Compassion: Cure for the Soul

I got into the teaching profession because I love working with children. Sure, they can drive me crazy (did I mention that I teach middle school?!?!), but they also bring such joy in their innocence and goof-ball antics. I’m lucky in that I work with a culturally diverse faculty and student body because there’s so much to learn and appreciate from those who have a different story. It’s not always sunshine and puppies, but that’s the purpose of growing pains.

I came across an article shared by a peer in my doctoral program (TY @19Chr1stine) that asked the question “Can Equity be Taught?” It brought to light the fact that quite a bit of the struggles teachers experience in the classroom are due to factors that are not necessarily academic. The Edutopia article focused on disciplinary and academic issues that stemmed from a teacher’s disconnect between their cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and that of their students. Another article was based on a study that examined racial mismatch that influenced teacher expectations for their students. This study was enlightening because it highlighted the differences in expectations between teachers and students who shared the same race or whose race was different. It’s a bit hard to read in that I think all of us have been guilty of this offense at some point in our career.

While the Edutopia article introduced ways that districts and other educational organizations are attempting to address this issue, it might feel to some as if teachers are being demonized for not being sensitive or cognizant enough to racial, ethnic, or cultural differences. But I want to make it very clear…teaching and being a teacher is a learning process. It’s a process of discovery that occurs not only between teacher-student or student-student, but also introspectively within oneself. In fact, I think what everyone in the world needs right now is a huge dose of compassion. Compassion for each other. Compassion for oneself. Compassion for those with whom you disagree. You get my drift.

I think if teachers came from a place of compassion when approaching each and every day with their students, it would change the dynamic of the entire classroom environment and the relationships within. This topic brings to mind a book I read last summer called The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model by Dr. Mariele Hardiman. In this book (as well as the website), Dr. Hardiman highlights ways to develop and nurture a learning environment that is inclusive for all learners. In particular, Brain-Target 1 Emotional Climate is one area that could help build a learning community that is supportive, safe, and caring. It’s a great read and if you’re a classroom teacher, I almost feel like it’s a must read especially if you work with a culturally diverse student population.

I’ll leave you with a question from the Edutopia article: “Is a problem that a teacher sees as stemming from a student’s character or behavior sometimes really about the school’s discipline policies, or about cultural differences between the way the teacher and student perceive the unfolding situation?” (Berwick, 2017).

Just remember, show compassion to yourself. Make it a goal, a project that you constantly keep in the forefront of your mind. Emotional, spiritual, and mental growth does not happen overnight. And for some of us, it’s a mindset change to think different. But we need to do this. Our students deserve teachers who are kind to themselves, but also who are not above admitting that perhaps the current way of doing things isn’t necessarily going to work any more. To be a culturally responsive educator, we need to be open to all that we are and all that our students bring to our classrooms. It’s not easy holding a mirror up to one’s actions and thoughts. But how else will we ever grow as a human being?

Intersectionality: Socioeconomic Status, Race, & Education

One facet of multicultural education is the notion of equity versus equality in educational policies and practices. Federal legislation has attempted to address the inequality of resources and access to education through the passage of legislation such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Individuals with Disabilities Act (2004), Race to the Top Fund (2009), and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2015). Federal funds and policies influence what happens at the state, district, and school levels. However, despite efforts from policymakers, educators, and the private sector, income and race-based stratification remains as equality only addresses part of the problem. Equity plays an equal and key role in a child’s education (Banks, 2016).

The following video is an interview of Dr. Karl Alexander as he shares the culmination of his 30-year study on the influence of socioeconomic status and race on youth growing up in Baltimore beginning in early 1980s. This longitudinal study began with children enrolled in the 1st grade and followed their progress (and life) until early adulthood. It’s an enlightening video that explains the intersectionality between race, socioeconomic status, and education–all components that comprise a culturally diverse learning environment found in many of our schools today.

Dr. Alexander’s video brings to the forefront the influence of socioeconomic status on student learning. I was first introduced to his work through a short video on the summer slide (e.g., summer learning loss, summer gap) and how summer break disproportionality affected low-income childrens’ (irrespective of race) rate of academic growth when compared to middle class children. The academic and socioeconomic trajectory of children has been found to be based in large part on the socioeconomic status of their home life growing up (Lareau, 2011). And I don’t mean to say that race does not also play a significant role because it does. However, it appears that socioeconomic status has a slight edge in the influence department.

National programs like Head Start and Summer Bridge to local programs such as summer school (remedial) and summer institute (enrichment) seek to provide support to eliminate or reduce summer slide for low-income and/or minority students. Thus, it’s important as educators that we are cognizant and remain vigil of the barriers that prevent our students from achieving their personal best. Though we cannot erase poverty, we can and must provide our students with the appropriate scaffolds and support they need. We need to help bridge the gap between socioeconomic status and student learning.


Banks, J. A. (2016). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Look Within, My Friends

It’s easy to point fingers while telling others what they need to change, but little good does that do for your credibility if you are not making the change yourself. It’s the whole pot calling the kettle black thing.

I did a Google search to see what kind of tools were out there for one to use as a self-assessment. Some surveys were the full-on-research-study-probably-someone’s-dissertation survey while others looked quite simple. Then there were the surveys that you could fill out, but the question was…where are your answers going? I mean, what’s the point if you don’t receive any feedback?

Scouring my library (it’s not exactly the George Peabody Library), I came across a book from my master’s studies. In it was a self-assessment survey that allowed the user to examine both classroom and school-wide practices. I reached out to the author of the book (Carl S. Grant) and he graciously gave me permission to use the survey as part of my blog series.

I created the surveys in two different Google Docs and I challenge you to complete the survey(s) honestly. No one is going to see your answers. In fact, the Google Docs are view only so you’ll have to make your own copy if you want to assess the level of multicultural components within your instructional practices or across your school.

P.S. Speaking of the George Peabody Library, I wanted to share that I totally geeked out there last summer with a friend who is also a doctoral student with me in the program. Below is a picture of us right before we hit the books…

P.S.S. Yes, the library is just as amazing in person.


Inquiry-based Reflection

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to ISTE, but I love the fact that I can follow the sessions through snapshots posted by those in attendance. If you are interested in following along do a search in Twitter using #iste18 or #notatiste18.

I’ve been following Eric (@E_Sheniger) for I don’t know how many years, and I have to say that what he posts is #spoton. Take the image above as an example. Without a doubt, these are great questions to use as educators reflect on their teaching and role in whatever capacity they serve within their organizations. But what resonated with me is the fact that these questions can also be applied when considering culturally relevant teaching.

In particular, I like the first three questions. Let me tweak them a bit:

  • What evidence do we have to demonstrate the impact of technology and innovation within our multicultural school environment?
  • How are we making learning culturally relevant for our diverse student body population?
  • How do we implement and support rigorous and culturally relevant learning tasks that help our students become future ready?

Going back to my previous post regarding the total school environment, the “curriculum should recognize and reflect students’ multiple identifications” (Banks, 2016, p. 30). Because my doctoral research focuses on technology integration, I think we need to consider how technology and innovation can be used to support a multicultural learning environment. An interesting article I recently read highlighted the fact that immigrant students are using technology to develop their own identities as well as cultivate a strong connection with families from their home countries. Lam (2012) challenges educators to develop an understanding of “role of digital media in immigrant students’ learning experiences outside of school…[in order to] develop digitally connected forms of pedagogy that are also culturally responsive” (p. 63).

We cannot deny the role of technology in the lives of students today. So why not harness that power for educational use? The literature reveals a significant gap between how students use technology outside of school versus inside of school (Bryant, Coombs, & Pazio, 2014; Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwish, Sadik, Sendurur, & Sendurur, 2012; Hall, 2010). Perhaps the development of culturally responsive teaching practices can help bridge that gap for our culturally diverse and immigrant students?

Let’s put that discussion on the table, shall we?


Bryant, P., Coombs, A., & Pazio, M. (2014). Are we having fun yet? Institutional resistance and the introduction of play and experimentation into learning innovation through social media. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2014, 1–8. do:10.5334/

Ertmer, P. A., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Sadik, O., Sendurur, E., & Sendurur, P. (2012). Teacher beliefs and technology integration practices: A critical relationship. Computers & Education, 59, 423–435. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.02.001

Hall, G. E. (2010). Technology’s Achilles heel: Achieving high-quality implementation. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42, 231–253. doi:10.1080/15391523.2010.10782550

Lam, W. S. E. (2013). What immigrant students can teach us about new media literacy. Phi Delta Kappan, 94, 62–65. doi:10.1177/003172171209400416

Total School Environment

If you are familiar with research behind educational reform movements, then you are aware that in order for change to occur and be sustainable, it must be systemic (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Change that happens in a vacuum will not last (Fullan, 2007). Grassroots change can only go so far. Top-down change, well…I’m sure we’re all well aware about how that goes. My point is, in order to change to occur, and I’m talking about real educational reform, then all stakeholders must be part of the process from the very beginning. True reform is not about implementing policy, but rather it “means changing the cultures of classrooms, schools, districts, [and] universities” (Fullan, 2007, p. 7). When considering educational reform issues such as technology integration (my dissertation focus) or multicultural education (focus for my summer blog series), well then it’s even more important to look at the entire system. My limited knowledge of systemic change on a broad level prevents me from being able to offer much in that area. However, because I have been a classroom teacher for 23 years and have held various leadership positions both at the school and district level, I believe I can offer some suggestions on how to go about starting the process at the school site (more to come on that in subsequent blogs).

Multicultural education (as mentioned in a previous blog) has a variety of meanings which may differ depending on the organization. However, what one cannot deny is the fact that the definition of multicultural education is quite broad (Banks, 2016). As such, when considering what multicultural education looks like (or should look like) at a school, then one must begin by examining to what extent does the total school environment reflect monoethnic or monocultural practices of the dominant group (Banks, 2016; Nieto, 2008)?

The following image displays the elements that influence the total school environment (Banks, 2016):

Paper.JHU Sketchnotes.5.png

Thus, when considering where to begin when integrating or implementing multicultural education, the answer is…everywhere. The process involves change across the total school environment. So, take a look at the sketchnotes to determine, where can you help influence the process? What other stakeholders do you need to include? How can you get them on the same page? Without a shared meaning or understanding of multicultural education across all stakeholders, believe me, your efforts will feel more like herding cats. And that’s a whole different profession.


Banks, J. A. (2016). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Nieto, S. (2008). Affirmation, solidarity and critique: Moving beyond tolerance in education. In E. Lee, D. Menkart, & M. Okazawa-Rey (Eds.). Beyond heroes and holidays (pp. 18–29). Washington DC: Teaching for Change.

Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Full Circle

#bestThe end of the school year is always hectic and this year proved no different. Negotiations between our association (union) and district resulted in a school calendar in which the last day of school for the students was also the last day for teachers. I say this because in the photo, I’m sure our smiles cannot hide how tired we were and I’m also using that as a reason for the delayed post since the last day of school for us was June 15.

I write this blog with both excitement for the future yet also a bit of sadness. You see, in the photo, is our history department (Vo, Lauren, me, and Sanchez). The photo tells the story of a long journey that begin in the spring of 1998 or maybe it was 1999 when a student teacher from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) approached my principal to ask if he could do some observations as part of his credential program. It was a serendipitous meeting that ended up with him connecting with me after I moved to a different middle school (within the same district) to be my student teacher. That student teacher is one on the left in the picture (Vo) and his two master teachers are on the right (Sanchez and me). At the conclusion of his student teaching semester, one of the history teachers at our school chose to retire which created an opening for a new teacher.

As the master teachers, Sanchez and I sat on the interview panel of history teacher after history teacher who applied for the full-time world and U.S. history position. If you are familiar with the history teaching profession, then you know that it’s hard to find a full-time history position. After the last candidate left the room, we had a pointed discussion with our administrator who wanted to hired a seasoned teacher. We fought to hire our student teacher. As you can see, we won because remember, he’s the one on the left. =)

Fast forward to fall 2016. Because all of us are graduates of the credential program from CSULB (#gobeach), we tend to get our share of student teaching candidates who request to observe our classrooms. Lauren (@Ms_ltnle) and her friend (another student in the credential program) spent several days observing all three of our classrooms. I didn’t recognize her at first, but Lauren eventually revealed that she was a former student of mine 11 years ago. Come to find out, I also had her little sister and brother. Yikes, I’m old. But I digress.

Come fall of 2017, Lauren contacts Vo because she wants to student teach at our school. As a former student, this puts her in a good place because our district is all about the home-grown aspect of former students coming back to give back. As in the past, Sanchez and I took the lead as master teachers for Lauren with Vo providing much needed personal and professional support for her.

