Book Review: Notes from a Young Black Chef

Sometimes when you read a book, it teaches you in ways you did not expect. Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi was one such book. I expected to read about a chef and his culinary journey; instead, I began to think about the experience of students in my school.

The first few chapters of growing up and going to school really hit me hard. Kwame Onwuachi discussed how he began to realize that unconscious/conscious bias impacted how he was disciplined. His white best friend would be told not to do ____, while he was sent to the principal’s office for the same offense. He also realized that the language that his dad used when he beat him came out at school. As he was describing his experience at school in the primary grades, I pondered how many students at my school have the same experience. If I ask some teachers about this they might say, “Not at our school, ” or ” I don’t see color, ” or “It’s not my fault that all of the students on a Tier 3 plan for behavior in my class happen to be African American.” These possible responses make me nervous. How do I push back and invite teachers to look deeper into their behaviors?

Another line that hit me hard is was this one, “Eventually, I just sat there, seen by the entire school as a nuisance.” This line came at the end of a paragraph discussing how visits to the office progressed from rehabilitative to punitive. As I read this line, I thought, “How can I prevent this from happening at my school?” As I worked with students today, I came with the stance that we were there to problem solve together. (It was easy today because it was the first day back from break. I have confidence I will struggle as time passes.)

Here’s another powerful quote: “Many of the teachers, however, were middle-aged or older white women, and they approached us –ten year olds– like we were dangerous. They wielded their power like prison wardens. And in their fear, I saw reflected back an image of myself I hadn’t seen before.”  I have a ten year old at home, and I can guarantee that his teachers do not fear him, but I wonder if some students in his class are seen differently because of the color of their skin, and I wonder if he recognizes it.  I am encouraged to reflect on my use of power with students and how I shape the images of my students.

In addition to being a school book for me, I love the structure of this book. I am excited to try Hot Chicken and Waffles. I remember how he used frozen waffles on Top Chef and am looking forward to trying his yeasted waffles. I am also looking forward to using his technique for making roux in the oven.

Feel free to check out his interview on The Daily Show. I loved his line about just doing a little bit better each day.

#OneWord2020

Last year, I chose Trust to be one word that served me well last year. At the beginning of the year, my workplace was full of uncertainty. I leaned into the word Trust completely. I kept doing the next right thing as the year progressed and trusted in the process. I am not going to lie and say that it was an easy year, but by the end of the year, I was exactly where I needed to be.

As I think about this year, I want to keep moving forward, professionally, and personally. I really struggled to figure out my word this year, and then Sean Gaillard replied to my workout tweet to keep the momentum going.

Tweet

I quickly looked up the word, and this popped out at me, “driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events.” It really tied nicely with the podcast I heard the day before about how life is a collection of moments and keep doing the next right thing, and suddenly there you are. I am excited to say that momentum is my #oneword for 2020. You will see it in action in the following ways:

  • Continue the habits that are working for me:
    • Working out at least 3 times a week (as well as making a plan the week before)
    • Meal planning weekly
    • Reading daily
  • Return to the habits that worked for me:
    • Putting at least 20 minutes of work every night
    • Praying the rosary in my car on the way to work
    • Writing notes of gratitude
    • Writing my blog more frequently
  • Add new habits to old habits to create more significant change:
    • Plan my sides for dinner to ensure that we are eating 5 servings of fruits and veggies
    • Create the systems for before school and after school to help me streamline work

I know this seems like a lot, but I have confidence that the habits I built last year will be the push I needed to succeed in 2020.

Teal New Years Social Media Greeting

Read For Fun?

I have a confession to make. I have read very little fiction in the last nine years. About nine years ago, I had my son, and around that same time, I started to feel guilty for reading fiction.  I still continued to read at that same pace, except they all had an education focus. Somewhere in my own head, I convinced myself that reading anything but work focused books was not a good use of my time.

I have started to push back on my thinking. I know I need to read fiction to build my empathy skills. I also believe that I should read more fiction because I enjoyed it in the past without guilt.

I think of our students who may avoid a particular genre because they were told that they should read  “real books.” I know my son was told he needs to read something besides graphic novels.  I helped him pushed back this summer and found several graphic novels for him to enjoy.  I also pushed back on my own thinking and have grabbed a couple of fiction books for me. This summer, my son and I will rediscover our joy of reading what we want and for pleasure. I think we are on the right track both of us were up late reading last night.

We both are open to book recommendations.

Seven Collaborative Norms

I wrote a previous post about norms. I really feel like my views have shifted even more. If you have been with on any PLC or anywhere near education, we always want to talk about norms. Many of these norms include phrases such as arrive on time, leave on time. Unfortunately, I have come to realize that they do not focus on what we really need is to describe how we will collaborate. Often times, we all are in the same room, play our role, but don’t really work together. I think we need to dig deeper for more meaningful norms.

One tool I came across this school year was the seven collaborative norms. These are from Thinking Collaborative and have been around for quite some time. What I really like about these norms is they describe what it looks and sounds likes to be collaborating.

One of my favorite ways I used this tool was with a group of instructional coaches. Each one had recorded a coaching interaction with a teacher or a group of teachers. As we watched the video, we recorded on sticky notes when the coach said or did something that moved the conversation forward. Once done, in partners, they categorized their evidence into the seven collaborative norms. As a group, we talked about the strengths of the interaction and opportunities for growth. This worked well on several levels. Instructional coaches learned new moves or phrases to add to their repertoire by watching their peers. The coach saw their own coaching from an outsider looking in as well as receiving group feedback from the team.

