Saturday, October 10, 2015

Becoming a Change Agent

I remember being forced to play a game with my colleagues as staff development. It was called, "Making Change Happen," or simply, "The Change Game." It had a game board that was more like a score card and a good many pieces. It was like setting up a game of monopoly where you know you'll be otherwise engaged for awhile. On the left hand side of the scorecard were people's names to represent people in a pseudo school system that represented teachers at the elementary and secondary level as well as the central office of this school system. I don't remember all the rules of play, but I remember you start with an idea and collected bits or points by convincing others to buy into your idea. I remember being engaged in the game that was both strategic and life-affirming. Change can happen. Many of the moves made toward change were incremental and involved winning people over to your side by decisive action like (building a rapport, providing a presentation or simply approaching people more than once with your pitch.)The ultimate lesson for me was that change can begin from the bottom. I started this school year, my 20th as a career educator with more optimism than before. It was not necessarily because I remembered the lessons from this game or forgot the disappointments, hardships or strongholds of the year's previous. I started this year with purpose to cultivate and mark successes with my students. I was that teacher who sat relatively quiet in meetings, but have been told I astounded fellow co-workers with my insights and willingness to share ideas. I often asked myself why were they being promoted over me. I revamped this blog with the intention of collecting tips to better educate parents in what I callTo Teach His Own philosophy.Our appointment to parenthood and profession gives us valuable experiences. I am in the process of finding those like-minded individuals that I can partner with to facilitate this dialogue on-line.
I applied and recently got accepted into the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign, where Dr. Johni Cruise Craig is the Project Director. An email alerted me that this national project which is a colloboration of my sorority and its non-profit education and research arm, DREF. It turns out this program is not just for Deltas, but teachers from all walks of life and greekdom who work with at-risk or urban areas. The whole program is funded, in-part, by the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. They were looking for teachers Prek to 12 to be educational change agents! They were looking for me. I saw it as a God-send. In this re-certification year for me, I will be involved in weekly modules to reflect on my self-efficacy ( effectiveness) and learn strategies that will impact student achievement. There are other perks that I will share along with some things I have learned in future posts.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trusting my 12 year old son is a life lesson for ME…

My son is at a pivotal point in his life; 12 years old. Before my very eyes, he went from wearing anything I purchased to now only wanting certain styles and brands. I lectured him for months about not letting your clothes and shoes determine your worth and how your brain will get you further in life than your gear. I will not say it fell on deaf ears but reality hit me that he was now beginning to form his own opinion about himself and that I had to give him the freedom to do that.

With that being said, I began to ask myself “what do I want for my son’s future?” Do I want him to be a mini me or do I want to raise a man who can be a free thinker and a positive influence in his community? How do I keep him safe yet allow him the freedom to be an African American male child? Daily, these questions weigh heavy on my mind but I realize that I must trust my instincts, trust what I, as a mother, have instilled in him and last but not least, trust God.

As a strong African American woman, I would bombard my son every day, prior to going outside to play with his friends, with all the do’s and don’ts of looking suspicious. I told him to always rush home if anyone made him feel uncomfortable or if his friends were choosing to make bad choices in the neighborhood. One day, he told me I was stressing him out. He actually said he felt like I didn’t trust him to be a good kid and flat out said, “Mom, I need you to TRUST me”. In my mind I thought, “WOW, did he really just say that to me?” but out of my mouth, I said. “I do trust you, it’s the other folks out there who I do not trust”.  

After he walked out the door, I cried. I couldn’t believe that I was having the same conversations with my son in 2015 that my deceased grandmother had with my now 85 year old uncle when he was 12.  I cried for all the African American boys and men who lost their lives at the hands of people who feared them for no other reason than the fact that they had brown skin. I cried for the mothers who buried their sons way too early. I cried for those who had been terrorized by those who feared them simply because of the skin they were given by our Creator. I cried for my son.

My son, Jakim
 I eventually pulled myself together and prayed earnestly. I prayed for not only my son but for all of my friends’ and family members’ sons and my son’s friends. I prayed for President Barack Obama and our new sheriff, who is the first African American to hold that office in the history of my county's 356 year old sheriff's department. I even prayed for the negative ideals and the hatred to be changed towards our brown skin. 

