Hedreich Nichols

May 2020

What’s Going On

While being interviewed this week for Ted Nesloney’s #tellyourstory series, we talked a little about equity. He mentioned, rightly so, that the word equity is kind of “buzzy”, meaning that it’s one of the words popularly thrown around in education these days. He asked me what equity means to me. My encapsulated reply is that equity means doing the very best you can do for the student standing right in front of you.

When we think of the Big Concepts surrounding equity, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Be a culturally responsive educator. Decolonize your classroom. Teach anti-racist curriculum. Where do you start? How do you start? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you begin to make your corner of the world a more equitable place as an educator? By doing the best for the one student standing in front of you.

Let me be clear: systemic racism is a big problem in the US and across the world and this week we have seen it play out in ugly ways in our country, once again. However, seeing the problem, acknowledging the problem, being aware of the symptoms and solutions of the problem and maybe even seeing your own part in the problem is not going to change anything unless you do one thing: Do your very best for the student standing in front of you. A child standing in front of you needs to know 3 things:

  • You value all students;
  • Every student deserves to be valued;
  • If someone is not valued, you will use your voice to help make sure that they are.

If every teacher would model and teach those three things, we could stop defining terms that essentially all mean the same thing: value others just as you value yourself (if you’re so inclined, you may recognize this as one of the 10 commandments). If every teacher had been teaching those three things, Amy Cooper might have grown up to be a person who leashed her dog instead of pulling the Fear Of The Black Man card. If teachers had been teaching students to value others all along, George Floyd would likely still be alive.

If every teacher would do the best for each child in front of them by valuing all students and speaking out against those who don’t, I wouldn’t have to worry about my teenager driving/running/living while black. That’s a hashtag, you know, #livingwhileblack. My pride and joy, a well-liked 16 year-old kid, who is now taller than I am, is perceived by the world as a black man, and we see what happens to black men, even when they are Harvard educated birders or lying faced down, pleading for breath as a peace officer’s knee crushes the life out of them.

Educators, if you are reading this and thinking that my recipe for eradicating racism is overly simple, I’ll concede that. I just don’t understand why it can’t be.

As a teacher, how can I not use my voice to speak out against wrong and teach my students to do the same? How can I not understand that melanin can mean convictions and rogue justice death sentences, often without vindication? How can I not understand that #blacklivesmatter means that students in your class, who look like me, don’t feel like their lives matter as much as the lives of whites because of what we experience and what we see happening in our communities.

As an educator, how can you not want to hug them and protect them and make sure that everyone who does NOT look like them knows that it’s not ok that they feel that way. It’s not ok that they die early and often for reasons rooted in systemic disenfranchisement, reasons that should make every educator into an activist, even if it’s only for one child at a time.

You want a more equitable classroom? Do your very best for the student standing in front of you. Make your campus a place where fairness and justice are not regulated by race, class, ideology or popularity. Esteem and celebrate those whose stories and histories you may have to look beyond the textbook for. When you read the painful stories of those who are not being valued, don’t look away. Teach your students the truth about what happens to people of color and the ugly historical truths surrounding the ugly present realities. Then teach them that they can make a difference. Send cards and letters to mothers of the slain, work with organizations who fight for social justice and teach your students that the grief we feel today will lessen if they value those who look like them– and those who don’t.

Don’t worry about the Big Concepts surrounding equity. Just do your best for the student that’s standing in front of you.

What’s Going On Read More »


Twitter Chat Bitmoji Intro (3)

For those who know me from Twitter, you may know that I am a member of a group of educators that host the popular Saturday morning #CrazyPLN chat. One of this week’s questions was, “What’s your greatest fear about reopening in fall?” That one gave me pause. I have been reading about various district fall plans and contingencies much like Kermit sipping tea, as very much the outsider. Today’s question tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that this coming fall, fraught with all of it’s challenges, is my world and the world of people I care about. My students will rely on me to provide calm, consistency, courage, communication and care–my 5 Cs of education in the Covid era. It’s hard to do that if I am freaking out–which after this morning’s discourse, I kinda was.

