Celebrating Black History Month with Hani Nur

Hani Nur, Reading Interventionist and Principal Intern, Thorndyke Elementary School, Tukwila School District


What is your current role(s)?

At Thorndyke Elementary in the Tukwila School District, I currently have two roles:

As a Reading Interventionist, I support the entire school in Tier 2 interventions. I work to support the below grade level readers. I am also a Principal Intern, supporting the school with similar to what an Assistant Principal would do, such as behavior, expectations, data-informed practices. As an intern, I shadow and learn from our Principal through practical application and thought-provoking conversations.

I have not seen enough people that look like me in the role of being a principal and this was one of my main motivators. I have had great success in being a diverse representation for my culture and my religion and aspire to normalize representations like me being seen in roles like administration. It was nice to see that students didn’t react differently because I was Muslim or Black, but rather they were able to connect with me on a deeper level. Nonwhite students and parents get to see the example that they don’t often get to see.

How does SEL inform your work?

I am a big SEL proponent even before beginning to work with Sound Discipline. I believe to my core that SEL is the foundation for learning. You cannot teach students until they have that foundation of an established relationship between you and them.

You have to start out with students getting to know you and feeling like they can connect with you as the teacher, the expectations, the vibe, the boundaries, and how we function in the classroom.

If I’m feeling upset, as a student I should be able to express it. Students need to learn to talk about it after they’re upset and maybe even involve the whole class. If you start academics right away, you end up putting out fires, because you never took the time to get to know your students or them to get to know you. You can model talking about your feelings as the teacher and it opens the door for them to communicate about their feelings too. They don’t have the tools they need if you don’t start with SEL from jump.

Why is SEL important right now?

SEL is even more important in current times because of the pandemic. It’s another layer of trauma that students may not even realize is occurring. We sent them home thinking it was safe, but it ended up compounding their trauma dealing with home life, the uncertainty of their own families, and what’s happening next at school.

SEL is a way we can help each other know we’re going through it together, build bonds, and teach students that they can express and process their feelings. We are in times of uncertainty, but SEL time can be a time of certainty where students feel comfortable, calm and connected to everyone around them.

Now, it’s even more important for SEL to be addressed first. Students don’t know what traumas are. They just come to class mad or angry, and they’re flipping tables and getting in fights. SEL gives them an outlet, tools, expectations, and normalizes it being ok to feel what they’re feeling, name it and process it with their teachers and classmates.

What are your thoughts on SEL as liberation work?

The whole point of SEL is to learn to talk through, and have ownership of, your feelings. That’s emotional liberation. If kids are not able to vocalize their feelings that are in reaction to issues in their lives, then they don’t have the tools or strategies to move comfortably in their spaces.

Which Black leaders and historical figures have inspired your life and career?

Malcolm X had an impact on me mainly due to our shared religion. Because I’m African, I sometimes can’t share in the same struggles as my African American counterparts. Growing up, our struggles were predominantly around religious acceptance and identity crises. I’ve never had ancestors or elders that struggled in the same way many African American families do. Although we share a similar struggle with racial bias and even racism, it’s hard to mesh the two groups. Malcolm X did struggle in similar ways though. He found Islam is for everyone and I can relate to his journey of seeking knowledge, questioning, and eventually seeking to accept the truth of the matter, rather than sticking to cultural beliefs. I appreciate his character, the way he carried himself, and accepting things in their true format, not in the format others present to us. It was a big part of my own character development and how I aspire to treat others.

Another Black leader that influenced me was Muhammad Ali. Aside from sharing my religion, his drive to keep pushing and allowing faith to lead his way were remarkable. He proved that nobody can stand in your way except you.


Hani was interviewed by Sound Discipline Facilitator Sylvia Hadnot