Mindful Musings

  • 3 Culturally Relevant Things Teachers Can Do To Start The Year

    Photo by Tobias van Schneider on Unsplash

    It’s that time of year for many educators; the excitement, jitters, and anticipation of a new school year to come. Around this time of year many educators, in North America and the Northern Hemisphere, are preparing to welcome students of all ages and backgrounds into their learning environments. I remember, both as a student and teacher, how I used to look at the start of the school year. My anticipation of seeing friends I have not seen for a few months, my excitement about the possibilities, and my eagerness to implement new ideas from a summer of professional learning. But I also remember as a student, being worried. I remember being worried about what my teachers were going to ask me about my summer.  Why? Because many of my teachers would ask the same question so many students dread, “Write about what you did over the summer.” The problem with this question is that the teacher creates a climate that lacks cultural awareness and thus risks putting many students into a position in which they see themselves as inferior to their classmates. I remember having classmates that took summer trips to Europe or many other destinations even adults dream of getting to at some point in their life. I remember having students whose families would do that same or even spend an entire month at the “Family Vacation home.” As a student, my summers were spent playing summer league flag football, summer league basketball, and running track. I had many classmates that spent their summer working in the family business or even just working to earn additional income for themselves or their families. Yet, somehow that just didn’t seem adequate enough for my teachers that looked more favorably upon the family outings to the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace or basking in the Hawaiian sun. So with that, here are 3 things teachers can consider doing that are not only culturally relevant but also will create a more inclusive learning opportunity for their students:

    1. Rather than ask what students did over the summer, I encourage teachers to ask students to share “What new skills or experience did you acquire over the summer?” Then follow up this question with, “How can that be shared and utilized in our learning environment?”

    2. Ask students to list their top two passions and at least one skill they have that their classmates may not be aware of? If you have access to technology, I recommend doing this on a platform like Padlet or Flipgrid (record a video response) to create a social awareness for all students. Bonus: have students take a selfie to go with their posting! Double bonus: have students use Snapchat to take the selfie, incorporate a cool filter, save to the camera roll, and upload that to padlet or flipgrid.

    3. Have students create a graphic that is similar to the image below, to serve as a daily reflection of their accomplishments. All students should not only experience success, but ideally they can identify their own successes through daily reflection. The key here is each student should keep in mind success is very different to each individual so all that matters is they have identified this on their own by their own standard.


    The more we can be both culturally responsive and culturally relevant the more our students will always feel a sense of belonging, importance, and that school is for all and not just some.


  • Open Hearts and Open Minds

    Over the past few months I have had the privilege and opportunity to deliver keynotes in various parts of the country. Many of those travels have taken me to several states in the south (Louisiana, Alabama twice, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia). One of the most recent opportunities I had was to speak at an event in Hazelhurst, Georgia. This certainly was not "just another trip" for me; I found myself contemplating and wrestling with lots of conflicting thoughts around going. I wasn't sure if I had made the right decision in agreeing to be the keynote speaker given the recent events, current narratives, and the fact that I was headed to speak in Jeff Davis County. I know there are many speakers that are afforded certain privileges, like not having to think about these types of things prior to doing their work, but I am not one of them.

    In the end there were a number of factors that gave me a high degree of piece of mind prior to this speaking engagement. One is that I reflected on my many experiences speaking in areas in which I tend to be the only educator of color or at least the only speaker in the program that is an educator of color. In pretty much all but one of these instances, I have found that I am surrounded by like minded educators who share a passion for learning as well as a sense of "family" that I thrive upon. Another factor in this decision, and perhaps the most significant, was a wonderful telephone conversation with my primary host contact, Tammy Girtman, in which she shared with me several times that "we are so excited to have YOU coming to our event." That simple phrase helped me recognize that I was not only going to be welcomed with open arms, but that I would have an opportunity to share in a very unique experience with all of the wonderful folks that work in Jeff Davis County Schools.

    Upon my arrival I was warmly greeted by Tammy, many of the support staff, as well as the Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz. Dr. Rentz and I even had a brief chat about my college football days which added to my overall comfort level and excitement for being a part of this event. What's more important about this post and the purpose in me sharing this story is that my initial reticence and hesitations of going could have denied everyone at the event, and myself, the opportunity to spend time together around a fantastic day of professional learning.  The larger message is the recognition and importance of providing a diverse and inclusive learning opportunity for educators that transcends breakout sessions and keynotes. In numerous instances, I have had attendees representing many race and ethnic backgrounds share with me their happiness, excitement, and gratitude that I was selected to be the speaker to spend time with them. In quite a few of these occasions I was the very first experience they have had listening to and learning with an African-American male speaker. This event was no exception and I am truly grateful to Tammy, Dr. Rentz, and all the amazing folks in Jeff Davis County Schools that we had this opportunity to learn together.  I certainly hope to return in the future and I promise to pronounce “Vidalia” and “pecan” in the local dialect. Love to you all!!!

    I will conclude this post with a quote that encapsulates my sentiment of this speaking opportunity.

    A lot of times perception is not the reality and if we let our perceptions be our reality then we will never open ourselves up to new experiences.