Anti-Racist Book Club: 1st Meeting +etc.

Last week, I facilitated my first meeting of an antiracist book club for some teachers I know, and a couple of friends. We’re reading Dr. Kendi’s How to Be Anti-Racist. I decided how many chapters we read per meeting by just stealing the schedule from a How to Be Anti-Racist “discussion group” led by the folks at Daybreaker.

Easy to audiobook, but

I loved listening to the audiobook, but the group helped me realize that facilitating a conversation about a highly conceptual, non-fiction book is COMPLETELY out of my wheelhouse. I’m used to leading conversations that looking for the hidden complexities in fairly easy-to-read (for me!) text; I’m not as used to looking for simpler ways to understand difficult text.

For example,

“White assimilationist ideas challenge segregationist ideas that claim people of color are incapable of development, incapable of reaching the superior standard, incapable of becoming White and therefore fully human. Assimilationists believe that people of color can, in fact, be developed, become fully human, just like White people. Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act.” (Ch. 2)

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I was about one sentence into verbally breaking that quote down before I realized that no, no, I can’t just swerve and improvisationally facilitate my way through this book like I can through a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird or An American Marriage I can’t just listen to on audiobook and get it. This is the kind of book that must be read, and read closely. Kendi’s very conversational narrative style and and soothing voice on the audiobook made me feel like he wasn’t saying very complex things. As if I “got it” without any problems. But when I actually read the quotations I collected from everyone to get a sense of what they understood about the reading, I realized that I would have to reckon with the writing for real.

Side note: I suddenly got why sometimes students think they understand a text they don’t, even if they are reading along and listening along while I read aloud. I really must continue reading books that are DIFFICULT for me; helps me empathize with students’ struggles.

I think the first group went fine. There were introductions and breakout groups and discussion topics, but really? I need to make it a little bit more raw. We need folks to ask and answer questions. I also need to get together a script of some norm-setting stuff I want to say. I’m not an expert, we’re here to learn, ouch and oops, step up and step back, etc. I’d also love someone to lead a grounding meditation, but I’m not that kind of person (yet), so maybe I will find one online to lead it. Some suggestions afterwards were to have folks present questions to the group, and to break into rooms to discuss those questions. Another suggestion was to ask for facilitators for each breakout group. This is shaping itself into a structure and perhaps I can continue to perfect the structure and lead more discussion groups for this and for future zooming with my kids.

It took me a while to get started, but I just finished re-listening to chapter 2 and listening to chapter 3 . I don’t think I totally got what Dr. Kendi was saying the the first time through. It’s not that the two choices we all face are assimilationist and segregationist; it’s that both of those approaches are in opposition to antiracism.Chapter 3 is about the body. If the connection is there that I suspect will be there, I’d like to consider it in light of Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. More on Menakem at the Re-Rooted podacast.Outside of the book, I have been exploring antiracism by attending 2 events at the Emancipated Hackathon by zoom where I ran into two former students of mine (one of whom was running the whole event), all grown up! Amazing (how old I am)! The world just continues. I move into middle age, and they move into young adulthood. I was one of the older folks in the zoom room by far, and I could feel myself stretching to imagine bringing all of the pedagogical approaches from that conference into my classroom authentically.

Could I imagine leading my students, or even other educators in my antiracist bookclub in a meditation? Could I imagine leading them in a celebration of our ancestors? Could I imagine even bringing those practices into my own life? So much of the way I’ve been brought up in the White education system has involved separating my body from my mind, separating my current from my past, until all I am is unmoored intellectual energy. That has to stop, and it begins with acknowledging my body’s needs and connecting to my roots.

