Creators Create Community

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Last week I had the pleasure to listen to author Cleo Wade speak.  She wrote Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life and is an activist.  This year I’m doing some thinking around creating and was surprised to hear her start talking about creating.  My notes included these thoughts; creating is in our DNA, individuals have the capacity to create, and “creators create community”.  My ears perked up even more because I knew I wanted to find some moments to reflect on community and share in this space.

She gave us a question to ponder, “Where have the ambitions of building community gone?”  She urged us to think about the act of this question a sacred task.  Other notes I jotted included

  • communities give us opportunities to choose to unite
  • communities bonds of spirit
  • communities help us rise above our concerns

My students don’t get to choose to share a classroom with each other.  Their class placements is done for them.  I realized reflecting on the first thought, they do get to choose to unite with each other.   I believe one of our roles as a teacher is to help our students make that choice in hopes of creating a spirit of cohesiveness.  If we have a feeling of cohesiveness perhaps we can rise above our own concerns and make a difference for each other and beyond.

I would respond to Cleo’s question and ask her to look within classrooms for ambitions building communities.  May our work help carry to spaces outside our schools and help people connect in person with others.

 

All About Me to All About Us

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I had the pleasure to attend The Ohio State University’s Commencement this past Sunday as a proud parent of an undergraduate senior.  I had no idea I would find a topic to share today and start taking notes during the keynote address while listening to, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann shared her story; growing up, education, and research.  She had bumps, valleys and success.  Her message to the graduates was based on her own journey.  Shifting her thinking from all about me to thinking all about us; brought depth and purpose to her work.  She urged the audience to ask, What can I do for our world?  This will shift our thinking from me to thinking about us.  She urged us to question ourselves and cautioned us that good intentions are not enough.  Good intentions are still about me.  She wants us to ask; What was the impact?  What improved?

She urged the graduates to shift their thinking as soon as possible from me to us!  I began thinking about my second graders.  Why do we need to wait to start thinking broader? Can we shift our thinking at seven and eight years old to be bigger than me? I started brainstorming questions and ideas  –

  1.  What can we do for a younger grade?
  2.  What can we do for a special group of students?
  3.   What can we do for families staying at our local childrens hospital?
  4.   What can we do to impact our world?
  5.   What can we do to make a difference in our own building or classroom?

 

  1.  Read biographies about those not so famous.
  2.  Find stories about kids making a difference.
  3.  Discuss and identify feelings we have.
  4. Do things locally now to make a difference and make it concrete.
  5. Encourage and foster inquiry.
  6. Foster a relationship with an organization that needs help.
  7. Do community service more than once with an organization.
  8. Field trips are so limited – bring speakers from the organization to us.
  9. Share photos with the organization or video for visuals.
  10. Spark and provide creative moments to be a maker.

When Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said, “we under estimate ourselves” I instantly thought about our elementary age students.  I think they get under estimated. They are powerful and filled with potential.  Listening to her speak on Sunday made me think about fostering a community and how that is really taking the thinking all about me and making it all about us.  However, can we take that all about us and make a difference?  Can we go outside our four walls and have an impact on others?

I’d love to know what others are doing to take help their communities to make a difference and impact others.  Please share ideas in our comments.

All Means All

Yesterday was the National Day of Silence, a campaign started by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Going back to 1996, this is a day where students take a vow of silence in honor and support of those who feel they cannot safely speak the truth of who they are in terms of their sexuality.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The National Day of Silence is the most recent example, but we don’t have to reach too far back (all of one week) to find another large student-oriented (and, in many cases, student-organized) awareness/activist campaign. In the world of social media, these are much easier for students to organize nationwide. There is also an increased awareness about a lot of things that various students find themselves passionate about and wanting to do something about.

But that’s also not exactly what this post is about.

This post is about our response, as educators, to these sorts of movements and campaigns.

As there are more and more of these student activist events, it is likely that we will find ourselves in varying stages of agreement with them. Some we may fully support, and some we may fully oppose. After all, as humans and as teachers, we should be engaged with the politics of our world, and we all have different political beliefs.

I’m reminded of this quote from Dr. Demond Means, the Superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District:

“We made a commitment as educators when we walked into our classrooms for the first time that we will reach every kid in our classroom. We didn’t make a commitment to reach 75% of the students.” [source]

While this quote has often been used to talk about not leaving our students hanging out to dry academically, I think it applies to our students as people, not just as brains. Putting another spin on the quote, we didn’t make a commitment to support 75% of our students. We made a commitment to support all of our students.

As a reminder: all means all.

If we want our students to develop as members of society, we need to support them when they find something they’re passionate about. Even if (and perhaps especially if) the thing they are passionate about, we are equally passionate about, but with an opposing view.

If you have a student who is raising awareness of gun violence, support them.
If you have a student who is raising awareness of 2nd amendment rights, support them.
If you have a student who is protesting the banning of books, support them.
If you have a student who is campaigning to ban a book, support them.

That last one was hard for me to type. I am adamantly opposed to the banning of books. But this is the key, and I want to be sure I am absolutely clear:

It’s not about supporting the message. It’s not about agreeing with the campaign.
You are supporting the student, not the campaign.

We need to support all of our students. We don’t need to share their views. We don’t need to agree with their goals. We do need to show them that they are supported in working for something they believe in. They’re going to meet resistance to their message; they don’t need resistance to their actions from those they have come to rely on for support.

It is impossible for us to divorce ourselves from our politics. However, it is important for us to realize that our job requires us to not allow our politics to suppress the voices of our students. If a student campaign is something we want to support or oppose, we can certainly do that as well, in the same ways that anyone else can and does. But we don’t have an option when it comes to supporting or opposing our students: we must support them.

Our world is more partisan now than it has been in recent memory. Anecdotally, it seems as if those who have any given ideology don’t believe that they could ever work with those who have a different ideology. If all our students can see that they have the support of all their teachers, even if some of those teachers don’t support the politics at play, imagine the world we can be a part of creating. Imagine the community we will have. Imagine as people realize that it’s okay to support someone even as they disagree.

We need to support our students as they engage in the political process. All students. All means all. No exceptions.

And I know: this is HARD. WORK. It’s arguably easier to help a student who hasn’t read a book in their entire life become an avid reader than it is to support a student in a campaign that we are completely opposed to. The important work is rarely easy. It doesn’t make it any less important.

Note: this is the first post in a planned series. Subsequent posts will explore the nuance of these situations and how to engage in that nuance with students, as well as from the administrator perspective.