All posts by Caryn Bird

This blog is a part of the Write 6x6 challenge for Spring 2020. \

Difficult Conversations

A few years ago, I cancelled my cable subscription. I had kept it far too long because every time I called to cancel it the sales person on the other end of the line would remind me that I had a bundled package with my internet service which was only a little bit more a month than interwebs alone. Then they would give me some sort of incentive that gave me premium channels for another 6 months and the cycle would continue.

When I made that final call to ACTUALLY cancel my cable, it was different. It was different because my reason for canceling was different. I cancelled my cable to save myself from my bad viewing habits. I had realized that the only things I was watching on live television were home renovation shows with amazing before and after moments and The Real Housewives of anywhere, you name it, and I watched it. Now, while I do love a big reveal and a discovery of shiplap behind plaster, I do not love the fact that I had become immune to the forced conflict of women behaving badly towards one another for my viewing pleasure. I watched women scream at one another, throw drinks, flip tables, smash cakes, and be generally vile. I watched as conflict became “reality.” The level of schadenfreude I experienced was not worth the pangs of guilt I felt as a feminist, human, and educator.

Regardless of the previous failed attempts to cut the cord, I made the call. It was difficult to say no to all the offers of free HBO and extended discounts, but this time the difficult conversation of saying no to a cable provider was made much easier because the reason for cancelling was worthy of the difficult conversation.

I provide this somewhat silly example above because I think it highlights some ideas I have for having difficult conversations in general both with classes, individual students, and colleagues.

I am by no means an expert in this field, but I am always working towards being an advocate and accomplice in the face of systemic oppression which means lending my voice to some difficult conversations. Since I am a fan of lists, here is my list of are some of the thoughts I have had when thinking about difficult conversations:

1. Pick your battles.

Not everything needs to be addressed all of the time. We must decided which difficult conversations are even worth having. This can be anything from cell phone use in the classroom to microaggressions. You have to decide whether you are safe to have a conversation, and if your audience is receptive to hearing. And yes, sometimes we need to speak up even if our audience isn’t receptive to hearing what we have to say. My point is that when presented with a choice of whether or not you want to have a discussion you can make that decision.

2. Know your limits.

This goes hand in hand with pick your battles. Knowing what you care about how far you are willing to take that conversation will make it easier to set boundaries in difficult conversations.

3. Be mindful of outcomes

When having a difficult conversation, I find it helpful to keep in mind the outcome I desire. Am I looking for action or am I simply looking to be heard? Knowing what I want to gain from the conversation helps me to keep focused on the task at hand.


3 Adjustments you can make to increase LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in the Classroom

When I am not teaching, I volunteer as the co-chair for GLSEN Phoenix. GLSEN Phoenix is a local chapter of GLSEN,-a national organization committed to creating safer schools for LGBTQ+ K-12 Students and their peers. Here are three practices I use in my classroom to increase inclusivity:

1. Names Matter

Calling our students by the name they want to be called is an important step in creating an inclusive environment. This includes not only trans and gender non-conforming students, but ALL students. Using the correct name with the correct pronunciation is vital for creating space for our students in the classroom.

When taking attendance on the first day of class, use surnames instead of first names and have students respond with the name they would like for you to use to refer to them. This is a one way to possibly avoid using a name for a student that could be inaccurate, painful, or incorrect.

I have my students write their names on index cards as they appear on the roster and the name they want to be called underneath. Then, I avoid using the wrong names all together.

I let my students know that if I struggle to pronounce their name it is because I am the problem NOT their name. I ask students to correct me if I mispronounce their name because their name is important.

2. Normalize Pronouns

My friend , Wallace Hudson, is a Training Specialist for One-N-Ten and Cadre Leader for GLSEN Phoenix. Whenever they are presenting a training about pronouns they make sure to include a statement along the lines of, “Names and pronouns are the only pieces of a person’s identity that impact you. Asking or using someone’s pronouns is a way of honoring their identity without needing to know exactly what that identity is.”

At the start of the semester, when doing the obligatory get-to-know-you activities, ask students to include their pronouns (if they feel comfortable). This doesn’t just mean your trans, gender-queer, gender non-conforming, or non-binary students, but ALL students.

You may want to include a brief explanation of what pronouns are because most cis-gendered folks don’t often think about their own. In fact, according to GLSEN, a national LGBTQ education organization, “Including pronouns is a first step toward respecting people’s gender identity, working against cisnormativity, and creating a more welcoming space for people of all genders.” No one should be forced to share their pronouns, but by having ALL students do so, we begin to normalize the use of correct pronouns.

Additionally, you can add your pronouns to your email signature as an additional step towards normalizing pronouns.

3. Use Gender-Neutral Language

So often as humans we have a desire to place things into binary terms-things are either good or bad, black or white, male of female. This can be especially true in classroom settings.

One way to increase our inclusivity is to remove gendered language when possible. Being cis-gender, masculine or feminine, male or female, or are not inherently bad or wrong, but language related to this can be exclusionary to folks who fall opposite of what they were assigned at birth or somewhere in between or beyond.

Typically, we are most apt to use gendered language when addressing our classroom. I still struggle to use inclusive, gender-neutral language in my classroom. I say things like, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen” or “Okay guys” ALL the time!

Here are some gender-neutral terms you can use to be more inclusive: friends, students, folks, all, or y’all.


5 Lessons from Puppy Training

My partner and I recently rescued a sweet puppy who we eventually named Willow (It took about a week to come to that consensus). She was three months old and cute as can be! Like most any puppy, she spent most of her time being adorable, sleeping, and misbehaving. I have never met a dog who loves rocks and sticks more than Willow! When she would find a new rock or stick, our go to was to snap a picture not correct the behavior, so clearly we could not be trusted to be responsible to train her by ourselves. we decided that puppy class was the right fit for us. The following is a list of five lessons in no particular order from puppy class that are helpful reminders for all instructors:

1. Consistency Matters

I am not sure if I need to expand on this because I think we all know that this is true in the classroom but having a puppy has made it even more abundantly clear the need for consistent messaging. If we don’t say and do things in the same way then Willow is lost just like our students are if we fail to be consistent.

2. Praise/Feedback Must Be Timely

In puppy class, you teach a command and reward when the command is completed by acknowledging the behavior and rewarding it. You correct a misfire by redirecting the puppy to the behavior you desire and then reward and praise the when the desired outcome is completed. The praise/feedback or redirection must be timely to be effective just like feedback and grades for students must be timely to be effective.

3. Differentiate Instruction

When training a puppy you attach both a verbal command and a gesture to the desired behavior. You also scaffold more complex outcomes by building on more basic commands. Breaking ideas or lessons into more digestible pieces for students that can be built on to learn bigger concepts is important. We must also differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students by presenting information in a variety of ways.

4. Ask for Help

We could not have trained our puppy on our own due to our aforementioned affinity for rewarding bad behaviors. We needed the community of other dog owners and our dog trainer. Collaboration with others can only make us better teachers. We must discuss our shortcomings, our strengths, and ideas with others to benefit our students.

5. Have Fun

Puppies like students are a joy! Teaching and learning are fun!