Saturday, June 06, 2020

Who Am I Learning From Today?

When I cleaned out my classroom last month, I grabbed this sign that was at the front of our classroom. It was one that we talked about often, formally and informally.  The idea that thinking with other people grows individual and collective understanding is a huge idea I want my students to leave the year with.  I also want them to see the power in thinking with different individuals--to not only working with their good friends or people they knew well.  I brought the sign home and hung it on the bulletin board in my office as a reminder to me, to hold myself accountable to that same thinking when it comes to my own learning.

Many of us have done better at diversifying the children's literature in our classrooms. We've been intentional about that thanks to groups like We Need Diverse BooksThe Brown BookshelfLee & Low#disrupttexts and many other organizations and groups who are doing this work. Many of us have also started reading more about issues of race and racism. Last week, I wrote about books that have been critical to my internal work toward being anti-racist (You Can't Be Neutral).  For me, reading books has become a commitment to study and a commitment to daily action and I shared a bit of that thinking too. (Beyond Reading Books About Race and Racism) But this week, I've been thinking about intentionally expanding my network--really thinking about who it is that I learn from and with professionally. I have been thinking about this for a while but again, I have not done enough. These were just the first steps that I am going to build on.

Last year, the May 2019 #31DaysIBPOC blog posts were so important to my own learning.  These posts pushed my thinking and learning every day. And I realized in the middle of May last year, that this series was about far more for me than the individual blog posts.  Each day, I was introduced to someone who had a whole body of work. So even though I knew a handful of the contributors last year, I added 15-20 new educators to my list of people I learn from.  (If you don't know #31DaysIBPOC, you can read the statement from their website below.). You can read more about the initiative here.

This year, May was a busier than usual with the end of the school year and remote learning. So I didn't have the time I needed for #31DaysIBPOC.  I had hoped to read these posts each day as they were published, but I missed far too many days. So over the next two weeks, as I catch up on the posts, I also want to catch up on getting to know the writers and their work.  I glanced at the page and I know the work of about half of the people who wrote this year.  So in these next two weeks, I'll be reading the 31 blog posts and I'll also be intentional about catching up on the work of the writers I know and also studying the work of those I don't know.  I'll find them on social media and follow and I'll try to read some of their other work. There is so much expertise out there and I am committing time each day to learning from people I've known and new people I discover through experts I've come to trust.

Dr. Tracey Flores is another person who has introduced me to people through her Scholar Stories series.  In each post, Dr. Flores introduces us to a scholar with questions and answers we can learn from. She also includes Twitter handles or other social media links so that we can  continue to learn from these incredible women.  I caught a few of these on Facebook as Dr. Flores shared, but I want to really spend time digging into the work of these incredible educators.

And of course, there are the hashtags. I have recently relied on #educolor, #cleartheair, #disrupttexts and #diversityjedi So many important conversations happening on social media.  And it's not just about following a hashtag--these hashtags have been a starting place for me to see how limited my professional circle has been and to grow it intentionally.  To listen and learn from those speaking in these spaces, to pay attention to resources they offer and to follow people that they shout out.

In my talk at NCTE  in November, I said,

We have to expand our networks to honestly reflect on the day-to-day work we are doing in our classrooms and schools. Whether it is being open to learning so that we can find books that better represent the students we teach, or whether the learning helps us rethink the school traditions we have around Thanksgiving or whether the learning helps us to revise the ways we are using technology to better match what it means to be literate today. We need to listen in a way that allows us to grow and change our thinking. That won’t happen unless we intentionally expand the circles of people we learn from and with.

When we think about our own literacy, we have to be reflective and make sure we are the learners we want our students to be. As Peter Johnston reminds us, “Listening is the foundation of conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking. A turn to talk is not simply an opportunity to say what you have to say and allow someone else to do the same” (102). I think this is true for the students in our classrooms and for us as educators in real or virtual spaces. Am I joining the conversation with a learner stance or am I just looking to confirm my own beliefs or waiting for my turn to talk?

I've learned that so much of my work as a white woman is about listening and learning. So, I revisit my own words often to check myself.  Am I doing (every day) the things I committed to doing to grow my network? Am I doing enough listening and learning? Am I turning my learning into action?

There are lots of ways to grow your network and lots of questions to ask ourselves as educators. These are the questions I've been asking myself over the last year:

  • Who am I learning from professionally? What are the professional books that I'm reading? Am I reading and learning from the same people over and over or am I committed to finding resources that push my thinking and expand my understandings?

  • What workshops and webinars am I attending? Do I typically learn from panels of white educators who have been doing work around literacy? Am I listening to the same people/circles of people over and over?

  • Who am I reading when it comes to adult fiction and children's literature? Whose social media accounts do I follow to find new books? How can I expand that? 

And this week, I am asking myself new questions based on my realizations and the gaps I have noticed in the last two weeks:

  • Where am I buying my books? Which companies am I supporting? Am I supporting independent booksellers that have common values or am I buying from companies who support racist policies?

  • Who do I know in my local community? How can I find the leaders locally and find ways to support local efforts? Which community leaders do I not know or learn from yet?

Going back to my question Who Am I Thinking With Today? is a way to hold myself accountable to expanding my network and doing more listening and learning from others who have committed their professional lives to this work. 

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