The inequities are being unearthed (for those for whom they were still earthed) and those who control the purse strings are having to consider making decisions based on human need and the fact that, if we are to remain a first world country, we have to decide how to be capitalists and care for the most vulnerable among us. With minority communities being hit hardest by Corona mortality, digital inequities, job loss and food insecurity, 30-40% of the country will suffer lasting, life trajectory altering consequences related to Covid-19. Again, that’s only minority communities. White households experienced a 10% jump in unemployment and our country’s overall employment rate is 14.7%.

While the families represented in our school buildings are suffering, the education sector layoffs have already started with some larger districts predicting 15-25% revenue loss, according to the Washington Post.

Then there is the social distancing piece of the puzzle, with the average square footage per classroom woefully inadequate to allow 6 feet of distance between students, if they even want to be distant. Because, you know, kindergartners never touch each other or their teachers and no one in secondary ever has a boyfriend or girlfriend in school. Add to all that the scarcity of sanitation supplies and toilet paper and…and…honestly, thinking of it all gave me the sweats and a headache.

But then I remembered that this situation, with all it’s uncertainty, is also rife with opportunities and rewards. Spoiler alert, fall will not look like any school opening we’ve ever known and that’s really not a bad thing. Yes, I miss the certainty of knowing just what it will look like, but I am ecstatic that we have to re-imagine the institution of education and its role in our society. I am calmed by the front line workers I know who invest deeply in their students, all while battling their own fears. If we concentrate on those 5 Cs–calm, consistency, courage, communication and care, I can imagine us fighting like heck to get our students to an even better place than they would have been if we’d maintained the status quo. I’m not so much of a naïf that I believe we will magically emerge stronger and better like a Tiktok #dontrush challenge. There will be painful loss, change and more than a few missteps on the way to getting it right. But I do know that if we could transform our whole existing system to an online one within days, we can emerge from any dust with a new vision for educating children that reflects the people and society we are now.

What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working for a long time and now, we have the opportunity do better. Now we’ll have to do better, lean in, try new things. If you’re not sure what new things, read the post below, “From A Distance” for some ideas. Or, I’ll be hosting a virtual learning session Tuesday at 4:30 with the incredible Traci Nicole Smith, PhD to talk about how we can better connect. Join us!

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From a Distance

If you are a hedreich.com regular AND a music fan, you may have noticed that the blog article titles are song titles. Music is my thing. I can regularly be seen embarrassing my bio and school kids by breaking into song at unexpected times. Music weaves it’s way into articles, posts, lessons, on guest vlogs and even in PDs. My upcoming webinar is no different. From A Distance was a part of my original webinar title but I thought it was a bit unclear. It remains, however, the theme. From a distance ≠ at a distance. During this time of Covid19 social distancing, we have to lean in.

Leaning in means realizing that not only is from a distance ≠ at a distance, but similarly, distance learning is not the same as distance teaching:

  1. The person who is talking is the person who is learning.
  2. If you are lecturing for your 80 percent of your online sessions you are not building the communication skills of your students, you’re building your own.
  3. If teacher-student connection is the primary socialization in your class, your students are missing critical skill-building opportunities.

The good news is, you can correct that easily. Here are a couple of ideas that you can easily integrate. Assign students to:

  • “host” the class and be responsible for letting students in and greeting them in the chat while you host 5 minutes of Zoom unmuted chaos.
  • use the whiteboard or screen sharing functions to teach a part of the lesson.
  • pull up “guess the gibberish” on Instagram and play with the class (older students, of course).
  • host a Kahoot for the class.
  • have group discussions in breakout rooms.
  • have student led discussions after group work.
  • Have show and tell.
  • invite mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, animals, stuffed animals etc to be a part of the final 5 minutes of class. Take a group pic and send it to parents thanking them for all their help.

The point is that drilling information into your kids because you have fewer instructional minutes is not probably going to make them any smarter. The research tells us that making sure they feel connected will, however. So lean in. teaching them from a distance does not mean that you all remain separated by distance. Give them opportunities to interact. Let them do most of the talking. Set up your instructional nuggets as questions as much as possible so they are thinking and making connections– with the content, with you, with each other.

If you want to learn more about it, join me on Wednesday at 11AM (Texas time) for 7 Strategies for Better Online Student Engagement where we’ll talk about learning, engagement and connecting from a distance.

From a Distance Read More »