I have also used this tool as a form of self-reflection. I often choose one to focus on when I enter a meeting. In small group meetings, I work on pausing because I know that I get really excited and end up interrupting. In larger groups, I tend to get silent, so I focus on putting ideas on the table.

As you reflect on your year if your norms did not make the group more productive, consider taking a look at the seven collaborative norms to help define what the work should look like.

 

Show Up

Dear Readers, I have missed you. I know it’s been awhile since I wrote. I know I have struggled at times with writing. You can read about it here, here or maybe even here.

Over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that I am really the sum of my habits. The habits may be small but done repeatedly, they have a significant impact. For example, three years ago, I started exercising. I have committed to exercising three times a week. The small habit that has allowed me to get the gym is spending a few minutes on Sunday plotting when I am going to the gym. Once those days are set, I commit to showing up, the length and effort may not be as strong as I would like, but I am there. The result of this habit is that I can do more in the gym. I can run farther, faster; lift more, and jump higher.

On a recent episode of Teacher’s Aid, Jon Harper interviewed James Clear which he discussed an example of a person who went to the gym at the beginning for only five minutes and left to develop the habit of going to the gym. He said, “Habits have to exist before they can be optimized.” This made me think about my writing habit or lack thereof. I don’t write daily or even weekly. I have been struggling to write because I am not showing up. I realized that step one is to write 100 words daily. I am not going to agonize about the content or quality at the beginning. I am going to focus on the habit of sitting down at the computer and writing. When I shared my idea with a friend, he really put it into perspective. It’s 700 words a week and over 36,000 words a year. For me, I will write more than I have since I started this blog. I also am visually tracking on the productive app, so I can see how I am staying on track.

I tell you my own story of creating a habit because I realize that we start with small practices done daily are more powerful than a big push once. We can’t expect our classroom management to change by doing one big thing one time. Our classroom management changes one small habit done daily. It’s about showing up day in and day out that leads to long-lasting change. We need to spend the time talking to our students about this idea as well. So dear reader, enjoy this journey with me as I show up daily to write.

High Expectations

I have been going to my gym for several years and only recently did I have an epiphany. None of the instructors look like me, and not all of them engage with me. I have been watching lately.

One example, we were doing sumo deadlifts, and I should have been lifting more than I was.  As we began lifting, the instructor said, “You should be using at 50 pounds on this.” She then handed the woman next to me a heavier weight and ignored that I was only lifting 40 pounds. I also realized that during that same class that I had been avoiding using a jump rope the whole time I was there. When the jump rope exercises come up, I just make the motion without the rope.

I bring both of these examples up because I realized that maybe some of the instructors do not have high expectations for me in the workout. I know that I am a forty-something-year-old woman who is not lean which is very different from the young 20-something-year-old instructors.

Around the same time, I read Dear White Teacher by Chrysanthius Lathan. The comments from her students made me realize that what occurs at the gym is minor in comparison to what is happening to some students in the classroom. Students of color were being sent out to Mrs. Lathan’s class because for lack of better phrase, she was also of color and the white teachers were afraid. In the article, she discusses the fear that some teachers have and how they freeze. I encourage you to read the full article because I will not do it justice.

What took me three years to figure out, many students know when the teacher does not have high expectations for them. These same students can tell you who will hold them accountable and expect them to reach the bar.

My easy answer is to model the teacher who set high expectations for all of their students, but I realize it is much more complicated than that. We need to explore our unconscious biases and how they impact our expectations.

A postscript to my story: The last time I went to the gym, the instructor comes up to me after the first jump rope activity and asks where is my jump rope and why am I not using it. So needless to say, during the rest, I ran to my bag and grabbed. During that whole workout, I lifted heavier and with more focus. I’d like to claim it was all me, but I realize the instructor’s high expectations for me pushed me to that level.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Self-Care

I am not going to sugar coat it in any way. February is hard. As a wise friend always said, “Don’t make any career choices in February.”

This year has proven to be no different. In my district, there are so many uncertainties. We have looming layoffs, a new superintendent, and a state accreditation visit. Also, we changed our teacher leadership system which means a large percentage of people including me has to reapply for a job. Needless to say, my stress level is high, and I am very anxious.

With this in mind, I have taken charge of my own self-care. This does not mean that I am indulging in massages and pedicures. Instead, I have focused on the following.

  • Exercise: I have found the more I sweat, the less stressed I have become. There is nothing like doing 100 burpees to still a quiet mind.
  • Food: I have jumped in with gusto with meal planning. I have enjoyed adding new recipes to my list and knowing that I do not have to think about what’s for dinner on my way home.
  • Vacation Planning: I am beyond excited to think about both Spring Break and a summer trip to visit friends.
  • Prayer: I have been spending more time in prayer this month. I have also taken my one word, Trust and used it help me focus my prayer.
  • Sleep: I have mentally set a bedtime and worked hard to maintain it.
  • Books: I have been focusing on books that excite me. Currently, I am reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and no I have not seen the NetFlix series.

I do these things so I can be the best wife, parent, friend, and colleague during this month. I know I don’t have the answers for all of the changes occurring, but I can respond with empathy and compassion because I have taken care of myself.

I know I don't have the answers for all of the changes occurring, but I can respond with empathy and compassion because I have taken care of myself..png