neck wrinkles. As an introvert, I’m finding the videoconferences exhausting but I know that I’ll find a groove. I trust it.

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The co-workers

In the new reality adjustment, developing balance is important. Also, a new perspective of what matters is important. The Greater Good Science Center of Berkeley has incredible resources for these ever-evolving and disconnecting times and re-posted a beautiful set of daily quarantine questions created by photographer Brooke Anderson. I adapted these to a checklist for me to find balance and peace in each day. Self-care may be a cliche but it is so very important, especially in these perilous times. Staying well, caring for families, caring for self–all surpasses all things.

I’ve been so grateful for the way that artists, churches, communities, museums, and companies have made space for virtual connection. Online read-alouds, doodles with Mo, visits to the zoo, free access to books for kids and screencasting services for teachers are great opportunities to learn and balms for the weary soul. (Yes, I realize these are also all part of the digital equity gap. That’s another post for another day.)

As I reflect on day four (which feels like day forty), if I could offer any advice, it would be around patience and grace. We are all on very steep learning curves. It might be easy to criticize what someone is doing right versus others. I encourage you to make space for learning and growing, for yourself and for others. (Except for those people who are still crowded on the beach in Florida….those people need to go home.<3) Sending you peace and grace for this time.

What are the gifts of your new realities? What are the thorns? How can I help? Let me know, @teach2connect

 

It’s not just for February.

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Yes, here we are again. That month where in many places, (not yours or mine, of course), the MLK quotes abound and there is a brief glimpse of famous Black Americans here and there and then on March 1st, back to business as usual. Why must we hold all of this for one month? And why aren’t we digging deeply into the rich contributions of Black Americans all the time? Well, I’m not here to get into a deep sociological or political conversation, but rather…how about I share some of the guideposts I’ve seen lately that can help support positive and authentic learning not only in February but all the time? Here you go…

Articles–Some with Lesson Suggestions

Teaching Tolerance: How are You Teaching about Black History?

Beyond Teaching Slavery

Five Ways to Avoid Whitewashing the Civil Rights Movement

Time: How Black Lives Matter Is Changing What Students Learn During Black History Month

Advice for New Social Justice Educators-I Wish I Had Known

HuffPost: 24 Children’s Books for Black History Month (and, whenever)

Epic Reads: 27 Books to Read for Black History Month (mostly YA Lit)

A few books, I’ve mentioned before:

Austin Channing Brown: I’m Still Here-Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Ibram X Kendi: How to Be An Anti-Racist

Podcasts:

Code Switch Podcast: A Code Switch Podcast Playlist for Black History Month

Teaching Hard History Podcast

Standards

Social Justice Standards: Anti-Bias Framework (produced by Teaching Tolerance)

Windows & Mirrors with a side of Standards

How might we use children’s literature to reflect mirrors and create windows for our children?

How might we use children’s literature to meet our goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our curriculum?

These were two of the guiding questions for our full faculty work yesterday as we continuously explore our themes of significance and belonging within our community. Our consideration began by viewing and digesting Grace Lin’s master TEDx Talk (1):

This talk, based on Emily Style’s original article on Windows and Mirrors (2*) within our curriculum, shares Ms. Lin’s personal story of racial bias in literature and childhood leading to a storied career in writing children’s and middle grades literature that highlights the Asian and Asian-American experience without stereotype. Her work provides windows and mirrors for hundreds of thousands of children and adults every year. (We are so excited to welcome Grace Lin to our school this spring!)

Our literacy and DEI teams, and friends of both offered an array of book suggestions to answer these essential questions. Additionally, we considered the framework of “selection-connection-reflection-action” found in Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly’s Reading to Make a Difference (3) Asking ourselves critical questions (p. xx, introduction) such as:

  • “Does the book portray culture accurately without perpetuating stereotypes?”
  • “Does the reader share cultural markers with the characters such as race, ethnicity, or religion?”

