Here’s How Schools Can Promote Racial Literacy

Color-blindness is out! The focused approach to race relations should be race-consciousness or racial literacy: the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful encounters when they happen. People of color can face challenges regarding race, class, privilege, and power and often find themselves on the receiving end of harmful microaggressions — those subtle but painful race-based slights.

Typically, these slights rise out of erroneous but widely shared views of people based on race, synonymous with the construct that I call, “immaculate perceptions” — and are designed, mostly subconsciously, to underscore dominant and subordinate cultures. The aim of acquiring and promoting racial literacy is to prepare children, parents and teachers to identify unfairness and become academically assertive. It becomes a reading practice, a way of perceiving and responding to the racial climate and racial structures that individuals encounter daily. The classroom is a perfect place to start to promote racial literacy in our schools.

When we gain racial literacy in any context, we have the ability to:

  • recognize,

  • name,

  • challenge, and

  • manage various forms of everyday racism.

Achieving racial literacy means understanding many interrelated concepts. One example of this would be the ability to analyze barriers to equal opportunity in education that could include institutional racism in K-12 schools, the achievement gap, income inequality and other factors.

Beginning racial literacy: Dispelling “immaculate perceptions” about race

Elementary-level students might not have the cognitive or critical thinking skills to understand racial disparities that are not surface level. It is a teacher’s job to help rid younger learners of incorrect beliefs surrounding race.

Teachers should:

  • Provide curriculum that details historical events surrounding racism as well as the governing ideas that allowed racist laws and policies to develop.

Additionally,

  • Teachers should educate students about equality so that they better understand the similarities that bind humans together rather than focusing on differences.

Racial literacy requires a certain level of critical thinking in order to be able to assess situations or texts for inequalities. As such, students must have the ability to think critically before they are able to become racially literate. If teachers plant the seeds of racial literacy in elementary school, assignments and processes can become progressively more complex as students move onto middle and high school.

As students begin to develop advanced reasoning skills, teachers can ask them to think critically about texts read in class that demonstrate racial or cultural bias. Initially, teachers can model this technique by giving students an example of a text that has been approached with a critical eye and been found to illustrate racial inequality. From there, teachers can ask students to approach texts — literary, media or other formats — from a critical standpoint and facilitate discussions on racial inequities.

Deconstructing racial issues in literature, social studies and history

Teaching racial literacy reaches across multiple academic subjects. English Language Arts teachers can have students read texts containing issues pertaining to race, while history and social studies teachers can approach instruction by dissecting race from a structural standpoint.

Obtaining racial literacy will help to prepare students to engage in social justice practices. When we stop avoiding it, when we stop pretending it’s not there, when we stop thinking that it’s not an issue that deeply affects schools, we can advance race relations within a genuine respect for the strengths of our diversity.

Teaching and promoting racial literacy allows us to provide an authentic, quality and empowering education that fosters ALL students a more healthy, safe and inclusive learning environment, and helps schools to provide a world-class 21st Century education.

Why ALL Students Are “AT-RISK”

The label: “at risk” student…. What does this concept look like? Who does it look like, and  do we know when, where or how to make this determination?

we are the world kids

The term at-risk is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The term may be applied to students who face circumstances that could jeopardize their ability to complete school, such as homelessness, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, transiency (as in migrant-worker families), or other conditions. It may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retentions, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance of some students.

While educators often use the term at-risk to refer to general populations or categories of students, they may also apply the term to individual students who have raised concerns—based on specific behaviors observed over time—that indicate they are more likely to fail or drop out.

When the term is used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what “at-risk” is referring to. In fact, “at-risk” can encompass so many possible characteristics and conditions that the term, if left undefined, could be rendered effectively meaningless.

