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On the Podcast: Teaching Truth with Love and Conviction with Lorena Germán and Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul

On the podcast Textured Teaching

Today on the podcast we’re joined by authors Lorena Germán and Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul as they discuss Lorena’s new book Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices.

Download a sample chapter from Textured Teaching

With Culturally Sustaining Practice as its foundation, Textured Teaching helps secondary teachers in any school setting stop wondering and guessing how to implement teaching and learning that leads to social justice. Lorena shares her framework for creating a classroom environment that is highly rigorous and engaging, and that reflects the core traits of Textured Teaching: student-driven, community centered, interdisciplinary, experiential, and flexible. 

 

Below is a transcript of this episode.

Sonja: So Lorena, as an educator who's spent about 10 years in the classroom, what were you noticing about teaching and learning that led you to write Textured Teaching?

Lorena: That's a really good question because textured teaching is both about or comes from the observations that you're pointing out here, what I saw in the classroom, but also a number of years before I got to the classroom, I was already working with young people. I was already an educator, just not in a traditional classroom. I did a lot of afterschool programs and youth work where I also dealt with directly the effects of what was happening and not happening in classrooms.

So Textured Teaching comes from observing a disconnect between teachers and students, between education and community, and between content and what I'm going to call the real world, like a lived experience. And so Textured Teaching is about bringing all of that together, and I know that even what I've just articulated sounds really abstract, which is why I worked really hard to make this book and the content in it really concrete. So I talk very specifically about how to do that through strategy with examples, with book titles, with activities so that it isn't this conceptual just magic. No. It's hard work and it's strategic.

Sonja: Yeah. And I think when educators read Textured Teaching, they'll really understand how your scholarship emerges from all of those observations and specifically what you've noticed around the experiences of black and brown students and what you've learned about culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies.

So can you tell us about the framework you developed in Textured Teaching? What is textured teaching, Lorena, and how does this emerge from culturally sustaining pedagogy?

Lorena: Yes. I'm going to start in 2012. I am going to keep it short. So in 2012, I was in my graduate program and I learned... And actually I met and was under the scholarship of Dr. Django Paris, and it was that year that he first published Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies, like the article. I remember reading it and just learning under him and listening to him really break this down, and for me, it made all of the sense in the world. I'm not going to say that I was doing that, but I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I get it. I've done little pieces of this, but this gives me the language and the concepts that I need to have a solid ground under me."

So when I understood that, it transformed how I returned to the classroom that fall. Since then, everything I did was super intentional, and it was very much tailored to the kids and the needs that were in front of me. So Textured Teaching, the book, is essentially my documentation of the many years of teaching after that. The framework is my way of concretely describing what culturally sustaining pedagogy has looked like for me.

What I did was I started by saying, okay, what is it that I do? Well, I teach in a way that's super engaging, that is certainly about and for social justice unapologetically, and it based in the ELA classroom. So even though my examples are all ELA specific, it is certainly applicable across content areas.

So then I said, well, what are the values that really move me? What is it that I'm striving for whatever I'm planning, whenever I'm picking a book, whenever I'm thinking of how I'm going to teach this, how I'm going to walk into the room? So I wrote that down and then I said how does that then become an umbrella for the strategies and how do I clump these together?

And there was a lot of mentoring that happened through the process of this book too, me turning to academic elders, if you will, and even contemporaries and saying, "Does this make sense to you?" And they were like, "Oh, yeah. I think you're saying this and this." So also, those other voices helped me to help it make sense for other people. Because my biggest goal is that this be replicable, that teachers say, "Oh, I can totally do some of this." That's what I want. And then I want them to go try it, and then they're going to make mistakes and then they're going to say, "Oh, that didn't work for me." Cool. Make it work for you.

And so that's how I got to the framework of the four pillars, right, or the four traits of textured teaching, which are that textured teaching is student driven and community centered, it's experiential, it is flexible and it is interdisciplinary.

Sonja: That is so powerful, Lorena. When I read Textured Teaching, I just thought, yes, yes, yes.

Lorena: That's good. That's good.

Sonja: Just a hundred percent yes. And something that I noticed about your framework that I think it's important to spotlight is you and I both talk to teachers, we do work with teachers, and when we talk with teachers about their relationships with students, many tend to give a similar response. Right? They tend to say, "I love all my students." Right? How many times have we heard that-

Lorena: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sonja: ... again and again and again. But the kind of love they typically mean in this response is very different from the love that you write about that is the core of textured teaching. Can you say more about the kind of love that is, as you explain, an action and a framework? And how is that different from the teachers who proclaim to love all their students?

