Sunday, June 21, 2020

Fighting the Good Fight

As the country has found a renewed sense of duty to the ideals of equity and equality, I've been pretty quiet on here. Why? Well, 1) I'm exhausted after a long school year, and 2) Social media is typically not my first choice for where to have these conversations. Meanwhile, I've been fighting for equitable treatment for the refugee students I work with locally.* Based on these experiences, I would ask anyone reading this to consider a few things, all of which have occurred in the past month for my kiddos.
  • Not all of our families know how to use email, even if they have an email address. If you get the sense they aren't connecting that way, or if you find out that it is not a good form of communication for them, please be willing to consider other options.
  • Not all of our ELL families speak Spanish. Putting information out in English & Spanish does not mean that it has been made accessible to every family. Along these lines, don't assume that every kid with darker skin is Mexican and give them Spanish copies of everything without even checking to see if they speak any Spanish!
  • Not all students live with their parents, sometimes other family members speak better English, and many other cultures are more extended family-oriented than Americans tend to be. Please recognize and value that extended support system, and don't just see it as a negative that the parents aren't the ones in contact with the school.
  • Please spell names correctly, and if you can't figure out how to pronounce them at first (which is understandable at times!), take the time to learn to say them correctly. It makes me so sad when teachers my kids have had for months still don't know how to say their name...and sometimes even avoid calling on them for that reason (which is not good teaching/learning practice).
  • Be aware that there are a lot of untold stories. Did you know that, according to the CDE EL Guidebook, Karen is the 18th most popular primary language among our students in Colorado? Yet most people have never heard of it! Due to the news, more people have heard of the Rohingya, another oppressed minority in Myanmar, and sometimes I hear responses such as, "Oh, they are from Myanmar, so they are Rohingya." Yet the Rohingya people are just one of many groups that is being driven out! I don't expect everyone to know this, and I probably wouldn't if it weren't for my work with these families, but just be aware that there are a lot of stories out there that you may not know about.
Finally, I want to say that I have made each and every one of these mistakes myself, and I never want to judge, because most of us are just trying to do the best we can. However, as Maya Angelou says, "Do the best you can, and when you know better, do better." I am writing this in hopes that more of us can know better and do better!

*Note: I am not trying to compare anything, this is just where my energy has been focused.

Looking for more information about how to support refugee students? Check out refugeeready.msayeh.com!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

To the 2020 Senior Class

Seniors,

Congratulations! I am so excited for you to graduate and go off to your next adventures! I wish I could be in the audience, cheering and clapping as you walk across the stage, but in lieu of that, I will have to share my excitement online.

You were the first group of students I got to teach for four consecutive years. I watched many of you start your instruments in 5th grade, and followed you through 8th grade, whether you continued in orchestra or not. As you moved into high school, I tried to make it to all of your concerts (only missed a couple!) and smiled with pride as I saw you taking leadership, helping younger students, and growing into thoughtful, fun, caring people.

You are a special group of students. Every group is special, but some just come together and there is magic there. You are like that. I have images running through my mind of all of the times you volunteered to help in big and small ways, the ways you generously gave to others, and the silly moments of being on the bus after String Camp.

I will miss seeing you around town, but I know you will do great things! I'm sad that I can't be there in person for you today, but I hope that we can do something in July. I know that many of you won't remember your elementary or middle school orchestra teacher, but I remember you - you have already made an impact on the world.

Congratulations, class of 2020, especially my Eagle friends! Oh, the places you will go!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Teacher Appreciation Week 2020

This week feels strange this year. More than ever, I think that society is showing appreciation for teachers, which is great! I think that teachers can use every bit of encouragement right now, because teaching remotely is HARD!

I also want to encourage us to not forget all of the educational professionals who make things happen for kids every day. The paraeducators, office professionals, custodial staff, food service providers, nurses, and other school professionals play a huge role in welcoming our students and helping them feel safe and supported all day long!

Beyond the school, there is a whole network of support people at the district. You may not know their names, but they are keeping the lights on, the technology working, and making sure employees get paid. These people may not be teachers, but they are an integral part to making sure kids get a great education!

Whatever you do, wherever you are at, I hope you can take a moment this week to say thank you. Say thank you to a teacher, a staff member, or someone in education who is working to make a difference for kids. It doesn't have to be fancy - a quick, personal email can go a long way.

And on that note, to all of my friends in education:
I appreciate you

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Coming Together

Quick blog tonight - I've pondered what I want to write all day, and have finally settled on a topic that has made me smile over the past couple of weeks: community.

We are working on some amazing initiatives in my district to bring people together. Two that I am heading up are the art & music initiatives.

Art
We have one week left in "The HeART of Our Community," where people are submitting a photograph of something they've created that is either in the shape of a heart or includes a heart in it. We've seen over 200 responses come in so far, full of heart shapes and anatomical hearts, beads, chalk, and paint, nature and found objects, and so much more! I'm also excited to see that they are coming from 36 different schools and every grade level from PK-12th grade (and staff) is represented. Each new picture makes me smile, and I love reading the artist statements.

