Archive for the ‘LESSON PLANS’ Category

For Black History and Always: I Am Somebody

24 Feb

Students need to know that their families and their cultures – and, therefore, they – are welcome in the classroom. A great way to do this is to take Linda Christensen’s idea featured in the wonderful book Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practice Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development called “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms.”

Have your students make up their own “I Am Somebody” or “I Am From” poems by first making lists of:

  • Items found in their homes
  • Items found in their yards
  • Items found in their neighborhood
  • Names of relatives – especially ones linked to the past
  • Family sayings
  • Names of foods served at family gatherings
  • Names of places where the family has lived or visited
  • People – past and present – from their culture who they admire


Then, with a link between images such as “I Am…” or “I Am From…” have students write a first draft. Next, have the students read to each other with no specific comments. Just being heard can help the students feel cared for. Then, you can have a general discussion of what made certain phrases stand out such as specificity of detail, metaphor or humor and the students can try one more draft.

Here are a couple excerpt examples from Linda Christensen’s article “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms”and my work with teens:

I am from awapuhi ginger

Sweet fields of sugar cane

And green bananas


I am from get-togethers

And Barbeques

Salsa dancing on the back porch


I am from Kunta Kinte’s strength

Harriet Tubman’s escapes

Phyllis Wheatley’s poems

And Sojourner Truth’s faith


In this video, storyteller, Linda Gorham, shares her “I Am Somebody” story and reminds us that “We are products of the people who came before us and the preparation for the future.” 




17 Feb

We cannot underestimate the impact of what storyteller Anne Shimojima calls “looking into the mirror of life and never seeing your own reflection.” In this video “Taming the Fire“, story artist Sheila Arnold describes her teenage discovery of African American History. Luckily for Sheila, she had a teacher who understood Sheila’s anger at not learning about her heritage. Her teacher appreciated Sheila’s passionate and rightful desire for the truth and was able to transform that energy into inspiration for herself and all of her students.

Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American, think of Black History in terms of when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. The obstacles faced were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your name, the right to know your family, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to give evidence against a white man, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on. The fact that in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.

In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied. Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is because of African Americans.



Are You Unintentionally Offending Someone?

10 Feb

Because of how most of us were raised, we can all un-intentionally hurt others or even discriminate against them. The point is: are we willing to learn when someone takes the time to point out our mistakes and, after that, do we behave differently? In this video, storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston’s feedback on how black students are being treated at her school falls on deaf ears.

Do you know how you come across to other people?

What you think of yourself and how others see you might be two very different things. What’s funny is that many of us are shy or downright scared of asking for feedback. But what people think of you is still there, right?

We can’t do something about something if we don’t know it’s there. Especially when it comes to race relations, how are we going to improve if we don’t know what to improve?

It takes a lot of confidence to say, “That was my mistake” or “I can do better” but it makes you a much easier person to be with and others will see as a reliable and approachable friend and ally.




01 Feb

Black History

With budget cuts at every level of education, it’s rare when a teacher can arrange a field trip to a national monument or organization. Thank goodness for the web! This February, during your Black History celebrations, why not rely on virtual experiences to give your students new encounters and increased understanding without the cost or time away from the classroom?

You can create a virtual Black Issues scavenger hunt for your middle and high school students using this resource:

Focusing on African American history without showing how the past is still affecting the present leaves our students without an understanding of today’s challenges and how they might one day make a difference. This resource centers on the hurdles African Americans face today because of the institutional racism of the past.

Have students work in teams to search these papers for facts on disparities in testing, economic mobility, school discipline and suspensions and the like. The victories and achievements African Americans continuously make despite ongoing discrimination is a cause for celebration and inspiration for all Americans.



23 Sep

hhmWhen you celebrate Hispanic heritage month this September and October, remember to present the true facts: Hispanic Americans have been making contributions to life in the U.S. even before this country was a country.

For example, the Spanish-founded San Miguel de Gualdape, Georgia was the first European settlement in North America. It was founded in 1526, 81 years before Jamestown, Virginia, the first English settlement. Also, St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States, was founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and subsequently served as the capital of Spanish Florida for two hundred years.

Yes, guide your students to learn about and compare Hispanic cultural experiences, holidays and contributions but also help them examine the mainstream culture’s lens through which cultures are ranked and valued. As the editors of “Beyond Heroes and Holidays” state: “It is impossible to develop genuinely multicultural curricula from only the dominant perspective because it illuminates only one set of experiences.”

Why do we know so much more about English history in this country and not Spanish? Why do we talk about the current “growing diversity” in our country when the truth is this continent has always had a rich diversity of people, languages, systems of government and so forth?

