This is a Gay Story
by Read Karsell
If you haven’t had to come out, you likely don’t know how overwhelming and all-consuming it is. From early middle school when I began to realize I wasn’t interested in women, being gay was all I was thinking about. It's paranoia. Every second you talk, you worry you don’t sound straight enough.
I didn’t say gay throughout high school; yet, a day didn’t go by when it was not on my mind. Throughout my education, I had to insist I was straight whenever I was asked if I was gay (which began in forth grade when I didn’t even know what gay was). In high school:
I’d arrive home, struggling daily, because I had this secret I was keeping from my family. I knew they'd be accepting of me, but every day until my coming out was riddled with guilt because I felt I owed it to them. To combat this, I started setting goals:
What ended up forcing my hand was a combination of my mom asking me directly and my self-made rule that I wouldn’t come out to my dad by bringing a boy home--and I held myself to it.
And, one more thing: my experience is privileged.
My Story is a Success Story
I am privileged to have been born into a family that, for whatever reason, is accepting of me. Having met a lot of queer people after coming out, my story is a lesser known one--one of total acceptance. Most people don’t get that. Many have family they have yet to tell, and/or have family that doesn’t acknowledge them. The family of a person very close to me “accepts and loves them unconditionally, will never accept that part of them.”
So, to sit and write this, know my story is true, but I share it sitting unscathed in the rose garden while so many in my community are being pricked by thorns.
My Character Helps Students Sketch their Own Character
I am was not the first closeted kid in that high school and I won’t be the last. This is and will always be true about every school in every town across every state in the U.S. no matter the laws that are in place. Every day I get to be the teacher I never had: the openly gay teacher
When I told my students I am gay at the start of the school year, I promise you, not one student was fazed. Each class had multiple faces light up, each class had one or two students who gasped with happiness, and one class had two students who exhaled a “YESSSSSSSS” and then turned to high fived each other.
In the immediate days following, those students talked to me more, they brought their significant others to class and hugged or kissed goodbye at my door, and they all showed a relaxedness in the space we had created. It confirmed to me that there are students who are looking for queer educators and it makes a difference to have them.
Help Students Draft Authentic Stories
No matter who you are as an educator, there are ways to support LGBTQIA+ students.
Support Character Interaction
Start by going to GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) meetings.
This was a hurdle for me because I had actively avoided my own high school’s GSA (out of fear of being seen there and being outed), so doing so as an adult in the school I teach was still strangely difficult for me. I found it’s because I still have to come out to myself in different daily moments. The cause of that: internalized homophobia mashed with toxic masculinity. A horrendous cocktail that has a hold over the gay community and could be a doctoral thesis in and of itself.
My first GSA meeting was magical. It is a group of students in many different stages of their journey--some already aware of their sexuality and/or gender, some still trying to figure it out, and some trying to have a place where they can live as their true self for an hour a week.
This group of students--so special and unique--are the students you see in the halls every day, the students you have in the front seat of your class, and the students who just need an adult to say, I see you. I hear you. I am here for you.
Having attended regularly, I have been able to make connections with students who now stop by my room to check in with me. I can share my lived experiences with them, and they teach me about their lives and what they are discovering as they go along--so impressive and so empowering.
A GSA meeting from just a few weeks ago brings me to my next “here’s what you can do” point. A speaker came at one point and talked about a “Day of Silence'' as a day that the GSA could host at school. They explained it could be one of two things: (1) a day of silence for participating students to not talk as an act of solidarity with LGBTQIA+ people who live in silence everyday about who they are, or (2) a day to celebrate not being silent anymore and getting the word out through conversation and advocacy.
It was when the presenter referenced “people living in silence everyday about who they are and out of fear for their safety” that the student sitting next to me, a student I have in class, mumbled, “Relatable. That’s me everyday. Living in silence.”
Hearing that from my student, I was shocked; yet, not all. Living in silence wasn’t a new concept to my personal life, but it hurt that the student I teach everyday felt the need to be silent.