Lorena: Yeah. I mean, that is in and of itself a whole podcast. Right? But yeah, I mean, I learned a long time ago in therapy that love is a choice, that love is an action. So that also transformed me when I learned it years ago, and so when I think about it, when I think about the experiences that I had as a student, I am sure that a lot of those teachers would say, "Oh, I love these kids." Right? These kids. "I love those kids." But I can't tell you that I experienced that as love. That wasn't love to me. That's not how I treat people that I love.

And of course, I'm generalizing. There were positive moments, absolutely. But generally speaking, right, when I'm talking about overall the educational experience that I received, that a lot of my peers received, the experiences that I dealt with in high school specifically, which today would be one of those schools called underperforming... and it was years ago even when I was teaching there. So this love that I'm talking about is the kind... And it's not tough love. I love your question because it really forces for us to parse this out. I'm not talking about this tough love that this teacher, I didn't know she loved me because she was so strict. No, no, no. I'm talking about modeling passion for students, for others, for society. Right? Saying we're going to read this book, but I'm going to use this book to know you. You're going to know me a little bit. We're going to know these characters to understand the world around us, and we're going to allow it to sit in our hearts so that we can take action. So that we can do, so we can feel a thing, and have a resolve, and make decisions, and take action in whatever way we can.

So it's not a love, and I talk about this in the book too. Because I remember reading some of the stuff that Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings wrote about. It's not a love that is like, "I love them and so we have dance parties." Which, no knock on that, okay, in the sense that, that might be fine. Something you need to build some community. This is not love that's like, "I've got the handshake at the door." Okay. That, again, in and of itself is not the issue. It's when you think that that is culturally relevant teaching, or culturally sustaining pedagogy, it is not. That can come ... That can be the conclusion. So, if that's it for you, then that's performative, right. You can have the cool billboard display. You can have the cool handshake at the door and still not know that Jose goes home and he's alone until 10:00 PM and the next day you're like, "Why didn't you do your homework?"

So, that handshake means nothing. Or you can have all the dance parties weekly, but not know that the community is dealing with a severe gentrification project and you're about to lose your kids halfway through the school year, because their families are going to have to move out. Then you're going to say, "These families are so ... These parents are disconnected and they don't care. How do they pull them out halfway through the year?" Because you don't know. Because you think that the cool handshake that you see on TV, on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, okay, and you're doing it with them at the door is it. That's not it either.

Sonja: Woo. I am so here for this truth telling. Lorena, thank you for this. Thank you for calling out the performative nature of "I love all of my students." The ways that some teachers say. Thank you for naming that love is not naming me, or labeling students as underperforming, underachieving, struggling or applying those learning loss achievement gap approaches. That is not love. And love is not feeling sorry for our students, right. That is not love. Yes to all of the ways that you're calling attention to this because that I love all my students kind of love is really a way of saying something that you also talk about in Textured Teaching. I treat all my students equally. It's really another way of saying that. I see them all as the same. What you're asking educators to do is to understand something that you and I both write about, which is that equality does not mean equal. But equity, sorry.

Lorena: That's not equity.

Sonja: Equality and equity. Two different things, right.

Lorena: Two different things.

Sonja: And that a color evasive approach that many teachers have been socialized into believing and enacting in the classroom is not love. It is harmful. And instead what you're challenging teachers to do is to see the uniquenesses of their students. To recognize their unique strengths as well as their lived experiences and realities. Love your students by acknowledging who they are, not by treating them the same and pretending that who they are doesn't matter.

So, Lorena, how can educators show up differently right from the start with love as an action and a framework that's at the center of all that they do? Many educators right now have recently started their school year, or they're just getting ready to do so. What are some things you might suggest from Texture Teaching in a culturally sustaining approach that can help them to start to cultivate powerful learning communities with love at the core?

Lorena: You know, one of the things that I was reminded of when I participated in IREL with you and Trisha this summer was just hey, don't forget to always bring teachers back to the self. So I'm going to take this moment to do that. So I'm not going to say have this lesson, have that topic, have this book. I'm not going to say that. I am going to say that part of the prepared classroom is a prepared teacher. And some guiding words, maybe some values could be ... One of which is certainly humility. I really wish teachers, my teachers, would have been more humble. I wish that they would have come in with a gentleness of let me offer these young people respect. I wish that I would've had that. I also think that conviction is going to be really important right now.

