Friday, October 9, 2015

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Kristopher Wells
I listened to Dr. Kristopher Wells who is an Assisstant Professor and Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) University of Alberta. He spoke about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Canadian Schools. You can follow Kristopher on Twitter here.

Here is some of what I learned:
  • After decades of silence, more and more of our public institutions (like our schools) want to have a better understanding for gender identity and sexual orientation. 
  • Kristopher started Homophobic language isn't always meant to be hurtful, but how often do we use it without thinking?
  • Kristopher worked with the Alberta Teachers Association to author a Safe Spaces Initiative.
  • For the longest time, the Edmonton Oilers would have nothing to do with supporting LGBTQ until Andrew Ference marched in the Edmonton Pride Parade with his Oilers jersey.
  • Understanding and allying with LGBTQ is about inclusion and humanizing schools.
  • What is LBBTTTIQQAAP? Lesbain, gay, bisexual, transgender, two spirit, transexual, intersex, queer, questioning, asexual, ally, pansexual.
  • Those who are not LGBTQ may be in the best position to use their privilege to ally and advocate for those who are LGBTQ.
  • LGBTQ are sexual and gender minority, an invisible minority, are disproportionate targets for violence and victimization, and are coming out at younger ages.
  • People who say "there are no gay students in my school" are really saying "there are no visible gay students in our school" because the school is likely not a safe space for them to be visibly gay.
  • Confidentiality for students is important especially when it comes to their sexual orientation and gender identity. When students are "outed" by breaches of their confidentiality they are put at risk.
  • Some parents might say "if the school knows my child is gay, I demand they tell me. I have a right to know". The real issue here is if a child is gay, and you are their parent, why don't you already know?
  • The most victimizers and victims of hate crimes are youth.
  • Are schools suppose to challenge our society's status quo or maintain it?
  • Boys and girls tend to become aware of their sexual orientation around 10. They tend to disclose this around 16. LGBTQ children can become aware of their gender identity around 6. 
  • What message are we giving children if they are told they just have to survive in isolation until they can grow up and find their own safe place elsewhere?
  • Generation Queer is the first generation of children who are aware and disclosing their gender identity and sexual orientation while still in school.
  • After Alberta had policies around Gay-Straight Alliances far more schools had Gay-Straight Alliances. Policy is important. It can liberate us or it can hold us back.
  • LGBTQ is our present day civil rights movement.
  • In schools, we should not be trying to "fix" our students. We should be supporting them.
  • If you want to know how dangerous it can be to be LGBTQ, hold hands with a same sex friend and walk around public places.
  • We have tolerance for a "tom-boy" but very little for a "sissy-boy"
  • Wren Kauffman: A transgender boy shares his story
  • Our binary understanding for male and female gender identity causes harm. Our concept of normal needs to change.
  • Preparing children for hate and ignorance is not the same as protecting them from it or stopping it.
  • Homophobia is in our schools and it is hurting our children.
  • Why do some people survive atrocities? Two things tend to get people through atrocity: 1. Hope that the future can be better 2. Support and love from family.
  • Diversity allows us to adapt and makes us stronger. Sameness is unsustainable and stagnant.
  • Teachers need to intervene when students say "fag" as often as they intervene when students say "fuck".

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Turning around challenging classrooms

Every year teachers encounter a wide variety of challenges in their classrooms. Sources of these challenges might come from a new set of children with their own unique needs, a new teaching assignment or a change in administration.

As I start my 16th year of teaching, it is my experience that teachers who are highly reflective and place a premium on professional development stand the best chance for surviving and thriving challenging classrooms.

Here are 3 things highly reflective teachers understand:

1. Blaming the kids will ensure that nothing changes. Teaching would be easy if weren't for the students. It's easy to blame the kids. It's easy because it means we don't have to reflect inward - rather we just have to look outward. Challenging one's own practices can be tough, but if you stop and think about each of the statements above, both logic and research will show that these are classroom problems, not simply student problems.

2. Question the 'how' and the 'why'. Many professional development conferences provide teachers with opportunity to ask questions such as “How do I mark better?” or “How do I get my students to do their homework?” At first glance these look like challenging and provocative questions, but they are still questions that promote more of the same. Far more powerful questions are “Why do I mark?” or “Why do I assign homework?” Investigating the motives for our actions, rather than merely examining our methods of implementation, is a better use of our time, particularly if the subject in question is a belief or habit that we’ve come to accept as a given truth.

3. If the teacher is bored or unhappy, the students are more so. For too many people, the game of school sounds all too familiar. It's like the learners and teachers exchange winks that say: you will pretend to teach and we will pretend to learn; it won't be all that enjoyable, but it will be easy. Teaching and learning should not be a chore that everyone can't wait to be done.

Turning around challenging classrooms and changing school through reflection and professional development is not easy but it's worth it. Below are links to all of the rethinking and reflecting that I have done over the last 16 years:

Rethink Discipline

Rethink Assessment

Rethink Homework

Rethink Standardization

Rethink Accountability

Rethink Lesson Planning

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Throw away thoughts and Replacement Thoughts

I use this video with children who find themselves having overwhelming negative thoughts through out their day. These negative thoughts lead people to be more depressed, more self-critical and less successful.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) outlines 3 basic steps for rethinking negative thinking:

1. Be aware of the negative thought and record it.

2. Rationalize the negative thoughts into categories. (Assuming & Mind Reading, Shoulds/Musts & Oughts, Fairy Tale Fantasy, Over Generalizing, Catastrophizing...)

3. Replace the negative thought with a more plausible and positive thought.

Drawing attention to negative thinking, naming it and replacing it is something children and adults alike can do to retrain their brains and hearts in an attempt to be happier and more successful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How can parents and teachers help each other?

