This Cannot Be The Solution

Explaining what it means to be gay is so easy that a two year old could do it. Literally. I’ve seen my own kid do it.

My wife and I and our two and a half year old, Millie, were at the park one evening. As kids so beautifully do, my daughter made friends with another little boy who was at the park with his dad and his brother. They ran all over that park. After a while, they had worn themselves out so the two of them sat down on a bench together. My wife and I stood nearby, far enough so that we didn’t appear to be the smothering, hovering types of parents that inside we were dying to be, but close enough that we could still hear what these two were discussing.

I can’t exactly say that the exchange between the two kids qualified as a discussion, but at some point Millie pointed to my wife and I and said, “That’s my family.” And the little boy then pointed to his own father and brother and said, “That’s my family. That’s my brother and my daddy. Where’s your daddy?” While my wife and I were ready to swoop in and make the potential discomfort go away, Millie didn’t skip a beat. She simply replied, “I don’t have a daddy. I have a Mommy and a Mama.” And that was it. The boy sort of nodded his head and then they ran off to dig in the dirt.

And in that moment. I was reminded. We adults. We have messed things up big time. We have taken something that could be explained quite simply, as my toddle has now proven, and we have turned it in to something that resembles a bit of a mess. We have taken something simple and we have made it political. We have made it controversial. We have made it uncomfortable.

And no where is this clearer to me than in the discussion that surrounds using books with LGBT characters in the classroom. Every so often another story makes it into the news that a school has had some controversy surrounding the use or mere presence of a book with LGBT characters in a classroom or in the school library. Usually this is somehow connected to younger children. And usually one of the loudest arguments is that parents do not believe that they should have to explain what it means to be gay to their young children. That this will be too confusing for their child. That this will mean they will have to talk about sex with their first grader. That this will open too many dangerous doors. That this will somehow harm their child and destroy their child’s innocence.

To those who are making this argument, I would like to offer my two year old daughter to help you out. Seriously. Have your child call my child and she will quickly explain what it means to have gay parents. If your child has been exposed to the book And Tango Makes Three or the book In Our Mothers’ House and is simply perplexed by the existence of a family with two moms or two dads, then just have your kid give my kid a call and she will help you out.

I don’t mean to sound snarky (though of course I really do) but I honestly am just enraged by this argument. As I have written before, if you do not want to be bothered to explain that there are different kinds of people in this world and different kinds of families in this world then what would you like me to do about my family? Should I honestly hide myself from you and your child so that your child doesn’t ask you any questions? Should I tell my daughter to lie about who her family is so that she doesn’t accidentally make you uncomfortable?

I have tried to write about this without getting overly emotional, without sounding angry. But I just can’t. I understand that people will read this and think that of course I feel this way. I am biased. I am gay. Of course I want their to be books about people like me in the classroom. I am only seeing one side of this argument. And yes, of course that is true. But I also think there is cause for discussion here.

We now live in a country where gay marriage is legal in every single state. We now live in a time when more and more gay and lesbian couples are having children. We now live in a country where more likely than not, every single child growing up today will one day come into contact with a gay or lesbian or transgender person. And when that time does come, when that moment arrives, I would hope that these children will not be surprised to discover that LGBT people do, in fact, exist.

What an incredible opportunity for each child to first meet LGBT people through the pages of a picture book. Just like many of our children first meet someone with a disability or someone of a different race or someone from a different country within the safety of the pages of a picture book, so too can they now meet people who are LGBT in the same manner. However, they can only happen if we allow our children access to these books. These books that now exist. These books that are now being written. These books that are now being published. We must do our part to put them into the hands of children.

A few months ago, I was engaged in several discussions about the book George, which tells the story of George who was born a boy but has always felt that she is really a girl. More recently, I have been reading stories of a school in Michigan who decided not to allow the newest Captain Underpants to be sold at their in-school book fair because one of the main characters is revealed to be gay. In both of these discussions people arrive at what they believe is a compromise. What they believe is a solution. And it always involves parent permission.  Because it seems wrong to ban these books all together, schools are willing to allow these books, or others just like them, to exist but in some sort of special section. And students can only have access to these books if they have a parent’s permission.

It seems like that is no big deal. It seems like that is a solution that will make everyone happy. It seems that this is a solution. But I truly believe, with my whole heart, that this cannot be the solution.

I think about the message that this sends to any child who is gay, any child who is transgender, any child who has gay or lesbian or transgender parents. And that message is not okay. It is not okay to tell children, through the actions that we take, that who they are or who their family is will not be okay for any child to read about. It is not okay to tell children that who they are belongs in a separate section of the library. It is not okay to tell a child that their family cannot be read about in the same way that all other families are read about. It is not okay to send the message that who a child is not only makes them different but it also makes them unsuitable for a picture book.

I imagine my own child coming home one day and telling us that she could not check out a book from her school’s library that was about a family just like ours until we signed a permission slip for her. I imagine her holding out that permission slip and I imagine my own heart breaking.

I imagine a child who has felt different his entire life finally finding a book, like George, that tells the story of exactly who he is and then finding out that he cannot check that book out until his parents sign a form telling the school that it is okay for him to read it. Before he ever gets a chance to find out if his own parents would accept him or not, he is sent the message that some parents wouldn’t want their children knowing that people like him exist in this world.

I imagine an older child who is scared to death of her parents finding out that she might be gay. I imagine her relief in discovering online that there is a book, like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, that is written with a character just like her who has to navigate through the world feeling uncertain of whether or not her family will accept her once they find out who she really is. I imagine that child so excited to get advice and wisdom and solace from this book and then finding out that in order to check this book out from her school’s library she has to have her parents, the very ones she is terrified of, sign a piece of paper before she is allowed to read the book.

I imagine these children finding themselves so close to the very books that could save their lives or save their hearts and then finding out that they cannot read them.  That these books are different than all others. That these books require adult permission.

And I imagine all the other children. The children who simply want a chance to learn about others who are different from them. The children who have heard people saying negative things about people who are gay and wanting to simply learn more about what that even means. The children who have heard jokes about Caitlyn Jenner and simply want to better understand what someone like Caitlyn Jenner might be experiencing. All of these children who are simply looking to learn from the pages of a book, to build empathy for others, to discover what it is like to be someone so very different than themselves. All of these children who are searching for these books, but not finding them because they have been pulled and put on a separate shelf, or behind the checkout counter, or on a different bookcase behind the teacher’s desk. These children also deserve these books and deserve a chance to meet these characters and better understand their lives.

