Category: Education

mother and daughter on grass

Choosing Anti-Racist Teaching in 2020

Posted on December 1, 2020 by

When I first became a teacher 30 years ago, I knew my true self wouldn’t be 100% acceptable in mainstream public education. Suddenly I became ‘Miss Mason’, someone who instantly became an adult around children not all that much younger than myself. Definitely not what we would call anti-racist teaching today; that part of my self was shadowed as I set about doing what was expected.

I knew that my days of extremes were over. The jet black hair was artfully shaved and teased. Dark eye-liner, perfectly powdered skin, and personal statements adorning my body were no longer acceptable in my chosen profession.

The days of twenty-something expression of individuality – let alone political beliefs – were shelved. That’s a huge reason why I chose NOT to teach in my hometown; the idea of 24/7 censorship terrified me. I thought anti-racist teaching was impossible.

Slowly, though, I got used to doing what I should do.

Doing what I thought I should do as an English teacher, one mask replaced another. Teaching days became years. It was easy to fall into teaching reading strategies, traditional white male texts, journaling, book reports, reading logs…I was doing a great job teaching the content of English.

Just not so great at being myself.

And I did a good job. Kudos came my way: awards, great relationships with students. Marriage. Motherhood. Maturity. All the parts of life that are supposed to add depth and shape us into who we were meant to be.

mother and daughter on grass

Photo by Daria Obymaha on

Slivers of my real self slipped out occasionally, followed by sleepless nights. You know, the kind of teacher nightmares we have when we think we might have accidentally said something controversial? That anxiety of waiting to be called in, to listen to a parent complaint that teachers shouldn’t be saying those kinds of things in the classroom…

And then…2017

anti-racist teaching

One day in early 2017 one of my young UCD AVID tutors, “L”, pulled me aside and whispered, “I’m really sorry Mrs. Wolfe, but I can’t work here anymore. I have to lay low. I’m DACA, and I can’t do anything that might impact my enrollment here. I’ve got to go back home.”

I remember my shock, my confusion, and my anger as I looked into her eyes. “L” was a few years older than my own daughter, but she was Mexican, first-generation, and mine was white, from college-educated parents.

My daughter wasn’t feeling the need to go into hiding to save her education.

My daughter wasn’t moving back home, giving up her job, her friends, her life because of her ethnicity.

But “L” was. And I realized that staying silent in the classroom wasn’t going to change anything. Avoiding anti-racist teaching wasn’t going to create equity, or help someone else’s daughter or son. Teaching is a political act. Education is a political issue. And no longer was it a question of should I speak my truth – but I must.

“Just do right’

“Just do right”, Maya Angelou told us. But what does ‘doing right’ look like in education when it comes to anti-racist teaching? The last four years have shown America that whites must use their privilege to effect change. We must examine and change what we are teaching our children at home and in the classroom. Teachers must question if they have a job versus a platform for change, or if they teach for the money versus the opportunity to mold minds? 

I must ask myself if I’m afraid of anti-racist teaching. My students aren’t. They say, Why should we be afraid to talk about race? It just is.

So if we must talk and teach about it, why is it so hard to know where to start? And if kids aren’t afraid, why are adults?

Look for the leaders

In the article ‘America’s schools are failing black people: When will education have its own #BlackLivesMatter movement?’ the author S.E. Smith asserts:

Instead of confronting racial and cultural divides, American education only serves to further them. Racial division is an inescapable fact of primary and post-secondary education itself, thanks to huge gaps in education quality that are closely tied to race and socioeconomic status. Some of the nation’s most underperforming schools are in primarily minority areas, reflecting the diminished opportunities for the nation’s children of color. Moreover, students of all races and backgrounds are subject to wildly differing history curricula, with Southern students often instructed that the Civil War was a “War of Northern Aggression.” Those distinctions matter.

Discussion of race in the U.S. varies across the board depending on regional and district policies, the inclinations of an individual school, and a teacher’s personal approach. In a nation where some students learn about the civil rights movement and church burnings in detail, while others complete units in history class where slaves are treated as commodities just like cotton and sugar, race relations are going to be a serious problem.

So what are WE going to do about it?

Is it a question, finally, of should versus must? Is it even a choice?

Choosing must is a scary direction. It’s the place that pushes us outside of ourselves, that opens us up to criticism and ostracism. It leads us to vulnerability, to hurt, to isolation. But not to silence.

Author Elle Luna says, “Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges, and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own — and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.”

Teaching my truth

The greatest thing I can do with my life as an anti-racist teacher is to teach my truth. I can’t hide behind worrying about what might happen when I step out of the shadow of expectation. Kids deserve to talk about racism, to hear their white teacher be honest about what is…and what could be. They deserve to hear the truth.

I must call it out and must be intentional about talking about books by BIPOC. Teachers must prod students’ thinking to make connections between what they read and write and what is…and what has been. We must teach about empathy, and justice, and equity.

I must be me, even when it’s scary – even when it’s easier to be someone else.



Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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distance teaching

Distance Teaching & Learning: The 4c’s for Making It Successful

Posted on August 2, 2020 by

Distance teaching and learning is different from face to face teaching and learning. It’s the truth.

I’ve spent the entire summer facilitating courses for educators on Digital Teaching and Learning. I’m seeing many educators start to panic about not knowing how to start thinking and planning about beginning a new school year online.

The COVID chasm I wrote about a few weeks ago is real, and it’s terrifying. Teachers everywhere are trying to rethink, remake, redo all that they’ve ever known about teaching. We know this may go on for a semester at more.

What are the 4 C’s of distance teaching?

In California, most districts are starting the year virtually. This requires us to reimagine our back to school routines. I believe there are 4c’s to define the best practices of distance teaching and learning: community, connection, collaboration, and competency.

Taking a look at each of these will help teachers breathe more easily. It will help parents trust the school system and ensure students have the best possible start to the 2020-21 school year.

Distance Teaching = COMMUNITY

So many teachers are frightened about never having met our students face to face and trying to create a classroom community. But think about it – how many virtual spaces are there where we connect with people we don’t see every day? Do you participate in social media groups? Have you taken online classes or done Zoom yoga groups? Did you ever use a VCR to do a workout, or maybe you’ve even done online dating?

Today’s kids see virtual communities differently. Fanfiction groups thrive and survive on the social connections and dedication of members. Classrooms can be the same! Social-emotional learning is important at the start of the year. It’s also crucial to embed into EVERY SINGLE lesson and student contact.

What does SEL mean?

Check out the CASEL competencies for detailed info, but in summary, pay attention. Ask questions. Listen to your students. Comment and give feedback. Show your personality. Crowdsource feedback and ideas from your students. I’m a huge fan of HyperDocs. I make sure that as I design every learning cycle I’m embedding deliberate entry points for student choice, voice, and feedback.

In synchronous meetings, use icebreakers, polls, discussion questions, photo sharing, read alouds, videos and games EVERY TIME.

It’s a ‘pay it forward’ way of thinking – that first five minutes you spend intentionally connecting with students as they enter your virtual class, while they’re ‘getting ready’ and as you end the session will PAY OFF BIG TIME! The conferencing space IS your classroom space – do what you’d do face to face.

Distance Teaching = CONNECTION

Connection goes hand in hand with SEL, and also should be extended to TEACHER connection and PARENT connection.

Teachers need to feel supported. They need to learn self-care strategies, how to set work/home boundaries, how to develop routines, and where to share their glows and grows. One way to create teacher connection is to curate spaces – my favorites are Google Classroom and Wakelet. Using Google Classroom to set up a safe space for virtual PD allows teachers to enter on their own or during virtual meetups. Housing articles, videos, tech tips, and discussion threads help teachers focus on pertinent topics while having access to resources and reflection time.

What’s Wakelet?

Wakelet helps curate collections of resources and can be shared, and/or curated as a community. I love sharing my collections on Assessment ideas, Google Classroom Tips, HyperDocs, and Diverse Reading Lists.

An added bonus of using Google Classroom and Wakelet is allowing teachers to explore new systems that can then be transferred to student use or creation.

Parents need connection, too – Wakelet would be a powerful tool to share tech training how-to videos, Google Calendar appointment sign ups, websites – really anything that you want parents to use to ‘see’ inside your classroom!

Distance Teaching = COLLABORATION

Distance learning shifts the way we collaborate. Students NEED to connect with others – collaboration on projects allows for shared critical thinking, communication, and a deeper connection with school – as long as WHAT they’re collaborating on is engaging, relevant, and rigorous. consider tech tools to foster collaboration like Padlet and Flipgrid. Check out this fabulous collaboration resource created by Steve Wick!

For teachers, collaboration through Professional Learning Communities, not just in your school but worldwide, offers opportunities to share academic, pedagogical, and personal ideas. Many social media networks like Facebook and Instagram are turning to groups and hashtags to connect educators; my favorite collaboration site is Twitter.

Educators find ideas via hashtags searches, groups, direct messages, and Twitter chats – in fact, I hosted a WeVideo Twitter chat on ‘Podcasting and Student Creativity” in hopes of sharing and collecting new ideas for student podcasting projects!

If you’re interested in podcasting you can see the archive of ideas here.

What else can teachers do?

