G & C Lessons in the time of COVID-19

As we prepare to do in-person learning with students for our summer program, it is imperative that we think about our grace & courtesy lessons as a vehicle for understanding and providing reflection for students. Living through a global health crisis has been challenging for all, but especially for our Black & Indigenious communities where the virus has disproportionately impacted. We know that some learners have been able to have access to the outdoors and family members that were able to stay home due to flexible schedules. Others have had to stay inside with elders and close relatives while their parents worked. We need to meet ALL of our children’s social and emotional needs! These Grace and Courtesy lessons were created for the first week back and is designed for Elm City Montessori School. Our hope in sharing this is to be a guide as we believe it could/should be altered for your own specific school. In the spirit of Montessori practices, this is  a living document that will be refined to meet the needs of children as we observe and follow them throughout the summer. 

What is a Grace & Courtesy Lesson:

Grace and Courtesy lessons are used in Montessori classrooms and equip children to have  healthy connections with adults, peers, and the learning environment. They are simple exercises and role plays that you can do with the whole class or one child. For example, children learn how to go around another learner’s rug, showing respect for their work!

Week one Overview 

Before going back into the classroom, a brief video call with families and children can happen where you can tell them that the class will look different. Give them time to ask questions, but most of all give families a space to process and create ways for collaboration. The first week should feel like a re-introduction to the classroom.

First Day

Keeping the same rituals will be important. We know that physical touch will be limited, but showing love through your mask is possible. At our school, we use conscious discipline and one of our rituals is greeting every child. Get innovative with your students and create new No contact greeting rituals.   

Doing a walk through of the space can be useful too. You can ask the children while you walk, “what is different about the space? Should we make any changes to ensure everyone’s safety?”

Reassure children that you will do everything you can to keep them safe with moments throughout the day for stand-up guided meditation and mindfulness. Some learners may have anxiety the first day. You may want to give all/some children a small “Noticing Book” where they can document where the anxiety is living in their body. If they are younger, you can have them draw!

Grace & Courtesy Lessons (ages: for all, but geared towards primary 3-6 yrs. old)

How to greet a friend: Group lesson preferably outside  

All children should be seated or standing. Ask for two volunteers and tell them to come in the middle of the circle.

Presentation

Introduction

Prepare all materials before like a greeting sheet with examples.

Invite students to come participate in your lesson by telling them you have something to show them. Show each child where exactly to sit or stand and once all have found a space, tell them, “Today we are going to learn how to greet a friend. We have to be creative and greet each other without touching. Do you think we can do that?”

Give them time to think about it and ask, “How can you greet __________ without touching?”

If the child is having a hard time finding a way, you can point to your greeting sheet. “Can you try this one?”

You can also model for the child too. 

Purpose

Direct: To assist the child to be social and also create distance. 

Points of Interests

Creating a no contact ritual with a friend/peer interaction

How to ask for space: Group lesson   

All children should be seated or standing. Ask for one volunteer and tell them to come in the middle of the circle.

Presentation

Introduction

No materials are needed.

Invite student to come participate in your lesson by telling them you have something to show them. Show each child where exactly to sit or stand and once all have found a space, tell them, “Today we are going to learn how to ask for space. It is important to ask for space when someone is too close to you because we want to practice social distancing.” Ask the child to say social distancing. During this time of a health crisis or pandemic (ask the child to say pandemic), doctors and scientists think it’s best to stay away from others so they cannot touch or cough on you. 

Let’s practice. Invite the child to stand just a little too close. When you notice the child getting close, move back and say, “please give space. It is important for space right now so we don’t spread our germs to others!”

You can have the child practice being the person to move away! 

Purpose

Direct: To help children understand the importance of keeping space and how to respectively and firmly reclaim space. 

Points of Interests

Moving briskly away from their friend.

Coughing and Yawning can be found here 

Continue to emphasize why it is important for us to safely cough, sneeze, and yawn, in our elbow

How to ask for help

Our learners are use to putting a hand on our shoulder indicating that they need our attention or help. Remind them that we need to use a no contact way to show you need support. I would create some type of hand signal with the class in the beginning of the school year. The more you create with them, the more they will be invested in keeping each other safe!

More G & C lessons to come in the next week!

Attendance During a Pandemic: How institutional racism shows up without a building

School attendance is the leading indicator of future student success, but how do we measure who attends during a global pandemic Fam? If learning at home wasn’t hard enough, families all over the country will most likely feel the burden of making sure their learner is signing in to google classroom and going to virtual lessons daily. No one wants to look like an ill equipped caregiver and the “you are doing your best” mantra will feel distasteful to read aloud. 

To be honest, schools do not need to do attendance. This is a merky data point that quite frankly wastes a spreadsheet and tells us what we already know. We know that there is structural racism and inequity that crack between the already collapsing education system. We know that attendance data will report that children with access to technology, caregivers at home with secure employment, and ways to social distance easily will be more likely to “attend”. Families who continue to work, who are economically exploited, poor without technology, whose native language is not represented in school-wide communication, who are Black and Brown, and other folx on the margins will be less likely to attend on a consistent basis.

COVID-19 also reveals schools inability to cultivate relationships with families. If we had nurtured authentic partnerships before learning at home started, maybe families would be more inclined to ask for help or would want to answer the phone when we call.  I know white supremacy culture does this to us. It constructs this concept that we can only do right by learners when we have the data to prove families need help. This construct distorts our ability to be anti-racist and anyone in the business of doing transformative work, but call roll calls are being performative.

 Don’t be complicit in the system you fight against. Don’t fold into the district’s instructions. Don’t be afraid to agitate an already disrupted learning. Our families AND school staff deserve to have autonomy in how children learn. They are experts of their children so 

Do continue on

Do mitigate unresolved harm from the school year with caregivers

Do create a wellness collective within your classroom to make sure basic needs are being met

Do body breaks and move with your students before learning

Do provide space for families to feel what they need to and ask for feedback about your instruction from learners

Do trust that the learning will happen without a building

Do make a bomb ass plan so when you get back, learners feel held and secure

Do honor your staff. They have families and worry and toilet paper runs for them are a thing too. 

And lastly do be a human being that understands everyone is out here surviving. No one chose this. We are living in a health crisis that is literally killing folx and disproportionately killing Black people and other groups impacted by bias and racism. Stay safe and lets fucking survive this shit without a perfect attendance e-party please.  

Amelia Allen Sherwood she/her

Hood_Montessorian

My Internalized Racial Oppression

Let me tell you how. 

As I was setting up for the first Sankofa Learning Center event titled, Listening and Learning Circle, I was anticipating all my day ones coming through and supporting with other folx from the community that I want to build relationships. I never would have imagined what happened next. Every single person that stepped into the Ochrid Cafe(Black owned AF) that night was people of the global majority. We use this term to amplify the truth that BIPOC are the majority contrary to our socialized understanding of us as a minority group. With the exception of one white woman who left early, it was a room filled with Black elders, Black mothers and fathers, Black queer womxm, and Black children running around. It was the vision realized and I couldn’t have been more stunned that my own internalized racial oppression betrayed me for all the right reasons. 

See, even as a Pan-African Black educator cultivating and seeding an intentional space for Black children, I still feel the need to get validation from white folx. For some reason, I felt like I needed to say, “See! Look at me! I can save my own without your help and applaud me for it.” mimicking that same white supremacy/savior mentality. I was so upset that known of them showed up until a co-worker came up to me the next day and explained herself. She said, “There will be other ways to support you, but I felt like that space was not meant for me.”  There it was. My own IRO betrayed me and transformed itself into a massive ass self-sufficient butterfly ready to go back and get it. 

Sankofa is a metaphorical bird derived from the Akan language that means go back and get what your ancestors stowed away for you. If you listen to your ancestors, they will give you the secrets of how they not only survived, but also lived in liberation in spite of their oppression. I am holding onto that secret as I continue this journey. I am depriving my IRO and reinvesting in my own independence outside of white institutions. This feels like new territory, but I am ready for the unfamiliar terrain. I am ready to water the dreams and visions that have been tucked away and in order to live outside of the white gaze, I have to declutter my own IROs. They will always be with me and I know now that my new #BlackGirlMagic power is to transmute them into internalized racial affirmations! 

Some affirmations that I am holding onto:

Black women deserve to be soft & hard. We can hold both.

We can take care of our own. Where the Black funders at?

Decolonize your dreams. 

Breathe in Black excellence. Breathe out anti-Blackness and the lies they told you.