I am certainly not saying that every book written with an LGBT character is appropriate for every age of students. I would never book The Miseducation of Cameron Post on the shelves of my 5th grade classroom library. The book is not appropriate for fifth graders but not  BECAUSE of the existence of an LGBT character. And I suppose that is what I am asking. Do not count out a book simply because of the presence of an LGBT character. That character alone cannot make a book inappropriate. That character alone is not justification to seek parental approval.  That character alone is not reason to put the book in a separate section.

And I am not speaking to the teachers who do not love and accept LGBT people in general. I am not speaking to those who themselves believe that being gay is a sin. I am not speaking to those teachers and librarians and administrators who are still hoping that gay marriage will once again be illegal. I am talking to all the rest of us. Those who support and love LGBT people and students and parents. Those who wish for a world where all LGBT students and teachers feel safe being who they are in our schools. Those who tell me they are happy for me and for my family and for my daughter. Those who tell me I am brave for coming out.

You are the ones who have the chance to really make a change. Because I am only brave if I am doing what I do on my own. If I am standing up all by myself. If I am not surrounded by others who are also reading books with LGBT characters and also suggesting books with LGBT characters and putting those books into the hands of our students. Then yes, I suppose what I am doing is brave. Because doing anything on your own is a scary thing and a brave thing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all decide to make these books available for our students. We can all help our students to read these books and understand these books and these lives. We can all start to make our schools and our world safer for LGBT students and parents and people.

I like to think that despite the continued news stories. Despite the continued controversy. Despite the continued outrage. That one day, we can learn something from my two year old. One day we can see that answering a child’s questions about someone who is gay is not as hard as we have made it seem. And, in fact, it just might be the very thing that we need in order to create a world where books about all sorts of people can exist together on the bookshelves in our schools and in our classrooms.

Using the Stories of Others to Begin Conversations on Race with My Students

The past few days, in my classroom, I have begun our reading lessons with a mix of nerves, anticipation, anxiety, and hope. You see, for the past week, we, my fifth grade students and I, have been talking about race. And I will be honest. It is somewhat terrifying. Terrifying because I, a white American woman, often worry that I am going to say the wrong thing in conversations about race. Terrifying because for my students, a vast majority of them who are also white Americans, have rarely, if ever, been engaged in conversations about race that go beyond, “A person’s skin color doesn’t matter.” Terrifying because race is NOT something I am an expert on, far from it. Terrifying because I am always worried that the words I choose to use will be the wrong ones. That I will offend. That I will do more harm than good. Terrifying because I know these conversations will often be uncomfortable.

And they must be. Because if we continue to sit in what is comfortable, nothing will ever really change in this country. They must be because people are facing far more discomfort that I am every single day because of the problems surrounding race that exist in this country and the problems that exist that we have refused to talk about and discuss for far too long.  And we are all afraid of saying the wrong thing, but I have come to believe with my whole heart that if I continue to say nothing, then I am playing a huge role in perpetuating the very problems that I am refusing to talk about.

I have written before of the responsibility I feel as a teacher to have conversations about race. Last year, we began to dig into these conversations, but this year. This year these conversations are the focus of my reading instruction early on in the year. I begin my reading workshop by studying how we can use books as both mirrors and windows.  The first few weeks of our reading work together was spent talking about how we can see ourselves reflected in the books we read and how this can help us to better understand our texts and to feel less alone in the world. Then, we moved our conversations into how books can also be windows into the lives of other people. People whose lives are different than our own.

And here, is where I have found an opportunity to delve into issues of race.

Because the way that I have learned about the true and terrifying realities about race that exist today in our country is by listening to the stories of those who live those realities every single day.  The best way for me to learn the things that I do not and cannot know, about what it is like to be a race other than white, is to learn from the stories of others. And I can do that same thing for my students. By using the stories that others so bravely are willing to share, I can help my students to learn about the lives of other people while we learn to be better and more careful readers.

By using the stories of other people, by letting others teach us what they know, I do not have to pretend to be an expert. I do not have to have all the answers. I do not have to worry as much about saying the wrong thing. Because my job is to help my students to see that these stories exist in the world and my job is to help my students learn by listening to the stories of others. So that is where we began.

We spent our first day talking about the books that my students have read that have helped them to better understand the lives of others. I began by book talking the book George and explaining how this book helped me to better understand the lives of children who are transgender. Then I spoke about the book Ruby on the Outside and shared how it helped me to better understand the lives of children who have a parent who is in jail. Then, I asked the kids to share examples from their own reading lives and our conversation lead to this incredible anchor chart:

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Once the kids saw that books can be windows into the lives of others, then we started to talk about how we can use the true stories that other people are willing to share with us in order to better understand the lives of other people. This led us to a really nice tie in to the memoir unit that we have been working on in writing workshop. We have spent a lot of time talking about the power of telling our own stories and now we can look at the flip side of that and see the power of reading the stories of other people.

As we began these conversations, it was important to me that before we listen to or read anyone else’s stories that we have some conversations about the responsibility of the reader or listener while sharing in someone else’s story.  We talked about HOW we can listen to or read people’s stories so that we truly can learn from them and build empathy and gain understanding. These conversations were powerful and here are some of the ideas that we came up with:

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We spent quite a lot of time talking about the importance of accepting other people’s experiences as their own truth and the vital importance of not dismissing someone else’s story or someone else’s experience. This was a new concept for so many of my students and I was so grateful to be able to watch as their eyes were opened and to be a part of this joint discovery in how to listen to the stories of others.

And then it was time to get to work. I shared with the students that I have spent a lot of time over the course of the last school year and this summer trying to better understand issues of race. I shared that after Ferguson, I realized that there was too much that I did not know and did not understand about race. I told them that sometimes the learning that I did was hard and scary and that I often messed up but that I knew that I couldn’t NOT learn more about race because the issues were too important and I had a responsibility to work to understand them.  I then shared with them that the best way that I have found to better understand what it is like to be a race other than white was to listen, really listen, to the stories of others. I told them that I wanted to do this type of learning with them.

Then I reassured them that they might feel uncomfortable, that they would probably mess up somewhere along the way, that they might not understand some of the things that we were learning. And all of that was okay. We were going to do this together.

