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Reflections of themselves in stories - Seattle EA member and WEA Board member Kaitlin Kamalei Brandon recipient of national 2020 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence.


TT65-Awards-K-Brandon-Otavio-350pxBecause kindergartners through third graders are developmentally moving away from ego-centrism and beginning to see who they are in the world in relationship to others, Seattle EA’s Kaitlin Kamalei Brandon says that is a vital time to teach ethnic studies and to interrupt prejudice so it doesn’t turn into racism.

Brandon is one of five national recipients of the 2020 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching. The Leschi Elementary School teacher, who calculated she has spent about $2,000 on her classroom library, believes it is crucial for her students to see themselves reflected in picture books and in chapter books.

“Black Indigenous and People of Color students need to see themselves in books doing everyday things, not just when their race is being challenged,” Brandon says. “When students see themselves reflected in books, they feel more comfortable bringing their authentic selves.”

Brandon grew up attending public school in Kent and while she credits her teachers with being very caring, “There were no books that reflected me,” she says. Brandon is a biracial Native Hawaiian. Reading books with students who come from diverse backgrounds is the first step, Brandon says. She incorporates critical conversations with her students which allows them to practice allyship.

A couple of years ago, Brandon was invited to present how she has incorporated her work into her classroom at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference. After the presentation, several educators asked her to share her website. At that point, she didn’t have one, but she jumped in to create a site called Colorful Pages. She keeps her website up to date in addition to all her other duties including teaching, serving on the WEA Board, the WEA Human and Civil Rights Committee, and serving as a Racial Equity Coach and Interim Program Manager for SEA’s Center for Racial Equity.

“Race, prejudice, power, oppression,” – all these words plus many more end up on the vocabulary wall in Brandon’s classroom. Because of the continuity of discussions in her classroom, Brandon says, her students are much better able to understand the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brandon says she works hard to develop her skills in classroom management by continually growing and studying Culturally Responsive Teaching and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports frameworks and resources.

Teaching Tolerance, part of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides free resources to educators who work with K-12 students. Nearly 300 people were nominated for the recognition Brandon received. The award came with a $5,000 check which Brandon says she will use toward reducing her student loans.

Among Brandon’s current favorite books are Mixed Me by Tiffany Catledge, Ordinary Ohana by Lee Cataluna, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon and New Kid by Jerry Craft.

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