In choosing books for the book tasting with faculty, I also chose to make connections to the Teaching Tolerance Critical Practices and Standards for Anti-Bias Education. These standards, available for grades k-12, ground in four themes: identity, diversity, justice, and action. They are written in a way that students can understand and give specific examples of ways to use language appropriately to target standards for students. While I have a fairly deep library of children’s literature that emphasizes windows and mirrors, I chose two books not only for their provision for and connection to these questions and standards, but also because of their rich text, and beautiful illustrations. I also chose two books with windows and mirrors that might be easily overlooked in some classrooms.

My selections:

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The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley (4.) This book is a verse-written story of Temple Grandin from her birth in Boston to her experiences on the ranch to her education and inventions to her success on the speakers’ circuit. It specifically names her disability as autism and speaks of it as “different not less.” It weaves the tale of her masterful brain in a way that allows children to connect to difference, experience empathy, and perhaps, see a mirror of their own divergent and beautiful thinking. (TT Standards: ID.3-5.1, 4. DI.3-5.6-9)

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Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini (5.) Oh, how I wish I could share this gorgeous book with everyone I meet. It is rich with vocabulary to explain the customs and traditions of Muslim life while providing ample opportunities to make connections to other faith traditions, customs, and family life. The best word I could use for this book is resplendent. (TT Standards: ID.K-2.1, 2. DI.K-2.7, 8, 10. JU.K-2.11)

SBTReads112019.jpeg Photo Credit: Jill Gough

The book tasting selections crossed the spectrum of DEI categories, reading levels, and purposes. Our faculty engaged in thoughtful and purposeful discussions around the selections they explored and how they might broaden or deepen their classroom libraries or book choices to reflect our framework. As a sidebar, the opportunity to engage in the reading of children’s books with our peers on a beautiful, sunny Georgia afternoon was a delight.

In creating space for both windows and mirrors in our literature, we allow students to connect to themselves and the world around them. With appropriate preparation, the uses of texts such as these lead to deep conversations of identity, diversity, justice, and action that all of our children need to engage in to become compassionate, thoughtful, global citizens.


  1. Lin, Grace. “Windows and Mirrors on Your Child’s Bookshelf.” YouTube, TEDxNatick, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wQ8wiV3FVo.
  2. Style, Emily. “Curriculum As Window and Mirror.” National SEED Project, School Science Record, 1996, http://www.nationalseedproject.org/Key-SEED-Texts/curriculum-as-window-and-mirror. *This work originates from the work of Rudine Sims Bishop originally published in 1990, found here. While I was most familiar with the SEED article, I’m grateful to my colleague who pointed out the origination.*
  3. Laminack, Lester L., and Katie Stover. Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action. Heinemann, 2019.
  4. Mosca, Julia Finley, and Daniel Rieley. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin. Scholastic Inc., 2018.
  5. Khan, Hena, and Mehrdokht Amini. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: a Muslim Book of Colors. Chronicle Books, 2015.

 

Week in Review 11.16.19

SBT’s Week In Review

One Thing I’m Doing (Did) To Push Myself

I made it through concert week! I had rehearsals/performances each night as well as faculty meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the normal goings-on of school. It is now Sunday afternoon, the concerts are over and its time for renewal before starting over again tomorrow.

One Thing I’m Reading

I’ve been closely following the downfall of the Oregon Project at Nike with formerly beloved Coach Alberto Salazar since one of my heroes, Kara Goucher, began to blow the whistle several years ago. This last week, I’ve read the accounts of Mary Cain, Amy Yoder Begley, and Lauren Fleshman. I’m amazed by their courage, strength, and humility. I hope this is just the beginning (along with the USA Gymnastics/Nassar affair) that finally gets us talking about changing girls’ sports.

One Thing I’m Listening To

I just binged on The Next Big Idea podcast this week. I’ve already read one of the books they discuss (Range), but now have a wish list going of all the other texts on the list.

One Goal I’m Working On

This week, I’m looking ahead to how I’m planning my entire week off for Thanksgiving. I tend to use my time better when I’m busier, so scheduling a balance of work and rest during the week’s vacation is a good idea. (Work meaning reading reading reading!)

One Tool or Resource I Love This Week

I remain ever faithful and grateful for the Goodnotes app. This week, I started to shift to adding articles to it for annotating, as opposed to putting them into my beloved Evernote.  I also use it for all my meeting notes as well as my math classes and sermon sketches. The UI with the iPad/Pencil is just fantastic.

My Favorite Part of The Week

I worked with our new faculty this past week during their session on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We engaged in some identity work using the “Where I’m From” framework found in Reading to Make a Difference. I had done this lesson with our Sixth Graders in an expanded format and it was lovely to share it with our new faculty.

Week in Review 11.8.19

SBT’s Week In Review

One Thing I’m Doing (Did) To Push Myself

I’ve finally finished an essay submission and sent it to a website I hold in high regard. It was a step in faith and I’ll let you know what happens!

One Thing I’m Reading

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t read Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant’s recent article in The Atlantic? Stop Trying To Raise Successful Kids  This sentence has oodles of implications for our work: “Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention.”

One Thing I’m Listening To

I’m catching up on Season Four of Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell and was mesmerized by episodes 1 and 2 which have such implications for our work in education. Are we in it for the long game of the tortoise or the speed game of the hare?

One Goal I’m Working On

In addition to this weekly reflection tool, I’m also working on a daily reflection log specifically surrounding my work. I follow a series of prompts to focus on paying attention to the details of good each week. My goal is to be even more reflective in practice while simultaneously highlighting positivity.

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One Tool or Resource I Love This Week

Our team had the great gift of a few hours of planning retreat this week. Getting focused time to work and plan without distraction was amazing. I say gift because we were blessed with the use of an incredible co-work space here in Atlanta. Eleanor’s Place is a women’s only co-work space that is stunning, beautifully appointed, and dedicated to the empowerment of women. I’m so thankful for this resource this week.

My Favorite Part of The Week

We have a lot of siblings at our school and this week, a few very sweet interactions between siblings. Twin A checking in on Twin B when she seemed down. Big brother and little sister holding hands walking towards class. PreK sister reaching out for Third Grade brother and getting a mid-day hug. Oh, and a bonus of Teacher mom getting a sweet hug from daughter. These moments ground us in our need for familial connection. What a gift to see them in front of me.

a week in review 11.1.19

The other day, I received a lovely email blast from Ryan Sheehy with this set of questions around a weekly reflection. I’ve been producing the Currents series for a while, but this format really spoke to me, so I’ll use it for a while. Thanks, Ryan for being a sharer of great ideas!

SBT’s Week In Review

One Thing I’m Doing (Did) To Push Myself

I decided at the end of summer to audition for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. I was blessed to get in and now spend every Monday night with 200 of my new friends. It is such a gift to sing with dedicated, talented folks. AND, it is a late-night for this lark. I’m pushing myself to keep up with my regular routine of exercise, reading, and morning focus time despite starting Monday with a very late bedtime. Sleep is very important to me, so this is a big push.

One Thing I’m Reading

I’ve started and closed the book, Thanks for the Feedback by Stone and Heen, about ten times in the last few years, but this week decided I need to go back and listen/read/annotate. I’ve been on a growth process to improve my feedback delivery (thank you, Brene Brown, for the phrase, “Clear is Kind”), but I know I need to grow my own resilience and acceptance of feedback in order to grow. I look forward to delving deeper into this layer of growth.

One Thing I’m Listening To

Super Soul Sunday Podcast with OprahThis week, I listened to an interview from a few weeks ago with Malcolm Gladwell around his new book, Talking to Strangers. I haven’t dug into the book, yet, but I know like almost all things Malcolm Gladwell, I’m going to love it.

