Reflections on sustainability

The book I wrote about in my last post, Braiding Sweetgrass, is a call to ecological and sustainable awareness and practices.  12 years ago, when we first opened our school, I was learning about the Cloud Institute Sustainability Standards for Education.  These standards are rooted in helping students develop a sense of place, history, and connection to their neighborhoods, communities, and environment.   As we develop this awareness, we can nurture a sense of responsibility to the community and the earth. One chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass that I am reading over and over again is the chapter on what it means to be indigenous to a place.  For Robin Wall Kimmerer, the author, being indigenous to a place requires one to have a sense of history and a “soul-deep fusion with the land.”  As a nation of immigrants steeped in an economic philosophy of consuming, we have some serious work to do if we want to really belong to the place we call home.  Our teachers are constantly thinking about and learning how to better foster a sense of belonging to our communities, neighborhood, and environments in order to nurture the wonder and gratitude needed to care for our earth.

 I often neglect to attend to the fact that we are in a “green” school building despite our dismal “grade” of D on electricity usage. (We are working on it!)  One of the green features that I do appreciate daily is the natural light we have in our rooms and the views of the harbor.  This connection to the earth that I see each day is one way that I hold on to my own sense of wonder and gratitude for our environment and the history and legacy of our community. Working with children is another way that I connect to our world and hold on to my values of sustainability. I feel an obligation to leave the world slightly better for them than it is today — cleaner, kinder, and more just for all.

Gifts

I have been reveling in a new book.  Braiding Sweetgrass is a combination of memoir, meditation on ecology, and exploration of the contrast between a western scientific world view and an indigenous world view.  (The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a professor of botany and ecology at a SUNY school upstate, a poet, and an award-winning nonfiction writer.) This book is going to take me a while to get through.  I have to frequently stop to reread and savor her writing and ideas. 

Generosity and the reciprocal nature of healthy relationships between humans and between humans and the natural world are a theme woven throughout the book. She writes that gifts are ways “to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen.” But she is not focusing on gifts as commodities.  This book, was to me, a gift in that the new friend who recommended it to me attended to who I am and shared her own love of the book with me.  The gift was in the connection and honoring of our relationship, not in the presentation of the book wrapped in paper and given to me. 

The idea that gifts need to be physical presents is a story that many of us have grown up with. “The stories we choose to shape our behavior have consequences,” Kimmerer writes.  We can choose to focus on a market economy story where presents need to be purchased, or we can choose to focus on a story in which we “bestow our own gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world.”  

I see lots of benefits for this worldview — environmental and economic sustainability, a framework for caring for others, a reminder to be in “amazement at the richness and generosity of the world.” 

What gifts have you received or recognized lately? 

Thinking about Asian Bias

One of the things that has helped me through the stress of this past year is striving to continue my learning about the history and forms of racism in US history and, particularly, how we can better incorporate anti-racism and anti-bias work in our teaching. I am reading books on culturally responsive leadership, participating in webinars and watching recorded talks about anti-racist teaching, participating in the IDC work (special thanks to Audra, Melanie, and Mary for launching this work with Inshirah Duwors and Ashley London Taylor and to the other staff and parents who are joining these meetings) and reading fiction and non-fiction that broadens my perspectives. 

Racism shows up in many areas of life.  Students continue to use memes that have racist histories because they have not tuned in to the racist history behind these memes.  I catch myself using language that has become totally normalized in our society but that is rooted in a history of bias and is offensive to different minoritized groups. It also shows up when we are uninformed or not clued into the bias and racism experienced by members of our community. 

Last Saturday evening, I participated in a Bollywood Cooking Lesson through the Geffen Playhouse in LA.  My original intention was to watch some Bollywood movie clips and learn to cook some Indian food.  Sri Rao, the author of Bollywood Kitchen, led the Zoom session, interspersing cooking with family stories. As an American of Indian heritage (his parents immigrated in the early 60s), he spoke about his life growing up as the only brown boy growing up in white middle America.  He spoke about the racism he encountered as a child and that his parents encountered as immigrants in a not always welcoming America. 

Racism faced by Asian Americans is too often unnamed.  Yet, our colleagues and families from Asia undoubtedly are assumed to be from “somewhere else” and not the US even though many of them have been born in the US.  There are expectations of meeting a certain standard of behavior and academic achievement.  And we don’t often teach the histories and contributions of their ancestors or the challenges faced by their ancestors as they arrived in the US.  Nor do we acknowledge the stress they feel as they walk down the street or ride the subway due to the increase in hate crimes targeted at Americans of Asian ancestry.

My challenge to our community is to be more aware of these experiences and to offer care to those in our community who may be encountering this stress. As we move forward as a community, it is important that we are mindful of the experiences of others and that we model this mindfulness and empathy for our children. I encourage families to stop by our monthly IDC parent workshops as well as we engage in conversations with others about our blindspots and unconscious biases and how by naming these we can guide our children to be a part of the society we wish to see.

A response to vandals and sedition

Once again, I am writing a blog post about our school’s response to a national tragedy. I learned this evening that this tragedy has been compounded by a local hate crime. A vandal tied a Confederate flag to the door of the Museum of Jewish Heritage across the street from our school. This was done in sight of the train car that carried innocent people to Auschwitz to be brutally treated and killed.

I am sickened. I am grief stricken. I am angry.

At the same time, our kids and teachers give me hope.

On Thursday, all of our students began to process this news in developmentally appropriate ways. For example, our kindergarteners listened to Dave Eggers’ book, What Can A Citizen Do? and talked about ways that community members work towards peace and safety through kind actions. Our fourth graders started their conversations by reflecting on the norms they have for being part of a community. Our eighth graders started by reflecting on their beliefs:

Each of these approaches is grounded in listening to children and reflecting on the values that they are developing. We made sure to listen to the information that they have, correcting misconceptions and answering questions, and giving them choices of ways to participate (or not) in these conversations.

These initial conversations are just part of the work that we all need to do as we live through this historic time. As educators, it is our professional obligation to help young people process information, engage as citizens, and critically evaluate news and information.

Over the coming weeks, we will continue this work as part of our commitment to teaching Civics and the democratic ideals of justice and equity. And we know that giving people the opportunity to engage in some form of action is empowering and alleviates anxiety. We will be offering all community members the opportunity to participate in a COVID safe and winterized version of Sidewalk Chalk for Peace over the next week. More information will be sent home next week.

I worry for our nation and our society. We live in very challenging times. But, as Mary noted at a meeting on Thursday, the values our students express and their commitment to making the world a better place are evidence that my hope is not misplaced.

Thank you, staff

One of my many new year’s goals is to communicate more about what is happening at school and in life. Here is my start to that goal. Each week, I send an email to staff with updates and reminders. These emails always begin with a short framing of and reflections on our work as educators. This is from an email I shared with teachers before break…

On and off, I pretend that I am fluent in Twitter.  I don’t often remember to check it and when I do, the disorganization overwhelms me.  However, this thread showed up in my feed that is inspirational. My riff on it is…

I have learned in the face of this pandemic that 276 staff have the ability to…

  • make me laugh each day with their sense of humor and joy in children;
  • create a sense of community through a screen, and building virtual and in-person traditions; 
  • remind me of the power of collaboration and teamwork as you help out on Fridays, plan together, support each other with technology, etc.; 
  • teach me what it is like to be an educator who cares deeply about children and justice and equity during multiple pandemics;
  • give me grace and forgiveness for momentary panic attacks, poorly phrased “wokeness,” and awkward efforts to invite people in to difficult conversations;
  • provide me with a sense of community and connectedness through these lonely months of isolation and responding to the larger bureaucracy in which we work
  • offer me opportunities to learn about the world through their interests in travel, reading, politics, art, creating, music, and athletics;
  • And allow me to learn to be a better me. 

I appreciate each and every one of our staff members and want to publicly thank them for everything they do for our community every day. 

Preparing for this week’s news

As a school community, we know that 2020 has capped a number of years of increased tension and strife around social, racial, public health, economic, and political issues. This year’s national elections and the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified these tensions. While we await election results this week, our students will have lots of questions and our teachers will guide conversations based in fact while also helping students to process their feelings.

As I shared at the last PTA meeting and in the email I sent out as a follow up to that meeting, we know that students learn best when they feel safe and recognized.  We do this by helping them develop social-emotional learning skills. CASEL, a highly regarded organization dedicated to social-emotional learning (SEL), organizes these key skills into 5 categories. 

We know that dialogue and an informed citizenry are critical to our democracy. We are so fortunate to live in the United States where we can challenge and question policies and elected officials, to have a range of media to learn from, and to have access to a public education that encourages students to ask questions and learn from each other. 

  1. Self-awareness: How am I personally feeling?
  2. Social-awareness: How are others feeling?
  3. Self-management: How will I behave now that I know how I am feeling and how others might be feeling?
  4. Relationship-building: How will I interact with others based upon what I know about their feelings?
  5. Responsible decision-making: What actions will I take to appropriately express my feelings in a way that is also respectful of how others might be feeling?

As we process the news over the next several weeks, the answers to these questions will help our students feel safe in tumultuous times.  Our school mission statement affirms we recognize the importance of diversity, equity, and student voice as we prepare students to become responsible members of our society.  At 276, each family brings unique cultural insights, political perspectives, and experiences to our community. Despite all this diversity, we all share the value of care and respect for others. 

With appreciation for your partnership, 

Terri 

I am…

I recently read (and started re-reading) Marc Brackett’s book Permission to Feel. Brackett is a professor of psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  In this book, he gives a road map to understanding, expressing, and regulating our emotions so that we can achieve our potential as individuals and as a society.
He tells us that the first steps on this road are to recognize, understand, and label our emotions. I have a lot of them. Here goes.
I am deeply sad and troubled.  Lives are being lost. Families and communities are grieving. Our city and nation have been shattered by Coronavirus.  In February, a young Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, out for a run, was killed in Georgia. Until video of his killing was released on social media in April, the white men who killed him were not arrested.  In March, a first responder was sleeping at home. The police burst in with a no-knock warrant and Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman who had dreams of becoming a nurse died. On Memorial Day, George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis.  Also on Memorial Day, Chris Cooper, an African American man who was birding in Central Park, was threatened by a white woman when he asked her to leash her dog.  And then the protests began — largely peaceful but erupting in violence causing curfews.
I am grieving and concerned for the Black community which is bearing a disproportionate percentage of the deaths from Coronavirus and who, decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continue to suffer the effects of racist policies and ingrained racist behaviors. And I am angry about that as well. I am angry about the continuing injustice and our collective lack of ability to create positive change.
I am frightened for the people of color in my personal life (including my school people — teachers, students, parents) and for the people of color who I don’t know personally who live with the shadow of fear and anxiety over much of their lives.
I am worried about our children and the anxiety they feel when they watch the news and youtube videos and listen to the sounds of sirens and breaking glass.
I am disheartened for our city and our nation. Our ideals are so strong and inspiring and we are not meeting those ideals.
I am discouraged and, honestly, disgusted by the responses of our elected officials at all levels of government. I am frustrated by the lack of political and moral will that they tap in order to help our nation live up to its ideals of equality, liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.
At the same time, I am appreciative of our school community for their determination to engage in the difficult work of acknowledging inequities in our system, in our school, and in our lives.
I am inspired by our students who want to engage in the difficult conversations around race and justice and who work for a more just and equitable society. And I am inspired by our staff who remain committed to our students’ emotional and physical well-being, who are dedicated to educating children in thoughtful, empowering ways that help them become critical consumers of information and citizens who will use their voices, skills, and values to make our world better. As our mission statement says,  Our students are lifelong learners prepared to engage in the work of creating new paradigms for an increasingly inclusive and sustainable world.
I am determined to continue to learn more about the history of racism in our country and world, to engage in work that empowers our young people to be their best selves, and to advocate for greater equity and justice in our world.
When we are in school, we have conversations about racist actions and tragedies. Kids bring them up during meetings and during play, we have clubs that have equity and anti-racism as a focus, our teachers talk about these racist incidents with each other, and we have a parent/teacher committee that is engaging in anti-racist work.  Right now, teachers are navigating the remote learning environment in order to provide safe spaces for students to process their own feelings and to learn from and with each other.  Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee steering group is meeting to discuss how we can support our students and families process the news and all the feelings that go along with it.  We will be sharing a curated list of resources with families shortly.
This work starts with me. It starts with you.  We start with being aware of our emotions and feelings and understand them and then express them in ways that are productive and honest and respectful. I began to do this work publicly today. We start by being open and listening and then acknowledging our own positions and privileges in society and our lack of knowledge about the lives of others. And then we commit to experiencing the discomfort and anger and concern as we work together to help our country achieve our ideal of liberty and justice for all.

T(m)aking Time for Enrichment Activities

When we first went to Remote Learning and social distancing, an oft-repeated news item was about the creativity that “plagues” have afforded in the past. Apparently, Newton developed his theory of gravity and Shakespeare wrote prolifically when outbreaks of the Plague forced them to social distance. (As this blog in Scientific American points out, neither of them had children or Netflix to watch!)
We are a week into Remote Learning 2.0.  The teachers continue to work to refine the lessons and structures we are using for Remote Learning. For some students, this new schedule is fantastic — a good balance of screen and off-screen time. Others continue to struggle with the schedule and organization.  Still other students finish their work quickly and are ready for other activities.
Our specialist teachers — art, science, music, PE, library/FabLab, and Spanish — provide lots of options for students to pursue different interests. I follow Julie and Sam on Instagram and get frequent updates to the Padlets that Basia and Amanda use for sharing student work. One thing about learning from home that I really appreciate is that I get to see new aspects of student creativity.  During school, I see student brilliance in the school setting, now I get to see their work in new ways. 
There are also a number of interesting special projects available for students online through various arts and education organizations.  For example:
The Rube Goldberg Foundation has a #boredombustingrubemachine contest that challenges family teams to create a contraption that drops a bar of soap into someone’s hand.  The deadline for submission to the contest is May 31. Instructions for the contest and submitting entries is on their webpage.
The New Victory offers fun, free, programming each week. Past weeks have included clowning, songwriting, juggling, magic, and puppetry. These different programs are open-ended and challenge students to learn about how they learn, about their strengths and areas of interest, and storytelling.
EduHam at Home. Through EduHam, students study primary source documents from the Founding Era, learn how Lin-Manuel Miranda used such documents to create the musical Hamilton, and finally create their own original performance pieces based on the same material.  It will continue to be available through August 2020.
The Moth Storytelling School. The educators at The Moth have developed a series of storytelling lessons to be used at home.  Usually, a high school program, this series has been revised to be accessible to middle school students as well.
The Museum of Math has math classes for kids (for example, origami and the math behind origami, and Rubik’s cubes.)  There is often a registration fee for these programs.  If you scroll down on their page, upcoming events are listed.
What Now? is a science video series on youtube with Lynne Brunelle, writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Wonderopolis is a website dedicated to curiosity. I could absolutely go down a rabbit hole after the information on this website!  Spend some time browsing, pick up some trivia, discover new information, think of some questions you hadn’t thought before.

Remote Learning 2.0

Dear Families,

I apologize for the length of this post. I wanted to have all information for you in one place. I have bolded sub-headings to make it easier to navigate this document. 

Over this past week, I hope that your families have been able to take a moment to breathe deeply, catch up a bit, and recharge.  We are living in extraordinary times. Thankfully, the number of New Yorkers being diagnosed and hospitalized with Covid-19 is dropping.  However, we still have far too many people who are ill or are becoming ill and so social-distancing will continue to be required until at least the middle of May. Our economy continues to be battered by social-distancing and unemployment numbers are skyrocketing. 

