Zoom Differentiation and Accommodations

Though virtual learning is seemingly becoming less commonplace across the country, it’s still certainly around and likely will be for some time. And we all know that virtual learning has its challenges. Especially when it comes to differentiating in the virtual classroom. For students with special education accommodations, teachers will need to get creative in order to account for every student’s unique needs and optimize learning opportunities. Thankfully, there are strategies and methods for providing special education accommodations in Zoom—we just need to think outside the box and modify what each accommodation looks like in the virtual realm. Let’s take a look.

Zoom Chat

Since some are no longer physically in the classroom, proximity, prompting, and cueing accommodations pose a bit of a challenge for instructors. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of the student’s needs. In fact, students who struggle to focus and/or stay on task may need the prompting and proximity accommodations even more now that they are sitting in front of a screen. Online learning does not allow for physical proximity; however, teachers can utilize the chat function to maximize student engagement and provide an alternative form of proximity, prompting, and cueing.

Reaching out: The Zoom chat can be used to individually reach out to specific students with prompting accommodations to spur participation and to rephrase a question when necessary.

Clarifying: The chat also allows teachers to check for understanding by providing a platform for asking clarifying questions, follow-up questions, etc.

Advocating: Teachers should remind students of their chatting capabilities so that students with accommodations can advocate for themselves and speak up when they need assistance.

Tracking: The chat also acts as a data tracker; teachers can modify their settings in Zoom so that chats are saved. This allows for teachers to review correspondence with students and share questions and check-ins with parents. Teachers can also use saved chats to track the number of times a student initiates a task, asks clarifying questions, responds to polls or exit responses, etc.

Reminding: Teachers can use the Zoom chat as a method for reminding students of their extended time or reduced workload accommodations as well. This allows teachers to discreetly remind a certain student that his due date is extended without drawing attention to the student’s accommodations in front of the whole class. **Just be certain that, when chatting with specific students about these accommodations, you have selected the student’s name from the dropdown so that the chat remains a private, 1:1 conversation.

Breakout Rooms

The grouping function in Zoom can also be beneficial when ensuring certain special education accommodations are offered. Teachers have the option to manually assign groups, which means that students with special education services can be grouped with a para-educator or with other students who have the same accommodations.

Variance: Teachers should try to avoid always grouping special education students together, however, as to avoid drawing attention to certain small groups or stigmatizing students who need additional support.

Oversight: Teachers can randomly assign groups using the “automatic” option when creating breakout rooms. Then, while students work, the “host” can pop in and out of groups to act as a “check-in” for students with that accommodation.

Mobility: Teachers can also move the para-educator from group to group during breakout room sessions so that every student receives supports throughout the collaborative activity.

Discretion: Breakout rooms also offer opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can modify assignments and link adapted materials in the chat to send to specific breakout rooms. From the chat link, students can click on the shared Google doc to access the modified material. This function can provide students with resources such as word banks, sentence starters, outlines, graphic organizers, glossaries, etc. The key is that each student who receives these accommodations will have access in a discreet manner and can choose to use the materials as needed.

In short, there are many steps educators can take to ensure virtual learning provides differentiation and accommodation on a platform like Zoom. Though virtual learning may not be around forever, it still remains for some, and with that, educators must ensure they enhance the learning experience as much as possible.

Teachers Aren’t Receiving the Support They Need, but You Can Help

Better school funding, better pay, and better benefits, these are a few of the demands fueling teachers’ recent strikes and walkouts across the U.S., including those in Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. In the wake of the action, these states have taken the first steps to improve school funding.

However, many would argue that we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say that teachers are compensated fairly or that schools have the right supplies to provide a proper education and a healthy learning environment.

