Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Question MarksIf you love science fiction like I do, you might have watched Stranger Things on Netflix. The song, “Should I stay or should I go?” is heard from the radio in several episodes.  That question plagued me over the summer and it is a question I will need to consider before this school year ends.

On Wednesday, February 8th, I was filled with excitement.  I heard from The Kitchen Community, my school, Wendell Phillips School #63 was selected to receive a learning garden.  When I completed the application for my school, I wondered if it was good enough for us to be selected.  That Wednesday, I learned it was.  I’m a gardener and I blog about my family’s garden journey at my website Gardener Shicole.  I was glad to be able to share part of my life outside of school with students at my school.  The next day, February 9th, I was told by my principal that my literacy coach position was being eliminated and I was being displaced.  Clearly, I would not have put so much effort into bringing a learning garden to my school only to leave at the end of the school year, but I have learned in life, the plans you make many times are not the plans that become reality.

Throughout the summer, I interviewed within my district (Indianapolis Public Schools) and outside of the district.  I was exhausted from answering questions and I had to make a chart to ensure I didn’t wear the same outfit twice for the call back interviews.  I was walking a fine line.  Being displaced means you are guaranteed a job, but if you don’t find one, you could be placed anywhere in the district and I did not want that to become my fate. If you could see my resume, you would know I have only worked in schools on the west or northwest side of Indianapolis because of the distance to my home.  I hate to drive.  I didn’t take driver’s education until my senior year and that’s because my parents forced me to sign up.  The fear of being placed in a school on the far east side, drove me to stay motivated so I would interview well.

I was offered a job at every school I interviewed at except for one.  The burden of making the right choice weighed on me heavily.  Just as a person can interview well, but end up being a poor fit, a school can present itself as a good option, but end up not being what it seems.  In the end, I decided to accept a 9th/10th grade English/Language Arts Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) position at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School.  Normally, when I tell people my title they reply, “So what exactly do you do?”  As a MCL, I teach students and coach teachers.

Crispus Attucks holds a special place in my family.  My grandmother and her brothers attended this school when schools were segregated.  Although, they all attended, my grandmother was the only one who graduated.  My great uncles either left school to join the military or to work.  If you ever walk the hall of Attucks, you will see pictures of each graduating class hanging on the walls.  I sort of feel like my grandmother is watching over me while I’m here.

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On June 30th, I officially received my administrator’s license; this gives me more options for the future.  I already have inquiries about my plans for next school year, but I’m not one to chase a title.  If I take an administrator position, it has to be the right fit.  My dad said, “Shawnta, you would be a fool not to consider all of your options, but make sure you do the best job you can this year to ensure you have options for your future.”  This school year, I chose to return to the Indianapolis Public Schools district and I am striving to be the best high school educator and academic coach I can be.  I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know God will take care of it.

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Bipartisan Senate Concern about Devos’ Education Budget Cut Proposal

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos raised bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill earlier this month during her defense of the proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Education.  In a fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Education, “the budget eliminates or reduces more than 30 programs and decreases the funding of the U.S. DOE by $9 billion.”  At the subcommittee hearing, Sen. Roy Blunt (R) told DeVos, “I think it’s likely that the kinds of cuts that are proposed in this budget will not occur, so we need to fully understand your priorities and why they are your priorities.”

DeVos’s main priority is choice even if students could possibly be discriminated against based on race, religion, and/or sexual orientation.  The fact sheet also highlights, “$1.4 billion toward new public and private school choice opportunities.”  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) asked DeVos, “Are you saying that if you have private schools — private schools generally set their own admissions policy — that they will not be allowed to discriminate against LGBT students?”  DeVos replied, “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law.”  Merkley’s rephrasing of his question garnered the same reply from DeVos.  She refused to state that funding would be withheld if a private school refused admission or discriminated against students based on race, religion, and/or sexual orientation.  Choice with the possibility of discrimination is not a good choice for families and leaves them with limited or no other options.

In “America First:  A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” President Trump stated, “Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts.  These cuts are sensible and rational.  Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”  Apparently, teacher training and after-school programs is wasteful spending because both are on the chopping block.

