Teaching for Social Justice

By Lorena Germán

Social justice is not a book that you teach. It is not a unit you explore with students. It is not a week-long, school-wide celebration during which you acknowledge diversity. These are all too often superficial attempts at having in-depth conversations that require nuance, time, and pause. While well-intentioned, this type of teaching may lead educators to think they’ve done the work because they spent an hour or day teaching one idea in a one-dimensional way. However, social justice is not a topic or a content area, but an ongoing action and fight for a better quality of life for all. Therefore, it requires actionable and tangible steps.

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Creating a Pollinator Garden at Your School

By Pete Barnes

Many teachers are, understandably, in survival mode this semester, hoping just to make it through the pandemic and return to “normal”. But for those with the bandwidth to think beyond the present chaos, planning a project that will get kids outside, help the natural world, and beautify the school campus may be a welcome relief. A pollinator garden does all of these things with minimal financial and technological resources, and is a great project for schools that are conducting as many classes outside as possible in order to limit potential spread of the virus. Science, math, and language arts concepts can all be taught in the garden, but students will most remember making the earth a more liveable place.

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You are the Instrument: Teaching Mindfulness and Personal Practice

This post is adapted from the book Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents by Matthew Brensilver, JoAnna Hardy, and Oren Jay Sofer (W. W. Norton, March 2020).

Life is often intense, but in this moment, it can be overwhelming. As educators, parents, indeed as humans, we find ourselves in a grueling and extended period of instability and challenge. Coronavirus, economic hardship, political strife and the transition to online learning are all unfolding in a context of a national grieving and reckoning with the country’s racial history. For many, it feels like the tectonic plates of our lives are shifting and we are not sure where to find our balance.

Given this context, our leadership role as educators becomes even more important. Our capacity to act as a keel in the lives of our students is vital. How can we serve this function and how might mindfulness help?

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Cultivating an Anti-Racist English Classroom

By Sharon Kunde

The English classroom is a crucial space for us, as teachers, to cultivate anti-racism. In ELA class, students learn which stories and points of view matter—they are taught which voices and narrative styles are legitimate. While strides have been made in the past years and decades to remove racist content from our English curricula, this is not enough to constitute an anti-racist curriculum. In order for our curricula to be truly anti-racist, we must rethink our entire system of literary study.

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Just-In-Time Skills: Creating Videos for Scaffolding

By Jonna Kuskey

Make room, Steven Spielberg. I’m going into the movie business. 

Well . . . sort of. 

As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic that forced us to move quickly to online learning forced me to make movies.  With a big box office budget of zero dollars, no big-name actors, and no brilliant CGI, I made videos to teach concepts or explain assignments so students could access the information wherever and whenever they needed or wanted. (Thank you, free version of Screencast-O-Matic!)

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There should be no “best practices” for in-person teaching during COVID-19 – because it shouldn’t be happening

By David Nurenberg

As a teacher preparing to begin an unprecedented new school year in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been consumed with reading, and writing, tips and best practices for online and remote education. Preparing for this new world alone is an enormous task for teachers already grappling with all the other stresses of this time. But as September draws near, I am feeling even more nervous, and even less prepared, about how to conduct in-person education in this new climate.

The federal and state governments are requiring schools to develop plans for both full and partial/“hybrid” returns to school. That means teachers’ plans for setting up our classroom must account for disinfection and hazardous material handling. We must somehow figure out how to conduct class activities without ever bringing students closer than 6 feet from one another, how to conference with students or intervene in discipline situations from that distance. We have to figure out how to cover required content and meet student learning goals when classes might be meeting only half or one-third as frequently. We must include, and teach, entirely online and remote versions of every lesson for absent students, find ways to catch up students who miss large amounts of school, and figure out how to emotionally support anxious students – and ourselves.

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The Spider Web Approach: How to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

By Alexis Wiggins

Most of us are facing another school year in which at least part of our classroom work will need to be translated to an online environment. Some teachers worry that it isn’t possible in the distance learning environment to have the kind of effective discussions facilitated in the classroom, but I’m here to say that by following some key protocols and staying flexible, teachers can absolutely design for strong online discussions.

I’ve spent the last 15 years immersed in the research, design, and practice of student-led discussions. It began with a job early in my career at a Harkness School and eventually developed into a method I call Spider Web Discussion, which asks teachers to train students how to begin, facilitate, and assess their own discussions while the teachers themselves are mostly silent. (You can see it in action in a ninth-grade classroom here.) In the current environment, I’m getting a lot of questions about how to conduct class discussion online.

Here are my tips for success:

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Getting Started with Teaching Online…Again

By Mary Burns

As we put the never-to-be-forgotten school year of 2019-2020 in our rearview mirror, we turn our attention to the 2020-2021 school year. And though we all wish otherwise, the upcoming school year will likely involve more online teaching. During the initial pandemic outbreak, many teachers focused on learning technology at the expense of instruction. Now that we’ve taken some time to learn new technologies, this school year should be about focusing on effective online teaching. 

Over the last few months, I’ve been helping teachers get started with online instruction. I’ve organized this blog around their most common questions about teaching online.

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Feedback as a Critical Tool for Distance Learning

By Matthew Johnson

The first time that it fully dawned on me just how much Covid-19 might change our lives and our world was when I saw those pictures in early March of sports teams around the world playing in front of empty stands. I remember looking at those images and wondering what it must be like for the athletes to play without the cheering, jeering, and general noise of thousands looking on. How strange it must have been to suddenly hear every crack of the bat and kick of the ball and to have more than a few moments of silence in between.

Little did I know that within a few weeks, I, too, would suddenly exchange my busy and loud work environment for the relative silence of a small and hastily constructed basement office. Overnight, the noise of my day—the hundreds of tiny interactions I had with students, the greetings and goodbyes at the door, the ambient buzz of 35 bodies learning in one room— disappeared, replaced with mostly silent asynchronous education where I was separated from my students by both time and space.

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Education in a Time of Upheaval: What Can We Learn?

By Peter Smagorinsky

Two stories have dominated the news since late May. One began quietly in January and took off with urgency in early March: the Covid-19 pandemic. The second occurred suddenly on May 25 and nearly blew the virus off the news: The killing of George Floyd, the culmination of a series of spring murders of Black people that included Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

In the background, other stories were reported, if obscured by the immediacy of these larger events. Among them were the questions of how schools would open in August, and how ordinary citizens could help address the systemic problem of racism in the US beyond issuing noble statements of support and participating in protests.

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