The Kindness Calendar, hacked

Earlier this month, I posted about the Kindness Calendar that Tania Sheko proposed hacking for education; since my return to work, I’ve taken on the challenge.

My hack is a simple one: I challenged myself to praise or pay special attention to a different student each day. I mentioned this to my wife, and she said, “Start with your most challenging student” – good advice!

This year, my most challenging students have been the quietest ones. These are the kids who easily slip under my radar because they are so quiet. So I started to think: which students struggled the most in the first semester? Which students passed but perhaps received a grade below their potential? I thought of about a dozen students whom I allowed to struggle in silence during the fall, without realizing it.

I decided that I would start by making a special effort to pay attention to these students. To document my effort, I downloaded a free blank calendar in Word, and adjusted the cells so that I could make brief notes each day about my interactions with students.

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I’ve noticed a few things.

One, keeping the calendar has re-focused my attention on ensuring that I focus on spending equitable time with each student. I am reminded that equitable interaction doesn’t necessarily mean identical interaction.

Two, I’ve taken a fresh look at some of my existing practices – for example, I frequently share student work; now, in sharing such models of excellent work (as on January 13), I’ve asked myself, “Am I sharing everyone’s strong work, or only a percentage of the students?”

(I didn’t note this on the calendar, but one student whose work I shared expressed surprise when I told her that her response was especially strong. This is extremely useful feedback: I know now that I need to spend more time building this young person’s confidence by praising her work more often.)

Three, keeping the calendar increases my sense of accountability to myself. On January 18, I realized that I hadn’t performed a specific act of kindness or praise. It was a hectic day: I had to co-chair a lunch meeting, then attend a collaboration meeting with the U.S. History team. Thus, while it was a very productive day, it was a day that saw me less focused on my classroom practice. When I sat down to fill out the calendar, I realized that I needed to re-focus my attention the next day.

These ten or so acts of kindness have not changed the world, of course, but I do hope that this effort – sustained over the course of a semester – will make a difference for my students. The process of keeping this calendar – and thinking about it during the day – has forced me to avoid being complacent about making my interactions equitable.

Special thanks to Tania for sharing the calendar and to the poster of the original calendar, Helen at Make Today Happy.

My vision: part 1

In my post on political involvement, I wrote about an in-progress draft of my vision for education. I went back to my notes in Evernote & Scapple, and found that I had drafted about one-tenth of that vision; the rest was in the form of a rough outline.

A year and a half ago, I encountered the idea “working out loud” on Tanya Lau’s blog . I’d like to work out loud more often in 2017, so I’m going to post my vision in installments instead of waiting till I finish the entire piece.

MY VISION OF EDUCATION

At the moment, I have five elements in my vision of an effective school.

  • Meaningful learning for all students
  • Accountability to community
  • Culture of care
  • Access to resources for all students and family
  • Sustainable facility

1.Meaningful Learning for All Students

Meaningful instruction is not limited to “career readiness” or preparing for state assessments. In my opinion, meaningful instruction begins with student choice.

While it is reasonable for the state to exert some influence in the determination of expected student outcomes, the state’s current influence is shockingly disproportionate to the influence of the school community. Teachers and administration should have a say in student outcomes, but more importantly, students and their families should have at least equal influence – and probably more influence – in determining what these outcomes should be.

Educators and communities should be wary of statements such as “Students need x to be prepared for y” and particularly wary of uncritical definitions of “student success.” We must always ask, “Whose definition of success?” We must also ask, “Whose interests are served by this definition of success?”

We need to re-evaluate the word “success” and create a much more inclusive, much broader definition for this word.

To be continued!

A Kindness Calendar

Tania Sheko shared a “Kindness Calendar” yesterday in the CLMOOC Facebook group, and she posed the question as to how CLMOOCers might hack the idea.

One idea that occurred to me: use this calendar as a guide or jumping-off point to making a commitment toward one act of kindness or praise to a different student, classmate, or colleague each day.

Those of us in classroom contexts might also ask our students to re-interpret the calendar for their own lives.

This calendar reminds me that I could improve some of my practices by systematizing and documenting them more effectively. That is to say, I make an effort every day to interact with students and provide positive feedback, but do I provide this feedback equally? Even if I do, I have no way of knowing because I do not always document these interactions.

This is not to say that acts of kindness should be audited, or that I should create some sort of arcane, complicated accounting system that will distract me from more important priorities (like interacting with students!). However, something simple, like a calendar, might be an excellent way of keeping track of kindness by reminding myself, at least once a day, that I need to interact equally with everyone. Revisiting such a calendar as part of my daily routine can keep my focus on equal interaction for the day; if the morning goes badly and I run out of time, checking in with the calendar later in the day can get me back on track.

The calendar idea could also help me to improve at creating positive interactions with my colleagues. I have close relationships with about a dozen or so colleagues, and I try to be pleasant to everyone – but I’m also sure that I can be more intentional about showing kindness to everyone. I can write thank-you notes more often, for example, or make an effort to praise or otherwise be kind to colleagues whom I typically have less interaction with.

