Community, curriculum, collaboration

I found another online community that I can use to help further my knowledge of teaching. The name of the group is NGSS which stands for Next Generation Science Standards. This one has to do with Biology teachers that are primarily in high school but there are some info and lessons that would fit into the middle schools easily as well. Within the group, there are biology teachers from around the country that help each other with standards, lessons, ideas, textbooks, labs, and lots of other great resources.

I find this very helpful for as a new teacher or a teacher that wants to mix things up and add different material. I plan on asking questions and then helping others when I can as I learn more. This expands the learning community from just the school and town that I live and teach in, to a much larger scope of assistance.

Professionalism and Wisdom

As a new student teacher in the MAT program, I looked around to find some help with ideas in the classes that I teach in. One place that I found some inspiration that I could use is a facebook group for high school art teachers. In it, there are a couple thousand members from all over the world that give advice and tips on art projects and classroom management. It is also a place that one could post a question and get great feedback from some experienced teachers. So far it has been great. I plan to try some of the ideas and later in the future I will give back some tips that I develop in my classroom.

In addition, staying in touch with others in the teaching field and same discipline just makes sense. The more one can collaborate with the wisdom of the masters, and stay up to date with any new ideas and development, the better our students will benefit.

Elder’s Panel

Today’s panel was very intriguing for me because as elders Selina, Linda, and David, are highly respected specialists in Tlingit culture.   Much has changed since the days that they were youth and were subjected to being othered by  the standard social norms of the day such as privilege, power, and control.  Even though much has changed in such a short time, still many things remain the same.  I appreciate how their dialogues offered first hand accounts of what it was like for them as youth and all that they have had to work for since then to preserve their personal identities and cultural identities but to create an avenue for the culture to be revitalized and passed on to the younger generations.  Digging deeper into the discussion, I took away a reminder that many people have been working (and fighting) for multiple generations now so that we can see equity in education.  As MAT students and future teachers we have a large responsibility not to lose their vision when we step into the classroom for our training period and even once we are professionals at our craft.  selina

Words of power

images“Just saying thank you is the greatest speech a human being can make.” David Katzeek

David’s words really touched me today, especially as I watched high school students from Raven and Eagle Clan respond to the elders with words of acknowledgement and gratitude. And then again as I watched David graciously accept being corrected by another Elder. “Gunalcheesh,” he responded.

Hearing and validating all voices is such an important part of culturally responsive teaching. When the focus is not on the thinking process but on correct answers, when we rigidly believe that our way is the only way, students voices are brushed aside and important learning opportunities are lost.

When David was corrected by another elder he reminded us that even at his age, he is still learning. He is not only the teacher but he is also the student. We have a lot we can learn from our students. As culturally responsive teachers we are not going to have a perfect knowledge of our students backgrounds. We need to provide opportunities for all students to express themselves, to tap their cultural collateral and share their different ways of knowing.

I saw this listening and validating in action as we worked on our math and science projects. During our math walk, our guest teacher checked in on us, asked us questions about the process we were using and listened. She was there as support but she did not critique us. Her hands off approach gave us the freedom to explore. We had to tap our prior knowledge, to collaborate with our peers and determine our own approach to the problem.

What was equally as important was that my voice was heard within my group. At one point I suggested a simplified equation to solve our problem and the math wiz in our group took my suggestion and we did it my way. That was a very empowering experience.  I believe that if we can teach our students to see each other as human beings-not rich, poor, black, white, pretty, ugly, smart, dumb- we will be able to create a culture within our classrooms where ideas are allowed to flow freely because all ideas are acknowledged equally.

Further Thought on CRT…

Ernestine Hayes has a very intense way of speaking and interacting with the class. She made quite an impression. She was very direct when she said that we are still living with colonialism. I chewed on that for quite a while. Then she talked about the long term effects that a teacher can have, not just on one child but on a generation.  This was an excellent reminder for me that indigenous people are still, to this day, feeling the effects of colonialism. So the war never really ended, the battle ground just changed.

This really reinforces for me, the importance of CRT. Just being mindful of how you approach lesson planning, referring back to our culturally responsive curriculum standards. Vetting material before you present it to the class. Allowing students to question the material. Invite dissenting opinions in order to open up conversations and create real learning opportunities. Using multiple sources so we can view our subject matter through many different lenses.







