Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Intrigue and Hideaways

When I got on the bus this morning I didn't know what intrigue awaited in the District. Let me take you on an adventure!

My colleagues were meeting with their senators, and I texted an unnamed friend to report that I had even unable to contact either of them. Within five minutes my phone was ringing to set up a meeting with our newly appointed Senator Walsh! An hour after that, the Missouri Teacher of the Year Jamie Manker and I were on our way to his office in the Hart building. It was pouring rain and I was without raincoat or umbrella, but I didn't care! 

A delightful education policy adviser named Katie took us to the basement and gave us passes that read "United States Senate Official Business Visitor." We rode a secret train from the Hart building to the Capitol (maybe it's not so secret, since lots of people were around, but I didn't know it existed...did you?) Then, between votes, the a Senator met us in his "hideaway," a meeting room in the Capitol. That's actually what they call it. 

The secret train.

We talked about the driving rain (and how Montanans don't use umbrellas) and about the Common Core. Senator Walsh is clearly a proponent of education and  not only mentioned his priorities at the federal level, but also echoed Gov. Bullock's initiatives in Montana, namely early childhood education. Our discussion was punctuated by the voting alerts ringing throughout the building indicating that a vote was on the floor. I shared my feather with a Senator Walsh and he held it for our photo together, and then put it in his notebook. 

After we parted ways outside the gallery, we were escorted into the Senate Gallery family area - not the tourist area - where we had the opportunity to watch a vote on the floor. We noted Senator Al Franken and Senator John McCain as well as Missouri's Claire McCaskill. When Senator Walsh walked onto the floor, he waved to us and we could see the feather hanging out of his book. 

Then Jamie and I headed to the Library of Congress through yet another underground tunnel. This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful building in Washington, DC. I used to do research in this building when I was in college! But you need a reader's card to go into the stunning reading room. So I decided to try my luck and approached a desk in the lower level. "Would we be able to see the reading room without a reader's card? We're the Montana and Missouri Teachers of the Year!" With no hesitation, the woman said "Of course. I'm the manager and I love teachers!" She told the guards we were VIPs and let us walk all around and take pictures. 

Think this is beyond a regular library? Right! It is amazingly beautiful. And...wrong! There was a teenaged reader asleep at his desk. Then she took us through a secret Hobbit door in the center of the reading room and down a tiny ancient staircase into the control room. This is where the book requests are received and fulfilled and it is full of defunct dumb waiters and conveyor systems. 

Jamie and I went different directions afterward and I walked through more driving rain, without coat or umbrella, five blocks to the National Museum of the American Indian. About halfway there, two women caught up with me very distressed about my wet self and the rain falling directly into my purse. They grabbed my arm and insisted on covering me nearly all the way to the museum, where they turned and one of them gave me her umbrella. 

The NMAI was a beautiful building with a interesting combination of historical and modern art and exhibits by and about tribes throughout the Americas. I was disappointed there was nothing about the Salish or Kootenai in the museum, but it was a lovely building nevertheless. And it wasn't raining in there. 

All the kindnesses we experienced offset the negative connotation of "Capitol intrigue," but I'll always remember this as the day I learned some secrets in Washington. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning at the Smithsonian, Inspiration from Dr. Jill Biden, andReflection at the Jefferson Memorial

DC Recognition Week started with a wonderful homecoming with the state teachers of the year. to the Smithsonian Institute! Each of us selected an area to visit, and I got the best one of all: American Cool. It's an exhibit of 100 cool Americans ... I loved it! Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures in that exhibit but look for the feather in a couple of shots below. 

The Smithsonian is dedicated to providing resources for teachers across the country, so they are digitizing many of their resources. Teachers - check it out! Here's the site for American Cool

After the wonderful presentations at the Smithsonian, we headed for the Vice President's residence! To get in, there were Secret Service police, and road blocks, and drug dogs, and entrance lists. Then...on to the house. As we walked up, a military string quartet played some beautiful entrance music. A display of food awaited, and then of course there was the house! We were invited to look around and take pictuers. 

Finally, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden invited us for a photo opportunity and gave each teacher a hug before the picture. She was warm then, but when she spoke to us she was even more generous and wonderful. Did you know she is a teacher? She was an English teacher (!) and she is still a teacher at Northern Virginia Community College. She said to us, "Teaching is a life worth living." I'm sure we all agree.

