a reflection on #BlackFair

August 29, 2015

Today I met with hundreds of other people at Hamline Park in Saint Paul, and marched down Snelling Avenue toward the Minnesota State Fair. I had been told by various sources that the protest was intending to stir up trouble, that violence was imminent from both organizers and hecklers, that the protest set up by Black Lives Matter Saint Paul was "inappropriate" and lacking a cause. Here's how I saw and experienced the event as a white woman who has grown up in Saint Paul and is committed to a more just world.

The Purpose

I saw the purpose of this event as two-pronged. To point out the disparities within the State Fair, and to use the visibility of the Fair to point out racial injustice within the state and country. Although the Fair doesn't prevent people of color from having booths, it doesn't collect data on the race of vendors so that diversity and equity can be tracked. This is why no one was able to provide information about the amount of diversity represented at the Fair from either side. Seeking more transparency and tracking from the Fair is a valid reason to peacefully protest. Bringing a protest to a place of commerce always seems to rub people the wrong way, but it seems to be the only way to bring visibility to overlooked issues. My hope was that the visibility of the protest would continue to bring attention to the ways that systematic racism and mass incarceration harm our whole society.

The Protest

I attended the protest with a close friend, her husband, her sister, and her ten month old daughter in a stroller. We heard the organizers reminding the gathered crowd before starting that Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women, and that the liberation and acceptance of women, the LGBTQIA community, and other groups experiencing discrimination were all tied together. We heard the organizers encourage the crowd to protest peacefully, and take care of themselves. And then we started walking. Standing in solidarity with my fellow Twin Cities residents, of all colors, abilities, ages, and orientations was an honor. I was in awe of the organized and caring way the marshalls in neon vests directed marchers, and the passion they communicated to us through their voices amplified by megaphones. I felt thankful for the police that created a perimeter for us and kept us safe, but also resented that they were partly there out of fear that protestors would turn violent. I felt a soaring hope that agitation helps make things happen in the shadow of the front gate of the State Fair, and also felt ashamed when I heard heckling coming from fairgoers on the other side of the chain link fences. I felt relief and pride as we peacefully walked back down Snelling Avenue to end our protest. 

The Impact

So, now I am sitting at my dining room table, and it's getting late. My feet are sore, and I am tired. But the work is not over. I feel extreme hope when I remember all the beautiful people that marched on the Fair. I feel extreme sadness when I look through social media and see white people criticizing the movement for timing or venue and claiming that "all lives matter" and "white lives matter, too." I don't think tearing down attempts at equality or feeling guilty and attempting to minimize the problem help progress. 

As civil rights activist, Anne Braden, said, "I’ve never seen it [guilt] move anybody. I think what everybody white that I know has gotten involved in the struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in. The meaning of life is in that struggle, that human beings have always been able to envision something better. I don’t know where they get it but that’s what makes human beings divine I think. But all through history there’ve been people who’ve envisioned something better in the most dire situations, and that’s what you want to be a part of. You won’t see the fruits of it but that that’s what you want to be a part of."

Envision a world in which people truly were judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Imagine a world in which all cultures are respected, celebrated, and preserved. Imagine a world that shares in a rich diversity of knowledge, customs, and skills. This is a world in which black lives matter. This is a world in which all lives matter, because, finally, black lives matter. Imagine what we could accomplish.

I plan to educate myself and continue to show up for events that promote equity and this vision of a better future. I plan to combat colorblindness, privilege, and apathy within myself. I plan to share what I have experienced with others. I wish you well on your journey, and encourage you to do so also. 

My sources:


reading: The Poisonwood Bible

August 24, 2015

I had very little idea of what to expect when I cracked open The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Many people had recommended it to me, and I had walked past the book on library shelves more times than I can count. Once I finally started reading it, what I experienced was a visceral novel about family, gender, religion, colonization, love, and forgiveness. This is now one of my favorite books.

The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the family of Nathan Price, a Baptist preacher who uproots his white family from Jim Crow era Georgia to be missionaries in Congo, which is on the cusp of revolution and unrest. When transplanted to African soil, European ideas and intentions morph and change beyond what anyone could have imagined.

“Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place. ” -Barbara Kingsolver

The story is narrated by Nathan's wife, Orleanna, and his daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. Each of these women has her own discernible voice. I was often laughing at the way vain Rachel mixed up words (for instance, saying Damnisty International), being struck by the poetic observations of stunted Adah, and feeling for Leah's constant striving to overcome her whiteness as she realized how Africa had been manipulated by Europe and America. The characters grow up completely, and this story is an epic, tracing their lives from childhood to adulthood. The book tells the story of colonization though the metaphor of this small family, as each character makes an impact on Africa whether they want to or not, and is changed irrefutably by Africa whether they want to be or not.

"Away down below single file on the path comes a woman with four girls, the pale doomed blossoms. The mother leads them on, blue-eyed, waving a hand in front of her to part the curtain of spiders’ webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. Behind her back the smallest child pauses to break off the tip of every branch she can reach. She likes the stinging green scent released by the broken leaves. [...] If the mother and her children had not come down the path on this day, the pinched tree branches would have grown larger and the fat-bodied spider would have lived. Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history. Even the child Ruth May touched history. Everyone is complicit." -Barbara Kingsolver

I was also drawn in by the depiction of religion, and the comparison between Nathan Price's harsh and judgemental God, and the natural and flexible view of the divine held by Brother Fowles, the previous missionary to Kilanga before the Prices. Borther Fowles befriends the natives of Congo, he lets their customs blend with his, and he shares the life of the place he visits, instead of combatting it. He sees God in nature, and believes that salvation is not as simple as being born in a "civilized" country.

“...trust in Creation which is made fresh daily and doesn’t suffer in translation. This God does not work in especially mysterious ways. The sun here rises and sets at six exactly. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A bird raises its brood in the forest and a greenheart tree will only grow from a greenheart seed. He brings drought sometimes followed by torrential rains and if these things aren’t always what I had in mind, they aren’t my punishment either. They’re rewards, let’s say for the patience of a seed.” -Barbara Kingsolver

This book is challenging. It is lushly written, emotionally gripping, and extremely thought provoking. It is a must read. 

styling: Inspiration from Ginnifer Goodwin

August 17, 2015

I love to collect pictures for style inspiration on Pinterest. I have a board devoted to style inspiration, and one person that consistently shows up in this board is Ginnifer Goodwin.  Here's the link to the board if you are curious. 

When I look through pictures I have pinned, I like to look for details that recur in the pictures, or are reflected in my wardrobe. These are elements of my personal style and taste.

Here's why I love Ginnifer's style:

  • Her hair: I love her pixie cut. It looks so chic and quirky!
  • Her sunglasses: With her hair, she can pull off classic Wayfarer type shapes and more unique cat eye shapes. 
  • Her collars and shirting: I love that her character Mary Margaret on Once Upon a Time is a teacher. She wears a lot of collared shirts buttoned up all the way, which Ginnifer does also. It makes a button up style dress or shirt look crisp and unique. 
  • Her shoes: I love the variety of shoes she wears, from ballet flats to clogs to lace up oxfords. These are some of my favorite style to wear. 
  • Her knee length skirts and slim fit pants. So flattering and wearable for work. 
  • Her use of pattern: I love stripes, plaid, and black and white mixed patterns, so it's no surprise these showed up on my inspiration board. 
  • Her use of layering: She wears so so many cute jackets, coats, and blazers. I love to layer, and celebrate fall for just that reason!
If this made you curious, I encourage you to think about people whose style inspires you. Create a place to keep images, and then reflect on what your personal style is. This will help you sort through your wardrobe, and make smart purchasing decisions that fit with the image you want to project. 

teaching: Keeping in Touch with Friends During the School Year

August 14, 2015

During my first year of teaching, I felt like I was in a tunnel of loneliness. I was drowning in my own paper work, trying to maintain order in my classroom, and ignoring my nutritional and social needs at home. Over my last few years settling into teaching, I've realized that there are some pretty effective ways to maintain the friendships that keep me going. Here are my top five strategies to make time for my friends.

