Category Archives: Instruction


I have been trying to write something inspiring for a good hour now. (I would follow-up with a comment about not being amazing, but that’s a narrative I’m trying to interrupt for myself).  Through several sacred conversations with many of you this past week, I know a lot of us have a lot we’re processing right now. Supreme Court and Gun Control Facebook articles in themselves are enough, but frustration with how things are going in the classroom, personal challenges, and carrying feelings of loss heading into the holidays don’t make the list any shorter.

So in reflection and validation of that, I don’t have any perfect saying that will take that all away. But as I was reflecting on this past week I also kept coming back to the point that I had the privilege of seeing some AMAZING education this week. We have INCREDIBLE teachers–even when people are feeling burnt out and holding their breath for break. I want to briefly highlight just some of those things. See or hear of something you want to highlight? Leave it in the comments section or send me an email.


– Business students laughing at the “metaphor video of the day” on balance used as a brain break and key way to connect the concept of balancing equations to something memorable (want to laugh yourself:

– A counselor standing passionately in their commitment to increasing connection to SLPHS for students of color

– The Special Ed department in full flexibility mode in the face of the unexpected with calm, caring, community

– A veteran teacher on FIRE about new learning and dedicated to increasing racial equity within our system and challenging the status quo

– An English teacher utilizing students as sources of knowledge and introducing different curriculum to be more culturally relevant

– 100% engagement and students (politely) arguing over who was going to read next in an English class

– A teacher seamlessly rephrasing, probing, and delving deeper with questioning in a supportive way after a student initially responded “I don’t know” (Want some quick open- ended questions?

– A social-studies teacher co-constructing knowledge with students when asked a question, increasing engagement

– A paraprofessional providing individual, learning-based attention and assistance equitably and from a growth mindset

– A language teacher rocking gestures, key words, visual clues, repetition, and so much more that allowed students to follow-along and lower frustration levels

– A specialist correcting behavior in a calm, courteous manner for all students

– Colleagues stepping up in love and care to surround one another in support as they face a challenging time


I am so honored to work with such talented, caring, colleagues. Thank you for your passion, persistence, and love for our children.

photo source:


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Thanksgiving was always my least favorite holiday.

I wish I could say it was because I couldn’t stomach the one-dimensional story told about the foundation of our nation, but in truth, the reasons for my hating Thanksgiving as a child however, could not be more selfish. It boiled down to two things for me. One: the fact that the day that in my mind the day centered around waiting for food. We weren’t allowed to eat when we were hungry because a big meal was coming later, and to be honest, I get less excited about food than most people I’ve realized. And two: it meant a lot of awkward social interactions with strangers. My family always invited over neighbors and community members who didn’t have family in the area and being an introvert this meant playing in my room alone wasn’t an option. Like I said, pretty selfish.

Many years have passed since then, but my selfishness did not evaporate around the holiday and what I recognized it as.  As a white, non-native girl, growing up the stories I learned around Thanksgiving were centered on forged community, cross-cultural relationships, “Indians and Pilgrims”. Through time the narrative was expanded a bit for me, but I never sought specific details. Even when I learned some of the horrors of Indian Boarding Schools, the Trail of Tears, and countless broken treaties, I didn’t revisit Thanksgiving and the implications of a single narrative of celebration for that day.

We all have things to be thankful for and that’s what the day is really about, I thought. So why complicate it? It’s not hurting anyone. To me, this seemed like a reasonable, logical, stance for years. But instead of “why complicate it?” consider a different perspective.

Why take an encounter and history that is complicated, painful, and dehumanizing and present it as a celebration?

To some, next Thursday is known as a the National Day of Mourning.

A few years after the first harvest feast of 1621, the alleged “first thanksgiving”, “the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians.” (Source: Oyate)

I am not arguing for the complete disavowing of a day of giving thanks. Indigenous communities like Europeans have long histories of giving thanks and days to celebrate this. However, when I get real about my question of “why complicate it?” I see my selfishness for my own comfort, for my own narrative. I believed as long as I recognized inequity and stood for justice in general, I could dismiss the pain of a day I see as nothing more than giving thanks. But by ignoring the truth of the Indigenous perspective in Thanksgiving, I was communicating to my Native students, friends, and extended family members that acknowledging their pain and their loss, that their truth in this situation was an inconvenience. This was a choice I was making by ignoring the truth of Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t have consciously admitted it, but by only acknowledging my above the line narrative I was choosing to perpetuate the belief that the voices, perspectives, and truth of indigenous people was not valid.