Lastly, I prayed for myself to TRUST my 12 year old son. 

Tanya Barnett was teaching her brothers to read at 7 years old. She is the founder of Forever Free Books, a mobile nonprofit that delivers FREE books to children in need. She's the creator of Books, Boys n'Cuts, an initiative that brings story time and FREE books to boys in African American barbershops. She wants all children to have access to books regardless of the background, so her motto is "Take books to where the kids are".  She is an avid reader, aspiring author and loves to garden. She and her husband have 3 children and a dog.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ring the Alarm, Disarm, then Arm

I had a revelation this morning while mall walking or should I say, re-revelation. The opposite of haphazard is intentional. We have to be clear in our ideas, our focus and our execution. There is a song out by Travis Greene called, "Intentional" It goes: All things are working for my good cause He's intentional, never failing.Of course, the He that he (Travis) is referring to is the almighty God-never failing. He's our perfect example. I couldn't help thinking as I rounded the corners past Urban outfitters and a few anchor Department stores still left in the mall about intent or motive. I was bombarded about the newest case of a black man, Samuel Dubose, 43, who was shot and killed by the police in Cincinnati. I sat in the car earlier in the day on the 45 minute trek listening to reports and discussing it with my thirteen year old daughter. I wonder how many cases like this does her young ears hear before she becomes desensitized to the injustices. Do we know what our babies internalize? She has seen the dash cam video. I have not. Reporters are talking about the situation escalating. How does a routine traffic stop, or a boy buying skittles, for that matter, or a man selling cigarettes escalate to death? A million things run through my mind such as what they do to us and what we do to ourselves. I try to capture the good productive stuff to try and explain the crisis we are in to my teen. One thing, I know for sure, in this case, and in the Sandra Bland case, and the case of the teen girl slammed to the ground after a neighborhood pool party is that those cops' intention was clear, to dominate, to disrespect, maybe even use their authority to destroy another human's life. If they are intentional, we have to be intentional, as role models, as parents, as educators on how we discuss, organize , protest and equip our kids to deal with authority. We are in crisis. We have to arm our kids to be apart of the next big Civil Rights movement. We, many with a degree or two of separation from the actual Civil Rights movement, are the bridge to the past.Some of our children if not the majority have to be the catalyst if not be a direct part of the solution. As an educator,I cannot help but draw the parallels of the war waged on the street to what is seen in the public schools. I know my people. I know kids. I teach middle school, for goodness sake, a mirror of what is going on in the larger nation. Kids are mouthy as all get out, incensed easily, and lack respect for authority. To even unlock what they know, to get to what they need to know, part of my job is disarm them. Not to make light of the situation, but it's sort of like a lion tamer meets an ATF bomb expert sometimes. In the Sandra Bland case, one of the first things the arresting officer expressed to her was that she seemed a little agitated. To which she gave the flippant response, "I am. I'm wondering why you pulled me over when I was trying to get out of your way." If that was the case, her apparent tone was out in the open. I believe a rational cop with no agenda besides the public safety should have been able to disarm her. What happened to kid gloves? Disarm, disarm, disarm, damnit! Diffuse the situation. Professionals who deal with the public like Customer Service Representatives do it all the time. In my classroom, I am the professional, so when a kid tells me by word or deed that he/she is having a bad day, I believe them. I give them no pass, but my humanness allows them a moment to regroup. I let them know I hear them; I reassure them. I'm clear about my intention. We hopefully deescalate the situation. I thank God for the great men and women in uniform who do that on a daily basis. We must agree there are some who need this type of basic sensitivity training, and still others that need to be purged from Civil Service-ness altogether. How, then, do we arm our kids to combat the atrocities of the day? Is it too cliché to say Education is the key? Media was fast to show what they considered the missteps of our protests in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. In many ways our kids' insolence and perceived indifference is a protest in and of itself. It gets back to the question of have we equipped our kids with tools ( the lessons of history and the language of civil disobedience to name a few.) We have to instruct our kids. How many "Birds & bees, and how NOT to be a victim," conversations are going on not only with our African American sons, but also, now, our daughters. I dare say it has to go a step further. We have to be intentional about our expectations for our children and teach them the distractions that can derail this game plan. We have to pray that our kids don't roam the Earth haphazardly, but find purpose. That might mean that just like on social media, we have to teach our kids to manage our friends and acquaintance and purge them to like-minded individuals or those we aspire to glean from. No one class, grade, school or degree will fill in all the gaps of life for us. We have to be life-long learners. We have to tend to our trauma. We have to teach our kids to make integrity their intention. We have to understand that we can influence, but the only one we can truly control is ourselves. If we hate stereotypes, we've got to stop being one. We have got to get along to be apart of a movement. That means we have to stop disrespecting each other for sport. We're outraged and vocal for a reason. I pray we can be intentional with our fervor, and that our hope cannot be squelched by current circumstances. Sherryle Kiser Jackson is a Career Educator, Multi-published Author and Playwright who along with other educators and parents have teamed up to blog under the banner of Capitl M (Mom) Capitol T (Teacher)to discuss the struggles and strategies of educating today's African American students in this Black Lives Matter Era.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Parents' Back to School Supply List

A facebook friend asked last week would she be considered an unfit mother if she didn't get all the things on her child's supply list this year. One item in particular was a school box whose dimensions were spelled out in length, width and height. I mean don't those things come standard? And, aren't school boxes so 20 years ago replaced with the stylish and portable pencil pouch?

I told her unless she was building an arc, I didn't understand the specificity. As a mom and teacher getting ready to start my 17th year, I tell parents to wait until the first day of school to buy any specialty items besides your standard paper, binder, spiral notebook, crayons and writing utensils. It's a good idea to get duplicates of the items above for your kids' portable homework box ( see below).

Most of the lists are compiled by over worked teachers forced to make the beginning of next year decsions at the end of the school year. Some of the teacher that compile the list won't even be teaching much less there at the same school the next year to use the items requested. I for one taught seventh grade, but will be returning to sixth this year. I ask for one thing of my Language Arts students, a 5 subject spiral notebook/ wide rule and something to write with (preferably not a mechanical pencil or gel pen.)

Most school supply list are on steroids these days. It's a sign of the times. What our tax payer dollars don't pay for will come out of each hardworking parent's pockets in wipes, sanitizer, copy paper and tissue boxes. After you have bought half the supercenter you still can't be assured school success.

What I have learned in my roles as Mom and Teacher is that a student's organization and study routine greatly effects his/her success. There are some basic supplies that help foster an attitude for learning in your k-12 student.As a parent I think these should be at the top of your list.

1. The Question Book. It's nothing more than a mini memo pad. Remember the school store and the adorable little book you alternated writing telephone numbers and homework assignments in? Slip this memo pad in your kids pencil pouch to keep track of the questions they ask their teacher(S). Scientists will tell you learning is not just about answers but the questions generated from learning. Is your child inquisitive? Does your child come home and not remember what they learned during the day? Is your child having trouble in a particular subject but are reluctant to ask for help? The question book can help with all of these dilemmas if you review and reward your child's participation attempts. Let your child know you can easily confirm the entries with their teacher to encourage honesty.You may want to make good on this to ensure your child is not asking unnecessary questions to fill a perceived quota. Discussion of these questions are critical. Kids who participate get noticed and kids who ask questions give the teacher an indication of their educational needs.
2. Homework box and Study Routine As a teacher I hate when parents tell me, "I thought my kid did his homework," or "He told me he didn't have any." Everyday your child should have study time whether the teacher assigns work or not. School is a 23 week THINK camp. If your child was in basketball camp, he or she would play ball or study plays and complete drills pertaining to that sport all day. Likewise they should understand that basic skills should constantly be practiced. You can create a box with the basic supplies (above) so that your child can complete any homework assignment. It's portable so if homework has to be completed at grandma's or a table at McDonalds. Ideally homework or study time is completed at the same time and in the same space so your child develops a routine. With older children in middle school or high school you can talk about how they best concentrate or perform (meta cognition) and write down helpful homework helpers such as websites if they get stuck. Which leads to my next find.

