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Bing in the Classroom: An Administrative Perspective

This is a sponsored post for We Are Teachers in conjunction with Bing in the Classroom. All opinions and stories are my own.

When I was approached about working in administration at the one and only technology magnet school here in Springfield, IL I wasn't even the least bit skeptical. I had already written my own blog online for a few years and was intensely interested in social media and the connections it brings personally not to mention connecting with classrooms all over the world.


It sure does make those pen pals we kept in my elementary school seem old-fashioned, but only because of the primitive nature. Not because of the connections you can make with someone halfway across the world. That's where the power of the internet for students really shines.

My school uses technology by providing each student with a laptop for the 3 years they attend grades 6-8 and students are required to learn all the applications and apply them in the classroom for student projects. The teachers use Challenge Based Learning techniques to enhace the educational experience in the classroom where students can, instead of say a book report, turn in a QR code for a book trailer they made themselves using video.

I swear, I watch what my students can do and I am supremely jealous of how they get to show competency for their learning.

Here's where something like Bing in the Classroom comes in handy: if your school uses computers (or tablets, as many do) for student learning they can try Bing, a free resource from Microsoft, for when students do research. I can't tell you the number of times my students have looked something up on the internet only to be bombarded with inappapropriate images or article links. 

Bing in the Classroom uses ad-free searches and filters out adult content as well as protects user privacy.

If you watch the short video above, you'll see how they have even created a tailor-made Bing home page for teachers that features daily images with hot spots so students can learn at their own pace about the world prior to the classroom lessons (or even tied in with them!).

There are 1500+ lesson plans developed by accredited K-12 teachers available on the Bing in the Classroom website which downloadable resources for teachers.

Considering the amount of time my teachers have taken to ensure that students doing online searches don't get bombarded with school-inappropriate content (yo, the Internet is big, y'all, and we haven't even reached the end of it yet) having an ad-free search engine makes my job easier.

Have I ever told you about the student who found something online and shared it with me and I had to explain it? No? That's because it happens a lot and I am not even going to tell you the innocent searches they do that yield disastrous results. (But, if you take me out to dinner I am sure to tell you in person.)

If you are a teacher, Bing in the Classroom is worth looking into for your students. Another great link for teachers is the Microsoft Education Community that offers access to training, online adventures, and connection to the 1.5 million educators around the world using it.

Right now, our 6th grade writing students are working on an amazing project their teachers created to encourage Teen Activism and doing a safe-search on Bing could be just the thing they need as they do their research and what we call their "free-search" as they learn to decipher good sites v bad sites with little to no information. They're also learning to spot bias in websites or news sources and they use critical thinking skills as guided by their teachers. 

Give Bing in the Classroom a try. As far as I'm concerned, this is administrator approved.


Back in the Day: Looking Back From Spring Valley High School

 “Back in the day, students respected their teachers.” And so goes the mantra of police apologists in the wake of yet another cell phone video depicting abuse at the hands of this nation’s finest. This time, the perpetrator: a white Student Resource Officer (SRO) at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The victim: a Black teenage female student who is a ward of the state. 

Because we punch down on orphans now apparently.

And they’re right about at least one thing. Back in the day, this wouldn’t have happened. Not because students were more respectful, but because back in the day police officers weren’t physically present during the school day. Back in the day, there weren’t federal or state grants that allowed schools to put police in their employ.

Back in the Day

Back in the day, 1951 to be exact, a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas that called for the school board to reverse a policy on school segregation.

Photo Credit By John T. Bledsoe via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the day, the police officers that were called upon did so when white parents and school-aged children were protesting having to share their facilities with Black children.

Photo Credit By Cesar via Wikimedia Commons

Read more about Dorothy Counts

Back in the day, the violent rhetoric and physical altercations were initiated by white residents who hurled rocks at potential Black students coming to their schools. These community elders were perfectly fine with teaching their children that spitting on and bullying Black students was okay.

Photo Credit to the U.S. Army via WikiCommons

Spring Valley High School is not operating back in the day. SRO Ben Fields did not assault a teenage girl back in the day.

Back in the day, we weren’t over-testing students at a level with which we fail to correlate other teen issues of today like increased rates of depression, cutting and suicide.

Greensboro Woolworths Lunch Counter Sit-In

Back in the day, psychologists and social workers weren’t stationed in schools, because society had not decided that teen problems were so big they had to be dealt with within the confines of our school buildings.