In my life I have found humankind to be complicated, amazing, individuals. We have the capacity to hold multiple things at once. We can hold thankfulness and truth. We can hold celebration of time with family and reconciliation. For me, as a white woman I know that I have traditions, institutions, and a culture surrounding and supporting me in one of these areas. So my work becomes, what will I continue to do to learn into the other? How will I continue to hold the below the line narrative?

Want to learn more or want lesson plan ideas? Some good places to start:

Have a different perspective? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

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Guiding Questions

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Pay attention to where you are going because without meaning you might get nowhere. – A. A. Milne

I have been to two shooting ranges in my life. One was a row of pop cans stretching several yards in each direction and the other was a single target. With the pop cans, I aimed in the general direction and hit several cans (okay, let’s be honest, I hit a couple). The single target on the other hand made me focus. Be intentional. Reflect on where I missed. Adjust my stance. I knew what I wanted to hit.

Guiding questions are like the single target. They provide a clear learning target for students.

There may be dozens of pieces of information you want students to know in a unit, but guiding questions direct the larger picture for a complete understanding. Additionally, they prepare the path for organizing the unit and content. They put learning ahead of activities (ensuring every activity has a purpose). As a result, student learning is increased.

Characteristics of Good Guiding Questions:

  • rigorous in nature, but understandable language
  • places emphasis on the most important elements
  • are made up of smallest number needed for the unit
  • support formative assessment
  • support differentiated instruction

How to Create Guiding Questions:

  • address the standards
  • identify the knowledge students need to learn
  • identify the skills students need to learn
  • identify the big ideas that students need to learn
  • choose meaningful or important topics
  • choose personally relevant topics
  • use the most appropriate words
  • keep language easy to understand
  • prompt students to use learning strategies
  • prompt students to use technology
  • prompt students to use communication skills

Robert Marzano, in The Art and Science of Teaching (2007), recommends two structures for creating guiding questions:

Students will be able to ____________

Students will understand ___________

For further information on Guiding Questions, Arika & Joy have copies of Jim Knight’s, professor at the University of Kansas, chapter on Guiding Questions from High Impact Instruction and are happy to brainstorm with you.

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34 Names

For quite some time, we have heard the importance of having images of people of color present in our classrooms. Research shows that students of color benefit from seeing people who look like them in their learning environment.  As we return from honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded of all the impactful African American leaders who have shaped our past, present, and future.  

In an earlier blog post titled “The Students’ Six:  Strategies for Culturally Proficient Teaching”, we referenced strategy #3 that addressed the importance of making linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.  We want to give you an opportunity to do just that.  The list below contains  over 30 influential African American leaders.  As we looked over the people, we realized that beyond name recognition, we knew very little (or nothing) about over half the list.  We reflected on why that is and wondered  how we could change this for others so that the stories of these heroes could be more widely shared.  

Would you consider reviewing the list and selecting a name unknown to you and learn about that pioneer?  If yes, take it a step further and determine how you can link your classroom content to this person.  If you want help with ideas, you know where to go~

Malcolm X
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Langston Hughes
Charles Hamilton Houston
Harry Belafonte
Nat Turner
Carter G. Woodson
Mary McLeod Bethune
John H. Johnson
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Marcus Garvey
Fannie Lou Hamer
A. Phillip Randolph
Paul Robeson
Dred Scott
James Baldwin
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Booker T. Washington
Ella Baker
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Rosa Parks
Harriet Tubman
Frederick Douglass
Thurgood Marshall
WEB DuBois
Barack Obama
Bessie Coleman
Maya Angelou
Shirley Chisholm
Dr. Dorothy Height
Sojourner Truth
Wilma Rudolph
Ruth Simmons
Gwendolyn Brooks

bessie-coleman*If you can identify this woman from the list above, email us by the end of the school day tomorrow (1/22/14) to receive a prize!  (Remember, times are tough.)  😉

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