Families in our community are impacted by this state of affairs.  Adults and children are under stress as they navigate family illnesses, remaining indoors, and the financial fallout. Even those who do not seem to be impacted are experiencing emotional stress. 

Providing emotional support through stability and consistency of relationships is one of our most important tasks right now.  

As we all know by now, remote learning is very different than learning at school in a traditional “brick and mortar” setting. While you are learning to monitor your children’s learning and also working at home, teachers are learning to work from home while caring for family members, locating resources online, repurposing tools they have at home for teaching, and honing their digital teaching skills. 

Our faculty have been hard at work all week revising remote learning structures to respond to parent and student feedback, evolving DOE policies, the research on remote learning, and the importance of supporting children emotionally through this difficult time.  We are launching “Remote Learning v. 2.0” on Monday. 

Grade teams will be sharing revised schedules with families this weekend. Key shifts you will notice are about scheduling and methods of teaching.  It is our plan that these shifts will help students and parents have a better understanding of expectations, organize their schedules more effectively, and maintain a strong connection to our school community. 

Schedules

In order to reduce screen time, help with executive functioning and organization, and accommodate the various scheduling constraints at home, we have reworked the schedules for students.  We also looked at available best practices on scheduling remote learning for children at different grade levels. The common recommendations are that we limit online time to no more than 3 hours for our oldest students with significantly less online time for younger students.  Students also will have offline work, such as independent reading and writing. The instructional day at home is different than the instructional day at school. Learning at home should also include chores and play. Don’t forget to schedule those as well. 

Live and video-based teaching

Faculty are planning for a blend of video-based, asynchronous teaching, and live, synchronous teaching.  The bulk of teaching will be asynchronous through curated resources and teacher-created lessons.  There will also be regularly scheduled face to face meetings via Google Meets to foster a sense of community and connection with staff and to provide small group lessons and/or office hours as age-appropriate.  

Content

Our faculty spent this past week looking at student work, the standards, and our curriculum to plan for units moving forward.  These units are selected and designed to support student skill development, knowledge, and independence. I am confident that your children will finish the school year engaged in the rich learning experiences that they are accustomed to.  

Report Cards

Teachers are entering grades for the second term into the grading system used by the DOE. Three things about report cards this term. 

  1. Because our switch to remote learning collided with the end of our grading period, we are encountering some technical issues. We hope to have them all resolved by the time grades are released on April 25. 
  2. We are not including comments this term. There will be comments on the final report card. We are awaiting new DOE policies on grading.  
  3. You will need to use your access to MySchools (mystudent.nyc/FAM) to see your children’s grades.  Because we have a different reporting system for PreK, Kim and Mary Jo will be sending out report cards via email. 

Counseling and Social-Emotional Support

Our two school counselors, Mara Boden (mara.boden@bpcschool.org) and Rachel Goodman (rachel.goodman@bpcschool.org) are here for you and your families even while we are not at school. Please feel free to reach out to either of them if you need support. They can also connect you with community organizations that are providing support remotely. Please continue to check our social-emotional website for new resources. 

Beginning the week of April 20th, Mara and Rachel will be hosting weekly school-wide mindfulness/ meditation sessions on Mondays at 2:00 PM to decompress and help decrease anxiety. The link is available in the email that went home.  

Special Education Supports

We are committed to continuing to support all our students.  Our staff is working to adapt lessons and instruction through multiple ways to foster learning for all students. Our ICT partnerships, paraprofessionals, academic support teachers, and related service providers are collaborating to provide instruction to meet the learning needs of our students. Asynchronous lessons allow students (and parents) to watch the instruction multiple times, to use closed captioning, and to adjust the pace of learning. We are also providing some focused small group instruction as appropriate for student learning goals and modifying expectations as needed. 

Related Services
Related service providers are closely observing how the students they work with are responding to tele-therapy in combination with the other learning activities they are doing with their teachers. Some students are also working with multiple related service providers. This is proving overwhelming for many and counterproductive for some.  The Related Service team has determined that they need to restructure some of the services that they are providing. They will be integrating asynchronous lessons into the work with your children (video teaching OT activities, for example, that you and your child can watch repeatedly.) This will enhance the impact of a coordinated effort to deliver optimal educational supports. This relaunch of Related Services is a natural result of our introduction of Remote Learning v. 2.0. 