We have a lot of work to do, and speaking up is just the beginning. Education is one of the rare issues in which we can make a profound difference on a local level. Along with choosing to participate in strikes or attend walkouts, consider these five ways you can support teachers, both locally and nationwide:

1. Support teachers and schools financially.

There is a significant disparity in the amount of funding that each school receives, which creates a huge quality gap. According to our “Classroom Trends” report, teachers spend an average of $381 of their own money on classroom supplies each year. The problem is worse in regions with lower educational funding, where teachers are forced to spend a yearly average of nearly $500 on classroom supplies. That expense is deducted from a salary that’s already low compared to other professions with similar levels of education and experience.

By donating books, school supplies, or money, you can help offset that high out-of-pocket cost. Check out DonorsChoose, an organization that makes it easy to fund projects at specific schools. To take a more hands-on approach, you can visit schools near you, learn about their needs, and then hold a fundraiser to address those needs.

If you’re unable to make in-kind donations, consider offering gift cards from your business or place of work. You can also offer exclusive teacher appreciation discounts to show your support. Because teachers are spending a lot out of pocket, anything you can do to lessen that burden helps. For example, at Staples, teachers can earn rewards for classroom purchases and up to 10 percent cash back.

If you simply cannot afford to make a financial donation, consider shopping from businesses that support teachers. There are several companies with a dedication to education, even if their industry does not directly correlate. For example, WeAreTeachers recently partnered with Kinsa, a smart thermometer company, to give away 15,000 thermometers. While thermometers aren’t traditionally considered school supplies and are, therefore, excluded from lists, they are essential for stopping the flu and other viruses from spreading throughout schools.

2. Take the time to fully understand education issues.

Regardless of your political preference, it’s important to understand both local and national education issues. Doing research on the issues facing your community is your civic duty, regardless of whether you are a parent or whether you work directly for a school district, because a poorly educated generation will eventually result in a poorly educated population.

Visit sites like Chalkbeat and Education Week to learn about region-specific concerns and local events. There are also local Facebook groups you can participate in to discuss education issues and learn about the schools in your area. If you want to educate yourself on national issues, try consulting larger organizations like the PTA.

It’s fitting that the key to a better education system is learning. Simply being knowledgeable about the issues can inspire progress and keep the education system at the top of our minds, both in local communities and on a larger scale.

3. Create free curriculum resources.

Teachers are often looking for resources to bring into their classrooms. Some companies and organizations dedicate an entire section of their websites to providing educational materials to teachers, like this one by NASA. If you’re in a position to do so, consider developing, sharing, or distributing free materials that could fill a gap at a local or national level.

For example, we know that teachers are often looking for financial literacy resources to help their students understand money skills. At MDR, we’ve worked with the charitable arms at financial corporations to develop free lessons that meet that need for teachers. Through partnerships like this, we can all come together to educate the next generation.

4. Lead by example.

The media’s coverage of education issues tends to be negative, sometimes even blaming teachers for issues they have little or no control over. But sharing your support of educators via social media, on your website, or in everyday conversations can counteract that negativity.

Of course, pairing action with verbal support is the best way to advocate for teachers, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect of words on their own. For example, you might post on social media about local teachers’ classroom projects or even mention your favorite classroom project to your friends at trivia night.

5. Volunteer at a school.

Perhaps the most valuable investment you can make is your time. Volunteering can not only provide much-needed help in our nation’s schools, but it can also help you understand some of the issues teachers face firsthand. Consider bringing your friends along, too, and empower people in your community to advocate for changes in our education system.

If you still need more convincing, take a look at this study from United Healthcare that reports the ways volunteering positively affects mental and physical health. Simply put, helping others also helps you. Confused about where to start? Check out organizations like Reading Partners that have a plethora of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to get involved.

Most importantly, even though it’s highly politicized in today’s headlines, remember that education is essential to our nation at the most basic level. We are educating the people who will eventually run our country, our businesses, and our communities. We have to care. We have to help where we can. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for even bigger problems in the future.

 

Teachers Report Weaker Relationships with Students of Color, Children of Immigrants

The relationship between teachers and students is a critical factor for academic success. However, a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds that teachers report weaker relationships with children of immigrants and adolescents of color.

“Teachers’ relationships are hugely important for all students, but particularly so for groups that are marginalized. Yet, the students who could most benefit from relationships with their teachers are the ones that have the least access to strong teacher-student relationships,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study, published online in the American Journal of Education.

Since 2014, public school classrooms have reflected a demographic shift in the United States, with the overall number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students surpassing the number of White students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students of color now make up the majority of students, but inequities between students of different backgrounds have continued to plague the education system.

Existing research highlights the importance of teacher-student relationships on academic indicators such as test scores, classroom engagement, and interest in learning. Teachers not only play a pivotal role in developing students’ knowledge and skills, but can also serve as role models.

But research also presents a mixed view of student-teacher relationships with students of color and immigrant youth. Though these groups of youth may be especially reliant upon their teachers, many also report discriminatory experiences or few interactions with staff.

In the current study, Cherng studied two aspects of teacher-student relationships: whether teachers form equally strong relationships with students from different backgrounds and whether these relationships shape students’ academic expectations for themselves.

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, a nationally representative sample of high school students and their teachers, Cherng analyzed teacher surveys for English and math high school teachers. Relationships were measured three ways: how familiar a teacher reported being with a student, whether the teacher perceived a student to be passive or withdrawn, and engagement in conversation with students outside the classroom. These surveys were linked with academic and demographic data for their students.

For the analysis examining teacher-student personal relationships and later academic outcomes, a measure of student academic expectations was used, which gauged whether a student expected to go to and complete college.

Cherng found that not all groups of students enjoy strong teacher-student relationships; patterns of relationships varied by subject taught, race/ethnicity, and whether students were immigrants, children of immigrants, or third-generation and beyond. For instance, English teachers reported weaker relationships with Asian American students and math teachers with their Latino students compared to third-generation White students.

“Different patterns in student-teacher relationships among English and math teachers suggest that distinct stereotypes may shape relationships,” Cherng said.

In contrast to these patterns of disadvantage, English teachers reported stronger relationships with third-generation Black students compared to third-generation White students. This may reflect teachers’ concerted efforts to close the achievement gap between White and Black students.

The study also highlights the important role of strong teacher-student relationships in fostering student academic expectations: early teacher-student relationships impact later student academic expectations. In other words, teacher-student relationships can inspire students to have high academic ambitions.

“This study demonstrates that teacher-student relationships are a valuable source of social capital in that they help shape students’ academic expectations. However, these relationships are not a resource that is equally available to all students,” Cherng said. “In contrast to the idea that racial discrimination is an intentional disparagement, the findings may reflect a subtler form of racial discrimination: teachers may be unfamiliar with the lives of all of their students, and this lack of knowledge may hinder relationships.”

Cherng notes that the study supports the necessity of rigorous teacher training in cultural awareness in order to overcome biases and improve relationships between teachers and students.

Mental Health Matters: Why Schools Can’t Afford to Ignore Staff and Student Needs

With education reform being the buzz term of the decade, there has been lots of talk about how we can make schools better. New instructional methods, increasing technology, longer days, more differentiation. All great ideas, of course, but none take into account the enormous pink elephant in the room.

You can’t teach kids that you can’t reach, and children who come into the classroom with mental health needs require different tools in which teachers are not routinely being equipped with.  This is creating school buildings where the teachers and students end the day feeling like refugees, having engaged in a war none of them is equipped to win.

The NPR calls it the silent epidemic, referring to the 20% of students who come into the classroom each day with a diagnosable mental illness. With the large numbers of students I’ve personally seen diagnosed with ADHD or even PTSD, I tend to consider that stat a little on the conservative side, but even as it stands if one in five children in a classroom of 30 have needs that go untreated, how much learning can really occur?

Beyond the needs that walk into the classroom, there are the needs that develop in the classroom.  Staff and students who are impacted by witnessing or experiencing the outward expressions of the internal turmoil caused by the child with ADHD who “picks” fights to stimulate his brain or the student with ODD who makes the class late to lunch every day by disrupting the walk through the halls. Or what about that teacher whose anxiety over test scores and job performance has begun to creep into every area of her life? Are the kids who are being taught by the shell of her best self which walks in the door actually going to be getting all the instruction they need?