A recent submission included a photograph, and the statement said that it was made to honor the student's grandparent who had recently passed away. I was struck by how meaningful some of this artwork is to the students - and I hope that the act of creating brought a small measure of healing. I can't wait until we put the final product together to see a beautiful compilation of our community's creative talents!

Music
Meanwhile, we have been making preparation for a collaborative song, where anyone can submit a video of themselves singing along, and we will mix it all together into something amazing (*fingers crossed*)! This has taken SO much prep work, and just this week, we started having submissions coming in from teachers playing on the instrumental accompaniment track. It's so much fun to see our teachers as musicians, which we don't see often enough, and to feel the synergy as the parts begin to come together. I sure miss being around people right now, but listening to recordings of us all playing together makes it almost feel like we are around each other.

In other music news, a friend and I have been recording socially distanced duets together (aka we both record ourselves playing and then mix the videos). It has been such a blessing and a highlight to do something that we love - making music - and take a break from both work and all of the news about the virus.

Coming together while being apart is powerful. How are you coming together with others?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tired.

Friends, I'm tired. I'm tired of all of this - staying at home, staring at screens all day, and knowing that the next day will be pretty much the same. I understand and support why we are doing this, but I'm tired!

Our kids are tired.

Our teachers are tired.

Our whole educational systems are tired.

So, what? Clearly, I didn't need to write a blog post just to say that! My focus is on what we can do about it. Here are a few easy ideas that have brought me joy recently.

  • Send a hand-written note, letter, or card. It's been so much fun to receive notes, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to return the favor!
  • Host a virtual FAC or social hour. Although sometimes I feel like the last thing I want to do is to stare at a screen, sometimes just having time with work friends with no agenda, and the ability to share in this crazy world we are all in, can be refreshing!
  • Do something different. I think that part of my tiredness is feeling like all of the days stretch into each other. This week, I decided that I needed to have some fun and different, so I looked for a YouTube playlist of Just Dance videos. Whatever it is for you, try something small and new!
  • Organize something. I wish I could say I've organized my house, but in all honesty, it's been maintaining control of my email inbox. Having things labeled & put in order makes me feel like I have control over something in this time of uncertainty :-).
  • Be gentle with yourself (and others). Most of us are not at our best right now. I want to be able to do more work, to be nicer, to keep up my regular workout routine...but I just can't do it all. In fact, I can't even do as much as I usually do. Understanding that this is normal helps me cut myself some slack, and I want to extend the same grace to others!
How are you finding joy these days?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

On Grades, Motivation, & Ownership

My brain is all over the place, with it being day thirtysomething of social distancing, but in keeping with my commitment to blog through this time, I thought I would write a few snippets.

During this time, for the majority of our students, grades are no longer a motivating factor (we are handling elementary/middle/high school differently, but the majority of our students really can't fail classes or see their grade go down). Some students and teachers are really struggling with the "why" question now - "Why should I do this work, if it doesn't count for a grade?" It's really showing who loves learning for the sake of learning! On the other hand, I have a (straight-A) kiddo who is freaked out about going to pass/fail because there is no in between.

Motivation is another interesting roller coaster. I'm feeling it, just like the kids are - this is hard, it's tiring, and especially for our kiddos who are socially motivated, it's harder to want to get things done! On the other hand, some kids who struggle in the classroom setting are actually loving the motivation of "spend a couple of hours working really hard, and then you have the rest of the day free!" We are definitely learning more about what works for each individual kid.

Finally, I think we are really seeing dividends with the teachers who have given their students a lot of ownership of their learning, because now, we are relying on that! I even felt it myself, in my private violin teaching - when a student's E string is way out of tune, I usually just grab the instrument and tune it myself (with the peg), because it's so easy to break that string. This time, though, I had to coach my student online, and she did it! It was a great reminder to me that even though it's easier and faster when I do it, the better payoff is to let our students grow into independent learners who can handle themselves. This time is both a growing opportunity for them, and a time when a spotlight is shining on those who do or don't yet have those skills.

Hope you all are staying safe, healthy, and motivated!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Love One Another

I have been disturbed by the reports I've heard recently of violence and hate against Asian people, on account of the virus. As a person who is half-Chinese myself, it feels close to home! I also know that there are other groups who experience this regularly, and I am just now getting a taste of how they might be feeling.

In a strictly clinical way, I get it. Stress is high right now. People are dying. It's easy to want something to blame. The virus was first detected in China. It's not that much of a leap to see how people would misplace their anger and lash out at anything that reminds them of this virus that seems to be defining our lives right now.

But, oh, how it feels! Friends, how can we be doing this? In a time when we have seen so many amazing examples of communities coming together, how are there still strands of hate running through it all? It's easy to think that we are "past" this as a society - of course are intelligent enough to know that the person of Asian descent on the trail next to us is not to blame for the virus, right? Then why are these things still happening?

So I'm writing today with one message: Love one another. On this Easter weekend, that message seems especially poignant. Please, please, spread love in your community, not hate. The world needs it right now!