Add Some Dialogue
This student is in one of your classes too. You’ve walked by them in the hall many times, you teach their best friend currently, you’ve smiled at them as you chat with another teacher in their room. They are there: silent.
Consider writing a note.
I wrote that student a note the next morning. And it simply said,
Student, I heard what you said yesterday during GSA and I want you to know that I see you. I hear you. And when you do talk, know that I am listening and you are heard. When you’re ready and if you need, you can always talk to me or I can help you connect with someone you feel comfortable talking with.
Super simple. No pressure. But assuring. Then, at the end of class, in a tone and confidence that I never saw coming, the student came to me and assured me that if they ever needed, they would talk to me. Then I walked out just as casually as I had dropped the folded note on their desk at the start of class.
You can do that too! You don’t have to be queer or attend GSA, but you do have to listen. You have to pay attention to your students, and you’ll be able to find what to say. You also have to say gay--because gay ain’t going away.
Word Choice Matters
I want to touch on the other side of “Don’t say Gay”--straight isn’t going away either, and neither is being cisgender. The idea of “Don’t say Gay” enrages me because wedding rings won’t leave the ring fingers of all the people in man/woman relationships. The family photos won’t be taken off desks. The stories of my husband/wife, kids, and I went to the water park last weekend won’t go away. The straight and cisgender world will continue.
Meanwhile “Don’t say Gay,” as it is solely meant to, will eliminate a school community where students who aren’t checking the straight and cisgender, 1950’s expectations can be seen and heard.
Please, do say gay. Please, say they/them. Please, say Tanner even though the student roster says their name is Emma. Please, talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and how to get through the rough patches. Please, talk about sex instead of pretending abstenance works. Please, do say gay.
"Don't Say Gay" is a Fictional Tale
The “Don’t say Gay” bill is, at its core, impossible.
Even though it was hard to get the word out of my mouth, it was in my head every second of every day, from my bus rides home to conversations during math class. And, it’s on repeat in the minds of students today too.
Let’s acknowledge these silenced students, and the students who have made their voice heard too:
And, if none of this sits well with you, start with reading a book or watching a movie/tv show about the LGBTQIA+ experience: acquaint yourself with what your students are going through currently. If you’re feeling ready to take bigger steps forward, hang up a pride sign on your door and put an “I accept and support all” paragraph in your syllabi, write that student a note when you hear they need it, go attend a GSA meeting or start your own club.
And, of course, make sure to use the word gay.
ideas by Tan Huynh and Katie Miller, compiled by Third Eye Education
In our recent podcast interview with Tan Huynh and local Minnesota expert on Multilingual Learners, Katie Miller, our conversation quickly cut to the core of education.
Throughout the conversation, Huynh and Miller share some strategies and resources that help them access that educational core quickly and effectively. Their ideas tended to fall into two categories: (1) leveraging what motivates and engages students and (2) modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner.
They come to school for each other
Huynh shares a realization he had early on in his instruction: students “do not come to school for you, they come to school for each other. So why don’t we use that as the framework for instruction?”
This takeaway inspired a sharing of ideas: a few favorite strategies and resources from Miller and Huynh that help all students, multilingual learners as well as all classroom learners. They both agree that by upping the amount of talk in our classrooms, and by teaching students structures and protocols for quality conversations, we give them a greater access to success.
Talk - Read - Talk - Write
A strategy coined by Nancy Motley, Huynh shares a favorite tool of his: the Talk-Read-Talk-Write protocal.
Learn about this tool here:
"Question, Signal, Stem, Share, Assess" was another tool shared by Huynh. This stratgy might be used in this way:
Katie Miller, along with the Third Eye Education podcasts hosts, share a love of visuals for enhancing understanding. Pairing words with pictures is a simple way to increase comprehension and language acquisition.
For each of these three strategies, students “can do this in their heritage community language too,” Huynh points out.
