Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A New Year's Letter...To My Department

Happy Belated New Year! :)

I was so happy to hear you all enjoyed your breaks. I did too; I just could've used a bit more time. That's always the case, though. I will share that it was actually quite jarring for me to see the calendar turn to 2015. I’m not one who gets wrapped up in New Year’s Resolutions or gets upset by time passing. I am a very reflective person, and I’ve naturally somehow always done a pretty good job of deciding when to make life changes for myself. Or at least to recognize when I haven’t made necessary changes and then try to do something about it. ;) But I will admit, this year caught me off guard. The reason? Because I remember so vividly being in grade school when the teacher asked us to write a story based on the following prompt: “What do you think the world will be like in the year 2015? What will it look like, sound like, smell like in the year 2015? What will your life be like?” "What?" I thought. "2015?! Whoa!" That year seemed so far away to me. I remember my first thought being, “It’ll be so cool! Like Star Trek!” Needless to say, the world isn’t exactly what I imagined it would be. Both in good ways and in not so good ways...

One area I’ve been concentrating on this year—stemming from personal reflection—is providing equitable opportunities for our students. I’m becoming aware of how I’ve contributed to the inequities that exist in our society, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and I'm trying to do something about it. We’re certainly not where we ought to be when it comes to racial and gender equity. Nowhere close. So I’m thrilled that we have part of our department goals focusing on trying to remedy that tragic situation for our students.

With that said, one of the quotes that caught my attention over this past weekend was from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'” I love this quote. It’s so true, in my opinion. It is an incredibly urgent question, one that everyone should be asking themselves. And it made me think of all of you.

On an hourly basis, I see you scraping the barrels of your physical, emotional and intellectual energy to figure out how to motivate, energize, connect with, support, heal, educate, awaken, reach, challenge, affirm, and inspire your students. I hear the overcaffeinated dialogue and see the accompanying sleep-deprived walks to your desks and to your classrooms. And I think to myself, “The very last thing I ever need to ask these people is “What are you doing for others?” The very last thing ANYONE should ever ask my science people is “What are you doing for others?”

Instead, as your Director, it’s become crystal clear that the urgent question I need to ask you is, “What are you doing for you? What moment each week do you give to yourself? An hour? 30 minutes, even? When each week do you play at something that has NOTHING to do with others? Nothing to do with children, students, significant others, family, friends, responsibilities, school, etc. Just YOU! (Oh boy. I can see the eyes rolling now...)

Don’t laugh! I hear the humor in me saying this to you. The irony cuts deep. I’m a high functioning procrastinator who’s really competitive with herself, wanting to understand everything and do a good job the first time around. I hate simply checking things off a list and/or letting others down. This year, the work load for me has not even allowed for the possibility of procrastination, so I’m in a strange place. You haven’t seen me in a normal, dysfunctional way yet. So you have that to look forward to. ;) But since winter break, I really have made a concerted effort to put aside the time I need, the time I love, to work out. It’s the thing I do for me. And it feels great. I will be keeping this up.

Setting aside time for yourself...this, I believe, is the most important goal we can have as a department. It is the foundation upon which our physical, emotional and intellectual energies must rest in order to sustain ourselves for the long hall in the profession we chose, the career we love, whether we have three years left or thirty-three years left. So I challenge you all to check in with one another on a weekly basis. What did you do for you this week? And have an honest, deliberate response at the ready, even if it’s, “Damn. Nothing. I’ll do better next week.” Because we can only effectively and lovingly help the students who look to us for guidance if we first recharge ourselves physically, nourish ourselves emotionally, and challenge ourselves in a selfish—read “nerdish"—intellectual way. So please, put your oxygen mask on first. Always. Your loved ones need you. And our students need you. And I wouldn't mind seeing you around for a long while myself. ;)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My "#racematters" Journey Continues

I'm a changed person. Yes, I know. How trite. How cliché. How utterly white of me. Enough for readers to roll their eyes and close the window right now.

