hhmWhen teaching the rich history of ancient Mexico, Central and Latin America, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and assign an Indian nation to each country: Mexico is Aztec, Central America is Mayan and so forth. The truth is, just as today, various cultural groups intermingled, lived side by side and conducted long distance trade and exchanged ideas on art, writing, architecture plus mathematical and astronomical systems.

It is true that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found themselves in an Empire known as “The Aztec”, but that would be like Latin Americans arriving in Spain and calling all of Europe “Hispania”. Before the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, “The Aztec” was a 100-year-old alliance between three groups: the Acolhuas, the Tepanecs, and the Mexica people of Tenochitlan (what today is modern day Mexico City). The Mexica conquered the other two city-states and, eventually, other civilizations across Mexico.

Those other groups include the Teotihuacanos and the Mayans who are responsible for the spectacular ancient Mexican pyramids and ruins. Dating back to 100 A.D. and before, the early and diverse Mexican Indians’ knowledge of the stars and other natural events paralleled or outstripped the knowledge of the scientists and astronomers of the same time in what we now call Europe.

It is wise to remember and present that our Latino students come from a variety of countries and cultures with distinct sets of traditions and beliefs resulting from the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest skills, knowledge and civilizations.

To explore the ancient and classical civilizations of the Americas, go to:



From your first class gatherings, have your class agree upon guidelines for respectful, productive communication. Here are two activities to get you started:

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1. Make a T graph and brainstorm with your students the difference between an argument and a discussion. Ask: What happens when people argue? What do they say or do? What happens when people have a discussion? What does that look and sound like?

2. Introduce the STAR Principle – Sensitivity, Trust, Appreciation and Respect. Have students break into four groups, one letter to each group. Each group writes what their word Is and Is Not. For example, what does displaying “Trust” look and sound like and what would we hear or see that would show us “Trust” has been broken? Have the students focus on behaviors – what a video camera could record, namely sights and sounds. Create a STAR graphic that you can hang up in the classroom. Reinforce the STAR Principle by referring to it often



A school is a community of people with common values and goals about the importance of education. A school is also a collection of folks with tons and tons of differences:sep 22 different ages, different family and ethnic backgrounds, different physical and intellectual abilities, religious affiliations, life experiences and on and on. When we need to solve problems, it means we can have five, ten, fifteen different perspectives on how to solve them. Or all these differences can be a source of antagonism and conflict.

Maybe it seems as though we should just know how to treat each other and work together well, but it’s not always that easy, especially as our communities become more and more diverse. Just as you need to practice to play an instrument or learn math formulas or get better at a sport, learning to live and work well with all kinds of people takes skill, practice and clear guidelines or rules. Respectful conversations don’t just happen; we must plan for them to take place.

From the first gathering, have your class agree upon guidelines for respectful, productive communication. People tend to be more cooperative with rules into which they’ve had input. But don’t think that takes care of it. Don’t hang up your list of guidelines and never look at them again. Practice with your students. Ask them consistently and periodically – how are we doing with listening? How are we doing with waiting until someone else finishes before we talk? Are we expressing our opinions without putting anyone else down?

Next week: Two activities to get you started in setting respectful guidelines




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September 15-October 15Hispanic Heritage Month 

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a national observance authorized by Public Law 100-402. The observation was initiated in 1968 as National Hispanic Heritage Week but was expanded in 1988 to include the entire 31-day period. See NEA’s National Hispanic Heritage Month resources.

September 16Mexican Independence Day

September 16 is Independence Day in Mexico and is considered a patriotic holiday. Each year, the president of Mexico rings the bells of the National Palace in Mexico City, celebrating the start in 1810 of Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain.

September 17Citizenship Day (or Constitution Day)

On this day in 1787, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign the Constitution of the United States of America. By presidential proclamation, the entire week is given to observing this important anniversary. Visit the National Constitution Center and the Constitution Day website for more information and teacher resources.

September 21International Day of Peace

Established by United Nations resolution in 1982, this event is a global holiday when individuals, communities, nations, and governments highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace. To inaugurate the day, the “Peace Bell” is rung at U.N. headquarters. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents, as a reminder of the human cost of war. For information, visit the International Day of Peace website.

September 24-26Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)

The Jewish New Year, also known as the Days of Renewed Responsibility, begins at sunset on day one and ends at nightfall the next day. The event is marked by solemn religious observances.

September 25School Desegregation Comes to Little Rock

On this day in 1957, nine teenagers became the first African-Americans to attend all-White Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The ensuing events riveted the nation and focused a spotlight on racism. President Eisenhower intervened and sent federal troops to protect the students and ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. For more information, go to Central High School National Historic Site. See PBS Newshour Transcript on 40th anniversary (in 1997)



Here are a few guidelines for planning your school year calendar:Respect pinned on noticeboard

  • Set up a regular way to get input and feedback from community members. Constantly ask, “Who is not at the table?” It’s easy to assume you are getting a variety of viewpoints when what you are hearing agrees with your already held assumptions.
  • Continually demonstrate small gestures of inclusion so that if and when you need to negotiate conflicting belief systems, people will already feel they’ve been considered all along.
  • Be ready to compromise and create new hybrid celebrations. Never rest on sharpening your conflict resolution skills and learn how to structure meetings so that people are directed toward common ground.


Inclusive schools have been able to create and include celebrations that expand all students’ learning about special days and appreciation for each other’s feelings.

Prepare ahead of time by consulting more inclusive yearly calendars. Go to:


Next week: More important dates in September




Holidays and anniversaries only make up the tip of a culture’s essence, but even with these seemingly commonplace celebrations, we can find ourselves in the middle of unexpected cultural clashes. Start your year planning to be inclusive by setting your inner compass to listen to the landscape of each student’s and family’s treasured cultural meanings.

The truth is our country and, therefore, our schools started with one group’s values of what and how various cultural customs and anniversaries should be commemorated. Many of us went to schools with students from similar ethnic, income, religious and family backgrounds. Today, there is so much more variety in our schools. If we proceed with a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude, we can easily find ourselves unintentionally alienating a part of our student body and community.

Simply put: students don’t learn if they don’t feel they belong. Welcoming every member of our school community isn’t a “nice to have” but a “must have” when we set our sights on academic excellence.

Important dates for the beginning of September include:

 Labor Day

Labor Day honors the American worker and acknowledges the value and dignity of work and its role in American life. Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York, and continued to be celebrated until June 28, 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday. Learn more at Labor Day Resources.

September 2
 Christa McAuliffe’s Birthday

Teacher and NEA member Christa McAuliffe (1948—1986) was America’s first “ordinary citizen” in space. Along with six other crew members, she perished in 1986 on board the Space Shuttle Challenger.

September 8
 International Literacy Day

Celebrated since 1965, when it was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), this event focuses on reading from a global perspective. Visit UNESCO and International Reading Association for information and activity ideas.

Next week: Guidelines for planning your school year calendar



So where do you think your school’s position is right now? Where might you be in Sameness or Acceptance stages and where have you truly moved into ValuingRating your School all students? Every school is at different points along the continuum depending upon the subject matter, policy or practice and so forth. We all slide back and forth – creating new habits and behaviors and then sliding back into more familiar patterns. Stay aware that good intentions are not enough. Being truly inclusive requires honesty, practice and regular reflection.



Valuing is where we share the center. We make decisions together. Everybody is at the table. It is not just my way and we’ll let in some of your wValuingay. No, now it’s our way. And to make it our way, some of the time, those Traditional Insiders who used to occupy the center are going to have to change, too.

Many schools used to be run on a Sameness model. An example of this is when schools would teach students with a strong bias toward the lecture format (the teacher talks and the students listen) with a heavy emphasis on verbal and math skills.

Moving to Acceptance, in some classrooms a teacher would occasionally introduce an art project or a small group discussion. In this way some students who didn’t fit well into the Sameness Model were able to get an “A” in one area such as art or music but D’s and C’s in other traditional subject areas which were still taught in a lecture format emphasizing logic and math skills.

Now, thankfully, in recent years, teachers have been trained in teaching to different learning styles and types of intelligences. The classroom has expanded from trying to fit all students into one mold to welcoming and valuing students’ kinesthetic, aural and visual ways of learning as well as their multiple intelligences.

Notice the teachers did not have to lower standards to make the classroom more inclusive. We have the same high standards in these schools but they are open to more than one way to reach those high standards. Students still need to make the grade, but now there is more than one way of preparing students to get there.

In true valuing, students who were previously left behind don’t have to change to “fit in”. Instead, the classroom changes to fit the students when each student is valued for his or her gifts and unique ways of scholarship.

