Faculty and Staff (Digital) Book Club: New Kid, by Jerry Craft

I did not expect to be hosting our New Kid Faculty and Staff Book Club from my dining room, in my slippers. If I’m being honest, once our school closed, I wasn’t expecting to host this book club at all. While we were all thrilled when more than 50 members of our faculty and staff jumped at the chance to meet and discuss New Kid when we announced 070518DD-FDBC-4406-B1CC-2AE5F3687D80the book club in February, it feels like the entire world has changed since then. Suddenly, we’re all first year teachers again, struggling to figure out how even the most basic of lessons can work in this new distance learning reality. Were teachers really going to be interested in this book club that they’d signed up for a lifetime ago?

I was convinced that our window to hold the book club had closed. I was honest when I shared my concerns with our school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team: Everyone has so much on their plates; our definitions of equity and inclusion are shifting by the minute; talking about how kids feel in physical spaces when we’re all learning from our respective homes feels tone deaf and weird. But the amazing DEI team gently reminded me that times of great change can be times of great learning. They pointed out that while things are changing so rapidly for our students, people are looking for ways to connect and learn how to serve them better.

So we asked if people still wanted to participate. We received an overwhelming response. Yes, they wanted the book club. Yes, they valued Jordan’s story and wanted space to explore it together. Yes, they wanted to go into distance learning with eyes wide open, considering it through a DEI lens and doing the work to help every single family be as successful as possible. Here I was, ready to throw in the towel and cancel this book club! Thank goodness for our amazing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team.

Below, you’ll find some resources from our Book Club, which took place over Zoom yesterday afternoon. I’ve included slides, the writing prompt, and discussion questions (many of which were inspired by this teachers’ guide from Harper Collins). We also found these resources, collected by In the Key of Books, to be very helpful.

Before I share resources, here are a few critical details:

  • Books were purchased by the school and distributed to participants in late February; participation was optional, and the meeting was originally to be in person
  • All participants were sent a Zoom link and calendar invite the week before the book club
  • We began in a full group “chat” with a screen share showing this slideshow
  • As we were chatting, an email went out to all members that included the full text of the writing prompt and discussion questions
  • We set a 10 minute timer for the writing prompt and asked all participants to mute their microphones (we had asked them to come prepared with pencil and paper or a Google doc for this step)
  • Zoom has a breakout feature that allowed us to break into smaller groups for discussion questions
  • We returned to the large group setting for the last 10 minutes to share major takeaways and lingering questions
  • In the final moments, participants were emailed the link to a Padlet where they could share thoughts, reflections, questions, and what they’d like to see from next steps

Schedule, Norms, and Goals

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One more norm was shared verbally, and sent along with the writing prompt in an email:

This is a moment to focus on ourselves and our relationship with students. It is not intended to be a time to discuss individual students and their stories. When doing this work it is easy to default back on what the School or specific kids are doing, and we want to be mindful of the importance of focusing on ourselves as we dive into this work.

Writing Prompt

Many kids have spent so much time compartmentalizing where they live and where they’re from with their school identity. With our shift to  virtual learning we don’t give students or teachers a choice: we are entering students’ homes and students and colleagues are entering ours. We see this In the book when Liam tells Jordan “don’t judge me” when he invites Liam into his house. 

  • How has this come up in your online teaching
    over the past two weeks? 

  • What are some ways that we can support students and
    each other in this new virtual format? 

What other issues around equity and online learning have come up for you over the past few weeks?

Discussion Questions

  • Jordan’s “Tips for Taking the Bus” (pp. 56-57) show Jordan changing his appearance over the course of his trip. Discuss the concept of “code switching.” What do you notice in each frame? What is different about his clothing, body language, and the people around him? What do you think Jordan gains by code switching in this way?
  • Discuss Mrs. Rawle’s reaction to finding Jordan’s sketchbook. How did it impact Jordan, and their relationship? Why do you think she reacted the way she did? What could she have done differently?
  • Jordan’s mom puts pressure on him not only to attend Riverdale Academy, but also to enjoy it. How does this impact Jordan, his experience at school, and his relationship with the school community? What could you do to support and foster a strong relationship with a student in a similar situation?
  • There are a few instances where Jordan’s teachers fell short not because they didn’t care, but because their impact did not match their intent. What are some of those moments? What could they have done differently? Can you think of a time when your impact did not match your intent? What would you change about what you said or did?
  • Share a question that you have after reading New Kid that you didn’t have before.
  • What else is on your mind after finishing New Kid? Is there anything that you learned about yourself or that you could directly apply to your teaching practice or interactions with students?

Is there anything else that you’d like to know, or see? How is your school continuing DEI conversations (or beginning new ones) as learning transitions to the digital realm?

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