“But something else was in the air, something that would become clearer in the years to come. Sometimes the right person tells the right story at the right moment, and through a combination of luck and design, a creative expression gains new force. Spark, tinder, breeze.” -Excerpt from Hamilton
Recently, I was listening to a thought-provoking podcast about dismantling racism in education. You must listen to it. In fact, go listen to it now and then come back and finish reading this. I’ll wait for you, I promise. (You can find a link here). Brilliant, right? Okay, so about midway through the discussion, the topic of having conversations about race and racism came up. My ears instantly perked up, as I’ve been thinking so intently about the experience of sharing our stories with one another as a pathway to build empathy and awareness about our humanity. That feels like really big and really critical work. So, one part of the podcast in particular got me thinking really deeply. The moderator, Heinemann’s Brett Whitmarsh, made this statement to the panel of educators, “Choosing not to have those conversations is a choice to do nothing” to which one of the panelists, author and insightful literacy coach Sara Ahmed, responded, “…what I hope I can bring is the fact that I’m becoming more comfortable with the discomfort of having these conversations.” The idea that the more we engage in conversations that place us in uncomfortable spaces, the more comfortable we’ll become over time. Absolutely. Such a simple statement, yet so profound, right? As the podcast moved along, another panelist, author, and staff developer Cornelius Minor said something that lead me down the path of deep introspection. He asserted upon his reflections of difficult conversations, “This can be something I’m going to engage in this thing with my colleague because I love her…Always just putting humanity at the center of all of this.” The educators on the panel continued their deep discussion about having these difficult conversations around race and racism. My mind was stuck though, struck really by the idea of conversations as an act of love toward one another and a way to act on our deeper humanity. And, something that if we were to do more often, would enable us to become more comfortable in the act of doing.
I sat with this notion all night long. And when I mean all night long, I mean ALL night long. I lingered on this idea of conversation as an act of love. The beauty of lingering on a thought long enough, well for my brain anyway, is that the pieces of my lived experiences that don’t quite fit together in any coherent way, begin to match up in ways I never could have ever anticipated. I agree with the educators on the panel when they expressed the notion that racism and racist structures need to be disrupted and dismantled and white folks need to be active participants in this big work. If I may have permission to borrow from this line of thinking for a moment of reflection in this piece tonight. I believe that systems that perpetuate transphobia need to be disrupted and dismantled and cisgender people need to work actively to dismantle these oppressive systems as well. I hope that drawing these parallels respects the great work that needs to be actively done to address systemic racism in our society while also laying a foundation of thought to the piece I’m writing about tonight. I really hope it’s respectful. I recently experienced something similar to what this panel of educator scholars discussed on the podcast around difficult conversations, with a slight variation on topic, namely, the transgender community.
As a quick aside, please consider your role in how you position yourself with children: perhaps you’re a classroom teacher, a support staff member, a literacy coach, a staff developer, an administrator, an academic, a writer, a family member, a community advocate, or any one of myriad other roles that keep you in close proximity to youth. I encourage you to keep in mind your role with children as you continue to read this thought piece. It may inform you as to your next steps after you read this. Oh, and yes, I’ll ask you to make a bit of a commitment after reading this, just so you know and all.
And now, just for you, my reader: my exploration of conversations as an act of love.
In a recent article, by Dr. Jamila Lyiscott entitled “If You Think You’re Giving Students of Color a Voice, Get Over Yourself” (you can find her brilliance here), she wrote these words that struck me deeply and frame out what I’d like to explore here: the notion of being heard. When speaking of the young men at Riker’s Island she worked with, as they shared their work with her, she named this truth: “…all we did was lend them an ear. They woke up like that. We did not give them a voice. What we gave them was space to be heard. Students navigate powerful spaces of learning every single day in their homes and communities. Especially when it comes to students of color, the skills, experiences, and rich knowledges that shape their voices are devalued in the classrooms, but are still powerful.”