1. Trivia. Many restaurants run trivia through services like Trivia Mafia or Sporcle. Get a group together, and meet once a week to chat, snack, and compete.

2. Exercise. Make plans to exercise with someone close by that you want to see regularly. I attend a weekly yoga class with one of my best friends, and it's a great way to get necessary exercise and catch up with her.

3. Book Club. I love to read, and so do many of my friends. My book club meets every month, and so far, that schedule has been lovely. I get to read something besides student essays, have meaningful discussions of books, and see old friends.

4. Work Date. When I need to spend an afternoon grading, I call up my friends that like coffee, or have writing or projects of their own to complete. We hit up a coffee shop in the area, drink good coffee, and distract each other from the task at hand.

5. Weekly Dinner. My husband and I often scrounge for dinners- we'll eat what's around the house without blinking an eye. But at least once a work week we sit down to eat dinner together, talk about our budget, and just unplug from our phones and Netflix.

Definitely make plans with friends a part of your routine, and allow your meetings to multitask as opportunities to do things that matter to you.

reading: The Maytrees

August 10, 2015

During college, I made my way through many of Annie Dillard's books, such as Teaching a Stone to Talk and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which are strong examples of narrative nonfiction. Her writing is so rich, and her observations are so detailed. I was excited to read a copy of her second novel, The Maytrees, to see her caliber of writing turned to fiction.

"For a long time they owned no car, no television when that came in, no insurance, no savings. Once a week they heard world news on the radio. They supported striking coal miners' families with cash. They loved their son, Pete, their only  child. Between them they read about three hundred books a year. He read for facts, she for transport. Nothing about them was rich, except their days swollen with time." -Annie Dillard

The Maytrees is an ephemeral story of a bohemian couple living on the sliver of Cape Cod between sky and sea. The blur between wide open expanses serves as a backdrop for the story, but also as an image for how the story is structured. As the story follows the main characters, Toby and Lou, time slips through the fabric of the story, early memories combining with later ones and the perspectives of the family flow into one another. Toby's poetry is his life, along with loving quiet painter, Lou. Lou's life centers around her son and the books she reads. The story meanders along their lives, telling the story of the way a couple can separate, and find each other many times in a lifelong friendship.

"They held themselves alert only in those few million cells where they touched. She learned from those cells his awareness and his courtesy. Love so sprang at her, she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it. Where was it in literature? Someone would have written something. She must not have recognized it. Time to read everything again." -Annie Dillard

The true hero of the story is reserved Lou. Although the third person omniscient perspective allows the reader into the minds of father and son, Lou's mind is the one that the reader experiences true love through. Despite the fact that Toby attempts to write poetry, and capture the idea of love, he falls short of understanding love and living it out. Instead, it is the ideas trapped in Lou's silent contemplation that teach the other characters, and the reader, about the true nature of love.

"Wishing and doing, within the realm of the possible, was willing; love was an act of will. Not forced obeisance, but- what? The obvious course of decency? Innate knowledge of goodness? Was it reasonable to love the good and good to love the reasonable?" -Annie Dillard

In The Maytrees, Annie Dillard told a story in which true love is not happy or easy, but somehow, in the end, that depiction rings true and is comforting. The book allows for a life lived well, despite difficulties, and despite the fact that life must end.

teaching: Three Vital Mindsets for Success

August 7, 2015

The most inspiring speaker I heard while attending the NAFNext conference in Anaheim was Dr. Randal Pinkett. He spoke on the modern situation, and described the three mindsets necessary to succeed in this modern landscape- the mindsets of the entrepreneur, the innovator, and the global citizen.

As he describes it, our world is shaped by the economy, technology, and diversity. Those who can make do with less, keep up with change, and work with people who do not look like them will be the ones to succeed. 

Entrepreneurs make do with less, they are creative, resourceful, courageous, resilient, and passionate. He emphasized that students have these traits, and that we can help them hone these traits by modeling passion for our subject matter, and working effectively on a team.