What we ask of you

  • We ask that families look at these schedules together, consider the various scheduling constraints faced by families (shared technology, different work schedules, different time zones, etc.), and then create daily schedules for each student in the family.  As you create these schedules, remember to build in movement, snack, and brain breaks.   
  • Check attendance for your child(ren) on your MySchools account and log attendance.
  • We also ask that you let us know if your child or family is struggling in any way. We are here to support you. 

I spent most of the week in virtual meetings with grade teams, support staff, and other District 2 principals. At the close of each meeting, I was so grateful to work with such thoughtful, knowledgeable and caring professional educators.  I am very proud of the quality of the education that 276 is providing to our students in general and remotely. I am confident this new schedule and structures will allow all the students at 276 to continue to learn and grow. 

Finally, I want to share greetings from our staff.  (Here is the link to Lucas’s Chargers Banjo Song.) We miss seeing you and your children and are looking forward to the time when we can come together as a community.  

With warm regards, 

Terri, Nico and Alexis

Students are invited to join Nico, Alexis and Terri for office hours each day. Links are available in the email that went home. 

Nico from 8:00 to 8:30 am

Alexis from 12:00 to 12:30 pm

Terri’s from 3 to 3:30 pm

 

 

Thankful

Each week I write an email to teachers to remind us of the values and mission that frames the work we do. This is the email I sent teachers this week.

  • Last week, I noticed two kindergartens arrive at school together. One of them held the door for the other and then they held hands as they walked down the hall to the gym. There was a group of parents smiling and watching this interaction.  As one mom put it, “the more mature one is helping the other one.”  
  • I also witnessed caring in action in third grade. One third grader escorted a student with significant learning challenges into the building and then down the hall to the gym. When they came back through the lobby in line, they were holding hands. When they arrived at the elevators, they let go of hands and gave each other a hug. One of them took the elevator upstairs while the other walked with the class.
  • Some sixth graders made a mess in the cafeteria.  One of them stayed behind to clean up while Nico went to get the others to help.  At the end of the day, Nico and I spoke to them about their poor choices.  The next day, one of them sent an email apology.  Both Nico and I replied thanking the student for the apology.  Then another sent an apology.  We didn’t ask for these apologies; the students provided them spontaneously (or at the suggestion of parents – student one – and maybe the suggestion of student one – student two.) 

Our children aren’t perfect. We didn’t get four nicely written apologies — we got two. Kids still make mistakes and can annoy each other or say unkind things. We still need dean teams and to take the time to coach our children on wise choices. They (we) are all works in progress.  But these seemingly random acts of kindness happen throughout the school day.  The kids don’t seem to think they are a big deal. It is just how they are and how they relate to others. 

A recent conversation with a fifth grader compelled me to re-read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, the first read aloud of the fifth grade ELA curriculum.  At the end of the book, the principal of the school makes a speech at the year-end ceremony.  The school is named Beecher for Henry Ward Beecher and the speech references some of his ideas.  (If you haven’t read the book, you should. I strived to avoid any spoilers.) Here is a bit from the speech: 

“…Henry Ward Beecher was, of course, the nineteenth-century abolitionist — and fiery sermonizer for human rights…  I came upon a passage that he wrote that seemed particularly consistent with… themes I’ve been ruminating upon all year. Not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness.  The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s courage.  The strength of one’s character. … Courage. Kindness, Friendship, Character.  These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”  

These qualities are evidence of our students’ caring.  They learn this from the adults in their lives and from their peers. They learn it from the caring and compassion that our teachers model each day — their willingness to take time to listen and to reflect and to be humble and honest about their own growth as a human and by pitching in to support each other and our students. Our students see these acts and learn from them.  I am deeply appreciative, each day, for their tremendous modeling of caring and respect.