I cannot innumerate the number of times I’ve heard adults say how proud they were to give students a voice. And, for the sake of transparency, I’ve said that many times before, too. You know something, though, once I read the way she framed it in her article and spent time reflecting upon just how critical the language we use reflects how we think about the world around us, I quickly adjusted my language use and the way I see my role, educator’s roles, really adult’s roles, in children’s lives. We cannot give children a voice, rather, we can create the conditions within which their voices are heard. It’s the same notion here: we cannot empower children, but we most certainly co-create the conditions within which children feel empowered, gain tools for agency and their own self-liberation. A similar idea may perhaps be asserted for the idea of feeling heard as an adult; perhaps. As an educator that has the privilege of working alongside other educators and inspiring their philosophy and daily practice, I have the opportunity to create the conditions within which they are heard. This is a powerful position and with it comes a serious responsibility. So, if you’re like me and hold any professional position within which your direct realm of influence is teachers, their pedagogy, and practice, I’m writing directly to you tonight. Everyone else, again I urge you to find yourself in this narrative and draw parallels to your realms of influence. Now that I’ve laid my cards on the table, literacy coaches, staff developers, teacher leaders, language arts specialists, I urge you to find yourself in the picture I’m going to paint for you in this thought piece. It’s you I hope to really reach tonight.
As a colleague and personal friend, I’ve been working alongside Ms. J for the past three years. Recently, we’ve been working toward something big this entire school year. In a quick synopsis, Ms. J and I took her 5th graders on a journey of thought studying identity through characters in read alouds in her classroom this school year. The last identity we learned about was that of a trans character in Alex Gino’s groundbreaking middle-grade book George. You can follow our journey of study, if you’ve time, along this very blog. So as the school year ended and we reflected upon the year’s study, many things stood out to us. Children have the most empathetic hearts, are ready for big conversations about big topics happening in the larger world around them, and when we as adults create spaces for this critical work to happen, children’s hearts grow deep and minds grow broad. Profoundly affected by the experience of navigating the uncharted territories she and I explored this year in her elementary classroom, Ms. J decided she wanted this work to reach a larger audience than just my writing does, her Facebook posts do, and our mamas who faithfully read about our journey on this blog. Serendipitously, she was scheduled to teach at a local literacy conference the first week of summer. Even more exciting was the fact that her course was designed for educators seeking to learn more about the Balanced Literacy component of the interactive read aloud. Now, I’ve taught a similar course over the past years and I know what it typically entails: defining the component, experiencing a bit of it with students live or watching a video that teachers later discuss, tips on how to pick texts, the parts of planning for it, trying it out with a colleague to get feedback, studying reading skills work…WAIT. STOP. Rewind…how to pick texts for it… That. There. Did you catch that? How to pick texts for the interactive read aloud. As Ms. J reached out to bounce ideas off of me as she planned for her course, she mentioned she’d like to use George as a book to demonstrate the way an interactive read aloud might go. When she told me of her plan, I about jumped off the couch I was sitting on and screamed at my phone: YES, oh please, YES, use George as the text you use in front of the teachers next week. Here’s the thing: as a coach or staff developer, we can choose to use any text we want to demonstrate the methodology we want teachers to see, right? We can choose any text we want when illustrating the joy of the interactive read aloud live with students during a literacy conference or live in a lab in a school that we’re working at, right? So, if we have a belief that all children deserve to see themselves reflected in the fabric of their classroom through the text choices we make, wouldn’t it make sense that as coaches or staff developers we’d want to choose texts that reflect all the glorious children we know our teachers support? And, naturally, wouldn’t this include books that feature trans characters?
You see where I’m going with this, right? Keep that thought in mind. To honor you, I want to make this acknowledgment right now: It’s kind of a big thing to consider, using trans inclusive texts in your work with teachers. It’s kind of a tricky thing to consider, I get that. It’s kind of a political statement to make, I get that, too. Believe me, as a mama of a visible trans child who also happens to be an educator who has a small realm of influence within the spaces I occupy, I get it’s a tricky notion to consider using trans inclusive texts in my work. But you know what? I do it anyway. I do. And you want to know why? Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the just thing to do. I know you agree with me here. You may be asking yourself, “What would happen if I actually did put down my copy of a beautiful book I always use to demonstrate to eager teachers what an interactive read aloud sounds, looks, and feels like and instead pick up a book that features trans characters to do the same exact work?” Well, it’s your lucky day. I have the story. Well, a story, anyway. As said in Hamilton, I hope I’m the right person who tells you the right story at the right time to be a catalyst in your evolution of self. Maybe, just perhaps. I’m about to open up a virtual conversation with you, a difficult one at that, so that we may engage in an exchange of thinking. And then, don’t forget, I’m going to ask you to act upon what you learn tonight. I just cannot help but ask for your action. Here’s my story, well actually, our story, of how this went for us…
Ms. J created the conditions within which she created spaces, twice in fact, where student’s powerful voices were heard by educators while also opening up the conversation about using trans-inclusive text in the classroom, all because she chose to put down a book she’d used a million times before and instead chose to pick up a book that featured a trans character to do this same exact work. Simple, profound, and revolutionary. Here is how this unfolded over two incredibly poignant days this past week.
On day three of her literacy session on how to design effective interactive read alouds to support a Balanced Literacy approach, Ms. J invited ten middle schoolers to join her session. She intended for the teachers in her section to experience the beauty of the interactive read aloud in real-time. She intended to have them watch how she did a quick book introduction, modeled her thinking through strategically planned think-aloud moments, how she elicited student interaction through turn and talk moments, stop and jot in a notebook moments, and so on. She really could have used any compelling text to demonstrate this work with teachers. Knowing just how impactful the work we’d just finished exploring days earlier with her fifth graders was, she chose George, as I mentioned before.
Around twenty teachers and administrators, with their notebooks and pens ready to jot notes on the experience, gathered their chairs close, as ten adolescent girls formed a semi-circle around Ms. J, notebooks in hand as well. Ms. J told the teachers: I’m going to demonstrate the parts of an interactive read aloud. Teachers were ready for the experience. Administrators were poised to learn, too. I, however, was beside myself with anticipation about how this was all going to go—I had bigger ideas on my mind with broader implications, as you can probably tell…
Ms. J began with a quick book introduction, focusing on a discussion of the concept of identity, urging the students to think about what identity meant to them. They had a quick discussion with a partner and then shared out their thinking. She wanted teachers to see how this builds a bit of background knowledge within which to place the book and also a quick assessment of what content students already bring to the conversation. Below is some of the student’s thinking.
After this quick conversation, she jumped into reading a portion of chapter one, with a goal to demonstrate the methodology around the teacher think aloud, the idea of the student turn and talk, and the interactive stop and jot technique. All conventional moves in an interactive read-aloud, all through a decidedly unconventional text selection, that I’d assert needs to become a decidedly conventional one in our curriculum in big ways. The beauty of what unfolded next was truly breathtaking, as an educator, a person who thinks children are the wisest people I know, and as a mother of a visible trans child who has felt invisible all year long at school.
Teachers saw Ms. J demonstrate a few think alouds, stop a few times for students to process ideas through strategically planned turn and talk or stop and jot in a notebook moments, but what they internalized was an entirely different thing altogether. They witnessed insight from adolescents that was arguably wiser and more inclusive than most adults I know these days. Sorry, it’s just true. Some of the big ideas the students grappled with their partners around are in the image below.
If we revisit the notions of what Dr. Jamila Lyiscott asserted in her article, Ms. J had just created a space in the room for student’s voices and ideas to be heard and privileged. Teachers were there to learn from Ms. J and the moves she demonstrated to them, but that’s only one thing that happened. At a deeper level, twenty educators experienced the way these ten adolescent girls processed their understanding of the trans-inclusive text George, engaged in conversations around what it means to be a transgender person in our society, and how they could relate to the character in a deep way for the common theme of feeling judged by what society expects of you versus who you know you are at the core. Powerful. All this in a span of twenty minutes which I’ll never forget in my entire life. To end the interactive read aloud demonstration for that session, Ms. J asked the students to jot some words of wisdom and advice they would give to the main character of the story, a trans girl named Melissa. You’ll have the privilege of hearing from their voices a bit later, I promise.
