Archive for Culture

Great Summer Reading Makes Great Autumn Teaching

This was our FAVORITE book of the summer!

Great Summer Reading Makes Great Autumn Teaching

September 4, 2015  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  No Comments

This summer we decided to have our own private book club. Just the two of us. (You know, to do that summer romance people talk about. All of you bookworm nerd-cult educators know this is exactly how you bond with a partner when you’re both feeling overworked.) As parents of two toddlers, whatever we choose to spend valuable time reading has to be incredibly compelling and captivating if it’s going to be chosen over sleep – which is why we argue that reading relevancy is just as important for adults as it is for our students (especially those who are as stressed and under slept as new parents).

So, we found ourselves something super-spicy to read.

Cornelius has been a comic book reader since childhood. His first “big boy” bed was a Spider-Man bed, and to this day, Marvel’s Black Panther graces at least five of his t-shirts. If he could teach any middle schooler, Miles Morales, the new, Ultimate Spider-Man, would surely be his top pick. For me, my big brother welcomed me to comic book culture early on. The 1992 X-Men cartoon captivated us. I had an affinity for Gambit and felt kinship with Rogue. We sought Comic Book stores like most children seek ice cream trucks in July.

When I began teaching, I was too lost in the heaviness of teaching to grapple with comics and kids and graphic novels and reading.

Though I should not have been.

Many kids I’ve taught and currently teach have a primary visual intelligence. They can extract many context clues from a picture. My students learning English get to see concrete visual representations of the words they are acquiring. And my kids who are simply bored with books get a refreshing alternative. The Graphic Novel medium addresses all those issues, but it does not do so automatically. We still have to teach, and kids still have to read.

Cornelius has a few go-to strategies that he employs in lessons, small groups or conferences:

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So, when we were searching for our “summer romance” book, we hit Kinokuniya Book Store (New Yorkers, if you haven’t been there GO!). I came across a graphic novel that almost shouted at me from the bookshelf: Saga (Saga is NOT a kid book. It’s grown folks literature.).  An interracial, extraterrestrial couple with a small, bi-racial baby nursing at her mother’s breast. For a tired, at the moment, disengaged reader, I wanted to EAT this book. I showed Cornelius, and he responded, “oh yes! I’ve been wanting to read that!”

We bring the book home. I was finished in one hour. I researched the author, Brian K. Vaughan. He is a new parent. Of course. I researched the illustrator, Fiona Staples. She is a woman in an industry where few get the same opportunities as their male counterparts. I smiled, and this yielded three take-aways for my teaching of reading:

  1. People want to read books that have people like them in the front and center of the story.
  2. People want to read books by authors that know about their life experience.
  3. People want to read books with pictures.

Might I add: Graphic novels do not sell a story short: The Saga storyline involves an inter and intra planetary civil war, sexuality issues, gender issues – all told through the voice of a child. Lots of pictures does not mean less text complexity.

To kick of the year people, let’s do this! When stocking your classroom, do not forget books with pictures, compelling stories, varied people, and diverse experiences.

The Power of Love In, Outside, and All Around the Classroom

April 8, 2015  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  1 Comment

A KM Post

Back in the day, circa 2006, Cornelius and I were a different kind of duo.   We taught at a school that was lovingly referred to as “Global”; something we both loved before we knew we loved each other.  Global was enigmatic: the community was tight, yet the school was struggling. The teachers were bright; the kids were worldly.  The vibe of the school was tough, but tough with heart and it escalated us to a point where we wanted to teach and be taught.  If there was ever a language of love it was the one there-exchanged between teachers and students.  Eventually, that language transferred over into loving each other.

A few years ago, our partnership moved beyond students and towards our own children, Indira and Soleil.  We quickly found out that teaching and loving other people’s kids is real, but teaching and loving your own kids, well, that’s the realest. It took us a long time to realize that toddlers and teenagers have similar reasoning skills, but it took us no time to understand that building self-love trumps any kind of neurological gains. We didn’t really have any experience to fall back on, no team except for one another. It’s hard to exercise your commitment to your community when one is slowly building within your own home.  