The interesting thing is that everyone benefits when an institution moves into true valuing. In true valuing, everyone gets to express more of himself or herself in the classroom whether it’s in terms of their type of smarts, their learning and communication styles, their ethnic background as well as any other part of their diverse and unique background.

In a school that is moving toward true Valuing, all the students are having more fun and, therefore, are feeling a sense of belonging in the classroom. More learning goes on for everyone.






Tolerance or Acceptance is where you may even like individual people in a group but you are still wary of or uncomfortable about the group as a whole.acceptance (1) You may hear people suggest, “Hey, he or she brings some good energy, but let’s not have too many of them.”  It’s as of people are thinking, “We will let in a few exceptions and we’ll decide how and when they get in. We’re still in control.”

For instance, I walked into a drug store and one aisle was marked “Hair Products”, but then up against the wall it said, “Ethnic Hair Products.” This display sent a subtle message. Some people are accepted – we let them in the store – but they are not in the main aisle. They are relegated to the side aisles; they are not mainstream.

The real products, that is the “real” people are the center of the universe. They are the sun. The groups that are being tolerated are satellites or distant planets.

I’ve seen this Acceptance concept displayed in textbooks. More inclusive history books will contain, for example, a chapter entitled “Settlers to the West” and then it will have a special sidebar that says, “Black Settlers.”

Wait a minute! Aren’t they all the settlers? Now, again, the good intention can be to include, but these textbooks are still keeping “Black Settlers” separate, not really part of the mainstream.

It’s similar to ethnic groups who have been Traditional Outsiders being given their special celebration months. When I was going to school, a lot of groups were absent from the curriculum. They weren’t even mentioned. So we can all appreciate the progressive that celebration months connote.

I am a professional storyteller and it’s a joke among those of us who provide school assemblies to talk about “our month” – be it Black, Latino, Women and so on. True valuing would mean the history and culture of each group is embedded throughout the curriculum all year long.

At the Acceptance stage, the “accepted” groups are still not part of the center. And the people in the center hold the ultimate power to define identities and make decisions for themselves plus others.

But truly integrating different groups history, achievements, communication and learning styles and so on is easier said than done. Often staffs are asked to teach things they never learned. In their over busy, demanding lives now they have to go back, study and create new lesson plans. Departments have to fit in tons of meetings to revamp the syllabus, coordinate prerequisites and fit the new classes into common core standards and measurements. Change is not easy even when it’s so desperately needed.

But for those who have done it they will tell you it was worth it to move to true valuing because students who feel seen, heard and valued do better in schools.

NEXT WEEK: How do I know if my school is truly valuing differences?



As we move into August, schools will be readying for the arrival of their students. While there’s still a little time and energy to reflect before the whirlwind begins, consider how you would rate your school on a continuum from promoting sameness to settling for acceptance to truly valuing of differences.

ethnocentrism photo


I saw a great cartoon once that perfectly illustrated the concept of ethnocentrism or subtly promoting sameness. It pictured a 50-ish, balding, plump man sitting behind a desk.

Over his head was a sign that read “Personnel”. He was the man who did the hiring for his workplace.

Sitting across from this Personnel man was the exact same plump, balding, 50-ish man. The Personnel man was leaning across his desk saying to this duplicate man who had come to apply for a job, “You are exactly the kind of person we’re looking for.”

That’s ethnocentrism: I relate to people who look like me, sound like me and act like me. Of course, people never promote sameness in so many words. They are more likely to talk about whether a student is a “good fit”.

When I was growing up there was a program in one of the white neighborhoods to bus some Black students in to spend time in this upper middle class neighborhood. Notice this wasn’t an exchange. The white kids didn’t go into the black neighborhoods. It’s astounding to think of it now, but I believe the hidden agenda was: we will show ‘them’ how we live and they will want to be like us and then ‘they’ will change.

Ethnocentrism has a patronizing edge to it. It says, “We will let you in, but don’t worry. In awhile, we will have you in shape – you will be just like us.”

When people say, “I treat everyone the same” or “I don’t see differences”, they mean well. They are trying to express that they do their best to treat everyone with respect. But, all of us need to be on the alert for when this good intention can unwittingly spill into treating someone as “less than” if they are different in any way.

This is never about lowering standards. We always strive for the same high quality education and respectful behaviors. We just need to open our minds to the idea that there is more than “my way” to those high standards.

NEXT WEEK: Is my school an ACCEPTING school that merely TOLERATES differences?