Yet in certain technical, academic, and policy contexts—such as when federal or state agencies delineate “at-risk categories” to determine which students will receive specialized educational services, the term is usually used in a precise and clearly defined manner. States,  school districts, or research studies may create definitions that can encompass a broad range of  characteristic ‘risk factors’, such as the following:

  • Physical disabilities and learning disabilities
  • Prolonged or persistent health issues
  • Habitual truancy, incarceration history, or adjudicated delinquency
  • Family welfare or marital status
  • Parental educational, income levels, employment  or immigration status
  • Homes in which the primary language spoken is not English

In most cases, “risk factors” are situational rather than innate. With the exception of certain characteristics such as learning disabilities, a student’s perceived risk status is rarely related to his or her ability to learn or succeed academically, and largely or entirely related to a student’s life circumstances.  Attending a low-performing school could be considered a risk factor. If a school is under-resourced, under-funded and cannot provide essential services, or its teacher performance record is poor, the school could contribute to higher rates of student absenteeism, failures, and attrition.

If these factors are largely circumstantial, the best thing that we can do for these students, in order to meet their needs, is to address these circumstances.  Generally speaking, the behaviors and characteristics associated with being an “at-risk student” are, in most cases, based on research and observable patterns in student demographics and school performance. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between certain risk factors and a student’s likelihood of succeeding academically, graduating from high school, or pursuing postsecondary education.

Quite imprecise, I dislike the term at-risk because it may stigmatize students AND may perpetuate the very kinds of societal perceptions, and stereotypes that contribute to students being at greater risk of failure. If students from lower-income households are consistently labeled “at-risk,” schools and educators may respond by treating them in ways that could inadvertently perpetuate their at-risk status. And believe me, it happens!

Schools may enroll ELL students in specialized programs that separate them from their English-speaking peers. While the intention is to provide the specialized language instruction that the students need, the program may also give rise to feelings of cultural isolation, or it may lower academic expectations so that they can fall behind academically even more. Consequently, these students may drop out because they don’t feel connected to the larger school culture or see the value of education, or they may lose hope that they will ever catch up or graduate. Ever heard of “Pygmalion in the Classroom”?

Different individuals within the same demographic or risk categories may have very different innate abilities, familial resources, support systems, or other personal or situational characteristics that can lead them to be more resilient or successful than others; consequently, these students would be less “at-risk” than many of their peers. In this view, at-risk is an overly broad label that inevitably fails to take into account the true complexity of any particular student’s situation.

If we act on general assumptions, rather than diagnosing the specific learning needs of individual students and using that information to provide targeted academic support or more personalized learning experiences, we will certainly continue to be ineffective educators. Otherwise, we will continue to fail our children To help ensure that at risk students succeed, schools will need a clear understanding that collaborative, comprehensive, and community-based services, providers and resources must supplement, reinforce and co-exist along with the curriculum. The range of services offered to students and families must extend to areas beyond academics and more than a nurse in the building.

Establishing collaborative partnerships across systems is a great start.  With access to service providers and community-based resources at or near the school, student performance may result in more engaged, active learners. In turn, ‘AT RISK’ students graduate high school better prepared for college, career and life success.  By the way, aren’t all students “at risk” for academic failure?

 

 

 

 

DIGITAL INNOVATION & FAMILY ENGAGEMENT

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Harvard Family Research Project[HFRP], has discovered that there are programs out there that are taking family engagement to the next level. In fact, HFRP has an upcoming release of  Quilting Stories of Innovation in Family Engagement in which they have collected an array of success stories in family engagement practices and programs from around the country.

A common thread tying the stories together in this innovations quilt is the idea that supporting family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. These stories highlight a coordination of efforts and the establishment of partnerships. Through these partnerships, diverse sectors and stakeholders work together and optimize their resources to support children’s learning and development anywhere, anytime.

school

 

Parentopia creates a blended learning environment for families of young children. With an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) site in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have developed the first blended learning environment for parents and families of young children through the creation of Parentopia. ECFE offers families once-a-week parent education, early education, and parent‒child interaction with licensed early childhood teachers and parent educators. The program begins at birth and continues through age five. It is open to all families (universal access), and engages with families who live in the neighborhood.

Through the use of Parentopia, teachers have a virtual space for engagement with all families in classes and across the program through integrating communication, collaboration, and content-sharing tools for learning. Parents are able to continue learning about parenting through discussions with teachers and with the parents who are part of their trusted learning communities.

