As a member of this Online Book Club, you are expected to post to the book blog at least once per week between now and July 11 -- that's six weeks. You should finish your book before then, and you will meet during the Institute in your groups to extend the discussion and plan how to present the book to the others in the Institute.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Chapter 1 - What it means to be a culturally proactive teacher

To begin, I must point out how thrilled I was discover the yoga metaphor throughout this book.  In hindsight I should have realized when I read the title.  However, I was more focused on the subtitle of "A Culturally Proactive Approach..." and the PWF reference was overlooked.  So as an amateur yogi and amateur teacher, PWF has been speaking to me on many levels.  Friday marked the last day of my first year as a teacher.  While it was a great first year, after reading PWF, I am feeling convicted and excited to implement some of these ideas next school year.  

There is a ton going on throughout PWF.  The authors share many quotes from outside sources, examples of real teachers PWFing, and some theoretical concepts.  So, my approach has been to highlight some ideas and concepts that stick out to me and try to relate them to something I've done or seen in the past, or plan for a possible future implementation.  In chapter 1, two concepts that are key for me from this chapter are transparency/challenging the traditional teacher/student hierarchy, and examining privilege/positionality.  

First, Transparency and challenging the traditional teacher/student hierarchy jumped out at me because I have always had a natural instinct towards this idea but it has often been suppressed, directly or indirectly, by other veteran teachers.  The authors suggest here that students should not look to a classroom teacher as the knower of all information.  Typically, the teacher is just doling out information for students to accept unchallenged.  Students and teachers should be learners together.  Additionally, teachers, as the authors modeled with their own college students, should be transparent and explain WHY a particular lesson is being taught.  We no longer live in a world where students will sit down, shut up, and absorb any information a teacher forces them to write down.  And we shouldn't!  

While I believe there is a fine line here, as in everything, a teacher should still manage her or his classroom, but also should be transparent and willing to admit their own lack of knowledge.  If modeling is key, then teachers should also be modeling how to be a student and a constant pursuer of new knowledge.  Too often, I have been told by veteran teachers things like, "this is just busy work but they don't need to know that," or "don't tell the students that this isn't worth any things," and, "I'm just going to give them points if its complete, I don't care if the answers are right."  What a waste of EVERYBODY'S time?  I'm not interested in having my time wasted, so why would I do that to my students?  A classroom should be a productive learning environment for all, not just a place to keep students in a seat, quiet, and busy.  

Second, and most importantly, this chapter discusses examining privilege and positionality from the teacher perspective and implementing these types of discussions in the classroom.  This is critical to being a culturally proactive teacher and it is probably the most difficult step for teachers.  It is important to know how your privilege affects your teaching and how you can work to use your positionality to help and not hurt others.  I work in a Title I school where the majority of teachers fit the stereotypical mold of white, female, and middle class and our student population is roughly 2/3 black students and 2/3 hispanic students.  Thankfully, we do have some diversity in teachers but certainly not enough. So, we have a big responsibility to check our privilege but many are hesitant or unwilling.  There is also a responsibility to have courageous conversations about race and privilege with our students but I rarely if ever have witnessed that.  The lack of culturally proactive teaching creates a rift between students and teachers and worsens the lack of transparency and pits students against teachers in a battle for power.  

As an observer in an ELA classroom, I witnessed an amazing opportunity to be culturally proactive go to waste, and it truly made me feel devastated and helpless.  Students were doing a Holocaust unit in ELA and they were just not into it.  It was going on for weeks with little investment on the students parts.  Until one day, the students read a short dialogue about purple people.

MO: Purple people are always thieves.
JO: Why do you say that? 

MO:  Well someone told me he heard that a purple person was nearby when Mr. Smith lost his wallet. It's a purple person's fault that Mr. Smith has no money.
JO: Maybe he dropped it or left it somewhere.

MO: Come on. It had to be one of the purple people. That's how purple people are. 
JO: I don't see how you can say that. 

MO: I've heard that purple people always seem to have money.  So one of them probably stole the wallet. 
JO: Have you ever actually met or spoken to a purple person?
MO: No, but I hate them anyway! That's why I won't be friends with them. 

After reading this dialogue, for the first time in weeks, students began to have conversations around the room and were interested in the topic.  Most importantly, they could identify with the topic and wanted to participate.  Unfortunately, their eagerness was stifled quickly because the classroom is not inviting to student dialogue and when one student, out of turn, mentioned the words black and white, the teacher response was, "We aren't talking about black and white or anybody in this room, we are talking about purple people." And the class was quiet again, and the students went back to "learning." I was devastated by opportunity lost and student engagement stifled.  I was helpless because I was an unwelcome observer in the classroom and had no control over the situation.  

But, I learned.  I learned that students WANT culturally proactive teachers who are transparent and have courageous conversations.  And I learned that I want to be that teacher.  


  1. I don't know if using the comments feature is how I should respond to posts, but I'm going to try it. It's a shame that the teacher you observed did not use the opportunity that he/she had to talk about race and inequality. Sometimes as teachers we get so focussed on our original goal for the lesson that we miss those teachable moments. It can also be a bit scary to jump into those types of conversations, and maybe the teacher didn't feel ready or able to do so at that moment. In our school we call conversations about race/class/gender, etc. "courageous conversations," and I think it's an appropriate name. It does take courage to talk about these issues, and many of us don't have a lot of practice doing it. Did you have an opportunity to speak to the teacher about this lesson and why he/she avoided this opportunity?

    I remember back when I was observing classes during my teacher training and I observed a teacher who called all of the white students "Mr. ___" and "Miss ___", and he called all the African American students by their first names. I was quite sure he was unaware of his actions, but I was too afraid to point it out to him. Now that I'm a teacher, I know I would very much want someone to tell me if I were doing something like that.

  2. Unfortunately, the teacher is not easy to talk to and is very unwelcome to suggestions so I didn't, as a first year teacher, feel comfortable (or that I would have support from any other teachers or administration) talking to this person about it.

    Also, thank you for sharing your story with me about your experience with a veteran teacher doing something you didn't agree with. I'm glad you were able to observe that. I agree with you that I would certainly want someone to point that out to me! Interestingly enough, I think this relates to the conversation in the book about changing the hierarchy. So many teachers are in "teacher mode" and expect to be the all knowing king/queen of the classroom castle. I think this translates to teacher training as well. It would be nice if veteran teachers knew EVERYTHING and could impart all of their wisdom on fresh blood, but the reality is, we can ALL learn from each other.


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