Understanding Students’ Identity: Starting the Year With a Student-Centered Focus

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s book Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy offers many excellent ideas designed to learn about the identities of our students and plan for joyful learning experiences. In this post, I want to highlight some ideas, especially those experiences that are powerful to explore at the beginning of a new school year in order to create classrooms where students feel seen, heard, valued, and loved. When students feel belonging, they thrive and can engage in deep learning. In addition to Dr. Muhammad’s ideas, I will explore ideas I have used with students and that colleagues have shared with me.

“Knowing self prepares young people to live joyfully in the world…. Young people need to know themselves as well as others who may be different from them…. This knowledge teaches young people how to love and live with differences as they grow older.” ~Cultivating Genius

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Unearthing Joy

Unearthing Joy: A Guide to Culturally and Historically Responsive Teaching and Learning, by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad is a book I have excitedly been waiting for! Now that it has arrived, I am savoring every chapter, both the content and the beauty. The playlist that accompanies every chapter and the images to color with each chapter are inviting and inspiring. The language is like poetry and I can hear Dr. Muhammad’s voice as I read her words. In this post, I want to summarize some of my first impressions.

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Student Agency, Feedback, and Voice

Last year, I wrote about Pedagogy of Voice, as described in Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation. This weekend I am rereading the Pedagogy of Voice chapter: Redefine “Success” and striving to go deeper into the content. In this post, I want to share some of the passages that are standing out the most, and why.

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Going Deeper: Focus Students

In my last post, I wrote about how to listen to Focus Students to reflect on and improve teaching practices. Who is better to inform teaching than the achievers in front of us, especially the quieter students and students from formerly marginalized groups? This weekend I started reading Liz Kleinrock’s Start Here, Start Now after a colleague recommended the text. I am already seeing many connections to the Focus Student process. I know there is much much more to the text, however, in this post I will briefly address connections to the Focus Student process.

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A First Try: Unit Planning With Cultivating Genius

I’ve been studying the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad for several years by watching webinars, reading and re-reading her Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally Responsive and Historically Responsive Literacy, and this year by working alongside her in a year long in-depth study of her work and how to use the Historically Responsive Literacy framework. In the past I’ve integrated the framework into lessons and last week I started my first unit plan using the tool. I’m excited to share some of my thoughts in this post.

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My Why

It’s interesting to me that this, my 50th post, brings me back to my “why.” I’ve written in previous posts about the importance of knowing one’s why, and acting within one’s why.

“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
– Simon Sinek


Today I want to delve deeply into my why and the reasons behind my why.

My Why:
“Be a mirror to reflect back to our students their beauty and brilliance
so they feel: belonging, safe, heard, seen, valued, joy, and LOVED.”


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Experiencing Success + Belonging = Thriving

Anyone who knows me or follows my blog knows that Belonging is one of my core values. It is my goal that every student in my school feels a sense of belonging, based on how they define belonging. In this post, I want to synthesize Elena Aguilar’s definition of Equity with the model Dr. Amante-Jackson uses to highlight the importance of Belonging.

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Cultivating Genius: Identity

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally Responsive and Historically Responsive Literacy presents background and a tool based on the rich practices of Black Literary Societies of the 1800s. The framework includes 5 Learning Pursuits: Identity, Skills, Intellect, Criticality, and Joy. These pursuits are empowering and connected to the lives of students. They are used to design interdisciplinary unit plans through the use of multi-modal layered texts. Because most traditional unit planning is focused on Skills and Intellect, I am shifting to focus more on Identity, Criticality, and Joy in my planning and coaching. In this post, I will focus on the Learning Pursuit of Identity.

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