Of course, asserting my physical and self-understanding needs isn’t limited to the classroom or to leading book discussions on zoom. Rather, the classroom Nkomo (IRL and online) and the Zoom Nkomo need to be in alignment with physical-all-the-time-not-teaching Nkomo. All of these aspects of my self are connected to my physical body, and all of those spaces need time for connecting with myself (possibly through meditation, possibly through journaling) and for ancestral understanding.I have been talking to both my parents about their parents and grandparents. My mom emailed me a family tree chart with information on it, and my dad gave me some information while I was walking and talking on the phone with him, but I need to reach out again because I forgot some of the really cool names on his side before I got back home. Inspired by the idea of a genogram, I want to figure out a little more of who I am so that as I teach, as I discuss books with others, as I continually become myself, I’m fully aware of what I’m working with. I’m delving.

How can I expect my kids to delve and to recognize their multiple deep selves if I do not do the work on my own? I’ve lost a lot of my cultural identity. Not on purpose, and not maliciously. I assimilated into my mostly White classes as a child in public school and my mostly White boarding school when I was a teenager, and my mostly White college as a young adult. And now I’m trying to reclaim my birthright to my own culture. It’s waiting for me; I just gotta go get it so that I can help students do the same.

The funny thing, though, is that I feel like this is my time, like I was born in the wrong era. Though maybe it’s because of folks like me that this era exists. The Black folks who liked Johann Sebastian Bach and Sebastian Bach in the 90s. And Muddy Waters and Blues Traveler, and medieval motets and Digable Planets, and Rickie Lee Jones and La Lupe and Natascha Atlas. I was ostracized from some parts of the Black community for it my interests, my voice, the “way I talked.” Had my second black teacher when I got to college, and my first Black teacher in 1st grade. I thought I was alone in my nerdiness, but I guess I was one of millions that I never connected to. This old story. This old, old story. No internet, you see? I spent a lot of time being lonely, and I look to these young folks and think–if only I could have found your predecessors. In 30 years, we’ll all basically be the same age (old), but right now, I’m a young elder, and I’m starting from almost scratch, learning from those I’ve taught because they know a little more and listen a little better.

Good news: 1. I’ve been accepted to the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society group leadership training program for Fall 2020. I’m excited to begin learning how to lead group experiences like this. 2. My school is putting real effort into antiracist pedagogy and systems for the kids and families next year.

Meh news: Middle schoolers can’t really have conversations that are as open as those I’ll start learning to lead through EGPS; how will my training help me to apply the methodology in developmentally appropriate ways?

Interesting news: Last week of school!

We’re all exhausted

I’m leading two different anti-racist book groups: one for mostly teachers, and one for fellow trustees on a board of which I’m a member. It’s great practice, I think, for me to work on talking about anti-racism with people who don’t have the background with it that I do. And I don’t mean my Blackground, I mean my history of reading about the various permutations of systemic racism.

We All Have Work To Do

Killer Mike’s Emotional Speech

I had a lot of conversations yesterday about the looting, the uprisings, and the expression of black pain. All the black people I spoke to, while certainly not wanting to get involved themselves because we’re all in our 40s or older, all had the same thought: Burn the s**t down.

Of course, I don’t want to live in a world of rubble and the destruction of buildings. But at the same time, I don’t want to live in a world made of the rubble of the systemic destruction of lives.

“But how will the white supremacists and unfeeling people in power respond?” my white friends asked. “The destruction will just make them behave worse!” But will it? What is worse than killing black people in their homes, in the cars, asking for help, going for a run, or just being alive? What’s worse than that, exactly? What’s worse than thousands more black people than white people dying from a pandemic because of having low- wage jobs where they can’t work from home, or from living in close quarters with many others because rent is skyrocketing and folks can’t afford to live in decently priced homes?

Killer Mike clears it up it out: what’s worse is having nothing when it is all over.

Part of my pain as a black woman during this time is shame and regret. I haven’t done enough to support my students in my school. Yes, in my class, I made sure to be an anti-racist as I could consciously be, by talking about race and class in class, by reading books by black and brown authors, by encouraging then to know their history, by incorporating rap and hip hop into my curriculum (I rapped in front of my kids, and they were both embarrassed and impressed), by showing movies that showcase black actors as leads and not background characters, by trying my darndest to figure out a TikTok dance (and failing), by reading as many books by black authors as I could.