For now, it seems DeVos will have an uphill battle getting her plan through in its current state.  If people on both side of the aisle can see the problems, why can’t DeVos?

 

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We need to do better; Children are watching

Unless you are disconnected from social media, radio and the news, you know about the controversy surrounding the photo of Kathy Griffin holding a severed head in the likeness of President Trump.  Many people have been quick to point out images of a noose around a body in the image of President Obama in an attempt to lessen what Kathy Griffin has done.  The bottom line is, regardless of political affiliation, this is unacceptable behavior.  These adults are sending this message, “If I don’t like someone or I disagree with him or her, it is okay to tell the person to die and wish the person dead.”hate text

Children follow our example whether it is good or bad.  Unfortunately, children are telling other children online to die or kill themselves.  Some, overwhelmed by these hurtful words, have taken their own lives.

We need to show children that it is okay to disagree or even not like someone, but still respect them as a human being.  Children need to know the tongue can speak life or death.  Disagreements and conflicts are part of life, but the other part is responding in the right manner.  Children should see us engaging in conflict by supporting our side with facts without name calling or levying threats.  If you cannot change a person’s mind, work towards other solutions.

We must do better whether we are famous or not.  If we continue down this path where we wish people dead or provide images depicting the death of a person, we will raise a society of children who will also engage in this behavior and possibly take words into action.

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Fostering a Love of Reading in Your Child

1395222_10102986331364938_2019782027_nThis year marks the 20th year of the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day.  This event is celebrated in many schools across America on March 2nd on Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  Some schools like my sons’ school celebrated Read Across America during the whole week surrounding Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  Our boys even had the opportunity to eat green eggs and ham.  Students at the school where I serve as a literacy coach had the opportunity to participate in Dr. Seuss themed activities and listen to Dr. Seuss books read aloud by teachers and older students.

For a child to develop a love of reading, parents, educators, and the community must show the importance of reading throughout the year.  It cannot be a one day event; reading must become part of the child’s lifestyle.

Starting Early

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My twin sons like many multiples were born early.  Although, my husband and I were worried about their overall health, we knew we wanted to begin fostering the love of reading early.  Once they came home from the hospital, we read books to them as much as we could and we purchased books for them to view.

599271_10101631020917938_1758025048_nWe took books everywhere; I would throw them in my bag so I could have them available whether it was for a long car ride, church service or a trip to the store.  It is easy to give your child your cell phone or another piece of technology to occupy his or her time, but a book is another option and you don’t have to worry about battery drainage.

Involving Family & Friends

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Nana reading.

To include our families in our reading mission, we put on our sons’ birthday invitation a request for African American children’s books instead of toys.  To add an additional challenge, we requested our family and friends to purchase different books for each of our sons.

Before our sons were born, we decided even though they are identical twins, we wanted them to be treated as other siblings who are singletons so they could be known as individuals.   Typically you would not buy other siblings the exact same gift and this is why we made the request for people not to buy two of the same book.

Although diverse representation in books and media is increasing, our family members and friends shared it was hard to find books with African American characters.  We were proud of their efforts and we received no duplicate books.

 

Modeling

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My dad reading the newspaper.

The saying, “Actions speak louder than words” rings true especially when it comes to children.  It is important to us that our children see us and other adults reading.  Whether it is my mother or my mother-in-law reading the bible, my dad reading National Geographic or the newspaper, my husband reading comics or me reading young adult novels, they are constantly around adults who take time out of their schedule to read.

 

When children are exposed to books and adults who enjoy reading they want to read also.  Learning to read is a process, but this process can be more enjoyable when they love books.

Providing Opportunities

190637_10102047758657168_1695783576_nI always tell my students (and I can see some of them rolling their eyes right now), “You can’t get better at reading without reading.”  As our boys grew, we tried to provide many opportunities for them to read or for them to be exposed to literacy activities.

When they were very young, they would read the pictures and tell a story about what they believed was happening.  Another activity they liked was asking each other to find something in a book.

In preschool, they began reading decodable and predictable text by themselves.  They also had opportunities to bring in books and read them to their class.  Now, they are reading books at their reading level with help from us as needed.

We also wanted them to know how reading could help them complete a task.  When we went to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Mississippi, we showed them how to use a map.  We let them use the map to direct part of the visit. science-museum

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-6-21-16-pmNow when we go to the grocery store, I have them take turns checking off items on the grocery list.  Which led to an interesting moment one time.

Jeremiah:  Mom, I found a silent e word.  Silent e jumps over the consonant and makes the vowel say its name.

Mom:  That’s right.

Jeremiah:  So mom, what is wine?  Did you get it yet?  I need to know so I can check it off the list.

Although, I did receive a few looks.  I’m proud that he was able to read many words on our grocery list independently.

Storytelling

Good writers are avid readers.  Not only do our boys love to read, they also like to create their own stories, even before they could write words.  Before they learned how to write and spell words, they would draw the story and we would write the words they dictated to us underneath the pictures.

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James’ story

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Jeremiah’s story

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Quality Time

The best part of fostering a love of reading is the quality time we all get to spend together.  Reading stories and discussing what happened in them has been a great way to learn our children’s perspective.  We also have learned what they are interested in and what they would like to learn.

They love the library and they love reading and we love watching them grow and learn.

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Our boys holding their new library card.  They were able to upgrade from their My First Library card since they are now six.

 

 

 

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Indiana’s New Superintendent of Public Instruction

 

idoeEarlier this month, Jennifer McCormick was sworn in as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.  She defeated Glenda Ritz in the November election.  Some educators I have spoken to expressed surprised and/or disappointment that McCormick won.  I was not surprised and I expected her to win.  Indiana, along with a small percentage of other states, still allows straight ticket voting.  If you have driven around Indianapolis during the last few years, you may have seen, “Pence Must Go!” signs, but our soon to be Vice President had support in many other places in our state.  Since Indiana is known as a Republican stronghold, with Pence on the ballot for Vice President, I fully expected straight ticket voting and people who wanted change to result in many Republican races being won in Indiana including the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

I too rejoiced, with educators around the state when Ritz defeated Tony Bennett, and I would have been content if she was elected again.  Since McCormick’s platform was similar to Ritz’s platform, I am encouraged she will work hard for our students and support educators.

One point McCormick mentioned during her campaign was her administrative experience and her promise to improve communication with schools and state agencies.  This struck a chord with some educators. Last school year, during Ritz’s tenure Title I funds were frozen due to miscalculations by the Indiana Department of Education.  This affected my school; we had to cancel a few family events because we could not spend federal funds allocated to those events.  Although Ritz stated the miscalculations happened under the previous administration, the communication about those errors and the process to rectify those miscalculations was during her tenure.

It is up to stakeholders in our educational landscape to hold our elected officials accountable.  I appreciate the hard work of Former Superintendent Ritz and hope Superintendent McCormick carries on Ritz’s work and keeps educators and students at the forefront of her decisions.

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My Dream

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Today is the day we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He once said,”The time is always right to do what is right.”  Many people have expressed concern about the upcoming transition of the leadership of our nation.  It is easy to become caught up in the uncertainty of the future.  Staying focused on our fears will immobilize us and nothing will ever be changed; progress will come to a halt.  Even in the face of danger, Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights and we need to continue to take up the fight using our God given gifts and talents.

As I look back at 2016, I am proud of the steps I took to make change within my own family.  My husband and I were intentional about exposing our sons to diverse opportunities to learn about various educational topics and different cultures.  Yes, they entered kindergarten and began their formal education this school year, but we too our responsible for educating them.

Last year, I also wanted to expand my knowledge so I could continue to improve the lives of the children and families I serve as an educator.  I began my Teach Plus Policy fellowship last January, which ends this June, to learn more about how I can influence change in our local and even national education laws.  I applied for and received a grant to bring a STEM Challenge Club to my school and I decided to begin classes to obtain my administrator’s license.  I do not know what I am going to do after I complete my administrator’s program this June, but I do know the knowledge I obtain will widen my perspective on education and will help me become a better educator.