For a business perspective that details the growth of Hispanic influence in the U.S., go to:




16 Sep

hhmDid you know that National Hispanic Heritage Month actually started as a one-week celebration? The observation started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded to 31 days under President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Do you know why it starts in the middle of the month, September 15th, instead of on the first of the month as other ethnic celebrations do? That’s because Hispanic Heritage month includes the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean plus Central and South America.

September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates their independence on September 16 and Chile on September18th.

Who calls himself or herself “Hispanic” or “Latino”? The U.S. Census Bureau defines the category as those of Spanish origin regardless of race. The 2010 Census identified 50.5 million people or 16% of the population as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. As you might guess, the top two places in the U.S. with the highest percentage of Latinos are Texas and California, but populations are rising throughout the U.S.

Whether you have many, few or no Hispanic children in your classrooms, observing National Hispanic Month is important for your students who are Latino as well as for those who will most certainly be studying, working and living alongside people of Spanish-origins.

For ideas on lessons plans that highlight the history and contribution of Hispanic Americans go to:

For examples of Hispanic art collections, videos and images go to:




09 Sep

No-Bullying-School-Rules-Sign-K-4002You’ve created a strong, clear anti-bullying policy. It won’t be brushed under a rug at your school. But are you unknowingly leaving yourself open to misunderstanding and conflict?

Looking at protected classes – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. – is a great place to start when forming or updating your school’s anti-bullying policy, but it’s not enough. Three little words can save you a lot of headaches. What are those words?

“Not limited to” according to Huffington Post writer, Deborah Temkin.

Bullying policies need to be written in such a way that the focus is on the bully’s actions and motivation, not solely on a description of the victim. Because here’s the truth: sometimes kids go after other kids “just because” -  just because they can, just because they perceive the other child as weaker, just because they lash out in anger and the other child happens to be nearby.

Unfortunately, children are harassed for wearing the “wrong” clothing (nothing to do with income), being too smart, being too slow and even swinging the bat in an unusual way. Sadly, cruelty knows no bounds.

Each school needs to see their anti-bullying policy as a tool that has little power if it sits in someone’s computer. The most effective policy is to be fully engaged with what your school is for: for kindness, for cooperation, for self-esteem coming from not who is “in” and who is “out” but from an appreciation for one’s own and, therefore, everyone’s uniqueness.

As teasing becomes bullying through repetitive behaviors, the positive behaviors we want our students to exhibit also come through repetition of teacher, staff and student training, reminders and celebrations. We have to prevent bullying not simply react to the more obvious and limited “biggies” such as racism, sexism, homophobia and so on. Continually demonstrating the benefits of inclusion can help all children to be protected.

To read Deborah Temkin’s full article go to:

For ideas on how you can create on-going anti-bullying programs see:

For a comprehensive list of resources from Teaching Tolerance go to:




02 Sep

We know that bullying isn’t nice, but have you thought about the fact that bullying is also illegal? Each state addresses bullying differently. Some cover bullying, cyber bullying and related behaviors in one law, some in multiple laws. But what state laws have in common is that they all declare that any form, type, or level of bullying is unacceptable, and that every incident needs to be taken seriously by school administrators, school staff, teachers, students, and students’ families. All states acknowledge that bullying has a huge and detrimental impact on student learning, school safety, student engagement, and the school environment.

stompoutbullyingSchools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Military status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender-related identity or expression
  • Unfavorable discharge from military service
  • Association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristics
  • Any other distinguishing characteristic

Right now, no federal law directly addresses bullying. However, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment of protected classes such as those mentioned above. In those cases, the behavior is covered under federal civil rights laws and enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). If your school fails to respond appropriately to a student in a protected class who is being harassed, you may be in violation of federal as well as local laws.

What does it mean to “respond appropriately”? Here are some guidelines:

  • Investigate immediately
  • Inquiry must be prompt, thorough, and impartial
  • Interview targeted students, offending students, and witnesses, and maintain written documentation of your investigation
    • Communicate with targeted students regarding steps taken to end the harassment
    • Check in regularly afterwards with targeted students to ensure that the harassment has stopped
    • When an investigation reveals that harassment has occurred, a school should take steps reasonably calculated to: end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, prevent harassment from recurring, and inhibit retaliation against the targeted student(s) or complainant(s).

To find out about your state’s laws and policies go to:

To see examples of other states’ laws and what they have in common go to:

To find out what kind of harassment constitutes a federal violation, go to:




26 Aug

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.

Here are a few guidelines for planning your school year calendar:

  • 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. The school year events listed below are only  a sampling of dates you can celebrate and upon which you can build diversity lessons. Many well-known dates such as Halloween or Thanksgiving are not included here, but detailed in the longer National Education Association calendar referenced below.  (Click here to download the calendar as a printable PDF file.)

