Seeking Justice in the Classroom

Recently I was sent a random email from Teach for America asking me to approve a blurb they wrote about my work as a social justice educator. They thought of me when re-designing a part of their final interview process meant to “update how we talk about race, class, and privilege, the importance of personal identity and reflection, and community partnership”.

Thousands of new teacher applicants across the country will reference me and my students as they discuss Restorative Practices and Culturally Relevant practices and as part of their “theory of change”. Who would have thought…

“Let’s talk for a moment about Charla Agnoletti, a 2009 Colorado alum who focused not just on Language Arts, but also on developing “the skills [her] students needed to deal with the disproportionate levels of conflict, oppression and social issues they face as low-income youth of color.” Charla saw her students as “warriors for peace and justice” which led her to pilot restorative justice and culturally relevant practices within her class. She is now leading these efforts at a school wide level as her school’s first ever Restorative Justice Coordinator. Her past classroom curriculum and her current school wide initiatives focus on “creating critical consciousness in youth by discussing issues central to their lives while teaching practical tools for peace and justice to immediately implement in [their] community.” A student of Charla’s noted that Ms. Agnoletti “filled [her] with knowledge that will walk alongside [her] for the rest of [her] life.”

Gratitude is the Attitude

The most important vocabulary word in this past school year’s curriculum?  Gratitude.  Gratitude will change your life and it certainly transformed my teaching experience.  This year I had a student give me the most meaningful note I have ever received from a student.  In her letter she wrote to me that I had taught her things that will, “walk alongside me for the rest of my life”.  Although it could be the grammer rules, persuasive techniques, or new transition words she was referring to, my perception is her experience is rooted in our classroom gratitude practice.  She has been practicing weekly gratitude for over a year.

Over a year and a half ago I picked up a book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar and  spark occurred.  I was intimately familiar with the miraculous power of gratitude as I had journals filled with gratitude lists.  However, Ben-Shahar began to interweave education and happiness in a way that I had never thought of before.  What if we found a way to teach gratitude to students?   Would they be happier?  Would we?  The spark became a flame that changed everything.

Immediately I started gratitude practice with my students.  In February of 2012 I began randomly giving students a warm-up journal prompt to list their gratitude.  Over those few short months I saw the social-emotional benefits of gratitude.  Tense moods became lighter, community was built and students were exploring their personal experiences and identities in way I had never before seen.  Students started with gratitude for Mom, Dad, friends, and food and with time explored deep expressions of gratitude for their heritage, privileges, hardships and accomplishments.  Self-awareness seeds were planted.

I believe this practice is essential to lowering my students affective filters, or their mood towards learning, so that we can actually learn.  My own experience with gratitude is always an automatic sense of relief, calm and happiness.  If you haven’t recently, or ever, created a gratitude list, try it.  Get a notebook, write it in your phone notes, say it out loud…whatever you do, try and make it a daily practice to find something to be thankful for.  If its been a while, start back up.  Share it as your facebook status, tweet it, or share a moment with a loved one saying your thanks.  My favorite yogi tea quote says, “An attitude of gratitude brings an abundance of opportunities”. No matter your position or profession, if you practice gratitude routinely you will feel the miraculous impact on many aspects of your daily life.  If you are an educator or parent, pay special attention to practicing with your youth to make a significant impact in their lives as well as your own.

Check out The Happiness Advantage Video, a great Ted Talks video about happiness in the work place, the power of positivity, and five practices to boost your happiness (gratitude is one of them!).  How could a few simple acts of happiness and gratitude affect your family, your relationships, your work, or your experience with life?

Please share something  you are grateful for or tips for a gratitude practice in the comments below!


XO, Charla




Reflect Something Good

I recently shared a quote on Facebook about reflecting on what “moods” we project onto others, especially when someone’s negativity is spilling over onto us.  Working in an urban public school, and well…just being a human, I encounter this daily.  I’ve spent some time reflecting on this great quote, and what came to mind is the following story.  Enjoy.

I have a student who recently delivered me some seriously beautiful wisdom.  This student creates “beef” with most teachers and students, and on daily basis I have to “sugar him up” to learn.   I give him authentic sweetness: smiles, pleases and thank you’s, real compliments, and a sense of  feeling loved and respected.  This has led to a relationship (that is not always free of conflict) which has shown me that he is growing up without a father, takes care of his younger siblings while Mom works late, and lives in a school and society where people of “power” and “success” don’t look like him.  This young man is a mirror reflecting a common experience of struggle, abandonment, oppression.

As I was doing my thing teaching, he interrupted the lesson, and boldly said, “Miss!!  How are you always in a good mood?  You are my  only teacher who is nice to everyone”.  My response was, “Because I practice”.

I’m learning that “being the light” for anyone who reflects negativity is not easy; however it is possible when we practice being aware of our thoughts, intentions and actions.  You can choose the be the mirror and reflect back the negativity or low mood OR you can choose differently.  Remember that whatever you reflect is your choice and within your control…and even if you think otherwise, everyone notices.  With practice you can shine light, be happier and make positive ripples in your community and the lives of others.


Check out Gabrielle Bernstein’s vlog, Happiness is a Choice I Make, that provides some more specific guidance and inspiration on how to choose what mood you feel and reflect.