 

The ability to include family members who can’t attend the face-to-face classes allows information for learning and engagement to be extended and shared and for all family members to feel involved. The virtual platform then offers opportunities for individual enhanced learning and engagement with the program and with teachers―for social engagement, support, and the building of social capital with a community of peers―and for a wider community of families and staff to be built through blended offline and online interactions. HFRP is currently implementing that platform that was designed through a program‒university partnership and observing the contextual factors required for full, organic use of hybrid learning in a community-based non-formal education program (e.g., staff technology comfort and competency, support for content and platform updates, value of instructor presence in parent use, and administrative support).

What makes this practice innovative?
This is the first attempt to offer a blended engagement and learning experience to families in an early childhood parenting experience. We should seriously consider adopting this kind of engagement. We can examine and measure its impacts on parenting and parent well-being and indirectly on children’s outcomes. Because of the continuous, universal access, community-based, and school district‒sponsored nature of the ECFE program, it should become a national standard and a new best practice.

Unlike other programs that may be short term, ECFE builds relationships with families that continue actively for up to five years, and for many families for their whole lives. And because ECFE is a product of the schools (and many families stay within the school district for primary and secondary school choices), and since much of engagement is based on trust and familiarity, the blended learning and engagement experience has the potential to strengthen early relationships between parents and school staff and the school district that can be a “head start” to the family‒school engagement efforts down the road.

Now, that is innovation at work in the best interest of  children and families! This is exactly the type of initiative that I have been asking for, and the exemplary practices needed for meaningful partnerships with families! What do you think?

 

Run Away or Runaways: The “Invisible Homeless”

 

Each year more than 1 million people, between 14 and 24 years old, experience homelessness for a week or longer. Many of the reasons that teenagers find themselves homeless include:

  • adult substance abuse
  • adult mental illness
  • domestic violence
  • identifying as LGBTQ
  • etc,….

Some youth may find themselves exiting from or aging out of foster care or juvenile justice systems and hence, without necessary transition services, experience homelessness. It is fairly easy to recognize an adult on the streets as you go about your busy day, who may be experiencing homelessness, but youth are often difficult to spot. These youth find themselves on their own with no means of support-cut off- from any assurance of basic needs getting met from day to day.

Assistance is truly scarce out there. If you listen to formerly homeless youth, detail their experiences, maybe the things that we take for granted as everyone’s reality, would become more concrete. It begins to sink in that these ‘children’ are out in the world alone, literally. Male and female, teenagers, cannot be left to fend for themselves without adult supports and basic needs provided them.

We think about those students who attend school everyday, and they just don’t seem to be there, fully engaged. Grades may slip, behavior problems develop, they sleep in class, their clothes are visibly unclean. What do we do as educators charged with the comprehensive development of these children? They are largely in the age group, where attendance is mandatory. So, they try to show up.

Are we really paying attention? In this society, children, school aged and under the age of 18, are not expected to care for themselves without adult supervision, without a bed, a roof, lights, food, clean clothes, even hygienic products. Yet, we mindlessly stand before a classroom filled with students, whether they are black or brown or poor, and appear to ignore a child’s plight.

We chastise, discipline, belittle, or shake our heads at someone’s child, who at least finds his or her way to school in the first place. We watch grades deteriorate, and yet, that child can go ‘home’, wherever that may be for that day or night, and assign extra, ‘make-up’ assignments, to be completed in class or at home. But, do we ask ourselves where that child calls home, or if there is an actual home? Is it a subway car, an abandoned building, an alleyway, an alternative and equally unstable and unsafe environment?

Is it a friend’s house tonight, and an aunt’s house tomorrow? Can they actually concentrate on an assignment when they are food insecure, are in places so frightening that they actually are afraid to close their eyes to get a good night’s restful sleep? Are they parents or are they parenting their own siblings, or parenting a parent?

These youth usually only need housing for a short period of time. They need jobs, job training, education, to be taught life skills, to do budgets, and be shown how to cook and clean so they can earn a living wage to pay their bills.

All young people who have experienced homelessness have experienced trauma before and while they are homeless. A lot are sexually assaulted or are sex or labor trafficked while they are homeless. If a child runs away at around 15 or 16, and they have no source of money, for food, housing, clothes, what do we reasonably believe that they will do to survive? Become prey to underworld activities and engage in activities which make them vulnerable to the sex trafficking trades, if they survive.

