10 Rules for Difficult Conversations

Teachers do a lot of hand wringing over what they do and don’t share with kids. I hear their voices saying it is too difficult and I understand.

I have that student who told me they would refuse to stay in class if I showed a CNN news video. (Since that time, I feel a great deal more empathy but for different reason) When asked why, he said “They just lie, they’re liars.” And I didn’t push. It was a simple story about electoral college numbers. So, brining up 1/6? What if their grownups and him were real believers? Did I want to deal with that? I showed the video.

So, I’m not saying this constitutes a German ship builders level of courage, but for some teachers, fearing backlash from parents, friends and administrators is a real thing. But just like you got over your fear of standing up in front of kids to teach prepositional phrases, you can get over your fear of having tough conversations.

So, I’m not saying this constitutes a German ship builders level of courage, but for some teachers, fearing backlash from parents, friends and administrators is a real thing. But just like you got over your fear of standing up in front of kids to teach prepositional phrases, you can get over your fear of having tough conversations.

  1. Do not start with a sermon.

No point in laying out really any opinion when something like the tragic murder of George Floyd or the insurrection of 1/6. You are going to begin with saying  class will be looking at an important event, and share that you will be using objective news sources.

2. Have a Resource

You may not be certified in Language Arts or Social studies but dollars to doughnuts you have to teach SEL lessons at some point right? Go simple. Find reliable, low reading level and threshold level articles that become the voice of what happened. I used this one.

Note: This article describes violence and an attack on the US system of government. It raises questions that don’t have easy answers. If it brings up questions or worries for you, be sure to discuss them with an adult you trust.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump broke into the US Capitol building violently yesterday as Congress met to count the votes of the Electoral College. The mob was encouraged to go to the Capitol by Mr. Trump

3. Have a Lesson

Next students were placed in small groups with chunks of the texts, and sent to a Whiteboard where their group were tasked with answering questions:

Students read the article aloud, with the disclaimer beforehand.  The reading happened without commentary.

Next students were placed in small groups with chunks of the texts, and sent to a whiteboard where their group was tasked with answering questions:

What does it say happened in the Capitol?

Why was congress there?

Why does it say that things were different this year?

What does it say Mr. Trump Complained about?

4. Deal in truth

Throughout the last four years we have grown use to and even supported the development and toleration of things that are not true. I am not saying you have to shut down or limit student voices. I am saying if a student says that Homosexuality is evil you can say it is simply untrue and in fact is hate speech and that it is not permitted in your classroom.

In this lesson I ask students to tell me what the author or article says. I don’t have to say that this is my opinion or that it is an opinion they should have. If a student questions the validity of the claim of the news, I say well the assignment is simply asking what the article says.

5. Always allow for student voices.

At the end of this assignment, I had students place stickies on the whiteboard voicing their thoughts questions and concerns. These were anonymous.

At the end of this assignment, I had students place stickies on the whiteboard voicing their thoughts questions and concerns. These were anonymous.

In this situation I chose to read each, stopping every one or two and asking for comments or questions. This allowed for agreement or disagreement.

6. Stick to the Truth AGAIN

When faced with that one student with views that sit outside the norm: their religion, their upbringing in a house of racist or anti-science, or whatever their deal is, rely on the truth and your classroom culture.  Hate speech, falsehoods, and disrespect are not allowed. You don’t have to debate but you can speak to the truth. We know we must socially distance, that we must respect all people regardless of race, gender and identity. We know that we can differ on policy but not on right and wrong. We know that stealing podiums and placing bombs are not constitutionally permitted.

Capitol Riots
We know that we can differ on policy but not on right and wrong. We know that stealing podiums and placing bombs are not constitutionally permitted.

“What I know tyo be true is that in this classroom we don’t use these words,  or terms. Its not a freedom of speech thing. Its how we agree to treat each other.”

“What I know is that science tells us this and that the way science works if there is enough evidence we can rely on the recommendations and the teaching.”

7. Sources

Challenge your students to find sources for their opinions. Teach them how to spot fraudulent or unreliable material. Show them examples of photoshopped images. Have them go through the exercise of regularly identifying evidence to support claims. Make your classroom a place where arguments are developed and presented. 

Teach them how to spot fraudulent or unreliable material. Show them examples of photoshopped images.

In my class several students claimed rioters were not reated as harshly as BLM protestors. In moments from me asking for them to produce reliable evidence they came up with this:

When one student found this….

…another found this.

8. Law of the Land

Students must understand that we are a nation of laws, not of people. (To paraphrase Paul Giamatti, I think?!)

Make the VBs the Official Band of the City of Presidents — The Van Burens
” Dude! We are a nation of laws and stuff! Not just like just for you and your bruhs!”

Show them instances of good trouble. Show them instances of peaceful protest. Show them the separation of powers. Let them know we trade certain “freedoms” for the protection which is the social compact. These are not abstract things. When your children are in danger of being murdered by the state, they have to know what they can do within and without the social contract in order to make this a better world.

9. Did I mention law?

 10. F@#k em if they can’t take a joke.

Ok truth is no joke. There are parents and kids who are going to call you out on being a liberal, fanatical, a criminal, a vegetable! (Paraphrasing Super Tramp, not John Adams)

You have to place the same principals forward as in your class: the truth is tghat society is based on law. This truth is scientific and empirical.  You never debate. You just simply inform that you are telling the truth: that 2 + 2 is four, that the Earth is round and that on January 6, 2021, the president of the United States of America stood in front of an armed mob and told them to attack the Capitol Building.


The Plot Thickens

As I have said in my previous post, I don’t have the energy to be an educelebrity, but I do hope to share things that I have compiled into discreet usable resources for other teachers.

To that end I will be posting some simple online lessons from my LMS.

This activity is super old school and I am sure thousands of us have done this exact activity with our kids. They love it in person or remote.

So here’s how I’d teach it!

Today you will take an in depth look at plot.

Watch the following:

The grown up terms for the plot diagram are in order:


The exposition is the introduction to a story, including the primary characters’ names, setting, mood (Links to an external site.), and time.


The conflict is the primary problem that drives the plot of the story, often a main goal for the protagonist (Links to an external site.) to achieve or overcome.

Rising Action

The rising action of the story is all of the events that lead to the eventual climax, including character development and events that create suspense.


The climax is the most exciting point of the story, and is a turning point for the plot or goals of the main character.

Falling Action

The falling action is everything that happens as a result of the climax, including wrapping-up of plot points, questions being answered, and character development.


The resolution is not always happy, but it does complete the story. It can leave a reader with questions, answers, frustration, or satisfaction.

Plot diagram.PNG

In your Book groups, go to your channel and you will create a whiteboard, then copy and paste this image in your board.

As a group discuss what you think are the major points on the plot  diagram from the following Children’s






My lessons are my truth

So this work is no joke. My lessons are my truth.

When I write lessons and activities I do it FOR my kids. I do all I can to make it a skill based, relevant activity that pushes them into the realm of the real world. I work so hard (mostly) on them and put my heart and soul into them.

Sometimes my soul is different from theirs. I also, everyday, try to show, say that everybody’s “souls” are to be valued and appreciated, or at least explored and sometimes even debated.

So this work is no joke. My lessons are my truth. I pour a great deal of energy into. It happens in bursts, and it happens over time. It is also the thing that saps my energy to the point that I will never become an educelebrity. I can’s keep up with my Blog and damn if I don’t have the worst Twitter following in existence.

So I am going to take my lessons (my babies) and put them forth here. The goal of this blog was to share free stuff so teachers can do their jobs easier and better. So they can free themselves of the chains of paying for what should be rightfully theirs’s :free support and collaboration.

This particular lesson was a culmination of our study of Point of view. My kids were reading washed out versions of the book in the lesson this year because my parent’s got spooked and didn’t want their kids to read about erections and truth. But these could be done with any texts. So here goes. This is how I would teach it:

Point of view is important in a story because it helps the reader understand characters’ feelings and actions. Each character will have his or her own perspective, so whoever is telling the story will impact the reader’s opinion of other characters and events.

For example, in this excerpt from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, the original POV is 1st person from the Standpoint, but in the re-write we look at it from the Dad’s point of view.

Today it will be your job to take up the point of view of a different character. You will have to re-write a scene from the novel you are reading. 

In it you will chose a different point of view. You may need to change the form of POV. 

Then Dad came home from wherever and had one of those long talks with Mom, and they decided something without me.
And then Dad pulled down his rifle and bullets from the closet.
“Junior,” he said. “Carry Oscar outside.”
“No!” I screamed.
“He’s suffering,” Dad said. “We have to help him.”
“You can’t do it!” I shouted.
I wanted to punch my dad in the face. I wanted to punch lint in the nose and make him


So, poor and small and weak, I picked up Oscar. He licked my face because he loved and trusted me. And I carried him out to the lawn, and I laid him down beneath our green apple tree.
“I love you, Oscar,” I said.
He looked at me and I swear to you that he understood what was happening. He knew what Dad was going to do. But Oscar wasn’t scared. He was relieved.
But not me.
I ran away from there as fast as I could.


When I walked in the house I could feel something wasn’t right. I had been out that morning trying to pick up work at construction sites all over Wellpaint but no one was hiring again.

