Saturday, September 16, 2017

Culturally Responsive Connections

My focus as a school counselor is forming connections with my students and connecting them with their education. That also means I have to put effort into not creating disconnections with my students or barriers to connections. I must stay aware of what I choose to say and do and display that could cause a disconnection. As an adult in the building/authority figure, my students aren't necessarily going to be comfortable telling me that they feel insulted or offended by something I have said or done or displayed. That onus of awareness is on me, not on my students. 

As a school counselor, I believe part of my job is to make sure ALL of my students feel safe and comfortable in my office and in speaking with me. And while I work to make our whole school a safe and comfortable place for ALL students, I am aware that there are places and people in a school that  students may not feel accepted. So being the school counselor, I pay attention to and consider how the things I say, do, and display may impact my diverse student population.I pay attention to and consider how the things I say, do, and display model cultural responsiveness and inclusion for ALL of my students. If I don't consider and pay attention to these things, I run the risk of creating disconnections with students or at the very least run the risk of only connecting with students on a surface level. And how can I be the school counselor for ALL of my students - ALL OF THEM - if I am creating disconnections for some of them. 
To be culturally responsive in education means being able to learn from, relate to, and respect all cultures. To be culturally responsive in education means including positive references to and representations of the various cultures of my students and the cultures not represented by my students.  
On the basic surface level, culture is language, food, celebration, art, literature, dance, music, visual arts, etc.  Beyond that surface level, culture is more. It is body language, eye contact, customs, personal space, concept of time, definitions of beauty, attitudes toward elders and adolescents, and so very much more. 

I try to educate myself and consider all of these pieces of culture when I am interacting with and modeling for my students. 
I say all of this to say that I have seen a worrisome and disturbing trend among school counselors of using pieces of different cultures and turning them into cutesy or joke-like images and sayings. I am concerned about how these things create disconnections between school counselors and their student population. I am concerned how these things model cultural insensitivity and disrespect for other students and staff. 
Lately, I've seen many counselor created bulletin boards and office doors using the phrase "Let's taco-bout it" to show all the things students can discuss with their school counselor. Many of these displays were inspired by the note cards recently sold at the Target dollar-spot (pictured below). These note cards are also being used by school counselors to give to students for appointments to talk to the counselor as well. 

So what's the problem with "Let's taco-about it?"  Tacos are a traditional Mexican dish (Not a Hispanic dish). To take that piece of a culture (their food) and turn it into a joke or something cute makes light of a part of their culture and turns their culture into a joke or something "cute." 
I have spoken out on various counseling social media groups when I have seen this to address the issue only to be dismissed and told...of course... that I am being too sensitive or that  the use of the phrase and multiple images of tacos on a bulletin board are more like a "pun" or "play on words" and not a joke. 
Well... 1) it is very concerning when school counselors - the supposedly open-minded empathetic listeners of a school - are so quick to dismiss others without considering their perspective and 2) the very definition of  a pun is "a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word" and the definition of  a play on words is "a word or turn of phrase with a double meaning, a pun or other humorous use of language." So a pun or play on words IS a joke or something humorous and we really shouldn't be turning aspects of someone's culture into a joke or something humorous to laugh at, make light of, or devalue.  
We have to be culturally responsive in our connections as school counselors and to create disconnections by taking parts of a culture and turning them into a joke takes away our ability to do the amazing work of school counseling where we support students socially, emotionally, and academically. By taking parts of a culture and turning them into a joke takes away our ability to do the amazing work of school counselling where we work to create systemic change among the  programs and student population in our buildings. 
And by taking parts of a culture and turning them into a joke takes away our ability to model cultural responsiveness, celebration of diversity and inclusion for ALL of our students. 
One of the other responses I have received in addressing these culturally insensitive displays and phrases is that it's okay in the building that they work in because that culture is not represented in their student population. That culture doesn't have to be represented in your student population because we should be modeling appropriate and inclusive language and behavior for ALL of our students. We should be the ones showing our students how to be culturally responsive, how to be inclusive, and how to learn from the background and experiences of everyone.  We should be creating "windows and "mirrors."We should be including literature and images of ALL cultures in what we do -  not only to represent the students we work with but also to give a voice to the cultures not represented by the students in our schools. We should not model that it is okay to turn another person's culture into a joke or something "cute."
 I know the sting of being told that your culture isn't important enough to discuss in a classroom because there are not enough students from that culture in the classroom so it won't be worthwhile. That's what I was told in a high school class when a teacher asked for suggestions about what else we would like to learn in the class. When I suggested the Harlem Renaissance, I was told that there were not enough black students in the class to study if only African-Americans can learn from and enjoy that amazing movement. The impact was a message I received, loud and clear, that I wasn't important, worthy, or significant. 
I have seen this quote by Dr. Rudin Bishop  in various blogs and articles that relates to this issue...  

Some of the other things that I have seen become popular recently that can create the same disconnections and cultural insensitivity environment as the "let's taco-bout it" displays include.....
* displays and t-shirts that say "no prob-llama" with a llama depicted. ("Problema" being a Spanish word and "prob-llama" being a joke of that word).
* titles, posters, and t-shirts that say "Nah I'mma Stay..." or "Nah Am A Stay..." usually followed by at home or in bed or other phrase endings. (Namaste being a traditional greeting in Hindi or Nepalese or other languages and "Nah I'mma Stay" being a joke of that greeting). 
* the use of tipis (or tepees) in a classroom or office for a cute camping theme or other decoration (Tipis being a traditional dwelling for many Native American tribes that has very important and significant meaning in its specific physical construction as well as it's connection to the spirituality of that Native American tribe and a tepee in a classroom that is placed their just to be cute). 
* the use of animal prints behind the words "love the skin you're in" on bulletin boards and in hallways. (the concern with this is the relation of human skin color to animal hides when there has been such a long history  in our country of African-Americans being likened to animals especially African-American males). 

I love the metaphor  "windows" and "mirrors" in education and curriculum. I referenced this metaphor above. So, here are a few links to some of other blog posts that address mirrors and windows. Although they discuss classroom texts and the gaps between teacher and student races and ethnicity, the concepts still apply to our work as school counselors and how we create appropriate and supportive mirrors and windows for our students. 
Blog post on Scholastic by Chad Everett:
Blog post on  Huffington Post by Gregory Michie: 

My sincere hope is that any school counselors or other educators who read this blog post, do so with an open mind and please consider the powerful impact you make with your words, actions, and displays in your classrooms, offices, and hallways.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

They Call Her The Connection Coach

Her name is Tara Brown....
 and she is one of the best speakers I have had the pleasure of sitting in a room with.

My district has had her as a speaker for school counselors and the Georgia School Counselor Association has had her as a keynote at the fall conference a couple of years ago. As the self described, "Connection Coach," Tara Brown speaks to my soul as she uses her experience, humor, and realness to talk about connecting with students. Her experience is backed by research about how imperative it is to connect with our students. Tara Brown's experience and the research perfectly align to why I do what I do. I'm a school counselor because I know what can happen when students don't connect to an adult at school and don't connect to their education.
Anytime, I see her name on an agenda or program, I am immediately excited. I know I'm going to be inspired and energized to continue doing the work and I know I'm going to come away with new knowledge to implement in my work and to share with others. So, I want to make sure you all know about her too!

If you have  a chance to hear her speak, don't miss out on that opportunity. 
Here's a little peek at her in action.....
"We don't have time NOT to build relationships with our kids." 

You won't more don't you?! 
Well, Tara Brown has an amazing website,, with resources, videos, and more you should check out!  

I use some her educator resources to help remind myself of how to best connect with students and I share them with my awesome school family as well. 
One of my favorites is  10 Crucial Things My Under-Resourced Students Taught Me. These 10 things are so important to read and re-read to remind yourself of what is going on in the minds of a lot of our students. When we can truly understand our students in this way, then we have no choice but to take the time to connect and build relationships that support and engage our students. 

This shortclip of  Tara Brown talking about Running From Lions echoes the words from Born Bright by C. Nicole Mason from my last post. 
If we are going to build  relationships and connect with our students we have to be the ones to show them that there is "a safety and a sanctuary you can rely on in my school/classroom."

Tara Brown also has a book, Different Cultures, Common Ground: 85 Proven Strategies to Connect in Your Classroom. It is a small yet mighty book with simple strategies for anyone to use to connect with students. Another great resource for yourself or to share with others in your building. 
If you believe in the importance of connecting with students and you haven't  already checked out Tara Brown's website, please do. You can find information from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to Tips for Teaching Boys to Stress Buster Strategies to Using Humor in the Classroom to Information about Transient Students and More!

And if you're on Facebook, you can follow Tara Brown, The Connection Coach, and get weekly video inspiration each Monday morning! 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tales from the Crate 1: Born Bright

I'm back! 

It's time for The Connecting Counselor Blog to get back up and running!
And I'm back with some new types of  posts based on some recent reading. 

I love to read...non-fiction mostly. I especially love to read non-fiction that relates to my love of school counseling and connecting with students. As many of my friends know, I have a crate of books that lives in my bedroom and at times is overflowing with books, because I just can't seem stop myself from buying more! 

I've recently read some AMAZING books that support my connecting focus and I want to share so others can also check out these writings.  
So without further is installment 1 from"Tales from the Crate"

On February 1st of this year, I attended an event in Atlanta at the Center for Civil and Human Rights with my friend and fellow school counselor, Stacey Miller. The event was titled "When Race Meets Us at the Door" and the talk included Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum who is the author of book we both read and loved, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. Dr. Tatum was moderating a talk with C. Nicole Mason. Dr. Mason is the Executive Director  of the Center for Research and Policy in Public interest (CP2PI) at the New York Women's Foundation. She is also the the author of Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America.
At the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Dr. Mason shared stories of growing up in poverty and how that impacted her experiences in school and in her community. She shared about her challenges and the people along the way who saw something in her, connected with her, and helped her along her path to success. One of those people was a school counselor which we were, of course, excited to hear. After hearing her important talk about the lives and perspectives of young people growing up in poverty, we immediately ran to the table to buy her book. 
In Dr. Mason's own words..."In Born Bright, I wanted to tell a different story about growing up in American and to humanize the issue of poverty. I also wanted to include the voices and experiences of the people I cared most deeply about, my family and communities. I want readers and experts who work on issues related to economic security on a daily basis to really understand the sacrifices, challenges, and hard choices low-income families make in order to survive. Born Bright is truly an insider's story." 

Born Bright is a must read story for school counselors and educators. In her memoir, Dr. Mason gives you a glimpse into the world of poverty that some of our students are living in.  It gives you a deeper understanding about the experiences and challenges and choices of some of our students and their families. Many times as I read her memoir, I asked myself or noted in the margin, 'And how many of my students does this describe?'  Dr. Mason writes, "Our lives had become unpredictable and volatile. From day to day, there was always a crisis or problem to be solved. Inside, I felt unsettled and out of control. Externally, I could look around and see that there was no one to tell or confide in. As a result, I learned to see but not absorb and to feel but not cry. I buried what I had seen, heard, or been told in the deepest, most hidden place within my soul. I believe this is true for most children who live in poverty. They deny, conceal, and stuff down the pain and violence they experience in order to  make it to the next day. If and when they do let it out, it is an emotional explosion that too often falls on deaf ears or leads to punishment." (Mason, C. N. (2016) Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York, NY: St Martin's Press). 
As a school counselor, I know I have met this student over and over again. These students are 'My Why' and I am in education because I don't want any student to "look around and see that there was no one to tell or confide in." It's why my school focuses on making connections with students.

 Born Bright gives you insight to the perspectives of our students how connecting with all of our students, not just the ones who are like us, is so very important. C. Nicole Mason  shares, "The only White people I had ever seen on a consistent basis were my teachers, all of whom were young women. They seemed so naive and soft. How they got to our neighborhood, I never knew. They did not understand our lives or us. Our problems were not their problems, at least not permanently. If they became overwhelmed, they could leave or decide not to come back. We did not have this option. As a child, I always imagined that they lived far away, perhaps on another planet. And they would drop in just in time to line us up after the first bell rang for school to start." (Mason, C. N. (2016) Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York, NY: St Martin's Press). 

Born Bright also shows over and over again the need to not only understand and connect with our students but to connect them to opportunities and information... ALL of our students should be connected with these opportunities and information. As educators, we should be a part of unlocking those doors to future opportunities and demystifying higher education for ALL of our students. Dr. Mason shares this importance, "The rules of negotiating the higher education system were largely unknown and invisible to me. The conversations about what to do after high school in my community, in my family, or among my peers usually focused on immediate employment. Rarely was there serious talk about college, particularly a four-year institution. In this instance, information was currency. What I did not know could cost me dearly."   (Mason, C. N. (2016) Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York, NY: St Martin's Press). 

And still one simple line from Born Bright, may be the most powerful from the book and the most true for all of our students, "I wanted to be seen and heard." (Mason, C. N. (2016) Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York, NY: St Martin's Press).
We have to see and hear our students in real and genuine ways so that we can create true connections with them and we are better able to connect them with their education. 

Recently I read and retweeted an article from Edutopia by Joshua Block titled, Teaching Toward Consciousness. It discussed the importance of "mirrors and windows" in education and connects well to a lot of the points in Born Bright by C. Nicole Mason. Mirrors "validate and acknowledge" students' experiences and their own reality and windows "expose and reveal the unseen," allowing students to understand the experiences of others, challenging their assumptions and even allowing them to discover new opportunities. (Block, J. (2016, August 4). Teaching Toward Consciousness. Retrieved from

For more information about C. Nicole Mason:
For more information about Born Bright:
For more information about Center for Research and Policy in Public Interest:
Edutopia article, Teaching Toward Consciousness
For more information about Joshua Block:
For more information about Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum:
For more information about The Center for Civil and Human Rights: