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Empathy, Empowerment, and Equity in Our Classrooms

I recently attended a teach-in at a local university, where I heard an artist speak about her discouragement with our divisive social and political climate. She stopped working because she couldn’t muster any inspiration or creativity and holding on to positivity seemed increasingly difficult. After several weeks of being unproductive and listless, her mentor invited her to coffee and gently nudged her to talk about why her work was at a standstill. After pouring out her heart, her concerns, and her fears, her mentor responded with, “Artists have always created their greatest works in times of greatest conflict.” This conversation inspired her to harness her anger, frustration, and discouragement and channel it into meaningful and powerful creations.

It occurred to me while listening to her that it is in times of greatest conflict that teachers accomplish their greatest and most influential work. 


Regardless of where we are personally on the political spectrum, we cannot deny that as a country, we have experienced a huge increase in recent months in harassment, bullying, and hate crimes and we all have some students who feel confused, upset, fearful, and marginalized. It’s exactly at times like this that teachers make their biggest difference and have their most influential impact on students’ lives. Students watch carefully and listen closely, and even our most innocuous words can affect them for years to come. This is a time for teachers to rise up, be the change we wish to see in the world, and teach our students that we all can and must do better!

Teaching can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depleting in the best of times . . . even more so in the toughest of times. First and foremost, take good care of you! If your tank is empty and you are running on fumes, you cannot care for others. Here’s a few reminders to help you take good care of yourself during difficult or stressful times, especially seasons of prolonged or ongoing stress or crisis:



Next, help students develop healthy coping strategies when they feel marginalized, angry, afraid, or bullied -- or anytime they are dealing with drama, crisis, or a difficult situation. Here’s a guided journaling worksheet that can help:


Click here to download a free copy you can print.  Consider keeping a stack of copies in a quickly accessible location so students can grab one and fill it out any time they need to cool down, cope, process, or come up with an action plan.

Finally, check back here on the last weekend of every month for more tips, ideas, strategies, and free resources you can use to help teach empathy, empowerment, and equity in your classroom. This month, I wanted to give you resources to help you and your students care for yourselves during tough times. In the coming months, I'll provide more resources specific to teaching, implementing, and integrating empathy, empowerment, and equity.

Bonus! I’m teaming up with TpT colleagues who are as passionate as I am about these values and providing teachers with a vault of free resources to help integrate them into your everyday teaching. 


Check out the collaborative blog posts below for more ideas and resources, comment and let us know what types of materials we can provide to help your students and to save you precious time, and let’s keep this important conversation going!


Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship

In March of 2014, I had the privilege of meeting seven other Teacher-Authors at a local library to discuss our work of creating curriculum for other teachers across the country. The Teachers Pay Teachers colleagues at that meet-up eventually became the planning team and co-organizers of the Northeastern Regional TpT Meet-Up, an event that is now attended by hundreds of TpTers who travel from 25+ states and 3 Canadian provinces.
Dr. Robyn McMaster joined us at that first meet-up (pictured below), and became a friend who was near and dear to my heart and the hearts of so many other TpTers.


Robyn worked with Dr. Ellen Weber of Brain-Based Tasks for Growth Mindset, but her TpT work did not stop there. Robyn was a tireless advocate of high-quality teacher-created resources and the opportunity to supplement teaching income and provide for families that Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators. She befriended dozens of TpTers, encouraged them, and supported them by posting their resources on Pinterest.



Robyn left us unexpectedly on July 7, 2016 and I miss her presence on this earth every day. Those who knew Robyn remember her dearly as fun, funny, caring, kind, and loving. If you crossed her path, you walked away energized, inspired, and knowing you had a true encourager cheering you on to success as you found and fulfilled your purposes on this Earth. Robyn believed that love helps people find and follow their calling, and all those who knew her -- whether for minutes or for a lifetime -- felt genuinely gifted with love, kindness, and support.
Twenty years ago, Robyn started working with Dr. Ellen Weber and the Mita International Brain Center. Robyn was passionate about using brain-based approaches in novel ways that engage students' individual interests and abilities. Her passion to help all children learn and all teachers teach fueled her spirited work with Mita.
Robyn and Ellen worked together for more than two decades, and their extraordinary friendship and dynamic work have had a local and international influence on brain research and brain-based educational practices that will affect teaching and learning for decades! You're familiar with Ellen and Robyn's work if you're familiar with Making Change Easy (Novelty with the Brain in Mind Book 2).
Robyn loved and supported teachers as architects of our future, appreciating their hard work and devotion to children. TpT colleagues who knew and loved Robyn cannot imagine a more meaningful or beautiful way to honor her life and her work than to help that work continue and move forward. We're raising funds to establish the Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship, a scholarship that will be offered yearly to keep alive Robyn's work at Mita!
100% of the funds collected will go to the Mita International Brain Center to carry forward Robyn's beloved work and passion. Your donation will help Mita continue to train progressive teacher-leaders and provide brain-based resources, approaches, activities, lessons, assessments, and curriculum units to students and teachers across the globe. If you'd like to contribute, please click here to visit the "Dr. Robyn McMaster Scholarship" Go Fund Me page.

Thank you for helping us honor Robyn and continue her life-changing work and her legacy! 

Literary Sherri Celebrates Kindness

Once upon a time in American society, a certain sense of decorum was the norm. Regardless of what was said behind the relative safety and closed doors of one’s home, people generally treated one another with a certain amount of courtesy and civility in public. In recent years – and especially recent months – we have seen a sharp rise in bullying, violence, hate-based harassment, vandalism, marginalization, and “othering.” If television shows mirror society, just compare and contrast the social norms portrayed in Leave It to Beaver or The Brady Bunch with Pretty Little Liars or The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I call our current social climate a “reality-show climate.” Those who feed on a steady diet of Big Brother, Dance Moms, 16 and Pregnant, or most other reality shows regularly see bad behavior rewarded, morals compromised for fifteen minutes of perceived fame and fortune, and meanness not only glorified, but celebrated. The grittiness and rawness of inappropriate and salacious entertainment behavior is lauded for being “real” and “uncensored” . . . and many watchers, believing the behavior they see on tv is the social norm, don’t hesitate to drop their own filters in public and behave just as outrageously.

Of course, all behavior is caused and causes are always multiple. I’m not suggesting that societal norms have changed because of reality tv shows. I am saying: Whether we’re witnessing life imitating art or art imitating is life, one thing is certain – hostility, violence, bullying, and harassment is not only on the rise, it is fast becoming perceived by many as the social norm, and the divisive political environment in our country is exacerbating this. Adults in our country are deeply divided over immigration, security, religion, racial discrimination, marriage equality, and Roe v. Wade, and our students are feeling the effects of this division. Some students are feeling emboldened to mimic the hate-based actions they see portrayed in the media. Others are feeling fearful, sad, and anxious. Students are grappling with the meaning of new vocabulary words such as misogyny, xenophobia, fascism, bigotry, and resurgence.

Drawing on more than two decades of teaching experience, this is what I know for sure: We cannot ignore these issues in our classrooms. No matter our political affiliation, no matter who we voted for or why, we need to respect and honor our students by talking about these issues truthfully and frankly. Our students deserve the truth and the truth is: We all have work to do to make things better.

Teachers need to actively and proactively address bullying and meanness. This type of behavior leaves deep emotional scars that affects our students' sense of safety and self-worth for years, if not decades. Students need tools in their toolbox to be prepared to deal with mean behavior when it does happen – and they need tools to help prevent such behavior in the first place. 

One way we can address this is by teaching our students how to deal with bullies and meanness:


We can also help students by teaching them coping strategies. If students are feeling anxious, listen to them. Honor their feelings. Make sure they know your classroom is a safe haven for them to talk about their emotions, concerns, worries, and fears. Remind them they are strong, resilient, compassionate, and caring. And remind them that the sun will come up tomorrow, we will all go to school and to our jobs, and we will all be okay.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we can help our students by teaching them to be kind, compassionate, accepting, and empathetic community members. If the only thing we teach our students is academics, we’ve only done half our job. The other half of our job is teaching students to be good people. Create a culture of kindness in your classroom and teach students not just about “random acts of kindness” but intentional acts of kindness. Because no matter our political affiliations, worldviews, or feelings about our elected officials, we can all agree that our students – ALL our students – deserve to be treated as beautiful humans worthy of dignity, respect, courtesy, civility, and kindness.

I want to help, and many of my amazing colleagues on Teachers Pay Teachers also want to help! Together, we have created free resources – resources we have committed to keeping free forever – that you can print today and use tomorrow. I created a 30 Days of Kindness Challenge that includes 30 tangible and intentional acts of kindness, along with reflection sheets and writing activities. 


Other free resources can be found by going to Teachers Pay Teachers and searching the hashtags: #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths . . . or you can hop through the blogs below to find resources for 6-12 teachers that focus either on kindness or civics . . .


Thank you to Rachel Lynette of Minds in Bloom for originating the idea for #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths resources. Thanks, also, to Pam of Desktop Learning Adventures and Darlene of ELA Buffet for hosting the Secondary Smorgasbord blog hop . . .


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