By Megan Motley
Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month!
As an ELA teacher, I always felt obligated and hesitant to teach poetry. Where to begin? Iambic pentameter? Sonnets? Enjambment? Emily Dickinson wandering around in a white dress?! Ultimately, I found that sharing poetry that I liked and giving students space to find poems that they enjoyed in units throughout the year was enough. I didn’t need to provide hours of direct instruction to prepare them for poetry: students are smart, and they appreciate lyrics, rhythm, and lovely phrases. I also found that some students were already reading poetry on their own thanks to Instapoets like Rupi Kaur.
Not only did my classes appreciate reading poetry, I found that many students enjoyed writing poetry. Students loved creating “found poems” from a chapter of a novel that we were reading, and I loved that it was a sneaky and scaffolded way for all students to reread, examine language, and explore themes regardless of their reading level.
While there are only a few days left of National Poetry Month, it is worth prioritizing space in our own lives and our classrooms to simply read and appreciate poetry regardless of grade level or content. After all, as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” Let’s continue to grow and refine our quality of light.
To celebrate spring’s return of songbirds and the last few days of National Poetry Month, here’s one that I keep coming back to by Mary Oliver.
What Gorgeous Thing
I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
By Jamie Grimm
Sex ed. It's a popular topic in our society with strong opinions on what, where, and when it should be taught to young people. Most of the voices in these conversations are from adults. Rarely do we hear from the population that is most impacted by the decisions we make. In the fall of 2021, we decided to change this problem and develop a class for high school students to help us revise their sexual health education curriculum. This post will share the successes and challenges of utilizing students to help lead the work of revising curriculum at a district level.
With the help of counselors, SELS, schedulers, and science teachers, we recruited thirteen students from five high schools to participate in the Healthy Decision Making Leadership course. The course was run through Jeffco Virtual Academy as a .5 Leadership elective. Students met every other week in the evening with the Health Science Coordinator (the subsequent author of the unit), and Jaime Brenner, a social and emotional learning specialist from Alameda International Jr/Sr High School. The students had work outside of class that they had to complete each week as well.
Representation of student voices is incredibly meaningful. However, in order for students to have an impactful presence, they first needed to understand that curriculum is developed through the use of state standards, and in our case, state law. Having this background information and understanding helped students to better create validity to their revision suggestions.
Once students had a better understanding of what needed to be taught within sexual health education, their next hurdle was to develop student-centered activities to address the content. Through the use of student and teacher surveys, focus groups, and their own lived experiences, the students created and or revised existing activities that were relevant to their lives. Each of the ten lessons within the curriculum has a student-centered activity that was either created or revised by the students. This was the major focus of the course and took the most amount of time.
As most can imagine, bringing together students from different high schools, backgrounds, and experiences to revise a sexual health education curriculum can be, initially, really awkward! During the first couple of group meetings there was a lot of silence from the students and probing from the instructors. However, through team building exercises, laughter, and small group discussions, the students really emerged from their shells. The result was a group of students that knew their classmates were respectful, trustworthy, kind, and fierce advocates for the work.
Not only did we have a group of students that became leaders in the work, but we now have a curriculum that is incredibly student-centered, culturally relevant, and meaningful for the population that we seek to educate.
With any new endeavor there will be unanticipated setbacks. As most educators, we envision a lesson or training to go exactly how we have planned, only to realize that the best laid plans often go awry. The two biggest challenges I had was holding students accountable for their work outside of class, and being okay with changing my original expectations about what I wanted to accomplish during the course. If I was to host this course again, I would develop a better system for students to check-in with me about their progress. I think this would hold them more accountable, but also allow me to build better relationships with the students on an individual basis. Some of our students were not always comfortable sharing their opinions during whole group discussions, but when they were in a small group or one-on-one situation, they had a lot more to say.
I quickly learned that students in this class were way more involved in the work if it was through whole group or small group discussions. This was not what I had planned for each of my lessons! Therefore, in the future I would definitely build in more time for collaboration and group discussions. After a couple years of quiet students on a Zoom screen, the in-person group discussions were a very welcomed change!
Young people are incredibly knowledgeable and motivated to become agents of change. We must not use them merely as an act of tokenism, but rather a group of individuals with the foresight to recognize the challenges they will face in their present and future lives.
My last piece of advice for anyone who chooses to involve students in curriculum revisions/developments is to “feed them”. Feed them food each time you meet (quite literally…they’re always hungry) and feed them opportunities to be impactful within their community!
Coping with Stress and Enjoying the Holidays
By Kathleen Remington, EAP
The holiday season is meant to bring feelings of love and happiness, yet it can also bring holiday stress for many of us. In fact, according to a poll by Verywell Mind, more than 80 percent of us find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful.
The holiday season may bring with it some unwelcome guests - stress and sometimes even depression. The holidays often bring on a wide array of demands such as shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining. You may be feeling additional stress about the Coronavirus, or you may be worrying about your and your loved ones' health. You may also feel stressed, even sad or anxious, because your holiday plans may look different during the pandemic.
Here are some tips so you can minimize the stress that may accompany the holidays.
