Checking My Bias at the Door

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As a non-white educator, my biases are not called out, well, at all.  But that does not mean I should not be aware that biases exist.  I’m going to be completely transparent in this post so…warning

For my entire career I have worked within Title 1 schools on purpose.  While in undergraduate school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a Non-Title school where I developed the bias “*these kids are entitled and I am not valued here”.

*Definition: white kids with parents who are lawyers, doctors, pilots, etc., kids of privlege

From that point, in 2003, I decided I would never teach in a Non-Title school.  Driven by my bias, I concluded what I had to offer would be wasted on *these kids.  The exclusion of a group based on their level of privilege; it’s harsh as I type it out but it is my truth.  And what was it I had to offer?  My philosophy has been to approach learning from a social emotional stance, providing students with a voice on how they learn best and meet them where they are.  Sidebar, this philosophy has evolved over time but the essence has remained the same.

So who did I feel was deserving of my teaching love and affection?  Students within Title 1 schools, more specifically, schools whose students looked like me.  I want to believe it all happened by happenstance, teaching at schools with a large African American population.  I would not say, I sought out these schools, especially not as much as I avoided Non-Title schools.  Over the past 15 years, I have poured my all into the children I taught.  Expectations were all ways high, the work was always intentional, the thought was always **my kids could.

**Definition: African American students from low socio-economic areas.

Still blinded to my biases, I was awarded the opportunity to support teachers within my school district with math instruction.  Two of the three schools I support have a high Hispanic population.  Enter screech sound here.  What?  How do you teach ***those kids?

***Definition: Any student who has English as a second language.

I immediately began to do some “research” on how to teach ***those kids.  I reached out through Twitter and email to educators who have worked in schools with high Hispanic populations.  The message was all the same, “Good teaching is good teaching, nothing is different”.  My biases began to creep to the surface.  Then my new supervisor stated the same thing to me as we stood in the parking lot.  Her look lack judgment but her words exposed my bias.  The exposure was hard to swallow, but necessary to digest.

So I asked myself, what makes *these kids and ***those kids so different from **my kids.  Answer, me! It was my own biases which didn’t match my belief of every kid deserves a solid foundation in mathematics and the flexibility to learn in their own way.  So now that I am naked before you, let me share my next steps in hopes that when your biases are exposed you can work to eliminate them.

Yes, I have a bias, now what?

Define what good teaching is and what it looks like.  For me good teaching starts with a context which automatically engages the learner.  This context allows the learner to bring their own knowledge to the table and and naturally discover what they know and what they don’t know.  It looks like consistently identifying misconceptions and developing a plan to intentionally address the misconceptions in a timely manner.  Good teaching allows for student goal setting and self assessment in addition to the formative assessment pieces determined by the teacher.

Be conscious of your thoughts.  Where are your expectations?  Be intentional about keeping the bar high no matter who is in front of you.  Reflection helps to check your “bar level”.  If your thoughts are focused on what the students can’t do instead of what they can and build from there you may be encountering your biases.

Remember your why.  What’s your philosophy?  Why are you an educator?  Check your actions and thoughts against your why.  If they don’t match, change your actions and thoughts.

Confess your flaws to a trusted colleague or friend.  Someone who is a critical friend and will call you out on the biases and help you work through them.  Not the person who will feed into your biases and deepen the level of the roots.

 

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Catching My Breath

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How is it that we’re 6 weeks into the school year and this is my first time blogging?! It could be the fact we were out three days last week due to Hurricane Irma and the following two days were a whirlwind. Or the start of a personalized learning format has been taxing. I feel as though I haven’t been able to catch my breath.

My First Two Weeks

I wanted my Math Enrichment classes to be a place students wanted to come and learn math. I wanted it to be a place where they knew they had a voice and flexibility with a balance of structure. So we spent the first two weeks establishing our routines and procedures.

We had flexible seating in our classroom. Seats were assigned using playing cards. Students would enter the classroom, place their book bags near the door, find their seats and read the Daily Message. It worked well for us. Students never fought over who would sit where and they would have all materials needed for class before I was done greeting the last student.

Because students would work independent of my instruction, we needed clear expectations. What better way than for students to set the expectation for themselves. So each class participated in their own affinity map activity.

Each class had their own unique set of expectations in which they were held to during self guided work time. Of course I had to remind some that they in fact set the expectation they we currently not meeting. Ownership goes a long way.

The Work Began Week Three

We didn’t begin jumping into content until the 3rd week of school. The personalized learning curriculum developed for my course has 4 levels for each unit. I had all students begin at level 1.

Each day we were to complete self guided assignments, students would complete our goal setting form before diving into the assignments. At the end of the work session, students would complete a reflection form.

I was in a groove, and 5 weeks into the year, I was informed I was moving to 7th grade…

The Evolution of a Butterfly

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It’s hard to find a place to begin with this post. So let me set the context with this video. Austin’s Butterfly

My Butterfly Experience

So I developed a rubric using the language of the SMPs my students determined. I had to get grades in the grade book which prompted me to use the rubric before receiving any feedback on it. Let me tell you people, receiving feedback when your back is against the wall doesn’t feel good AT ALL. Feedback which would normally empower you now makes you feel inadequate. I’m currently on the fourth draft of my butterfly Task Rubric.

A Classroom Full of Butterflies

After showing my students the video above, we discussed what they noticed within the video.
“He never gave up.”
“His friends have him feedback and were nice about it.”
“It takes a while to get it right.”
Are all comments that came up in all four classes.

This was followed by discussing our classroom expectation which is our task rubric. Students scored sample student work and provided feedback telling the student what they needed to do in order better meet the expectation.

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To summarize this activity, students compared their own task to the rubric. They were able to ask their shoulder partners for feedback on ways to improve. I provided them with the option to add more to their task or leave it as is.

The evolution of a butterfly

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7th Graders Interpretation of the SMPs

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I had my students interpret the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  What they came up with is better than some I’ve seen teachers produce in PLs I’ve conducted in the past.  Now the SMPs are something I can reference and know my students will understand to what I am referring.

After discussing standards 1-4, I had my students engage in Comparing Temperatures from Illustrative Mathematics.  Students had to determine which of the 4 standards were evident while they were completing the task.  So not only were they aware of the SMPs but also they now knew what those standards looked like in action.

In my blog post, SMPs According to 7th Graders, I share a few examples of their interpretations. Next steps will be, posting the SMPs in the language developed by the students on an anchor chart and using their language to develop a rubric in which we use the SMPs to score math tasks.

Voices Carry

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I remember when I was a teenager all I wanted to do was buck the system. I wanted to have things my way and do things my own way. The desire for any sense of freedom fueled me to voice an opinion that wasn’t inquired.

As the 1st day approached, I decided I wanted to give my students the opportunity to have a voice within our classroom. When asked what they felt should be our classroom expectations here’s what they came up with.

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