Last, I finally took the advice I have received since I was child to not only continue to write, but to send my work out into the world for publication.  It’s one thing to write for family and for local events, it’s another to send your work off to a stranger where it could be rejected.  I believe if I had not stepped out, despite my fears, I would not have the opportunity I was given a few weeks ago to become a blogger for Indy/Education.  Now, I will be able to use my gift of writing to bringing attention to education issues and hopefully this will bring about solutions that will improve education for not only black and brown kids, but for all kids.

In his farewell address, President Obama said,  “My last ask is the same as my first. I’m asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.”  I believe I have the ability to create change even if it small and I believe it is the right thing to do. My dream is that my efforts not only makes a difference in my own family, but within the lives of people who come into contact with me every day.

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Busy Busy Bee

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A bee in my garden this summer

When I was in eighth grade, my science teacher, Mr. Walters, would teach a lesson and then we would work on our science labs at our own pace.  I breezed through the labs and the assessments.  One day, Mr. Walters told me I was too far ahead of the class and I needed to bring something to work on.  At first I would read novels after completing my work, but then I decided I wanted to write my own stories.  That’s when I found my passion for writing.

Throughout my life, my love of writing increased.  Once my twin boys were born, my drive to write did not diminish, but my time did.  In 2014, through encouragement from my family, I started Gardener Shicole, a website where I blogged about the happenings in my urban garden and my harvest recipes.  I love writing about my other love, gardening, but I wanted to get back to writing stories, poem, etc. in addition to blogging.  I even decided to take to send off some of my work for possible publication.

This year, I have had several pieces of writing published including two this month.  The first was “When I Knew He Truly Loved Me,” a short nonfiction essay published in The Phoenix Soul about my husband and I coping with my infertility diagnosis early in our marriage.  My second published piece, a poem, “Busy Busy Bee” was published in the anthology Words and Other Wild Things, a Poetry Alive! project sponsored by Brick Street Poetry, Inc.  I am glad copies of the book will be given to children in local Indianapolis hospitals.  I am also happy that I was able to write a poem that was inspired by my garden.

I do not know what else I will have published before 2016 comes to a close, but I have been a busy bee churning out as many pieces as I can squeeze in among all my other obligations and responsibilities.

 

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Book Review: Sway

sway  Sway:  The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman is one of the most interesting books I have read this year.  Most people probably would not see themselves overall as irrational.  They might even believe they have the ability to avoid making irrational decisions.  In their book, the Brafman brothers explore the fasicinating psyschology and social and cultural stuctures that influence how we respond to situations and influence choices we make.

I highly recommended this for anyone in a leadership role or anyone who works in a school.  From this book leaders will better understand the why behind the difficulites in their organization.  A few of the “sways” the Brafman brothers address are:  loss aversion, value attrbution, and the diagnosis bias.  As an educator, I found the chapter on diagnosis bias eye opening and it made me reflect upon the judgments I have made about students and even colleagues in the past and it has better informed me to avoid those judgments in the future.

This book is easy to read and the writers string together various stories and studies in each chapter to explain the forces behind the different “sways”/ irrational behaviors and the consquences of those behaviors to yourself and others.   It is harder than we might be willing to accept to avoid irrational behaviors, but maybe becoming more aware will prevent us from becoming swayed.

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Leading with Love

On Friday, October 7, 2016, the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative held their annual Public Policy Summit.  This year’s summit was Moving Forward with Positive Learning Environments in Indiana.  Approximately 80 people were in attendance and most attendees were educators.  This summit was a great opportunity for stakeholders who are closest to students to come together and improve educational environments for all students.

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Keynote speaker Dr. Brea L. Perry, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, shared her research about the ties between exclusionary school discipline (out of school suspension and expulsion) and academic success.  According to her research, one in three students will be suspended in their lifetime.  The greatest number of suspensions, 40%, were for disruptive behaviors such as disrespect, backtalking to teachers, excessive talking, etc.  This was alarming due to the subjective nature of this category.  Regardless of who was suspended, academic outcomes were affected for all students in schools with high exclusionary discipline incidents.  We know learning outcomes are diminished for students who are absent because of suspensions, but knowing these suspensions threatens the learning of students who were not suspended makes it an urgent area of need to address.

