Difficult conversations are a big part of my life. For almost nine years I’ve helped educators learn and teach about atrocities and injustices in the past and present. I should have felt prepared last year when asked to facilitate a webinar on "navigating difficult conversations" for classrooms in Baltimore City Public Schools. Instead I felt overwhelmed and hesitant.
Topics: Professional Development
I have long wanted to develop and teach a unit on the Nanjing Atrocities for my students at Millennium Brooklyn High School. As a high school history teacher with an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies, I see it as an important history that we seldom teach in the United States.
I have spent my whole life living in the south but often find conflict between my roots as a southerner and the complicated history of racism. As a teacher for 35 years, I’ve tried to use literature to develop empathy and understanding to combat bigotry and hatred. To Kill a Mockingbird has long been one of the novels I’ve used to attempt this.
I am always ready to learn something new so when I learned about Facing History’s workshop, “A New Approach to Teaching Mockingbird,” I was intrigued. It turns out I found deeper connections to the novel than I had ever anticipated—some that took me all the way back to my childhood in the south.
I’ve spent the last 10 years teaching at Algonquin Regional High School—a large, suburban school about 35 miles outside of Boston—and I serve as the social studies department chair as well. But years ago, when I’d just finished student teaching, I wasn’t sure I was on the right path. I was struggling to find a foundation that would guide my teaching and looking for something to confirm I was headed in the right direction.
So often my best teaching comes when I don’t give any information. A well-crafted question can provide far more information than the best slideshow presentation in the world. This is something that drew me to Facing History and Ourselves one fateful summer three and a half years ago when I went to a Holocaust and Human Behavior seminar. I liked that the session I attended often raised more questions than it answered and challenged me to complicate my thinking. When offered an opportunity to join the Facing History Leadership Academy, a group of educational leaders who have an in-depth understanding of the organization’s teaching framework and resources, I jumped at the chance. I was excited to expand my ability to question.
In this increasingly globalized world, we can learn a lot from each other. That's why in July, Facing History facilitated a weeklong Advanced International Seminar hosted by North Shore Country Day School. Teachers from Northern Ireland, South Africa, England, Mexico, France, and the United States gathered in Winnetka, Illinois to discuss the issues and challenges educators struggle with and to exchange best practices.
Karen Murphy, Facing History's international director, recently shared her experience on the Global Learning blog, hosted by Education Week and the Asia Society. Read about the eight lessons she learned from facilitating the Advanced International Seminar.
Summer schedules quickly fill up and before you know it, fall is here. Those workshops you planned on signing up for or those seminars you meant to attend in advance of the new school year - they might not have happened. But that's okay. Facing History and Ourselves is gearing up to offer some great professional development opportunities this fall to help educators add to their teaching toolbox, gain new perspectives, and connect with their peers about different teaching strategies.
As a high school English teacher, my goal is to produce globally aware students who see the larger context of the curricula we are studying. Texts, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, are valuable lenses to educate my students about what it means to be humane, active participants in their classroom and the world. Before attending Facing History’s Teaching Mockingbird seminar, I thought about how to approach the novel in a way that would encourage my pupils to explore the complexity of human behavior and decision-making. But I was also looking to be inspired about how to most effectively end my semester-long unit on Race and Membership using the novel. Now, I have a plethora of strategies to discuss the dilemmas that develop when conscience comes into conflict with societal rules of behavior.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, we are having difficult conversations all over the world. About race. About identity. About the meaning of democracy and where we go from here. Tanya Huelett shares what she learned from leading difficult conversations as a program associate at Facing History and Ourselves. These guiding principles can help us both in and out of the classroom as we all try to navigate this latest tragedy.
Difficult conversations are a big part of my life. For almost eight years I’ve helped educators learn and teach about atrocities and injustices in the past and present. I should have felt prepared when asked to facilitate a webinar on "navigating difficult conversations" for classrooms in Baltimore City Public Schools. Instead I felt overwhelmed and hesitant.