You'll have to miss me with the "back in the day" platitudes about some revisionist history of how students respected their elders. Students, especially those whose schools had begun to be integrated after the federal government had to step in as a civil rights issue, were learning things from their elders about respect all right. But not the kind we pretend.

I started teaching twenty-two years ago and have been a school administrator for a decade, first in a high school whose numbers of students of color has steadily increased since I first began. And now as the Guidance Dean of a tech magnet middle school that serves a population that includes 49% students of color. The number one reason I went into administration is because of the lack of administrators of color I noted in my town which is, incidentally, 18.5% Black.

And I know from both experience and education that Spring Valley High School is not an anomaly in terms of how, historically, we treat students, specifically students of color. It’s not even an anomaly in how violence against Black girls by police officers using excessive force not only happens, but happens on camera with many other adults, both Black and white, looking on.

In two schools in which I've worked the population was nearly 48% or higher students of color and the SROs who worked there were generally good officers who liked working with kids and who knew the kids they were charged to protect and serve from around the neighborhood. They built relationships with the students and with the administrative team whose job it is to guide them. But that isn't always the case.

I've also seen my share of terrible SROs and one, in particular, who had to be removed for behavior similar to what we see in the video of Officer Fields’ behavior that incited violence and escalated situations, rather than de- escalating them.

In the case of that SRO, there was an internal investigation that called for me to report on his previous behavior specific to Black students, and I told the truth about what I had witnessed. Investigations like this one, and the one to which I hope Officer Fields will be subject, are important because it calls into question our pedagogy about working with students. When adults look on while our students are abused by SROs or anyone else in support roles, we become complicit in their abusive treatment. That officer was later removed, but only because we had teachers and administrators who would stand up with integrity to protect our students from this kind of abuse.

Not every officer is equipped to deal with an entirely teenage populace.

The teenage brain is still “under construction,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The parts of the brain responsible for “top-down” control, which affects impulses and decision-making, are the last parts to mature. Which means that middle and high school students, whose brains are still developing, are working on decision-making as a skill. As a result, they quite often make poor decisions even when they put forth an effort to do otherwise. This isn’t an anomaly. It’s quite natural. Adults working with students should expect to help them make better choices, offer them some restitution when they are guided to this thinking, and then ensure they aren’t punitively punished. In fact, helping them with their thinking and reasoning shows them that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world. When we don’t do this, it stands to reason that mortality rates jump between early and late adolescence.

In other words, a little compassion with a teenager goes a long way, and we saw none of that in the video of the student at Spring Valley High School.

The teacher and administrator who called an SRO to remove a student for not complying should have handled the issue, but since they chose not to we can only surmise they were lacking the expertise to do so.

It’s well known that we throw theory out the window when practice happens, but it’s still important to look at what should have happened in that classroom from a policy perspective, because policies are designed to achieve specific goals in high-stress circumstances.

At my school, when an adult cannot get a student to leave a classroom they call an administrator such as myself for backup. If the administrator can't get them to leave a classroom without becoming physical, then procedure calls for dismissing the other students to give room for further de- escalation. Removing the student’s peers from the room gives the student space to make a better decision and allows them to save face. This is an honor that is seemingly given the white students in this nation based on all the research and data we get from school districts regarding disparities in discipline and support services.

This is basic non-violent crisis intervention. There's training for it.

Yet, common sense shows us that the calm in that classroom upon witnessing these events would indicate Officer Fields‘ behavior is standard operating procedure in Spring Valley. Those students, by all visual accounts, had seen this before. They were probably scared and had been previously threatened. Something that’s not only obvious, but also logical given Officer Fields’ history of abuse of power.

Administrators in public schools are responsible for creating a culture of learning, and they are tasked with creating relationships with their students. We’re asked to help build culture and lead others, including teachers, support staff and, yes, SROs, in understanding how to work with children.

I wish I could say this is common sense. It’s policy in some places, but a failure of leadership and a failure to build a culture of learning are a huge part of why this was allowed at Spring Valley.

Make no mistake. This was allowed. And that's what is unacceptable. 

She deserved so much better all the while behaving exactly like adolescents do. Good educators expect that behavior and respond approprirately. They don't engage in reactionary behavior like yanking a child out of her seat.

Chanting about disrespect and back in the day excuses really don't belong in this current conversation. We don't have the history to back up such claims.