Learn beyond what you were taught
In our conversation, Huynh also highlights the importance of being continuous learners: we must set aside outdated practices to “Learn beyond what you were taught.”
A few resources Miller and Huynh shared, which may help you push outside of what you areadly know, are:
The book Cultivating Genious: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad is a resource Miller loves, and Huynh just interviewed Muhammad on his podcast last month. Find out more here:
Carol Salva's work was brought up by Huynh: specifically her book Boosting Achievement. Dig into Salva's resources here:
For more strategies and resources from Huynh and Miller, considering exploring some more of their works.
“When teachers approach students with a Can-do mindset, everything is possible.” 〰 Tan Huynh
by Heather M. F. Lyke
— first published in October 2016 by RPS Secondary Curriculum & Instruction | updated in February 2022 —
As we help students develop skills that will suit them well in the world beyond our classrooms, many of us find ourselves moving to more and more partner work, group tasks, and full class discussions and debates. This is especially true as we return to in-person learning now that we're finishing the second year of the pandemic: more and more we set aside the technology we depended on in recent years--embracing opportunities to have students discuss face to face.
Discussion opportunities help our students develop collaboration skills and illustrate teamwork, develop communication skills and think critically—all skills which today’s students need to thrive in the 21st century workforce that awaits them in their not-to-distant futures.
The struggle, however, is in ensuring that all students still walk away with deep levels of understanding. Far too often in partnerships, in small groups, and in full-class activities only a few students are actively engaged--some students choose passivity. When this happens, does it mean only those few students who participate walk away with the learning? It can, so it becomes our jobs as teachers to ensure all students engage in the learning we offer them.
As we return to more collaborative and in-person learning environments, here are some strategies to help ensure all learners are still learning at high levels
For Groups of 2-3
1. Partners A & B
What to do:
Why this Works:
This ensures that there are equal voices, encouraging shy students to speak up while preventing naturally talkative students from taking over. It also teaches students balance, which is not a skill that many students develop naturally.
What to Do:
Why this Works:
Just like with Partners A & B, Triads ensures balanced voices and balanced participation within a small group; the addition of a third student, however, allows for more versatility and creativity within the structure of the activity. Additionally, the ‘additive’ element in almost all variations of Triads forces students to see and to work with how other students think. Often, there are multiple routes to the same answer, or various correct answers, and should ‘student 1’ opt to take a route different than what ‘2’/‘3’ were expecting, then the thinking of ‘student 1’ must broaden and thereby deeper learning will occur.
For Groups of 4-6
3. Numbered Heads
What to Do:
Why this Works:
When students are assigned to work in groups, particularity groups larger than four or more, it’s common to assign roles. Where roles certainly have their merit, they can also backfire. When one student is assigned to be “recorder” others in that group might hear, I guess I don’t have to write any of this down, and thereby may disengage. Likewise, when one student is assigned to be a “reporter” others may hear, I guess I don’t need to really know this if I won’t have to share out later—again, potentially encouraging some disengagement. However, when students know you use Numbered Heads to determine whose work is turned in and/or who shares out, then all must stay engaged for the entire activity.
For Whole Class Discussions
4. Random Selection
What to Do:
Why this Works:
When facilitating a whole group discussion, students who blurt answers aloud or constantly raise their hands tend to take over, giving other students perceived permission to tune out and disengage. However, establishing that all students will be called on at some point encourages students to stay engaged throughout. This strategy ensures that both shy students and students who prefer to be passive learners stay more active in their learning.
5. Chip Toss
What to Do:
Why it Works:
Again, as was noted with Random Selection, large group discussions tend to foster environments where some students naturally dominate, either pushing quieter students aside or giving students who wish to disengage permission to do so. However, a strategy like this helps combat that by making students aware of the discussion's balance—helping those likely to over-contribute keep themselves in check while simultaneously motivating those likely to under-contribute to add their voices into the conversation.
If you are looking for more ideas on increasing student voice and engagement, or would like to dig deeper into the value of such strategies, consider starting with these four resources:
Learning from Our Students
by Jean Prokott
The sophomores have spent December writing creative nonfiction, short vignettes that allow them to rummage around for the metaphors hiding in their lives. I’ve been teaching personal essay for the last decade, so I often predict the topics students will choose (failing a test, church mission trip, sports injury) and the symbols they will find (butterflies, water, clouds) and preemptively direct them away from those clichés. The best part is to tell them what not to write. They have to keep rummaging.
Every once in a while, a kid finds a perfect peach of a topic and writes about it in a way that unties me. I want to share with you the story of “nonnie” so you see what I mean.*
That comma splice in the last line alone.
That structure with time, to start and end with death, to bring nonnie to life in the middle.
Her metaphor is one we all know. There's a defining moment in our lives when we learn about death. nonnie represents the literal of this coming-of-age, but also her struggle up the hill represents how my student felt when she lost nonnie.
It was a gift to read this piece. I wrote tomes of feedback in purple pen—mostly stars and wut and this is powerful over and over to the point where she probably thought I’d been living as a recluse for the last decade with only episodes of trash TV to keep me company. (Although to be fair, I think I just described last year and most of this one.)
One would have to be a callous car crash of a person if they didn’t feel their heart explode when they learned about nonnie’s fate and the effect she'd had on my student, and the day I read this, the time of year I read this, that this had been the 80th out of 95 essays I’d read—nonnie’s story was literally the saddest thing I’d ever heard in my whole sad life and I would spend the rest of my days mourning nonnie and my student’s loss.
After I read about nonnie, I had a flashback to an experience I’d had on my grandparents’ dairy farm and a cow named Flopsy, who’d been born with a messed-up leg. The end of that story is predictable: while eating hamburgers one evening, my father brought it up.
That wasn’t the impetus of my response, however.
Because it is quite clear we are all nonnie.
Her tragedy was that she’d wanted to climb a hill. There are so many hills this year. nonnie drowned “all because she faced an incline and couldn't get up. Such a simple action.” nonnie had spent her life free and sassy and getting under fences. She “liked potatoes.” I like potatoes, too, I’d thought. I like potatoes, too.
Since the assignment was not one short scene, but three, when I conferenced with my student this week, I reviewed more rough drafts. One was about a horse named Iago (and I’m sorry, but find a more perfect name for a horse). An excerpt:
Is Iago still alive? I asked. Yes, Ms. Prokott, Iago is still alive.
The third scene was about a chicken.
I read this, I looked up, I said: Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to kill me?
What also kills me is how humble she is. I think I might spend the rest of the year convincing her that, yes, it is that good. I know I will spend the next decade using her essay as a model for the assignment. And I just now realize this random IKEA print of a cow I have hanging in my classroom will never look the same.
My reaction to this powerful piece was not only reader-response, of course—this student has mastered empathy and control of language and voice and happy accidents and every possible technique to make me react the way I did. But I don’t want to talk about how she got there, don’t care to list which activities we did in the classroom, don’t want to get my nails dirty in pedagogy. This was all her. I simply want to share this victory. Her victory to write such a heart wrenching piece, to have the maturity to revisit grief and make it beautiful.
While we’re all nonnies this year, struggling up the hill (and praying we don’t meet her fate) maybe we can also be my student. It’s been a year of loss, so let’s talk about it. Maybe find the metaphors. Learn from our students.
And the next time you have a glass of milk, please pour one out for nonnie.
* The student has given me permission to share.
The Gift of Reading
by Heather M. F. Lyke
We all know reading is important. I mean, just take a look at this infographic (aka: my attempt to summarize all the layers of importance).
Since reading is such an essential skill, it’s not surprising that the questions I receive most in my role as Teaching and Learning Director for Dover-Eyota schools revolve around reading.
Simply put, there is a lot of passion out there for helping our youth become strong readers.
Plus, ‘tis the season of holiday sales, gift giving, vacation days, and new year’s resolutions…
Combine these truths, and this becomes a perfect time for finding and sharing books, for having extra time to enjoy literature, and for setting new reading goals.
