Building Relationships Through Letter Writing.

Corresponding with students via snail mail is a good way for teachers to foster trust anytime—but especially when everyone is physically distanced.

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With remote teaching likely continuing into the next academic year, we’ll need low-tech ways to establish relationships with students whom we can’t reach digitally. An ongoing letter communication through the mail is just that—and is also an empowering way to build relational trust with students. That trust, explains Zaretta Hammond, is the foundation on which culturally responsive teaching can change learning trajectories for even our most vulnerable students.

My first year in the classroom, I saw one of my more disengaged students pass a note to a friend. I thought about confiscating it, as my teachers had done. Instead, I wrote her my own note the next day. She wrote back, and we continued writing through the year, her engagement in class strengthening alongside our relationship. Letter writing became my most essential tool for earning my students’ trust.

When we as teachers write letters to students and they write back to us, we balance power dynamics, learn from each other, practice holding space for complex feelings, and engage our natural curiosities as readers and writers. Here are several suggestions for writing meaningful letters to students.

INTRODUCING THE LETTERS

To promote authentic communication that equalizes the power dynamic, remove obligations and expectations that students participate. Keep the letters optional and clarify that writing conventions and content will not be evaluated.

Inform families, perhaps in a separate letter, that you are initiating a dialogue with students through optional letter writing. Remind parents and students that you will respect their privacy—but that you are still a mandated reporter.

Keep the lines of communication open and flexible by avoiding constraints like deadlines and page limits. Make it known that students are welcome to start new topics and don’t need to continue a topic initiated by the teacher.

Write the first letter to your students (you might start with a few students per week) to serve as a helpful example for students who may struggle with this possibly unfamiliar form. Set students at ease by using a casual tone, sharing personal anecdotes, and even including jokes or funny sketches. Model letter writing conventions like dating and signing the letter.

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WRITING YOUR LETTERS

I used to pepper my letters with questions and suggested topics to prompt students to respond. But this approach maintains the traditional power structures of classroom communication, where the teacher is facilitating conversation. Over time, I learned to create a safe space that promotes genuine dialogue.

Participate in the conversation instead of directing it: If I know a student plays the violin, I won’t directly ask him about it. Instead, I write about my related experiences. For example, with this extra time on my hands, I have thought about finally learning how to play my guitar. I’m thinking of trying YouTube videos, but I’m worried that I won’t have the discipline to practice without a teacher. By sharing these thoughts, I open up lines of communication. My student is free to pick up this thread and respond in a variety of ways, instead of only answering my specific questions about the violin. Maybe he won’t mention his violin at all and instead choose to talk about YouTube, describe what he’s doing with his extra time, or assuage my worries about learning a string instrument.

Ask questions that stem from curiosity about topics that students initiate: Questions that are prompted by what students are choosing to share with us invite us to demonstrate genuine curiosity, offer our unique perspective, and introduce new words and ideas that probe students’ thinking. When we gain insight into our students’ unique funds of knowledge, we see their academic assets. We can use these insights to plan instruction that leverages what students already know.

Make your thinking visible: When young people get a glimpse into the thinking life of someone else, especially someone who thinks in an interesting or productive way, it’s the best kind of education. When a student recommends an app I should download, I’m honest about how I’m trying to cut back on my phone use since I’m getting addicted to the games I already play. I add that I’m trying to dock my phone after 6 p.m. and will let her know how it goes. By observing others’ thinking, our students may learn new coping skills and language to navigate their own experiences.

Encourage all forms of expression, regardless of perceived errors or informality: Zaretta Hammond has said that our students’ errors are information. As students informally write to you to connect and share their lives, avoid directives about how they should write. Simply note their errors and write your response with correct models. Use this information as you plan your instruction, but don’t instruct in your letter.

Hold space for students’ feelings: To maintain an equitable co-writing relationship, refrain from comments that evoke the authority you still have as the teacher. Instead of suggesting solutions to problems that students share, respond with acknowledgment and empathy. Instead of reassuring students with praise, show how you connect with their experience or what you’re learning from them.

When our students have uneven access to distance-learning technology, writing letters allows us to advance equity within our sphere of influence. We can give them a safe space in which to reflect, complain, disagree, express fear, ask hard questions, and hear our stories. We can practice being there for students as a trusted adult, a relationship that can nurture rigorous learning.

Magic melodies for the soul

“Kindness
is never weakness
if it has potential
to cause death.
So, if you can
“kill them with kindness,”
the ball is in your court.
YOU have the power!”

 

wXIx2vV

Introducing Magic melodies for the soul

“IF I’M GOING TO BE A LIGHT WORKER, I CANNOT LET THOSE IN THE DARKNESS DIM MY LIGHT”

Picking songs for an album is an art form in itself..I tell ya! However, I loved all the songs that were recorded and it was so hard to leave some off.  There’s some really special songs in there and I hope you enjoy them!

 

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

My 2014 Oscar Mixed Review

Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Consultant, Strategist, and Writer

The 2014 Academy Awards have come and gone, with 24 statues passed out onstage in Los Angeles Sunday night (March 2). Now, some will say that those lucky folks who rode home in their limos clutching a little golden man at the end of the night won, but we all know the truth: trophies don’t winners make. In a night of dresses, dancing and Adele Dazim (?!), it’s what the audience thinks that really makes up a triumphant victory or devastating loss.

Not that it didn’t deserve to win, but I bet half the Academy members who voted for 12 YEARS A SLAVE never saw it.

The only other suspense of the night was whether Pharrell Williams was going to wear his hat, which tells you all you need to know about this Oscarcast.   Long, dull, and safe with some musical numbers tossed in to distinguish it from C-SPAN.

Welcome to my 18th annual bitchy-but-fair Academy Awards autopsy; helped out this year by the comedy writing team of Annie Levine & Jon Emerson.

There has been less Oscar buzz this year than any I can remember. Not surprising when a Reuters’ poll found that two-thirds of Americans have not seen ANY of the Best Picture nominees.  Of course that will all change now as throngs race to theaters to see 12 YEARS A SLAVE.

More on the show in a moment, but first – the traditional nod to the KTLA Red Carpet oozefest hosted by Sam Rubin and Jessica Holmes who now weighs less than her microphone.  Sam is the king of hyperbole.  At one point he said, “Now I’m joined by the biggest star of all, Al Roker.”   Oh well, at least he didn’t mistake him for Samuel L. Jackson.

Hey, I’m just glad he didn’t tell director, Steve McQueen that he loved him in THE GREAT ESCAPE.

Other favorite Sam moment – saying to Leonard Maltin: “Any surprises that you anticipate?”

Ellen was a big improvement over last year.  Of course, after Seth MacFarlane, Sacheen  Littlefeather could have done a better job hosting.

I thought her monologue was quite funny even if Liza Minnelli didn’t. Liza with a Z did not seem to enjoy being mistaken for a female impersonator.  She once beat the shit out of her husband for less.

Ellen’s bits with the audience were less successful. Don’t expect magic when you take selfies and pass out pizzas.   The Oscars are not the place to wing it.

Winner Jared Leto managed to acknowledge Ukrainians, AIDS victims, and his agents. As he walked to the stage I was hoping the announcer would say, “This is the fourth nomination and first Oscar win for Jesus Christ.”

Annie observed that Julia Roberts looked like she had left a napkin in the front of her dress.

Meanwhile, Pharrell Williams showed up in a tuxedo and shorts. Come on, dude. It’s the Oscars, not O.G. Mad Eye’s funeral.

Oscar drinking game: Take a swig every time someone says “journey” or “dream.” By the first J.C. Penney commercial you’ll be blitzed.

Highlight of the night was Darlene Love belting out her acceptance speech for 20 FEET FROM STARDOM. She got an impromptu standing ovation.

No standing O for Karen O however. As Jon said: “It was like open mic night at a coffee shop.” Especially when every other singer killed it.

John Travolta is now officially a moron.  He had only two things to do.  Dye his hair any color found in nature and pronounce Idina Menzel.  He could do neither. How do you get Adele Dazim from Idina Menzel? And this idiot has a pilot’s license?  Holy shit!

As expected, Idina Menzel lit up the room with “Let It Go.” Was there ever any doubt that would win Song of the Year? For one thing – people have heard of it.  Only downside:  expect it to be covered by every AMERICAN IDOL contestant for the next five years.

Chiwetel Ejjiofer, Barkhad Addi, and June Squibb lost, but I’m sure the Academy figures they’ll all be nominated many more times.

Since when does Bruce Jenner go by the name Goldie Hawn?

Women wore a lot of beaded metallics this year. Thank goodness the rain stopped. It’s hard to return gowns once they’ve rusted.

Between Anne Hathaway’s short hair and metallic breastplate, it’s like she came as Ivanhoe.

Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech was lovely and heartfelt.  But too long.  And she didn’t sing it.  Did anyone else notice her play off music was from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?”

The three inevitabilities of life:  death, taxes, and Jim Carrey won’t be funny.

I think Matthew McConaughey won as much for TRUE DETECTIVES as DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. My partner, David Isaacs, said it best: He put on a shirt and became an actor.

What was with those pointless “hero” montages?  “Hero” in Hollywood is just a euphemism for “movie star.”

How to win the award for Best Editing — Cut your movie down to 90 minutes.  That’s why GRAVITY won, Marty.

BAD GRAMPA and THE LONE RANGER were pretty much shut out.  But so were AMERICAN HUSTLE and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

The set looked like the old Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.

In a successful attempt to make the show gayer than the Tonys’, they saluted the 75th anniversary of WIZARD OF OZ complete with Liza Minnelli in attendance. It was also the 75th anniversary of GONE WITH THE WIND, but that would have looked like the Academy was taking the opposing view of 12 YEARS A SLAVE.

Pink did a nice job with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Who knew she could sing without a trapeze?  But that’s not the only song in WIZARD OF OZ.  They could have featured “If I Only Had a Brain” and had John Travolta sing it.

Ellen came out dressed as Glinda the Good Witch.  It was the first time anyone has ever seen her in a dress.

Where was Steven Spielberg to celebrate the achievements of his fellow artists?  Oh right.  He wasn’t nominated.  Not there.

Bizarre moment of the night was Liza Minnelli hugging winner Lupita Nyong’o.  Liza must’ve thought she was Diana Ross.   Or her manicurist.

Jon said this about Tyler Perry: This is the first thing he’s presented that wasn’t Tyler Perry.

Anna Kendrick, Amy Adams, Kristen Bell, and Jennifer Lawrence were beyond stunning.

When Glenn Close started her preamble to the In Memoriam segment, she seemed so uncomfortable I thought she was introducing the writing categories.

I never understand why the audience applauds during the passing parade.  It’s like when someone on Facebook posts that their mother just died and you click “like.”

How can the Academy say it’s too late to include Sarah Jones in the main body of tributes because she died two weeks ago and there was no time, yet Harold Ramis died a few days ago and he was included? Instead, they slipped her name in while going to break thus giving it the same reverence they give to promos for THE CHEW.

Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” but why?  It was after the In Memoriam segment. This is supposed to be a solemn tribute not the 11:00 showstopper.

It still kills me that THE INVISIBLE WOMAN was nominated for Best Costume Design.

Harrison Ford is now too old to go on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

Could Charlize Theron possibly look any more bored if she was at the Aetna Insurance Actuary of the Year Awards?

Goldie Hawn introduced 12 YEARS A SLAVE with a smile so big you’d think she was announcing the Powerball Lottery winner.

Spike Jonz won for Best Original Screenplay. If they writer who is suing him for plagiarism wins, does he get an Oscar too?

Oscar nominee Julie Delphy said the Academy was ” 90 percent white men over 70 who need money because they haven’t done anything in a long time.” Shockingly, she lost. The only person in America who picked her in his Oscar pool was John Travolta.

Kim Novak will always be identified with VERTIGO. First the movie, and now it’s what you get when you see all the face work she’s had done.

I was thrilled that Cate Blanchett won.  But now that someone thanked Woody Allen again on an awards show, expect five more moral charges to surface.

As usual, the show ran way late.  But hey, we needed to see a montage of cartoon characters, Bette Midler singing an oldie, nine Best Picture nominees (with seven being schmuck bait), Ellen taking pizza orders, Twitter updates, sketches of the new motion picture museum, meeting student filmmakers, going through Lupita Nyong’o purse, and the umpteenth salute to WIZARD OF OZ.

The post Oscar parties had to be more fun. I can just imagine John Travolta approaching one of the producers of 12 YEARS A SLAVE  and saying: “So what is the movie about?”