Wisdom from the Elders


David presented several ideas centering around the concepts of validation, advocacy, and empowerment, which resonated deeply with me. I find it very moving that David not only teaches how to be a teacher, but also lives and enacts his wisdom as he speaks. The messages he conveys are not just words, but living, breathing advocacy. This is a powerful thing.

I love that David approaches teaching from the perspective of addressing the student as a whole person, as a human being. Words have such power to shape the lives of students positively or negatively, and David addressed this directly when he told us, “You are a precious child.”
“You are intelligent.”
“You have the ability to learn inside of you. You can learn how to do anything.”

These words are transformative, and they hold great power for both the speaker and the listener. It is exciting to hear these words, even jarring, when I consider how infrequently I have heard them used in the education system. More often than not, I heard the words “You are not enough” or “You do not have the ability” as a student growing up, and I still see these ideas heavily perpetuated in many classrooms today. As a classical musician, I have often dealt with hearing more criticism and negative comments than positive, uplifting ones. Unfortunately these are pervasive attitudes that have been perpetuated for generations in my field. To hear David show that the core goals of the teacher should be to validate, affirm, uplift, bolster, build up, and love the student is powerful. He demonstrated that a great teacher is a guide who reveals the strength and ability that already live inside the student. I experienced this positivity as a student with one of my viola mentors, and it changed the way I think about learning, teaching, and life. I want to continue David’s message to my own students because I know from personal experience that affirmation, validation, and positive reinforcement can mean the difference between success and failure for a student.


David’s teachings have enormous implications for teaching in the music classroom. I want to integrate his ideas on validation and empowerment into the structure of my classroom and my lessons. I can implement this by teaching my students how to give themselves and their peers positive feedback about their playing and tempering any critical comments with positive affirmations. A successful musician can identify both things that they need to improve AND things that they did well in their playing. Guiding students to give each other positive affirmations can help to build the whole ensemble’s self esteem.

Empowering our youth through the language we choose

This afternoon’s panel with Grandma Selina, Seitook’ (forgive me for my misspelling), and Kingeistí put me at ease with the stress and fear of pursuing a teaching degree here in Juneau and was a reminder of why we need a Tlingit, or other local Native, presence in the classrooms and school system. Their conversations were open and honest, emotional and uplifting, and they spoke with such a balance of intellect and inspiration they left me yearning for me. These are the conversations I am lucky enough to have with them on a personal level, and with my mom, and with my husband as our home is full of passion for Native Education.

The advice that resonated with me the most was when Kingeistí encouraged us not to tell students they have to live in two worlds, that we live in one. It really made me realize that I had been swept up into this same dialogue of ‘two worlds’. Though it is never something I have referenced in my own life path, the idea has been so widespread it has impacted how I have thought about Native Education at times. When I listened to the words I realized how much more empowering it is to acknowledge the strength of living in one world, taking it head on, and the resiliency to be successful.  No matter where you are or what you face you have what is within you: your identity, your culture, your history, your father’s people, and your grandparent’s wisdom.

Discrediting the idea that we live in two worlds would be tough for some to hear as this has been a coined phrase throughout Alaska and Indian Country (similar to when Kingeistí analyzed the term ‘elders’ here in Juneau). Though both terms/phrases have validity in their own right, what I really took away was the need to deconstruct the language we use with our youth and to use that in our teaching. These terms/phrases have been so coined that I believe they have lost some of their meaning and the feeling they were meant to convey, only touching the surface of what these people stand for or what they have to face every day. Our languages are powerful, they are intelligent, they have love, and they have our values infused in them. We need to value that and be respectful with the language (Tlingit and English) we choose to use in our classrooms and remember the lasting impact it will have on our students and on our relationships.

The Future is Now

So far this has been a great start to the MAT program. It is enjoyable and fun and I am learning at the same time. Today was a special day. The elder panel was moving and reflective. I thought that Selina Everson had some powerful words to say about the language and how hopeful she was that the Lingit language was going to be caring on. I think she is correct. I believe that the languages of Alaska are very important and it is crucial to keep them alive.
I have been learning the Lingit language over that past few years, and I plan to add it to my teaching as much as I can. My late grandmother Anita Lafferty thought it was equally important and she worked with the schools and different foundations to document the language and to get it out to as many people as she could. The values that the elders have and grew up with are strong and the new generations of kids and adults should listen and follow their words more often. This world would be a better place if we looked and listen more to the past and to the wisdom of our elders. The future is now and the past is our guide to present.