So, what can we do to support young readers and to foster within them a desire to read that lasts a lifetime?
Here are three sets of ideas:
Model It --
Read aloud to your child.
According to Scholastic (2019), a powerful predictor of kids’ reading frequency is having a parent [or other adult] who personally reads aloud to/with the child 5-7 days a week. Commonly, this is something we do with younger children, but recent studies have shown that even middle-school-aged youth love to be read to.
Read around your child.
Show the children in your life that you, too, are a reader. “Children who see adults reading and enjoying it,” according to Pearson Education (2021), “are much more likely to want to read themselves.” Maria Russo and Pamela Paul, authors of How to Raise a Reader, note that “when I’m sitting there on my couch, reading a book, and my kids are doing their own thing, I like to think, I’m parenting right now—they can see me reading this book”—conversely, if “right after dinner, the first thing you do is scroll through your phone, open up your laptop, or watch TV, kids are likely to take note.”
Listen to audiobooks together.
Audiobooks support literacy skills in ways that physical books sometimes can’t. The web resource Reading Rockets (2003) shares that audiobooks model strong interpretive reading, make difficult vocabulary words or dialects more accessible, and enhance listening skills among other things.
Tip: there are a lot of ways to access free audiobooks. Visit the website LibriVox or try the app Libby (you just need a public library card!).
Remove Barriers --
Keep literature in reach.
Pearson Education (2021) shares a few tips: at home, have books on accessible shelves and coffee tables; when traveling, toss a few books in the car or suitcase; and when headed to an appointment, have a book at the ready should there be time spent in the waiting room. Personally, I’m currently reading 4 books: an audiobook, a bedside-table book, a living-room book, and one waiting-in-line book (which I actually access electronically on my phone).
Embrace whatever text they choose.
From nonfiction to fiction, from poetry to graphic novels, from magazines to thick novels, from comic strips to junk-mail…anything with text is an opportunity to build vocabulary, to increase interest, and grow reading stamina. Additionally, each genre has its own unique trends when it comes to plot structures, character development, and literary techniques: reading widely exposes one to all the trends, making it easier to navigate future works of the same genre.
Look past levels.
Once a reader is able to decode basic words, according to the School Library Journal (2020), which is typically around first grade, students should be encouraged to “read a wide range of texts…they should read easy books to things that kick their butt. The variation of difficulty does matter.” Simpler texts can build fluency, enjoyment, and stamina; while a text outside of one’s comfort level can introduce a reader to new vocabulary and increase understanding of what skills they’ve yet to master.
Encourage Interests --
Reading teachers and authors Karen Szymusiak and Franki Sibberson (2007) share the tip that adults should “…talk about the books they [the students] are reading” by having conversations rooted in “open-ended questions they can use in discussing their reading.” They suggest questions that fit each of three layers:
Leverage hook books.
Reading a book series, going on author binges, rereading a favorite book—these sometimes get bad reps. Yet, they are integral to creating lifelong readers. Author Devon Corneal shared on Read Brightly (2021) that rereading helps learners develop strong word recognition, notice patterns, enhance fluency, strengthen comprehension, and foster confidence. Similarly, a reader who is hooked on a series deepens their connections with characters, increases comprehension, spends more time reading, and quickens the process of finding what book to read next, according to Edutopia (2016): likewise, reading multiple books by the same author can have similar impacts.
Celebrate books and reading.
Make literacy a reward. Make going to the library, visiting the bookmobile, or browsing at a bookstore a regular and joyful event. Combine reading with what your learner enjoys. For me, that was lunch with my father at Wong’s in downtown Rochester after spending a summer morning with my mom at the library. For my third-grade niece and nephew, it’s being allowed time to read uninterrupted in their small, end-of-bunkbed nooks they created with their father last year—simple plywood nests filled with blankets, pillows, and a few favorite reads. Lifelong reading is fostered by the memories of contentment we nurture now.
If you ever want to dig more deeply into reading, I’d love to connect! Until then, I hope you and the youth in your life find a great piece of literature to cuddle up with and enjoy this holiday season.
by Julie Brock
Shrouded in blame and punishment, accountability has been twisted into a punitive action versus the rich conversation it actually is intended to spur. To account is to reconcile, balance, see the full picture so future decisions are better informed.
In his Fast Company article, Four Ways You’re Getting Accountability Wrong, Mark Lukens explains why a culture of accountability is vital to the success of any organization. The principles Luken presents ask leaders to:
“Whether you’re looking to fix a problem or to replicate a success, don’t act until you’ve understood why you got the results you did,” says Lukens.
Depending on how many classes of students move through a classroom in a day, it is possible to have three to six ‘micro-organizations’ that look to an educator as the ‘CEO’ responsible for setting the tone and expectations of their collective work.
How, then, do we function as a leader cultivating a collective culture of accountability as well as one of individual progress?
Mark Friedman, author of Trying Hard isn’t Good Enough, created a data framework that helps communities work toward big, shared goals. The crux of his argument is that no one organization can own the results of an entire community. It takes many organizations contributing to get sustainable solutions. Within each contributing organization are departments or programs that contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization. For example, a large school district may think that they do own the graduation rate for their community, but they do not—they do not have every student who lives in their boundaries attending their school, so they share that result with other education settings.
Each educational setting can contribute to the overall graduation rate; yet, it does not have to look exactly the same. It is why school choice exists. Imagine each of those settings creating a culture of accountability in which students understand the systems serving them and also understand their role within the overall culture. It creates collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
The conversation that data inspires what leads to actionable change. Our educational systems are limping along. The last blow of COVID damaged our barge and we cannot bail the water out faster than it is coming in . And it is all levels. No educational setting is immune. We are a fleet of zero—grad school education settings taking on water and pivoting to figure out if the bucket brigade will work from a different angle.
That’s the thing with pivoting. I think about basketball. Once that pivot foot is set, it cannot move before a dribble. Players are stuck in one place until a pass or a path opens up for them to move. It is stationary, but all the while we keep spinning…thinking something will change.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, I ask…
The state of education can be overwhelming, stifling, and feel futile. But a classroom’s contribution matters. A department’s contribution matters. A building’s contribution matters. An afterschool program’s contribution matters. They matter when we hold ourselves accountable to a shared result. Students want to learn. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student survey, 97.8% of Olmsted County 9th graders (current 11th graders) said “if something interests me, I’ll learn more about it.” In that same survey, 99.2% of 11th graders said they will learn more about something that interests them.
Maybe we need to co-design around standards with students. Ask them how they want to learn the standards, what will resonate, and what will ultimately spur them to learn more within the content area . Results Based Accountability™ (RBA), Friedman’s framework, asks for a community of people to solve community problems together. It isn’t a framework that leaves people behind. If we adopt this framework within communities, new partnerships start to blossom. Youth who move between organizations are more likely to be supported when there is a framework holding us together around the success of youth. Pair RBA and the co-design process with students, and now we have created partnership, collaboration, and ownership for youth over their own education, potentially fueling that 97-99% curiosity students reported in 2019.
The nice thing about RBA is that we can start right now, today, using it in classrooms. We don’t have to wait for the community to get on board: it can start a ripple effect. In fact, we may already live in a community that is using RBA to effect systemic change. Strive Together is a national nonprofit that has seventy communities across the nation doing this kind of work. If you live in Minnesota, there are seven cradle-to-career communities and two promise neighborhoods working for systemic change.
Accountability isn’t about shame and blame. It has to be reclaimed and untwisted from its negative connotation to create space for creativity, for innovation, and a way to get those on the shore to help get those on the sinking barge off and together—find our way into the next wave of education.
Interested in learning more about RBA and using it in your classroom / department / building / feeder system / district? Let me know and we’ll collaborate!
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.