She’s spunky, she’s strong, and she knows who she is. She’s five. She will straight up tell you she’s a girl, but she likes looking like a boy. She will look you in the eye and correct you if you call her “dude,” or “buddy,” which happens very often, but she will also assert herself if you say “Hey, girl!” She still hurts and cries like everyone else when the kids at recess ask what she is. She hates both gendered labels. “I’m just Leanne,” she says. See, she won’t let herself be defined by anyone. And that’s all kids want to do– that’s all we as humans want to do– classify, define, and put people in a box so we know how to proceed.
When we say, “Oh, I don’t see race. I treat everyone the same,” we are forcing people into a box. Forcing them into a box we are comfortable with, not one they are comfortable with. We erase the things they bring to the table, erase the things that make them who they are, and replace them with the loud voice of our own experiences. Being forced into whiteness is not a privilege. I chose to include this post in my Learning While Brown series, although the focus is not exclusively about race. Leanne has been on my mind a lot. And like many students of color, she does not deserve to be put in a box.
Our classrooms must be places where every child is visible. Even as adults, we ache when part of ourselves are overlooked by others. We feel emptiness and experience difficulty in relationships without a strong sense of self as adults. The time is now for our students. We must create spaces where children are free from those confining boxes of identity. Our identities are fluid, and full of surprises. Where race is the domineering identity for some, role in the family may be for others. Gender, religion, skills and passions…there are so many labels that guide us through life. Despite best intentions, the identities of those we serve are not always visible– sometimes because they haven’t been uncovered, sometimes because we won’t let them be. Leanne demands visibility and continues to grow and change before my eyes, but not everyone’s identity is so obvious to them.
My goal is to create more room in the curriculum for the expression of identity throughout the year– not just in September. If this seems like a worthy goal to you, here are 10 months of activities to try with your class. Don’t forget– POST THEIR WORK EVERYWHERE. Constant. Visibility.
September: Identity through journaling
TechWithJen has some amazing posts about
interactive writing journals, where students respond
to your questions, and you write them back. Fellow #WATeachLead blogger Joanna Barnes loves using Google Docs for her students’ journals.
For the littles, an ABC About Me book might be a family project perfect to kick off September. Challenge: Do this
in class through the use of Google Slides like Christine Pinto.
October: Identity through art
Try an imperfect self-portrait from PK to Grade 12.
Picasso didn’t focus on realistic art, and neither should you!
Try this pop culture extension piece on your older kiddos.
November: Identity through math
Explore some fractions and identity words at the same time.
Bonus: Ask your students which of these identities they
would give up if they had to for discussion.
December: Identity with expository writing
Create a “Friend Wanted” ad campaign. After developing all
those critical identity words last month, iTeachThird
will shatter them all and get back to some human commonalities.
What do you look for in a friend, and what do you have to offer in return?
January: Identity with social studies
RookieParenting has a guide to create this awesome map of self.
Got the littles? It’s totally possible to adjust to a personalized street view. What would I see on Ms. Escalera Street? Probably a lot of Starbucks’, doggie bakeries, and office supply stores.
February: Identity through poetry.
The young ones can explore adjectives, while the older ones can follow a stricter template. Try a We Are From poem to get started.
FabulousInFifth, TipJunkie, and StepIntoSecondGrade have some great variations as well.
March: Identity through photography.
April: Identity through cultural exploration
Try mask making as a metaphor for the mask we all present to the world.
May: Identity through community
Gather those family pictures and post them with pride. Once a part of the family, always a part of the family.
June: Identity through science
Compare inherited traits from your family versus learned behaviors we build identity upon. Have a rich discussion about biases and stereotypes after.
We usually reserve getting to know you activities for September. Challenge the norm! Consistently convince your students that you care about who they are and who they are becoming. Keep them out of the box. Keep them visible.
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy