Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz is a professor at Teachers College Columbia University. Yolanda brings her knowledge of Culturally Responsive Education to ESI teachers. On May 19th Yolanda gave the keynote address at the ESI Conference.
Seeing is an immediate response to sense impressions. Through seeing, we match images with established schemata. Noticing, however, involves experiencing and exploiting moments with complete and full attention. Noticing implies that a person is paying attention. It requires a set of practices for living in and hence learning from experiences that can inform future practice. We rarely notice unless we are being deliberate. I was honored to deliver this year’s keynote address at the Expanded Success Initiative’s (ESI) Conference “What We Are Learning” on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. I presented the concept of SEEING and NOTICING for two main reasons:
1) A foundational concept of Culturally Relevant and Responsive Education (CRRE) is SEEING students as cultural beings, and understanding how their culture (broadly defined) impacts their social and academic 2) NOTICING Black and Latino males is essentially what ESI has been about for these past three years.
I have learned so much from the brilliant English teachers I have worked with this past year, and I have admired the work of Paul Forbes, Richard Haynes, and my Teachers College, Columbia University colleague, Dr. Michelle Knight, since they began the initiative three years ago. The Expanded Success Initiative has helped participating schools build language on how to talk about Black and Latino male student success, and has provided further needed support for schools that already SEE their students, but can improve at NOTICING them.
The interactive keynote asked participants to complete a Venn diagram exercise by writing down words and phrases they believe people use to describe them when they look at or see them, and also to identify what they wished people would notice about them. Participants completed the exercise in pairs or small groups. The overlapping space on the diagram was left blank for participants to discuss any similarities as they shared their diagrams with each other. Participants were also asked to complete the Venn diagram with heir students in mind, asking them to jot down words or phrases that come to mind when they see their Black and Latino male students, and then reflect on what they believe they should take more time to notice.
Going into the presentation, I was aware that I would be speaking to participants and supporters of ESI. I wanted to use my time to gently push even further these individuals who are already committed to the social and academic success of Black and Latino males in their schools. Through a series of questions and statements, I invited the audience to think deeply about the way schools and society SEE males of color, and how through this seeing they don’t adequately NOTICE them for their full humanity, in part because school and societal structures, and time don’t allow for this. I reminded the audience how males of color often talk about how they are made to feel invisible in school settings and society; how many feel ignored as students and often blame adults for overlooking the damage that some school structures create in their lives.
I shared with the audience of students, teachers, administrators, college professors and school staff members that an abundance of research reports of a tension between the binary of the invisibility and hyper-visibility that Black and Latino males negotiate daily in their school contexts. They are often invisible in AP classes and other special opportunity programs, and hyper visible in time-out rooms and out- of-school suspension lists. Today’s educational climate presents a host of challenges for young Black and Latino males. I wanted to remind the audience that we must do more than just see these young men as they enter our schools – we must notice all that they bring and understand how what they bring impacts their educational experiences and their lives outside of school. I reminded the audience of the litany of stereotypes held by peers, administrators, and classrooms teachers against Black and Latino boys, and how the existence of these stereotypes makes it difficult for them to be viewed as individuals who are smart, talented, complex, and have the potential to be academically successful.
Throughout the day, conference participants reflected on the questions raised in the presentation, and while many of the attendees from ESI (and non- ESI schools) are already excellent at serving these young men, overall, through subsequent conversations and in the afternoon sessions, the audience as a community recommitted themselves to doing more noticing of the Black and Latino males in their schools.
By Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz , Ph.D.