What are the responsibilities of a teacher?

I had the privilege during my travels in the States last month to visit a democratic free school (based on the Sudbury model) and a homeschool resource centre. I graduate from a different democratic free school seven years ago (🙀), and I found myself drawing a lot of parallels but noting a few key distinctions.

In both communities, the spaces are clearly student-centred, with couches and large community tables in place of rows of desks. Students have access to shelves and shelves of all different genres of books, musical instruments, computers, art supplies, and other resources. There is a School Meeting once per week in which the community votes on key issues of importance to the community. There is a small Judicial Committee composed of youth and staff that handles small issues that concern just one or a few members of the community.

At this particular democratic free school, to graduate, students must write a thesis demonstrating their readiness to leave the support of the free school community and enter the adult world. One of the staff members pointed out that he would never have been able to do that when he was a senior graduating from high school. It does seem to be a more authentic way of demonstrating one’s readiness to move on to the next stage of life than a bunch of letter or number grades given to you by an authority figure that are supposed to tell you about what facts you have memorised.

Some key differences between these models of education and compulsory schooling: facts (which can be and often are easily forgotten) vs. skills (which will serve us for life), and what to think vs. how to think.

Since August, I have been teaching New Entrants (five-year-olds) in a wonderful, student-centred, progressive school. I adore my colleagues and administration and am fortunate to have a lot of liberty in how my classroom runs. Our syndicate is embracing play-based learning, and there has been a marked shift to supporting skill-building and tamariki (children)’s own inquiry process. I have been trying to work out how much of my unschooling and free school background I can bring into my classroom while still working within a conventional school environment. So that brought me to re-examining what my role is. What is my responsibility as an adult in the classroom?

There is clearly:

Do no harm.

Nurture my children’s natural curiosity.

Facilitate opportunities for deeper inquiry.

Facilitate development of strong social-emotional skills so that tamariki grow up able to articulate their own emotions and successfully navigate conflict with others.

Nurture an environment in which each child feels welcome and supported and sees their culture and identities represented.

What more would you add to this list? What are the concrete actions we are/should be taking to fulfill these responsibilities every day?

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How do we support the children?

#postcards4families

If you’re anything like me, this week has left you nauseated and feeling paralysed. The ongoing detention camps, Justice Kennedy’s resignation, the blow to unions, the court’s upholding the Muslim ban, it’s all overwhelming. And still, we can’t let it paralyse us. Self care is essential; please do what you need to do to recharge and keep fighting. Part of being an educator means standing up for kids. It means creating and demanding safety. Here’s a simple activity we can do with little ones to demand justice for children and families:
Write a post card to Trump demanding justice for children and their families, take a photo of it, and post it with the hashtag #postcards4families —> the organizers will donate $5 per post card to RAICES, a non-profit providing free and low-cost legal services to under-served immigrant children, families and refugees. If you’re a kid, write your age, and they will credit it as a postcard they match. (Ones by adults are great too! but they are focusing on donating for kids’ cards at the moment.) Info and addresses at the link below. The organisers have created a page to post the images to. Or/and if you have the resources, run a fundraiser yourself! Please share!

https://www.facebook.com/postcards4families/

#postcards4families

28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (2018)

Scott Woods Makes Lists has published a lovely annotated list of some excellent picture books. Educators, families, all humans, head to the library and check some out today! Have some extra cash? Here’s an idea; buy a copy, read it to your kids, and *donate* it to the library so both you and the other kids in your town can have access ❤ 28 MORE Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball (2018)

There is a good range of topics, poetry and prose, and harder and easier reading levels, many accessible for ELLs.

How do we smash the gender binary with English Language Learners?

I’ve been really struggling with how to be respectful of gender identity and avoid reinforcing the gender binary when speaking in a language that genders everything. Just asking “what is your name?” in Hebrew (and in most languages I’m familiar with besides English!) requires the speaker to assume the other person’s gender identity (male or female, no other options). How do you ask pronouns in a language that genders the sentence “what are your pronouns?”

Teaching primary school ESOL and EFL adds a whole second layer of complexity. Continue reading

“What are those dots on your face?”