Mental health care in this country has never been what the experts would want to see.  Working from the deficit model that says you should be experiencing a problem before you seek support and even then you’ve got exactly 10 sessions to fix it leaves much to be desired. But in schools, it’s much worse.  The one or two professional counselors, social workers or psychologists that work in the school typically cover all 800-2000 students by themselves, which means only the highest needs get addressed. This is leaving staff and students vulnerable and schools must stop ignoring the need.

Here’s what we must begin:

School-wide mental wellness.

Why do teachers have sick days and not well days? When I train educators on working with students who are at-risk of academic failure, I encourage them to take a mental health day periodically in order to stay fresh and avoid burnout.  Many respond by saying they are penalized on their annual reviews for using these days.  Huh? How can having a teacher who doesn’t want to be in the classroom benefit anyone? Schools should encourage self-care and stress management, including planned time off.  Recent research has also shown that schools who include mindfulness practices also see great benefits such a decrease in staff stress levels and discipline referrals.

Proactive and Responsive Mental Wellness Supports.

When it comes to staff mental health, most employers rely on employee assistance programs.  The services historically include a few mental health sessions with a licensed professional and are seen as the primary source of defense for staff who are facing a crisis.  But with as little as 5% of staff actually using the services, the full benefits of this resource has yet to be seen.

Some research has concluded anything from lack of awareness to the negative stigma of mental illness contributes to low usage rates, so what if employers encouraged or even required at least one visit per year? That way, needs are identified sooner and the stigma is reduced. I’ve worked in schools that rewarded me for taking a physical exam or even paid a bonus for lowering my blood pressure or cholesterol, could the same be done with mental wellness? Of course, it could.  Staff who are more mentally well can have no adverse effects on student outcomes and it’s worth exploring how it can be used to improve them.

Reading, Writing and Mental Wellness for all.

For students, many schools have begun contracting with outside mental health offices to provide school-based services.  While these relationships do benefit some students, the vast majority of kids are remaining overlooked. One of the best solutions is decreasing the student to counselor/social worker ratio. While national organizations continue to encourage rates close to 250 to 1, most schools still come in much closer to 400+ students for each professional trained in mental health needs.  The best solution, however, is making sure that all staff are clearly trained to understand, recognize and respond to mental health needs that present themselves in the classroom.

There’s no magic bullet for eliminating mental health needs, but with the right tools and consistent effort, all staff and students will get the support they need.

Increasing Workplace Diversity: The Glass Escalator Phenomenon in Female Dominated Professions

20 Jobs Dominated by Women – Business Insider

Many assume that most workplaces are meritocracies where effort is rewarded by advancement and success. But as companies in the United States strive to accommodate greater racial and ethnic diversity, this premise has proved questionable for women and non-white men.

Broadly-designed efforts to incorporate black workers into positions where they are underrepresented, particularly in professional or managerial jobs, have been largely unsuccessful. Relatively few black people have attained high-status positions in the medical, legal, and scientific and engineering fields; and racial gaps persist for highly-educated blacks in white collar and professional positions.

To support the advancement of black workers in white-collar occupations, researchers and managers need to understand how implicit behavioral biases can sideline black careers. My research deals with these issues in various kinds of job settings.

Emotional Performance

Various jobs come with unspoken emotional requirements, rarely codified, that hold workers accountable for creating feelings in themselves or others. For instance, customer service workers are expected to make clients feel respected and valued. Flight attendants must remain calm even when interacting with unruly passengers. Such emotional requirements mean additional labor for workers of all races, yet black professionals in predominantly white environments must also deal with racial dynamics that further complicate this work.

Both inside and outside of the workplace, the implicit emotional rules that black professionals must meet – often, they say, at great cost – are quite different from those applied to their white colleagues. Black professionals are expected to express emotions of pleasantness and kindness constantly, even in the face of racial hostility.