3. Yes, headphones. Noise reducing headphones. I am a writer and sometimes it's hard to isolate myself from the family, phone, vacuum, washer and other bells and whistles in my home. For my birthday I was given noise reducing headphones. With noise reducing headphones, you can still hear, but all noise that would be a distraction is cast into the background. All you hear is space which lends itself to your thoughts. This makes a great gift for a college student in a noisy dorm. Even my eight year old can understand what I mean by concentrate when she has these on to finish an assignment

The Business Card No, I'm not tripping. Your child should carry business cards. There is networking to be done and our kids, particularly our middle schoolers and high schoolers should take it upon themselves to create opportunities. It's called taking initiative.I'm sure you are always telling your kids that they are college bound. Why not create an educational opportunity card that says as much. For example, Bernard Shaw, Class of 2020. College bound student. I'd appreciate any advice or help toward these endeavors. On the back should list hobbies or opportunities your student is looking for whether it be mentoring, team sports,an after school position, volunteer activities or extra credit. Just like a budding star with an agent,it's a good idea to have your contact information as a parent listed on the card. High school juniors and seniors may graduate with maturity to a card with their own information. Have your child do their own introductions on the first day and to give each of his teachers a card.( You can check up on this at back to School night). Your child should keep some on hand for coaches, community leaders or future bosses. Cards can be printed affordably on online graphic and printing retailers or photo copy centers. What better way then to show you are serious about your education?

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Day On

Don't be like me. In my haste to get a jump on the New Year and make appointments for my kids annual check-ups, I mindlessly made dentist appoinntments for my kids on my first day off in the New Year. This happened to be the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I don't think going to the dentist is what they were thinking about when they called the holiday, 'a day on.'
As a busy parent, every day is a day on.I tried to capitalize on the flexibility of my schedule on that day. Proponents of the holiday want us to capitalize on the ministry and message of the man for which the holiday is named, hopefully creating a climate of volunterism. Giving back to our community and society as whole, now that is a novel idea.It can be an extension of the spirit of giving felt during the Christmas season or a way to exunge the guilt of gluttony. Share the wealth. Pull up our shirt sleeves and help. The MLK holiday is a way to teach our children charity and compassion for others, much more than sitting in the dentist chair with a drill pointing at your molars.
Every year I tell myself I am going to get involved with some organization and bring at least my seven year old, Ms. Gimme gimme herself, along to engage in a service project that serves a heaping helping appreciation for someone other than herself.
Despite telling my relatives that the children had very few needs,the tree was teetering with gifts for my little lady. The more she received, the more she needed and wanted. "Can I get another game for my DS?" "Can I get a case for my cell phone?" You heard right, cell phone. This was a gift from a relative. I was told to stay out of it since I am not paying the bill. The sheer volume of stuff in her room and excess makes me sick at times. It doesn't leaveher more occupied or fufilled. Late holiday cards are still coming in with a ten or twenty tucked in it, 'for the kids to get themselves something.' She can be classified among the privelaged even though her parents are not. Surely, she should be building houses somewhere and helping to furnish it with her stuff. Seriously, there must be a donation center that I can back the house up to in order to a unload her gently worn wealth.
Parting with older toys and donating them is actually a great way to begin to teach young ones to be charitable.For real, this year I'm all in (right after the early morning appointment), and you should be also. It should be eay to find volunteer opportunities right? I found a few resorces and opportunities that I list below. Get your kids involved so that they understand societal needs go beyond this one day and most of these organizations dedicated to helping others need people to give of their time, service and wealth.

