I hope everyone has had a fantastic week so far. Unfortunately, I have been struggling getting over a cold that just doesn’t seem to be able to quit 😦 I do have faith that I am on the upswing though…fingers crossed.
After my few weeks of writers block, I finally decided that it might be time to just switch topics. So, I decided to write about something that I feel incredibly passionate about and that is something that I am implementing in my school with my students. It is time to share with my blog world (aka, family and friends) something that I have been working on with my fellow fulbrighter, Yohanna, for the past few months. This is something we are both extremely proud of and equally as excited to implement and continue. So here it is, our baby…Connecting Identities.
A few months ago, Yohanna and I had this deep feeling that we needed to do something on a greater scale with our students at school. We noticed in our classes that our students were fantastic at noticing differences between themselves. Now sometimes, this is a great thing. However, we were struggling with our students noticing those differences and instead of having those differences bring them together, it was actually dividing them. This was causing divisions in class, hurtful words being said, and a general tense atmosphere between students and teachers.
We had to do something.
We ended up creating a curriculum to implement in the classroom called Connecting Identities. The basis of our project is this:
Students who live in Spain are seldom exposed to ethnicities and cultures that are drastically different from their own. Although there are plenty of non-native residents living in Spain there is still an immediate sense to distinct oneself from these people who reside in Spain. Students gain an immediate sense of separation from the outside world. Starting in January we will be implementing a 3-4 month curriculum with the primary objective to promote inclusion, tolerance, and an overall sense of interconnectedness with people from different cultures and backgrounds. The project requires students to understand their own identities beyond just physical characteristics. Students will engage in several activities and workshops to help them define the roles and values that construct their self-identity.
We will begin with requiring students to self-reflect and figure out what components construct their own identities. This will be done through several workshops and activities to help them discover the adjectives and vocabulary to define their physical and internal characteristics, their roles within their lives, and their values. Students will then participate in activities to help them connect their identities with both their community and communities from around the world.
In all, our idea was setting out to fix what we had seen in the classroom. Having our students change what they saw as aspects of separation, but instead look deep beneath those things and realize that we truly are valuing the same value. Meaning, when Yohanna and I talk to each other about our families, mine being the typical American family and hers being a typical Ethiopian family, we can see that yes, we have those distinct differences, but underneath it all, we both have this value of family as well as a multitude of other similarities.
We are moving through the curriculum working with our students from the inside out. First teaching identity. Then working on their significance in their immediate world around them. And lastly we are working on connecting them on a bigger scale to historical and modern day heroes and their similarities in their value of freedom, rights and respect.
I was terrified once we finished writing the curriculum that our students were not going to be receptive. This out-of-body thinking is complicated for students in their first language, how were we going to do it in their second…and with a low level of English at that?!
But somehow, it’s working. Somehow, every week we present in front of our students and they understand what we are telling them. Somehow, they remember the vocabulary from the previous lesson and are able to converse with us about the topic. I’m not saying it’s perfect, I’m not saying it’s monumental, but it’s poco a poco.
Complicated? Ambitious? Delusional? Maybe.
However, throughout this process, I have been reminded of this story.
Last year as I was working in the classroom, I remember I was teaching a lesson on a book called Rules. This book is fantastic. I won’t tell you much more besides the fact that it is amazing for teaching students empathy and accepting differences…it truly is wonderful. Anyway, as I was teaching this book, during one of the lessons a student asked me a question as I was reading aloud from the book. This question was golden. It showed me that my student was truly getting something from the book and learning a key concept that I wanted him to learn…WIN, YES! I wanted to cry from happiness. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t because right next to my feet, as this question was occurring, a student was arguing with another classmate with a fist raised ready to punch. Typical right?
What I realized then is that I don’t believe in the crazy “storybook worthy” teacher moments where everything is perfect and there is a monumental break. No, what I believe in are the moments where we are able to catch those golden moments and cherish them even while the chaos is occurring right alongside it. I don’t believe everything can be perfect all in one moment. These golden moments are what teachers live for and if we don’t accept that they might not be as pretty as they appear in movies, we will miss them.
My point is, as we are working through this curriculum we are trying to promote change…a different way of thinking. But as we are going through it, we have to remember that we are working with students who not only speak a different language, but also live in a completely different culture than us. We have to be able to catch those moments of gold, those moments where a student says their personality trait is “happy,” where a student tells us their role is to be a “good friend” and we have to remember that they are magical. They are little, but they mean something.
Our students are B R I L L I A N T, trust me! We just have to be willing to listen, willing to put in the effort to guide them to that brilliance and willing to catch those moments. Even if our students are driving us insane and might be doing this to our leg:
This is what we are aiming for in Connecting Identities.
I hope you all are as excited for this project as I know Yohanna and I are! It is something that I look forward to do every week! I wish I could delve into all the juicy details, but this will have to do.
Sending good vibes to all!