Innovators have a healthy acceptance of failure and change. They fail fast rather than hard, and are willing to persist enthusiastically to pursue solutions. Teaching students through project and experience based learning allows them to develop the skills to take risks and learn from mistakes.

Global citizens embrace diversity in their work and personal lives. They build meaningful relationships with people who think differently than them. Randal emphasized that only interacting with people that think like you nullifies the benefits of diversity- multiple viewpoints. He called for teachers to diversify their networks to set a positive example for their students.

When we hear presentations that say that we are preparing students for careers that have not been conceived of, I think teachers can fall back on these ideas. Economies, technology, and diversity will be consistent presences in our growing world. If students can build skills and mindsets that help them to navigate these modern hallmarks, they will have transferable skills for whatever changes occur. Not only that, but they will have strong supports to help them succeed despite difficulty, change, and culture.

If you are interested in hearing Dr. Randal Pinkett speak on this topic, here is a TEDTalk similar to the speech he gave to our conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1veBBpWxJQ. He is a great speaker, and so it is worth checking out, and maybe even playing for your class. 

teaching: Using Teams of Teachers Effectively

August 3, 2015

Some of the best NAF trainings I went to dealt with team dynamics, and how to work with other teachers in ways that didn’t waste time, were organized, and actually make a difference in the performance of students. The two most helpful trainings I went to were led by Michelle Swanson of Swanson and Cosgrove Consulting. Here’s a summary of my takeaways, and some of my thoughts on implementing these ideas.

Leveraging a team to support struggling students

Teaching can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be. As schools grow, the growing trend of using teams of teachers to collaborate and support students combats the overwhelming number of students in schools and classrooms. With the NAF model, academies are teams of teachers that can be leveraged to identify and support struggling or at risk students. There are four steps to effectively use a team to support students according to Michelle Swanson: identify the team, structure the team’s members and meetings, define “struggling” and how to notice the signs, and then create systematic supports for students.

1. Identify team members, and then look within your team to support struggling students.

2. Spend time structuring the team so that the work is centered on the students. Meet to identify students that need support, not to cover announcements that could be sent out in an email.

3. Define what the early signs are for struggling students. What are the red flags that show that a student may need intervention to succeed? Some possible suggestions for these signs: missing more than 10% of school days, semester course failure, GPA below 2.0, and negative in class behavior.

4. After defining what the signs are, decide on supports such as summer bridge programs, tutoring after school. mentoring, and having a teacher that advises students identified as struggling.

The idea is that all students are capable, and that a team of staff can work together to catch more students and help all students use their talents and seize all the opportunities possible.

Making team meetings as effective as possible

So many modern meetings seem to be all about releasing information that could be sent through email. They feel like a waste of time. As we develop more ways to communicate information, our meetings need to be necessary, student focused, timely, and use clearly developed expectations and norms to drive truly meaning work.

Here are some of Michelle's suggestions for making team meetings effective:
  • Don’t meet if you don’t need to. Information delivery can be saved for email, collaborative, student focused, action oriented work lends itself to meeting in person. 
  • Adopt a common meeting mindset. Value each other’s time, and create meeting norms and working norms to ensure expectations are clear. If we expect our students to be professional and learn life skills, we need to demonstrate those skills also. 
  • Make sure to use meeting goals and agendas that accomplish the larger goals of your program or department. 
  • Stick to an agenda, and hold everyone to predetermined time limits. 
  • Use systems like Google Docs to take information from the meeting, and turn it into action. 
  • Each meeting, take time to reflect on the effectiveness of the meeting. Review and revise the norms, and hold people accountable for them. 
  • Make sure everyone on the team has a role in the meeting and beyond their teaching. If someone can claim a part of the team’s duties as their own, they are more likely to be engaged. 
In the end, I think that these are great suggestions. I want to push committees, planning teams, and even my students to consider some of these solutions, especially with setting norms and making work time worth while. Who knows, maybe we could even use this for our staff meetings. 

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