So there's this balance of I'm going to ... I'm definitely going to practice humility. I'm definitely going to be gentle with these young people. And I'm also a firm believer in what it is that I am doing. I am going to have a conviction about this humility. Truth is it's been debated now, right, since 2016 truth has been on the table of let us redefine. Now, more than ever, we are seeing it in legislation. So truth is something that I need teachers to walk into the classroom with this fall, okay. If you just started school or if you've been in school for a month and you forgot about truth, that's fine turn it around. It's never too late. It's never too late to say, "I'm starting over and I have to come back with the truth." So, I need folks to walk in with humility. I need folks to come in wanting to passionately, and in a very committed way to talk about truth. I want them to come in with conviction.

You will be knocked down by the first parent that shows up in your principal's office saying, "Why are you teaching this?" If you do not have conviction. I don't mean stubbornness, there's a difference. Because sometimes there's feedback to be taken. That's the hard part of our profession, right, is that we're literally ... We're doing workshops and keynotes every day, right, all day. So we're going to get feedback and you take it with a grain of salt. Like, all right, fine I'll take this. Or like, nope, because whatever, right. So, you also have to be open to that. That's where the humility comes in, but also have conviction and say, "I am teaching this truth because it matters to this group of kids in this community in this moment. And I am clear about that, and I'm going to stand tall right here." So I would say that those three things, or those three concepts are ones that I think I would want to really communicate to teachers right now.

Sonja: I think that's so powerful, Lorena, that you said part of the prepared classroom is a prepared teacher. And that you are challenging us to reimagine preparation. Preparation is not just, "Okay, what's my content? Do I know all of the things that I think I need to know? What are the standards?" But you are challenging us to reimagine preparation as coming in humble with humility, with gentleness. I love that you said. I wrote these down. Conviction and with truth.

Speaking of truth, as you started to talk about, it's important to keep on our radar the continued efforts to silence race and racism in classrooms and schools. Specifically the attacks on critical race theory. What are the truths, Lorena, that teachers should know and what are some ways that they can resist oppressive forces?

Lorena: You know, this wonderful nation is full of contradictions. Policies are full of contradictions and the things that we say we believe, right, as a society. And so I really just, I want teachers... And I think that there's a conversation to be had for this group of teachers, right, so like white teachers or Latinx teachers, immigrant teachers, Black teachers, Asian and Asian American teachers, indigenous teachers. There is something to be said to each group, but I'll say that collectively in terms of this current political climate, one thing is to walk into class and to try to get students to believe in your political ideology or partisan. Let me use that word instead, partisan ideology. One thing is to say, "These Democrats and what they're saying," okay? That, to me at least, is not the truth that I'm talking about, okay? That is your position. That is your belief system. However, it is important for young people to know the truth of the things happening around them in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

My daughter does not have to know how George Floyd was killed, right, the very visceral elements of his murder. But I think it is important for her to understand that she needs to be careful around the police. Why? Well, because sometimes they don't make good choices. And so there are developmentally appropriate ways to have that conversation with my six-year-old in a way that teaches truth, that doesn't say, "The police are good and they never make mistakes and they're saints and whenever you need help, just turn to them." I can't do that. That is irresponsible and could be deadly. And so the truth, as uncomfortable as it may be for some, is necessary for all. And so what we need to do as adults, right, as teachers is figure out what are the ways that I can share, right, what are my limits? Which I think is okay because that's part of our growth, right?

"I can talk about this. I'm not ready to talk about that." Well, start there. Start at point A, we will get to G later, right? But start at point A, what am I comfortable discussing? I need teachers to consider their context. If you're in a rural neighborhood where you have kids whose parents are part of the Neo-Nazi party, well, guess what? I don't want you to go to step G. Start with A because I want you to keep your job. I need you in there for the school year. I need you to have that long-term impact. I don't need martyr teachers. We don't need it. We don't need that, right? And so that's a very long-winded way of saying I want people to know what is the truth that I need to speak this year, how can I make sure that it's developmentally appropriate, and going back to talking about it humbly and with conviction.

Sonja: And Lorena, I just want to spend a little more time on this because I appreciate that you've called attention to discomfort. And I think it's so important for educators to really be willing to experience discomfort. And one thing I've continued to say to educators during this recent about of attacks on speaking the truth about race and racism, this time with critical race theory as the focus of it, using it as a catchall phrase, is that critical race theory does not need a defense, right? It hasn't done anything wrong.

It is not the enemy. What teachers need to understand is that racism and white supremacy are the enemies. So what are you willing to, like you said, don't want you to lose your job, but I do want you to sacrifice your comfort to speak the truth. And when we look at groups of parents showing up at board meetings to speak out against critical race theory, this should be crystal clear to all of us what we're seeing. We must ask ourselves, where were the droves of parents and where are the droves of parents showing up at board meetings in outrage over their school being named after a Confederate leader,-

Lorena: Okay.

Sonja: ... shouting about the indignity and inhumanity of Black children attending schools named after them. Where's that? Where were and where are the groups of parents showing up at board meetings in outrage over curriculum that silences the experiences and accomplishments of people of color and calling this an indoctrination of white supremacy? Where were and where are the people showing up at board meetings outraged about the lack of resources at the mostly Black and brown school in the neighborhood just one town away compared to your school? Explain that. Prepare a defense for that. Make it make sense because the people showing up at board meetings are calling for silences and around race and color, evasive approaches.

And yet it's always been clear what colors they expect everyone to pretend not to see. And the moment some truth telling starts to happen about whiteness and white supremacy, the same people are at the board meetings in mass revealing that, "Oh, okay. So you absolutely can see color, and you have all along." So it's clear what this outrage is all about and what the people who are showing up in this way truly believe about the purpose of education. So Lorena, I wonder if you might share your beliefs about the purpose of education and the ways this shows up in all of the work that you do? How might you describe the intersection of your work with Disrupt Texts, Multicultural Classroom, and now your book, Textured Teaching? How each of these exemplify your beliefs about education? How do they help educators advance the work of social justice?

Lorena: Yeah, that's a good question. And let me just actually build on something that you said. This whole discomfort thing, it's a selective discomfort. Here's why. We already have discomforts in our profession. We can scroll through Twitter, through Instagram, through Facebook, through TikTok, and any other platform, and you will find teachers talking about how nervous they are on the first day of school. "Oh, I get the jitters, just like the kids." And that discomfort is okay though. Why? Because they know they're going to get past it. You get past the first day and you're going to do it and you'll be fine the next day, right? But so certain discomforts are okay and acceptable, others are not. It is not comfortable to sit there and talk about a topic that you just aren't sure about how kids are going to respond or that you don't feel personally equipped and prepared because you have not dedicated time to learning about this, right?

So there are all kinds of discomforts that teachers feel. They feel discomforts about the pep rally. What's going to happen? Where are we going to have security? What am I going to wear? What are the kids going to wear? Right? There's all kinds of discomforts that happen. People have all kinds of discomforts about the standardized testing days. What am I going to do? How are they going to... Did I cheat? Did I do the thing? I should have read the thing? There's all kinds of tensions around these things, right? So we have all kinds of discomforts in our profession that are somehow deemed okay and acceptable and that people take on year after year. But this discomfort of, "Let me just have a conversation about race or let me have a conversation about another ism," that one is unacceptable, and therefore, we are indoctrinating and this is, "I can't be political and teaching is not political." But where are you when just to echo your... Where were you at the board meeting? Where are you when you work at a school that is predominantly kids of color and a community of color, and all of the administration and the majority of staff is White?

Sonja: Yep.

Lorena: Are you going to bring that one up? Or no, not that one? Okay, cool. Got it. Right? So message received.

Sonja: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lorena: And so I wear many hats. I do a lot of different things. But one of the ways that I explained it recently is that all of this work compliments each other. It is all a tentacle from the same, I don't know where I'm going with this, octopus head? So for example, multicultural classroom is an expression of love for teachers and schools and organizations. You might find yourself at a point where you're like, "You know what? I think I'm ready to do the thing. I am ready to get into this discomfort. I'm ready to do a lot of this work. Or I've been doing this work and I need more support." Well, I'm right there for you. Right? Disrupt Texts, "Hey, teachers, we've got to do this work. Hey, English teachers, we've got to do this work with our text selection and in our curriculum." So I'm right there for you.

With EduColor, "Hey, teachers, we want to take some action." Okay. Well, I'm right here for you. And then with the NCTE chair position, with the Committee Against Racism and Bias, well, there's so much scholarship that already exists, which is really important, and it hasn't been translated into very tangible... And I'm speaking generally. There are exceptions to what I'm saying. But there are so many position statements, there's so much really powerful and useful information that wasn't necessarily translated into a tangible thing for a teacher to have. And so I was like, "Here's an opportunity. Here's a gap. Let's address it."

All of these hats that I wear, all of these organizations that I'm affiliated with or that I've co-founded are a way for me to continue to practice the same ideals of truth, of justice, of trying to make this place better for all of us right now and next, and the next folks coming up. I just Tweeted about that today because I think sometimes we're... At least what I'm hearing is we're getting lost in, "It's for the kids. Let's do it for the kids." And absolutely, we need to do it for the kids. And we need to do it for ourselves. We also need to do it for the right now because we're seeing kids go out and protest right now. And we need change right now, too. So we are both working for the future, and we're working for the right now.

And so that is somewhat of a sense of urgency for me. Right? The healthy kind, I guess, where I understand that there is work to do for tomorrow, but there's also work to do for right now and that we can do it together. And there's all kinds of... Everybody can walk, right? Everybody can walk this line right now, whether you're taking a step, some of you all are hopping. It's like a triathlon. Some of you all on the bike, some of you all swimming, but as long as we're all moving. I have to have hope, Sonja. We have to hope. I can't sit here and say, "Oh, man. I've given up on this generation." I can't. Even elderly, even elderly, I don't give up on that.

Sonja: Lorena, I am so excited for your book to be in the world. Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices. Educators who have preordered it are waiting on the edge of their seats. And for those who haven't, get on this. This is for all of us as educators. This is our opportunity to acquire the tools needed for transformation, for love, and for liberation and education. Lorena, as you look forward, what are your hopes? What are you hoping that educators will gain from reading Textured Teaching? What are the changes you're hoping to see in classrooms and schools?

Lorena: I definitely want teachers to think out of the box, to reimagine their curriculum and their classrooms. We've been doing the same thing for too long, seeing the same results. And it's disproportionately impacting kids of color, all the kids in the margin. Immigrant students, right? Folks who are... Students who are neurodivergent. It's the same results. And so it's way pastime for us to reimagine and think out of the box. So I really want to see some of that. I also want to see schools dream a little bit, right? So there's the work that the teacher can do in their four walls, and there's the work that whole administrations can do. Say, "We're going to shift this. We're going to try that. Let's loosen up a little bit in order to welcome on, be more inclusive of other ways of being." So that's like the big, the grandiose dream, that there will be good, methodical, thoughtful change, not just change for the sake of it.

Sonja: Lorena, thank you for your brilliance. Thank you for your scholarship. Thank you for your heart.

Lorena: Thank you, Sonja.


Lorena German Medium PortraitLorena Germán is a Dominican American educator focused on anti-racist and antibias work in education. She earned her master's degree at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English. She's a two-time nationally awarded educator and featured in newspapers, journals such as, The New York Times, NCTE journals, EdWeek, National Writing Project, and Embracing Equity. She published The Anti Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook, and she has a forthcoming Heinemann book (Fall 2021) about curriculum development focused on social justice, and her other book deals with anti-racism. She's a cofounder of the groups #DisruptTexts, and Multicultural Classroom. She is the director of pedagogy at EduColor and is also the chair of National Council of Teachers of English's Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. Of all her work, Lorena is most dedicated to her roles as wife and mami.

Lorena is the author of Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices.

Sonja Cherry PaulDr. Sonja Cherry-Paul’s research and work stem from an unyielding commitment to antibias and antiracist pedagogy and practices. She has taught middle school students for twenty years and develops curricula that centers the work of racial literacy in K–12 schools. Sonja co-founded the Race Matters Committee in her former school district.

Sonja is the Director of Diversity and Equity at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) and the host of The Black Creators Series, a collaboration with TCRWP and Candlewick Press. She is the co-founder of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy and the Senior Advisor of the Heinemann Fellows.

Sonja is the #1 New York Times best selling author of Stamped (For Kids) and she is the co-author of four books published by Heinemann: Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (2014), Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (2016), Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers (2019), and Critical Literacy: Unlocking Contemporary Fiction.

Follow Sonja on Twitter @SonjaCherryPaul or visit her website at sonjacherrypaul.com.

Topics: Podcast, Heinemann Podcast, Sonja Cherry-Paul, Lorena Germán, Textured Teaching

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