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.