Equity, Diversity and Design Principles
How can we work together with colleagues to create equitable learning environments?
My Equity Work in My Classroom
Dear Ms. Evans,
I feel like I've grown a lot since the beginning of the unit, because I pay better attention in class and I'm more aware of bullying. At [the] beginning I was less focused and bullying didn't really seem like a huge issue but now I feel more alert about it. I think the book we have been reading really has opened my eyes about bullying and at the same time was entertaining. Over all I think my growth throughout this unit was good and I feel like I've improved.
Middle school is always a time of turmoil as students seek to refine (or find!) their identity. I had heard from the 6th grade teachers, and from students I conferenced with before school started, that the incoming class of 7th graders were a particularly mixed bag of personalities and that there had been bullying problems last year. These incidents ranged from being picked on, teased, or excluded to outright physical fights. I was concerned: how to build a community of safety, trust, and respect in the classroom that would, ideally, carry out into the rest of the campus?
I launched the year with a whole class novel called The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm. The three main characters of the book all experience bullying, although in different contexts. They band together and begin telling their stories via a school LAN bulletin. Soon, other students are sharing stories and the overall awareness increases, causing a decrease in bully behaviors. Adults are portrayed realistically: some helping, some blowing it all off, some angry or in denial of the issues. I used the book as a cornerstone and integrated in-class activities to highlight the impact of gossip, the difficulty of clear communication, the importance of finding commonalities, and the complexity of addressing bullying. My hope was that students would come to see each other as resources rather than rivals or rejects and that students would be more conscientious of their actions towards others. From my informal observations, the overall result was positive. Students that I know were ostracized last year have been tolerated if not accepted. I hear students call each other on things like verbal bullying or exclusion. When incidents have arisen, I and other staff have been able to refer back to the novel as a way to help students problem solve or think about their actions. Students completed final projects, two of which I brought in as examples of how students have processed this unit; the task was to complete a story, poster, or commercial that promoted the message of The Revealers:
Commercial: “Bullying or Not? You Decide” is based on a t.v. courtroom. Our “judge” Clayton asks the audience to view each scenario and then discuss if it shows bullying or not. The three scenarios include threats, teasing, physical abuse, and abuse of other's property.
Poster: Jordan and Avi's poster depicts basic illustrations but their “artist's statement” on the back reveals a much deeper process: We have personally never experienced bullying but we have heard and read about it. What we've read is crazy. We can't even believe that stuff like this goes on. So if we make this [poster] hopefully people will see this [and] they will stop bullying. The Revealers took a big part in this project because we didn't really care about bullying. After reading The Revealers it changed our view on bullying.
My Equity Work with my Colleagues
Conversations with colleagues are a bit more tricky. I feel we have equity issues amongst the staff and I think this makes any conversations about the students feel very false. If we can't figure out how to solve our own issues, how well prepared are we to address the students' issues? The GSE presentation by Brett was particularly agitating for me as we have a gay staff member who has only come out to a few staff members and we have several students whom I suspect are gay or unsure. We have NEVER talked about sexual orientation as a staff. I believe many staff feel cultural, gender, and departmental chasms as well. We have staff who speak up and staff who stay silent. I would like to see our climate change to be more collaborative, but we have a long way to go. I see my work as a BTSA mentor as an opportunity to smooth the road a bit.
What I have accomplished with my colleagues is a good relationship with my grade level team. We communicate regularly about concerns and share ideas with each other. We've brainstormed ideas to meet diverse academic needs but, I'm sure, could be doing much more in the name of equity.
My Reflections on Equity
This short course has made me realize that I have huge room for improvement and wish I had more time to work with others as I know I cannot solve these issues alone. It is frustrating to know that staff members right on the other side of the wall may have a great idea or solution for me and I may never get a chance to learn from them. At the same time, it is encouraging to know that there are resources out there and I don't have to be alone in searching for answers. Although I still struggle to define terms like “equity” or articulate problems and solutions, I feel grateful to have been reminded about the importance and challenge of educating others and to have been freshly educated myself with the views and ideas of both published authors and my passionate, honest peers.
Next step? I'm working to integrate the concepts of responsibility and interconnectedness into our next unit, Informational Materials. We will be using the San Diego Union Tribune as our main reading material and I'm sorting through 100's of great ideas that utilize the diversity of the newspaper to reach out to the diversity of my students. I'm thinking of an end project that reflects an issue or topic of importance to each student that could be woven into a class newspaper of sorts. I would like to continue to work on team building and collaborative skills and expect to continue the bullying conversation throughout the year. No doubt we'll come across controversies in the newspaper that fit into the lens of bullying. . . . ooo! There was my ah-ha moment: bullying is a form of inequity and many of the issues of the “adult world” boil down to the same bully behaviors we've been talking about in class: threatening, excluding, insulting, humiliating, denying, assaulting.... Wow. I see now that the bullying unit may have created a launch pad for the rest of the year: narratives focused around these conflicts, research into related topics, songs and poems expressing experiences. Ah ha.