By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Monday, January 16, 2017


“[T]he stereotype threat that goes with certain social identities in school and on tests can dramatically affect intellectual performance….” (p. 67)

The benefits [of reducing stereotype threat] are sizable, reliable, and often long-lasting.  And the interventions themselves are low cost and relatively easy to do…. establishing trust through demanding but supportive relationships, fostering hopeful narratives about belonging in the setting, arranging informal cross-group conversations…, representing critical abilities as learnable, and using child-centered teaching techniques.” (p. 181)

“[P]eople have to be able to trust that, despite the relevance of a bad stereotype about their group, they won’t be judged by it, that their goodness as human beings will be seen.  Trust like that is hard to come by…. When interactions between people from different backgrounds have learning from each other as a goal, it eases the potential tension between them, giving missteps less significance.  Trust is fostered.” (p. 209)

Join me in a virtual Diversity Book Club.  In this and upcoming posts, I’ll summarize books and provide classroom applications and resources for teachers interested in building welcoming and inclusive environments in their classrooms and schools.  We begin with Claude M. Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2010).

Readable and recognizable, Claude M. Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi illuminates a human condition people encounter in any diverse society: stereotype threat. 
·      We know (and worry about) what others will think about us based on what groups we belong to or identities we have such as racial, economic, gender, age, nationality, religious, and more. 
·      Our concern about what others may think about us and whether we will confirm their negative stereotypes about “our type of person” affects what we do and often detracts from our performance. 

In school settings, with which we are most concerned, we may see female students drop out of advanced math classes, Black students in predominantly White classrooms may do poorly on standardized tests, and White students in predominantly Black environments offer opinions they think are expected rather than sincerely held, for example.

Steele offers numerous examples of the research that identified and named stereotype threat.  He also offers practical suggestions, some of them mediated by the work of his colleague Carol Dweck, whose book Mindset, I heartily recommend.  Dweck’s work centers on growth versus fixed mindsets: learning to learn from our mistakes and/or relative weaknesses rather than seeing them as fixed and unchangeable liabilities.   

Classroom & School Applications & Resources:
After his account of numerous experiments identifying and attempting to ameliorate stereotype threat, Steele offers numerous practical recommendations to which I have added suggestions and resources for classroom teachers:

1.    Demand high standards from all students and tell them you expect them to meet these expectations.  This can diminish the stereotype threat some students experience by interrupting their own negative narrative that teacher/peers deem them less able than students of different groups.  (See discussion, p. 163.)

2.    Affect the negative narrative or feeling of stereotype threat by sharing a different narrative.  One example is that of junior and senior class students at an elite university sharing their feelings of being frustrated, unworthy, inept, and unwelcome during their freshman year.  They explain to incoming freshmen that they have overcome these feelings, achieved at a high level, made friends, and used the resources at the school to good purpose.  In an independent school in which students from underserved communities may experience stereotype threat, for example, fostering a mentorship relationship of upper level students with middle and lower school students might be helpful.  (See pages 165-166.)

3.    Affect negative narratives by fostering discussions among many different kinds of students in which they share their fears and hopes.  In this way, all students see that everyone feels nervous at a new school, that some people share some of the same values, and that many people share the same hopes.  (See p. 167.)

4.    Teach all students, and particularly those facing stereotype threat (Black students in predominantly White classrooms, for example) that human intelligence is expandable and that we learn, grow, and build our intellectual skills by learning from our mistakes and failures.  One experiment invited Stanford students to write letters with such information to “ostensible minority elementary students.”   Students in upper grades in independent schools could write real letters to students in lower grades, or sixth graders could write to rising fifth graders, for example.  (See pages 168-169.)

5.    Invite students to affirm their most important personal or family values and explain their importance.  This exercise was part of an experiment in a seventh grade classroom.  Black students who affirmed their values showed continued improvement in academic performance over Black students who did not do this exercise.  Students in our sixth grade English classes write about personal and family values, and we see benefit for all students as they contribute to building of a caring, warm, and supportive environment.  (See details on pages 174-175.)
6.    Make the classroom a mistake-making, growth-oriented place.  Overtly discuss growth versus fixed mindsets.  Learning is the goal that brings all students together and mitigates students’ perceptions of stereotype threat. “When interactions between people from different backgrounds have learning from each other as a goal, it eases the potential tension between them, giving missteps less significance.  Trust is fostered.” (See p. 209).  Doing this early in the year and as I begin each new project, I attempt to foster just such an environment of encouragement, risk, and learning with each other.  Further, after we complete long-term projects, we openly discuss our obstacles and how we faced them.

7.    Make the school/classroom a safe place for all by fostering: “positive relationships with students; more child-centered teaching; use of [our] diversity as a classroom resource rather than following a strict strategy of colorblindness; teacher skill, warmth, and availability…”  (See page 180.)  To assist this process, teachers can share their identity-related experiences of facing stereotypes, for example, thus allowing students to see us as human and like them.  Read Shane Safir’s post about identity workshops to foster identity-safe classrooms:  It includes a terrific workshop tool!    

8.    To help students feel safe to tackle unsafe topics I use the “Circles of Culture” exercise explained in a previous blog.  Taking time to create a caring place for daring conversations makes all the difference in the student (and teacher) experience and forges our bonds as a community of readers, writers, and upstanders, ready to build a welcoming and inclusive community in and out of school. This is relevant teaching and learning: today and every day. (Sample questions: In which of your circles of culture do you find safety/refuge?  Why?  In which of your circles of culture do you find discomfort or lack of safety?  Why?)  Read more: 

9. Teachers in early childhood and elementary grades may find Michele Borba’s Unselfie a useful resource.  Read a summary and find classroom applications in my August 2016 post:

10.    Have a study group read Whisling Vivaldi at your school.  Use chapter discussion questions prepared Deb Hoskins, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin at La Crosse:

11. For an academic reference for your work on reducing stereotype threat utilize the website created by two social science professors, Steve Stroessner and Catherine Good: 

12. Host a showing and discussion of the movie Hidden Figures at your school, or read and discuss the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race: (Background story and movie trailer here)

Dr. King’s vision is oft-quoted, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But the reality is that people do judge others based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, and other features.  And fear of such judgement does affect performance.  Stereotype threat is a real force to reckon with in our classrooms.  We can use such resources as Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi to make our classrooms ones in which each student—and teacher—thrives.

Susan Gelber Cannon, January 2017

Sunday, December 18, 2016


We're all pregnant with something."  
(Faculty Attendee at People of Color Conference)

“I show up and speak up because I care.”
Blogger Sherri Spelic

"Advancing human and civil rights.  Fulfilling the dream together."
PoCC 2016 Conference Theme

“Why do you go to the People of Color Conference?”  This is a question my colleagues and I were asked as we embarked for Atlanta.  My colleagues of color faced the question this way as well: “Why do YOU people go to that conference every year?”  They answer in many ways.  They go for community, to feel part of the mainstream rather than as a person who may be marginalized in a predominantly white school population.  Some attend to find strength and learn new ways to address insulting language or graffiti directed at their students or themselves in independent school settings.  Others go to learn how to better mentor and nurture a diverse community of learners, making each student feel valued in our schools. 

As a white woman, I attend to learn how issues of diversity and inclusion affect all of us, to reinforce my resolve to take action, to build my skills as a caring and inclusive teacher and peer, and to use my whiteness to call attention to the needs of all kinds of students and colleagues.  Upon my return, I share photos and highlights with each of my classes, telling my students I think it is important for students to learn about what their teachers care about and are learning about.  I welcome you to learn about PoCC as well.

The mission statement of the conference includes these goals: “PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike."

Highlights of the People of Color Conference [PoCC]

For a varied group of faculty, staff, and students from my independent school, this mission came to life.  Simply attending, comparing workshops, and talking about keynote speakers with a diverse group of colleagues from different units of the school was invigorating.  Having time to linger over a meal and share perspectives, experiences, and plans was a treasure.  We engaged deeply in learning ways to build a welcoming and inclusive community.  Several conference highlights spring to mind.

Bryan Stevenson’s spoke about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, including stories from his memoir Just Mercy.  Called by Archbishop Desmond Tutu “America’s Mandela,” Stevenson charged us to: 1. Get near people/places of injustice.  2. Resist fear and anger. 3. Stay hopeful. 4. Do uncomfortable things.  He reminded us all that like the wrongly accused whom he defends, “We’re all broken.”

Other keynote speakers were noteworthy as well, including Richard Blanco, the fifth inaugural poet, spoke of his journey from Cuba to the United States, from “San Giving,” as his mother called the holiday, to “Thanksgiving.”  

Rinku Sen, publisher of the news site Colorlines, gave us several powerful images to understand how the United States has “stumbled toward becoming a multiracial society.”  Using Rumi’s image: “The wound is where the light comes in,” she urged us, “Let that light in and shine that light back out to the world.”  Talking about interacting with others, she noted, “We cannot prove what’s behind someone’s words, but we can measure the impact of their words and actions.  Focus on the impact.”  

Zak Ebrahim, son of one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, spoke of his journey to work for peace.  “I am convinced that empathy is more powerful than hate….  No matter what path you’re put on, you can work for peace….  Sometimes we take steps backward, but we are overall moving forward….”  He urged us to foster conversations and bring people of all backgrounds into the conversation.

Worthy workshops offered ways to approach classroom content and character education opportunities.  For example, lawyer-turned-teacher Jessy Molina, from Garrison Forest School, reminded teachers of the difference between debate and dialogue, and offered classroom prompts for each.  (Debate=Argue/win. Listen to find flaw.  Dialogue=Explore common ground.  Listen for understanding.)

Oman Frame and Martha Caldwell of Paideia School offered “Let’s Get Real: Exploring Race, Class, and Gender Identities in the Classroom.”  (This is also the title of their book.)  Their model of creating a safe space for students to explore and share their identities beyond stereotypes leads to better academic learning outcomes as it diminishes “stereotype threat” and helps students feel heard, cared for, and understood.  For example, they ask a series of questions to elicit: “What do you need to feel safe?  What is a challenge you’ve faced?  Moving forward what obstacles do your face?”  These questions, followed by brief sharing and listening opportunities, built a sense of community even in our short workshop.   They will teach a four-day summer institutes in Atlanta as well: “iChange Summer Teaching Institute,” in June 2017.

My trip also included a guided tour of Woodward School, facilitated by Mark Carrington.  The school’s enrollment is approximately 50% students of color and 50% students who identify as white.  Mark says, “we’re not working on diversity anymore, we are working on inclusion.”  Yet, they do not have an office for this task.  The head of school has told all faculty and staff: “We’re all responsible for this work.”  Using NAIS climate assessment tools and conversations with multiple constituent groups, the work of building an inclusive community is vibrant and ongoing at Woodward, with this year’s “Week of Understanding” theme involving “What is home?  What is family?”  This theme offers the community a way to reflect on refugee and immigration issues as well as the varieties of families at the school.   

Several of us toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights, reliving the journey from sixties civil rights heroes to today’s human rights champions.  We were at once heart-broken, shaken, and inspired by the lunch-counter simulation of the vitriol endured by those college students trained by Reverend James Lawson and others to protest against segregation non-violently.  This museum is a treasure of history and how-to-do it activism much needed today.

I’ll close by mentioning a workshop on educational blogging, organized by bloggers Sherri Spelic (American International School Vienna) Marcy Webb (Watkinson School) and Christopher Rogers (Greene Street Friends School).  Talking about educational blogging filled most people in the room with joy.  Several shared their blog addresses, posted below.  At one point Sherri shared, “Care must be at the core of everything we do….  I show up and speak up because I care….”  These words say it all for me.  Whether we’re talking about writing, or teaching, or attending a conference such as PoCC, “I show up and speak up because I care.”

--Susan Gelber Cannon


People of Color Conference Website:

Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative Website:

Rinku Sen’s Colorlines:

iChange Collaborative:

National Center for Civil and Human Rights:

Scientific American Article: How Diversity Makes us Smarter

PoCC Twitter Feed: #PoCC2016

@Kawai_lai is the artist of the Bryan Stevenson, Rinku Sen, and Zak Ebrahim photos above:

Conference Bloggers:
·      Sherri Spelic’s blog, edifiedlistener
·      Marcy Webb’s blog post on Teaching Tolerance:
·      Christopher Rogers:
·      In 5th Grade with Teacher Julia
·      David Cutler’s Spin Education:
·      Susan Gelber Cannon’s ThinkCareAct Blog