Tips for preventing holiday stress
When stress is at its peak, it's hard to step back and take a break. It’s best to try and prevent stress in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
Take control of the holidaysDon't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and sadness that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to distress. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
Native American Heritage Month
By Sarah Hurd
I have been a part of Jeffco Schools since my family moved here in the mid 1980s from eastern Kansas. Third grade brought local history to me, which was so new to me as I had only been living in Colorado for a couple of years. We had Day in Denver and I remember taking photos and using the prints to make a scrapbook for my project of architecture in Denver. And we also had Day on the Prairie. We were divided into Native American tribes and spent the day at a nearby park. At the time it seemed fun. We got to make necklaces made out of wood rings, built teepees, and tried bison burgers. I remember learning the different names of tribes. All in all, it was a fun field trip. We were outside, I was with friends, and my mom got to come along. Fast forward 20 plus years and in my current role I found a meeting placed on my calendar with Jeffco’s Indian Education Liaison. A whole new world was waiting for me. In the last seven years I have learned so much about not only Colorado’s First Peoples, but where our Native Nations are positioned in our past, present and future. It has become a highlight to share about native peoples and to thread their stories throughout the K-12 curriculum. I am now able to reflect upon my experience from Day on the Prairie and realize that while no harm was intended, approaching learning about a culture, its peoples, and traditions in that way is disrespectful and is harmful. As we approach November, I wanted to take a few minutes and elevate my personal growth and understanding to include native perspectives and heritage. I hope this coming month provides a space for you to reflect and learn as well.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Today, it is often referred to as Native American Heritage Month. Throughout the Jeffco curriculum, the Social Studies Team, in partnership with our Jeffco Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team, has worked to incorporate a wide variety of resources that highlight the history and accomplishments of Native Americans within the United States, as well as internationally. We are working to include native voices and perspectives, influential Native historical figures, current prominent Native leaders, and cultural influences throughout the Jeffco social studies curriculum.
Here are some resource links that we love for this month:
Native American Heritage Month website - contains links for multiple resources including the Library of Congress materials, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian with lesson materials such as primary sources and teaching suggestions.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Native Knowledge 360° Essential Understandings about American Indians. It is a framework that offers new possibilities for creating student learning experiences. This site also provides guidance about teaching about Thanksgiving in an inclusive and accurate way.
Social-Emotional Learning: Part 2: Music
By Amy Woodley
As we move through October, Music and Performing Arts programs are really starting to hit their stride! Our auditoriums are open once again, our students are performing for live audiences, and our community is coming together in ways we have not been able to for the past year and a half. It feels REALLY good to be making music together again!
Part 1 of this series (September 30, 2021) discussed the natural partnership between The Arts and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Just like any classroom, instruction in Visual Arts, Music, and Theatre is enhanced when there are great SEL structures in place. It is important to be able to recognize those structures, make them a strategic part of the lesson planning process, and name them when necessary during instruction. Helping students see those connections between their content learning and the skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationship building is just as important as creating an environment that values their intellectual and emotional growth.
The image below is a link to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Interactive CASEL Wheel. Click the image, and you will be able to use their interactive wheel to investigate how the SEL competencies and Arts competencies work together to enhance student achievement. The black dots represent Music (M), Visual Arts (VA), Theatre Arts (TA), and Dance (D) and each dot is a link to more information about what SEL might look like within that content.
After you’ve had a chance to explore the Arts/SEL wheel, consider finding time to connect with a colleague. Are there aspects of SEL learning that are enhanced in your classroom through one or more of these art forms? Are there parts of the artistic creative process that would enhance the social emotional environment in your classroom? If you are a Music, Theatre, or Visual Arts teacher, how do you express the value of and create space for social emotional learning? Capture your thinking, and challenge yourself to make those connections explicit in your lesson planning. I’d love to hear how this looks in your classroom!
This is the second of a three part series focusing on the relationship between SEL and the Arts. Be sure to check out the last installment!
Social-Emotional Learning and the Arts: Part 1: Theatre
By Drew Keat
Returning to in-person learning has been a significant transition for all members of the Jeffco Community. We are facing a variety of new challenges that require careful consideration and strategic intervention. In light of some of these challenges, the benefits of intentional focus on Social Emotional Learning have drawn our attention. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students' abilities to succeed in school, careers, and life. In addition, school-wide benefits of SEL include improved attitudes and behaviors throughout the school. The Jeffco Importance of SEL webpage outlines further benefits. However, these benefits are not simply elicited from isolated SEL instruction. To maximize the intended benefits, these lessons and skills need to be revisited and reinforced throughout a student’s day.
This is where the arts provide synergistic support for enhancing SEL. Arts education lends natural answers to the question “How do we reinforce the explicit instruction of SEL skills with authentic experiences and practice?” In January of 2020, the Journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education published a theory of action recognizing the implicit social-emotional learning involved in the daily experiences of arts education. While SEL competencies are not necessarily the primary instructional focus for arts courses, most arts educators do spend additional time and energy focusing on social-emotional development because these skills naturally supplement the outcome of their own content standards.
For instance, in Theatre, the recurrent experiences of auditioning for a production, rehearsing for performances, building ensemble, and engaging in the rigorous analyses necessary for creative self-expression provide fertile ground for the developmental experiences that are essential for high-quality SEL outcomes. Alternatively, by overtly building self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, theatre students are able to give stronger performances, participate more effectively in ensembles, and execute more meaningful artistic analyses. Arts teachers tend to recognize that the development of SEL skills provide the answers for students when they ask “Why are we learning this?” This inherent relationship between SEL and Arts education indicates that some of our most valuable resources for SEL integration are arts teachers and their programs.
This synergy between content and SEL does not need to be confined to arts classrooms. Natural connections and interdependencies between SEL competencies can and should be made within all contents. With this in mind, we should remember that opportunities to draw on the experience and best practices of arts educators can be leveraged to enhance SEL instruction throughout our educational communities. As we approach the goals of SEL integration, one place to start could be the use of pedagogical strategies that are essential for Arts education.
This is the first of a three part series focusing on the relationship between SEL and the Arts. Be sure to check out our upcoming installments!
Theatre Activities for Reinforcing SEL
Curriculum & Instruction