So we got started. I told them that because this concept was so complex and difficult, we were going to start without any text in front of us. Before we read the stories of others, we were going to learn to just listen to the stories of others that have been recorded and shared on video. On Thursday, we began by listening to the stories of some extremely brave 12 year olds who spoke about race. We watched THIS video that was a part of a series called, “Being 12.”

The first time, we jut watched the video. I asked them to listen to the words of the kids and be aware of any new understandings that these words led to.  The video is a short four and a half minutes, but there is SO much shared in that brief amount of time.

After watching the video once, I asked the students to share some overall understandings that the video led them to. A lot of the kids were too overwhelmed to share much. There seemed to be too much to think about for kids who had NEVER been asked to think about these things before. Some students spoke of understandings that were not at all tied to the video but still relying on news stories or pop culture. It would have been easy to give up at this point, to say that I had tried, that it was just too hard for 5th graders and move on. But I knew that there was more in my students’ minds than what I was hearing. I knew that we just needed more time. And I realized that we needed to break things down a little bit more.

But there were a few really important insights shared after the first viewing of the video. After listening to reactions and sharing some of my own, two things were made clear to me about my students understanding, or lack of understanding, about race:

  1. My students didn’t realize that white was a race. The vast majority of my students are white and they had no idea that the word race had anything to do with them.
  2. My students were shocked to hear me say that I have been treated certain ways because of my race. They did not realize that people make assumptions of me because I am white and that people interact with me in a certain way based on those assumptions. The concept of white privilege is far beyond their understanding right now because they do not even understand that people who are white get treated a certain way because of it.

These were such important realizations for me because they helped me to see how very far we have to go and how incredibly important it was that we were starting to have these conversations.   This is where my students are right now and like every single other thing we do with kids, I am going to meet them where they are and gently push them forward.

So on Friday. I told the students that we were going to watch the video again. But this time I asked them to take out a piece of paper. I had them make a two-column chart. On the top of the first column I had them write, “What I heard” and on the top of the second column I had them write, “What it helped me to understand.” And then we watched the video again, but this time we stopped after every fifteen seconds or so.  I began by modeling how my own understandings grew throughout the video.

At the start of the video, the children being filmed introduced themselves and shared their race. I stopped at this point and wrote down that what I heard were introductions. Then I wrote that what it helped me to understand was that race was more than just black and white. It also helped me to understand that you cannot assume you know the race of a person simply by looking at that person. Then I played a bit more of the video.

The next part of the video is a 12 year old girl sharing the story of bringing in food that her family from Venezuela eats and being made fun of for it. As she recounts the story, you can hear the nervous laughter in her voice. I stopped the video there and wrote down that what I heard was nervous laughter and what it helped me to understand was the deep pain that an experience like this can cause a person and the shame that children carry around after being made fun of for being different.

We continued like this throughout the first half of the video.

And then we ran out of time. The kids had so much to write down that we could not finish by the end of the day on Friday. So we will pick back up with our work on Monday.

This work has been heavy. This work has been challenging. This work has only just begun for us. We have so much more to think about and talk about. But I have been so inspired by my students and their willingness to dive into these issues. I had kids willing to work up until the very last minute of reading workshop on a Friday afternoon. I had kids begging me to let them skip their next subject so that we could finish the video. I had kids itching to share their thinking and new understandings about race.

We will finish this video on Monday and then my plan is to continue with two more videos, both of the TED talks. One from Clint Smith and one from Mellody Hobson. We will do similar types of work before moving on to doing this work with stories that we read instead of listen to.

I am no longer quite so terrified and that is mostly because of these kids. These kids, they WANT to talk about race. They want to understand. They want to know and to do better.  They might have absolutely no idea where to start and they might be completely unaware of so many things that they need to become aware of, but they have made one thing incredibly clear. These kids, they do not want to be protected from these important conversations.

The Assessments that Matter Most Can Never Be Standardized

What those in charge (I lose track of who that even is anymore) will never realize is that the assessments that matter most to us as teachers, those can never be standardized. We can never standardize the most meaningful measures of growth because they tell us what really matters about the completely unstandardized humans that are entrusted to us each day and their growth in the completely unstandardized areas that really matter in turning these humans into better learners and better citizens of the world. These children who look to us to help them see the many ways that they are growing, these children are moving along an infinite number of uncharted paths as they grow and then struggle and then grow and then struggle, all the while keeping their eyes on what they will be able to accomplish next.

And those uncharted paths, we can’t turn those into the numbers or charts or pretty color coded graphs that people so desperately seem to want these days.  We can’t take those personal successes and signs of growth and use them to tell you (whoever you are) who is succeeding and who is failing and who is good enough and who is not quite good enough according to your meaningless measures. It just doesn’t work that way. No matter how much money you want to spend trying to find a way to make it work that way.

Because, you see, what those in charge don’t know is that the assessments that matter most are the ones that are scrawled across whatever scraps of paper we can manage to find when we notice several kids struggling with the same concepts so that we remember to pull them into a small group later that day.

The assessments that matter most are the quick charts we create during writing workshop when we noticed that some of the kids are happily writing while others seem to be doing anything but and we want to make sure we remember who needs more support finding a way into his or her writerly life.

The assessments that matter most are the quotes that we overhear that we tuck instantly away in our hearts because they show us the first glimmer of a student becoming a writer who never thought he was one before.

The assessments that matter most are the notes we take in our binders when we speak one-on-one in a reading conference and we find the gold in what our children are saying that shows us just how much they really hear us even when we think they don’t.

The assessments that matter most are the ones that our children themselves are a part of creating because the act of creating an assessment alone shows us that even if a student isn’t able to do all that it takes to craft a powerful piece of writing, he very well may know what a powerful piece of writing is SUPPOSED to contain and once he has written that down, he is much more likely to keep working towards that.

The assessments that matter most are the conversations you have with a student who swears that he hates everything about reading and then finally shares with you that he enjoys reading books about sports players because now you know that you need to rush out and find high quality sports fiction and have it available for him in your classroom library so that he knows that he IS a reader and there IS a place for him here in our reading community.

The assessments that matter most are the moments that we notice and jot down on sticky-notes to share with parents when we see a child start to believe that she might be a reader and a writer who just didn’t know it yet.

The assessments that matter most are the comments we hear during classroom discussions that show us what we still need to teach our students the next day.