Taking an online class, webinar, or book study helps teachers connect and collaborate over topics of interest. Also, it puts teachers in the point of view of students – what better way to ‘feel’ what it’s like for our own students to be in a virtual classroom! Consider getting Google Certified (Kasey Bell has great resources here) or taking tech tool certifications. Perhaps join your local CUE affiliate, or attend virtual conferences or edchats – all ways to not feel so all alone in distance teaching while making new friends at the same time (see, I told you community is built online!).

For students, authentic collaboration needs to happen in synchronous and asynchronous time. In web conferences, consider using breakout rooms, if possible. Many face to face strategies, like give one, get one, can be done in with the chat feature. Utilizing UDL lesson design with HyperDocs allows the teacher to build in collaboration within a lesson or unit using a variety of digital tools. Sarah Landis created a compilation of UDL resources in this slide deck!

Distance Teaching = COMPETENCY

Competency means taking a look at how we not only train teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff in best practices for digital teaching and learning, but also onboarding our students and parents with digital basics. We need to intentionally TEACH structures, tools, and systems to ensure student success. Also, creating a standardized design for students to access assignments in your LMS, writing, and recording directions for each assignment helps create strong organizational systems. Creating a teacher website to share access points also helps students achieve systematic competency.

Then, ensuring consistent lesson design that features frequent, familiar strategies like those found in EduProtocols can help students move from feeling overwhelmed with new strategies and content every time. Students know when a teacher says “Iron Chef” how to approach content. One of my favorite sites is using Google’s Applied Digital Skills. I can either use or modify their lessons, embedding digital tools into the curriculum, and building up my student’s digital toolbox.

How many tools do teachers need?

Teachers don’t need to have a new tool for every lesson. Just like cooking meals for the family, you don’t have to try a new recipe 365 days a year. Take the one you like, use content in a new way, and continue to modify. And always have a solid fall back – I call that lesson the ‘macaroni and cheese’ for when I need something solid and tasty to fall back on, that doesn’t require a lot of creativity on my end.

I hope sometime we can stop calling this experience ‘distance teaching and learning’ and just remember it’s TEACHING and LEARNING. Yes, our methodology may look different, but we need to remember that we have good strategies we already know – the trick is to switch them into a digital space. Trust your instincts. You can do this. You WILL build community in your virtual space. Your students are looking for you to show up and SEE them…whether it’s through a camera, on a screen, or face to face.

We’re teachers – it’s our super power!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Podcast PD- Twitter Chat #whatsyourstory

Posted on July 26, 2020 by

#whatsyourstory poddcast

Are you wanting some PD before school starts? Wondering how to do projects in distance learning? Would you like to podcast with your students?

I’m inviting you to a Twitter chat I’m hosting on Monday – I’ll be working with WeVideo to share podcasting ideas on their #whatsyourstory chat at 4:00 p.m. PST. You should join us!

Here’s a peek at the questions – if you can’t make it live, please schedule your responses starting at 4:05 and every 5 minutes after we’ll start a new question! You can also search #whatsyourstory later to see the amazing dialogue I’m sure we’ll have!

podcast WeVideo

If you’re looking for some pre-created free podcasting lessons, check out my links below:

Podcasting Project HyperDoc

Kids Take Action Project HyperDoc

Can You Hear Me Now podcast intro project

Another great resource for podcasting as well as other video projects is WeVideo’s book called “WeVideo Every Day: 40 Strategies to Deepen Learning in Any Class” by Dr. Nathan D. Lang-Raad, and my podcasting lesson is featured!


I’ve written about podcasting on mamawolfe before – check out some of my previous posts for more ideas and detailed walk throughs of how I podcast in my classroom!

Podcast In the Classroom with WeVideo

Podcasting: Why You Need To Try It

WeVideo: Creating Audio and Video Projects on Chromebooks

I sure hope to see you on the Twitter chat, or to connect with you afterward on Twitter or Instagram!

Miss the live check? Here’s my curation of tweets!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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thinking routines

3-2-1 Thinking Routine

Posted on February 22, 2020 by

My 7th graders have been exploring perceptions and reality using thinking routines. We started out with a 3-2-1.

Have you heard of thinking routines before?

Thinking routines take all sorts of forms – and while they’re not all necessarily digital, I love using Ed-tech tools to help students make their thinking visible.

This 3-2-1 thinking routine template was originally made by the masterfully creative Heather Marshall. I’ve adapted it several times over the years to match the learning outcomes my students are working on.

You can get a copy of my Perception and Reality 3-2-1 Thinking routine here.

How thinking routines work

In my class, I’m a fan of building engagement through curiosity and exploration of a topic BEFORE I do any sort of instruction.

When students ‘buy in’ to the topic/concept with exploration (have you seen my posts on HyperDocs?) energy just starts to flow all over the classroom.

We started our latest unit of study with a MMTS ( I shared a post about that here). Next, we followed up with a more directed 3-2-1 thinking routine which focused on our next mini-unit on meeting our pen pals from Spain, letter writing, commas, adjectives, and communication skills.

Using this thinking routine feels a little bit like lifting the cover off of a new sculpture or work of art. The students understand bit by bit and by the time they have written their ‘bridge’ statement, they are DYING to get started!

We began with a topic:  kids from Spain/kids who don’t speak English. Next, my students wrote three ideas they immediately bring to mind on that topic, two questions, and one analogy. The analogies are the hardest part for sure. The cool thing is that they just keep getting better with the repetition!

Next, we explored the topic by reading personal letters from our pen pals in Spain. My 7th graders were absolutely GIDDY with excitement! Many immediately wanted to know if they could continue to write to them AFTER the assignment was over. When does that ever happen?

On a side note – I connected with a teacher in Madrid through my work with TGC and the Fulbright program that took me to Indonesia in 2012, but there are other ways to find global pen pals.

The next step

thinking routine

Then, it was back to the 3-2-1 for one more repetition of thoughts, questions, and analogies. This time my students were more directed towards the pen pal they ‘met’ through their letters. They were 100% more invested in their questions, as they knew the next task was to respond to the letters and add their own inquiries!

Then, my 7th graders eagerly began their letter writing. Many of my students are bilingual, and asked if they could write in Spanish – how cool is that? The class discussions were on fire – kids sharing what their pen pal wrote, laughter at the commonalities between Davis and Spain. They were in awe over discovering the Spanish school had a pool (of course, we searched their website, too). They had an overall joyful spirit of excitement and connection. And on top of it all, they were writing with an authentic, genuine purpose.

After their letters were completed, it was back to the 3-2-1 for one more repetition of thoughts, questions, and analogies. But this time, we utilized tech tools to make their thinking visible. Answergarden helped share their thoughts. We documented our questions on Google classroom, allowing kids to earn a different perspective on ALL the pen pals.

The final step to the 3-2-1 thinking routine is the bridge. Students complete this statement: “I used to think ________________, but now I think __________. By using Padlet, all my students could share their perspectives and comment to each other. Their understanding of the topic took off!

thinking routines

Why thinking routines are so amazing

thinking routine

To me, using these tech tools makes ALL the difference. Instead of continuing to hold only their own perspective, by making their thinking visible my 7th graders are able to deepen their critical thinking about the topic. It’s a beautiful way to learn to value others’ opinions.

As of today, we have sent our letters to Madrid. The next rotation will involve actually ‘seeing’ our friends via video communication! I hope you follow along to see the next steps in our exciting global classroom experience!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Best Books of 2019

Posted on February 16, 2020 by

I had intended to create a ‘Best Books of 2019’ every quarter or so, mainly to share my joy of reading and create a community of readers here and in my social media channels.

It started off OK-I got this I post done with the first chunk of 2019’s reading.

And then the year just sort of exploded – in some ways great, with lots of new professional opportunities (hello AVID Staff Developers!) and others personally challenging (saying goodbye to my dad).

But books were my constant companions, even if I wasn’t sharing. In fact, I met and exceeded my Goodreads challenge despite all the turmoil and turnover in my little part of the world.

So today I’m sharing the books that made a difference to me, the books that were by my side, and the books that you may enjoy, too, as 2020 challenges us to move forward. I’d love to hear your feedback on what you’ve read, what you’re reading now, and also follow you on Goodreads. You can find me on Goodreads here.

A Year of Daily Gratitude: A Guided Journal for Creating Thankfulness Every Day by Lorraine Miller

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver

The EduProtocol Field Guide: Book 2: 12 New Lesson Frames for Even More Engagement by Marlena Hebert and John Corippo

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher

Educated by Tara Westover

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

The Miracle Morning for Writers by Hal Elrod

DON’T Ditch That Tech:Differentiated Instruction in a Digital World by Matt Miller

Donna Has Left The Building by Susan Jane Gilman

The Designer by Marius Gabriel

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Miriam

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

I read 62 books in 2019, and have set my goal for 70 this year. I’m six in…one book behind schedule.

Reflecting on my book choices in 2019 I noticed I pushed myself out of familiar genres. I hope that these titles spark some interest for you, and you find (and share) your favorites. I always love talking books – find me here, or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – @mamawolfeto2!

Happy reading, everyone! And remember, ‘You can’t buy happiness but you can buy (or borrow) books, and that’s kind of the same thing.”

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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