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February 23, 2017

Kindred Spirits - A new human rights blog series

 #6 Blog of 2017


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Are you a Kindred Spirit? If so, you’ve found your people.

Kindred Spirits is a brand new teacher-led blog series from Share My Lesson that offers an opportunity for educators and school staff to gather in the exchange of ideas, resources, stories and lessons pertaining to human rights education and students’ social and emotional growth. 

Introducing Tricia Baldes, eighth-grade English teacher from New York

Sometimes the universe aligns in a certain way, and you find yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and things happen! This is how I would describe the way I became a passionate educator of human rights and the way this blog came to life.

Starting in a new school district 12 years ago, I found myself collaborating with a new colleague, Carolyn Shilinski, who would become a fast friend, to develop a unit that met our state standards for persuasive writing. We looked to design the unit with our instructional values in mind: authentic experiences with reading and writing, student choice, writing for real-world audiences, time in class to read and write. We wanted to harness our middle school students’ acute sense of fairness and justice, as well as their abilities to contribute thoughtful opinions about issues and creative solutions to problems. 

At the same time, our superintendent, Joanne Marien, was pioneering a districtwide human rights education initiative, so it seemed an obvious choice for us to begin our work with students learning about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus began our work of teaching for social activism, grounded in human rights— work we continually refine and develop every year.

These last 12 years have provided me with countless opportunities I never could have imagined, such as working with organizations like the Creative Visions Foundation, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Speak Truth to Power, and KidsRights International to develop action-oriented human rights curriculum. Working with the Creative Visions Foundation led me to co-author the curriculum for Rock Your World and connected me with many kindred spirits like my friend Jess.

And, introducing Jess Burnquist, 10th/12th-grade English teacher from Arizona

One winter night, a little over a year ago, I was doing what many of you may do on your winter break—thinking about the next quarter and indulging in some time to explore materials. I was particularly considering how I would go about teaching the unit/standard “Writing for Change.” I teach high school sophomores and seniors, and the very name of this standard excited me. Teenagers often feel powerless. Being able to teach and hopefully instill an understanding of the power of their language to create change was a thrilling prospect. 

So, I did what many of us tend to do when we want to explore an idea; I typed in “writing for change lesson plans” in the Google search bar. High on the list of results was a website called Rock Your World. I began to explore the site and was immediately overjoyed by the vast amount of resources and Common Core-aligned human rights lessons to be found there. I’m not sure if it was the teacher or the writer in me that most compelled me to reach out via the email address provided under RYW’s contact tab, but I did. I wrote how grateful I was to have discovered the site, and how excited I was to use some of the lessons and to share this with other teachers. Truthfully, I behaved like a fangirl. I expressed my desire to speak with the founders of the site and to interview them for a story I wanted to write. 

Within days, I was on the phone with Tricia and her colleague, Carolyn—the writers of my newfound enrichment activities and curriculum. We ended up speaking for more than two hours. It was early evening when we got off of the phone, but it was also as if the stars had aligned. What a joy to have connected with like-minded teachers who held an equal passion and drive to empower the youth in their classrooms by way of real-world issues and resources. 

What a joy to have connected with educators I could truly collaborate with. What a joy to have connected with such kindred spirits. Even though I couldn’t foresee our connection leading us to this incredible collaboration, it occurred to me that day how much we as educators in today’s world deserve and need such connections. 

Kindred Spirits unite! 

We envision this blog to be a place to gather and share with other kindred spirits. We invite you to introduce yourselves and let us know what you’re working on pertaining to human rights education and your students’ social and emotional growth! We can’t wait to connect with you. 

Forward thinking with Kindred Spirits:

Kindred spirits will gather with you here twice a month to explore current human rights issues, to highlight useful resources, and to feature teachers and leaders who are pioneers of this important work. We aim to provide spark after spark of information and inspiration around this collaborative campfire in the hope that your participation will keep the spirit glowing.

Language is such a powerful form of expression, especially for young people. We can’t wait to share ideas we’ve gleaned about language in any content classroom or community based on our attendance at Writers Resist events last month in New York and Phoenix, respectively. Writers Resist is an organization centered on the collective writers’, “... power to ... focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just and compassionate society.”

More than 100 successful international events were held by Writers Resist/PEN America as writers around the world responded to the call to re-inaugurate democracy. 

If you participated in a Writers Resist event in your community, we’d love to hear from you! To connect, please send emails to [email protected] with the word “Kindred Spirits” in the subject line.

Author Bios

   Tricia Baldes

Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. Her passion for human rights education has led to her writing curriculum and consulting with nonprofit organizations like Creative Visions, Speak Truth to Power and KidsRights. She co-authored the Rock Your World curriculum and currently works with the team as a program coordinator. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Baldes has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.

    Jess Burnquist 

Jess Burnquist earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,,, and various online and print journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award. She teaches high school English, creative writing and AP Literature in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and is a program coordinator for Rock Your World. Her poetry chapbook You May Feel Your Way Past Me is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in spring 2017. 

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits offers an opportunity for educators and school staff to gather in the exchange of ideas, resources, stories and lessons pertaining to human rights education and students’ social and emotional growth. Please join us and contribute your voice to a chorus of kindred spirits.

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