Diversity trainings require them to conceal feelings of frustration even when colleagues express racial biases.  Black men in particular report a prohibition on any expression of anger, even in jobs where anger is accepted or encouraged from others.  Black women, in contrast, deploy anger strategically as a means to be taken more seriously at work.

Black Men in Female-Dominated Fields

Such gender differences are not limited to emotional performance and even prevail in occupations where men are in the minority. Research shows that white men working in culturally feminized fields – nursing, social work, and teaching – are privileged by the “glass escalator” phenomenon, in which they are afforded advantages and advancement unavailable to colleagues who are women or non-white males.

For example, white men are generally supported by male authority figures, encouraged to pursue administrative or supervisory positions, and enjoy a positive reception from female colleagues who welcome men into “their” professions.  But the same advantages do not extend to black men in traditionally female jobs. Black men in these fields experience social isolation from those who might support their climb up the career ladder.  Any “glass escalator” that may exist for white men in female-dominated jobs is largely out of service for black men.

Black Men in Male-Dominated Fields

Black men in culturally-masculinized occupations — lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, engineers – are uniquely positioned. In workplaces like this, majority and minority racial and gender statuses inform how black men are expected to present themselves and interact with colleagues. Specifically, black men’s minority status keeps them from fully integrating into their jobs, even as their gender status gives them advantages over their women counterparts.

As the racial minority, black men often empathize with the ways women are treated and use their gendered privileges to advocate for gender-equitable workplace policies. At the same time, black men report wanting closer relationships with other black professional men, but are uncomfortable engaging in the socially stereotyped feminine behaviors that are necessary to achieve this– such as initiating contact, staying in communication, checking up on one another.

Similarly, the black men are reluctant to express or reveal a need for social support, because men are culturally expected to “go it alone.” As a result, black men in white-collar occupations often remain quite isolated at work.

Although black men may be able to bond with white men over “guy things,” they lack access to critical social networks (to elite white friends, neighbors, and acquaintances) that can provide boosts up the corporate ladder. Racial and gendered stereotypes often also force black professionals to develop and maintain alternative types of black masculinity.

Bottom Lines for Employers, Organizations, and Policymakers

Workers of color face numerous challenges in the workplace that differ greatly depending on the field, profession, and specific office setting. The challenges faced by black men and black women are not identical, even in the same work environments. And specific work settings matter, too, because black men in the medical field, for instance, face distinct challenges from those practicing law.

Because one-size-fits-all approaches and generalized diversity policies will not effectively address the specific challenges facing workers of color, organizations, and offices must try to understand how racial and gender dynamics play out in their specific fields and workplaces. Only with such understanding can a workplace succeed at becoming more attractive, accepting, and comfortable for diverse employees.

How to begin? A workplace could start by soliciting buy-in from professional black men, who may have been overlooked in previous efforts to foster equal acceptance. Employers can tie diversity outcomes to concrete rewards for managers and workers. And because black professionals are often required to leave their racial identity at the door – under the dubious rationale that it will reduce race-related stress – perhaps the most important step is to openly acknowledge that racial issues impact workers’ lives.

Find out what the issues are for each workplace and its employees – and then tailor solutions to real-life experiences. Overall, this is important work for employers.  As the U.S. workforce continues to diversify, workplaces must be creating acceptance and support from the ground up in order to remain competitive.

Teacher Racial Bias Matters More for Students of Color

English and math teachers underestimate the academic abilities of students of color, which in turn has an impact on students’ grades and academic expectations, finds a new study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The study, published online in the journal Social Science Research, builds on existing evidence of how teacher biases in the classroom affect students and adds a new layer of information about students of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng

“When teachers underestimate their students’ academic abilities by perceiving that their class is too difficult for students, it matters – but it matters differently for different groups of students,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study.

Teachers’ belief in their students’ academic capabilities has long been understood to be a vital ingredient for student success and has been linked to students’ own beliefs in how far they will progress in school, their attitudes toward school, and their academic achievement.

“The process begins with a teacher who expects a student to succeed academically – this belief can shape a teacher’s behavior, such as what assignments are given, body language, and the time a teacher spends with a student. Students respond to these high expectations by internalizing them, which may boost their own academic expectations and performance,” said Cherng.

These teacher perceptions may be especially important for students of color, as a small body of research shows that when teachers have confidence in the academic abilities of students of color, they reap even greater benefits than do their White peers.

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, Cherng analyzed educational, demographic, and survey data from approximately 10,000 high school sophomores and their teachers. He first examined whether teachers have similar perceptions of the academic abilities of students belonging to different racial and ethnic groups after considering factors such as standardized test scores and homework completion.

Cherng then investigated whether teachers underestimating their students’ abilities – the beliefs that students are struggling in class when student test scores are average or higher – is associated with students’ own expectations and GPA. Student expectations were measured by how far high school seniors expected they would go in school – for instance, whether they would graduate from college or earn a graduate degree.

Consistent with stereotypes of race and academic abilities, both math and English teachers were more likely to perceive their class as too difficult for students of color compared to White students, even after controlling for standardized test scores, homework completion, and a host of other factors.

The greatest gap was found for Black students: more than twice the percentage of math (18 percent) and English (13 percent) teachers reported that their class is too difficult, compared to White students (8 percent of math teachers; 6 percent of English teachers). Gaps between Latino and White students were also sizeable (a 6 percent difference). A 4-percent gap between White and Asian American students on English teacher reports aligns with the “Model Minority” stereotype that Asian Americans excel in math but not English.

Teachers underestimating their students’ abilities had an impact on both students’ academic expectations as well as their GPAs.

“Based on my analysis, teachers underestimating their students’ abilities actually causes students to have lower academic expectations of themselves, meaning that they expected they would complete less school. This was particularly harmful among Black students,” Cherng said.

Cherng found a different story when looking at GPAs: while teacher underestimations were linked with lower GPAs, the relationship was weaker for Black students.

“It is possible that Black students anticipate that their teachers think less of them and work harder in class to prove them wrong, hence the less negative effect on their GPAs. Challenging teacher underestimations may be unique to Black students, who have a long history of resisting discrimination within schools,” Cherng said. “Regardless, teacher underestimations are harmful to Black youth.”

Cherng concluded that addressing these biases through better teacher preparation programs or professional development may help eliminate achievement differences and bolster the success of all students.

Teaching for Change

Why are you a teacher, and what is the point of doing the job you do? Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to “inspire” students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to “fill gaps in the labour market” or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests.

For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it.

change-4-1imepycHowever, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time. you have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infiltrate the walls of our schools and shape the real world experiences of our students.

Regardless if our students come from a place of privilege or oppression, these issues impact our classrooms and challenge us to confront them to ensure that the students we care for can overcome these issues as well as not perpetuate them as they move from youth to adults.

For teachers, it means that we cannot be ignorant to how these issues impact education and the lives of our students. Teaching is an inherently political act as the decisions we make from choosing to ignore these issues or confronting them demonstrates to our students the attitude we should have towards the major issues of our times.

If we want our students to have a chance of following their passions in life and to take on the major social and environmental issues of our time, we need to demonstrate a sense of courageous teaching that is not afraid to speak out against the issues that impact education and our students. Teachers must act in a way that promotes the ideals we strive for that would create a more democratic and equitable world for all.

That is why it is necessary that teachers eliminate the ideas of objectivity and neutrality from their practice. As one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, Paulo Freire said, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. As we see governments take on more austerity measures against education systems and demonize teachers in the media, it is essential that we assert ourselves as a profession that has the power to change society.

It is my hope that if you are a teacher reading this, you will join me in embracing a radical vision of what your teaching practice and the education system you work in could be. Teachers, in partnership with their union and other ally organizations, must understand the power we can have if we understand the principles of social justice and democracy. When you signed up to be a teacher, you also signed up to advocate for your students. I hope you’ll join me, and many other teachers, advocating for a more just and equitable world free from oppression for all people.