Four-year-old: [looking up from Lego helicopter] What are those dots on your face?

Me: They’re called acne. I’m not sick. They’re just part of my skin. Most people get some pimples when they become teenagers, and a lot of people, like me, have them as adults too. They come and go.

Four-year-old: They look icky.

Me: Sometimes they feel icky on my face, too, and other times they feel fine. Sometimes I even forget they’re there.

Four-year-old: But I don’t have them.

Me: I know, not yet. You’ll probably get some when you’re a teenager, but you may not. Not everyone does.

Four-year-old: [silence as he plays with Lego set]

Four-year-old: [suddenly reaches toward my face]

Me: Please stop and wait. Were you wanting to feel the dots on my face?

Four-year-old: Yes.

Me: Okay. That’s fine with me. It’s just important to always ask before you touch someone’s body. Can you try asking, “May I please touch the dots on your face?”

Four-year-old: May I please touch the dots on your face?

Me: Sure! I don’t mind. Just please be gentle. Thanks for asking.

Four-year-old: [feels gently, wrinkles nose] Ew. [pulls hand away, smiling]

Me: Yeah, they’re kind of funny sometimes. It’s okay to feel them because I said it’s okay. When you want to touch someone’s body, you just have to ask first if it’s okay. Only if they say “yes,” then it’s okay. If they say “no,” it’s not okay and it’s really important that you respect that. I said yes, so it’s okay.

Four-year-old: [feels my face one more time in interest, then goes back to Legos]

I have a variation on this conversation pretty often. I hope the message gets through. Also. I find it really interesting that it is so, so much easier for me to be body positive around young kids. Most of the time, I’m super self-conscious about my acne (which has been particularly strong for aroung twelve years or so), and really hate it. And then I hate that I hate it, and I feel like a bad feminist, because I know it’s just part of my body that I can’t control, and it doesn’t inherently make me ugly, and I shouldn’t cover myself up, and blah di dah all of that that’s easy to say and difficult to feel. And then I tell myself my feelings are valid anyway. And then I get into a big argument with myself and just end up putting on some basic concealer to go to work and forget about it. Somehow, with four-year-olds, that whole self-conscious narrative just melts away. I’m just me. And they’re just them. And that’s okay. Wow.

What Do We Tell The Children?

“Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong.”

It goes without saying that I’ve been reeling with grief and shock this week. Here are some concrete words I was able to pull strength from in my conversations with students this week, from The Huffington Post. The article bears reading in full:

What Do We Tell The Children?

“Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school.”

“We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.” 

Now we regroup, and we tell the people we love that they are loved and they matter over and over and over again. My question to myself this week: How can I most effectively leverage my skills and the privileges I have left to stand up for and support the young people who are going to spend a key portion of their formative years under the reign of a bigot who promotes sexual assault?

If you are devoted to this same goal as a fellow educator and/or advocate and/or restless globetrotter, I’d love to hear your ideas below. More to come soon. 

TAKE OUR QUIZ: Should you work at a life-changing leadership camp for teens changing the world?

Are you an activist-educator and would like an amazing job this summer? OR do you know a teenager who wants to strengthen their activism skills to make the world a better place? I worked with Youth Empowered Action camp as a mentor to teen activists last summer and can’t recommend it highly enough. See below!

Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp

1557406_10152624735564698_107012194_o-300x199YEA CAMP IS HIRING FOR THE SUMMER!

Take our quiz to see if you should apply to work at our life-changing summer camp for social change!

1. Want to work with the best teenagers in the world and have a super inspiring experience with amazing staff in a beautiful location this summer? Do you want to be an important part of a program training and supporting the next generation of changemakers addressing the pressing issues of our time?

2. Are you a dedicated progressive activist working in positive, peaceful, strategic ways to make our world a better place? Do you have experience in lots of different types of activism and are you supportive of a variety of progressive issues, including animal rights, climate change, anti-racism, women’s rights/pro-choice, and gay rights? Can you model being respectful of people who disagree with you? (No angry activists, please.)

yeacampersclimate33. Do you have experience…

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