The Minor Community: Cornelius, Kass, Soleil, and Indi. April 6, 2015, Brooklyn, NY


At school, both Cornelius and I are firm believers that Community is everything, and the primary way we build that community is through texts, mainly read aloud. Much of what we practice as educators at school, we practice at home-especially when it comes to our literary lives.  After a recent family trip to the bookstore, we all celebrated our loot-Fader, Ebony, Marie Claire, Happy Birthday, Princess!…. We talk about what we read with candor.  And I kid you not when I tell you this…but Disney Princess took the cake in our family’s literary discussion: Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine, and Tiana are all featured.  All the White Princesses get two pages, and both Brown Princesses? One page.  You make think that’s nothing.  But really, for a Brown child, it’s everything: absence of the self from a text  becomes the catalyst for erasure from society.


Happy Birthday, Princess! Just another text that puts People of Color on the Margins.

Happy Birthday, Princess! Just another text that puts People of Color on the Margins.

And now that Social Justice Covenant that at one time was a school thing, our teaching thing is now our Life Thing.  When your own children are subjected to an Apartheid school system, a system that has been pedogogically mutilated into a monetary venture for a few bored millionaires at the expense of not just kids you care about, but at the expense of your own children, it becomes a more visceral battle.   There is no compartmentalization of our lives any longer.  Being a parent and an educator is not all that different, and this realization has made us all the more confident in rebuilding our Activist Selves.

Part of that has started by approaching social justice as we used to: by using the language of love in the classroom.  Recently, Cornelius and I went on a date to “Being Bad”-Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline with Crystal Laura and Billy Ayers, an event sponsored by Teachers College.  I was thrilled to hear these educators talk-Crystal Laura, author of Being Bad, sets forth the ideal that if Educators invoke a message of love, joy, and justice in their classrooms, they will most definitely disrupt the process where large majorities of Black and Brown kids are marginalized both in and outside the classroom, specifically, helped along to prison.  When the biggest thing you can do as an activist gets put into the framework of love, it feels a whole lot more doable than fighting the Juggernauts that Be, i.e. The Test, or Tisch, or Cuomo, or Charters.

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Crystal Laura’s take on how Black and Brown children are helped along to the Prison Pipeline directly from school.


When Crystal Laura and the Minors talk about using love as a catalyst for empowerment or change in the classroom, we’re not talking about that sentimental feelin’ fine kind of love.  Laura shapes her semantics by fusing definitions set forth by Bell hooks and Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Love is the ability to alter and enhance someone else’s existence.” We Minors agree with her-Love must move from noun-state to verb-hood in the classroom; it’s like praying on your feet.

What does that look like? For starters, it’s not by providing Race and Society articles to kiddos in your classroom or talking about Mike Brown everyday.  It’s about being subtle, gentle, empowering.  It’s about getting your kids to love themselves and to be comfortable with who they are.  Getting them to love learning.  To not hate school.  To not hate their teachers.  Helping them build positive relationships within their communities.  Exposing them to things that would otherwise be outside their world.  Connecting them with opportunities.  Enjoying who they are.  Having fun with them.  Introducing them to real people who have cool jobs. Letting them see a little piece of who you are outside your teacher self.

Yeah, that’s a lot.  But that’s exactly what love is: a lot. But we can pick a few, and try to make them happen.


What to teach when reading is hard...

Read a book. (Image from Ali C Photography -

What to teach when reading is hard…

December 10, 2014  |  Culture, Teaching  |  No Comments

My colleagues Carla, Natalie, Shveta, and I are leading this institute right now.

I’m a lucky guy. I get to spend three days with a fantastic team and some of the country’s most dedicated teachers making possibility out of what can feel heavy and impossible sometimes. My job is to help districts and schools turn kids into passionate readers and writers. What this really means is I get to learn about the different cities, villages, and communities that I serve, so that I can help their young people to discover the things that inspire them to read and write.

Many of you have followed my journey these last few years. My work has taken me to schools all over the world, and I am continually shocked by the rampant structural inequity that exists within and among schools. This has been well documented — even in my own city.

We all know how this plays out. When whole communities, entire schools, or groups of teachers don’t get what they need, students suffer. Minorities, poor students, and students with disabilities do so disproportionally.

These challenges have persisted for generations. What I love about our profession is that teachers are always take the lead in the fight to overcome these challenges. As people ask, “What next?” teachers don’t answer with words. They answer with deeds. They gather their students and teach. We know that there are no easy answers. We also know that progress begins with us — great teaching, resource sharing, community building… We know that science, math, art, and history are the heart of this progress. All of those things need a foundation of strong literacy.

How do we deliver all of this to populations of students who need tremendous inspiration and support?

This week, we get to think all of this. More importantly we get to act on it.

Here are some of the resources that will assist us in that work.