Then, there’s always a life in and out of the judicial system, jails, detention centers, and then what do we suppose their life chances are for survival as adults will be? If they make it to become fully mature adults, that is. But until then, these youth comprise the “invisible homeless”, unless we find it in our hearts and politics to provide proactive supports for families, and their children, before it gets too late,…and the children disappear into the night on their own  on the streets of America. And we call ourselves the Land of the free, and the home of the brave!”

These youth are the quintessentially brave and they are brave without a home! Invisible to the adults who all, every one of us, say they care about ALL children! Is it us or is it them who need help? As we ponder that question, think about the millions of teenagers who are living on the streets in this country, and go by everyday unnoticed, unsupported and unprotected! These vulnerable youth ARE the most brave of us all! It is our move to say something, and do something to protect these young people, today and for the future, so we can be a part of their, our solution! The future is now.

FPE: The Joining Sessions

 

fam-schoolFamily Psycho-Education practices begin with the joining sessions which are the first opportunities that practitioners have to facilitate and build a rapport and a working alliance with families.FPE practitioners recognize families’ knowledge and expertise. and the idea of FPE is that families and practitioners join their expertise and strengths to support goal achievement. This collaborative approach forms the foundation for the model. To foster this collaborative relationship, practitioners:

  • demonstrate genuine concern for their families,
  • validate families’ experiences and realities,
  • avoid treating families as ‘patients’ in need of fixing, and
  • avoid playing the blame game with families for their real or perceived problems.

To help foster a more informal environment and working alliance, practitioners begin by socializing, both at the beginning and at the end of each session. This helps to reduce anxiety and allows you to get to know your families as people, as diverse as they may be. If you don’t get to know your families, capacity-building cannot begin or result in maximized collaborative learning, joining, or helping relationships. It is also important that practitioners be open and honest about themselves and who they are as people.

From the first joining session, it is your role to guide, without monopolizing or dominating the conversation, but they must be structured in order to complete this process. There is always an agenda, however informally presented. Following a prescribed and structured meeting lets families know what to expect and what will be accomplished during your time together.

 

Developing a strong alliance and a rapport with families is a long process. If your first contact with families or parents is during a critical episode you may have a special opportunity to build that strong alliance. Respond quickly to  immediate needs as you demonstrate your sincere willingness to help, especially in concrete ways. Establish yourself as a resource and a source of support.

If assistance is sought, offer it quickly. Prompt attention reassures families that you have committed to partnering with them. Do not hesitate to think outside the box and step in and take on non-traditional roles. Act as an advocate, refer services, help obtain entitlements and benefits and help them navigate the system’s bureaucracy.

If this is not your first encounter with families, and any expressed concerns or problems have not arisen, as may have prior, review and revisit those strategies that work to enable forward movement for families and their children. Be solution-focused. Reflection works to help families identify the variables which may or may not be effective. Look, specifically for the positives, and build upon them. Talk them through, and invite imagery to illustrate that which works for them.

Emphasize changes that are identified if any. If so, these changes, apparent or barely noticeable, constitute ‘prodromal signs and symptoms’. For example, if a child were having difficulty in school surrounding behavior and impulse control, whether sporadic or for the first time, there are usually prodromal symptoms. These symptoms make up idiosyncratic behaviors specific to that child, and will precede episodes. Poor sleep, restlessness, irritability, poor eating are those symptoms which give indication of a particular behavior. Your job would be to help families address these behaviors, recognize them early and learn to manage or help their family member manage the impulses that lead to problems.

The joining process allows the exploration of such concerns and helps families to form a working relationship with practitioners and establish that trust required to invest in psychoeducation sessions. Disclosure from families emerges more freely within an atmosphere that is relatively informal, respectful and definitely confidential. What happens in groups or with individual family meetings, stays right there on that floor, in that room. Confidentiality must be maintained at all times!