I ended up going into Charley’s for a quick beer but that ended up taking three hours. I left Charley’s even more broke than I had walked in. I didn’t have the money for the drinks, so he put it on “my tab.”

When I walked in our small house it felt like the bill had come due.

Agnes’ eyes were wide and red rimmed, but not from drinking. I could see the look on Junior’s face and knew they had been fighting.

When I looked down at the dog I knew what it was over.  I held Agnes gaze, nodded my head and she followed me out of the room and into the kitchen.

“You know what you have to do…Agnes said in a way that made me feel like “I” made the dog sick. Like I had been the one to take this lousy extra mouth to feed into our broke — home.

I could not even muster a response. I stared at the floor.

“Did you even work today?”

I turned my back on Agnes and walked into the living room. I reached up into the closet  and pulled down my dad’s old 22 rifle and some shells from a handmade basket that rested underneath. I slipped a bullet in the chamber and locked it.

“Junior,” I said. “Carry Oscar outside.”

Holy crap, that was way more dramatic than I wanted it to be. I felt a wave of nausea wash over me.

“No!” Screamed Junior.

“He’s suffering,” I said. “We have to help him.”

“You can’t do it!” he shouted

Junior’s fists balled up. The way he looked at me…If he had been a real man I might have been scared. But instead I just felt weak.

Any trace of the drink’s from Charley’s were gone. No job. No help. Running from my problems. This one I couldn’t run from.

Junior looked at me and I swear I saw something break in him.  He picked up Oscar and walked him to the yard.

“I love you Oscar.” I could hear him say as he the dog licked his face one last time.

Junior lay him down. I reached for  my pocket to get another bullet at the ready and it dropped in between the two of us. Junior looked at it. He looked at me, looked at Oscar. Then he was gone. Running faster than I had ever seen him go.

No choice. No money. I was too broke to save my son. My son’s dog but

A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that.

So here is what you do:

Chose a scene in the novel where the protagonist and another character have some kind of interaction.

Review the feelings, and traits of the protagonist in that situation and note what actions they are taking. This can help you think about how the other character may feel or react.

Now you will re-write from the POV of the other character. Your job is to reveal a bit more about the other character.

Use this checklist:

  • You must show or tell how this character is feeling. (35 Points)
  • You must show us  the character’s traits (not tell) by either inventing a new action in the scene, or by revealing the character’s feeling about an action. (25 points)
  • In the re-write we will understand a characters MOTIVATIONS more. Junior’s Dad acted out of responsibility, and guilt. He couldn’t run from the dog’s suffering. He had to act (10 points)
  • You must preserve the basic scene. What you write can’t change the intent of the scene or the action of the novel. In my re-write I could not decide to have Junior’s Dad borrow the money from Charlie and save the day. That would change EVERYTHING.
  • You must include at least three sections of original dialogue or narration and highlight these parts in yellow.  (30 points)

Break Out!!

Breakout rooms. They have been the subject of many online discussions, tweet, and blog over the last few weeks. Their efficacy can hang on so many things: the program you are working in, the task given to accomplish in the space, the anxiety of the participant. These are all factors.

To begin I staged simple games such as Two Truths and a Lie, for kids to play. I would offer mine to the whole group first 

  1. I was once an exterminator to earn extra money.
  2. I have been to China.
  3. I own a boat.

After letting it be known that I had no boat, I sent them off to play the party game favorite in their virtual spaces.I found that kids had relative success with talking live or via chat. They all made it to the rooms for the most part, and  they even went to the correct “channel” in my case. (We are using microsoft TEAMS)

So I was feeling pretty confident, and threw an assignment out there for kids to do. A basic discussion of a piece of writing. They had been in chat rooms with similar groups of students and I was pretty sure they would be ok.

But they were less than successful. Some because I didn’t know the kids well enough yet and some groups were full of leaders, or shy kids. In one case they were doing too well or battling it out for control.

In the other they were walled up behind their initials hardly even venturing to the chat box for conversation.

I teach middle school. No other period of time is as terrifying for the human psyche.

I teach middle school. No other period of time is as terrifying for the human psyche. Turning on cameras and even microphones, are for the boldest, the brashest or in some cases the nerdiest. All those lying somewhere inbetween on the continua of Alpha Teen to Class Clown were having real issues with coming out of their shells.

And then there is the chat: I can’t wait for the research to come out on this. For some activities students would ONLY use the chat to communicate. At first I was fine with it. I wasn’t going to push on this front. Biut I became increasingly unsettled that kids were not “speaking” to each other. I am sure the research will one day bear that chat is just as legitimate as formal conversations, sort of like comic books turned out to be just fine as sources of encouraging reading. But I am still struggling with some old paradigms.

Ask your students why they aren’t talking ?