One Goal I’m Working On

In my ever-evolving relationship with standardized test data, I’ve decided to dig deeper into our data in one area to look for correlations and causations as compared to our in-house data. Of course, I’ve already color-coded a spreadsheet.

One Tool or Resource I Love This Week

Ooh, my teammate, Jill, introduced us to a great new post-It app this week and we completely nerded out in the possibilities for its use

My Favorite Part of The Week

This week, we had a divisional gathering to start our week. We had not done this yet, in my tenure at Trinity, and it was a lovely way to set a tone for the week. I presented the concept of Thirty Days of Gratitude and made a place on my office door for children to express their gratitude each day between now and Thanksgiving Break. Watching our children make intentions to share their gratefulness was pretty amazing and I hope that it is awash with notes by the end of the month! (*I personally am falling the Calm Blog Calendar of Gratitude. Note that this calendar is not for 2019)

 

 

communicating when there is “not time”

Clear communication is vital to a healthy organization. In a community of learners, setting the expectations, communicating dates-times-places, and sharing the missional message are all important aspects of this communication path. But how do you do it in an already stretched thin schedule? How do you maximize instructional time, provide quality access to all subjects including “specials”, and have vital unstructured time throughout the day while still finding time together to share a message?

I have found that harnessing the power of technology can make a big impact on providing clarity of expectations. In year two at my school, I can take the time to have small moment interactions with kids and adults throughout the week. However, the avenue for a large scale message has to be concise and electronic. I have always produced a weekly newsletter for faculty to review dates, share important messages, provide a little nugget of inspiration, and share an article, video, or resource for teaching and learning. But this wasn’t getting my message to students. I was dependent on asking the teachers to share, but then…lightbulb.

In previous settings, I used video to record my substitute plans so that music instruction didn’t have to be on “hold” while I would be elsewhere. I used video to share big announcements like student council. Why wouldn’t I use that here?

While we have access to a beautiful, professional-grade television studio, this is decidedly and purposefully low tech. As if we were having a conversation. I want the kids to see the real, unedited Ms. Thomas so they can get used to me as a regular old person. Already, this has led to great interactions with kids AND provided support to the messages frequently articulated by teachers to students. It emphasizes an all-in approach to our messaging.

Nothing can truly replace actual facetime spent together and this method of communicating at some point will become a “wash”, but for now, I am finding that it allows a consistent way to share our missional messages and set clear expectations so no one can ever say, “you never told me that.” More importantly, it gets all of our student body on the same page. It can be played during morning meetings or snack so as not to take instructional time and is not so long that it loses attention. Thus far in the school year, I have sent three which provides ample time between messages to provide novelty.

How might we work towards clarity of communication when were are strapped for time? For me, an iphone camera, an unlisted youtube account, and an email link are worth their weight in gold. What works for you? Share with me, @teach2connect to continue our learning together.

Currents: Listens & Reads

Listens

TED Radio Hour, Maslow’s Human NeedsThis set of snippets all surround the concepts of the hierarchy of needs. I was particularly drawn to the section by Sebastian Junger. A reminder for us that our emotional needs have to be met before we can ever tackle our intellectual ones.

Calm App, The Big Bad Wolf Goes to Anger Management: I absolutely adore Nick Offerman. From his guest appearance on the first season of The West Wing to Ron Swanson to the Yule Log, I’m not sure he can do wrong. This sleep story was absolutely amazing and while it did not make me sleep, at all, it brought joy and hilarity to my evening.

The Goat Rodeo Sessions: This album was released in 2011, but it is brand new to me. With a quartet of cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma, mandolin master Chris Thile, bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer, this album is eclectic perfection. I found it great driving music as well as focus music.

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Reads

The Washington Post-History Making Mayor: As a former resident of Montgomery, Alabama, I’m simply thrilled at the election of Steven Reed. He is a remarkable, brilliant man with the foresight and fortitude to take on the layered challenges in Montgomery. The city is already on the rise in so many ways and this victory solidifies that trajectory.

