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Why We Need Diverse Books

I love buying new books. I think in order to be an elementary teacher, you have to have a weakness for print. I can spend hours browsing the shelves looking for something special to take home. My latest purchase is Matthew de la Peña's Newberry Award winner Last Stop on Market Street.  I love the Nana in this story. 


About a year ago I made a promise to make a greater effort to buy products with pictures of students that actually looked like my students.  At the time, I was still teaching in a Title 1 school that sat on the edge of the "bubble" known as The Woodlands, TX.  While Houston is a diverse place to live, The Woodlands is still seen as an affluent, white suburb.  I wanted the students of color in my classroom to see images of children that actually looked like them.

I wasn't at the point in my awareness yet of thinking about stories that actually had meaning for them.
Fast Forward a few months later, and I stumbled upon DiverseBooks.org. After reading their mission and vision, I really began to think about what I chose to read aloud to my primary students. It was humbling.


OUR MISSION

Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.

OUR VISION

A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.

Could my students really see themselves in the pages of the books I read to them each day? Was there anything I could do about this?

I've made small changes over this past year, but nothing that has earned me one of those invisible I'm a Great Teacher badges we secretly like to put on our sleeves from time to time.  I made another small goal- If you see a good book that has diverse characters, buy it. 

Last week I Skyped with a PhD student at Texas A&M who is researching teacher's views of diverse literature in the classroom, and her questions drew out of me even more thoughts to think about. When asked what challenges I face in regards to using diverse literature in my classroom my first thought was time. Taking the time to find and use these books. But I knew that was just an excuse. 

Time, professional development, empathy (or lack of)...there are so many reasons these things slip through the cracks of our teaching.  Unfortunately I think it boils down to unconscious bias. No matter what your intentions are, your life experience shades the lens that you look through.  

So why do I share this? Accountability mostly.  I often let my love of "busy" keep me from thoughtfully making choices in my planning for my classroom.  I've had an entire week to think about how to make the last 50 days of this school really count, and what literature I choose to use is a very big piece of the puzzle. 

How do you address this issue? Are you on a supportive team or campus that goes out of the way to incorporate these books? I'd love to hear where you are in this part of your teaching journey. :)



We Remember

Thank you Dr. King for your voice and your message. Thank you to those who are still fighting.

May we each examine our own hearts as to how we can change and how we can amplify the message of equality and justice.






Five Donations to Ask For in Your Next Newsletter



As a classroom teacher, my parent newsletter always included a wish list for classroom supplies. Snacks, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, Kleenex, and other staples were asked for when needed.
Occasionally I'd throw in a big ticket item such as a new pencil sharpener, headphones, cardstock, and cross my fingers hoping someone would donate. A request for dice brought in enough to supply a Vegas casino!

Here are five ideas for items you can ask parents to donate in your next newsletter.

Old iPod/iPhone/MP3 Players

Aly from Just a Primary Girl has a great post about using old iPods for listening centers. Many schools are also asking for old smartphones to begin building their own Google Cardboard collection. I found in my own home two functioning iPhones and one iTouch from 2008 I will be using in my classroom in the new year! Most of these items have little trade-in value, so parents may be more excited about their students using them to learn! 


Old Board Games/Game Pieces

Here are some great posts all about how you can use old games and puzzles in your classroom. These are items parents might think of throwing out as they age but can be a great tool in your reading and math stations.



img via Primary Inspired Blog

Gently Used Books

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it really can help new teachers grow their personal classroom library.  Whether you teach primary or upper grades, there just might be a family in your class that has a stash of picture books or chapter books collecting dust on a bookshelf they might love to donate.  To encourage donations, I printed labels for students to write their names on so that the students could put their name in the book before adding it to our library. 

Legos or Makerspace Toys

Now that many of your students received new toys over the holidays, some parents may be eager to purge or clean out the toy box to make room for new goodies! If your students have Makerspace or Genius Hour opportunities,  this would be a great time to ask for gently used Lego pieces or tinkering/building sets students are no longer using.

Don't have a Makerspace at your school? I had a parent donate several bags of snap blocks that we saved for indoor recess stations. The excitement on my 1st graders faces when I pulled out the blocks always made me laugh.

Time

With a new year comes new goals and resolutions, and you may have a parent who has made a goal to be more involved with school activities.  Take this opportunity to revisit volunteer opportunities and instructions as a way to encourage parents to help out! You may have even had new families enroll recently who may be wondering how to volunteer on your campus.  From reading buddies to parents who are willing to cut out piles of laminated task cards, every minute helps! 


What are your favorite wish list items to include on your parent newsletter or teacher website?