Tag Archive for: Touchstones Spotlight

Touchstones Spotlight on Shalini Jasti

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

This week, we’re shining the Touchstones Spotlight on Shalini Jasti, a middle school English Language Arts teacher based in New Jersey. Shalini used Exploring American Perspectives, a volume that draws entirely from works by

 Black and African-American contributors, with 8th graders this year and was part of our third cohort of Touchstones Fellows in the fall of 2021. This was her first year using Touchstones and in her words, she “quickly stood up to the challenge and met students with high expectations and care as we embarked on our journey together.” We’re grateful to Shalini for taking the time to share her experiences with us. You can find her on Instagram @the.equitable.classroom

What do you love about Touchstones? How does it support the goals of your work?

I love that Touchstones offers me the weekly space to speak to my students. I see this work as supporting my own social emotional goals for students. I am an English educator because I believe that students learn best through introspective – or self-motivated – reading and writing in which they see diverse identities interacting. Touchstones directly aligns with my teaching philosophy and goals.

How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?

I have become a stronger leader in that I am more selfless now than I was before. By prioritizing the safety of my students within these discussion circles, I have been able to decenter my own feelings regarding the texts. From this experience, I have learned to be observant to the smaller actions of students, noticing which students are silent, which students speak more, which students feel confident being vulnerable, and which students do not. However, as it is imperative that I am present in the circle, it is clear that I need to continue on my path to being a greater discussion leader by being a calmer presence in the circle.

How have you seen your students/participants develop? How has your organizational culture shifted?

My students are building their communication skills through Touchstones. This is undeniable. But there is a lack of community and societal support needed to shift organizational culture more widely. If schools shape society and society shapes school, using Touchstones alone without a greater political or social passion for this level of communication will not shift organizational culture.

Can you share one or two memorable moments or stories from using Touchstones?

There are two memorable moments I continue to recount in my Touchstones journey thus far: the first is my “Touchstones Aha Moment” – in which I can distinctly remember feeling my emotions turn to words through the use of the Touchstones text; the second is a moment of tension within my own classroom. 

In the Touchstones Fellows Program  in Fall 2021, there was one lesson using an excerpt from the “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”. During college, upon reading this text and other slave narratives that are also in Exploring American Perspectives, I remember the stark ways in which my professors taught me about paratextual evidence and the amount of power that White abolitionists had in changing the words of those who have experienced trauma to feed those harsh moments to society in smaller bite size pieces; society during that time – some might argue now – is unwilling to hear those words in their ugly truth. As this was going through my head, I could feel myself name my emotions – my dislike for inauthenticity and the lack of acknowledged pain. 

Second, within a Touchstones text in class, students were so struck by a realization they had made about the plights of their own lives as people of color that we as a group began to decipher these issues with our emotions, share our vulnerabilities, and so on, until the period ended. I was not watching the clock. As my next class began walking in, some of us were still sitting in silence thinking about the conclusion we just reached. Many of us reflected on the idea that we reach those conclusions on a daily basis, and it would be nice to take a break within the school day.

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?

In order to effectively prepare for Touchstones as an educator, you must prepare for the lessons ahead of time. This means that I dedicate one or two prep periods to plan how I might lead my students through the Touchstones text. For my own preparation, I preview the text ahead of time so I am not uncomfortable with the experiences that arise in my own mind upon reading the text – there is much emotional labor that I need to do to process these texts before I can lead them with my students; it would be unfair to my students for me to lead a discussion with my own opinions or life experiences at the center. Additionally, there will never be enough time to discuss a topic in full, so I have found it is very important to manage my time well in order to end class with smoother transitions; this specificity with transitions and timing aids in comprehension within Touchstones conversations.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience with Touchstones?

I’m sure I will always have something else I’d like to share about Touchstones. Working with this tool is going to be a continual learning experience for myself and my students. It is a learning experience that I certainly need in order to process my own emotions regarding the world around me and the experiences I’ve undergone, and I’m wondering what role my emotions play while using this resource in my classroom. In Touchstones, I often find myself feeling guilty for my anger around some of the texts, enough to ask if my feelings are welcome at all in the circle. If they are welcome and I am vulnerable and share, what guarantee do I have – as a student or a professional – that no one will use my emotions and experiences against me later? Is this the risk I take when placing myself in these circles as a person of color? And, when I do not share at all due to my fears, is that a reflection of my own ignorance and biases or am I allowed to keep my emotions until I feel comfortable sharing? Is this emotional work that I want to do with my students present, especially when I am being asked to maintain a relationship with them in the systems that disadvantage us all? 

Finally, many of the texts in Exploring American Perspectives might be ones that students never see again – I surely would not have encountered them if not for college. As I recounted in my memorable Touchstones experiences, I recall these texts fondly. I do believe these authors deserve such praise and dedication. 

Touchstones Spotlight on Stacy Pecha

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

It’s time for another Touchstones Spotlight!Stacy holding a copy of Touchstones Courage to Care book In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on Stacy Pecha, a 7th grade teacher at Selkirk Middle School in Washington who uses Courage to Care, Building Community Through Service with her Debate and Public Speaking elective class. Although she was introduced to Touchstones in 1996 and briefly used it in another district, this is her second year using the program consistently. Even in this short time, she’s seen growth in herself and her students in key discussion skills! Stacy is the only one at her school using Touchstones – as many of our teachers are. If you’re a teacher using Touchstones, and you’d like to connect with our global educator community, join our new group, exclusively for Touchstones teachers to share tips, strategies, and ideas, and build community. We’d love to have you!


What do you love about Touchstones?

Students have lost the art and fundamentals of productive discussion – especially LISTENING to each other. Touchstones helps to foster that skill.


How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?
It’s a work in progress – I am getting better at noticing subtle body language, indicating that a student wants to add something. I’ve also noticed that I consistently want to be the “rescuer” when there are awkward moments of silence. (Teacher habit!)

How have you seen your students develop through Touchstones?
My students are getting better at TAKING TURNS – waiting and watching for the right time to add to the discussion. I think they appreciate that there are no wrong answers, their thoughts may spark a different conversation or promote a different point of view – but it is not wrong.

Can you share a memorable moment from your Touchstones classes?
I love the moments when the students are actually disappointed when our time runs out and want to keep the conversation going.

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?
The curriculum is progressive. You cannot base your success with Touchstones on the first few lessons or discussions, it is a practice and keeps evolving! Stick with it!

Touchstones Spotlight on Alexandria Jones

Interview by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager

 

The Touchstones community spans the globe, poses a challenge when communicating everything Touchstones makes possible. It’s our goal to remedy this by finding new ways to share the inspiring work happening in classroom and community discussions every day. Over the past several months, we’ve been working to highlight the incredible stories of educators using Touchstones on our social media channels, and now we’re adding them to our new blog as well!

Alexandria Jones headshot

Alexandria Jones, 4th Grade Touchpebbles Teacher

In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on Alexandria Jones, a 4th grade teacher at Learning Community Charter School who uses Touchpebbles B each week with her students. This is her second year using Touchstones, after first learning about the program during her student teaching last year. We sat in on her Touchpebbles class during a recent school visit, and the community she is building with her students was palpable. We’re grateful to Alexandria for taking the time to share more about her work with Touchstones and the impact she has seen with her students!

What do you love about Touchstones? 

I love that Touchstones is a platform that gives all students an opportunity to speak and feel that when they speak, they are heard. It allows the students to self-regulate and be considerate of other people when they are speaking. In the classroom, students frequently get excited to share their thoughts and ideas, which leads to them talking over one another. Ultimately, this results in nobody truly feeling heard. But, through Touchstones students have learned the importance of being considerate when one person is talking and truly listening to what they are saying before sharing their ideas.

 

How does Touchstones support the goals of your work?
This supports my goals as an educator precisely because as a teacher, your goal is to prepare your students for success. Conversational skills and the accompanying qualities such as being patient, empathetic, respectful, and confident are qualities that Touchstones works to build and will allow for our students to thrive.

 

How have you seen yourself develop as a discussion leader?
As a discussion leader, I have been able to reflect on the development of my ability to guide fruitful discussions such as opening up, being vulnerable, and sharing personal experience. This reinforces that our conversations are safe grounds where students can feel comfortable and confident to share their ideas too. Through Touchstones I have also learned techniques to include my more reserved students and have been able to watch them share their ideas with confidence.

 

How have you seen your students develop through Touchstones?
Over the course of this school year, I have witnessed a drastic change in the way my students try their best to share their ideas one at a time and create platforms for their friends who share less frequently. This goes beyond Touchstones as well, but the skills were developed through Touchstones. I have watched my students transform into leaders who will frequently intervene to include all voices by saying, “Guys! Listen, ….. is talking” or “Guys, …. is talking lets listen.”

class of 4th graders in Touchstones circle
Can you share one or two memorable moments from your Touchpebbles classes?

When doing lesson 5: A Case Study in Medical ethics, the students were amazed to see the validity of what they were learning and that the decisions doctors have to make is not simple. In fact, it can be hard to distinguish between right and wrong. For the class, seeing that what they were reading about ties into the real world decisions doctors have to make engaged them and made them see that things are not always black and white when it comes to decision making.
In my most recent Touchstones lesson, the class was discussing the way that we feel when someone calls us dumb. Many students were saying that they feel angry and feel the desire to retaliate and express their frustration. But, one student went against the grain and stated beautifully that if he were called dumb he would feel embarrassed. This added great depth to the conversation and showed that he has the skills to deepen the conversation when expressing vulnerability.

 

What do you want others to know about Touchstones?
It is important to know that Touchstones is a foundational tool that goes beyond the classroom and is not limited to one particular age group. Through my own practice in Touchstones I have improved my conversational skills drastically. I remind myself constantly of what it means to actively listen and engage in conversation, and I personally work to make my conversations more fruitful. Talking – as simple as the concept is – was something that I once feared. I would overanalyze my word choice when talking and would feel that conversations often fell on surface level. Now I am consciously able to apply skills to spark deeper thinking and add value to the conversations I am having through talking and listening alike. Touchstones helped me to gain confidence in my own conversational skills, and I know it does the same for my students.