Racial Taboo Movie: A Critique 

As a citizen of my town and a community member, I'm deeply interested in things like education and race, politics and race, and economics and race. This is no secret to anyone who knows me or my writing for the past decade. Because of that, in the last year of my life I've been committed on a personal and community member to become more involved in things that would directly impact everyone who lives near me. To aid that, I'm a part of the Springfield Coalition on Dismantling Racism, an invitation that came after I completed the Anti-Racism training with my school district this past March. I'm a part of the the Minority alliance for our school district. And, this year I became a part of the Board of Directors for the Family Service Center that services families who are doing foster care and adopting children in this community.

In many ways, that last one was me coming full circle unto myself. While it's of a more personal nature that I became involved in that, there is also the fact that I'm the only person of color on the board, an issue of diversity that was addressed just yesterday in an exercise our board took part in to create a laser-like focus on what we do and how we serve.

I'm proud of all of that work in light of the many discussions of online v. offline activism that seems to pop up when we consider what The Work actually looks like. 

In my work with SCoDr (which I pronounce "scow-der" when I mention it) we worked with the Springfield Race Unity Committee along with the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association as well as the Ministerial Alliance to bring a movie to our community called Racial Taboo which was produced by a man named Brian Grimm.


Image courtesy of Racial Taboo website

Here's the conundrum: I'm uncomfortable with this movie and not because I shy away from talking about race. It's because of the premise and the execution that I saw (now, a total of 3 times) when I watched it. I'll be clear about that in this critique of it, too. It's a documentary by a white man who lives in the south who wanted to understand race. Make no mistake: this is a white version of how to deal with it. The themes are strong and he does ask that we lean into the discomfort. 

Which? Fine. I will. But probably not the way he anticipated.

Some of the topics that came up are worthy of discussion: how Blacks and whites internalize superiority versus inferiority, his suggestion that Americans normally "avoid getting to know each other", and his questions about prejudice being exclusion to small towns (short answer: no). The entire movie is predicated on a binary view of race: Black and white. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's worthy of critique, but he falls into the same traps he claims to want to dismantle.

His journey included visiting libraries, churches, barber shops, and attending NAACP meetings. The first 20 or 30 minutes of the movie explore the history of enslaved Africans, politics that marginalized them for centuries even while the highest court in our land seemed to make progress, and how that's influenced progress (or not) in this country.

Yet, even as he wonders "Is prejudice exclusive to small towns?" he discounts, again, systemic privilege and racism. 

There was no mention of the systems in place that perpetuate power nor the whites who benefit from those systems. That is a huge fail of this film.

There's a lot of discussion in the movie that fails here.
There's a lot that works, too. 

Many of the people from his town who were interviewed were completely honest in their responses to questions. They said such things as :

My fear of communicating might be that my prejudice is revealed.

We the people had nothing to do with Black folk and had everything to do with Them the people.

White people either change the games or change the rules.

Privilege is not having to think about soooo many things.

We have a responsibility to go beyond that, what we were taught.

Whites don't want you to question them.

The major theme, however, is that we simply get to know each other which completely discounts systemic and institutional racism which, of course, was born out of the very things on which this country was built. Several times I wanted to scream at the screen IT'S NOT ABOUT UNFAMILIARITY OF MY NEIGHBORS. WE CAN'T JUST 'GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER' AND FIX EVERYTHING WITH THAT.

Two white men in the film both said things that weren't entirely challenged, either. And boy, were they wrong.

The first man was Blaine Massey, a Civil War reenactment actor who doesn't understand how Jim Crow affects us since, you know, that time is OVER. He said:

I don't see where Jim Crow today affects society in keeping somebody down. I see where it affects society by the Jesse Jacksons and the others who use it as an excuse...

Sure, there's a shot of an older Black man after that who is laughing which many in the audience did as well. But, as he's sitting there getting the spotlight and microphone to spout this, there wasn't any explanation of how Jim Crow continues to be perpetuated today. What was NOT explored after his statement were the policies and practices, both de facto and de jure segregation, that have historically been the status quo in this country designed to maintain subjugation. 

The film discusses the system on the fringes, but it doesn't offer it all the way through history. Grimm halts at that point and doesn't walk the issue all the way down the line. 

The second man, named John Lewis (not this guy), is asked about some preconceived notions he has about Black men:

If I see a group of black men in baggy jeans it's an unprotected situation, it might be a little intimidating. However, I've never had any reason to feel that. I'm not sure where that comes from. 

After Lewis mentions this, Grimm narrates and goes into the brain and potential threat and what's activated in our brains with fear of the unknown while IGNORING THAT EVERYONE FEELS FEAR, NOT JUST WHITE PEOPLE.

You know that moment in the movie when the needle on the record scraaaaatches all the way and then there's dead silence? That's exactly what I felt when he said this because Black men in baggy jeans DO NOT THREATEN ME EVER. Watching strangers walk down the street when I'm not even engaged with them has never been a physical threat and here this man is perpetuating a stereotype that went entirely unchallenged in the film.

If I am going to be honest and say what threatens me, it's not Black men. I wish someone in the film would have said the same thing from a different point of view. Do you know what scares me and what's been my experience with violence? White men in their 20s. Do you also know what terrorists in this country have looked like in the past few years that have been on shooting sprees in schools and movie theatres and going after the women who rejected them? White men in their 20s. 

He doesn't have any reason to feel that while I'm sitting here with real examples of intimidation in my life.

We probably don't need more examples, but hey, here are 11 more examples.

When I had a drink thrown at me was called a nigger in a public place? A white man in his 20s. When I was followed home after a night out with friends? A white man in his 20s. When an altercation happened at work and violence broke out that threatened my life? A white man in his 20s.

And those are just personal examples. 

Emmett Till, anyone?

So, for a movie to perpetuate the danger of Black men while claiming to want to open dialogue about race was a failure and it also leads me to conclude that this is a movie for white people who have never discussed race before in a public, mixed setting. It's Race 101. It's low-level thinking and stereotypes that fail to challenge from a position of equity. 

That actually has a place, but it can't end there. 

Maybe the taboo here is that we don't really have conversations about race and violence from whites. Or that protests and the Black Lives Matter movement borne out of violence against Black men and women gets a different lens in the narrative than do others.

Grimm goes on to discuss the history of the prison industrial complex and how Black men were convicted unfairly (literally, just picked up off the street) and leased to corporations until 1928 in Alabama. Again, it failed to go into restorative justice and how to correct the system.

The movie also uses the term "prejudice" more often than it should. It should use "racism" in many instances, but it seems like they're scared of saying it. Towards the end there is a discussion of the word "nigger" which, for the umpteenth time, is the lowest form of discussing racism and how to work towards fixing it

Grimm repeatedly utters things such as We just don't have the opportunity to get to know each other as if that's the simple solution to systemic racism. He reiterates finding someone of a different race and getting to know them at the end of the movie. There's a part where they're actually discussing Code Switching without calling it that. Often, I found myself thinking how close he was to getting to the meat but decided to stay at the surface.

Grimm uses a book, The Peculiar Institution by Kenneth M. Stampp, to frame his narrative. Even those failed on a storytelling level because of the pacing. He tries to detail the 5 steps used to create an enslaved mentality but it jumps around too much for continuity sake.

The Conclusion

At the end, Grimm asks Where do we go from here? and he suggests that people continue the conversation and meet at church or the movies. Image wise, it wasn't a good choice to show him hugging and shaking the hand of Black people, but that's probably a personal preference of mine. 

However, and this is my biggest criticism of the denouement of the film, his suggestion that Blacks and whites continue talking and making friends concludes when they meet at a plantation.

I have to write that sentence out again: They meet at a plantation in Edenton, North Carolina after wondering what events they could plan to bring people together. 

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that when you're inviting Black people to have a discussion on race you might not want to invite them to a plantation as an exercise in assuaging the white guilt of the current family member who owns the place.

When I tell you that I cringed at this part I mean I SQUIRMED IN MY SEAT WITH MY EYES WIDENED AND MOUTH AGAPE.

There's another woman spouting about Southern towns and the pride of their heritage and their pride in maintaining the town. 

It was definitely the wrong choice of words at that point.

I'm sure that the woman, Frances Inglis of Somerset Place Plantation, is a nice lady. She seemed like it on film as she spent a great deal of time on her guilt and not holding anything against her for the sins of her ancestors, but you just cannot do that in a movie and not expect some flak for it. 

It's too bad that my criticism of this movie, designed to create a dialogue around race, is negative. I acknowledge that. When someone decides to take on such a huge project of exploring race, it would be nice if there was some critical feedback about images. For instance, some narration occurs about how the "youth in the community [who] are not doing well, who are not thriving" then there's a video cut to Black children playing outside. 

Images are important. Narratives are worth telling well and equitably. And we're all at different parts in the dialogue in our own journeys. I get that. But, for me, this is a square one place to start and if you simply see this film and think that introducing yourself to your neighbors-of-another-color and "getting over it" are the way to fix the historical racism on which this country was built, then I have really bad news for you: it doesn't work this way.

We have to do better. 

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