Where Do You Belong?

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The first day of school…especially middle school…is one filled with excitement and dread wrapped up in one. I think most students approach the first day of school with the question of where do they fit in among their peers? In other words, where do they “belong”? And to be honest, it’s something they will likely revisit over and over and over again. I mean, adolescence and puberty. ‘Nuff said.

What I was thinking about today is how can I get to know my students beyond what they want to show me (and their peers)? I’ve thought about giving students a getting to know you survey on the first day of school, but for some reason, I haven’t taken that step. Until now.

This summer as I contemplated how I can shore up my skills regarding culturally responsive teaching practices, two areas come to mind: developing a cultural diversity knowledge base and cultural congruity in classroom instruction (Gay, 2002). I believe having students fill out a survey during the first couple of days of school is one way that I can get the background information I need to design a learning environment that supports the diverse needs of my students.

The Google form survey that I plan to use is called Tell Me About You. It’s a bit on the lengthy side so I may break that up into two different surveys so that it’s not too taxing on my kiddoes. I’m also thinking about sending a note home to parents/guardians to ask them how I can support their child in my class. However, since many of the families speak a different language other than English that might pose a problem in getting responses from them. I need to think this second part through a bit more.

But I think the Tell Me About You survey is a good place to begin the process of not only getting to know my students, but also getting to know about their strengths, concerns, dreams, etc. Perhaps using this as a starting point for a discussion between peers might be a way to help them develop a sense of community as well. I haven’t incorporated Bingo as a getting to know you scavenger hunt in many years, but maybe this year I will resurrect that activity.

So many ideas…


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



Resource: Facing History

Teachers can be easily overwhelmed with the number of resources available to help us do our jobs…but I’m going to add another one anyway.

Facing History and Ourselves is a site that challenges teachers and students to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi). This website contains lessons and activities that teach students how to critically assess historical events that epitomized prejudice, hatred, intolerance, and racism (to name a few). Children–our students–are constantly exposed to dysfunctional relationships and interactions in video games, movies, and TV. What they see informs their mindset and potential actions.

To address social justice issues, it is important that teachers use events from history to teach students to ask the difficult questions, develop empathy, and critically analyze the details. Social justice focuses on equity and equality as a basic human right, empowerment, and promotion of social responsibility. But social justice issues are not solely regulated to the past. Unfortunately, our current social and political climate continues to offer a plethora of social justice issues. Some of our students (or at least their parents) fled their home countries because of civil unrest, injustice, and even genocide. What better way to make learning meaningful and relevant but to have them explore the historical events that prompted their parents to seek a better life here in the United States? And why not also explore why others have not been able to leave? What barriers exist that prevent people from escaping the various types of injustices inflicted upon them?

So all this begs the question, how can we help our students to become informed citizens? To give them the confidence that they voices matter? To show them that they can BE THE CHANGE?

Well, I think one good place to begin is by exploring the Facing History and Ourselves site. But this stuff isn’t just for the history classrooms; social justice issues do not exist within a particular realm or discipline. All educators have a responsibility to teach students about their civic duty, to empower them with knowledge, and to give them a voice.

Let’s be the change.


So what? Now what? 

I will be the first to admit that I don’t utilize TED Talks as much as I should. But when I do, I am always impressed with the topics and speakers. One video, in particular, resonated with me “How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard” by Linda Cliatt-Wayman. Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Philadelphia, she returned as a teacher and then an administrator. Her TED Talk is posted below.

I think this video is a must-watch for teachers at least once a year. It’s a good reminder of why we do what we do. Now, I don’t work at an inner city school with the same obstacles as Cliatt-Wayman, but I do work at a Title I school with its own share of issues. But no matter where you work or the issues your school has, I think her slogans are spot-on:

  • If you’re going to lead…LEAD
  • So what? Now what?
  • If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do, and I always will

Cliatt-Wayman never referred to culturally responsive teaching practices in her talk, but the way she went about changing the school culture at Strawberry Mansion utilized several components that empowered students, gave each of them a voice, and displayed empathy for what they (her students) were going through. One component of culturally responsive teaching practices that Cliatt-Wayman exemplified without a doubt is demonstrate cultural caring and build a learning community (Gay, 2002). She changed the school culture and climate not only for her students but for the faculty and staff by her actions, words, and follow-through.

Some aspects of her talk that resonated with me include the following (most of these are direct quotes):

  • Non-negotiables for positive behavior.
  • I love my students. I only see what they can become.
  • Spend time with them. Talk with them.
  • Weekly Town Home meeting (for students).
  • Every moment is a teachable moment.
  • My reward? Their earned respect. Because of this, we can accomplish things together.
  • Focus. Tradition. Excellence. Integrity. Perseverance.
  • Education can truly change their lives.
  • Every one of our students is a child.
  • We should always provide them with hope.

How can one not be inspired to do what’s best and what’s right by our students after watching her TED Talk? I believe the students were attracted to what Cliatt-Wayman had to say because she was once one of them. She wore those shoes. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who did not grow up with the same challenges as our students cannot be effective educators. It just means that we need to listen with our heart. We need to break the pedagogy of poverty cycle (Haberman, 2010). Our students–still children–want to learn. We can begin by providing a supportive, caring, and safe learning environment for them.

So what? Now what?


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

Haberman, M. (2010). The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 81-87. doi:10.1177/003172171009200223