Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When we give our students "real things" to do.

Our students are impressive.

Yes, that's right.  Our Philadelphia Public School students are incredibly impressive.  And talented.  And engaged.  And inspiring.

When we allow them the space to show what they really are capable of doing.

This month, my drama students at the Bodine High School for International Affairs were pushed to prove their maturity, talent, and artistic commitment, by working with professional NYC-based filmmaker, M. Asli Dukan to capture their monologue performances on camera.

 From the minute they entered the auditorium, these sophomore, junior, and senior students experienced an actual shoot -- going through the process of blocking their pieces for the camera, supporting each other to fully embody their characters, quieting-on-the-set, and rising to the challenge of pushing through their nerves and performing to the best of their abilities.

These are the types of experiences our students need more of -- as they serve as moments for young people to find their voice, feel proud of what they are able to accomplish, and develop the substantive self-esteem that keeps all teenagers on a path toward making healthy decisions to advance themselves.

These are the very reasons that the arts should never be cut from our schools.

I hope you enjoy my students' work.

Sydney - Dramatic piece about a formerly-enslaved woman whose babies were stolen from her.

Thalia - Dramatic piece about a woman who lost family members in the September 11th plane crashes. 

Ameerah -- Comedic piece about a young woman breaking up with her basketball playing boyfriend. 

Shakirah -- Dramatic piece spoken by the Joker from Batman: The Dark Knight. 

Santi -- Dramatic piece from the mother's perspective in the movie Precious. 

Freddy -- Dramatic piece from Of Mice and Men. 

Brianne -- Comedic piece about inter-galactic space travel and imperialism. 

Ana -- Comedic piece about a woman considering giving up chocolate. 

Nadirah -- Comedic/dramatic piece about a young woman breaking up with her partner. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Keynote Address for the Philadelphia Writing Project

Last month, I was given the incredible opportunity to give the Keynote Address and Lunchtime Seminar at the Philadelphia Writing Project's Annual Celebration of Writing and Literacy. I was able to speak to over a hundred of my peers and colleagues about reframing our role as teachers and committing ourselves to the types of collective action that our students, schools and sprits demand.

Below is the visual presentation from my talk on how teachers must work to defend and transform public education.

The thesis of my talk was that in this current moment in public education, where our schools & profession AND our students & communities are under attack by a corporate, neoliberal privatization agenda, we as teachers must rethink how we construct our classroom practices, model participatory citizenship in our jobs and in our lives, and engage in building up the network for teacher collective action to defend and transform public education.

I argued that we need to get very clear about the kind of world we want to live in, and therefore, become focused on the kind of world we are teaching toward.  And then we need to all play to our strengths, push forward the areas of work that most suit our talents, and make sure we are constantly networked alongside other teachers with a shared transformational vision.

Nothing short of this type of strategic and emergent collective action will be able to build the focused power we need to stop the assault on our students, schools and city.

Further, we undoubtedly must move beyond the "No!" of oppositional politics, and reclaim, reinvigorate and reorient our schools toward becoming sites where students practice the skills and strategies they'll need to solve the problems of the world they're inheriting.  To do this, teachers will have to engage in a deliberate personal and professional transformation of our own self-concept of what it means to be a teacher.

This work is already happening, and, in Philadelphia, the Teacher Action Group (TAG) is a major hub.

In this moment plagued by structural collapse, I am inspired, strengthened, and motivated to continue improving as a teacher and as an agent of change because of the collective action we're carving out as networked teachers within TAG.

I hope that others will join up and collectively move our city forward.