But, here’s my secret: I don’t have very many black friends. I don’t hang out in very many black spaces (except, now, virtually), and often times, I feel as if my history as a black New Yorker isn’t “black” enough. Of course, that’s ridiculous. But it’s a feeling that I have sometimes, and that is also part of the shame. How can I support black and Brown people if I am daily steeping myself in whiteness and, indirectly, white supremacy?

I think that my doubling down on the “Burn the S**t Down” talking point is perhaps my way of trying to make up for my past failures to call out the racism, classism, ethnocentrism, ableism, and ageism I have seen all around me. I think I wanted to my s**t down.

I’ve been taking the easy way out.

What I love about Killer Mike’s speech is that he acknowledges the anger and he acknowledges the desire to destroy. He acknowledges the failures of the federal government. He acknowledges the racist history of his hometown. But he also recognizes that there are police officers in his family. That there are cities that have prosecuted police officers. And, most importantly, that you gain nothing from destroying your own “home,” even if you feel like destroying everything.

“Home” can mean all sorts of things. Your actual home. Your community. Places that provide jobs to your community. A sense of safety. The ability to believe that tomorrow could be better. These are things that you don’t want to destroy.

Now, There are those who are annoyed and don’t think that Killer Mike is doing Atlanta any favors. And as a New Yorker who pays scant attention to Atlanta politics, I don’t have the insight or research to fact-check Killer Mike or writer Devyn Springer of The Independent, but I can fact-check my own motivations behind telling people that I support destruction at this time. I don’t support destruction in any other situation. It’s strange that I would even say I support it now. It’s a form of acting in, and I’m taking this time to acknowledge it. It’s shame.

I want to be an anti-racist educator, but I’ve got to do better and let less slide when I see and hear casual injustice in the faculty room and at happy hour. Every faculty room in every school has it. Every happy hour at every school has it.

I’ve got to actively join and participate in a black community without fearing that I won’t be accepted (I’m still re-living can’t-fit-in trauma form the 80s, when it black folks who listened to rock or spoke Standard English without being called a traitor to the race or an oreo cookie or some nonsense). I’ve got to allow the black community an opportunity to accept me. It’s an old story, that I’m not good enough, and I need to toss it into the trash. Times have changed. We’ve had a black President. Everyone listens to rock and rap and whatever category XXXTENTACION and TeaMarr and Joel are. Ain’t nobody gonna call me out for “talking white.” Not anymore.

My email inbox is flooded with organizational manifestos promising to “re-dedicate” themselves to “being anti-racist” and “committing to supporting the community” and all sorts of conveniently vague action items. I hate vague. It’s lazy thinking.

So, as an educator and as a black woman, I specifically pledge to:

  1. Call it as I see it. No more protecting fragile egos from my frustration when I hear racist, sexist, homophobic, ethnocentric garbage in casual conversation with colleagues. Even if I love you. I refuse to erase myself. No me without we.
  2. Re-embrace the black community and actively join it. I love my people, but I haven’t been joining them as much as I should have been these past years. I see myself as a part of it by blood, but I need a black crew around me, and I need to support some black adults. I need someone to process all this life stuff with (from dating to books to shows to political uprisings), and I’m going to actively find those people. I have some already, but dang my current posse likes to travel. I need some folks near me so we can talk in person (from six feet away and with masks on). No me without we.
  3. Do the Work. While my primary mission–to help me develop my own solid footing in my own racial identity and history–is to deepen my understanding of my blackness. I am a teacher of all different ethnicities and backgrounds of children, and I need to have a stronger understanding of the literature, arts, and cultural expressions of ALL the children in my classroom, and yes, this includes white children. But also non-binary children, gay children, children with disabilities. We all have deep and important histories, and I need to investigate those more deeply. Right now this means reading literature or consuming media from PR, DR, and Central America and from their emigrants to NYC. This does not includes posting slogans on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or whatever new thing comes along. No me without we.
  4. Be humble. I need to bring a child’s mind to this work. Some white folks look at me and see expertise in race work. Ha! I can’t be seduced by that. I’m learning and must always be learning about this work. I need to acknowledge that I am no expert, just a learner who might be a little further along, but not by much. I need to learn from those who came before me in the anti-racist struggle. No me without we.
  5. Take care of myself. All of this stuff is difficult emotional work. So sometimes I have to let myself take a break and allow others to do the work without feeling like I’ve failed. I can’t push myself until there is nothing left of my emotional resilience. No one benefits from an educator who is too tired to be kind. So this means taking a break from the news when I need to. Not staying informed about every new injustice at every second of every day. Choosing my battles. Allowing myself some moments of humor when I’m in pain. Remaining steadfast in my belief that even if progress is slow, it’s still progress.

