Goodness is on the edges
It was the first day of school. As I stood near the front entrance of Mr. Larry’s 6th grade all-boy advisory an African American mother walks in with her son who was on crutches. Mr. Larry was speaking to another parent and student and so I took it upon myself to welcome this new family. The boy, I will call him Jason, walked past me into the classroom. As I greeted his mother, we will call her Carrie, she asked me if I were the teacher. I said “No I am graduate student at Berkeley. I am here helping out in Mr. Larry’s class.” Then she said “Well just so you know Jason is dyslexic and I have been working with him on this. He is supposed to advocate for himself with his teachers today. So he may come to you and explain his situation. If he doesn’t would you just take the time to check in with him?” I said, “Of course I will.” Then Carrie smiled at me and said, “Thank you so much Aaminah. That is one of my favorite names.” I smiled and said “Thank you Carrie.” As she exited I looked over at Jason who returned to stand in front of me. “Are you the teacher?” I replied, “No, Mr. Larry is the teacher. I am here helping him today.” Then Jason said, “Well I am dyslexic and I have problems reading and stuff like that.” I said “Thank you for sharing this with me Jason, but I think you need to tell Mr. Larry.” Then I called Mr. Larry over so that Jason could speak with him. Later on that day as we were conducting one of the design activities Jason hopped over to the center of the room on his one foot that was not in a cast. He had left his crutches on the floor by his desk. When he got to the center he lost his balance. So I reached out to grab him. His hand grabbed onto my forearm and he held it. After he had picked up what he needed from the floor he continued to hold on to me.
Now fast forward one week and I am sitting in a teacher meeting at a high school site in which I conduct participant observations. I was struck by commentary made by teachers and administrators who were discussing behavioral management. In particular one teacher said, “It sucks because all of the kids we were sending away were the black kids” in response to a question about whether or not a student should be expelled due to behavioral issues. In response the principal pointed out that of the two students who had been expelled only one was black. The other was Latino. The principal also went on to point out that while there were a small number of students whose behavior was particularly problematic there were a larger number of students who were flying below the radar. Students who had issues and were quiet but were not receiving the help that they needed. These were the “C” students who might just need an extra push to be motivated. I am thinking these are the Jasons of the world. Yet it was also clear from the teachers’ discussions that the problems of behavior stemmed primarily from the black male students. As the principal said “We’ve dealt with and tolerated a lot; punching walls, fights, stealing stuff. And we we’ve used counseling, mediation, modified schedules and love and respect. But our resources and time are limited.”
I am in the final stages of data collection for my dissertation project on teacher professional development with design thinking in an urban school. Design thinking is a conceptual framework that calls on students to act in agentive ways to solve complex problems. As students experience the design process the design thinking framework develops mindsets that are important for learning that include human centeredness, empathy, and mindfulness of process, according to Carroll et al (2010). So my question is how do we develop critical design thinking teacher professional development that has affordances for designing solutions to issues of race and cultural competency within formal schooling contexts? I am thinking here of perhaps teacher professional development design challenges around essential questions such as “How do we make sure that all of our students feel included?” or “How might we build a community where no one needs to be expelled?” During a recent design training for teachers at my dissertation site the trainer presented three basic concepts of design thinking to teachers and staff. These were:
1) More is better. The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas
2) Every (good) idea happens at the edges
3) Time constraints force creativity.
These three concepts seem to me to be applicable to the need for addressing issues of inclusion and behavior at the same time. The question is how do we value the goodness in all of our students even the ones who are at the edges? I wonder how do we utilize our limited resources to find a balance between behavior and rigor. Under the surface tension there lies something deeper that I am trying to get at which is this question of how to make kids feel wanted? How do we utilize design principles to do that? Is it possible? Can design thinking address these core concerns that affect students at the root of who they are? I wonder if we can make room for critical design thinking in such away that we address those students who are on the edges and value them. If goodness happens on the edges then how do we train teachers to travel to those spaces?