Silence is a virus


Preparing to attend a local protest.

These last few months have been challenging for just about everyone. Like most schools around the world, ours have been teaching remotely due to the pandemic. We peer at students through a screen, or not at all, missing the joy and intimacy of face-to-face daily interactions. As we prepared to close out the school year, we remained unsure about next school year: Would we return to in-class instruction, continue online learning, or explore a hybrid model? Stress and uncertainty were high.

Then another crisis erupted.  Events in Brunswick, Louisville, and Minneapolis have once again highlighted the grave injustices that exist throughout our country, ones with deep roots in our history. As a teacher, my compass needle spins towards action: How can I help students process these events and their context? What learning – or unlearning – needs to happen? How might we ensure equity and a culture of acceptance within our school and community?


“The Weight of the World Around Me” by Troy Boddy

Silence, in the form of willfully ignoring injustice and refusing to take any action, is not an option. Like a virus, this type of silence is contagious, harmful, and potentially deadly.

Here are three actions I intend to take this summer. Maybe you will join me in one or more?

  1. Learn all I can

“[Learning] is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

T.H. White

I have always loved to read. My earliest memories involve books: a stack brought on a family vacation, an exhilarating visit to the local library, a reading fort built out of blankets behind the living room couch.

Krista at 18 months working on book report Feb 1977

Me at 18 months old. Not much has changed.

Books provide me with both a connection to others, and a chance to explore other lives and places.  They are both mirrors, reflective of our own lived experiences, and windows, allowing a glimpse into others’ worlds. This summer, I intend to gaze through many windows as I increase my  knowledge base, with a special focus on African-American and Latinx experience. 

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”

Jason Reynolds

2. Engage in conversations

Our school conducts weekly Community Circles to build connections and to provide a safe space to discuss challenging topics. Even during remote learning, the circles have continued, drawing an astonishing 300 participants last week as we came together to discuss George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. I value these conversations and the others I’m having in person and in virtual spaces. These conversations help me to become a better listener, and to understand the vast range of experiences and perspectives we each bring. Talking About Race is a great resource to help navigate these challenging, but necessary, conversations.

3. Support black-owned businesses 

The pandemic has strained small businesses across the country. Many have had to close temporarily or reconfigure to adapt to health and safety precautions, and nearly all have lost revenue since the pandemic started. Supporting local businesses, especially black-owned businesses, can help ease those financial hardships and affirm their importance in our communities.  

By no means is this list comprehensive. It is a starting point, one person taking some small actions. And it is through action, I believe, that we can finally start to heal and change for the better. Thank you for reading, and for being here.


Resources for uncertain times


Every March, the forsythia tree near our driveway transforms, seemingly overnight, from a brittle bundle of sticks to an explosion of sunny yellow. This year, the bloom corresponded with an onslaught of troubling news about coronavirus, resulting in the closure of our schools and much else in our community.

Like millions around the world, I am mostly homebound for the foreseeable future, compulsively checking news updates, worried about those who are suffering and those who are medically and financially vulnerable.

As I write from my dining room table on the first day of spring, I can see a branch I’ve cut from the forsythia. During this most uncertain of times, that branch in bloom provides me both visual stimulation and some welcome stability. It reminds me of the cycles of nature and the hope of brighter times ahead.

Below I’ve collected some resources that I’ve found useful this week as I’ve searched for ways to help out, support students, and find peace and purpose. Contact me to suggest more…and be well.



Service Learning Done Right

This school year, one of my roles at school is Service Learning Coordinator. Each student in my county is responsible for volunteering 75 hours in the community before high school graduation. The goal of service learning is for students to learn new skills, become more compassionate, and make a difference in the community.

I can attest that students at my school perform a lot of service. Each day, my mailbox overflows with forms verifying that students have tutored, coached, assisted, cleaned, packed, and advocated for any number of organizations. While it’s heartening to see the extent of students’ commitment, I sometimes wonder how much they learn during each of these activities. When they complete service learning, are they merely checking a box, or are they growing as citizens?

This Saturday, I had the opportunity to observe a fantastic service learning experience in action. 

The organization Project Management for Change requested student volunteers to help set up for a “Project Management Day of Service” event that happens each year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the University of Maryland. The event pairs nearly 200 volunteer project managers from the DC area with over 40 local nonprofit agencies. The project managers use their skills and knowledge to help the nonprofit groups plan projects for maximum impact. This year the event helped all of those nonprofits pursue their missions more effectively, from providing hurricane relief to combating human trafficking.

What really stood out to me on Saturday is how the Project Management for Change leaders structured the Service Learning process for the student volunteers. They emphasized the learning, not just the service!  Here are a few of the ways they made the experience meaningful for students:

  •  Establishing a purpose. The leaders explained the mission of the organization, and how the students’ work would directly support that mission. The students understood that their work would help create positive change in the world.
  • Creating teachable moments. The leaders gave the students a mini-lesson on project management, using the task at hand (packing gift bags) to demonstrate how project management can make work more efficient.
  • Providing autonomy. The leaders involved students in decision-making throughout the experience, allowing them to make informed choices and discuss their reasoning.
  • Enabling reflection. At the end of the task, the leaders conducted a summarizer activity with students. Students reflected in small groups, evaluating the task and suggesting upgrades for the future. The students were encouraged to use critical thinking and to support their conclusions with evidence.
  • Honoring perspectives. The leaders actively encouraged students throughout every step of the experience, and treated them as equal partners rather than unpaid labor. They listened to the students and valued their opinions.

 As a result, students left the experience enriched and motivated. Several commented how worthwhile they found the day’s activity. If you know any teenagers, you are aware that they are not always effusive in their praise! The impact on the students was truly stunning to witness, and inspiring to this service learning coordinator. Bravo, Project Management for Change!

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

From Dachau to Charlottesville

During a trip to Europe this summer, my family spent an afternoon at the Dachau Concentation Camp Memorial in Germany. The oldest of the Nazi concentration camps, Dachau is now a museum where visitors can learn about the causes and effects of Nazi rule. A somber day in an otherwise carefree jaunt through three countries, the experience left a deep impression on my family and me. Throughout the museum, photos, writings, and voices of survivors remind us that the crimes of the Nazi era are not so very distant.


Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

The museum ushers visitors chronologically through the founding of the camp, and its functioning during the years prior to and during World War II. Visitors walk through the gate that prisoners entered with the empty promise of Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Liberates). Photographs, artifacts, newsreels, and thoughtfully presented exhibits help visitors understand prisoners’ experiences in the camp.

All prisoners were marked by badges that identified the reason for their imprisonment: political activism, religion, ethnic background, and sexual orientation were just a few of the designations. Prisoners were subjected to inhumane conditions: grueling labor, paltry rations, humiliating treatment, rampant, untreated disease, and torture of every sort. The most difficult for me to read about were the medical experiments in which some prisoners were forced to participate, many to the point of death.

A reconstructed barracks unit conveys a sense of the horrific living conditions for prisoners. Most of the 34 original barracks no longer exist, but their foundations are a reminder of the places that once housed thousands of prisoners.


Reconstructed barracks at Dachau Concentration Camps. Multiple prisoners were crammed onto each of these bunks.

Past the foundations, visitors can view the two large crematorium buildings where the bodies of prisoners were burned. Nearly 32,000 people died at Dachau, from disease, malnutrition, and murder. Memorials throughout the camp, now a surprisingly peaceful place, give visitors time and space to process and reflect upon what they’ve seen. We left with a deeper understanding of history and a sense of responsibility to prevent future atrocities.


Camp crematorium, where prisoners’ bodies were burned.

The roots of the atrocities in Dachau were deep seated: centuries of religious intolerance, years of state-sponsored discrimination. The museum documents thoroughly the terrifying rise of Nazi power, and the systematic dehumanization of groups of people.

Dachau reminds us of the importance of vigilance against the subtle creep of discrimination today. It starts with our thoughts, our words, our actions. It is evidenced in ugly acts like the ones last weekend in Charlottesville, and in quieter but insidious racism that we see everywhere. We see it when our neighbors or our leaders or our students make blanket statements about immigrants, or African-Americans, or Muslims. To me, these statements can be just as hurtful as a man who slams his car into a crowd of protesters, in part because they are harder to spot and harder to condemn.