Disney World has a program called Give a Day, Get a Day where the family can volunteer aone of their recognized organizations around the country and receive a voucher for a day free at any of the Disney parks. Even if you don't plan to use the one day pass, I strongly suggest you enter your zip code and scan the clearinghouse of organizations needng assistance in your area.Find info at helps you specify how you'd like to create the good. Pick Animals, Education, Hunger, seniors or even MLK Day events. They have mini videos called Howcast you can show your kids to explain how they can be of service before actually doing it.
The Volunteer family is a website of opportunities for the whole family.
Does your kids have duplicate gifts or you new toys they never used or are not interested in? Children's hospital has a toy closet of toys to give to long term patients and those seen in the clinics. They even provide toys to keep kids occupied in waiting rooms. Your kid can start a Spring or summer drive when donations are low and plan to ship or bring them to the volunteer center of the hospital. Find more info at
Mentoring is big this year. Many celebrity personalites are starting or need help funding for projects to service youth with a Mentor. You may be thinking I have my own kids with schedules to keep up wth, how can I mentor? These programs have events where kids interact with other kids. Parents can also get involved with a push of the donate button. What a powerful message sent to our kids when we give. As a family (with kids that understand the concept of money)you can decide,"Mommy wants to give to this organization. How much shoud we give? Now this may mean we don't go out to eat after church or we sacrifice that ice cream every wednesday night." You get the point. Susan Taylor left Essence magazine with a goal to mentor kids. Read her platform at supports mentoring that links men with boys, but also takes these kids to explore careers at Disney and life skills at Steve's Ranch. Michael Baisden has set up a website in the noble pursuit of getting a million mentors in ths decade. Check that out at
Whatever you do on the King Holiday don't just tell them about the characteristic of Dr. King, but honor him by showing our kids they poessess those same qualities too.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Real Deal Review of Disney's New Princess

I recently watched a commentary of Disney's new movie, The Princess and the Frog on Direct TV's The Reel Channel. The Siskel and Ebert-like critics gave the movie a "Skip It" and "Rent It," as if to insinuate that it would be a waste of time to go see the movie in theaters, sighting that the movie was too busy and didn't know what it wanted to accomplish. Who are these jokers anyway?

I not only went to see it in theater opening weekend but braved a Pink Carpet pre-event( sponsored by The Mocha Moms Inc.) filled with hundreds of mini tapioca, mocha and deep fudge-colored mini Tianas and their parents supporting Disney's first African American princess. This movie was long overdue, and in my opinion, it was done in grand style.

Rewind to 2007. My family visited the happiest place on earth, Disney World in Orlando, FL. Trip of a lifetime, right? The pictures are from my daughter's trip to the Bippity Boppity Boutique where she was to recieve a makeover. Notice that she was attended to by not one, not two, but three "Fairy Godmothers" before they called on the African American godmother to help attach the tiara with blond tendrils into my daughter's medium brown cornrowed hairstyle. I sat in horror as the brushed, and added gel to her already semi-permanent hairstyle. Since when did a tiara come with hair?

What I now realize is that it was the job of each cast members (workers) at Disney's boutique to make our darling daughters conform to the image of a Disney Princess. It was only made worse when I made her stuff her 6T body into a 4T cinderella costume we had from home that made her look more like Princess Sheniquah than Cinderella Princess images will certainely have to change with the creation of Princess Tiana. She's smart, fiercely independent and dedicated, and more importantly coco brown. She was bold enough to challenge the status quo of Disney princesses before her who had to depend on the honor and bravery of their prince to save them and make their dreams come. In my opinion it was a bold move to keep it real, revamping the old Jimminy Cricket addage, "When you wish upon a star . . ." to Tiana's mantra "you have to meet that wish half way with hard work of your own."

How long have we waited for this image for our daughters. I will be 40 years old this year and remembered visiting Disney World at age nine. I saw all the movies of the ivory pricess singing in a shrill voicee, "I am wishing for the one I love to find me. . ." My mother still has the prized collection of LP's 331/2 of each story book album. I,too, have tried to conform to beauty standards that weren't meant for me by wearing a robe on my head to resemble sraight long hair and buying into a fairy tales of a perfect prince that comes ready-made and searches the world to find and solve all my problems.

Not to knock Disney who have tried to diversify their programming on its various cable channels with shows such as That's So Raven, its spin-off, Cory in Da House and The Proud Family that had an almost exclusive African American cast. My personal favorite Disney's animated show Filmore about a Middle School saftey patrol along the lines of a Joe Friday. None of these shows are on anymore and few run in syndication. I can't even buy a Filmore DVD. It'like these images just fade away with nothing to fill the void.

To make The Princesses and The Frog authentic Disney hired AA animators to work on the film. It was done in old style animation to have the feel of classic Disney movies the likes of Snow White, and Cinderella. They even used music or the musicale to help tell the story. New Orleans provided a colorful and vibrant backdrop for the movie, and in my opinion a fair representation of the culture there. The movie flowed and had a strong moral throughout of trusting your heart.