The assessments that matter most are the emails from a mother letting you know that for the first time ever, her child, who used to stare at the clock to wait out her assigned twenty minutes of nightly reading in past years, is up in her bedroom reading by choice and has asked her family not to bother her.

The assessments that matter most are the notifications waiting for you on a Sunday that tell you that you have students who have been writing blog posts at home over the weekend.

The assessments that matter most are the conversations that we overhear during group work that show us what our students are misunderstanding and what misconceptions we need to help them clear up.

The assessments that matter most are the ones that fill our binders and create the never ending stacks of sticky-notes we store on clipboards. They are the ones we hold in our hearts and in our guts and in the very fibers of what make us teachers.

But no one wants to see those. Those don’t seem to be very impressive to anybody. So we sit and wait for them to tell us what assessments might be better. We sit and wait for them to give us the “real” assessments that we give us “real” data that can be used to make “real” decisions about our students. We wait for them to hand us the next round of tests that promise to be so very useful for instruction.

And we hold our breath and hope that they won’t be too awful. We hold our breath and we cross our fingers that they won’t take up too much of our precious instructional time. We hope, with our whole hearts, that they won’t undo the work that we have done in order to make our students start to believe that they CAN be successful, that they CAN be readers, that they CAN be writers.

And then we do their assessments. And wait for the smoke to clear so that we can get back to teaching and back to the assessments and measures of growth that matter most.

Maybe one day. Someone will realize that all of this is somewhat meaningless. That no matter what test they give us next. No matter what assessments they tell us are going to finally fix all the ills of the education system. No matter what they promise us this new test will do for us and for our schools and for our students and even for the entire educational system at large. That none of that is really true. And then maybe. Just maybe. They’ll just let us teach. They’ll let us teach and learn alongside of our students. They’ll let us measure their growth and they’ll let us record where they struggle. And they will let us push where we need to push and celebrate where we need to celebrate and trust that we can figure all of that out without their fancy tests.


To My Students: The Minute You Walk Through That Door

The minute you walk through that door you become one of my students.

And here is what it means to be one of my students:

It means that you will forever be a piece of my heart.

It means that I will think of you far beyond the first and last bells of the day.

It means that I will listen to you and your voice and your ideas and your thoughts and I will help you to find a way to put them into this world.

It means that I will love and accept you for exactly who you are.

It means that I will celebrate in your successes with you, even when you don’t realize that they are successes.

It means that I will work to make sure that the work that we do is meaningful and purposeful and authentic and has value outside of the walls of our classroom.

It means that I will sit with you when you mess up and help you find a way to make things better.

It means that I will help you to see the strengths you posses and help you to see how they make our classroom community, and this world, a better place.

It means that I will love you for your faults and your weaknesses and help you to see how these can be the most powerful places to begin your learning.

It means that I will allow you to struggle in this classroom, I will allow you to feel uncomfortable, I will not hide the things in this world that will cause you to feel that way because I know that these are the things that are worth wrestling with.  

It means that I will acknowledge when I mess up and when I don’t know what to do and I will apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

It means that I will ask for your opinion and I will listen to what you have to say because I believe that you know best what will work for you.  

It means that when you come to me with an idea, I will ask you how you plan to make it happen and I will help you in any way I can without taking away the power of having your own ideas.

It means that I will give you second chances and third chances and fourth chances and as many chances as you need.

It means that I will be there for you on the tough days when you aren’t really sure if you can make it through the school day.

It means that I am on your side. Always.

So I know that you might be nervous to start this next school year. I know that you might be uncertain of what will happen when you walk through that door. But you can rest assured that from the minute you walk through that door, you will be one of my students.

What if I Don’t Want to Teach My Students to Calm Down?

This year, my district has adopted a new social-emotional curriculum. As I have expressed in the past, I have some serious concerns about this specific program and about using pre-written and scripted programs in general. Yesterday, I completed the mandatory online training for this program. There were several things about the program and about the training that were upsetting to me, but one of the hardest things for me to deal with was the repetition of the concept of self-regulation throughout the course of the training.

One of the things that this program prides itself on is that it teaches students to self-regulate. What I think that means is that it teaches children how to calm down when they are upset. Strategies are taught to the children such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten and using positive self-talk. These strategies are to be used by the students and reinforced by the teachers in order to reduce the number of conflicts that erupt into more serious situations.

Now, I think it is great that we teach our students ways to deal with anger. When that anger results from not getting what they want or not winning a game or being jealous of their friend’s new toy, then I think it is great to teach students ways that can help them to calm down so that they can think about the situation more clearly and then find a way to deal with the problem that will help to solve it and not make it worse. I happen to think that these strategies would be more meaningful if they came from the students themselves and if we showed them that no one strategy is going to work for every child, but I do understand the need to help students learn how to calm down in certain situations.


I also think that it is important for us to teach our students that there is a difference between anger that is the result of not getting what you want and anger that is the result of witnessing an injustice in the world. I believe that in school we spend a whole lot more time teaching kids to calm down, when I think our world might be a better place if we spent some of that time also teaching our students how to get angry. But I notice that there are no lessons on that in this new program.

I worry that the message that we are sending to our students is that anger is purely a negative emotion that leads to only negative things. I worry that we are missing opportunities to show our students that anger over injustice can be used to spark social change and to make our world a better place. I worry that we are telling our children that any outward display of anger is bad. I worry that we are teaching our students to think that when they see people who are expressing anger in a way that doesn’t involve taking a deep breath, counting to ten and using positive self-talk then these people are doing something wrong. And I think that is a dangerous message to send to our students.

Because I want my students to know that there are things in this world that are worth getting angry about. I want my students to know that sometimes counting to ten isn’t going to work. I want my students to know that there are things that are worth fighting for in this world and that there are things that are not. I want my students to know how to tell the difference between the two. I want my students to know that there are sometimes when you will need to shout and scream and let your anger show in order to talk about the things that make you upset because there will be so many people in this world who won’t want to listen. I want my students to know that sometimes when they see people on t.v. or in their own lives yelling and screaming and letting their anger show, it is because they have been forced to be a part of a system that has oppressed them for too long and they are tired of not being heard and they are tired of being told to just calm down. I want my students to know that there is such power behind this kind of anger. And I want my students to know that they have no right to judge the anger of other people until they sit and listen and try to understand what people are really so angry about.

And I don’t think that we teach this to our students often enough. I certainly know there are no lessons in this new program of ours that deal with the concepts of using anger to spark social change. And I don’t want to be too cynical, but sometimes I think that we don’t teach this to our students because that wouldn’t make them the kind of students we want. The kind of students who sit quietly and swallow their anger if they feel they have been wronged by a teacher or someone else in power. I worry that we don’t teach our children to be angry because then we might actually have to deal with their anger and the things that they are angry about.

I worry that we spend so much time teaching our students how to calm down that we forget to teach them how to be angry about the injustice. So then, I worry that they will just stop seeing the injustice. Because how can you really look at injustice without getting angry? How can you really see the terrible struggles of this world and not allow your blood to boil? How can you really count to ten and take deep breaths after witnessing the lives that our society forces some people to live? Is that really what we want?

Again, I am not saying there isn’t importance in teaching our students to calm down. I think it is necessary. I think that when dealing with injustice, there is a time to be calm. A time to try taking deep breaths. A time to try counting to ten. But I also think that there is time for anger. And anger that is loud and noisy and sometimes scary. There is a time to be the opposite of calm. And I think we owe it to our students, and really to this world, to teach lessons about both.

And so, I as prepare to head into this school year and find a way to adapt this program to fit the needs of my students, I know that one place that I will be starting is by asking my students to think about times that they need to calm down AND times that they need to get angry. I want us to have conversations about the positive use of anger. I want us to have conversations that discuss the possibilities that exist other than calming down. I want us to talk about the benefits and the dangers of always calming down after experiencing anger. I want us to talk about all of this because I think it will help them to view the world differently. I think it will help them to know that there is not just one correct way of dealing with anger. I think it will help them to stop judging the people they see reacting to anger in ways that are different than their own.

I think, in the end, it will help them to not just be better students, but instead to be better human beings.

Assumptions Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the assumptions made between teachers and administrators. That led me today to think about the assumptions made between teachers and students.

Soon we go back to school. Soon a new bunch of students will enter through our classroom. And before we even get to know the humans that we will be teaching, we start to make assumptions about them.  And before our students even get to know the humans that will be teaching them, they are making assumptions about us.  So many of these assumptions go unspoken, but just like I believe assumptions can cause rifts between teachers and administrators, I also believe that assumptions can cause rifts between us and our students.

Many students walk into our classrooms and assume that they should wait and be told what to do.

Some assume that we do not want to hear their ideas or that they should not even bother to have ideas of their own.

Some students assume that we wish we were still on summer break.

Some students assume that there is no space for their voice in our classrooms.

Some students assume that who they are is not good enough for school or good enough for us.

Some students assume that they will never be successful in our classrooms.

Some students assume that we are looking to catch their mistakes.

Some students assume that they have to hide pieces of who they are.

Some students assume that what you want them to do is comply, not question, not challenge, not think for themselves.

And these assumptions matter. These assumptions hurt the relationship between a child and her teacher before that relationship even has a chance to be built.

And so do the assumptions that we as teachers make about our students.

Some teachers watch students walk into our classrooms and assume that they are too lazy to share any of their own ideas. Some teachers assume that their students don’t want to work hard.

Some teachers assume that their students learn just like they do and when they don’t, they assume something is wrong with them.

Some teachers assume that their students’ lives are just like theirs. That their families are just like theirs and their backgrounds are just like theirs and their homes are just like theirs. And if they are not, then we assume that they are wrong or weird.

Some teachers assume that they can tell a lot about a child based on their gender or race or religion without ever getting to know that child for the individual that he is.

Some teachers assume that they can tell a lot about a child based on the interventions she has received or the labels that have been placed on her.

Some teachers assume that a child’s parents are not involved enough or are too involved or don’t care or care too much and that they are the reason the child is having difficulties in school.

Some teachers assume that what a child’s previous teacher has to say about all the trouble that the child is must be true because how could another teacher ever get it wrong.

Some teachers assume that if a child is having trouble in school that it is the child’s fault and not our own.

And these assumptions matter. These assumptions hurt the relationship between the child and his teacher before that relationship even has a chance to be built.

And the only way around these assumptions is to challenge them out loud. Right from the start. Sometimes we have to tell our students that what they assume about us is not true. And sometimes we have to tell our students that what other teachers might have assumed about them as students, is not true in this classroom. We have to tell them right from the start and we have to keep telling them. Because it doesn’t take a whole lot of time or a whole lot of bad experiences before a child builds an assumption, but it does take a whole lot of time to break those assumptions down and to prove to our students that school can go another way. That we can be a different kind of teacher.

And we have to tell ourselves as well. We have to force ourselves to challenge our own assumptions about the children who walk into our classrooms. Because each and every child that we teach deserves for us to get to know him or her and deserves for us to put aside our assumptions.

Because one day, my child is going to walk into her first real classroom. And I hope that her teacher gets to know her before she starts to assume. I hope that she gets to know my Millie before she assumes that she has one mom and one dad. I hope that she gets to know her before she assumes that because she is a girl she is going to want to play dress up instead of playing with blocks and trucks. I hope that she gets to know her before she hands out a form or a family tree assignment that doesn’t at all fit the family that Millie has. I hope that she gets to know her before she assumes that because she doesn’t sit still for very long it must mean that she isn’t very smart or that she is trying to be disrespectful. I hope that she gets to know her before she allows her assumptions to take over.

And if that is what I want for my own child, then I know it is what I must do for every child who I have the privilege of teaching this year.


Sometimes, we assume we know what an answer will be before we ever ask the question. Sometimes, our assumptions stop us from even asking the question in the first place. Sometimes, our assumptions lead us to build up resentments that are based on nothing other than our own, often faulty, perceptions. Sometimes, these assumptions can build a great divide between teachers and administrators.

I am lucky to work for an absolutely incredible principal. I could go on and on for many paragraphs explaining what makes him so wonderful, but I will save that for another blog post. One that I cannot wait to write.

But today, I am thinking about other relationships between teachers and administrators. Ones that aren’t quite so positive and I am thinking about what causes the seemingly impassible rift between these two groups of people who are both working towards the same goal: doing what is best for kids.

I am certain that there is no one single cause of the divide that exists between teachers and administrators. Some of it is the nature of the power structure that the educational system operates in. That is not something I am choosing to tackle. Some of it has to do with the demands put on administrators and the demands put on teachers. That is not one I am ready to wrestle with either. And I am sure that some of it also has to do with some not great people being administrators and some not great people being teachers. That is one I am certainly not going near today.

But some of it, I think, has to simply do with assumptions. And that is one thing that I think we can all start doing something about in this coming school year.

As teachers, it is so easy to assume that our administrators are going to put a stop to any idea that we have. Especially if it is one that is risky. So often times we simply don’t even bother to ask. We stay safely hidden away in our classrooms and maybe we try some smaller version of what we really want to do, but we don’t go all out because we “know” that our administrators will say no or tell us to stop or tell us that we need to be consistent.

Other times we go along with a new program even when it isn’t working for our students because we “know” that our administrators will tell us that this is the new program and we have to follow it as it is written.  We don’t ask questions about why and we don’t ask questions about ways we might be able to improve on what we have been given. We don’t adjust. We don’t innovate. We don’t adapt. We just keep following along because we assume that is what our administrators want.

And still other times we do what everyone around us is doing even when it doesn’t feel right. Even when we see that it is not working for our students. We don’t want to make waves. We don’t want to cause trouble. We assume that our administrators want us all doing the same thing for our students.

And, yes, I recognize that sometimes these assumptions are true. These assumptions are based on previous experiences and prior encounters with administrators. We’ve all been told no before. We’ve all been called unprofessional for suggesting that we do things a different way. We’ve all sat in that chair and had some ask us to stop making things harder.

But I also know that sometimes these assumptions are just that. They are just what we assume administrators are thinking. And the truth is that sometimes these assumptions are wrong and all they do is serve to hold us back from making ourselves better and making our schools better. Often times we don’t know the whole story and often times we don’t know what our administrators answers will be until we just ask.

I have learned that nothing can be lost from asking. I have learned that if I can ask my questions respectfully and always come from a place of what I believe is best for students, then the worst that can happen is that I am told no. But I have also learned that sometimes the answer is yes.

And sometimes our administrators are working under their own assumptions. Sometimes they assume that we, as teachers, WANT things to be standardized and structured and all laid out for us. Sometimes they assume that we don’t want to do any extra work or extra thinking or extra struggling or extra projects. Sometimes they assume that by not asking for our new ideas they are supporting us by making our very difficult jobs a bit easier. Sometimes they assume that we all know that we can always come to them with new ideas. And so sometimes they assume that when they hear silence from us, as teachers, it is because everything is working just fine and we are not looking to make any changes.

So I am learning that is our responsibility, as teachers, to ask the questions. To bring new ideas. To plant the seeds.

Last year, I thought it would be great for our school to take part in the global cardboard challenge. I assumed that the answer would be no. I assumed that I would end up doing it on my own in my classroom. But instead, I brought the idea to my principal and then I brought the idea to the other teachers and we ended up having one of the most incredible days I have ever experienced as a teacher.

At the end of this past school year, I took a look at our new prepackaged social-emotional curriculum and I was terrified that I was going to have to teach the exact lessons as they were written which I knew would not work for me or for my students.  I started to get in that ugly place that makes me say things in a way that NO ONE wants to listen to, but instead I took a deep breath and went to my principal. I told him my concerns, I shared with him my fears and he reassured me that he trusted that I would be able to look at the standards that needed to be met with this new program and find a way to meet them in a way that would work for my students.

This summer, I became obsessed with the idea of painting my classroom tables with whiteboard paint. i assumed that there was no way that my principal and district administrators would allow me to potentially ruin district property. But I asked anyway. And what do you know, the answer was yes. And now, thanks to my incredible wife, I am on my way to having the whiteboard tables in my classroom that I dreamt about (more on this to come).

But I would not have ever been able to do any of this if I lived based on my assumptions alone. Because in each situation, I assumed the answer was going to be no. But I asked anyway and both my students and I are so much better off because of that.

So as we move into this new school year, I am going to push myself to challenge my own assumptions. I am going to try to stop listening to the assumptions about my administrators that tell me not to ask for something new or something different or something challenging.  I am going to try to believe that just because an administrator tells me “no” one time, that doesn’t mean that the answer will be “no” every time. And I am going to hope that by doing this, I will also push my administrators to challenge their own assumptions about me and about other teachers.

Because the truth is, we are all working towards the same goal, even if we have different ways of going about it.  So if we work from the assumption that everyone is here to do what is best for kids, who knows how much further towards are shared goal we could possibly get.

Books Can Be Our Rainbow Flags

Yesterday I was driving home from my sister’s house with my daughter in the backseat blabbering away about some nonsensical thing and all of a sudden I noticed a rather large rainbow flag hung on the outside of one of our local synagogues.  I did a double take. Was there really such a large symbol of gay pride and gay love and gay acceptance hanging on the outside of a religious institution? I slowed the car, turned around and did a second drive by. And sure enough, there it was. A rainbow flag.

I stopped for a moment and then at the insistence of the two year old in my backseat, I continued on towards home.  But that image stuck with me throughout the rest of the day, far into the night and it is still strong in my mind today. That image said so much to me.

You see, in places where LGBT people have previously felt unwelcome and unsafe, there is often still the assumption on our part that silence or a lack of recognition means that we should still feel unwelcome and unsafe. Unfortunately, there are perhaps few places in this country that have been more unwelcoming and unsafe for LGBT people than religious institutions. We, as gay people, have been stared at in synagogues, kicked out of churches, told from pulpits of all faiths that we are going to hell, counseled into making “the choice” not to be gay so that we could live a life without sin, and largely made to feel as if we are less than and unworthy and immoral.  And I know that there are exceptions. Of course there are exception. But the overwhelming and very public narrative coming from religious institutions in the past has been mostly unkind towards who we are.

So now, if things are really changing, that is an amazing thing. But we, we aren’t that trusting. We have been hurt and shamed and embarrassed and it takes a while to work our way back from that. Even with the incredible Supreme Court decision of this summer. So a public symbol like a rainbow flag goes a really long way in sending a different message, in proving that the narrative is changing.  A rainbow flag, anywhere, tells me that we are safe here. We are welcome here. We are accepted here. Even if I am not always ready to believe that.

And that makes me think about our schools.

I think that a lot of LGBT people, in the past, have felt similarly about schools as they have about religious institutions. And though I hate to admit it, I think that many LGBT people today continue to feel that way about schools. They feel as if they are unsafe. They feel as if they are unwelcome there. They feel as if they cannot be who they really are within the walls of their school buildings.

And it is certainly not just LGBT people who feel this way. There are so many people who have been marginalized within our school systems. There are so many groups of people who have been made to feel unworthy and undervalued and misunderstood within our schools. There are so many people who look at a school building and think, “This is not a place for me. I am not welcome here. Who I am is not celebrated in this institution.”

And because there have been so many bad previous experiences for so many people, we, as teachers, must go out of our way to change the narrative. We must go out of our way to send new messages of love and acceptance to students, their families, and to the other teacher with whom we work. We have to find ways to say, “You are welcome here. You belong here. This is a place where you will be loved and celebrated.”

And I don’t think that rainbow flags are the answer. I don’t think that every classroom in America needs a rainbow flag hung outside the door. Because A) That would just get ridiculous and B) This goes way beyond just LGBT people.

So instead. I think we look to books.

I think books can be the rainbow flags of our classrooms.

Because I think that having books, the right kinds of books, can send new messages to kids and teachers and families who really need to hear them.

I imagine a child who is transgender walking into his new classroom on the first day of school and seeing the book Jacob’s New Dress prominently displayed on the bookshelf right alongside all of the other books. That child automatically receives the message, “You are welcome here. You belong here. This is a place where you will be loved and celebrated.”

And I imagine another child who has two moms walking into that same classroom and seeing the book In Our Mothers’ House. And another child who is adopted from China seeing the book Red Butterfly. And another child who is African American and whose life revolves around basketball seeing the book The Crossover. And another child from India seeing the book Chained. They see those books and they instantly know that this is a safe place. This is a place they are welcome. This is a place they will be loved and celebrated.

Our books have the power to send those messages to our students. To their families. To our fellow teachers.

And in this way, our bookshelves can become a place of hundreds of different flags celebrating hundreds of different kinds of people.  Our bookshelves can become a beacon of hope for children who have never before felt safe or welcome or accepted in school. Our bookshelves can become a place where children see themselves and learn about others.  Our bookshelves can become a place where every person who walks into our classroom can see that he or she is welcome here. Safe here. And will be celebrated here.

We Seem To Be Forgetting Something (Or Someone)

It has struck me as of late, that we seem to be forgetting something.  Or someone. Or many someones. Ones who should be at the front of every single thought that we have and every single action that we take.

It seems to me that we have been forgetting about our students.

Not about teaching them, providing them with rich curriculum, instructing them in the ways that are most effective, giving them the tools they need to connect to the global community they are a part of. These things we have not forgotten. These things seem to occupy much of the time and space of our discussions.

But it seems to me that we have been forgetting about the students themselves. The human beings sitting right next to us. The living, breathing, dreaming, hurting, crying, hoping, wishing human beings that are the reason we all got into this job in the first place.

These thoughts began to swirl around in my brain this past Tuesday as I read the incredibly brave and honest posts on the struggles with mental illness that made up the beautiful and courageous #semicolonEDU landscape. I read and listened to stories, some of which were like my own and some of which were so very different. And what I heard throughout so many stories was the authors’ need to raise awareness on mental illness issues for the sake of educators and for the sake of our students.

And I started to wonder why we needed so many movements that asked us to remember the struggles of our students and the issues in their lives. #LGBTeach is begging for educators to think about the struggles of our LGBT students. #EduColor is begging for educators to think about the issues of race and how they are intertwined in every aspect of our students’ lives. And now #semicolonEDU is begging for educators to think about the issues of mental illness that are present in the daily lives of so many of our students.

Why do we need all of this?

And then I realized. It is because it is so easy to forget. It is so easy to forget the children who we teach and the struggles that they face when we are constantly surrounded by demands to think about other things. We are asked to think about test scores, we are asked to think about technology, we are asked to think about instructional strategies, we are asked to think about teacher evaluations and policy and funding and textbooks and so. many. other things. And while these things are important, they will never be as important as the beings that walk through our doors every day and look to us to notice them.

And it is so easy for us to forget.

We work in districts that will spend countless days and countless hours and countless dollars on professional development to ensure consistency and to ensure we are ready for the big standardized tests and to ensure that we have the latest technology or the most comprehensive assessments and yet our districts relegate topics like suicide prevention and sexual abuse warning signs to ineffective online training just to meet state mandates.

We spend days and weeks and months talking about curriculum, instruction and assessment. We spend so much time on these topics that many teachers begin to ask, “Well what else is there to think about?” And that question makes me want to scream. That question breaks my heart. What else is there to think about? What about the students? What about their well-being? What about how we can see the many ways that they are hurting and how we can help to make that better? Where is our professional development on that? When does that get figured into the budget?

And when we don’t set aside time to think about our students, as humans, then we find ourselves spending our own time talking about things that just don’t matter. We waste time talking about the right titles for school principals. We waste time arguing about whether or not teachers were cliquey at the last conference that we went to. We waste time shaming other teachers for not doing things the way that we do them. We waste time arguing about which instructional strategy is the more effective than any of the others. As if any of that matters if our students are hurting. As if any of that makes a difference if our students feel as if we don’t understand them or understand their lives. As if any of that makes one iota of difference if we have forgotten to think about our students first.

So, for me, it is important every once and awhile to remember to take a step back. To refocus on what is truly important. To listen to the students sitting right next to me and to realize that the words coming out of their mouths are the most important words that I could ever hear.  To take a second and just remember that nothing is more important than loving and accepting the students who walk through our doors every day.  And as we gear up for another school year we have this amazing chance to do it all better this time.  From day one we get to start over with a brand new group of students and make them feel as if they are the most important thing in our world inside of that classroom. And THAT. That fills me with tremendous hope.

Asking Students to Think About the Messages That Surround Them (Part 3)

This is the third and final blog post in a series about the work my students and I did in order to try to take apart the messages that we are surrounded by in the media and in the picture books and novels that we read.  If you are interested, here is PART ONE and here is PART TWO.

After we had finished our work with gender messages in fairy tales, it was time to move on to other types of texts. As a class, we compared the messages on gender that were written into the fairy tales we had read and the messages on gender that we saw in the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue.  We discussed that though the fairy tales were written quite a long time ago and the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue was a very current text, the same messages on gender were found in each.  What that told us was that though we like to pretend that there are no longer the gender stereotypes that there once were, we can see that these messages are still present and prevalent in our society.  And if this is true of gender messages, it is probably true of other types of messages as well.

This is when I asked my students to make a pretty big leap with me.  I said that many of us had talked before about messages on gender, but that now I wanted us to look beyond just messages on gender.  I explained that I hoped that we could now begin to examine messages on race and messages on family structure that exist in more current texts, in order to help us understand how many of our own biases are formed.

So I told the class that they would have a choice.  They were going to be able to focus on one type of message.  They could continue to look at gender in children, they could push a little bit to look at gender roles in adults, OR they could choose to look at messages on race or messages on family structure. I wanted to offer this choice because I knew that there were some students who were ready to take on the harder concepts of race and family structure and I also knew that there were some students who would be more successful in simply continuing to study messages on gender. I knew that in the end, we would all be sharing our learning with each other and I knew that the entire class would be involved in discussions on all four areas. So, at this point, I wanted to offer the choice to my students.

I was fascinated to see that most students wanted to tackle concepts of race and family structure. I am not sure exactly why this appealed to so many students, but here is my best guess.  In elementary school, we work really hard to protect children from things that we think are going to be too difficult or too messy for them.  We keep LGBT issues out of their grasp because we worry that they won’t understand them or we worry that for some reason it will lead us to have to explain sex of all types to our students.  We keep issues of race off limits for so many elementary school students because we aren’t sure we will have the answers they are looking for or we worry that we will upset someone or we worry that children will feel uncomfortable.

But the thing is, these are the EXACT issues that our students want to discuss. They want to discuss them because they want to understand them. They want to grapple with the things that they see as important around them, but that they don’t quite understand yet. Because that gives real purpose to their work. That gives real purpose to their learning. And that is what our students so desperately want.

So needless to say, the majority of my students chose to look at the unintended messages on race and family structure that are present in the picture books we read.

I left the work pretty open to the kids.  Some students chose to work alone and some in groups. Some students immediately began pulling bins of my picture books onto the floor and flipping through them, looking at their covers, researching their authors and skimming their pages. Other students chose one or two books and went off to study them closely. Other students asked to go to our school library to look through books there.  Other students chose to go into one of the three other fifth grade classrooms to look at the books available in those classroom libraries.

I did provide some thinking sheets to help give the kids some ideas on what they might want to look for.

Here are the different sheets that I made available (the kids only used them if they felt like they needed some ideas):

Messages on Race

Messages on Family Structure 

Messages on Gender Roles for Kids

Messages on Gender Roles for Adults 

As I began to circulate the room, I was simply blown away by the conversations that I overheard. I would stop in to help clear up some misconceptions for kids or I would gently guide a child toward a better understanding of what he or she was seeing, but overall the kids were really getting it.  The kids were so engaged in their work and right before my eyes I saw kids starting to understand the very things that we all had been so afraid would upset them and make them uncomfortable. Except, it was doing exactly the opposite. These discoveries they were making were not making them uncomfortable, they were making them question what they thought they knew and they were growing in these huge and important ways.

So often teachers say that they don’t have conversations on race or on gay and lesbian issues because they worry that they will say the wrong thing or they worry that they won’t know what to say, but what my kids showed me through this work is that sometimes you, as the teacher, don’t have to say anything at all. Sometimes it is enough to ask the kids to look at what is right in front of them and question it and deconstruct it and think about it. Sometimes it is enough to help kids see the things that we ourselves do not understand and the things that we know need to be better.

After giving my students two days to work on their chosen area of focus, I put the kids into groups so that they could learn from each other. Students who focused on race had a chance to hear from students who focused on gender or family structure, etc. Again, incredibly powerful conversations took place.

When we pulled back together as a whole class, I asked my students to share what they talked about in their groups.  Every single group had come to the conclusion that there was a real problem with the way our picture books were written. Every single student noticed the extreme lack of diversity that existed in the characters in our picture books. They noticed the lack of African American characters, they noticed the lack of Hispanic characters, they noticed the lack of mixes of races in books, they noticed the lack of families with two moms or two dads. They noticed so many things that had been right in front of them for years, but that they never really saw before. Some students noticed this simply by looking at the people drawn on covers, others noticed this by looking at the families that existed in each of our books, other students went further and looked into the races and ethnicities of the authors of many of our picture books.

I so clearly remember one group sharing the results of an investigation they did. They looked at fifty of the picture books in our classroom (a random selection of two of our picture book bins) and they shared that only 12 of these books had non-white characters on the covers. And then, one child said, “And if this is how it is in your room, Mrs. Lifshitz, I can’t imagine how much worse it is in some other classrooms!” My students knew that I made an effort to bring in diverse books and still this was the truth of what books existed in my classroom.

After this concept was brought up by each group, I knew that it was time to introduce my students to the We Need Diverse Books campaign.  Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog post sharing some ideas that eventually turned into this reading unit.  An incredibly kind reader, Samantha Mosher, left a suggestion to have the kids contribute in some way to the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I am so incredibly thankful that she left such a brilliant comment because that suggestion turned into one of the most powerful learning activities of our school year.

I began by sharing the WNDB website with my students.  We read about the campaign, its beginnings and its mission. We then watched a WNDB video that my students were incredibly moved by.  After begging me to let them watch it for a third time, one student suggested that we make our own video and contribute our own tweets to the campaign using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.  And so we got to work.

We used our class Twitter account to tweet our messages about why we needed more diverse books.  We used the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and used Tweetdeck to see how our tweets were not a part of an international conversation. We wrote blog posts about why we needed more diverse books.  We sent out Twitter messages with links to our blog posts. And finally, we each created a sign to explain why we needed more diverse books, we took pictures of ourselves with the signs and we complied the pictures into our own We Need Diverse Books video.

You can see some of our work here:

One student’s blog post on why we need diverse books

Another student’s blog post on why we need diverse books

Our class video on why we need more diverse books

As we submitted our work to the world, my students were simply abuzz with the possibility of affecting change in the world. This unit brought us so much incredible learning and I am having a hard time summing it all up in this blog post.

This unit left me with a desire to do more of this kind of work in the coming school year. I saw how deeply moved by these issues my students were and I heard the comments that continued to come throughout the rest of the school year about the unintended messages my students were now seeing in the world around them.

There are days when i don’t have a whole lot of hope for this country of ours, but then I think back to the work that took place in my classroom during this study of unintended messages and I take some solace in knowing just how amazing our students are. All they are waiting for is for us to give them the opportunities to grapple with the issues that matter and then help them to find ways to start making the world a better place.