As an educator in the world of school where “kindness” is taught, I’ve often found it challenging to appear as my authentic self and still be met with kindness. In my experience, as you enter a new space, you are often greeted in one of 3 ways: with “kindness”; with indifference; or with apprehension. Now, how your relationship proceeds can move between these 3 ways. Funny enough, there is an immediate and often permanent shift as soon as you speak up on issues that matter; the level of “kindness” that you are met with drops significantly. You see, people are often willing to be “kind” until they are made to feel uncomfortable. This makes me wonder about those of us, who on a daily basis are made to feel uncomfortable just by walking into our places of employment. But I digress…
In this blog, I’m talking about “finding your people”. I don’t mean people who are exactly like you but rather people who have a set of characteristics that I have found to be the salve in my world of education. The people that I am thinking about as I write have a range of experiences and who differ from me in age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs. It’s in this difference that I am able to learn, be challenged, and grow.
Many of us are familiar with the term, critical thinking. We’ve heard it in reference to competency-based education within our boards. Simply put, critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form judgement, often leading to action. When I think of students who are great critical thinkers, I know that they can:
- Question and analyze
- Use information to solve real-world problems
- Consider multiple solutions from a variety of perspectives
- Apply knowledge across disciplines
This begs the question, shouldn’t the same be required of the educators within the learning spaces as they are “teaching” students? When educators question and consider a variety of perspectives, it’s refreshing and leads to greater outcomes for students. It baffles me how we expect students to question and think critically and yet as an educator, if you question, you are perceived as being a “trouble maker” or as having “a problem with everything”. Better yet, if you are a Black woman, well…you are angry. At what point will it be expected that we reflect on practices that we have always done, simply because “they have always been done”? At what point will we start to ask questions about who these practices are serving? Who is being further marginalized? To whom are these practices causing harm and trauma? Why does our “fun” or “sense of enjoyment” trump the real harm to students and their families? Those who sit down and think critically about the why behind lessons or school practices and challenge the status quo in order to make schools more equitable, are my people.
For me, empathy has always been about a deep understanding of the experiences of another. In education, I have often seen it mixed in with the idea of saviourism. Rather than taking the time to investigate the why and subsequent actions that need to be taken to dismantle unjust systems, there is the idea of “saving” one or a few in order to feel better about oneself. This isn’t empathy. Neither is feeling sorry for someone. Deep empathy causes one to act in order to bring about tangible change. It goes beyond “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” and causes you to reflect and do the work. As educators, what are you hearing from your colleagues? From your students and school community? How are you understanding their experiences and thus taking action to disrupt systems of injustice? You may not feel impacted by an unjust practice within your school but understanding how it causes harm to others and speaking up so that practice is changed is really what empathy is about. Over the last few months, there have been students and educators messaging and reaching out about challenging “Crazy Hair Day” in their schools. Not simply because they don’t like it but because they are understanding the harm and are choosing to act.
In 1930 Langston Hughes wrote:
I’m so tired of waiting
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two—
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
I know that many of us are tired. Tired of seeing injustices happening day in and day out in our schools. Tired of being discriminated against. Tired of always being the one to speak up. Tired of waiting for action. While many love to quote the first part of his poem, the second part – I would say – is the most critical. It’s Langston’s call to action. To take a knife, cut to the heart of the problem to see what is there and to address it. Far too often we see performative actions that do nothing but cause further harm because, well… it’s insulting. Until people are ready to actually address and deal with what is at the core of what is happening in education, it’s inaction. Those who are speaking up, naming the discrimination for what it actually is, and taking action to disrupt, are my people. This poem was written almost 100 years ago, what actions are we taking today as educators?
Navigating the complexities of relationships in Education is hard. For me, people who exhibit these traits are those among whom I want to be. They are my people. Consider your relationships within education. Who are those you value the most and why do you value them? Last week I was speaking with a couple of LTOs at our school and mentioned how refreshing it is when you find your people. Not that they agree with everything you say or do but they think critically; see you through deep empathy; and act. Have you found your people? Who are they? What makes them “your people”?