This summer I’m reading Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed with the #CyberPD community on Google+. Many thanks to @CathyMere and Michelle Nero at @litlearningzone for facilitating this conversation!
This week we’re discussing “A Letter to Readers” in the foreword, the introduction, and chapters one and two. As an added bonus, in this episode of The Heinemann Podcast, Sara Ahmed tells the “A Letter to Readers” story, and here is a great follow-up conversation that provides an overview of the book. If you think you might be interested in joining us, these podcasts would be a great place to start.
As the new school year approaches, it is with expectant curiosity that I think about entering into our most important and tone-setting conversations with a new teaching partner by my side in Sara Ahmed. Despite all of my best intentions, in the past I’ve often felt like I was stumbling through critical conversations, the very conversations that mean the most out in the world, but with Sara’s encouragement, I’m excited at the thought of how those conversations can grow and evolve this year. I know I’m not alone in my belief that, as a society, our dialogue about the most important topics desperately needs to be different. Events of the world weigh heavily on my heart. It’s more important than ever that we find a way to welcome the stranger and celebrate the richness born of our diversity.
Sara writes, “If we can commit to approaching this work as the lead learner, teaching with curiosity and modeling vulnerability rather than rigid certainty, we can build habitats of trust where kids (and adults) participate in a learning discussion, and where expression, identity, and social literacy matter.”
To begin, Sara offers guiding principles that center our work:
- Do the Work Yourself First–and Often
- Keep the Focus on the Kids, Not on You
- Consider How You See Your Kids
- Be OK with Silence and Discomfort (aka, Don’t “Save” Every Moment)
- Decenter Your Normal
“We need to pay attention to the language we use and how it can position people, customs, food, or traditions, outside of what we view to be normal…We don’t have license to certify normal. That is a basic tenant in the work of social comprehension. While diversity is the word of the day, when we decenter the dominant, normative narratives in society we make way for not only diversity, but also inclusion.”
- Enter with Humility
- Remember That Progress Takes Time, Effort, and Heart Work
Chapter one is titled Exploring Our Identities. In itSara encourages us: “We can help students shine a light on who they are: their hopes and dreams, talents, family histories, how they identify culturally, the languages they speak, how they learn best, the story of their names, what they can teach us.”
When students can appreciate their own identities, and come to understand the identities of their classmates and teacher, it is more likely that they will find it within themselves to be fascinated and curious, to celebrate the identities they encounter in the world.
I’m eager to do this work with my students. This year we explored our individual “Learner Profiles” throughout the year, looking at various facets of their preferences like the introversion/extroversion continuum, auditory/visual/kinesthetic preferences, expressiveness, assertiveness, flexibility, and a host of other strengths-based attributes. With Sara’s help, I look forward to helping students construct a conception of their emerging identities beyond simply how they prefer to learn, to a more well-rounded picture that celebrates the whole child.
In chapter two, Listening With Love, Sara offers some concrete suggestions for mentoring students in active listening and for establishing a classroom culture to support quality listening. For me, this chapter brought to mind the experiences I’ve had over the years with Cognitive Coaching. I was reminded of how validating it is to be deeply listened to in a coaching conversation. But more than validating, it reminded me of how welcoming body language, skilled paraphrasing, pausing, and generative questions work to draw out my own thinking. I am committed to getting to a place where my students support one another by listening more deeply. I am comforted thinking of how students who have been closely listened to, how students who know how to listen to others with an open heart, will change the world.
Lest I drift too far into the unbounded optimism of summer, I’ll end with this sentence from Being the Change: “We will also carry the weight of the moments when we are not able to do all that we’d hoped.” This work is hard. No matter what I’m able to put in place, I’ve never been able to do all that I’d hoped. My hopes are so high. Yet, even when the conversations are difficult, awkward, and stilted, I think we need to remind ourselves that we are having the conversations. All of us. And by having the conversations, together we are Being the Change.