What work do YOU pledge to do?

Eyes Wide Open: Looking In, Looking Out

Just finished participating in a virtual seminar by Paula Scher, one of the most influential graphic designers in the world. I won attendance at her virtual seminar through the Academy for Teachers, which is a membership organization for teachers that aims to provide teacher community through intellectually stimulating conversations and events. Through them, I have been lucky enough to do in-person workshops with Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish, Professor Joshua Katz, spoken word artist and poet Taylor Mali*, Professor Jeff Nunokawa*, and (hopefully, if I win the lottery) with author Karen Russell*.

After watching a documentary about Paula Scher on Netflix (season 1, episode 6 of “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix), I got a chance to hear from Scher herself about her creative process and some of the projects she created.

Here’s what I took away from both the documentary and from her talk:

  1. Creativity requires keeping your senses open. There’s a wonderful opening set of sequences in “Abstract” during which you see NYC though Scher’s eyes. She sees herself primarily as a typography expert (because, as she said in the seminar, she is not a very good illustrator), and the camera focuses on all the different kinds of type you see all over New York. Manhattan (and, to a much lesser degree, Brooklyn) is a city of signs and letters that all present different ways of presenting ideas. Serifs on words tend to imply an old-world, classical, upper class approach to things (thus, the multiple revamps of the masthead for The New York Times) and a lack of serif tends to imply something new and creative or (oddly enough) European. In the video sequence, Scher talks about how sometimes fonts out in the world are mismatched and she has an impulse to fix them. I love seeing the world through her eyes. At another point in the “Abstract” episode, Scher mentions that she will often go to the city to get ideas. Looking around fills her mind with new thoughts and new patterns she can incorporate into her design ideas. For instance, in designing the logo for The Highline, Scher used a capital “H” with two lines through the middle to imply railroad tracks (which is apt, because The Highline was originally an abandoned elevated railroad).
The logo for The Highline, inspired by railroad tracks

2. Creativity can require an attention to detail and a willingness to just trust your gut. Sometimes simultaneously. One of my favorite details about the creation of The Highline logo is that Scher created it quickly, in couple of minutes on the back of a business card she had handy. During the seminar, she said, “Time doesn’t make design better.” That is to say, sometimes going with your gut can create the right feeling you need in a piece of art. Though, I would add the caveat that developing strong gut emotions that connect to a very strong visual sensibility was also the results of having done A LOT of work and study in visual arts. At the time of the Highline rebranding and creation, Scher had been a working designer for over 20 years. I’m also reminded of the book Sources of Power by Gary Klein, in which Klein finds that all of the amazing “intuitive” and split-second moves made my emergency room nurses, firefighters, pilots and the like comes from thousands of hours of lived experience. Perhaps that’s the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell popularized or the 728 to 16,120 Hour Rule. Whatever the exact number (and really, I don’t care about that number. The number is this: many), that split-second of amazing choice-ness or gut feeling is actually the end results of an uncountable amount of time putting in what the folks at call practicing “deliberately in the smartest way you can.”

What all am I getting at? Well, I suppose that I’m thinking in terms of what is means to become a very good teacher. I have been practicing all this teacher-y stuff for 16 years now, and some stuff I’m still working on, like classroom management. My particular approach to classroom management has mostly involved making engaging lessons. But that isn’t enough, sometimes. With the help of blog posts, books, and mini courses from educational thought leaders Dave Stuart, Jr., Angela Duckworth‘s Character Lab, and Angela Watson’s The Cornerstone for Teachers, my classroom management is getting stronger and stronger. But it’s not yet at the gut level. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Trainings around group dynamics through the Center for Group Studies, workshops with EGPS, and classes in my Masters in School Counseling have helped me see that at least some of my struggles in classroom management come from my background. All those thousands of hours of being a young person in my household have had an impact on me. I have a hard time not channeling my mother whenever a kid misbehaves. And my mom was great for ME, but I tend to be a rule follower. My goal is to help my students be rule followers when following rules is to their long-term benefit. I’d also like to help them be better at simply communicating about what isn’t working for them.

Perhaps this is too much to ask, but I don’t think it is. I continue to mull it over. by teaching them to look at themselves and the choices they make, and using that information to help them create academic work. Still doing my WHOKNOWSHOWMANY hours to figure this out.

Other things on my mind:

  1. Priya Parker‘s The Art of Gathering Newsletter introduces me to new ways to think of remote learning and remote connection in every post.
  2. I watched the George Floyd video last night before bed and wept.
  3. I’m considering attending this workshop from the Othering and Belonging Institute on how to use narrative to help us connect to others.
  4. Trying to think about using Kialo to facilitate online debates. Weighing that against giving my students yet another site to learn to navigate.
  5. Trying to decide if I want to spend my precious mind time being amused by a live magazine or an arthouse film on mubi or reading on my kindle or grading or just staring straight ahead into nothingness and sweating because THE HUMIDITY in NYC is UNBEARABLE.

Darlin’ I doon’t know why Iiiiii go to extreeeemes!

Please forgive the Billy Joel reference. I recently turned 44, and I’m reliving both my junior high and high school years pretty intensely these days, often through music (thanks, Prime Music Unlimited). All this time at home, exploring the internet in search of new resources and opportunities to help my kids connect with the world in healthy ways, is bringing me back to my own schooling, remembering how hard it was to find out new information without resorting to (egad!) TALK to someone.

Now you can find out almost anything–even FROM AN EXPERT–without speaking to them, without risking any vulnerability, whatsoever!

And yet… and yet… so many students don’t take advantage of this, are too afraid to take advantage of this. It’s AWKWARD or WEIRD or, some other word in UPPER CASE LETTERS.

All of that preamble is to say, that I started out the shelter-in-place teaching with an arsenal of products, and now I’m down to just one or two (or three) that I use consistently.

A picture of monochrome code in a spiral.
I was using too many apps!

But, to start out, I was using, on a weekly basis, the following programs:

1. Google Classroom
2. Google Docs
3. Google Forms
4. Quizizz
5. Gimkit
6. Kahoot
7. Youtube
8. Brainpop
9. Zoom then Google Meet
10. IXL
11. Flocabulary
12. Google Slides
13. Flipgrid
14. NewsELA
15. CommonLit
16. Screencastify
17. Plus the tons of other things that I signed up for, tried out, then discarded.

I had the kids doing the equivalent of about 20 minutes of work a day–usually watching a 2-3 minute video, then answering some multiple choice questions. Then, as my co-teacher and I worked on creating new curriculum, we had the students work on specific reading and writing skills using IXL.

But the students complained that it was too much. And, frankly, it was too much for me, too. The actual grading wasn’t too bad, but switching back and forth between 17 different programs and Skedula, the school’s gradebook program, was taking a toll on my eyes.

I realized that, for the first time, students were honestly doing the exact amount of work they could do. They weren’t distracted by noise and misbehavior and millions of requests to go to the bathroom, and they weren’t trying to trick me into thinking they understood the work by getting answers from peers (while pretending that they were actually just misbehaving and talking about non-school related things), so I could more acutely  and understand what was really going on in the classroom. So I pulled back.