Until that day happens, teachers must engage in the long-term struggle for justice both in and outside of their classrooms. Social justice must be a centerpiece for why we teach and we must advocate for social justice as a framework for understanding teaching and education to our elected officials, unions and all others concerned with making the world a better place.

Five Social Justice Challenges to Teachers

As the new school year is underway, I just wanted to take a moment to urge teachers to think about how social justice issues impact their classrooms. I’ve listed 5 social justice challenges to teachers below to encourage us to think about how we interact, teach and organize our classrooms to promote equity and justice.

sjToo often, and especially at the beginning of a school year, I see teachers becoming concerned about having the “right” posters on the wall or trying to become an expert at the latest “technological innovation” in teaching. As great as technology can be in a classroom, teaching and learning is about human interaction. At the heart of that interaction can be a shared commitment to learning through a social justice framework.

Here are my five social justice challenges to teachers:

  1. Create a safe and equitable classroom for LGBTQ students. If we want to create an inclusive classroom where students care for each other, we must instill a culture that embraces all students in the classroom. Here is a resource to help  http://glsen.org/educate/resources/back-school-guide-educators
  2. Learn about how colonialism impacts teaching and education. If you’re a teacher in Canada then you must be aware that colonialism is not just a thing of the past, but a process that continues to this day. Many of us teachers are settlers on Indigenous lands and must understand that we have a role to play in the decolonization process. Check this out-http://blogs.ubc.ca/edst591/files/2012/03/Decolonizing_Pedagogies_Booklet.pdf

  3. Do not be afraid to talk about race with your students. Despite what many mainstream commentators are saying, we do not live in a “post-racial society”. Canada is not immune to racial inequality. I urge you to learn about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as how the issues in Ferguson, Missouri highlight racial inequality.

  4. Understand how poverty can impact your students lives. Often times, we blame individual students for their behaviours without looking at the context of the environments that they live in. Poverty has a an immense impact on a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom. As teachers, we see this first hand. When we signed up to become teachers, we also signed up to advocate for our students. Get involved in your community and ask how you can be a part of the solution to create the social change to eliminate poverty.

  5. Don’t hesitate to take on controversial issues in the classroom. A great example is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Students must use their classroom experiences to make sense of the world they live in. If we do not prepare them to engage in the task of understanding the world, then we do them a great disservice. Below is a short and good video to help kick off a discussion about Israel and Palestine.

I could add many more challenges to this list, but I think these are 5 good places to start. Obviously, you can tailor these challenges to the appropriate grade level and learning needs of your students. If you approach these challenges with authenticity and a willingness to learn, then you just may find that you’ve opened a door to new possibilities about the purpose of your role as a teacher. It definitely did for me, I hope it does for you.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y58njT2oXfE[/youtube]

Should Kids Have to Keep Themselves Safe?

Recently, Violence Free Waitakere (VFW), in West Auckland NZ, launched “‘Jade Speaks Up’, a new multimedia resource to help keep children safe from violence.” The media release said, “The resource aims to help children put safety strategies in place to support themselves, should they feel afraid in their lives whether from bullying, natural disasters, adult threats or witnessing grown-ups fighting.”

Jade Speaks Up
Purchase Book

Natural disasters aside, because none of us can control those, the question has to be asked, “Are we at the all-time social low that kids, “aged 7-12 years,” now have to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe from violence and bullying?” That’s what adults were supposed to do when I was a little boy.

All kudos to Elaine Dyer and her team at VFW for a job well done. It’s a nice 8 minutes of animated characters on real-life backgrounds, catchy music, with guides and resources for teachers, parents, therapists, and social workers to facilitate sessions with children on self-preservation.

But goodness, what a sad indictment it is on us, as adults. We must finally admit we can no longer trust ourselves and each other to fulfill one of the most important roles of adults — child protection.

The countless and growing statistics and news reports attest to it: we’ve got so bad at looking after kids, the least we can do is help them look after themselves. If this saves one kid from hiding, and it’s worth its weight in gold.

I know, I’m preaching to the converted if you’re reading this. But, like me, I hope you’re holding out for Elaine and VFW to release “Jade Doesn’t Have to Speak Up.”

Burnout: Who’s Taking Care of the Care Takers?

 

burn-out

Stressors are a given in the helping professions such as social work, teaching, and nursing which can often lead to burnout. These can include intense and long work hours, low salaries, mismanagement, lack of appreciation and support, lack of job autonomy and security, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, politics (both interagency and governmental), and even personal risk at times. As a result it’s highly important to establish and implement procedures that reduce and/or eliminate stressors in order to prevent burnout and ultimately employee turnover which negatively impacts the organization and those served. 

Burnout is preventable. However, helping professions haven’t typically focused on their employees in the same way they’ve focused on their clients. Reducing and eliminating the stressors that contribute to burnout would ultimately require a total revamping of society. Many of the standards set by organizations are established by outside sources that are often disconnected from the reality of service provision.

This can lead to organizations placing a greater priority on those standards rather than addressing and supporting the needs of their employees, which also directly affect the needs of those they are helping. In an attempt to meet particular standards, organizations often have limited resources to reach their objectives. This can manifest as low salaries as well as significant overtime due to limited staffing due to limited funding while occurring within a societal framework that often fails to provide sufficient vacation time, healthcare, or other programs to support well being.

Contemplating a complete overhaul of society is overwhelming and contributory factor in creating the circumstances for burnout. There are many protective factors helping organizations and employees as individuals can do to promote change. Many in the helping fields advocate for others as individuals and overall societal change, but often have difficulty advocating for themselves. Some of this is a result of societal traditions and some of it is a result of a lack of education on the issues that directly impact them. This is particularly evident in regards to pay.

Employees in the helping professions are often underpaid and since money equals value in our society this communicates how little our society values the services these individuals provide.  Of course most don’t go into their chosen field to make a ton of money. However, if one has a major financial burden due to the profession they chose, this can contribute to burnout. At a societal and organizational level, those in helping professions need to advocate not only for higher pay, but also shorter work hours and increased vacation time.

Research has demonstrated that working overtime has a direct correlation to decreased productivity while employing flexible hours has a direct correlation to increased productivity.  Such policies also promote overall well being in all aspects of life, therefore, they should be taken into consideration and ample time off should be provided to recuperate. This could also provide opportunities for more jobs in these fields thus decreasing the unemployment rate.

These changes alone could move the meter tremendously towards eradication of burnt out helping professionals. Additionally, there are smaller changes that can be made until organizations and society buys in to the value of taking care of its employees and citizens.  Since increased job autonomy and social support within organizations are directly linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, organizations should create an environment that promotes this. Supervisors need to be mindful of providing praise as well as allowing room for employees to create aspects of their job duties.

Many enter into their chosen field passionate about certain areas and when they aren’t allowed to be involved in their passions, lose enthusiasm for their job.  Encouraging employees to incorporate their passions can significantly improve job satisfaction and decrease burnout. As well, creating promotional opportunities along with salary increases adds to employees’ motivation to be productive and satisfied. Along with all of this, providing opportunities for professional development in areas of employees’ interests will promote growth that will benefit both the individual workers and the organization. Included in this should be stress management workshops because no matter how many of these changes are made, stress will still exist in the helping professions.

Employees and organizations need to constantly educate and empower themselves in order to most effectively advocate for those they help, their field, and of course, themselves. At first, it may appear selfish to advocate for oneself when many working in helping professions have been socialized to operate within society’s parameters. By instituting protective factors for helping professionals, it will not only benefit the employees and their fields, but society as a whole will also reap the benefits. It’s time to stand up for health and well being for all including those who traditionally provide such opportunities of empowerment.

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