  • September 15-October 15
 — Hispanic Heritage Month
  • September 16-18
 — Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)
  • September 26
 — Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement)
  • October 1-31 –National Bullying Prevention Month
  • October 1-31
 — Italian American Heritage Month
  • October 6 — German American Day
  • October 15
 — Multicultural Diversity Day
  • October 18
 — Teaching ToleranceMix It Up at Lunch Day
  • October 26
 — Eid al-Adha (3 day Islamic Feast of Abraham’s Sacrifice)
  • November 1-30
 — American Indian Heritage Month
  • November 13-17 — Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights)
  • November 14-December 14
 — Muharram (Islamic New Year)
  • December 3-7
 — Inclusive Schools Week
  • December 8-16
 — Hanukkah (Jewish Festival of Lights)
  • December 25
 — Christmas
  • December 26-January 1
 — Kwanzaa
  • January 7 — Christmas Day (Orthodox)
  • January 21 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Day of Service
  • January 31
 — Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year)
  • January 20-24 — No Name-Calling Week
  • February 1-29 — Black History Month
  • February 13-19
 — Random Acts of Kindness Week
  • March 1-31
 — Women’s History Month
  • March 31  — Hindu New Year
  • April 15-22
 — Passover (8 day Jewish commemoration of
    deliverance from slavery in Egypt)
  • April 20
 — Easter
  • April 15-22
 — Holocaust Remembrance Day
  • May 1-31 — Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
  • May 1-31
 — Jewish American Heritage Month
  • May 5-9
 — National Teacher Appreciation Week
  • May 5
 — Cinco de Mayo (1862 Mexican victory over the French army)
  • June 19
 — Juneteenth (Freedom Day – Abolition of Slavery
    announced in Texas in 1865)

For much more detailed Diversity Calendars go to:




19 Aug

flesh-tonesAs you prepare for the new school year, create a mindset that lets this be the year you are truly open to new ideas about diversity and inclusion. Learning how to get along with and appreciate your students, families and co-workers from so many different backgrounds is a skill. And just like any other skill, we only learn it over time.

Think about how you learned to drive a car. When you were young, you may have thought there was nothing to driving a car. You were at Step 1. Then you sat behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition and everything looked amazingly different. You realized there was more to this driving thing than you thought. You were at Step 2. Next, Step 3, you learned to drive, but you had to think about it all the time: “Hands at 10 and 2. Check my rearview mirror.” Then, one day, you drove to the store and you realized you didn’t even remember doing it; your mind was completely somewhere else. You were on automatic. Your driving had reached Step 4.

Anytime we learn new skills, we start at Step 1. This is the stage where we simply don’t know what we don’t know. It’s the stage of “bliss.”  You’ve heard that phrase “ignorance is bliss”? All of us are unaware of certain things especially about other cultures. But as we gain awareness, we can move up the steps.

In Step 2, we know that we don’t know. This can be called “the humbling step” or “uncomfortable step.”  But we also can think of it as “the discovery step.” Step 1 may be comfortable, but we aren’t learning and stretching. Sometimes, we realize we have so much to learn about other cultures, we feel overwhelmed. For example, someone may point out one of your blind spots. It certainly isn’t comfortable. But set your mindset now to remember that this is growth; you are learning. There is no way any of us can know everything about all the cultures of the world. However, that doesn’t excuse our responsibility to learn as much as we can, especially about the students in our classroom.

If someone points out an insensitivity on your part, thank them and ask them to explain what you did that was offensive. When we’re at Step 2, we can’t necessarily do things differently yet, but, if we stay humble, our awareness grows.

When we reach Step 3, we consciously attempt to modify our behavior. The author of this model, W. S. Howe, called this stage “mindfulness.”  We can make changes. We can perform new skills of cultural competency, but we’re self-conscious. We constantly need to think about what we’re doing.

At Step 4 we have practiced the skills so much we no longer have to think about them to use them. Step 4 is the “Just Do It!” step. The change has become a habit now. It’s natural; we’re on automatic. At this stage, we find ourselves comfortable with differences that previously sent us into a self-conscious panic.

With most skills including diversity, you don’t go up the steps all at once. Actually, the steps are more like an escalator. Especially in valuing differences just when we think we have gained the necessary awareness, we get feedback that we need to learn something new. We return to Steps 2 and 3 again and again. Just because we are familiar and comfortable with some areas of difference doesn’t mean we won’t have to become skilled at others. When it comes to understanding our similarities and differences, the learning never stops. Choose to become courageous this year as you become more comfortable with discomfort and increase your cultural competence.

To read more about The Steps Model:

  • The Empathic Communicator by William S. Howell. 1982 Waveland Press.
    W.S. Howell’s Step Model is the basis for the rubric measurement in the diversity curriculum: Kaleidoscope: Valuing Differences and Creating Inclusion —