After she thanked the amazing students, Ms. J intended to debrief on the experience with the teachers and administrators. She was hoping to have the teachers reflect on the parts of the interactive read aloud they experienced: the teacher think aloud, the student turn and talk, and then stop and jot opportunities. Instead, what occurred was another twenty minutes I’ll never forget. Let’s circle back to that podcast I mentioned at the beginning of this thought piece, namely when we engage in conversations that feel difficult with colleagues, we can use this opportunity as a chance to grow our understanding of one another, grow our minds broad, and our hearts deep. Conversations as acts of love.
I’d like to paint the picture of this conversation for you, as I know how complex the work of digging deep to navigate conversations with children is. I’d argue, though, that it is our responsibility to facilitate these conversations with students in our classrooms daily. Likewise, I acknowledge the conversations we have with colleagues can be difficult, too, especially around topics that are more challenging to navigate. I believe there are no controversial topics, only controversial opinions on these topics, so I’d assert that using literature that features trans characters in our elementary classroom is not a tricky concept but I acknowledge adults have tricky perspectives on this that need to be mindfully navigated through dynamic conversations. And you know something, I agree with Sara Ahmed, the more I have these conversations myself, and believe me I’ve had lots of opportunities for these conversations to happen time and time again this past year, I get more comfortable having these uncomfortable conversations. It just happens with practice and time. At least it has for me, that’s my truth.
Now, back to Ms. J and the conversation that unfolded over the next twenty minutes. Teacher’s stances could be categorized into three big containers, defining the perspective of the educators in the room:
I am a person who doesn’t see gender (think the person who is colorblind) and thinks this conversation is one that isn’t necessary because we love everyone and if only we could just love one another, it would all work out in the end…
I am a person who has tried this, kinda sorta because I’ve had a trans child in my school, and I know this can be tricky, so more study and guidance would be really helpful, please!
I am a person who has never delved into this conversation or used trans-inclusive texts with my students, but I’m processing what I just experienced from the brilliance of middle schoolers, and am thinking about how this might go in my classroom next year. I’m almost there, I could just use a little support.
Here’s the thing, friends: instead of writing the entire transcript of the conversation that ensued between these thoughtful adults, and if you’ve read any of my writing and you know me, my notebook is full of the play by play of this conversation, truly, let’s pull back for a moment. These educators were engaged in a conversation about a tricky concept. These strangers, essentially, were engaged in the challenging work of expressing their viewpoints, their experiences, and reconciling it alongside what they had just experienced collectively with ten astute middle schoolers. Powerful. I’m going to say that again: POWERFUL. They were engaged in the work of conversation as an act of love. This is what happened when Ms. J chose to use a trans-inclusive text. So, language arts specialists, literacy coaches, staff developers, if you’re wondering what happens when educators experience you using a trans-inclusive text during one of your sessions or lab experiences, they learn what the component is that you’re demonstrating, yes, but they also have an opportunity to engage in conversations as an act of love, deepening their already empathetic hearts and broadening their minds, while building community with other educators traveling into uncharted territory. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, I invite you to step into it with us if you’re not already delving into this transformative work already, which I hope that many of you are.
And, when you thought it couldn’t get any more intriguing, guess what? Here’s where you’ll need to grab the box of tissues and where I think you’ll choose to step onto the path with Ms. J and me if you aren’t already or haven’t already decided to. On the last day of the conference, sessions presented some of their learning from the week. Ms. J decided to center two things here: create a space for student’s voices to be heard, as Dr. Lyiscott spoke of, and center the words of a trans-inclusive book so that over fifty additional educators would have the opportunity to experience how this work could come alive in their classrooms in a mere few weeks after summer’s end. Ms. J read excerpts from Alex Gino’s book George, pausing at strategic times for the adolescent girls to read their written words of advice to the trans character for all the educators to hear their powerful thinking.
I want you to experience the magic of this moment intimately. So, I apologize ahead of time, but there will be a ton of reading of excerpts from George, followed by the poignant words of adolescents, then back to George, and so on. My purpose for this is two-fold: (1) If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading George, you must hear Alex Gino’s incredible words, and (2) The unedited words of these adolescents must live larger than that room of those over fifty incredibly lucky educators.
The scene: a bit of Ms. J reading George, a bit of adolescent’s poignant words.
Ms. J read:
On the next page, two girls sat laughing on a blanket, their arms around each other’s shoulders. One wore a striped bikini; the other wore a polka-dot one-piece with cutouts at the hips.
If George were there, she would fit right in, giggling and linking her arms in theirs. She would wear a bright-pink bikini, and she would have long hair that her new friends would love to braid. They would ask her name, and she would tell them, My name is Melissa. Melissa was the name she called herself in the mirror when no one was watching and she could brush her flat reddish-brown hair to the front of her head, as if she had bangs (George, p. 3-4).
The first two adolescent girls read their advice to Melissa:
“Don’t be afraid. No wait, being afraid is okay. You have the right to be afraid, but you also have the right to be happy.”
“People won’t judge you by the way you look like, but by the way you treat others.”
Ms. J read on:
“What’s this about?” asked Mom. Her expression was flat. George’s denim bag swung slowly in the air, hanging from one crooked finger. The zipper was open.
George’s heart pounded, and for a moment, she thought she might burst on the spot. She took a deep gulp of air.
I was feeling under the weather today, so I came back home to do some cleaning,” said Mom. “Your closet was a mess…and I found these. Did you steal them?
“No!” George’s face was hot. “I…I collected them.”
“Don’t lie to me. Where did you get them?” Mom pulled out the copy of Seventeen from last October, the smiling twins on the cover unaware of Mom’s tight grip.
“I found them in different places.”
Mom eyed George, her eyebrows thick and heavy. She stood, with a deep sigh.”
“George, I don’t want to find you wearing my clothes. Or my shoes. That kind of thing was cute when you were three. You’re not three anymore. In fact, I don’t want to see you in my room at all.
“But I didn’t…,” George began, but Mom ignored her.
Mom disappeared to her bedroom with the denim bag in her hand. George remained by the front door, her mouth slightly open.
She couldn’t believe her friends were gone. (George, p. 93-94).
The next two adolescent girls read their advice to Melissa:
“I would tell her it’s okay to feel the way she does; that everyone is different.”
“It’s okay to show yourself. Show the world who you feel you are. It’s okay to show the inside. The outside isn’t all that matters.”
Ms. J read on:
George had never been in the principal’s office before and was surprised by how bright it was. Orange curtains framed windows that reached nearly to the ceiling, and piles of books were stacked around the room. Principal Maldonado sat at a large desk in the center of the room and invited Mom and George to sit across from her in two brown cushioned chairs. The principal had short gray hair and wore a turquoise necklace over a black turtleneck. She was a fat woman whose broad shoulders filled her chair with any easy self-confidence.
“Now, Mrs. Mitchell, George had defaced student property, and that is a serious offense. However, given the nature of the incident, as well as a lack of a prior record on George’s part, I would just as soon resolve this as simply as possible.”
As the principal spoke, George’s eyes scanned the wall behind her. List upon list of phone numbers and email addresses were taped up to the lower half, interspersed with handwritten notes held up with thumbtacks pressed directly into the wall. Dozens of signs hung above, telling kids to eat right, not to take drugs, to do their homework, and not to be a bully. A sign in the far corner showed a large rainbow flag flying on a black background. Below the flag, the sign said SUPPORT SPAFE SPACES FOR GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER YOUTH.
Reading the word transgender sent a shiver down George’s spine. She wondered where she could find a safe space like that, and if there would be other girls like her there. Maybe they could talk about makeup together. Maybe they could even try some on. (George, p 124-125).
Two more adolescent girls read their advice to Melissa:
“Don’t let the way society’s mental image of ways things are supposed to be intimidate you from being who you are or keep you from achieving your dreams.”
“There is always going to be people that disagree in a subject, but there is also people that are open to new ideas. People will still treat you the same because your personality isn’t going to change your appearance is.”
Ms. J read this final excerpt:
“Yeah, well.” George looked over at Mom, who was still picking out lettuce for her salad. “I kind of got into a fight at school.”
Scott’s head shot up in surprise and his brow grew heavy. “When I got into a fight at school, I got grounded. How did you work Arnie’s out of it?”
“I kind of also told her something.”
“It must have been big. Mom’s staring at the beets like a zombie.”
“Did you tell her you were gay?” Scott twisted his fork into a pile of mashed potatoes. “You know I’m okay with that, right? Before Dad left, he made me promise to take care of you. He said you were like that.”
“I’m not gay,” George said. Why did everyone think she was gay?
“Whatever. I don’t care. My friend Matt is gay. It’s not big deal.”
But it was a big deal. “I told her I think I’m a girl.”
“Oh.” That was all Scott said at first. “Oh.”
Scott chewed, swallowed, and took another bite of pizza. The background noise of the restaurant throbbed in George’s ears. She wished Scott would say something, even if it was mean.
“Ohhh.” Scott took a bite of turkey. “Ohhhhhhhhh.” Scott began to nod slowly. He turned to George, whose stomach had jumped with each oh and was now nearly in her throat.
“That’s more than just being gay. No wonder she’s freaking out.”
Scott put down his fork. “So do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Think you’re a girl?”
“Yes.” George was surprised at how easy that question was to answer.
“Oh.” Scott ripped a hunk off a roll with his teeth and chewed thoughtfully.
Mom returned with a green salad, topped with raw vegetables and vinaigrette dressing. She finished it quickly and dropped her plate off in a dish bin. Mom always started her meal at Arnie’s with a salad. She said it was healthy, not to mention delicious, but she always ate it quickly and then returned with a plate just as decadent as George’s and Scott’s.
Scott had gnawed silently on a chicken wing while Mom ate her salad, but once she got up and approached the appetizer bar, he dropped the bone onto his plate.
“I know about your magazines,” he said.
“Mom told you?”
“Naw, I found them this weekend. I knew Mom was upset about something, and then I saw the bag sitting on her bed. Dude, I thought you had porn or something in there, so I took a peek. You know, just to find out what kind of stuff my little bro was into. So I figured you were gay. But I didn’t think you were like that.” Scott popped a corn fritter into his mouth. “So, like, do you want to” –he made a gesture with two fingers like a pair of scissors—“go all the way?”
George squeezed her legs together. “Maybe someday,” she said.
“Weird. But it kinda makes sense. No offense, but you don’t make a very good boy.”
“I know.” (George, p. 138-141).
The final adolescent girl read her advice to Melissa:
“Don’t be afraid to show who you really are, people will love you no matter what. Different is beautiful and it doesn’t matter what you look like, you’ll always be beautiful. Don’t ever hide who you want to be!”
Wow, let’s just pause and reflect on the breathtaking moment that just unfolded in under ten minutes to a group of educators at a literacy conference this summer. To capture the feeling in the room after the last student spoke to the room full of educators, I asked Ms. J to reflect upon the moment. Here are her words to capture the spirit of the experience:
As the last reader finished her words, there was a hearty applause of support. I stepped back next to the girls and just admired them, and their proud eyes smiled back at me. They were frozen in the moment, so much so that I didn’t recognize the audience, also frozen in the moment in a different way.
Was it the excerpts? Well, they laughed at all the right parts. Was it the girls and their openness and bravery? Still not sure why people are surprised by the beautiful hearts and minds.
I don’t know. But as I went back to my seat and walked back in the space I had been occupying just 5 minutes before, silence filled the room. Huge eyes. Hands up near faces. Eyes brimming with tears. “Was that too much?” I mouthed to Jessica. She replied, “No, it was great.” Still, silence in the room. And not just silence but stillness. There was no movement. The breath had left the room. I felt my back being rubbed by a colleague.
“Was that too intense for this moment?” I whispered. Heads shaking in response.
But the reality was, I didn’t care if it was too much or too intense because it was too perfect. Too perfect of an opportunity to not honor Alex Gino’s Melissa. Too perfect of an opportunity not to highlight the teenage volunteers who experienced so many things this week, but knowing this is the part that will stick the most. This will be the experience Alex Gino talks about at the end of George. One day, these girls will meet someone who is transgender and be presented with the most awesome opportunity. To put their study of this one chapter and their empathetic words to action. They will feel the impact this moment allowed them.
This was also too perfect of an opportunity to show adults that children can and should be having these discussions. I wish I had said more, but truthfully, the words of Alex Gino were the only words I read in this experience and the only other words were from children (aside from the intro) and no more words were needed.
This moment opened a heart. This moment upset someone and then continued to upset them as they questioned themselves for being upset. This moment moved people. This moment opened up other impactful people’s hearts and minds to this possibility.
Don’t sit in the river, saying no or yes, comfortable as a non-racist, non-homophobic person.
Push that river upstream.
Make big moves in small ways.
Teachers leaving this week of BL study might remember how to craft a minilesson. They might recall the difference between shared reading and read aloud. But I can promise you, when they hear the word George or Melissa or transgender, they will only think of this moment. They will remember me and my fearless co-presenters. And I am so proud to be remembered for such an important, necessary conversation. -Ms. J
As Ms. J and I reflected on what happened over these two days this summer, she quoted this beautiful metaphor from a reading in National Geographic: “The waters under Antarctic ice are like Mount Everest: magical, but so hostile that you have to be sure of your desire before you go. You cannot go half-heartedly; you cannot feign your passion. The demands are too great. But that’s what makes the images you see here unprecedented, and the experience of having taken them and of having seen this place so unforgettable.” -National Geographic Magazine. If you have the desire to walk alongside us, you cannot go half-heartedly. The work is simultaneously magical and unforgettable while also hostile and unprecedented. Walk with us eyes wide open.
We both agreed this quote reminds us of the work we are doing, work I’ve been steadfastly attempting to do coast to coast across this nation this past year. Here’s where you, my reader, come in. You’re my breeze. You. Yep, you are my breeze. I think back to this quote I read from American poet, essayist, and radical feminist Adrienne Rich: “When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game done with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul — and not just individual strength, but collective understanding — to resist this void . . . and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.”
Here’s my reaction to Ms. Rich’s words and my call to action to you, my breeze: When someone with the reverence, knowledge, and political power, such as a literacy coach, staff developer, language arts specialist, literacy panelist, or however you position yourself in this work of inspiring adults that work tirelessly with children in classrooms and schools, uses trans-affirming texts in their work with teachers and schools across the nation, it matters. “Curriculum is both a window and a mirror: a window to other’s experiences and a mirror to their own reality” -Emily Style. The texts we model with, as presenters, hold weight. The texts we highlight in our curriculum, hold weight. The texts we recommend to complement our units of study, hold weight. We have the power to mirror children’s identity during our demonstration lessons for reading workshop, as part of interactive read aloud study, as part of mentor text work for writing workshop, as passages for shared reading. We must do this at all levels, with our youngest readers and writers in TK on up. The inclusion of these critical texts, many beautiful choices found here, sends a powerful message.
The message to children?
We see you.
We value you.
We stand with you, child.
The message to teachers, coaches, administrators?
Take our hand, you will be okay.
Take our lead, it’s our responsibility to do right by children.
Take our call to action.
All our children’s realities become part of the tapestry of our classroom, school, and educational culture. We see our lives reflected in the space of school in an inclusive way. This does not other us. This does not exploit us. This does not label us. This does not expose us. Quite the opposite effect happens. This includes us, privileges us, makes others aware of identities such as ours, as a natural part of life’s diversity. This honors our identity, our journey, our story.
By using these texts in our work, we pave the way for others to do so. My commitment is to include trans-affirming texts in my work with teachers, on behalf of students. Please make this commitment with me, with Ms. J, and some of the other incredible educators who’ve been sparks this year. Be our breeze and let the fire of equity and justice sweep the nation this summer and next school year in all the realms of influence you have.
Published with permission from an educator ally and a parent of a trans child in our advocacy network.