So given, that tasks were only going to get more involved as our year progresses, I knew I needed to do something So this is how I taught it:To start with I asked everyone to practice introducing themselves: Your name, what you prefer to be called and your last school. (My kids are all entering middle) I established that moving forward the protocol once you were in a new group was to introduce yourself.

Students are probably as frustrated as you about communication.

We also used an anchor chart to explain what individual group roles are. I have a place in my LMS where my DOCs are are going that are serving as Anchor charts for easy reference and presentation.

We also used an anchor chart to explain what individual group roles thry will take on.

I have also taken them through  “Talk Frames” that are a common startegey with multiple names.  I ask that each participant use a frame at least once per meeting, even if its just an exercise.

I am also reposting the directions in each individual breakout room. Over the summer I attended many a PD where we were given breakout tasks but the directions and even the resources lived in a different space. So either put them in the LMS, the chat, or somewhere that the instructions follow them to the breakout.

I told them if they could: turn on their cameras. I know we are not supposed to do this. I in no way, tie it to attendance, or grades or anything. But because I am honest with my kids, I tell them that are going to be more successful if they can see and  speak with each other. In fact its actually in our standards right?  I’m not ready to throw out effective speaking and listening just yet. I am completely ok with being patient with my kids and letting them warm up. I think they will find as they do more and more break outs or group work they will find the most success when they find ways to communicate the best. Whatever form it takes.

Then I traveled from room to room. Just as if I were in the classroom. I noted where the problems and the successes were. I started my classes in the rooms where I know the most help was needed. I clarified the roles of facilitator, reporters, time  keepers.

The assignment itself began with an individual student task and then became a group one. The one thing I wish I would have done was provide a template or finished product for them to see 1st. This is a must for project based learning but somehow with the hurried nature of remote learning I didn’t get to it. So I took a day and retaught that part of itt.

Real time feedback in the groups ws essential. It allowed me to discover my leaders, followers, arguers, and introverts. It helped me understand how to make new groups in the future

So the process came to an end when the students presented their products. I made sure and reminded the students who were on the receiving end to listen and be ready to ask questions.

This is where I found our short coming. My kids did well with the products and presenting the content but did not provide real time feedback with questions or comments. I have an idea perculating for this but that will have to be another post.

So all the above was teaching 101. Nothing I would not have done in real time, but for me remote learning was different enough to throw off my regular game. I find I can rush through, not use wait time, or just allow kids a pass because: pandemic. While the last may be surely needed the later is not. Good remote learning takes the best work from the classroom and pushes it out through the internet. You have to be confident, patient and a bit demanding. Just like  IRL.

Right and Wrong

It seems like everyday is a screaming fest about right and wrong and everyone is convince they are right. As teachers we would like to say we empirically know what right and wrong is and can teach it but I’m not sure that is accurate.

The way things are going, 55% of us think A is right and 45% A is wrong. I’d like to think in schools we could at least hope for a 60-40 split but I don’t know anymore.

So wanting this to be a year where we confront the realities of this world I wanted a lesson that would set us up for unpacking systemic racism, issues of inequality and differences of opinions. I want kids to find a way to talk to express how they feel but listen to where the opinions come from.

I think I have come up with, or “acquired “a framework to have these conversation. The plan is to start with defining values, see how that shapes action and even conflict, and look at issues surrounding ethical behavior

So this is how I’d teach it:

To begin with I would have a discussion about value.

In the old universe this might mean raising hands or writing on stickers. This week I asked for an audible answer or a chat.

“What does it mean if something has value?”

For the most part the answers came in through the chat:

Next we pull up a handy dandy padlet to list individual items or ideas that the kids find important or valuable.

“ So if something is valuable it has v-a-l-u-e. BUT! Valuable things can BE a value. A Bentley is not a value, but it is valuable. So, if I ask you about 


Are these values? How do we decide “How” valuable that is?

Then I post a question for the chat:

How valuable is honesty in a best friend? Rate from 1-10. 1 not-10 an absolute must!

So for the most part you will get 8-10. And from there you can acknowledge that honesty is something people value. It’s a thing you can’t see, hear, or touch but it is as almost as valuable as the shiniest coin!

As I have said a thousand times, this blog is not about the skill of building new, as much as curating resources to deliver instruction. So: VIDEOS. (If you don’t have a YouTube channel of your own. You need to set one up. It doesn’t mean you will have to start reviewing beauty products or pranking your neighbors. It will be a place to save all your video and categorize them)

This video is out of Texas from Austin University, , McCombs School of Business. They have an entire channel devoted to a variety of topics. This video not only highlights the kinds of values people hold, but shows them as motivating forces. In other words, people make personal choices, or take actions based on what they hold important to them.

