This week on the Heinemann Podcast, we're excited to bring you the second of three special minisodes, and invite you all into the conversations of the Heinemann Summer Book Study, hosted in the Heinemann PD Teaching and Learning Facebook Group.
This Year, we are hosting a conversation on two books with intersecting themes: Kids First From Day One by Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz and Being the Change by Sara Ahmed. Our book study facilitator, Jaclyn Karabinas, sat down with Amy Clark, a Heinemann Fellow from cohort one, to continue the conversation on this week's theme: Growing Socially Literate Citizens...
Below is a full transcript of the conversation.
Jaclyn:Thanks for being here today, Amy. The first thing I wanted to talk about is from Being the Change by Sara Ahmed. She talks about the idea of being candid. She says in her book that candor requires self-awareness and sincerity. That isn't always easy, and doesn't always feel good in the moment. I wanted to see if you could talk about that in your life professionally and personally.
Amy: Sure. Candor, it's hard, 'cause it requires vulnerability and total honesty. I think as teachers especially that, that can feel difficult, because we're the people who are supposed to have all the knowledge. Sometimes candor requires you to admit to things that display that maybe you don't have all the knowledge, that maybe you made a mistake.
I don't know, for me, I kind of swim around in that discomfort pretty freely and readily, because I don't know, I guess I've always kind of grown up knowing that making mistakes is how we learn and it's okay to admit that. When I'm in my classroom, I know that when I'm sharing information with my students, whether it's the story, 'cause I think storytelling helps when it comes to candor, and I think Sara talks about that.
Whether I'm sharing a story, or I am saying, "Hey, look, you know, I thought that this thing that we're learning about was going to go really well if we discussed it this way, but I think maybe we need to try it a different way. I think I was wrong." It shows them that it's okay to make a mistake.
When you're vulnerable in that way, and you're human with your kids, they can be candid as well. They don't have to try to please the teacher as much. They can be themselves, and it gives them some freedom to do that. I think it's really interesting because I see overlaps, and what Christine, Kristine talk about in Kids First from Day One, the idea of it's all about mindset.
Mindset's really important when it comes to candor, because if you have the mindset that it's okay to make a mistake, it's okay to learn alongside with your kids. You're willing to take the risk, and to change, then that sets up the ability for your students to be candid as well. It's agency building to me, when we're able to be honest, it's empowering. If we can give that to our kids, man, that's a pretty awesome gift.
Jaclyn: I agree. I think, you talk a lot about modeling it yourself, when you bring that into the classroom. It almost, it gives them permission to know that this is what we do. We learn from mistakes.
Jaclyn: We're honest, we make mistakes. It's hard. I think it opens up the conversations too with kids to say, "I made a mistake, but is my discomfort really the end of world? It's not." That your own discomfort, you can get past that. You're learning may actually, the learning that you have in that moment will be way more powerful in the long run, than avoiding that discomfort.
Amy: Exactly, exactly. I mean, I'm honest with my kids. I tell them where I come from, that my dad was an indigent descender and that that's shaped the way I see the world. To let them know that I know that their experiences and mentors in their lives, who've shaped the way that they see the world too, and that's okay, that we respect that. I don't think I have to hide who I am from my kids.
I think that's part of being candid, and I think it's important to be able to share those things with them. I've also shared with them kind of this journey that I've been on in the last few years, in becoming aware of my own bias, and encouraging my students to have more civil discourse, and working on that in my class. It's not easy to have those conversations, and Sara talks a lot about that, and so do Christine Kristine.
It's not easy to enter into these conversations, and I know going in, I'm going to make mistakes. I can see them. I see their faces when I may get somewhere on the wrong, or something has come out in the way that it shouldn't have, or we've done something and I could have done it in a way that maybe didn't make them feel alienated.
To me, those are the most difficult moments of being candid, because I kind of have to own that what I'm doing in the classroom is really shaping these kids, and when we're talking about social comprehension, that's big. To be able to come in the next day and say, "You know, I feel like this conversation went a direction that I didn't really intend for it, and I want to apologize, I want to explain where my thinking was, and let's see if we can reread it."
I think that's incredibly important. But to own that is hard. I can own mistakes when they affect me, but having to see the truth of what I'm doing in a room full of kids, is difficult. But I feel like if I don't, the damage is far greater than just admitting, and trying to find a way to move forward together.
Jaclyn: I think they crave that too. I think they crave those moments where they see their teacher as human. They're reminded that you're human too. When they don't hear that modeling of you saying, "Here's what I said, and here was my thinking, and now I realize why this may have not come across as intended." In the book study, we've been talking a lot about intent versus impact.
I feel like that pattern of continuously returning to the idea of intent versus impact in everything we do, in our conversations, in our word choices, in the materials we're choosing, constructional decisions we're making, all of those things allow us to reflect on the choices that we're making, and owning up to the mistakes that we make, when we're wrong. We look back at that impact, and realize it wasn't exactly what we had hoped for.
Amy: Right, now, I tell my kids all the time. It doesn't matter if you didn't intend to hurt someone, or you didn't intend to say something that way. It doesn't matter if you meant it all the best, or if you were just joking, the impact is real. It doesn't matter if you meant it that way or not. If someone is hurt because of it or something didn't go the right way because of it, the impact is still valid.
That's a hard thing for kids to get sometimes, 'cause they get really stuck in intent, well, I didn't mean it like that. But the learning that the impact is valid whether we meant it or not is critical, I think.
Jaclyn: It starts young. I actually just had a conversation with my daughter this morning. We were playing Guess Who, and when I said the name of my character, or the person on my board, she said, "That's a weird name." When we had that conversation, she said, "Well, I just meant, I didn't really ever know that word before."
You know, she's five, so I realized that this is what it looks like for a five year old, but I might also have that same conversation with an adult. An adult might easily react to something like a name that's different for them in a similar way, but that's the social comprehension, that's realizing the way that you react has impact on people.
Amy: Absolutely. I start, when I was teaching the tenth grade, I'd start every year by reading the picture book Normal Norman with them. 'Cause it would give us the chance to talk just about just that, this idea that we use this word normal all the time. I teach high school, so high school kids, they're just really trying to figure out who they are, and trying on new identities, pretty regularly, and just wanting to be accepted for themselves.
I think even to just accept themselves, and to have the freedom to be released from words like normal and weird. It's pretty powerful. I know I've talked to my own children, my young kids about words like weird, and how we look at the world, and how things could be perceived. 'Cause they say and do things innocently, and don't realize and if someone doesn't have a conversation with them to say, "Hey, you know, that could really hurt someone's feelings." Or, "Why, why do think it's like that?" Gives them a different opportunity.
My youngest son, used to, and I'm sure he'd hate me for telling this story, he used to yell at the TV when football was on, that the players were playing like girls. We had to have a conversation, like you can't use the word girl as an insult, it's not okay to do that. I think he was like seven at the time, maybe six. But it was important conversation, and he knows that it's not okay, and he understands why.
Jaclyn: Right, and in our language, choices matter. I feel like that's the number one place where I find myself building more and more bravery every day, in conversations with family members, with friends, with anyone about word choices, and when we use them and why. There are some seemingly obvious ones, like the one you just described. But there are other ones that you only learn if someone mentions it.
Somebody might say, "Oh, I never thought of that before." That's that candor that we've been talking about, is you have to be brave to speak up, but your discomfort will pass. It's not really about you anyway. It's not really about how we feel in that moment, it's about the impact it will have on others.
Amy: Well, it's so true. I mean, you're exactly right. Having that courage to speak up is important. I find myself really listening to my students 'cause they're super smart kids. They're aware of the world around them in ways that I think a lot of adults aren't all of the time. They're really tuned in to what's going on in the world, and to what's happening, and not always from a certain perspective.
When I hear them talk, and I hear their choice of words, it makes me curious. It makes me ask some questions about, well, why would you say it like that, instead of like this. It also makes me feel old, because I have to keep up with the way things are. To be able to listen and to ask questions, and to understand kind of where we are in the world today, and how we should be treating people, is important.
Jaclyn: In Kids First from Day One, towards the very beginning of the book, they say, "What we live is what we teach," and I wrote that down today, because I feel like that really connects to what we're talking about. The way we live our lives every day outside of the school is how we live our lives inside the classroom, or how we should live our lives inside the classroom. I didn't know if you could share any examples of things that maybe you've tried or done outside of the classroom that you've been able to bring to your students.
Amy: I can speak to that in this way. I know that I'm just myself all of the time. I don't exclude my students from that. What I mean by that is they know me as a human being. They don't know me just as a teacher. I think that's incredibly important because then I'm part of the community, and I'm not in charge of the community. I'm not like an elected official. We all have a voice in the classroom, and we're all human beings, and they get to see that.
My students know I'm a reader, and they know if I see an article about that something that might interest them, or that got me really thinking, I'm going to bring that into the classroom, I'm a curious person. They're always surprised, I think, because the things that I end up revealing that made me curious are not what they would expect of a high school English teacher.
I'm married to an engineer, so there are scientific topics that make me curious, and I think that's surprising that I also think to them. But I think it's also really cool to show them that you don't just have to be an English person, or a Math person, or a Science person. Just bringing in that well-rounded, or what I hope is well-rounded side of myself into the classroom is important.
Jaclyn: In Being the Change, one of the examples she gives is using the poem, Sure, You Can Ask Me A Personal Question, by Diane Burns, and I wondered if you had ever worked with that poem, or used that with your students.
Amy: Okay, I haven't used that poem with my students.
Amy: But I've used several poems with my students. Honestly, I wrote that down when I read that. I'm like, "Oh, I have to use this." I thought of like five different poems I could connect it to. It would work really well, I think with [inaudible 00:11:51] Kindness, and with several other poems that I've used in my classroom. I think, I can speak to the fact that I think poetry is such an amazing tool when it comes to ...
I hate to use poetry and tool in the same sentence, but it's true when it comes to social comprehension, because it allows kids, without being overwhelmed with words on a page and details and information, to fully understand the perspective and the impact of someone else's experience, or the experience of someone else. But it also allows them to find themselves very quickly in a piece of writing.
They really can discover like wait, I'm not alone. Like someone else has felt this way. I've been trying to figure out what it was I was feel when people say these things to me, and this person just named it for me. I think poetry is real gift in that way. It allows us to empathize with other people, to listen to their voice, without being overwhelmed in an article, or in a longer piece, or in a book without feeling pointed at.
Or having to own for too long. We can see it, we can start to own where our bias is located, and then we can start to, like what Sara talks about with clicking into system too, where we start to maybe check our assumptions, that we can also see ourselves. I don't know, I just think poetry is the best for that.
Amy Clark is a Heinemann Fellow from cohort one. She teaches English at Christ Episcopal School in Covington, LA. In her words, "…I have an enormous love for learning and for education…Teaching consumes my heart in a way that no other profession could ever hope to do. I wake up excited everyday to teach my students, to learn more, and to share my enthusiasm with colleagues."
You can follow Amy on Twitter @AmyGClark