In public schools and through youth groups, Nazis methodically, deliberately taught young people to hate. They started with the young because those are most vulnerable and the easiest to persuade. Those of us who work in schools have a responsibility to teach our young people attitudes of tolerance and acceptance. In Long Walk to Freedom, South African leader Nelson Mandela said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He expresses well my core values as a teacher — and as a human. Love must win. People must be taught to love. I must do my part. As a new school year begins, I am planning with that end in mind. Our students need to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, and the larger context of hatred and intolerance in America and throughout the world. This collection of resources is a terrific place to start. I hope and I believe that I am ready for the challenge.  


Conserving Community

Centropa is an organization based in Europe, and dedicated to the preservation of Jewish history. IThe organization started by conducting interviews of elderly Jewish people in Eastern Europe. Each interview began with a simple premise: tell the stories behind your family photos. In the years since, it has expanded to much more. A peek at the treasure trove of resources on the Centropa website reveals not only interviews but short films, student projects, lesson plans, and a vast archive of rare photographs. Behind each resource is a unified mission: to foster connections among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The more we can understand about each other and how we are linked, the less likely we are to commit atrocities against fellow humans.


A mosaic of Maryland’s past

This February I attended a workshop for teachers in Baltimore, Maryland sponsored by Centropa and hosted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. There, I met educators from as far away as Texas and Illinois.  Together, we toured nearby Baltimore neighborhoods, learning about the diverse groups of people who had lived in the area over the last three centuries. Residents of different races, faiths, and national backgrounds opened businesses, raised families, attended schools, and worshiped locally. We visited the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Maryland and the third oldest in the United States, which has operated since 1845.


The Lloyd Street Synagogue

While immersing us in the rich history of the Baltimore area, the workshop also inspired us to bring history and community spirit to life in our classrooms. The Milton Wolf Prize, sponsored by Centropa, honors work in community-oriented diplomacy. Students can enter projects that examine a local problem and how it’s being addressed. Several students presented their winning projects during the workshop. I loved seeing their passion and their innovative approaches to addressing environmental and social issues.


Touring Baltimore with Centropa participants

The Milton Wolf Prize also includes a teacher component, for lessons that incorporate the work of Milton Wolf and La Benevolencija, the topic of the short Centropa film “Survival in Sarajevo.” The teacher contest is accepting entries until June 8. If you work in a school, I invite you to explore and enter the contest!


Learning about Maryland’s Jewish history


Shattering Stereotypes

To continue the progress we’d made on teaching civil discourse earlier this school year, we challenged students to reflect upon and shatter stereotypes.

Our jumping off point was “The Lie,” a powerful video produced by students at a local elementary school, examining untrue stereotypes about religious, racial, and gender groups.   Read more about the video’s production and perception here and here.

After viewing the video, students listed unfair labels or judgments that they had experienced due to their gender, age, religion, race, appearance, national background, or any other characteristic. They completed the sentence “I’m not…” with a label they’d heard, and wrote it on an index card. Here are a few:

I’m not…weak because I’m a girl/from the forest just because I’m African/stupid/unable to speak English/dirty/a terrorist/overly sensitive/ashamed of who I am/mixed-up

Using an activity adapted from one developed by this Alabama teacher, students then displayed the index cards anonymously. Each student selected one of their classmate’s cards to reflect upon in writing, describing how they could help shatter the stereotype by showing the world the truth.

As a school, we created a “We Are” display, filled with characteristics that do describe us. The display is located in the main hallway, greeting guests as they enter the building. We are…proud to be a diverse, accepting school!




Electing to teach

My community near Washington DC  is among the most diverse in the United States, with a multiracial population and a large immigrant presence. The students of my school reflect their community, representing over 50 countries. That diversity, along with the welcoming atmosphere of the school and the local community, is what first drew me to teach there. Despite its overall climate of acceptance, my school was not immune to the contentiousness of the recent election.

During a time when ugly rhetoric dominated the news, it was tempting for teachers to avoid the election entirely, and focus instead on teaching only academic content. Yet to do so would have ignored the opportunity to engage students as citizens. By confronting the election instead of retreating, we could teach students more about our messy, fascinating democracy – and also build their communication skills. Adolescents – like many adults – sometimes speak before they think. The question: how to challenge that natural impulse and encourage empathy? We needed a plan.

Part of my job is to develop daily school-wide lessons that reinforce students’ growth as lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and responsible global citizens.  By consulting with other teachers and administrators at our school, and using resources from Teaching Tolerance and Edutopia, I created a road map for teachers to use the election as a springboard for teaching civil discourse. Here was the progression of our lessons:

  • First, we invited students to develop a list of “Rules for Classroom Discussion,” building consensus within each class. I combined the rules formulated by each class and selected the most frequently mentioned as our school-wide “Rules for Discussion.”
  • We asked students to reflect on collaboration and to role-play effective collaboration skills. Here is a resource our school made to help students understand what effective collaboration looks like.
  • Students viewed and discussed debate clips like this one for examples of civil discourse – and not-so-civil discourse.
  • The words of Kid President talking about “How To Disagree” helped underscore the central idea that even those with different perspectives deserve our respect. “Let’s treat people like they are people, people!”
  • We learned more about the election process with the help of CNN News and iCivics.
  • After the election, we reflected on its impact. To empower our students and to encourage them to express their opinions in positive, forward-thinking ways, our school participated in “Students Speak”  through Teaching Tolerance. This campaign invited students to share their words of advice for the president-elect.

Here are some of the words of our students. I have left the original spelling and grammar intact:

Please take all of America into account. You have sparked fear into so many people’s hearts including mine. Remember that our country fought for our freedom, we deserve freedom to be who we are. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but I know that you were not who I wanted to win. That doesn’t matter. You won. Please, please, please remember that America is diverse and embrace that diversity. Remember that your words have impact, and think before you speak. Remember that there are struggling people in this country, and it is your job to protect them too, not just the wealthy and well off. Remember that women have the right to control their own bodies. Remember that love is love.



Dear Mr. Trump,

You’re soon going to be the official president. Congratulations on the victory. Some people may not like you, but I think they are wrong. I hope you do great in office. I hope you make all the right choices. I hope you go with your ideas to make America great again. I hope you do make America great again.



Dear Mr. President, In school we are learning about the rules of culture. One rule we are learning is that people can accept or resist change. This relates to us because as a young female, I can choose to resist you becoming president of the United States. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to gain my interest. First off, I am an only child who lives with a single mom. As I have read, your tax plans to a certain extent discriminate single parents. My mom and I, and all the other single-parent families would appreciate if you listen to their perspective. That’s all I’m asking you, just listen. Next off, I come from a very diverse school. Even though I am a white Christian girl, I respect everyone’s opinion, no matter what race, culture, religion, or gender. As leader of our country you must represent EVERYONE. You shouldn’t put someone’s life at risk to make you feel more powerful. In my opinion building a wall and deporting illegal immigrants is not efficient. Instead of deporting them, support them and let them gain citizenship.

How are the lessons going?  The process is ongoing, but I’m pleased to report that feedback from staff, students, and parents has been positive. Our students weathered a tough election season and maybe emerged just a little wiser and a little kinder. I’d love to hear what other schools have done to discuss the election with students.

For our next steps as a school, we will continue to examine perspectives and foster communication. This winter, we plan to teach a series of lessons on shattering stereotypes.

More on that to follow in the new year. Wishing you and yours a 2017 full of growth and adventure!


Going home and getting global

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

My hometown, site of this year’s Global Education Forum.

Philadelphia is my hometown, and though I no longer live in the area,  its proud, gritty sense of character appeals to me. I still cheer for the Flyers and love the LOVE statue. When the opportunity came to return to my hometown as a presenter at the Global Education Forum, I didn’t need to think twice.


Krista at the Global Education Forum in Philadelphia.

The forum brought together teachers, administrators, and thought leaders from all over to discuss best practices in global education. Craig Kielburger and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs inspired with keynote addresses that explored the possibilities for engaging students as thinker and doers, examining perspective and taking action to improve their world.


From Craig Kielburger’s presentation: the traits we want our students to have.

Through the generosity of IREX, several alumni of the Teachers for Global Classrooms were able to travel to the forum and host workshops for other teachers about how to globalize instruction. Sara Damon of Stillwater, Minnesota, Faith Ibarra of Ashburn, Virginia, and I collaborated on our workshop, “Motivating Students and Staff to Take Action on Global Issues.” I was delighted to share my school’s Middle Years Exploration into the topic of poverty, a starting point for future service learning activities. (To check out the exploration, you can join our Google Classroom using code gcempu ). 


Sara Damon presenting at the Global Education Forum.

Nothing motivates and inspires quite like connecting with other passionate educators. Thank you, IREX for the opportunity to attend the Global Education forum this year!


Summer adventures

These last few nights, there’s enough crisp in the air that we can sit out on the porch, watching the sun set behind the crape myrtle. Teachers returned to school last week to prepare for the school year. Our school population has grown enough to merit a huge addition, and over half of the staff moved to new digs, including me. My new office is small and bright, and desperately in need of some wall décor and plant life. Summer is nearly over, and oh, what a summer it was!

Processed with VSCO with e3 preset

My new office, looking spartan.

 The day after students finished, when most teachers were still finishing up with packing and submitting grades, I was on a plane to Orlando to attend the Korean War Veterans Digital History Teachers’ Conference. So soon after the tragic events in Orlando, I couldn’t help but connect current events to the historical ones we learned about at the conference. Thoughts of lives cut short, of divisions and community, of tremendous bravery and selflessness…the highlight of the conference was the opportunity to speak to several Korean War veterans, now in their 80s, and hear their stories.


Memorial to the Pulse Victims, Orlando


Later in the summer, I spent ten days on a grand sweep of the Southwestern United States with my husband and stepsons.


Zion National Park



The Narrows at Zion



Bryce Canyon National Park



Bryce Canyon



Mesa Verde National Park




Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque


ABQ Biopark, Albuquerque


The Grand Canyon




 The best part of the journey was seeing through the eyes of my stepsons many of the same places that had captivated me as a young child. My parents had the wisdom and endurance to crisscross the country multiple times with three young children in a station wagon, toting a pop up camper. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, I remember the diverse and beautiful places I had the opportunity to see as a child and an adult.


First time visiting the Grand Canyon


 And now I start a new school year with a continued commitment to bring the world to our students, with same can-do spirit that my parents embraced over 30 years ago. Here’s to a year full of adventure, discovery, and joy!


Giving Back to Leganes

Ever since I met the wonderful students and dedicated staff at Leganes National High School in the Philippines, I have been thinking about how my school community in the United States might help them gain access to much-needed resources. The staff do their work without adequate books or technology, and pay for many needed supplies, even photocopying for lessons, own of their own pockets from their meager salaries. When I returned, I shared the story of Leganes with our school’s leadership team, and asked for ideas for how we could make a difference.

Our extraordinary media specialist Anita jumped right on the idea and suggested centering a fundraiser around International Literacy Day on September 8. Since the school year started on August 31, we needed to move quickly to spread the word and generate enthusiasm.

We organized a “hat day” event on September 8 and 9, where students could wear a hat to school, normally not permitted, in exchange for a one dollar donation to the Leganes fund.

Sixth grade students and I on Hat Day.

Sixth grade students with me on Hat Day.

Seventh grade hat day participants

Seventh grade hat day participants.

Eighth grade Hat Day

Eighth grade Hat Day students. Note the giant squid hat!

We also wrote announcements to publicize the event, sharing some statistics about Leganes. Student members of the National Junior Honor Society collaborated to create informative posters and announcements. I also spoke to a gathering of parents at our school’s Back to School Night to explain the purpose of our fundraiser. I connected our goals to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, which encourages students to be internationally minded and to serve others.

Raising funds -- and awareness.

Raising funds — and awareness.

Result? We raised over $400 which will shortly wing its way to the Philippines to support the school resources fund of Leganes. Even more rewarding than the money raised were the conversations I had with countless teachers, students, and parents who had heard about the fundraiser. Here are some of the repeated themes of those conversations:

  • We are so fortunate to live where we do.
  • My school (in Ecuador, Morocco, Uganda, Peru, El Salvador, and so on…) also lacked resources, so I can connect personally to the experience of the students at Leganes.
  • I’m from the Philippines originally. I love it there, but the poverty can be overwhelming.
  • I’d like to learn more about Leganes and communicate with the students there.
  • So, when are you going back?
Literacy king and queen in our royal hat day gear!

Literacy king and queen in our royal hat day gear!

Leganes, you are always in my heart. I’m so glad we can do one small thing for you to return some the infinite kindness you showed towards me.