roses in concrete

In my last post I shared a bit of what I had learned at a district-run two day institute on positive school-wide engagement. There was another speaker there on the second day who really challenged me to think about how I am teaching my students. His name was Jeff Duncan-Andrade and he is an associate professor of Raza Studies and Education at San Francisco State University and the founder of the Teaching Excellence Network. Andrade gave a talk inspired by Tupac’s poem, The Rose that Grew from Concrete and you can watch a shortened version of his talk here. I highly recommend taking the 15 minutes or so to watch.

Andrade said, “There’s nothing wrong with the kids, something is wrong with what we are giving them”. It is how we decide to see the children that translates into how we serve them. Andrade discusses the concrete that our students are growing in: physical violence/PTSD, racism, gentrification, poverty, patriarchy, institutional violence and he points us toward the focus of eradication of inequality as our focus for a healthy school. A strong message throughout was looking at the lack of diverse voices in our students’ education. It is something I have been going back to often this summer and I left that day thinking of changes I can make to bring more diverse voices into my classroom. I may have many skills that will help my students but I alone am not the answer. I need to reach out to my students’ families and ask them what they want for their children. I need to find ways to open my classroom to them and let them use their skills to also teach our students. 

A major point of Andrade’s talk was around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He said, “When you have a child who is struggling, you don’t need to fix them, you just need to go to Maslow”. I started to think, yes, my students get breakfast and lunch at school but what if there were a refrigerator in the classroom with healthy snacks that they could access as needed? Then I went to visit a therapeutic program this summer and watched as snacks were available throughout the day including alerting and regulating foods such as ice cubes, sour gummy worms, and crunchy snacks. I can provide those snacks to kids. That is doable. Last year I focused on other aspects of basic needs by reaching out and asking for donations of socks, hats, and gloves for my kids and the kids loved that stuff.

Another way I want to make a change is to bring in diverse voices from the community. Andrade talked about his school in Oakland, CA and how there is a large focus on relevance in their philosophy. Relevance to students’ lives, communities, families, and ethnic, cultural and linguistic histories. Andrade talked about how relevance builds knowledge of self, self esteem, critical hope (resiliency) and interrupts stereotype threat by confronting stereotypes. He shared how they use African and Native drumming at their school as one component of bringing relevance. Students learn traditions of the”keeping the drum”. They learn the ceremonies and they connect with the ancestors. They learn a bigger, more communal picture of the world that is greater than the individual in this moment. 

Andrade’s discussion of the drumming made me think of my students and how during music therapy when they have a chance to play the drum they bring a different energy to it and many of them have a rhythm already that can be nurtured and provide an outlet for their expression. 

So, a few weeks ago I reached out not knowing where I should reach or how to go about doing this but just knowing that I want my students to have an opportunity to learn African drumming and with that have a space to express themselves and bring more relevance to what we are doing. Today I met two men who seem ready to be with my students and teach them. I have one more person I reached out to that I want to meet and then I need to decide who will be the best fit for my class. I also need to look at cost as I am pretty sure there will be no funding from the school that I can use (although I will ask). But I want to make this a reality. I want my students to have a chance to learn drumming and possibly African dance that goes beyond just a one-time workshop.


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