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Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving each year, I do take time to pause and reflect both personally and professionally. In my professional world right now, the second marking period has started, and I am perusing my students’ feedback forms from the middle of November. I am in the midst of teaching a new unit on the interaction of community and the individual with Romeo and Juliet as my core text. And, the fall semester at West Chester University is almost over; I just need to finish my final paper. Despite some constants and best laid plans, there is much I have no control over. Will we remain hybrid or go virtual? Will my technology work during my lesson? Will Internet issues prevent students from attending class? At times, the questions seem endless. Yet, even though there is uncertainty in my classroom and the teaching profession, I search for the people and moments I am grateful for.

I am thankful for my students. It is a joy to work with them every day even with the struggles of hybrid learning, mask wearing, and unanswered questions. Their patience, technical support, and feedback make our class a better place. I also appreciate them laughing–even at my horrible jokes.

I am thankful for my colleagues and mentors. Although we might be meeting virtually, technology is connecting us in ways pre-Covid meetings could not. Everyone is sharing materials and ideas to help one another out. There are check-ins and how are you doings both online and in person. Even though you cannot see someone’s smile underneath their mask, you know it is there. There is an unsaid understanding of what we are all going through.

I am thankful for my principals and English supervisor who are sounding blocks during meetings, who allow us to voice our concerns and classroom insight. They recognize the crazy times we are teaching in. I feel their support.

I am thankful for reading Laura Rendón’s Sentipensante Pedagogy with Dr. Craig this semester. Rendón’s agreements have reminded me to take time each day to replenish my mind, body, and soul. I have been walking–in the sunshine and rain (as long as it is not a downpour). The fresh air in my lungs and the sun on my face is rejuvenating.

With the long weekend, I am taking time to reflect, rejuvenate, and be thankful–not only for the blessings in my personal life but also in my professional world. I wish the same for you.

PAWLP Anti-Bias/Social Justice Study Group: Our Story By Janice Ewing

How We Got Started

            On the third Saturday of each month, a group of PAWLP TCs and friends meet, now via Zoom, for our social justice study group. This group grew out of an interest and need that emerged during our Saturday Continuity sessions, which also take place once a month.  Our Continuity sessions have the broad goals of carving out a time and space to share questions or concerns about our teaching and related inquiries, writing or presentations in progress, or other collegial sharing. The guiding principles that undergird our sessions are based on the NWP’s (nwp.org) overall philosophy of teachers teaching teachers, and more specifically the NWP Social Practices of Write, Go Public with our Practice, Learn/Engage the Profession, Collaborate/Respond, Lead, and Advocate. We are also guided by our PAWLP mission and vision statements, and the Teaching Tolerance (tolerance.org) standards of Identity Diversity, Justice, and Action, which we intentionally integrate into all our practices.

            Although issues of advocacy and social justice were interwoven through our work together, some of us felt the need for more focused exploration of these topics. One of our participants, Tricia Ebarvia, suggested that we start a group that would be specifically dedicated to the issues of advocacy and social justice, with the goal of educating ourselves more deeply, individually and together, and working to transform our learning into action in our schools and communities.

What We Do

            We decided to use a study group format to give us specific texts to serve as a focal point for our work. We started with So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.  Since then, we’ve read several other books, including The Racial Healing Handbook by Annaliese A. Singh, How to Be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi and the graphic memoir Good Talk by Mira Jacob. We are currently reading Gholdy Mohammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Through our reading, reflection, and discussion we have explored our own identities as well as school and community cultures, and looked at racism through historical lenses and case studies; our inquiry framework had guided us to identify specific goals to pursue in our anti-bias/social justice work. Most of our reading has been of shared texts, but we have also taken time to explore individually-selected books, articles, poetry, and art and share our takeaways with the group. We also maintain a Google doc where participants post additional resources in a variety of media and formats, as well as inquiry questions that these texts have raised or amplified.

Where We Are Now

            Many of our Saturday morning meetings have started with a shared acknowledgement of a recent tragedy or trauma, in our local community or beyond. We also acknowledge the ongoing traumas and challenges that we live amidst, which are not always as startling, but always present and corrosive. When we turn our focus to our study and our ongoing work, there is progress and growth to acknowledge as well, and always, the strength that we find in a shared community. This week, we will meet on Thursday evening. This is a session that Liz Mathews, our facilitator, and Pauline Schmidt, our PAWLP director, have set up to provide a space to reflect and respond together about the recent tragic killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. in Philadelphia, and the aftermath of the election, whatever that will be at that time. With our texts as a focal point, we share the insights and experiences we’re gaining on our inquiry journeys. We share struggles and evolving questions. Then, we each strive in our own ways to bring our learning to action in our families, schools, and communities. This is ongoing work.

            Our regular meetings continue to be held on the third Saturday of each month, but we’re leaving space in November for participation in the NCTE (ncte.org) conference and related NWP events, so our next regular meeting will be on Saturday, December 19th. Our meeting dates and agendas are posted at PAWLP.org. In future posts, we’re looking forward to hearing perspectives from other participants in our group. Questions or thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.

Janice Ewing is a 2004 fellow of the PA Writing and Literature Project and currently serves on the advisory board. She is also an active member of the Keystone State Literacy Association, the KSLA Delaware Valley Reading Council and other professional organizations. She and Dr. Mary Buckelew are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).