This point leads to video 2 from Brain Pop. Brain Pop is another one of those educorps that you have to pay for but occasionally you can find one of their great videos for free. This one takes the discussion of values and extends it into ethical decision making. For my grade, 7th, this video is right on the money. Older students may need a different bridge.

So now we have some working definitions


Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior.


Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

So let’s have a fun discussion that’s timely.

  I put this picture out:

 I ask the kids to answer in the chat:

Q: What’s going on here?

Possible A:



a football game for only white people. 

Next Q:

What year was this?

  1. 2018
  2. B.2019
  3. . 2020

Then I explained it was 2020. Here in Seattle. It was a Christian Rock concert. I ask them what they wonder about. (Do you see where I am going?)

We then have a conversation about what these people are valuing. Is it different from what you may value? Are their behaviors ethical? 

From here I asked my kids to write a reflection on the prompt:

Choose a position: Masks should always be worn, or Masks should be a choice. 

  1. Make a claim about mask use
  2. choose at least one value that motivates you to wear or not to wear a mask
  3. Describe what values motivate the opposite position. 

Another activity I did was have kids read this solid article from Scholastic on the death of George Floyd. 

I introduced my students to the Depth and Complexity Icons, and they analyzed the article based on the Icon of Ethics. If you don’t know about these, they are a great resource and most of the stuff you can get for free. 

Both of these activities have helped me set the table for the year. Everything that happens in literature, history, current events is tied back to actions, and the ethics behind them. 

I have very clear ideas about masks, the Death of George Floyd, Climate Change.  I want my kids to think about how they feel about this stuff too. I then want them to connect to values that drive their thoughts and actions.

I’m not sure these small activities will do that, but maybe its a start.

Lessons from the Chat Box

Distance learning and the tech surrounding it is new to all of the users. This week I explore some tips for making it better for all, and how to build those relationships with simple tech.

The first thing I had to learn in Microsoft TEAMS was how to shut the banners off that let fly in  front of the very F’ing chat box I was tasked with filling.

Now you may not use TEAMS and count yourself a little lucky if that is the case, ZOOM is more my speed, but I am guessing all of the video conferencing platforms have little zingers like this.

So, as you are beginning or even into the first couple weeks of your instruction, I seriously hope you are troubleshooting the things that are making this so frustrating for your students (and for you.)

This video should take care of the issue.

Read the Virtual Room

But your kids are going to suffer if we can’t meet them where they are at technologically , so make sure you take the time to either do the lesson live or record videos for kids to use to help them disable, able, remove or add tech things.  This summer, I had wonderful presenters who had been trained in the use of whiteboards, break out rooms, and screen sharing charging forward without ever reading the virtual room to see if anyone knew how to us the tech. I was SP!

So just a reminder. As you endeavor to make these relationships everyone is talking about (they’re right) you also need to be sure students don’t shut down because they don’t know how to engage in the activities. You are now, #1 developing relationships, but #2 is being sure your kids can follow your lessons based on the tools you are using! Anything after that is gravy!

You are now, #1 developing relationships, but #2 is being sure your kids can follow your lessons based on the tools you are using! Anything after that is gravy!

If you yourself are needing help, instructional videos are the rage. My favorite (sarcasm) is Kevin from Microsoft. He is a millennial with great hair, an eating disorder, and six figure salary I could only dream of after my 30th year of teaching, and he makes instructional videos .

Turns out Kevin is actually leaving his Microsofty gig! But looks like he will still be around to say “HI, my name is KEVVV-UNNNN, on his own YTC!

Turns out KEVVV-UNNN is leaving MS but will still be around as a You Tuber!


The Power of a few letters…

Okay, that was harsh Kev, MB! J/K. LYLAS ,LOL, POV!

And those are just a few of the Acronyms you should start to get down.  If you are like me, a sausage fingered Gen Xer who misses his flip phone, you may need a primmer on the lingo of the children.

So find some lexicon for it and study it. Kids forget they are not on their phone or playing a video game and they will drop phrases and words that don’t belong in my room at least, and some in anyone’s.

So here are a few links to acronyms for Grandma, and here are some you hope not to see in your class.

Don’t be like Jean Luc. Always use appropriate texting abreviations!

Make it a part of a class discussion. There is all that net literacy stuff out there that millions of dollars have been spent on, but I’m pretty sure a teacher half worth their salt, could engage in coming up with a list of do’s and don’ts with the kids in about 5 muinutes. So take the taime and do that!

Use the tools at hand

WE all love a good EMOJI. Stay away from vegetables though!

I wrote about the tough time I had my first few days trying to integrate other programs like Padlet and others. I discovered quickly as I pivoted from my own fails that the chat was a rich center for connecting with kids (DUH!)

How are you today??

Ask kids how they are from a 1-10 scale?