But, here I am, processing and posting my experiences yet again. Recognizing that my ignorance and silence regarding race have been personally suffocating, professionally damaging and socially destructive. So I risk the closed window for the readers who allow the benefit of the doubt. And I have to believe that there are others going through something similar. Hence, the share.

mentioned weeks back that the biggest takeaway from my experience at the Courageous Conversations Summit in NOLA was that I knew I was coming home with a new understanding of who I wanted to be.

So what prompted this evening's post? My experiences at my last SEED class. The stories about race, injustice and family trauma were quite jarring. The courage and love it took to share such haunting memories was indescribably moving. Listening to them, all I could think was, "I'm uncomfortable. Please don't let this be true." And I left feeling even more anxious, realizing that I played an indirect role in the shared events.

So what do I do? How hard can interrupting the status quo be? If you become sensitized to racial/racist issues, and you hear something disturbing, just raise the issue. Then you can turn the tide. Easy, right? Ha! My very first attempt at interrupting was through the political minefield of high school athletics. Bad idea as an entry point. However I don't regret my action, just the way I did it.

It's been a couple weeks. And here's what I've learned in order to move forward.
  1. You're not alone. I have both experienced and amateur allies available in every corner of my workplace. I am also recognizing allies in old friends; I didn't realize what support they would be because I never really understood the social justice work they were doing. Suffice it to say, I cannot use isolation as an excuse.
  2. Embrace your feelings. I've learned to feel comfortable with intense "blushing" and tears, my reaction to feeling overwhelmed in a moment. I'm surrounded by people whose default mentality is "No shame. No blame. No guilt." And they know I'm trying, so they support me. 
  3. People with white privilege need to act. The discourse about race must happen. And I've received the message loud and clear. "Dear White People. Do Something!" So why not me? The very least I can do is attempt to facilitate a meaningful and challenging conversation. Lives are at stake. My complacency, my escape, my silence...kills, if not physically, spiritually and emotionally.
  4. Education is key. As educators, THIS IS the conversation. Every day we wait, we perpetuate the injustices. Why are we not on the front lines?
My point? The conference I attended and the class I'm taking are really pushing me to think deeply about who I want to be, to have "courageous conversations" about race, about life.

My discomfort is progress. And the turmoil is freeing.

Definitely for me. And hopefully for others.

After all, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." ~MLK

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year's Resolutions...No Thanks! :)

A brief thought while taking a break from preparing for second semester. As I peruse through Facebook, Twitter, Imgur, and Tumblr, there are an enormous number of posts regarding New Year's resolutions—articles about how to choose your resolutions and others sharing how to stick to them. Although I wholeheartedly agree with honest self-reflection and action plans toward growth, I've never really been one who understood using an arbitrary date to reflect on life and set goals. A date can't dictate when this should happen; experiences do. But that's just me. Dates likely work quite well for others.

But I must admit that as this semester closed and the new year rolled in, I coincidentally found myself thinking about the powerful experiences, the challenging experiences, mostly the beautiful experiences, I've had over the last few months and how they've baptized me into an exciting new phase of my life. In the past week, a single thought has been spinning in my head. This thought stemmed from remembering a book I read years ago.

The book is The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. As a brief description, the author gives four principles to practice in order to gain personal freedom. Those four principles are:
  1. Be Impeccable with your Word.
  2. Don't Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don't Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.
  5. (He's since added a fifth agreement: Be Skeptical but Learn and Listen)
I highly recommend the book. The explanations and stories will elaborate on the above and you'll be surprised at how insightful these ideas are.

But through conversations with others, I think a sixth agreement is a necessary part of personal freedom. It's the thought that keeps spinning in my head.

     6. Recognize that everything happens for a reason. There are no coincidences.

Adding this sixth agreement means you'll view your experiences with the lens needed to both appreciate the gifts laid in front of you, and to see how to absorb them as a welcomed, necessary part of your life journey. You'll adopt the life philosophy, "Yes, And...?" and "Yes, And...!" I don't think the first five agreements can happen without the belief in and awareness of this sixth. Not sure. Just a thought. But boy, it's really making sense to me! And I'm feeling good. :)

I wish you all a happy, healthy, adventure-filled 2015. Back to prep work for me!