Like the historic nomination and election of President Barack Obama, African Americans became interested in this movie because it hightlighted the FIRST African American princess in hopes that it would open the door for my features and programming of more persons of color. We are critics as as well, and just any image won' do. We supported this movie in droves because it was a solid representation of us.We have to guard what our kids see and the images that are fed to us about us. I wish I could clue those movie critics in on what they take for granted. That not all children see themselves reflected in the media as smart, fun-loving, innovative and inquisive as children are designed to be. This was so much more than a plot line, a twist of voodoo and cliche songs. This was a legacy. Many in my generation and the one before mine have wished for this day, and we know what happens when you wish upon a star.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The 2009 Top Ten Christmas Gifts for your children

Tired of Hannah Montana toys, Dora or Diego play sets or replicas of one the hundreds of children television chararcters you are forced to watch with your child. You already can't get the show's jingle out of your head. Do you really want to invite the talking figurine into your house this Christmas.

If you think about it these toys are more about the brand then your child's enjoyment. Consider my list of Top Ten Christmas list of presents for all ages that hopefully will hold your child's attention and curiousity long after the egg nog has gone bad.

Speaking of brands I've been impressed about this brands dedication to learning toys. ALmost everything this company manufactors could have made my list. Leap Frog, the brand not the field day game has two products that range from your 4/5 yr olds learning to read to your pre-teens who are challenged in subjects like Social Studies and Science,and by nature of school are forced to read to learn their subject matter. The fact that I found both 1 and 2 at the Big Lots store at a reasonable price makes them the perfect stocking stuffer.
1.Leap Frog's Sing Along/Read along Karokee Reading set is a cross between Hooked on Phonics and the Friday Night set down at the Applebees. Language controlled song lyrics are broadcast and highlighted on your tv screen and corresponding books so as the child learns the song they make correlations to sight words. Pretty cool if you can stand the repetition. Soon, your child will be ready to join you in a duet down at Applebees.
2.I almost bought the next one. The Crammer Study and Sound System also by Leap Frog for ages 8yrs to 15 creates digital flashcards and downloads quizzes to a hand held music player. So when your pre-teen declares I study best to music you can give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask the pre-teens that I teach I am big on metacognition or the ability to unpack their thinking.Beyond the obvious technological appeal you can put the ounes on the kids for preparing for upcoming texts and quizzes.
3.Disney Create a Story by V-Tech
4.I've kept this next one in mind as a potential birthday gift for every inquisitive boy I know since spottiing this in Target. Spark your child's desire to preserve history with the Backyard Safari Underground Time Capsule. Trust me the kids would love a reason to dig up the yard. This capsule reminiscent of the container a bank tellers sends you through the shutte has a rock on top to mark the place in the yard you've buried your treasure.
5.Fisher Price Kid Tough Digital Camera Two words-ho-bby, okay, that's one word emphasized. Hobbies can become talents, and talents can become careers. Think about that when you're child is taking endless pictures around the house.
The next three come from a direct sales company I used to work for on sabbatical from the school system. Discovery Toys, just like the name suggests can be found online at
6. Marbleworks Starter Kit for building and construction will provide hours of innovation as your child constructs various courses to send the basic marbles soaring. It's cause an effect to a new level.
7. Think it Through Learning system by Discovery Toys is a twelve tile self-checking sytem. You can buy bundles of questions in Math, Reading and Science to use with the tiles to reinforce what they've learned in school. Hey, everything doesn't have to be electronic.Your kids will find the simplicity a novelty.
8.We can't forget the babies. There are several models of this same concept, but the Toddler Talk lets you record your voice on a toddler-friendly cell phone so that baby can hold a conversation with his parents anytime.
Here is a twist on two classic board games.
9.Monopoly has an updated version for the Future Bankers of AMerica. It's the Electronic banking debit payment system.
10. When I was young my best friend and I loved to play the WHo-dun-it board game, Clue. With shows like Bones and 24, Milton Bradley had no choice, but to revamp the famous phrase, "Mr. Watson in the parlor with the candlestick." In Clue Secrets and Spies important messages are sent by spy text to a digital "cell phone" enclosed.
Well, this is my list. Hopefully you'll find them, educational, in stock and way cool.