Parents need to know that they are respected, valued, and that their experiences are validated, whether commonly shared or unique to a family. In order to facilitate an alliance between families, in multi-group sessions, it is important that they socialize, identify common interests, share common experiences, concerns, and recognize shared goals. This is possibly the most important part of the process of utilizing psychoeducation practices and family engagement in education, child welfare, juvenile justice or behavioral health systems.

Some practitioners skip or shorten this phase to more rapidly begin to introduce your program’s agenda. However, shortening this step will usually backfire and families who don’t complete joining sessions are more likely to disengage prematurely. The tasks for Joining Session #1 look like this:

  • Socialize
  • Review a present or past ‘episode’, concern or problem
  • Identify precipitating events
  • Explore prodromal signs and symptoms
  • Review family experiences and validate their experiences as normal human responses
  • Identify family strengths and coping strategies that have been successful
  • Identify coping strategies that have not been helpful
  • Socialize

The purpose of joining is to develop a rapport and cultivate partnerships with families. You may conduct joining sessions with families, either individually or in groups depending on family preference. Meetings usually last for about an hour. Build and convey hope,  establish yourself as a trustworthy, supportive, and valued resource for the empowerment of families, and communities. All of this goes without saying that your services must be framed by culturally responsive practices. Along with trust, these are your building blocks for engaged and invested families. Families need you to support their capacity to advocate for themselves and their family members’ total wellness. Joining is connecting!

1492: The Legacy of Christopher Columbus

water imageAs we approach Columbus Day here in the United States, how about a little ‘food for thought’! Since among the national conversations, we are talking about and debating the presence and the significance of monuments in public spaces, we must also be a more aware and fully educated society. In order that informed decisions are made, it is important to first be informed-fully informed.

American history has always been presented and taught in a skewed and watered-down manner, in order to appease the whites who decided to settle here, as immigrant populations, I must add, the time has come that we wake up, and awaken ourselves to the truths of our nation from its founding. The strategic means of settlement and conquering, not bartering or bargaining, of and for this land, involved quite inhumane and downright barbaric means of gaining ownership for a people who originally set out for another land completely.

Though I love this country as it now stands, we must still be an honest people, and share that honesty with all, including the telling of our history. This includes the telling of the collective history, especially and particularly the contributions of Africans and African-Americans who had an overwhelming impact and a great number of hands in the infrastructure of this country.

We should have grown, matured and humanized our consciousness to the level that enables us to be completely unbiased and honest enough to accept , tell and teach this history. WE, collectively contributed to the ‘greatness’ of this country, and now that we are great, or wish for others to believe so, then we must move to the next level of greatness. That responsibility lies with every one of us, the powers that be, and the person on the street, that we begin to demand that we sweep all our ‘skeletons’ out from under the rugs, so to speak, and exalt this country to the heights and significance as leaders of the free world. We must demonstrate and model what freedom really means. Otherwise, we remain national hypocrites, and one day, inevitably, the truth will be swept out for us, and for all to see. Why can’t it BE us who understands and tells the truths, good and bad?

The answer is in education systems across this nation. It starts in schools and begins with textbooks. “Tell the truth, and ‘shame the devil!” Otherwise the power of shaming belongs to others. Our credibility to the world is progressively weakened and we become, or continue to be perceived as…..bullies standing in the name of equality, fairness, human rights as we wave the American flag.

We have to take it and own it and demonstrate that we have learned from it, while vowing to never repeat any undemocratic practices associated with imperialism and capitalism.  We can do it, America, and we will all be much better for it-more peaceful, cooperative, respectful, less divisive! Penance and reconciling ourselves with our past, as a relatively young nation, is the best pathway to lead the next generation of leaders and global citizens into a bright, and shining example of a heterogeneous, diversely populated democracy….of, by and FOR the people.  Let the messages that we send to the world align with the messages that we send to one another. It is now our legacy that we will leave for our children-are we a better nation? In truth is great wisdom and greater power. Empower the people.

Happy Columbus Day!

 

 

via Christopher Columbus: No Monuments for Murderers | By | Common Dreams

Let’s Create a Culture of Family-Centered Practices in School Settings

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For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions  for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.

Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.

An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
for them.
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members.  Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.

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Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.

What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.

Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.

Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.

The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.

Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and  performing a great disservice to that community.

Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.

“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!