This post will be featured in Cathy Rubin's The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Teacher Blogs.

Here are 4 understandings that help parents and teachers to educate children.

1. Teach the whole-child. Ask any parents what their long-term concerns and goals are for their children, and seldom will you hear about test scores and world rankings. Their concerns are compelling, existential and heartfelt. Parents want their kids to be happy, hard-working, motivated, responsible, honest, empathetic, intelligent, collaborative, creative and courageous. Of course we want our children to grow academically, but we also want them to grow emotionally, socially and physically, and this requires a well-rounded education.

2. Teaching and parenting is about relationships, relationships, relationshipsParents and teachers know that children do not care what you know until they know that you care about them. Good teaching and parenting is less about doing things to children and more about working with them. Because rewards and punishments are by definition manipulative and coercive, they undermine our relationships and therefore need to be tempered or even abandoned. This means teachers would not use token economies or classroom management schemes that treat children like pets and parents wouldn't use time-outs or bribes

3. Good parents and teachers are not born -- they are made. Parenting and teaching are the easiest jobs to get wrong and the hardest to get right. Regardless of experience and expertise, we are all human and are subject to impatience and ignorance.  The best parents and teachers don't waste their limited time, effort and resources on blaming and shaming -- instead, they see every problem as an opportunity to teach and learn.

4. Public education is not a private interest for an elite few -- it is a public good for all. Public education, like democracy, is reserved only for those who fight for it. First time parents don't realize how important sleep is until it is taken from them -- the same is true for our public schools.

The only thing that destructive education policies require to thrive is for good people to do nothing. Parents and teachers must work together as stewards for our public schools and demand that public education remain a public good for all. This requires parents and teachers to pay attention as much or more to their public schools as their favourite sports and celebrities.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rethinking School Leadership

"The role of the school principal in Canada is increasingly multifaceted and complex. Beyond the foundational administrative and managerial roles they are expected to master, principals are also expected to be innovators and agents of change -- all of this in a culture that increasingly challenges traditional conceptions of leadership."

In June I wrote a post on 5 ways teachers can demonstrate leadership in the classroom.

Here are 5 ways school administrators can exhibit and inspire leadership in their schools and school districts.

1. Good leaders stick around. We know that high principal turnover often leads to greater teacher turnover and initiative fatigue. Sometimes these moves are made by the choices of senior administrators from the school district, however, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan reminds us that "regularized rotation of principals by their districts every 3-5 years has more a negative than positive effect on improvement efforts". Other times these moves are initiated by principals who "use schools with many poor or low-achieving students as stepping stones to what they view as more desirable assignments". When leaders come and go in search of their own self-promotion, it's hard to see them as allies with the community. This is no more evident than in New Orleans, a city that is 65 percent black, where the corporate education reform movement is almost entirely white led. In the US, average tenure for urban superintendents is just three years, while education secretaries in England and France tend to turnover after only two years. Albertans have had 4 Ministers of Education since 2011, and we know that Canadian principals are, "at risk of burnout in an increasingly ramped up culture of performativity".

This shouldn't be our society or our schools.
2. Good leaders distribute leadership without stepping on others. Most education systems, school districts and schools are built on hierarchal systems where well intentioned fidelity too often becomes code for do as you are told. Andy Hargreaves reminds us that the best leaders "uplift those they serve by uplifting those who serve them". The best leaders know that they don't know everything, so they reject cultures of compliance built on confirmation bias and instead seek dissent to liberate the conversation. The best leaders reject comforting lies and embrace unpleasant truths. The best leaders reject the seductiveness of efficiency via fear and conformity through standardization and fatalism. Good leaders don't merely accumulate and exercise power while reminding their inferiors to follow along. Good leaders share power to grow leadership among all.

The worst leaders are Decepticons.
3. Leaders don't enslave -- they support. Some leaders empower and inspire teachers to work with children in ways that leave life long impressions while others create instruments of control to separate the powerful from the powerless that makes compliance the gold standard. Teaching is a highly relational and complex job that cannot be reduced to a one-size-fits-all standardized approach. If teachers are to have any hope in accomplishing what many people admit to be an undesirable and impossible job, they require servant leadership that puts "the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."

4. School leaders are teachers. In his book Finnish Lessons 2.0, Pasi Sahlberg reminds us that, "Some countries allow their schools to be led by non-educators, hoping that business-style management will raise efficiency and improve performance." Most Canadians wouldn't understand how an non-teacher could possibly lead a school or school district while our American neighbours have already embraced this as common practice.
 If you haven't taught, you can't give teachers the feedback they need to improve. If you haven't taught, you can't lead teachers. Period.

I found this written on my whiteboard
on the last day of school. 
5. The best leaders don't value what they measure -- they measure what they value. In their book Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school, Andy Hargreaves and Micheal Fullen layout how, "great schools are made up of three kinds of capital: human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgements about learners that are cultivated over many years".

At the end of this school year, my grade 6 students wrote Provincial Achievement Tests. Their multiple choice scantrons were promptly shipped off to our provincial capital to be counted.

At the end of this school year, I found this message on my whiteboard that counted formally and officially for nothing -- but meant everything to me and to that student. Good leaders would care about this emotionally intelligent piece of data at least as much, if not more, than spreadsheet-friendly test scores. Albert Einstein said it all, " Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts".

Such a nuanced approach requires us to temper, if not abandon, our mania for reducing learning and teaching to numbers. While so many forces work to sterilize and standardize our schools, Hargreaves and Fullen lead the way to humanize education.
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