Favorite emoji ?

Ask kids what theirs is, or have them use one that represents how they feel, or to review a video you just watched, or their understanding of the directions.

Thumbs up, Thumbs Down?

The brilliant lo-fi formative assessment is alive and well and you should use to CFU (Check for understanding. You can use that one!)

Also use it when kids are done with a task only they can see.

Commenting from another app

I had my kids intro themselves in Padlet and then I asked them to read and respond to two posts, but in the chat. That way I knew they were done and back with me in class.

My Mic doesn’t work !

My first few weeks in the spring I was aggravated with some kids who didn’t share cameras or make comments. But then I figured out 20% of my kids didn’t have that function.

But they chat when I’m talking.!!

Here’s an idea. Tell them not to. You can also disable and do other things but just tell them to knock it off. Say “I’ll wait till the chat stops.” It works in the room, it might work here.

Chating is the primary way kids talk. If you can get use to it, use it your advantage, you will be building those bonds we are used to having in person.

Som lessons from the chat box. Ways to tech the part of the curriculum that WILL lead to better relationships. Chating is the primary way kids talk. If you can get use to it, use it your advantage, you will be building those bonds we are used to having in person.  Happy Teaching!

First Week of School

What? You can’t see it? What about Now?….Now?….Now?…What if I do this?..

That would sum up most of my first week of online learning. Many of the tricks like Padlet and Microsoft TEAMS and CANVAS, were fraught with my user errors. I would get it halfway set up  only to discover something wasn’t published, or was saved in the wrong shell, or I hadn’t set up the channels correctly.

And then sometimes when I set permissions to limit unruliness, and I was doing it right, it made other things, like breakout groups not work. And please, let’s not discuss white board app, its just too soon…

This was all expected. And fortunately I was able to go back to the drawing board each time, with some trips yet to come. But there were other new experiences: attendance.  Not being able to see the kids while I see the application that takes attendance.  A third of my kids without working cameras or mics. Slow speeds making the words “here” take 2 solid minutes. And the quick fixes, like downloading an Excel file with the participants would show some kids in and then leaving class 6-10 times, but not showing kids I knew were there.

One of my favorites was when this one young man came in. He was the kind of kid who thinks you and he are alone in the room together. That everything that’s going on in his tech bubble should be reported. I spent time trying to find out why his chat wasn’t working. Why he wasn’t listed on my roll, only for him to come to the conclusion he was AT THE WRONG SCHOOL! This when during the whole meeting I am wearing a t-shirt with my school’s name on it.

Meanwhile in the twitterverse, teachers are floating on cloud nine with blessings, and showing “grace” all over the place, and “connecting with their students” and “establishing relationships. ”Meanwhile my connection is lagging, my Padlet won’t work, I have 3 kids wearing werewolf masks and one young person saying in the chat “No habla engles.”

But I smiled through all of it. It’s not how I thought I was going to teach it but I pivoted.  In most classes we did roses and thorns and kids told me a good thing and a bad thing that had happened. We all took turns putting up our favorite emojis (mine was a dancing chicken), listing how we felt so far on a scale of 1-10 and putting thumbs up when they could finish a task.

I made screencast videos using PwerPoint to train kids how to manage their new life online. I showed them how to bookmark all their new go virtual spots. We  learned how to use a reader app for long text and set up folders for all their classes in the cloud.

We read the syllabus, shared kittens, photos , and eventually I got the Padlet to work.  Out of class I texted with kids on my phone through the classroom app and they helped me troubleshoot when something wasn’t posted correctly. I got thank yous, and sorry to bother yous.  I asked a kid “Necisitas una copia en espanol?”

So even though I faced challenges. I bonded with Bryan over the seven times he fell off his new bike, and learned to say names correct. I would say as first days go it could have been so much worse. I am really hopeful about this whole thing. Especially since when I asked them on the padlet a goal or wish they all had for this year. Most just said “To come back to school in person.”

Connecting the Dots

So I think I am going to stick with exploring John Oliver’s Problems wit the way we teach American History, in a n effort to take the problems and turn them into theme’s, essential questions or concepts. As a reminder:

  1. We Don’t Fully Acknowledge White Supremacy
  2. We View History’s Progress as if it was constant and inevitable
  3. We don’t connect the dots to the present

I started to re-watch the episode again in preparation in writing this post. The last 4 minutes of the show (see transcript here) just set my head on fire. There was so much to unpack.

If education is guilty of propagating white supremacy, how am I, and my colleagues culpable? What are we doing or what do we believe that is keeping this going?

Let’s start with the power of language:


Urban District

Special Education

Students in need

Free and reduced lunch

Just let that sink in.   What were your associations as you read these things?

