Pizza changes lives

How pizza changes lives, reducing teacher burnout and creating safe learning spaces for students who identify as transgender are just some of the lessons we took from the first day of ASCD Empower 2019. Take a look at these highlights:

Be pizza! Educator and author Ron Clark in Saturday’s opening General Session painted a picture of a culture in which students are not accustomed to being pushed and the status quo puts pressure on teachers to be as bland as bread. Sharing his own tales of hijinks and his high-energy, engaging teaching and leadership style, Clark urged educators to embrace a revolution of positivity, rigor and possibilities in which a fifth-grader today will be inspired to become a teacher someday and in which high expectations apply to all students. In this scenario teachers are called to move beyond the plain bread model and become “pizza” teachers, who live and teach with zest and passion and bring energy and positivity to the table. “Pizza changes lives,” Clark said.

Don't give salty people power over you. Clark shared about a challenge he encountered during his early days teaching in North Carolina. The veteran teacher who had the classroom across the hall from Clark complained that his classes were noisy, his lessons inappropriate and referred to him as "Golden Boy" during staff meeting. Her constant negativity chiseled at Clark, making him anxious each time he saw her.

Bread people will be threatened by pizza people, according to Clark. They will find your energy and creative practices annoying and disruptive. Be friendly and polite to them but do not give them power over your happiness, said Clark.

"I look at people like that like they're salt," said Clark. "You blow in the wind. You do not get to have power over my life. I am not going to allow you to affect my happiness today."

It starts with relationship. Relationships matter, said Chicago elementary school teacher Dwayne Reed during Saturday's General Session. Reed became a viral sensation in 2016 with a rap he wrote to welcome his fourth-grade students back to school. The goal, he said, was to connect with his scholars.

"You have to Maslow before they can Bloom," Reed said. In his talk during the general session, he gave a three-point plan for building relationship with students.

Start with you, Reed advised. He encouraged educators to reveal themselves to students. "Your students are deciding if they want to be in a school place relationship with you," he said. "Tell them who you are."

Next, discover who they are. "Gather data about the scholar," he said. Ask questions and dig so you know how to teach them. Adding relationship data to the mix shows them that you have a desire to learn about them.

And finally, define yourself as a unit. Discuss what the collective group--the class, the family--looks like. Doing this helps nurture a "culture of we," said Reed.

"[It helps] combine the best fruits to determine who we are, and what connects the entire classroom," Reed said.

Ensuring a safe learning environment for all students. Students who are transgender or gender nonconforming often face negative experiences at school that include bullying, harassment and discrimination, explained Vanessa Ford, director of education for the National Center for Transgender Equality as well as a parent advocate, and Becca Mui, education manager for GLSEN, in their session. Data show these students are more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable, Mui noted. However, research shows supportive environments can lessen mental health issues many of these students experience, Ford shared. Ford offered practical strategies for educators who want to create supportive school environments, organized under four umbrellas -- educate, affirm, include and interrupt – and pointed to resources, including many from GLSEN, to help educators with this work. “You don’t need to do it alone,” she said.

SEL does not have an age limit. Getting to know your teachers, building rapport and forging genuine connections will go a long way toward boosting the morale of your staff, according to Basil Marin, assistant principal at Portsmouth Public Schools. Marin and Adam Brown, assistant principal at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, presented tactics for supporting teachers during their session "Eliminating Teacher Burnout Through Inspiration." Show novice teachers how to find help and resources and emphasize to them the importance of disconnecting from work. Spend time with your veteran teachers, listening to their ideas and seeking their input on questions and issues. All of this helps reinforce to your staff that you know -- and respect -- the hard work they do. "SEL does not have an age limit. Our teachers need that support too," said Brown.

Kanoe Namahoe and Katharine Haber are editors for SmartBrief Education.

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