Vaping Is Addictive, Dangerous and Deadly

by Will Gilyard, Dean of Students

The practice of vaping – the use of e-cigarettes that produce an aerosol vapor to deliver nicotine – has now reached epidemic proportions among young people. Lured by clever advertising, enticing, kid-friendly flavors such as “Cotton Candy” and “Gummy Bear,” and nicotine cartridges shaped like flash drives, teenagers and even pre-teens – many of whom would never dream of smoking cigarettes – are experimenting with vaping or are now vaping regularly. 

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that more than 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students currently use e-cigarettes and that vaping has now spread to young people of all regions, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes. Clothing manufacturers have even been marketing “vapewear” to teenagers, including hoodies and backpacks with small pockets designed to stash e-cigarettes.

Here are some critical facts for parents, educators, and young people to consider:

  • Vaping poses significant health risks. 

Nationwide, more than 1,800 people have been diagnosed with vaping-related illnesses, and 37 people have died from them. 

The aerosol (vapor) produced by e-cigarettes consist of ultrafine particles that are inhaled deeply into the lungs, where they can do extensive damage and cause respiratory diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified more than 70 chemicals in the vapor delivered by e-cigarettes, and 26 of these are on the FDA’s harmful and potentially harmful substance list. These toxic substances, some of them carcinogens, include: 

– propylene glycol (found in anti-freeze) 

– acetone (found in nail polish remover and paint thinner) 

– ethylbenzene (found in pesticides, varnishes, paints, and inks)

– formaldehyde (found in embalming fluid)

– heavy metals, such as nickel and lead 

Nicotine itself is known to have harmful effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Recent studies show that nicotine impairs flow-mediated dilation of the arteries (the natural expansion of the arteries in response to increased blood flow). A single e-cigarette pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, and many vapers buy extra-strength cartridges that contain even higher concentrations of nicotine. Such intense doses can cause users to become “nic-sick,” leading to vomiting, dizziness, and headaches.

  • Vaping is as addictive as smoking cigarettes. 

Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, which is why both smokers and vapers have such a hard time quitting. Nicotine use in early adolescence causes changes in the brain that make life-long addiction much more likely for both young smokers and e-cigarette users

  • Vaping can lead to smoking cigarettes and using drugs. 

Though vaping began as a way for cigarette smokers to quit, physicians say it’s actually leading some young people to smoke cigarettes and try other drugs. “The #1 concern about vaping right now is the so-called gateway effect,” Michael Blaha, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, recently wrote. “We might be causing the next smoking epidemic through young people getting addicted to electronic cigarettes early in life.” 

Because vaping has become a popular method for ingesting THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient in marijuana, it’s easy and natural for young people who’ve been using e-cigarettes to make the transition to vaping THC.  

  • We don’t yet know the full consequences of vaping.

Because vaping products are so new and health professionals can’t fast forward into the future, the long-term effects of these products are impossible to predict. Just imagine what else we will know about the consequences of vaping in another 10 years when we have a fuller picture. 

What we do know now is this: Vaping can cause disease, death, and addiction and lead to smoking cigarettes and using other drugs. 

Collaborative Learning Groups Help Teachers Create  New Ways To Foster Equity and Student Ownership

by Jane Repp, Director of Teaching and Learning

This year, Kingswood Oxford teachers are exploring new ways to create an equitable classroom culture where students take ownership of their own learning process. To pursue this quest for innovation, every teacher has elected to join one of five collaborative learning groups, based on his or her own area of interest. Each group is devoted to a different aspect of engaging students in learning.

During the course of the academic year, these collaborative learning groups will meet several times to generate ideas about curriculum, methods and activities that foster equity and empower students in their own learning. 

Teachers will plan, implement and evaluate these new approaches, and then share their experiences with the colleagues in their own groups and eventually with the entire faculty. The objective of the collaborative learning groups is to ensure that innovation and creativity become the norm, rather than the exception, in our classrooms:  

The collaborative learning groups and the key questions each will be addressing are: 

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain – How can we use the ideas in Zaretta Hammond’s “Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain.” the book read by the entire faculty this summer, to create a culturally responsive classroom environment? 
  • Project-Based Learning and Authentic Application – How might we devise new student projects and applications that are culturally responsive in their content or structure? 
  • Feedback – How might we use the feedback students receive from teachers or other students to develop independent learners who are eager for intellectual growth?
  • Student-led Discussions – How might we develop independent learners through practices of student agency and voice in our classrooms?
  • Collaborative Learning – How might we use a culturally responsive lens to modify or create structures of collaborative learning?

This shared process of professional growth offers enrichment and refreshment for our teachers and helps our students in several ways:

  • Teachers become students – By following their curiosity, discovering new ideas and generating new strategies, teachers savor the same intellectual exhilaration their own students do. This stimulation enables teachers to stay vibrant and fresh, and this excitement in turn energizes their own students. 
  • Teachers learn from one another – Teachers traditionally do much of their planning in isolation, but collaborative learning allows teachers to share ideas and resources, discover what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and support one another. Pairs of teachers partner to sit in on each other’s classes and then share post-class debriefings, which provides useful feedback, suggestions, and validations. They can also serve as sounding boards for each other and hold each other accountable for meeting deadlines to devise, implement and evaluate their innovative projects.    
  • Teachers become a team – Because each group comprises a mix of teachers of different grade levels, academic departments and years of experience, teachers come to know colleagues with whom they’re unfamiliar. These interactions encourage interdisciplinary perspectives, professional respect, and faculty camaraderie, which, in turn, provides a model for how such cooperative learning can be implemented in the classroom.  

Through these collaborative learning groups, we’re asking of ourselves what we ask of our students: to think creatively, to take ownership of their own learning, and to work productively and joyfully with others.     

Seven Student Goals for Technology in the Classroom

Maureen Lamb, Upper School Classics and Language Department Chair

Technology in the classroom is beneficial, but teachers, not the tools, transform learning. To promote student learning, teachers need to facilitate and help the students apply their digital skills to their scholarship.

Technology allows teachers to adjust and to play to various students’ proficiencies and bolsters areas that need work.

Here are seven different attributes from the International Standards for Technology in Education (ISTE) which are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process.  I’ve explored various means to apply them to the classroom.  

Empowered Learner

Students leverage their technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learner sciences.

Ideas for Empowered Learner:

  • Self-reflection through shared or collaborative rubrics on Google docs
  • Peer revise work on Google Slides
  • Autocheck assessments on Google forms and Classroom
  • Create a video for feedback using FlipGrid
  • Create a video describing solutions using Screencastify
  • Self-reflection through Google forms

Digital Citizenship

Students recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

Ideas for Digital Citizenship:

  • How to responsibly use social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Responsible citing of sources using EasyBib and similar resources (Easy Bib Add On)
  • Responsible research using library sources and Google Scholar

Knowledge Constructor

Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital skills to construct knowledge, produce create artifacts, and make meaning learning experiences for themselves and others

Ideas for Knowledge Constructor:

  • Graphic organizer to plan and outline notes and research (Google docs)
  • Cite sources properly (again using online sources, such as Google Scholar)
  • Use Wikipedia to inform research, not for research
  • Credibility of resources (Google translate video)
  • Citing YouTube video and infographics
  • Creating Infographics (Google Draw)

Innovative Designer

Students use a variety of techniques with a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions.

Ideas for Innovative Designer

  • Reflection on assessments, projects, assignments, etc. (Google forms)
  • Ability to redo assessments (Google forms)
  • Use Flipgrid to practice presentations and speaking assessments
  • Use podcasts (or teacher-created Flipgrids) to practice listening assignments

Computational Thinker

Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions

Ideas for Computational Thinker

  • Create student polls/surveys (Google Forms)
  • Create infographics
  • Create websites with data and results (Google Sheets, Google sites)

Creative Communicators

Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using platforms, tools, styles, formats, and digital media appropriate to their goals.

Ideas for Creative Communicator

  • Student-created presentations and interviews on Screencastify
  • Student-created blogs on Google sites
  • Edpuzzle for repurposing videos or making relevant video clips for a topic

Global Communicator

Students use digitals tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.

Ideas for Global Communicator

  • Student choice in project types and media in presenting project (Sites, Slides, Drawing, Docs)
  • Video conferencing through Google meet
  • Email penpals
  • Online discussion threads
  • Virtual field trips through Google Expeditions




Jackie Pisani, Director of Marketing and Communications

The most important task of a teacher is helping students learn how to learn, not to fill out worksheets and parrot back answers. As educators, the essential question we are all addressing is:

How might I create an equitable classroom culture where student ownership is the norm?

Zaretta Hammond, the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, examines the nexus of brain-based learning and practicing culturally responsive teaching as a means of unlocking the potential of all students, including those traditionally marginalized students who have been left behind due to systemic failures in education.

Hammond makes it clear that her text is not a how-to guide to developing lesson plans on culturally responsive praxis, but rather a means to develop in teachers “a mindset, a way of thinking about and organizing instruction to allow for greater flexibility in teaching.” The ultimate objective of the book is to give teachers specific frameworks and strategies to shift students from dependent to independent learners. Neuroscientists define this recasting as a “productive struggle” where students can expand their cognitive growth or “intellective capacity” so they may attend to higher-level, complex, and analytical skills.

Hammond organizes her methodology in a “Ready for Rigor” framework of four interdependent areas for teachers to create a learning environment where students are both nurtured and challenged simultaneously.


Every teacher comes to the classroom with a predisposed set of ideas and values. Without judgment, Hammond asks teachers to reflect on the biases they may carry, situate themselves within the cultural framework and open their aperture to the various identities of students in their class. By understanding themselves, teachers can recognize and mediate their own emotional responses to situations in the classroom.

Learning Partnerships

Teaching is a relational process — a daily trust-building exercise between the teacher and the student. Only through this meaningful and real reciprocal exchange can a student’s brain become more wired to learn, receive feedback and follow through with it to build their intellective capacity. Students accept constructive criticism and rise to a challenge from those they know who have their back.

Information Processing

Information processing is the ability to acquire information, expand upon and store that knowledge, and apply it in various settings. A culturally responsive teacher designs lessons so that a student can move through each of these stages. Our backgrounds, traditions, and customs influence how the brain takes in information. For instance, those students from oral-based cultures process information better with call and response strategies, music, and talk activities.

Community Building

Each student feels safe, comfortable, and supported when taking a risk since their value and sense of belonging is embedded in a culturally responsive class. Whether through locating universal signs and symbols or establishing class routines, teachers can create a positive environment in which all students can learn to take more ownership.

After reading Hammond’s book, the faculty at Kingswood Oxford chose the Collaborative Learning Group that best matched their pedagogical interest for professional development. The groups are Collaborative Learning, Project-Based Learning and Authentic Application, Feedback, and Student-Led Discussions as well as a group that will take a deeper dive into all four elements of the Ready for Rigor Framework. Using this book as a resource that grounds our work in neuroscience and culturally responsive pedagogy, we can widen our cultural lens and measure the impact in the classroom and examine the data to make shifts in our teaching practice.


Jackie Pisani, Director of Marketing and Communications

No one loves buzz words more than schools. Educators may use pedagogical phrases that they assume parents understand which may often stifle parents to ask questions because the vocabulary is a novel one to them.

Student ownership is one of those phrases in heavy rotation.

What does it mean?

Quite simply, ownership to learning means that a learner is motivated, engaged and self-directed. A student can monitor their own progress and is able to reflect on his or her learning based on mastery of content according to educator Kathleen McClaskey. 

What does student ownership look like at KO?

Take Middle School math teacher Stacey Tomkeil’s approach to gauge students’ understanding of the important parts of a parabola like the maximum point, line of symmetry, and the x and y-intercepts. Instead of scheduling a test, Tomkeil offered the students to work on a self-designed project covering the topic.

“Students are more committed to the assignment. They can express it in a way that they are comfortable instead of me saying ‘You have to take a test.’ They usually do more for me than what I had asked. And, an additional benefit in assignments like these is I also get to see their personality, too,” said Tomkeil.

Tomkeil gave the students the choice to work on their projects independently or collaboratively and established some parameters. By leaving the assignment open-ended, Tomkeil found the students were having more conversations about the math itself. She checked their work along the way to make sure they were working in-depth, and the feedback she gave to her students allowed them to strategize, adjust and rethink their approach.

Technology has expanded the number of creative resources available to students and permits them to play to their strengths and truly make the work their own. Some students opted to use video, another group created a pop-up book, another produced a Google form incorporating pictures. Students shared their assignments on a padlet, an online virtual “bulletin” board, where students and teachers can collaborate, reflect, share links and pictures, in a secure location. 

Freeing the students in this manner enables them to become active participants in their own learning. They are learning how to learn.



Jackie Rubin, Director of Academic Skills

When psychologists began assessing human intelligence a century ago, their measurements were based largely on an individual’s verbal and mathematical abilities. During the past two decades, however, researchers have determined that there are in fact at least eight different types of intelligence:

• Linguistic–Verbal

• Logical–Mathematical

• Spatial–Visual

• Body–Kinesthetic

• Musical Intelligence

• Interpersonal–Social

• Intrapersonal–Self

• Naturalist-Scientific

The discovery that there are many different ways of being smart has been profoundly helpful to teachers as they seek to engage and motivate students. While instructional methods have traditionally been geared largely to students with linguistic and logical intelligence, teachers have devised new lessons, experiences and activities to stimulate and nurture children with many different types intelligence.

When I first meet seventh-graders in my Life Skills class, I ask them to name three things they know they’re good at. Their responses might range from soccer (Body–Kinesthetic Intelligence) to chess (Logical–Mathematical Intelligence) to singing (Musical Intelligence). Identifying these areas of success and enjoyment not only boosts children’s self-confidence and sense of achievement, but it also helps teachers determine what types of educational approaches will be most productive for each student.

Another helpful way to determine how students learn best is to figure out their preferred learning styles. While some students exhibit a strong preference for one learning style, most exhibit substantial abilities in two or more. The key goal is not to categorize students but to encourage each student to ask, “Who am I as a learner, and how do I learn best?” Once students know how they absorb, process and retain information, they can take control of their own learning. 

Analytical Learners learn best by reading and writing. They like to organize information in a structured way by taking notes, underlining key phrases in a text, and making outlines. Analytical learners do best when teachers provide them with plenty of time to read, write, and analyze their ideas.

Visual Learners learn best when they’re seeing and creating visual images. They thrive when they have opportunities to examine and construct pictures, graphs, maps, charts, diagrams and videos, and they also like to make lists, take notes and doodle. Visual learners do best when teachers supplement words with graphic elements.

Auditory Learners learn best when they can listen, talk, read aloud, discuss ideas with classmates, and ask questions. They prefer lectures and discussions to reading and writing, and they process information by talking about ideas. Teachers can engage their learning style by posing questions and asking students to repeat information.   

Kinesthetic Learners learn best when they’re experiencing or doing things. They like to touch objects, act things out, and play games that involve moving around the classroom. They enjoy hands-on projects, like science experiments and constructing models, and process information by recreating and practicing.

Even when a teaching method doesn’t match a student’s learning style, the student can adapt. During a lecture, for instance, kinesthetic learners can take notes, raise their hands and ask questions, while visual learners can make diagrams and sketches to illustrate the information being presented. Likewise, while memorizing information, kinesthetic learners can pace back and forth or bounce a tennis ball, auditory learners can teach a concept to their parents, and visual learners can draw charts and pictures or go online to construct quizlets that include images.

By identifying, exercising and blending their preferred learning styles with their various intelligences, students will not only absorb and master information more effectively, but they’ll also enjoy the learning process more fully. 


Jami Silver, Director of College Advising

In 2014, the Gallup-Purdue Index Report asked over 1,000 graduates of a wide range of colleges whether they were thriving in five dimensions of their lives – purpose, social, financial, community and physical. To the surprise of many educators, the survey revealed no correlation between the quality of life experienced in each category and the selectivity of the colleges the graduates had attended.

Instead, the study revealed that the greatest predictor of overall success was the level of the student’s engagement in the academic and extracurricular life of the college and in inspiring relationships with professors and mentors.  

These findings were recently summarized and validated in a white paper published by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. This report, titled “A ‘Fit’ over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity,” concluded, “Students who benefit the most from college are those who are most engaged in their academics and campus communities, taking advantage of the opportunities and resources their particular institution provides.”     

Such deep engagement occurs, the study states, when a student:

• takes courses with professors who make learning exciting and who care about the student personally• finds a trusted mentor who encourages the student to pursue personal goals• works on a project across several semesters• completes an internship that applies classroom learning• participates in meaningful extracurricular activities

The revelation that engagement lies at the heart of the college experience has significant implications for students approaching the college admission process. For them, the question is no longer “How can I gain admittance to the most selective college?” but instead “How can I identify a college that will provide opportunities best suited to my unique passions, preferences, and goals?”

With this priority in mind, here are two productive approaches for students and their families:

 Know Thyself

Rather than assembling lists of colleges, students should instead gather insight into themselves by asking:– Who am I and what do I like to do?– In what types of environments do I thrive?– What have been the best experiences I’ve ever had?– Why did I enjoy these experiences so much?– What does success in life look like to me?

This self-reflection shifts the focus from the college to the student and empowers students to take control of their own college admission process, transforming it into a journey of self-fulfillment and self-exploration.

Extracurricular and summer activities offer especially rich opportunities for such self-discovery. Students can ask themselves:– Why do I like this – or not like it?– Is this something I could see myself doing as a career?– What did I learn about myself by doing this?

Personal Qualities Matter

Aware of the importance of engagement, colleges are seeking students who are passionate about learning and who will immerse themselves fully in campus life. Is the student, for instance, curious, creative, courageous, or fervent about social justice, or mountain climbing, or model trains? These potentials are most evident in the recommendations written by teachers, advisors, and coaches, as well as in students’ personal essays – subjective measures that reveal who a student truly is.
Because engagement in college is such an important key to a happy, successful life, students should initiate the admission process by pursuing a variety of strategies to explore themselves as evolving young adults and then seek colleges that will fully engage their unique interests, talents, and attributes.    


Dan Bateson, Director of Technology

Kingswood Oxford’s information technology team takes the school’s digital security very seriously. Protecting the personal and professional data of our students, teachers and staff members is our top priority. In fact, the school regards teaching students about digital privacy to be an essential part of their education.   

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for ensuring the privacy of online accounts as well as some current trends in the generation and verification of passwords, recent improvements in their ease of use, and a preview of what could soon be a password-free world.

Determining whether your password has been compromised

During the past year, several major corporations and organizations have revealed massive breaches in their security walls, allowing hackers to acquire the private data of millions of people. You can ascertain whether your online accounts have been violated by visiting the website: a free password checkup. Simply enter your email address and you’ll learn whether your data has been hacked, and, if so, which data breaches involved your account and when they occurred. If your email account has been compromised, you should immediately change the password.

How to avoid having so many different passwords

For a nominal monthly fee, several online password management programs lock all your passwords in a digital “vault” with only one password or pass phrase needed to access them. These include and These sites also offer features such as password generation, two-factor authentication, and alerts.

Current standards for creating passwords

The National Institute for Standards and Technology has urged the information technology managers at businesses and non-profit organizations to make passwords as user-friendly as possible and to shift the burden of privacy from the user to the verifier. They want to remove the traditional requirements that a password include a capital letter, a number and a symbol and instead suggest using password phrases, such as combining your favorite food with a favorite childhood memory, such as mediumwellhamburgercampjewell!, which are easier for people to remember. They also challenge the conventional wisdom that passwords should be changed every 90 days. As long as you have no reason to believe your password has been breached, they say, there’s no reason to change it.

When generating a new password, check it against one of several online dictionaries of bad password choices; these include names, birthdays, social security numbers and the classically lazy losers: “password,” “1234” and “ABCD.”  

Security experts are also recommending the elimination of knowledge-based authentication, such as the name of your first pet, high school mascot or favorite movie. The problem with such data, they say, is that someone might be able to use social engineering skills to guess your answers.

What’s the future of passwords?

Information technology engineers are continually devising new ways to make the authentication of online identity more secure yet easier for the user. Some of these promising techniques involve biometrics, such as facial and vein-pattern recognition, fingerprints, and scans of the iris of the eye. New types of risk-based or adaptive authenticity can now evaluate your device, your Internet protocol address, and your online behavior to determine whether other methods of authentication should be used. A platform called Trusona now offers a two-factor authentication system that is password-free. Kingswood Oxford continually monitors these new approaches and will adopt those that offer appropriate and effective ways to enhance the school’s digital security.    


Director of Communications and Marketing Jackie Pisani

The goal of Kingswood Oxford’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)  is exploring new ways of placing students at the center of their own learning. Gone are the days of the teacher-led “chalk and talk,” where students diligently scribble notes from their instructor with little opportunity to reflect and engage with the material. Upper School English teacher Michelle Schloss employed student-led discussions in her junior class for the close reading of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
Whitehead’s story is divided into a balance of chapters that focus on the main character and runaway slave, Cora, and chapters that deal with ancillary characters. For this assignment, Schloss asked the students to grapple with the non-Cora-centric chapters. Assigning pairs of students to a particular chapter focused around one character – Cora’s doctor, her mother, even the slave-catcher out to capture her, among others – she provided some guidelines and structure, and let them run the show. Each pair of students were responsible for leading discussion on their chapter for at least 30 minutes.
Crafting “Good” Questions   
Prior to the period that they would lead, Schloss told the students to develop a set of three questions to enable the class to come to a deeper understanding of the chapter. The questions examined character, symbolism, and a possible connection to contemporary life and times.
Great questions are the spark that set the class in motion. They are open-ended, come from a place of genuine curiosity, prompt and inspire discussion, encourage higher level, critical thinking, and empower the responders. Students in this class clarify the difference between “plot,” “critical,” and “essential” questions, making sure to set the bar high for their classmates.

Schloss suggested the students employ strategies to keep the conversation moving. She offered that they structure their leadership of the class into three parts: an opening task to get the class thinking; a close reading so the class can refer back to the text; and an exit ticket that each student can produce to show their opinion and understanding of the material.

Students Motivating Students

Not all students are forthcoming with their opinions. As they took turns leading class discussion when their assigned chapter came around, Schloss was impressed with the students’ self-awareness and the ways in which they supported each other, regardless of their level of confidence. Some class leaders made their opening task writing-based, so that hesitant classmates could process questions ahead of time, and read from their free-write during the discussion later on. “They would not leave each other hanging. It’s always funny to wait for the awkward silence to break: inevitably, they threw each other a bone, and pair by pair, came up with new ways to engage each other and increase participation,” Schloss said.

Thinking On Their Feet
Schloss was most impressed by how the students reacted in the moment. “What went best in this assignment was ironically an aspect that was not formally assessed. Each pair asked excellent follow-up questions, clarifying their trains of thought and pulling responses out of their classmates. You could tell they that were really actively listening to one another, and the leaders showed great self-control in waiting, rather than immediately sharing their own ideas,” she said. Reflecting upon the class, Schloss felt that she would rework the assignment and make the preparatory requirements more open-ended. “These are smart students. I think they would have come up with this structure on their own,” she said.
Student Ownership
By instituting student-led discussions, Schloss noted that the students’ mid-term assessment on the novel carried notable student ownership. “Since they had some choice about what to write about on the assessment, many students went back to the chapter they were assigned, latched onto something, made new meaning looking back on the novel as a whole, and really owned it.”


Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency

As a young person, I became well trained in making choices. From an early age, I can recall being asked to choose between “this” or “that” as I was guided to eat healthy foods, dress appropriately and choose friends wisely. This “either/or” way of thinking was echoed in school and in the world around me as I learned that a person can be moral or evil, a choice can be good or bad, and issues are either black or white. In my world of binary options, things seemed to make sense.

However, as I became more experienced in issues of equity and inclusion, I started to realize the limitations of this way of thinking. In working with young people, I began to see that this “either/or” approach to categorizing their behavior or thinking did not adequately reflect the full spectrum of how they learned, lived and loved.

Now that I am 30 years into my teaching practice and have benefited from training sessions, workshops and collaboration with equity thought leaders, I have begun to appreciate, embrace and practice what’s known as “both/and” thinking, an approach that more effectively responds to the experiences of young people. I have gradually grasped the power of this new way of making sense of the world around me. Most recently, the professional development work we have engaged in at KO has offered me a way to help other educators break out of the deeply-rooted binary system we have all absorbed.

The Equity Guidelines that RE-Center, the Hartford-based organization that conducted our equity work in 2018, powerfully and concisely captures this transition:

Practice Both/AndThinking Invites us to see that more than one reality or perspective can be true at the same time, ratherthan seeing reality as strictly either/or, right or wrong, good or bad, this or that. Using both/andthinking can be very helpful in reconciling differences and conflicts that do not present easy solutions.*

I have shifted . . .         ●from believing that issues of race and ethnicity are either black or white to understanding that they involve a wide diaspora of racial and ethnic experiences and viewpoints; 

       ●from believing that a problem is either good or bad to grasping that a problem can be difficult and an opportunity to think and learn about the issue differently; 

       ●from seeing people as either good or bad to benefitting from seeing them as perhaps both challenging to work with and as an opportunity for me to learn how to best comprehend the communication blocks in our relationships; 

       ●from viewing a person’s political view as either conservative or liberal to making the effort to ask questions in order to fully listen to the spectrum of ideas involved in their viewpoint. Once I get to know the person, I can agree with some elements of their philosophy and disagree with others;

       ●from concluding that the professional development efforts to make our school equitable are either working or not working to realizing that there are both challenging struggles and joyful advances as we learn to be more fair and inclusive.

Breaking my habit of “either/or”thinking is still not easy and not always applicable to every situation, but it has provided me with opportunities to move forward rather than feeling loss and defeat. I have discovered that engaging in “both/and”thinking is an important cultural competency skill that continually needs to be practiced, tested, and refined as I pursue my mission of being a better educator. *Adapted from VISIONS, Inc. 2002 Copyright ©2017. RE·Center Race & Equity in Education. All rights reserved.