Taking the Warrior Trail to the Vice President's residence was an honor...but getting the picture was tricky. You can see my attempts below.


Finally, Jerry and I took a walk in the rain to the Jefferson Memorial. I love this monument. In college I even wrote a paper about it. We had the whole place to ourselves...and the security guard. Thomas Jefferson had well-considered ideas about democracy, government, and education. At one time he wrote, "Though the people may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand." Thomas Jefferson believed that government should be in the hands of the people, but they must be an educated people. He, too, was a proponent of education.

So day one was filled with reminders of the importance of what teachers do. It also reminded me of my home community because I thought about the many things I wanted to share with you!

The Warrior Trail continues tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2014

KPAX Interview - Like a Black Diamond Run: Scary, Fast and Exciting!

Who volunteers to get up at 4:30 am on a day off, shower and put on ten pounds of makeup, and then drive an hour round trip for a three-minute spot on a morning show? That would be me. And guess what? It was so much fun!

They let the kids come into the studio, so Abby took some pictures while I was at the podium with Justine Judge. We were both standing on boxes so the podium didn't hit us at a weird spot, and she was wearing flip flops.

Although those three minutes sped by, I was able to talk about almost everything I had hoped to bring up: three projects for my year as 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year. One is to promote a statewide insurance pool for teachers, another is "Bring Your Legislator to School Day" next fall, and the third is this blog! I even had a feather to show off. I also managed to make statements about the importance of teachers, and how much I appreciate my community.

At every turn I hope to advance the concept of teaching as a profession, one that deserves recognition and respect, and to remind teachers that we must be advocates for ourselves and our fellow educators.

Here's a link to the interview.

After the interview, the guys in the control booth let me hang the feather on one of their lights. Super cool to think everyone who passes through the studio walks right by a symbol of the Flathead Nation!

This may have been the fastest three minutes of my life. I really hope my time with the President next week moves a little more like the pace of life in Montana.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

About the Feather

I was inspired to launch The Warrior Trail campaign to connect my community with the world by the 2014 Texas Teacher of the Year, Monica Wilson Washington, who's doing the same for her school in her Orange All Over campaign.

However, my district's mascot situation is a little more complicated. We are the Arlee Warriors and Scarlets, and our "mascots" are representative of actual people. If you've ever investigated the controversies over Native American mascots, you may appreciate how appropriating a person's likeness, especially one in a warbonnet - considered traditional regalia - would be disrespectful. I had to find a way that would be respectful and positive.

I thought I might use a feather to represent my district. However, even a feather could be seen as traditional, and I need to be careful there as well. Thus I sought permission from the Indian Education Committee, a teacher, parent and community group that helps oversee activities in our district. They, along with community members, granted me permission to use a feather likeness for my campaign.

After that, I employed a student in her free time to design a feather for me. This is what she created, and I added color, ribbon, and beads. These are now being shared all over.

As a non-Indian person living and working in a tribal community, I am compelled to demonstrate respect to the people that I serve. I so appreciate their willingness to support me on this journey!  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wonder Women and Super Men: IEFA Superheroes

When I found out I'd be talking to teachers about this topic, I immediately thought: superheroes! And who better to help me select superheroes and movie clips but my nine-year-old son. We spent a nice afternoon together clipping videos into one-minute segments and dropping them into my powerpoint. But why? What makes this topic different and special? It's something close to my lived experience and at the core of my teaching experience: Indian Education for All.

This state initiative, begun in 1972 with the rewriting of the Montana Constitution, integrated into Montana law in 1999, and funded in 2005, has gained momentum as I've grown as a teacher. I have worked in tribal schools for 15 years and I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this topic while IEFA training and materials have been shaped, promoted, and disseminated in various ways across the state. It's a part of me, and so when Eliza Sorte Thomas asked me to kick off her IEFA showcase today, all I could think was...superheroes!

I talked to the group this morning about the continuing need for spokespeople in our state to support IEFA, and the different roles we might take: outspoken advocates, silent leaders, and those with the ability and humility to take on another's perspective in order to help them reflect on it. I showed the clips my son and I had chosen to exemplify the actions of these superheroes. I handed out business cards that proclaimed the holder is a "Superhero IEFA Educator"! 

But my talk was just the start of the day. The next event was an inventive historical-musical show put on by Jack Gladstone (Blackfeet), Rob Quist, and Dave Griffith. Jack's project was a tribute to Charlie Russell, and so he sang about Montana history in relation to Russell's work, particularly from an Indian perspective and punctuating songs with historical information and commentary. 

On the Warrior Trail I'm sharing my community with the world by leaving feathers where I go, and linking back to the community through this blog. Jack Gladstone was proud to attach the Flathead Nation feather to his guitar and even gave me a copy of his Native Anthropology CD with a song about Louis Charlo, Salish soldier who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. It was a neat two-way connection.

Driving home through the wind and snow squalls I was reminded again of the beauty of this place, and the respect we must give it...and each other. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Civic Institute: A Supreme Experience

As a teacher I'm trained in imparting information to others, among other things. Today I learned I have more in common with lawyers than I ever guessed! I had the opportunity to participate in the first Civics Institute at the University of Montana along with about twenty others, including pre-service and in-service teachers, law students, and high school students. The most interesting part of the morning was watching the Montana Supreme Court hear the oral arguments in the City of Whitefish v Phillips, et al, a land case too complicated to explain. Here's a news story that outlines some of it. The lawyers providing the oral arguments have some of the same tasks as teachers, such as the clear expression of information and ideas, a need to answer questions quickly and accurately, and the ability to recover from distractions (in the form of interruptions by the justices, mainly!). At the end of the court session, I waited until the justices had exited the court and sneaked up to the table on the stage. I tied my first feather to a microphone where the justices had been seated.

My role in the day's events was to share some remarks related to civic education after the court session. I am passionate about this, so it was easy to make these points:

1) Teachers are public servants. As such, one of our roles is to support our students in becoming participants in our democracy. For example, when I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, students investigate the historical background related to Jim Crow, gain a legal education related to discrimination (how do we get from Plessy v Ferguson to Brown v Board?), and learn about Constitutional amendments. This information can help these students make better decisions about candidates as well as referenda and initiatives because they are more knowledgeable about history and the legal process to the extent that it is participatory.

2) In Indian Country, civic education is not only more complicated but it's also more loaded. The stakes are higher, usually for tribal people, and the implications are layered with history and fringed with federal Indian policy. As authentic examples, I shared my own reservation home-ownership as a non-Indian - made possible by the Flathead Allotment Act of 1904 - and the taxes my mother pays for use of water in the irrigation ditch on her reservation property, water which is controlled by the Tribes. The ditches were built as part of the Flathead Irrigation Project eight decades ago. For my classroom example, I brought up The Round House, a novel I teach with upper-level students, whose plot is predicated on the complexity of tribal jurisdiction. Students learn about the intersection between tribal, state, and federal jurisdiction, the Major Crimes Act, and Public Law 280 when we study the features of that story. This reading helps my students understand the ways laws function on the reservation where we live.

3) The ability to participate meaningfully in our democracy, or civic education, is the most important skill we can teach. Of course this skill incorporates reading, writing, and math; it means Indian Education for All; it requires critical thinking. I argue not that students should learn only about civics, but that it should be layered into our curricula. We can use the minutes in our classrooms to teach fundamentals, but also to ignite in students a sense of responsibility to the society that has been built for them.

I'm so glad my first stop on the Warrior Trail was such a momentous one: I saw parts of American democracy at work, I witnessed individuals with such sophisticated communication skills and knowledge of their subject, and I spoke to teachers and students about the importance of civic education in our schools. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Warrior TRAIL begins here

Teachers are warriors. We fight battles for our students every day, through designing engaging learning experiences, advocating for their best education, and working tirelessly to support them in academics and other endeavors. We are warriors in our buildings, districts, and states too. These are sometimes tough battles, but we advocate for our students as well as our colleagues who stand strong beside us. Each day we travel a path, a trail, that we hope ends in student success and a stronger profession. Because you are Teachers Ready to Assist and Inspire Learning (TRAIL), I'd like for you to travel with me on this journey. As I do our work in various places, I'll leave behind a feather in your honor for the work you are doing at home. Welcome, friends, to The Warrior Trail.