- Principals: Check on Your Black Staff. We Are Not Ok. - September 25, 2020
- Cultural Responsiveness is Not Just for White Teachers - February 18, 2020
- Students Don't Have to Read a Novel to Read - July 26, 2019
- Professional Development Reflections: Embracing the Margins - July 22, 2019
- The Power of Play for All - May 30, 2019
- Out with Lesson Plans...In with Lesson Design! - May 29, 2019
- Teacher Empowerment: Fight the Powers that Be - April 6, 2019
- Covering is Not Teaching: The Case for Explicit Instruction - April 2, 2019
- No Kidding: Making April Fools' Day Educational - April 1, 2019
- Dear Black Students, I'm So Sorry... - March 12, 2019
“We wouldn't ask why a rose that grew from the concrete has damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don't ask me why, thank God, and ask me how.”
"The Rose that Grew from Concrete" is a popular poem turned book of poetry by Tupac Shakur (an influential rapper, actor, poet, and activist) that marvels at the triumphs of a rose that grew from a crack in the concrete. Literally and figuratively, the rose rises above obstacles and perseveres through the unfathomable.
While many educators teach this poem to their students due to the symbolism, themes, and figurative language present, I view this poem as a call to action for educators. Currently, there is a myriad of obstacles affecting our educational system. As we begin to peel back the layers of issues that directly affect students, deficit models and thinking top the list.
Dr. Janice Lombardi's article titled, "The Deficit Model is Harming Your Students," notes the mindset from which some educators function:
Unfortunately, some educators work from this deficit model, which means they believe that if underserved students worked harder, they would achieve. This is a problem. According to a National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) study, teachers' expectations impact student success more than a student's own motivation.
Is it important to hold students accountable? Yes. Do students need some level of responsibility? Yes. However, more often than not, educators place their deficit mindsets onto students. In turn, this creates an imbalance in students' abilities to grow towards their true potential.
Teachers' expectations impact student success more than a student's own motivation.
When I hear teacher talk that is focused on all the reasons why students are wrong, unsuccessful, and lagging behind (academically), I wonder about the teachers' mindsets. How regularly are we reflecting on our own thinking about all students? If we are truly in the business of education, doing what is best for students, then we must accept that our approach and thinking has more of a significant impact on student success than the students' frame of mind. Alexander Den Heijer said it best,
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
Too often we are trying to fix the flowers (our roses) instead of creating an environment that nurtures their growth and development. Student trauma is real and requires insight and a mindset that is supportive of a student's journey. Tupac expounds on this notion in an interview about "The Rose that Grew from Concrete":
"We have mercy and sympathy for everything,
from the animals, to the wales, to fur...to everything
except us- your youth. The ones who you give no attention
who become adults with no compassion, you know what I mean?"
We must not forget the gravity of our influence on students beyond academic means. Our expectations, responses, words, and actions are just as impactful as their family's, if not more so. It's important to periodically check our mindsets as educators, in order to ensure that we are truly showing the compassion necessary for all students, especially students of trauma. Baruti K. Kafele, a prominent educational leader, and author of Closing the Attitude Gap, calls out deficit thinking in his book and places the focus where it should be; on teachers. Too often we blame poverty, parenting, and student motivation as reasons why underachievement happens. However, there are a plethora of factors beyond our control that are in no way an absolute determiner of failure. As did the rose through the concrete, students can also grow regardless of their outside circumstances. Kafele states,
If poverty is allowed to be made an excuse for the underachievement, students don't stand a chance. You [teacher] are the number one determinant of your students' success. You are the difference maker. You are the game changer. (p.26)
Students come to us with different types of concrete (barriers/obstacles). Their concrete may be trauma. Their concrete could be bias and microaggressions (that can also lead to trauma). Click To Tweet
Point blank. It's not them, it's you. This stance is typically rejected because teachers are faced with so much responsibility. I get it. Our profession is a high call. We are expected to step in when others step out. We must fill in the gaps others ignored. We must take some heat for the greater good. That's teaching and that's why it's a calling. Not to be taken likely and certainly, not to be misused. Students come to us with different types of concrete (barriers/obstacles). Their concrete may be trauma. Their concrete could be bias and microaggressions (that can also lead to trauma). Their concrete may be learning and behavior challenges. Their concrete may be family members who lack the compassion and nurturing spirit they need. And sometimes, their concrete is us. Teachers. Principal Kafele discusses five strands that teachers must consider when desiring to close the attitude gap:
- Attitude toward students (do I believe in them?)
- Relationship with students (do I know them?)
- Compassion for students (do I care about them?)
- The environment for learning (do I provide my students with an environment of excellence?)
- Relevance in instruction-culturally responsive teaching (do I realize who my students are?)
It's easy to look at these questions and give an immediate yes. No one wants to admit that they are not truly invested in their students. However, if you find yourself placing full blame on students, becoming irritated because they didn't complete the "super engaging worksheet" you put before them, choosing not to see who they are culturally, not taking the time or effort to understand their "concrete" or any barriers that may be stunting their growth, or not being reflective on your own practices.....it might be a fine time to check yourself. The best teachers do this regularly.
The best teachers are aware of their own "concrete" and strive to remain active learners in the lives of their students. The best teachers know that this is a hard gig and that the fight for students' well being is worth the struggle and sacrifice. Our influence is monumental. No matter what a student may face on the outside, we have the ability and capacity to cultivate soil that is rich enough for students to grow. We have the ability and capacity to help them push through their crack in the concrete. We also have the ability and capacity to marvel at their progress, even if their petals are bent or slightly damaged.
Never underestimate your roses [students], teachers. Don't be so quick to judge their future based on their current status. Your toughest student has the greatest potential, and your reaction to their "concrete" will make the difference in their growth. Time is best spent reflecting on our mindsets as educators versus the flaws we see in our students. At the end of the day, they are children who lack the tools and often the love to grow in a different direction. We are the fertilizer, we are the water, we are the tillers of their soil. Although we cannot control many of their concrete barriers, we can aid in their ability to grow through them.
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
by Tupac Shakur
Who knew a kid born in East Harlem, surrounded by and involved in crime and gangs, would also go on to study poetry and jazz, perform in Shakespearean plays, be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and also write one of the most influential poems still used in classrooms today (long after his death). "Proving nature's law is wrong, Tupac learned to walk without having any feet"--Let's help our students do the same.