For me they demonstrate my own implicit and extrinsic bias. There is power in language and that power has been used overtly and covertly to propagate white supremacy. This power has been used since the very founding of our democracy and has continued with every generation.

Case in point. Oliver sums up the way Lee Atwater in the 1980’s carved out a continuation of this racist ideology for the Republican party by crassly demonstrating how to rewrite the play book for discussing it in public:

 You start out in 1954 by saying, “N-word, N-word, N-word.” By 1968, you can’t say “N-word” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, “forced busing,” “states’ rights,” and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. “We want to cut this” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-word, N-word.”

Now most of you are so young that you don’t know who Lee was or what this quote is saying.

So, I will translate.

Up until probably the time your favorite cool Aunt was born conservatives were saying the N word with no real fear. Now they didn’t say it at political podiums. They said it while playing golf, or at church. They knew as Atwater notes that saying it in public “backfires.” (Means getting caught being racist.)

So you say stuff like, uh, “forced busing,” “states’ rights,” and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.

These abstractions were true in the 1980’s when Regan talked about “Yong Buck” buying steak with his food stamps…”, or the extravagant lives of “Welfare Queens” living high on government entitlements.

Now any other human being in the political world would not be caught dead saying the above unless of course you are the president. Trump  recently bragged :

“they (whites suburban women) want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge!”

Booker is one of two black members of the Senate.

So you may be wondering: Isn’t this Blog about how you would teach it? Where are you going with this rant?

Well yes, but part of teaching is telling the truth. I understand there are many many who would argue and say what I am offering is “opinion.” So :

If the problem is we don’t connect the racist attitudes and polices of the past to today (point 3)

And we teach kids that history is one of “American Progress” in attitude and action (point 2)

With a final flaw of not recognizing the inherent racism in systems we live and teach in,

Then this is how I’d teach it

I would start the class by asking how it is someone ends up in a history book?  Let them work in groups and come up with a brainstorm list. Maybe we wind up with answers like:

This activity is all about challenging who is in our history books, why they are there, and do we really understand who they were?

Did something good

Were famous

Did something bad

Did something important

Helped someone

Hurt someone

Invented something

Changed something for the better, for the worse

Was a good person

Next, I give the kids a list of people:

Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, , Dwight D Eisenhower, Shirley Chism, Ronald Regan, Robert E Lee, John Lewis, Jane Adams, Delores Huerta, Benjamin Franklin, George Wallace, (Governor not awesome comedian!)

Students are to look them up. They should be able to come up with an answer: Why are they in a history book? Let the kids chat their answers or maybe put on a whiteboard.

After this I would throw up a survey. Students tell me if the people from history are remembered as

  1. Notable for the good they did for people?
  2. Notable for what good they didn’t do for people?

Next, I put up this graphic.  There are blanks. These indicate a “Fill in the” action. I ask kids which of the historic figures they think some of these statements are matched to?

Students are challenged to place names with quotes in this activity.

After we come to some consensus on who said what I fill in the blanks with the actual speakers.

Ok. Finally its time to reflect.

We have considered why people are written into history.

WE have determined if the people we read about have done good or not done good for people.

So my question to the class is what do these quotes and who said them show?

And here’s the thing. I don’t know what the kids are going to say . I think they are going to be surprised that people in history who we associate as being “good” are clearly saying some really bad things. That important historic figures have said explicitly racist things and veiled racist things throughout our history.

That people we revere, maybe we must think about what we really think about them Even if they have done some good things, should we spend our time on them? Build statues of them?

That overtime, people in power, people in our history books, have supported a system of oppression and racism.

So, we had a conversation. So what? What was the instructional objective, deliverable, or what did I evaluate? I’ll let you in on a little secret: I often have my students participate in meaningful conversations to consider the very nature of the society they live in to create thinking critical citizens. I couldn’t give two flips about my Learning Target.

If anything, this is the kind of meaning we need to be making with our students. I would extend here by asking them to write about what are two take aways and one question they have after doing this. This allows me to connect with their personal thinking and development of ideas

But, if that target was to understand that we don’t connect the dots of racism and systematic oppression to the present, I think we have created a sphere where the conversation can happen.  Students are exposed to American icons who may have done good things but for who and why? This is an activity where we are shaping the puzzle pieces of what American History is.

Happy Teaching!


American Progress?

This week(ish) I am continuing to unpack John Oliver’s August 1st television program regarding the three problems he sees (and is painfully correct about) the teaching of American history:

  • We Don’t Fully Acknowledge White Supremacy
  • We View History’s Progress as if it was constant and inevitable
  • We don’t connect the dots to the present

Last week I tackled the first point in activities that were designed to explore the existence and roots of white supremacy and power. Both activities can be used as a launching pad, or a lens to move through the study of history and society, and taking Oliver’s three “problems” and turning them into teaching objectives.

This week we will look at point, objective or lens two:

We view progress as if its constant and inevitable.

Oliver: Too often, u.s. History is reduced down to, “there was slavery, then there was a civil war, then there wasn’t slavery anymore, then there was a civil rights movement, then there wasn’t racism anymore.” 


John is spot on!  History books almost inevitably start with a chapter on geology and geography. While it is understandable that we would set the context for learning the entirety of the human racist’s history by establishing the concept of place. After all cultural geography speaks to cultural development and leads to “civilizations, cities, mammoth human created monuments to their own egos, armies, governments and then we have a renaissance fair.

Or, maybe you teach American History: Columbus discovers America, Pilgrims make friends with the Indians,  we overcome the British with the best ideas ever, oops slavery, then we fix that after the Civil War, oops the Klan, but then Rosa Parks. Dr. King and Obama. We are always moving forward and when something bad happens, we fix it and move on.

Clearly this is not the reality we live in, and I am hoping our students are understanding that right now more than ever. So this is How I would teach it:

Gallery of History
Oliver tell’s us all too often history is presented as: Just a smooth, steady upward arc. But the moments on either side of those landmark eras complicate the hell out of that arc, because they were filled with white hostility and ugly backsliding.” Try diving in to this idea with this handout. 


It’s a simple handout with iconic images from American history in a table.In column A , students  try and put a series of images in chronological order. This isn’t really the point, but they are likely to create a narrative in this way that even if in the wrong order, will support the activity (and support a larger concept in the process). Then, have them take notes on each of the images (see the questions on the handout over the second column in the table.)

In a non-Covid world, I would then  put them in small groups, and have them share their  answers, possibly even assigning one particular image to a particular group who become the experts on it and report back their findings to the class.  You can still pull this off with break out groups in ZOOM, TEAMS or whatever, and I recommend it.

Finally give the class, or the groups, a scenario. This could be an exit ticket, a writing prompt or just a continuation of the classroom conversation. Here’s the prompt:

You are an Alien from a far-off galaxy who was supposed to collect a history of the United states. You decided to spend most of your time in Asia, because the food was better. So before you left you downloaded a few images from the internet. Now you have to write a report for your Robot Overlords but all you have to go on are these images.

I For One Welcome Our New Robot Overlords – Alhambra Investments


What do these images tell you about American History?

What kind of place is it?

What are the people like?

What is important to the people of the United States?

Is it an advanced society?

Now students should complete their reports in a manner that suits you. If I was doing this in person, I think I might make a Big Report with a giant post it note and then have kids respond on stickies and put them under the appropriate question. At the time of writing this , I don’t have the distance learning equivalent of this. It must exist. ( If it does please leave a comment or email with links!)

Now lets put a bow on this. After groups have shared out their reports and conclusions you now must pose a final question:

What is the problem with judging a country’s history in this way?

Hopefully your students will say that it is limiting. That the images are similar, that perhaps they only tell part of the story. That they miss the stories of other races, genders, places.

This is an introductory activity .It helps kids do some heavy historical thinking and unpacking. It points out that there is, and can be problems with the writing of history in the first place.

Extend this activity with other images that are not so happy. Japanese incarceration, Indian Boarding Schools, Whites Only Signs. Better yet, contrast political speeches. Look at Warren G Harding’s 1921 address to the city of Birmingham Alabama, and say our current presidents attempt at oratory on Twitter.  Or share this article about the roll back of much of the civil rights implemented in the South post Civil War, cementing white supremacy in the south.

Oliver’s second criticism is more than the issue of history as progress. It is that history is one thing, for one group. As we wrestle with the changing nature of what we value or revere, we have to be able to look at people and events from many different angles to understand it.

Happy Teaching!

Here are the images I used to create my handout.

Westward the course of destiny 


Iwo Jima


Signing the Declaration


I have a dream


Apollo 11 summary (I didn’t use this but this is a great example of documents you could use)


Washington crossing


Barack Wins


But How Do We Build Community? Ideas for Virtual and Hybrid Learning

Pernille Ripp

While my district has yet to release its plan for the fall here in Wisconsin, things are not looking so good. The last two days we have set new records in my county for positive test results for Covid-19, as a family we went through our own wait-time to get results this week so we have continued to stay at home with very limited movement. And while there is a lot of uncertainty that are furiously being discussed and planned for as best we can, one thing is practically certain; our year will not start in the normal sense.

And it shouldn’t, we have changed. Our world has changed.

Community lies at the heart of everything we do, the threads that bind us together create a learning space that will hopefully work for all of the children in our care. I know most of the learning success I had in…

View original post 1,625 more words