Be The Yoga You Teach: Equity and Justice in Trauma Informed Practices

This morning, I saw this tweet by Paul Gorski challenging us to think about how an equity and justice based approach to trauma-informed practices in schools might look different from common approaches not grounded in equity understanding.

Since becoming a Staff Development Teacher seven years ago, I have learned so much about race, equity, and social justice.  I’m still learning. And confronting.  I work to confront my own biases on a daily basis.  This, I believe, is the first step in our work on equity and justice practices within schools.

“Be the yoga you teach”

This afternoon, I viewed the next module in my online course, “Trauma Informed Yoga for Youth” and learned about their philosophy.  The internal practice of yoga is based on one principle: “be the yoga you teach.”  According to Yoga Ed, “practicing the yoga tools and life skills we wish to nurture in our students allows our work to emerge from an authentic place. The internal practice allows us to utilize yoga tools to empower our teaching.”  In order to “be the yoga we teach” the focus is on building the five pillars of our internal practice: self-awareness, authenticity, curiosity, self-compassion, and empathy.  

I immediately connected with the idea of embedding an equity and justice approach into two of the five pillars of internal practice: self-awareness and authenticity.

Self-awareness is the state of consciously being aware of thoughts and feelings.  When we work with children, we may encounter specific words or actions that cause us to react strongly. These triggers are often connected to our own unresolved emotional experiences from childhood. 

Being self-aware is where we begin the work on our implicit biases.  In this Teaching Channel blog post, guest blogger and author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond explained that, “one of the nation’s leading implicit bias scholars, Patricia Devine of the University of Wisconsin, compares implicit bias to habits that, with intention and practice, can be broken.”  She goes on to explain three conditions needed to successfully “de-bias.” 

  • Intention – the acknowledgement that we harbor unconscious biases and the motivation to change
  • Attention – pay attention to personal triggers and know when stereotypical responses or assumptions are activated
  • Time – make time to practice new strategies designed to “break” your automatic associations that link a negative judgment to behavior that is culturally different (my emphasis) from yours

Cultivating self-awareness in our teaching allows us to recognize our own past experiences and reactions as they are triggered. This awareness empowers us to shift from a place of reactivity to a place of clarity, where we move through our own past to recognize the present experiences of the children in front of us.

According to Yoga Ed, “authenticity fuels self-awareness. To live authentically means to be truthful and open to what is happening in the present moment. By practicing authenticity with ourselves, we honor our thoughts and emotions internally so we are able to monitor and express them effectively. By practicing authenticity in the classroom, we cultivate a safe environment for our students to explore what it means and how it feels to be authentic.”  To me, the pillar of authenticity aligns with Glenn Singleton’s “Speak your truth” agreement from Courageous Conversations About Race

I like when two pieces of my learning life come together into an “aha” moment.  Building my understanding around equity and justice within trauma informed practices is just another piece in my learning puzzle.  I’m going to continue to ask questions and confront issues of equity and justice, especially as my school begins to incorporate trauma informed practices such as yoga, mindfulness, and restorative justice.

©2019 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Belly Flop or Dive? My Experience with Dual Language So Far

Last year, our school became a dual language school, joining a growing number of schools in the country.  We began in Kindergarten and every year we will include the next grade level until the entire school is dual language.  Our students spend half their day learning content in English and half their day learning content in Spanish.  It is an amazing program and our teachers are doing an amazing job.  By the time our current first graders move on to middle school, they will be bilingual and bi-literate.

We have a fantastic mentor and professional developer in Dr. Jose Medina.  I had the pleasure of spending yesterday morning in professional development with him as he led us through learning and sharing around the concept of cross-linguistic connections.  This is a true area of growth and learning for me.  I am as mono-lingual as they come.  But, I am an advocate of this program and of our emergent bilingual students.

I didn’t really have the opportunity to dip my toes in the program last year, but this year, I’m belly flopping in!  I am trying to capitalize on my learning by modeling pieces for our staff, beginning with the 4+1 language domains.  I use the 4+1 language domains when I facilitate professional development.  All teachers in our building are asked to use them in their classrooms.  My next opportunity to sink or swim is through the co-planning of an upcoming staff seminar with our bi-lingual reading specialist.  I already have a few thoughts of how we can bridge the two languages within the content of our meeting.  I’m excited!

But, don’t get me wrong!  I’m scared, too.  This is way out of my comfort zone.  But, the only way to grow is to step outside of our comfort zone and dive (or belly flop) right in!  This, I believe!

©2019 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

I’ve Been Thinking Lately. . .

Recently, I have been facilitating a PLC at school around “Making Thinking Visible.”  And it has me thinking. . . how is it that education seems to have gone so far off course that teachers aren’t able to do their work anymore?  You know, actually teach.  Instead, we are living in such a high stakes testing environment, that teachers are pressured to cover the curriculum and prepare students for tests.  Unfortunately, this has led to teachers focusing more on the completion of work and assignments than on a true development of understanding.  Classrooms have become a place of rote practice.  Students are not taught to think in order to understand.  In fact, we aren’t teaching them to think at all.