What do other CLMOOC folk think about this calendar?

“Know Thy Political Self”

After the disastrous election in November, I read as much as I could, hoping to find some way to channel my anger and frustration into positive action. One of the articles I came across was “How to Be a More Active Progressive in 7 Easy Steps,” a piece from a few years ago.

The first step: “Know Thy Political Self,” in 3 short writing tasks:

  • a political philosophy (recommended length: 350 words)
  • a list of my top ten issues, with brief statements of belief on the issues
  • a list of my political activity in the past year (“could contain anything from ‘I voted’ to ‘I delivered a speech at the U.N.’”)

So, here is my first post of 2017: a statement of my political self.

My Political Philosophy

Rights should be extended as widely as possible.

Government should not restrict rights that do not affect others. For example, same sex marriage between consulting adults was rightly ruled to be protected by the 14th Amendment. However, the government should restrict activity that does harm others, such as industrial pollution.

No one should be a millionaire while others are homeless and hungry. In other words, the government should take steps to limit the acquisition of wealth and to provide for the most vulnerable through progressive taxation and aggressive spending on social services. The Rawlsian ethic should apply to economics: if the wealthiest member of the community would not be willing to switch places with the least wealthy member, the system is unjust.

We should adopt the Iroquois idea of considering how our actions will affect the next seven generations.

True costs must be considered in economics and business. For example, Walmart’s low prices come at the cost of atrocious supply chain practices and low wages for workers. Other products often come at the cost of pollution or increased carbon release, for example. Companies should consider a “triple bottom line” that takes into account social and ecological costs.

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights is a more enlightened document than the U.S. Constitution. We must never forget that our Constitution allowed slavery at its ratification.

My Top 10 Issues, plus 1

These are in no particular order except where noted.

Climate change – if we don’t solve this, the other issues will probably be academic.

Money in politics / campaign finance – it feels a bit naive to suggest that this could ever change, given how wealth retrenched itself in 2016, but removing money from politics could be a key to the other important issues. I see some hope in the fact that California passed a proposition condemning Citizens United, and in the fact that leaders like Senator-elect Kamala Harris (who will be the second Black woman in the U.S. Senate!) and Lt. Gov. (and gubernatorial candidate) Gavin Newsom are fundraising with “chip-in” contributions.

Education – not more important than the other issues, but obviously an area where I have the most expertise. I have begun drafting a piece on my vision for education.

Food justice / food security – I feel some shame at not taking a more active role in this. I’d like to become involved in fighting this at a local level in the new year.

Anti-racism – with a racist-in-chief taking the inaugural oath on January 20, white people need to stand in solidarity with people of color.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that in 2014, “median black household income was about $43,300, while white household income was about $71,300.” Black people are also “more than twice as likely as whites to live in poverty”: in 2016, 26% of Black people lived in poverty compared with 10% of whites.

This is not to mention educational inequities for Black and Latino children, police violence against Black people, the recent rhetoric against Latinos and Muslims, and the spike in hate crimes after November 9.

I know that a majority of voters chose Hillary Clinton, and I am encouraged by how much protest and criticism there has been against Trump, but there are still scary parallels between Germany in the early 1930s and our recent political discourse. There are also scary parallels between Trump’s proposals and our shameful internment of Japanese-Americans in World War 2. White people need to be prepared to stand for equality against what appears to be a rising tide of neo-fascism.

LGBTQ+ rights – A committed homophobe who wants to spend taxpayer money on “conversion therapy” is a heartbeat (or an impeachment) from the Oval Office.

Violence against women – with a sexual-predator-in-chief taking the inaugural oath on January 20, men need to stand in solidarity with women.

Health care / reproductive rights – I link these because so many attacks on reproductive rights have the consequence of limiting women’s access to basic health care. Planned Parenthood, for example, provided nearly 1 million cancer screenings in 2013, yet right-wing politicians (including Mike Pence) have demonized the organization and attempted to defund it based on dubious claims that Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory. (Even if it were, abortion is still legal, but that’s another story.)

And, of course, Trump campaigned on ending Obamacare; there is a good chance that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance later this month.

Immigration – immigrants’ rights are human rights. Here is an excellent example of how the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – in this case, Articles 6, 13, 15, and 21 – is far superior to the U.S. Constitution in articulating a broad vision of a just future for all human beings.

Gentrification / housing justice – I am very pleased with the direction California has taken in the past 10 years, but this is perhaps our major Achilles’ heel. It’s too expensive for most families to buy a home. We need affordable housing if the California Dream is remain attainable for everyone, not only the most wealthy.

I went with eleven issues instead of ten because voting rights came to the fore this year. Voter suppression almost certainly contributed to Trump’s electoral win.

I could have also included mental health care, the digital divide, and prisons/criminal justice reform in this list; they are certainly important issues. Access to clean water is another issue that we need to pay attention to.

My political involvement last year

This is a short list. I voted in the primary and in the general election. I wrote to Dianne Feinstein & Barbara Boxer to express my opposition to the TPP. I donated to Keith Ellison, Kamala Harris, and Gavin Newsom. I called Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego’s office to express my support for his brilliant speech against Trump.

Noah Purifoy

The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum, in North Joshua Tree, is a priceless treasure.

Purifoy fascinates me because of his background in social work. He was both a major artist and a significant figure in community programs and education. He was also a sophisticated, erudite artist who, according to everything I’ve learned about him, did not get caught up in the politics and materialism of the art world.

He is my favorite American artist. I am not an art historian, but I am an enthusiastic amateur admirer of art, and until recently I had three favorite artists: Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Van Gogh. I now have four.

The Outdoor Museum rewards repeat visits as a great book rewards multiple readings. This time when we arrived, a woman introduced herself as the caretaker, Pat. She handed us new brochures and welcomed us to the site.

We started with “Carousel,” one of my favorite pieces – a round “building” decorated inside with a collection of 1980s-era computer parts. Near “Carousel” is my very favorite piece at the museum: “Ode to Frank Gehry,” at right below.

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I read this piece as both homage and critique. Yes, Purifoy pays tribute to the “starchitect,” but he also seems to chip away a bit at Gehry’s mystique – I can do that, too, Purifoy seems to be telling us.

This was the piece that made me a Purifoy admirer when we first visited the Outdoor Museum a few years ago.

The eastern end of the Outdoor Museum has two pieces that especially resonate with me: “Adrian’s Little Theater” (left) and “Gallows.”

“Adrian’s Little Theater” is one of two theater-themed assemblages at the Outdoor Museum. (The other is next to Carousel.) The presence of two such pieces on the property suggests how important the one-time Watts Art Center director believed such public performance spaces were.

“Gallows,” on the other hand, is chilling in its perfection. It is furthest east of the pieces; of all the pieces at the Outdoor Museum, it appears to me to be the most sturdily-constructed. I am not sure if it was constructed from cast-off items, as the rest of Purifoy’s pieces here are, but it appears as though it could have been constructed by a contractor sourcing his items from the local hardware store. That the artist who was born under Jim Crow in Alabama placed this symbol of state-sponsored violence in his desert wonderland seems significant to me. It is as though he wants to tell us that hatred and violence are, like the gallows, sturdily constructed; it seems to be a warning that evil can follow us wherever we go.

“Shelter” is another piece that challenges me. All of Purifoy’s work is constructed of cast-off items, but here the trash feels like trash.

Irene Rible writes that this piece was “made from the charred remnants of a neighbor’s burnt down house and filled with all the manifestations of poverty that Purifoy knew so intimately from his time as a social worker.” I think this sense of the “manifestations of poverty” is what I find so unsettling about this piece. A sign that reads “Kids World,” strategically placed as a sort of welcome mat at one opening reminds that this is the world of many children–bare shelter and little else. Though I don’t especially enjoy looking at this piece, I think I need to spend time with it: when a work of art bothers me this much, it’s a sign that I need to pay attention to it.

On a happier note, the witty “Library of Congress” ends my post. The reading room may not be the most up-to-date, but as you can see from the photo at bottom right, the view is hard to beat!

 

 

Inquiry Update

My effort to establish routines has been of mixed success. I have been able to establish certain routines, such as the weekly check-in I describe below, as well as the “research workshop” on Fridays. On the other hand, I have not written as regularly as I would like – at least not publicly.

My classes have made some progress with the research workshop; it is more clearly structured than last year. I also believe that our Class Constitutions are working better this year than they have in years past. One reason for this: I’ve done a weekly check-in on Mondays (or Tuesdays, due to our block schedule), where students quickwrite about how things are going. Students then have the opportunity to share concerns or positive feedback. In one class, students shared that they enjoyed our biweekly visit to the library and that they enjoyed working on Letters to the Next President.

This week, in place of the quickwrite, I conducted a survey in three of my four classes (I’ll conduct the survey with the fourth class on Friday). I’ll write more about that later this week.

Starting this week, I would like to re-focus on my goal: to write at least weekly, in a public space, about my inquiry. I also want to set aside time, each day, to write in my teaching journal – in sentences! – about my progress and my practice. As my fortieth birthday rapidly approaches, I need to put these routines in place.

“Share Something Small Every Day”

I’m reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, and one of the book’s many great ideas is “share something small everyday.”

I’d really like to do this, and I think Twitter would be an excellent place to start. Condensing my reflection on my work day into 140 characters (or, I suppose, 134 characters, since I’ll add the CLMOOC hashtag) would be an interesting, and I hope useful, experiment. Perhaps, if I can write a focused tweet every day for an extended period of time, I can expand on that as the semester goes on.

So, here’s my first daily share.

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