October 2019: R Love Story

 If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.

 - Mother Teresa -

 

As we enter into another school year and I reflect upon my 30 years in education, I continue to return to the notion that everything we do as educators begins with love.  Now, I must admit, I am a bit sentimental as I imagine what the future holds, but that does not change the fact that we cannot talk about our work with students without talking about love.

 

Love is one of the most profound verbs we experience as humans.

 

From a scientific point of view, we know there is a real neurochemistry to love.   Love triggers a cocktail of “feel-good” neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Please indulge me for a moment as I have a confession to make.  I have a love affair with chocolate. Despite the weighty consequences of my on again off again relationship, I keep coming back for more! Whether snapping off a piece of a Belgium dark chocolate bar, savoring bites of warm molten lava cake, or letting a truffle melt on my tongue, I can attest to the fact that chocolate is definitely not a cerebral experience. 

 

And speaking of love, who doesn’t fall in love with puppies?  Or babies? No one understands the depth of the parent-child bond better than a parent or grandparent. Within our biological make-up, we are actually hard-wired to fall in love like never before.

 

Beyond the sentimental view, love becomes visible through our professional work with students.  As caring and compassionate educators, we try our best to meet our students where they are. We support and affirm their identities by making space for discussions around identity. As part of our long-term equity work we design learning environments that are safe and equitable for each of our students. This is one tangible way we demonstrate love.  As Josh Parker writes, “I have taught disruptive students, unruly students, perfect students, hurting students and every other type of student in between. What touches them is not the teachers' expertise, but the approach. Treat them. Talk to them. Listen. The love and empathy in your heart for who they are is the sanctifying quality of transformative instruction.”

 

When students recognize that we care about them, they begin to feel a sense of belonging without which learning can suffer. In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer writes that “good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a ‘capacity for connectedness’. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts ... the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.” 

 

Sometimes we are afraid to use the word “love” out loud. Perhaps we are afraid to be vulnerable or maybe we think it is a word that can be misinterpreted. But I have found that when we begin to be more comfortable thinking about and practicing love, we feel happier and more willing to take risks in the ways we love out loud and take a stand in the name of love.  Many of us are consciously, and unconsciously, practicing love every day. An unsolicited act of kindness may seem like a small thing by itself, but these small acts can actually change the world. As Paulo Freire wrote, “It is impossible to teach without the courage to love, without the courage to try a thousand things before giving up.”

 

One of the tenets of our work as educators is to convey the importance of creating community and connection with others as key to understanding our world. Is this not love?  Woven into their movements for social justice, the lessons of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela demonstrate the complex facets of love including compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, trust, and truth.  If justice is what love looks like in public, as Dr. Cornel West says, then teaching is what love looks like in practice.

 

This year, we will continue to focus on equity in our efforts to ensure equitable access to opportunities for all of our students.  We will begin by establishing an Equity Council. This council, made up of teachers, administrators, media specialists, related service providers, instructional aides, child study team members, and guidance counselors will spend the year diving into data subsets such as discipline, attendance, and course enrollment to expand access and opportunities for all of our students.  Additionally, the council will begin to plan professional development across the district regarding cultural awareness, diversity, and issues of equity. We will continue to build diverse classroom libraries in order to understand multiple perspectives and reflect students’ own experiences. This equity focus will also require us to review our programs to ensure we provide support for students with diverse needs including mental health supports, executive functioning, and reading interventions, etc.

 

As part of our Robbinsville Ready initiative, we want our students to embrace their own individual identities as they develop empathy for others, compassion for different perspectives, and learn how to take responsibility for themselves while thriving in a diverse world. 

 

This can begin with simple acts of love such as sitting with someone, listening with patience, and expressing gratitude. We are all familiar with the “Pay-it-Forward” principle, the concept of building community by generating that warm and fuzzy feeling that you want to pass along to another.  Whether we have had the wonderful opportunity of being the recipient of someone’s good deed or have initiated our own random act of kindness, witnessing or participating in acts of kindness creates what researchers call “moral elevation”. This elevated feeling activates the sympathetic nervous system and actually calms our heart. And this is how love becomes contagious and a habit.

 

As Charles Eisenstein says, “Love helps us know that a more beautiful world exists.”  As educators, administrators and district leaders, we bring our whole heart to the mission of improving the learning experiences for all children. This school year we will commit to loving the hurly-burly experience of education; loving each other, and of course loving our students.   For our work is a true vocation of love. 


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