The Washington Post-White Teenage Sons…White Supremacy: The alarm has been sounded…we must protect, educate, and insulate our children from the invasive nature of white supremacy. I’ve seen directly what the beginnings of this look like in teenagers and it is terrifying. “White-nationalist and alt-right groups use jokes and memes as a way to normalize bigotry while still maintaining plausible deniability,” Schubiner says, “and it works very well as a recruitment strategy for young people.” Kids will say, “it was just a joke” but it isn’t. This isn’t about being politically correct–it is about being kind, compassionate, and just.

The Washington Post-How to Talk to your middle schooler so they will listen: Phyllis Fagell is a counselor and therapist in DC and the author of the recently released, Middle School Matters, her work is practical and realistic. Connecting with middle school students is difficult and frustrating, yet, when done well, can yield some of the most amazing conversations you’ll ever experience.

New York Times-Finding Balance in a Tiny, Wobbly Boat-I rowed for four months, from January-April of 2003 on Town Lake in Austin, Texas. I was there for a fellowship and took a risk. It was the most glorious experience. I took to it so quickly and yet, it was so difficult. I felt free. I relished in reading Tara Murtha‘s essay about her experience on the Schuykill. How might disconnecting help us actually connect?

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Currents: Listens & Reads

Listens:

Hello Monday with Jessi Hempel (podcast): Episode “Yes, It IS You” with Jerry Colonna: In this episode, the discussion sits around being our whole selves at work; embracing our humanity and that of our colleagues within our work. I am passionate about ensuring that the teachers with whom I work feel comfortable to be themselves and seek/receive buckets of grace as well as the recognition that our work is a piece of our life, not our entire life.

Mahler’s 8th Symphony recorded by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Klaus Tennstedt: I have recently been accepted into the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and our first concert of the season is the Mahler 8. I have not sung it before and it is a doozy. Singing first soprano for the first time in a while adds to the fun challenge. What a gift to get to sing again.

Reads:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I was not one of those people who read The Handmaid’s Tale in school. In fact, I’d never read it before I realized I wanted to get hulu and watch the show. Like many, I was both horrified and mesmerized by Gilead and Offred’s fight for freedom. In devouring the series, I remain the same. So, of course, I was looking forward to the sequel, set 15 years after the end of the first novel. Suspending what was written for the show was a bit of a challenge, but I did appreciate the deeper stories found within The Testaments. While there are reviewers on Goodreads who lament the shift in depth from the original, I still found this book an interesting and enjoyable read.

It’s a Process from Well-Schooled: I very much enjoy all of the essays found on this blog for educators stories. In this particular essay by Lauren Huddleston, we are encouraged to honor our writers and readers along their PROCESS of learning, not only for their product. Since we know that the process is where the bulk of learning takes place, it seems like a no-brainer that we would honor this space for growth.

Great Barrier (poem) by Barbara Kingsolver: This poem was found in TIME Magazine on Sept. 23, 2019 as part of their Climate issue. I find myself going back to the language over and over again as a consideration of the Earth as divine. Her words are such a gift. Simultaneously a balm and a challenge.

Watch: 

Hello, Privilege, it’s me, Chelsea on Netflix: I appreciate this example, set out by an admittedly privileged, famous, wealthy, white woman, to explore what it means to be in a demographic that the world receives as the normal or the status quo. By setting this example of vulnerability, Chelsea Handler normalizes the start of the conversation of white privilege and systemic racism. (NSFKids)

The Politician on Netflix: For fans of Election and anything by Wes Anderson, this new series of ambition, politics, and privileged kid drama is hysterical and heartbreaking. An all-star cast led by Ben Platt will cause delight. (NSFKids)

Currently Reading:

Leading Well by Lucy Calkins

The 5 Practices in Practice by Smith and Sherin

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert