When I was little, one of my favorite books was Josephine’s ’Magination–it’s a sweet book that tells the story of a little girl living in Haiti and how she uses her imagination to create dolls. I loved it because of the colorful illustrations, because my grandmother’s name was also Josephine, and because it talked about loneliness, something I was feeling as a child. In a couple of ways, it offered mirrors for me. On the other hand, it also exposed me to a small slice of life in Haiti, and that was a window for me, to see a childhood experience that was so different from my own.
Josephine was comforting to me because of the mirrors she offered: Seeing another little girl talk about her loneliness made me feel less alone. Seeing Josephine play by herself and use her imagination to create toys made me feel better about how often I was doing that. I felt like I had a friend in this little girl who lived thousands of miles away. And because I was connected to Josephine, this fictional character who reflected my feelings, I was even more invested in learning about her life. I was curious about her world in Haiti, where she spoke French and went to the market with her mother every Friday. I wanted to know more about this place where the ocean was so close and the sun was always shining. It sparked an excitement in me to meet people who looked different from me, people who came from other countries and spoke different languages–I wanted to learn about our diverse world and explore it. Josephine opened a window for me.
So, how does this concept of windows and mirrors aid us in our goal of increasing equity and engagement in our classrooms? Well, we want to provide our students with plenty of opportunities to see people and experiences that represent them (mirrors) and those that reveal new worlds to them (windows). Sometimes, we might unintentionally not provide enough mirrors to our students. We might forget that our own experiences and interests are not those of our students. For our students whose experiences are different from the majority in any way–Students of Color, students with varying abilities, students who speak a different language at home–they are surrounded by windows, and may not feel a strong sense of belonging to the learning environment or a strong engagement with the content. We increase student engagement by providing mirrors. We are practicing equity when we reflect on representation in our learning environments. To quote Nehemiah D. Frank, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times, “Perhaps I would have felt more empowered and been more of an engaged learner during elementary, middle, and high school had I saw reflections of myself in my school books and learned that people who look like me also contributed great accomplishments in the sciences, arts, mathematics and literary world.”
Let’s take a moment to consider how we are providing windows and mirrors as we are creating curriculums and learning activities in our classrooms, organizing clubs and after-school programming for our buildings, and hiring in our districts.
Windows and Mirrors: This concept was originally coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at The Ohio State University, who wrote in 1990: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Students with varying abilities: We are referring here to students with varying levels of intellectual or physical abilities. For some students, this manifests as dyslexia, while for others it may be visual impairment.
Neurodiversity/Neurodivergent: Not all individuals experience or interact with the world in the same way. All of our brains work differently! Recognizing neurodiversity provides space for those with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or learning disabilities. Learn more from this article, “What is neurodiversity?”.
Representation: The concept that all individuals should be able to see themselves in the diverse arenas of our world. Black female leaders, neurodivergent CEOs, and teachers who are physically disabled are all examples of representation.
Opportunities for Reflection – Curriculum Focus
- When I highlight major contributors in my content area, do they all look the same?
- Can my students see themselves in these individuals?
- Can I identify a major contributor who looks or sounds different in an effort to honor the diversity that exists in our world?
- ELA educators: Check out this resource from PBS.
- Math educators: Read this article published in Teaching Children Mathematics.
- Science educators: This article provides insight into why we need to shift our lens and shares a few resources.
- Classroom Teachers: Create a family wall in your classroom where your students can share visuals of their families. This can be comforting for students and provide a window into the diversity of their peers’ families.
- Building Administrators: Display the flags of students in your building who have immigrated or are first-generation students from other countries. Organize clubs that are specific to the cultures represented in your buildings.
- District Administrators: View our video series, I Reach, I Teach: Conversations with Educators of Color. These interviews provide excellent insight into the importance of representation in our buildings and the perspective of Black educators.