It was a fun-filled, crazy busy semester. In fact, I wanted to blog about our experience (e.g., the laughter, growing pains, misunderstandings, epiphanies, puns), but I just didn’t have time. I posted pictures and tweeted things out here and there, but that’s about all I could do during the semester. But long story short, Lauren rocked her student teaching semester. She was responsible for teaching two world history classes (mine) and one U.S. history class (Sanchez). And I’ll be honest, she rocked it. Lauren brought with her the passion for helping children and the love for creativity in the learning process. Make no mistake, this was not an easy teaching assignment. The three of us are on top of our game. Our department is highly collaborative; we have strong personalities–basically we’re like a tight-knit family. On top of that, our department has been 1:1 (student-to-iPad ratio) for many years now, so we offer our students a blended approaching to learning with technology playing an integral part of the process. So Lauren had to quickly learn how to juggle classroom management, content attainment, and sound technology pedagogical practices basically from Day 1. She approached those challenges head-on (it helped that she subbed for us quite a bit the semester before so she was familiar with how we use technology). And I’m proud to say that she is ready for her own classroom as well as the challenges and joys that come with it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a history position at our school to offer her because Sanchez and I would fight for her like we did for Vo. So, alas, Lauren has to expand her search for a full-time history position. We look forward to seeing which district will benefit from all that she has to offer.

In closing, I want to bring it back to why this post is both exciting yet sad for me to write. It’s exciting because what you see in the photo is a legacy of what teachers do and who we are. And it’s sad because we’re going to miss having Lauren around. Having said that, I’m excited that this photo represents a department that boasts two master teachers, two home-grown student teachers, one former student, and better yet FOUR history teachers.

We’ve come full-circle, my friends.

#gobeach #csulb #ggusd #lovemymiddleschoolers #bestprofessionever

A Look at Diversity Wheels

Being a culturally responsive educator includes the practice of introspection. In fact, it’s important to consider to what extent does your classroom or teaching practices reflect culturally responsive teaching? The five essential components of culturally responsive teaching are as follows:

  • Developing a cultural diversity knowledge base,
  • Designing and incorporating culturally relevant curriculum & strategies,
  • Demonstrating cultural caring & building a community of learners,
  • Fostering cross-cultural communications, and
  • Cultivating cultural congruity into instructional practices (Gay, 2002)

Part of the introspective process regarding the development of a cultural diversity knowledge base can include the consideration of visuals such as the diversity wheel from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Diversity Leadership Council. “The center of the wheel represents internal dimensions that are usually most permanent or visible. The outside of the wheel represents dimensions that are acquired and change over the course of a lifetime. The combinations of all of these dimensions influence our values, beliefs, behaviors, experiences and expectations and make us all unique as individuals” (Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council, n.d.).


Though an argument can be made as to whether some of these dimensions belong in the center or outside of the diversity wheel. Other perspectives might include the notion of how some of these dimensions are, in fact, fluid and thus, can belong at some points within the center and at others in the outside.

A quick Google search produced many examples of diversity wheels from different types of organizations (e.g., schools, churches, private companies). Consider the one from Northcentral University (2018):

PrintThis diversity wheel aligns with Bronfenbrenner’s (1977; 1994) nested model of the ecological systems approach. In this case, the individual is the focal point from which radiates the varied types of influences upon the individual organized in concentric circles (from narrow to broad).

Another example of a diversity wheel comes from the Cultural Competence Learning Institute (2018):

Dimensions-of-Diversity ASTCv2.png

This diversity wheel also begins with the individual as the focal point with concentric circles representing the broader influences on one’s personality.

The point of displaying these types of diversity wheels is to show the various ways one can look at diversity. To bring the point back culturally responsive teaching practices, what this means is that we, as educators, need to take time to consider who we are and how that affects what we do in our respective classrooms. We cannot deny the fact that an increasingly diverse student population walks through our doors each and every day. Thus, it is important for us to develop explicit knowledge and understanding of cultural diversity so that we can better meet the needs of our diverse student body (Gay, 2002).


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32, 513–531. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.32.7.513

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecology models of human development. In T. N. Postlewaite & Husen, T. (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1643-1647). Oxford, England: Elsevier.

Cultural Competence Learning Institute. (2018). Group activities. Retrieved from the Association for Science-Technology Centers website:

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 106-116. doi:10.1177/0022487102053002003

Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council. (n.d.). Diversity wheel. Retrieved from from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Diversity Leadership Council website:

Northcentral University. (2018). Diversity wheel. Retrieved from Northcentral University website: