#cyberPD: Being the Change

A few years back, I saw Sara Ahmed light a conference room up. Her passion and presence would make anyone want to be in middle school again.  No small thing.  Remembering this brief group encounter, I was thrilled to buy her book on social comprehension. Thank you to all who are writing and thinking about how this work fits into our lives and our classrooms.

These social comprehension strategies must be woven into my plans. This work is not just about getting to know each other it is about understanding each other so we can work together across our day. From math to recess to writing to PE. Many of the lessons and ideas Sara puts forth are familiar. I have done much of this work, but not to the extent I should have done them to bridge differences and build community.

Sara’s words set the stage for social comprehension: decenter the normal, enter with humility, and cultivate compassion.  We are drawn to what is comfortable. It pulls us together, but at the same time, it pulls us apart. By noticing and naming who we are and what we value is the work of the first two chapters: identity and listening with love.

Building identity webs with students pack so much good into a classroom, I can’t imagine not starting with it. In reading this book, I realize how I have underutilized this great tool to build conversations and connections with other students, parents, and literature. Reading this I can’t help but want to turn the clock back to the beginning of last school year.

Using the story of our names is something I have done to inspire writing. Not to connect with others. Huge mistake. Our names, particularly in a classroom of diverse backgrounds, could be a starting place for understanding each other. Every year I have students who have stories attached to their names, but I may have been one of the few people in the classroom who knew the stories.  The work Sara does is not only about connecting it’s about listening. “When we tell stories, we get so excited that we go on forever, or we don’t always listen to the speaker because we start making connections. So make sure you really listen and honor your partner’s name story.”  This work builds how to talk to each other, how to listen to an author’s voice, and how we see ourselves.

Writing a ‘Where I’m From” poem based on Georgia Ella Lyons’ poem is something I’ve done with students. During poetry. Again. I failed to weave this academic work into the social-emotional work of how we see ourselves and others. By trying out the lesson in my notebook yesterday, I discovered a few things that colored my growing up. Understanding where I come from shapes how I see the world.   I love how she weaves this identity work with content work and then back to students: “Revisit the lens of noticing and studying artifacts in any literature, news, or history you approach…taking note of how inanimate objects carry great weight for individuals and societies. This … brings the work back to the students; nothing is ever in isolation when doing the work of identity and social comprehension. We are constantly searching for connection.”

Last year and every year, students struggle to listen to each other. And every year I spend a fair amount of time working toward the goal of active listening.  Learning how to listening actively means we must do it throughout the day and  we learn to see “listening to someone else as an act of love.” Whew! We must learn to stop, pause, speak, ask question reflect, and then talk. It is not just young people who struggle with this concept. Many adults have yet to master this work.

What is different and essential about the listening work discussed in chapter two are the actions and words for disagreeing. Each of the scaffolded prompts Sara offers implies we are respectfully disagreeing. And, that is ok. In fact is a place to grow from. The work here is not about winning or changing someone’s point of view. It is about listening in a way that shows empathy with the speaker and how they developed their ideas.

Prompts like: “We need to take some time to think more. We agree to disagree for now” and “I know that I disagree with what you are saying, but I also need time to build a more imformed opinion to discuss this” allows each to step away with respect; understanding that the ideas are worthy of further consideration.

Prompts like: “Can you say more about that? I want to make sure I understand where you are coming from” and “Can I tell you what I hear you saying?” ask for clarification. They say I’m trying hard, but I need more explanation. Help me understand what you mean.

Prompts like: “Thanks for making the effort to understand where I’m coming from” and “I appreciate that we can talk about this even though we are coming from two different places” say I honor and respect you and your thinking even though I have different ideas.

This is listening with love. Engaging critically, thoughtfully with care for the other human.

Looking forward to reading on with #cyberPD 2018.