Following the Dr. Perry’s presentation, Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project at Indiana University moderated a panel: Advancing Positive School Discipline in Indiana Schools, where panel participants:  Brandon Hawkins, principal of Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette School Corporation; Dr. Brandie Oliver, Associate Professor of Education at Butler University; Debra Williams-Robbins, Chief Officer of Student, Family and Community Engagement for Fort Wayne Community Schools and me, a literacy coach in Indianapolis Public School and an adjunct instructor at Indiana University – Indianapolis, shared our thoughts about the report CPLI released June 30, 2016 which outlined nine recommendations to improve environments in Indiana schools.  Panel members also shared ways we could improve environments through our current or previous work in education.  Mr. Hawkins shared how schools needed to build a better relationships with school resource officers (SROs) to ensure the school and SROs are on the same page on how to best serve students.  Dr. Oliver emphasized the importance of training educators on how to teach and support students who have suffered trauma.  When the other panel members were speaking, I was processing all the various opening statements I could make when I had the opportunity to first speak and the first words out of my mouth was, “We need to lead with love and not fear.”  I was not planning to say those exact words, but those were the right words to share.  In this field, it is easy to drown in the what-ifs — If I try this strategy to improve my classroom environment/culture what will my principal think?  How will this effect my evaluation?  How will I be able to help my students pass the standardized tests?  What will my colleagues think?  Will I be supported?  We have become so immersed in the fear of what will happen that we are not doing what is best for children.

The second panel, Protecting the Legal Rights of Students Interrogated at School was moderated by Frances Watson from Indiana University School of Law.  Panel members were:  Dr. Alan Bouriff, superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools; Jack Kenney parent;  D. J. Schoeff, school resource office for Carmel High school and Shannon O’Toole Juvenile Public Defender in Marion County.  Panel members shared their thoughts about the briefing paper: Children’s Statements in School Investigations.  All panel members agreed students needed to be informed of their rights and know how statements they make at school could be used in court.  They all agreed it is important parents/guardians are informed if their child is questioned.  The point of concern for schools and student resource officers was how would respecting this potential law impede their ability to conduct an investigation in a timely manner if parents/guardians cannot be contacted or are not available.  Many panel members echoed ideas shared by the first panel and Mr. Schoeff quoted my statement, “We should lead with love and not fear” when he spoke.  I did not know how those particular words would be received because it sounds so simple, but many times the simple solution could be the best solution.

What’s most important is the right people were part of this conversation and in the audience asking questions and making suggestions to panel members.  It is easy to attend events of this nature and become energized but not move forward with the work.  I am convinced we will not let this be the case.  I am looking forward to how schools across our state will improve as their environments change for the better.

Summit Materials:

 

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Book Review: Leadership and Self Deception

Lleadership-and-self-deceptioneadership and Self Deception:  getting out of the box by The Arbinger Institute helps readers understand how businesses and organizations struggle or fall apart when people are decieved to their true motivations.  These revelations unfold by following Tom Callum, a new employee at Zagrum.  After two months of employment, it was time for his one-on-one meeting with the executive vice president Bud.   During his meeting with Bud, Tom learns to analyze his actions, thoughts, and motivations.

“An in-the-box organization is filled with people who are focused on themselves and on being justified.  Imagine, in contrast, an organization where everyone is focused on others and on achieving results.”  It is hard to read this book without stopping to reflect on your own actions and motivations.  This book helped me understand why I took certain steps in the past and which new steps I should take in the future at work and at home.  What I appreciate most about this book is the honesty.  It’s not a –if you do this everything will be fine sort of book — it explains how difficult it is to change and how you will sometime regress to previous behaviors.  You will finish this book with the self awareness of how you are self-deceptive and that’s key!

Rating 5/5

 

For more information go to the following websites:

http://www.leadershipandselfdeception.com

http://www.arbinger.com

 

 

 

 

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