While preparing for our next PLC, I began to dig a little deeper into thinking moves.  Students need opportunities for authentic thinking within the discipline areas. That means that we need to teach children what it means to think like a reader, a writer, a mathematician, a scientist, and a historian.  What does it mean to think authentically within these disciplines?  It means that we teach students high leverage thinking moves:

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
  7. Wondering and asking questions
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

I know that in this state of education, it is difficult to stand by our beliefs of good pedagogy.  But, stand by them we must.  Our students are counting on us.  This, I believe.

Resource: Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners

©2019 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Beliefs Drive Instruction

While in Austin last weekend at ILA, I attended “Planning a Year Around Workshop Teaching,” a session presented by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle.  I have had the opportunity to attend individual sessions by each at conferences in the past and I always walk away with new insights into literacy instruction.

They began by stating that “beliefs drive instruction.”  This theory comes directly from Peter Johnston’s Choice WordsBeliefs is something that I have really studied and thought more about this past school year, so right away that spoke to me. Kelly and Penny “believe that teachers must be agents of change.” The motto for ILA this year was “Changemakers.”  It is our time.  It is our turn.  We must be agents of change for our students.  Too many students are falling through the cracks or failing because we fail to see our responsibility as an agent of change.  We must change the trajectory for these students.

Pedro Noguera, a professor at UCLA, says that we continually ask the wrong question: “What can we do to raise student achievement?”  Instead, we should ask, “What can we do to challenge, stimulate, and engage our students?”  When we re-frame our thinking around student achievement, when we realize that change begins with us, when we change the narrative and give our students voice and remind them that they matter, then we will begin to see results.  Because, when we believe in our students, when we believe they can achieve at high levels, when we believe they have a purpose and a voice to share, they will rise up!

With these beliefs in mind and heeding the call of “agent of change”, I have spent the better part of today rethinking the reading block for the new school year.  With Kelly and Penny’s guidance through their book,  180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents I have begun to develop a way for elementary teachers to plan units of study around topics that matter to students.

I hope to stay on top of this thinking this year and share my learning here.

©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Change Begins with Us! My Reflections on ILA 18

I just spent time in Austin at the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference.  I return refreshed, rejuvenated, motivated, and ready to get back to work.  I’m not going to lie.  Our work in education is hard.  But it’s necessary.  Now more than ever.

The Opening Session speakers were powerful and just what I needed to motivate me to keep going.  I am saddened by the state of education today.  I love my job and know that I am where I’m supposed to be, but every day gets harder and harder. And I’m not in the classroom.  I’m on the periphery trying to support our teachers who are on the front lines.

Adan Gonzalez began with a story about his name. I am paraphrasing, but he said, “Mi nombre is more than letters and vowels put together. Mi nombre is the blood, sweat, and tears of my parents. My parents are not drug dealers, gang leaders, or rapists. They are Mexican immigrants.”  He continued to tell us about a child who became a criminal at 8.  The child was playing in the community park and was asked to leave by police officers because he did not have a permit.  The more years that passed, the more experiences that child had that shaped his life of criminality.  The life of criminality that was created because the child did not look like the white police officers.  The life of criminality that was created because the child spoke Spanish.  Adan was the 8 year old child.

“I am a criminal because I highjacked the pursuit of happiness. The system did not want me to be successful.”                                                                                                                                        ~Adan Gonzalez

I just love Cornelius Minor.  I have followed him on Twitter for the last year or so and admire his passion for equity, specifically his call to action to break down the oppressive barriers that hold education hostage for students of color, language learners, and/ or based on a student’s socio-economic status.  I hold Cornelius up with Glenn Singleton and Zaretta Hammond as my mentors for equitable education.  Cornelius spoke to using literacy as an equity tool.  We need to hold ourselves accountable to the belief that all children have the right to be taught to read and write, because teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.  As such, we need to remain vigilant in ensuring that all of our students receive the education they have the right to in spite of, or perhaps because of, the disparities that exist in our education system today.

“To know that these conditions have nothing to do with children and everything to do with a public that has simply gotten used to certain kids getting less, is to know irrepressible rage.  I will never be used to this.  We can never be used to this.”                                                                                                   ~Cornelius Minor

Dr. Nadia Lopez “opened a school to close a prison” and she is unapologetic in saying that.  She saw a need and she acted, opening a charter school in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States, Brownsville, Brooklyn.  The average income is $11,000 and the cost of living in NY is $45,000.  Just look at the disparity!  But, through her school, she is working to change the trajectory of her student scholars.  She reminds them that their “zip code doesn’t have to determine [their] destiny.” She takes them on field trips to Harvard and other Ivy League schools and shows them that one day they too, can be a student in these colleges.

“Changing the narrative gives our children voice and reminds them that they are visible.”                                                                                                                                                                                ~Dr. Nadia Lopez

Change truly begins with us. We must confront our implicit biases, reflect on our inherent beliefs, and create a vision for the change we want to see.  We can’t wait any longer. The time is now.  Our students are counting on us.