I realized that Project Based Learning (PBL, to those in the know) was now the way to go. Maybe it was always the way to go. But it seemed like this was the right time to help kids learn to pace themselves and to face their emotions in a way that would help them now and for the rest of their lives.

And then I found the online course that has changed my life: How to do PBL online.

It’s a free course!

More to come.

Middle School, How I Love Thee!

In September, I started working at a new, technologically focused middle school. I still co-teach US History and English, but now my students are younger.It’s only been about 1.5 months, but already, I’m in love with my new school. Mostly, I’m in love with teaching 8th grade. Wow. What a fun age! They look like teenagers (well, some of them do), but they are tiny like elementary school kids. Their emotions constantly change. One moment they are excited and happy, and the next moment they are depressed and inconsolable, and the moment after that they are angrily screaming at an ex-friend (from ten minutes before).

Here is what I’ve learned about them so far:

  1. They love structure. Love love love.
  2. At the same time, they generally have no idea how to create their own structure, so they must be constantly reminded to walk in, sit down, and take out their notebook.
  3. A sense of urgency is easy to create. A timer does wonders.
  4. They like to pretend they want to be treated as fully capable young men and women, but really they find that freedom frightening. They really want you to take ownership of your authority and tell them what to do without hesitation.
  5. They are so playful!
  6. They still really care if you call or email home. Even though many of them barely talk to their parents, they desperately want for their parents to love and admire all that they do.
  7. If you frequently contact parents, the parents will be grateful. 8th grade is such a hard time to understand your child. I’ve had some parents tell me that their 8th graders are like strangers living in the house.
  8. Oh my god, the socializing never ends.

I’m adoring every moment of it!

The Test of a First-Rate Intelligence…

Rachel Dolezal. She is puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, lined with an enigma. If you haven’t been keeping up with the whole saga of Rachel Dolezal, others have summarized it better than I could.

What’s been particularly interesting to me, however, isn’t so much her deception/delusion/possible mental illness, but that so many have used Dolezal as a stand-in, as a symbol of their ability to either reconcile or reject all sorts of other political and social belief systems.

This phenomena, of turning actual people into SYMBOLS, isn’t just limited to issues having to do with race and stereotyping.

As a teacher, I see it a lot. I have heard teachers say that they know that research has proven that Restorative Justice improves the morale of a student body, BUT they just feel that what “these kids” need is… more discipline, more boredom, more… something awful. Then they attempt to explain away their convictions, as if there is some logical connection between the two belief systems.

I’ve heard teachers say that parents don’t know how to consistently discipline their kids, and then talk about how they refuse to call home and tell parents when a student is misbehaving. Then I’ve heard teachers try to rationalize their refusal through convoluted reasoning.

In the world of Rachel Dolezal, I have lots and lots of friends trying to reconcile the fact that they feel Rachel Dolezal’s desires to change her outward identity are wrong, but Caitlyn Jenner’s actions are desires to change her outward identity are perfectly fine. They are twisting themselves into knots looking for just the right theory to unify these two different ideas.

I say, stop it. Why must your ideas and emotions be consistent at all times? We are not robots. Sometimes gut feelings are okay.

Here’s a favorite quote of mine from F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

In fact, it’s incredibly rare for people to be completely ethically consistent. See for yourself. Check out this fun little test: Philosophical Health Test.

I think it is perfectly okay to have a feeling about something, but still behave differently. If research says one thing, but you feel another thing, it’s okay for there to be dissonance as you do what has been proven to work. If you think Dolezal is out of line, but Caitlyn Jenner is not, it’s okay to not be able to come up with a logical reason why. Sometimes feelings really are enough.

It’s okay to feel things and not act on them, just as it’s okay to feel things and act on them. They are feelings. They do not have to line up with your morals. Nor do they have to line up with your actions.

The same way that a student can FEEL like they want to nap during class doesn’t mean that they need to act on that feeling.

It’s okay to live with a little cognitive dissonance.

How to Trickle Tech Into Your Tech-Resistant School

Every few years, there’s a new set of teaching must-haves that the powers that be say are effective for literacy, emotional health, numeracy, or critical thinking.

Nowadays, the new new thing is technology. And it’s no longer just about Powerpoint slides or showing clips of films to illuminate parts of books. Teachers (like myself) use computer programming, web searches, animations, game design, and even students’ smartphones to help strengthen student interest and deepen student learning.

As someone who has always been interested in technology, the search for ways to incorporate technology into the classroom comes naturally to me. I’m always looking for new tech tools to use in my own life, and from time to time, they trickle into my classes. I recognize that the world we live in is a media-focused world, and the more I can bring that world into my classroom, the more engaged students will be. More importantly, those students who don’t pass required tests will end the school year with some new technological knowledge they can use outside the school building.

But we all know some technophobes.

These are people who are perfectly comfortable using pen and paper to write notes and expect kids to do the same. These are folks who are not comfortable with technology themselves and so like to behave as if it doesn’t exist. These are folks who may be functioning just fine with a flip phone, so don’t even know what possibilities are out there.

These “tough sell” folks are the ones you need to convert first. Here’s how I did it:

1. Incorporate easy-to-use tools into basic school activities. Build them if you have to. Make it easy for others to use, even with no technical knowledge.

I teamed up with the school’s dean team to create a Google form that teachers could use to report misbehavior. I designed the form, showed the deans how to send the form out to everyone, and now our school’s digital discipline form is used schoolwide to report student misbehavior. It’s easy to use and decreases paper. Win win!

Here’s how to do it (text)

Here’s how to do it (video)

2. Use tech to solve problems at the school. Do it on your own at first as a pilot, then roll it out to allies. When the principal sees that you are doing good work, volunteer to turn-key training to the school.

I’m in the process of doing this with Remind. I work at a small high school in New York City. Because we don’t have regular assemblies, and announcements go out once per week on a one-page document, and I only teach the 11th grade, it can be difficult to share timely information with students and families I don’t see regularly.

I use Remind to stay in touch with students in my mullti-grade, after-school technology club and the yearbook club. I also use the app to announce information to students on the school yearbook and the school newspaper. It works. Students get my announcements sent directly to their phones. This solves the big problem of communication for an overscheduled teacher like myself.

Because it’s been so successful, I plan to recruit a few other teachers at my school to use it, as well. Start small, show success, then grow.

3. Use your understanding of tech to solve MONEY problems.

In a time of shrinking budgets, nothing speaks to a principal like saving money. I changed our yearbook company from the grandaddy of all yearbook companies, Jostens, to first Treering, and then Picaboo.

An article in Salon explains it better than I can:

Here’s how the traditional yearbook business works: When big yearbook providers sign up with a school, they ask the school to predict how many books it will need for the year. These estimates are due months before graduation. Because class sizes and demographics shift from year to year—and because some kids have stopped buying yearbooks altogether, thanks perhaps to Facebook—yearbook advisers don’t have much to go on when they’re making their guesses.

For schools and for parents, there are big costs to guessing wrong. If a school orders too few yearbooks, some kids who want a book will go without. That’s why schools tend to err on the side of guessing high—and then get stuck with unsold yearbooks, and a huge bill to the yearbook company. To cover costs of overprinting, some schools add an extra fee to the yearbooks—$10 or $20 per copy that you, the parent, must pay. Even so, lots of schools end up in hock to their yearbook providers.

Because of my background working with the printing industry, I was well-aware of the growing popularity of print-on-demand, which is cheaper and requires no estimating and overbuying of books. You buy what you need and ONLY what you need. My school went from regularly losing up to $2000 a year on yearbooks, to ending the year in the black, every year.

Note that I’m not talking about super high-tech stuff here. I’m not suggesting that you convince your school to buy a whole bunch of new technology. Instead, look for small, easy technologies that will solve problems at your school. Slowly, others will come around.


Manjoo, Farhad. “The School Yearbook Business Is a Scandal. Here’s How to Fix It.” Slate., 28 May 2013. Web. 31 May 2015. .