Crashing Through Comfort Zones: Community Connections

migrant

I recently finished the book, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  A beautiful and harrowing story of migration, Hamid addresses the delicate fragility of the unknown through the delicate placement of his words.  These particular ones caused me pause.

“…and she had known the names of almost everyone on her street, and most had been there a long time, they were old California, from families that were California families, but over the years they had changed more and more rapidly, and now she knew none of them, and now all these doors from who knows where were opening, and all sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was, even the homeless ones who spoke no English, more at home maybe because they were younger, and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it.

We are all migrants through time.”

As a summer school principal, I was a migrant.  I traveled from a place where I knew the streets and people well, to an alien land where I became the intruder. A transplant.  Just as an organ works to connect to the new body it’s been placed, I too, sought to connect to a main artery in this community.

This foreign land was mere miles from my daily “home,” yet I might as well have been thousands of miles away.  To this end, we keep our sense of community too small. It centers around my school, my neighborhood, my church, my family.  Communities are much wider than this, but we keep them narrow. Narrow is safe and means I don’t have to extend myself as much.  I position myself in a place where I feel comfortable my needs will be met.  What about others’ needs?  Communities aren’t supposed to be self-serving. Communities are about connecting and building a foundation of belonging. It moves beyond focus on self to focus on others, upholding a more universal ideal.

So, this year I’m looking for the migrants.  The misfits, the rebels, the outsiders.

Those who feel lost amidst an educational landscape that’s become unrecognizable.

Those navigating the construct of a system to work for their kids.

Those joining new teams.

Those teaching new grades.

The frustrated and defeated.

The beaten and bloody.

Young and old alike.

I’m looking for the migrants.

I’m saying, “Let’s connect.  You are not alone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Crashing Through Comfort Zones: Power of Presence

complacency

 

For 23 days, presence was not just asked of me;  it was demanded.  Not demanded by the people around me, but demanded by the situation itself and its newness in my world.  The option to “check out ” simply wasn’t one.  And it was a gift.  An exhausting and exhilarating gift.

For those familiar with Strengths Finder, two of my top five strengths are learner and WOO (winning others over).  Those who know me well are not surprised by this.  I want to know everything, and why it works, and even after that I’ll probably still have some questions,  and I want others to like me.  Summer school left them split.  I had everything to learn, and with all the learning there was little left for WOOing.  Having to leave WOO behind was liberating.  All my energy had to be focused on listening and hearing and remembering and applying and problem-solving and negotiating and…

My physical presence, that typically displays a charismatic smile to warm others up to me, was overshadowed by the mental presence required of me to think through all the situations and tasks from the lens of student, teacher, families, custodian, cafeteria manager, transportation, administrative assistants, etc.  I left so many people off emails that should have been on them, I’m sure I drove them mad.  Typically my work evolves around teacher, student, or building.  Sometimes all three, but rarely.  But this summer, my work encompassed so much more, and so many more.  And as I was stretched to new levels of thinking and connecting, I realized how complacent I had become.

Complacency is a lurker.  A silent, profound stalker with a constant presence. But we welcome it into lives everyday like it’s the opposite.  Like it’s a long lost friend we’ve been waiting to see.  Because complacency is also sly, sneaking in at our most unsuspecting moments.

“Mommy play with me.”  // “Give me five minutes.”  (which turns to 20 or never, and we let it be. Life’s busy.”)

“Honey, date night soon?” // (vaguely) “Sounds good,” while scrolling through FB, answering an email, or adding art to our latest snap.  You fight later about never getting a date night.

I’m going to run 4 miles today.  Yes, I can run 4. // After a mile, three sounds good.  It’s just me out here.  At least I’m doing something, right?  Yeah, I’ll do three today.  Four will be my goal next week.

And so the script continues.  We become comfortable with our routines, and in turn, complacent.

As I prepare to enter my 6th year as an instructional coach, my job and the people that surround me will largely stay the same.  I feel complacency lurking.  I feel a level of knowing, of comfort, that could easily allow me to let this year pass as others have.  And everything would be fine.  But I’m not striving for fine. So, I’m forcefully shoving it away by asking myself,

“How can I keep my job fresh and new and real? What do I still want to know about those I work with?  What about my job can I re-imagine?

I want to feel as alive as I did this summer, where the newness and unknown required a level of presence I rarely give.  I’m going to sit in those disturbing places that don’t have quick answers, and really navigate the terrain.  I’m going to reach out to others to help me.  To those I don’t know as well.  I’m not going to say, “It is what it is” or “This too shall pass.”

I’m stepping in.

I’m disrupting.

I’m engaging.

Let’s leave a mark.  

Blog Series: Crashing Through Comfort Zones

comfort-zone-quotes2-min-450x500

 

Since my last post, I’ve been asked so many questions about my summer school experience.  In the coming week, I am going to challenge myself to blog daily and answer those questions through all that I learned in those 23 days.  As a payoff for making it through the last one, they will be short and sweet.  Along the way, I hope you’ll find some inspiration on crashing through your own comfort zone in the coming year.

Monday: Power of Presence

Tuesday: Community Connections

Wednesday: Trusting in the Unknown

Thursday:  Rallying Relationships

Friday:  Appreciating Place and Space

Saturday: Just Do It

Let’s go!

giphy

How was your summer? Hard.

Hard-is-What-Make-It-Great-Inpirational-Quote (2)

Today educators awake to the final Monday before flipping their calendars to August, and likely seeing a day marked indicating the first day of school.  As we prepare to re-enter our buildings and mentally ready ourselves for a new year, we hold on to those last whispers of sun-drenched days by asking the inevitable question, “How was your summer?”

“It was great!  We vacationed to xyz!”

“Me and the pool became so close I gave it a name and we took selfies all summer long!”

“Fast.  Always too fast.”

My answer, “Hard.  Really damn hard.”

Let’s go back to April briefly where I was provided the opportunity to work as a summer school principal.  As I sat listening to all the role would entail, I kept hearing the following:

“It’s only 23 days.”

“It’s a nice amount of money.”

“You can take a nice family vacation in July.”

“It’s a great experience to have…”

And in a moment that left me questioning giving up time with my own kids, it was done.  I took the job, and found myself riddled with panic, anxiety, and guilt in the coming days.

I have no idea what I’m doing.  This was a horrible decision as a mother.  I’m supposed to give every additional waking minute to my kids.  That’s what moms do.  I just gave a whole month with them away.  What have I done?

I barely remember the month of May.  I think lunch schedules were made, duties assigned, and student incentives outlined because all those things were completed for the first day, and I’m certain no one else but myself would have done that.  All those scary first-day-of-school dreams that lure into teachers’ brains in August, crept into mine May 30th.  My repeating soundtrack, “Don’t lose a kid.  Whatever you do, don’t lose a kid.”

The sun dawned on Wednesday, May 31st, and I set forth to my building.  The kids are coming today–remember, don’t lose one.

Day 1: I did not lose a kid!  Whew!

Day 2: I lost a kid.  Damn.  (We found him!  wrong bus)

Day 3: I broke up a mean girl mob of twelve 4th and 5th graders on the playground.  In an incident that would take three hours to flesh out, I was called a racist, my office a jail cell, and several expletives.

–Weekend–

Day 4:  I met with mean girl mob to make sure nothing played out over the weekend through text or social media.  Things had played out over the weekend through text and social media.  We spend three more hours getting students to a place where they feel safe returning to their classrooms.

Day 5:  A bus driver has a near mental breakdown in my office from the behaviors playing out on the bus.  We create a seating chart.

Day 6:  A physical altercation plays out on said bus before it leaves that afternoon.  I pull two students off each other and then off the bus, and deliver my first suspensions.  I am at school until 6:00 with one of them because there are no working phone numbers for us to get a hold of the family.  With district approval, I ultimately take her home with another teacher who happened to be in the building that late as well.

Day 7: An additional bus gets added to reduce the length of the route for the bus with behavior issues.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

–Weekend–

Day 9: Balloons were brought on the new bus and inappropriate sexual conduct played out with them on the ride to school.  I pull the bus video and ride the bus home to inform parents of their child’s behavior on the bus.  Final warnings are given. I continue to ride the bus for the next two weeks.

Day 10: A student from the school dies.  His mother attempts suicide by jumping off the Bond Bridge later that day.

Day 11:  News breaks of student’s death, reporting that he drowned in a bathtub within his home and his mother unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  Students and staff crumble.

Day 12: Grief counselors arrive on site for the remainder of the week and into the coming week to support students and staff.

Day 13: I’m left a note to look into a incident at recess where a student was hit in the eye.

–Weekend–

Day 14-18: I start to look into the incident with the student at recess.  What is seemingly a minor incident is not.  At least not to the family. As conversations take place throughout the week, I am ultimately accused of handling the situation in a way that perpetuates women’s silence in a rape culture.  I meet with the family in person.  Little is resolved. They leave.  I go home and crumble.

I pick myself up and we finish out the last week.  My 23 days are done.  I did my time. Now my time turns to my family.

This has to be easier, better, right?

Before I accepted the summer school position, we had planned a family trip to Omaha with some friends for the July 4th weekend.  I refused to cancel the trip. So, as soon as summer school concluded that Friday, I went home, loaded up the family and we drove to Omaha.

Lillian had an accident on the way despite stopping to use the restroom which she refused to do.  So, we took her through the main entry of the Hilton with no pants or shoes on.

Beau slept the whole way.  Glorious, right! Nope. Beau didn’t sleep at all the first night in the hotel room, so no one else slept either.

The next day we went to the world acclaimed, Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and what did the kids do? SLEEP!

And so this set the stage for July.  We finished out this mini vacay only to jump right into the next.  The guilt that consumed me as a mother in June, tried to over compensate in July by planning and attending every event within 200 miles to give my kids all the things I thought I’d denied them for the last 23 days.  In addition to this we had swim lessons, and work trips for both my husband and myself, and, and, and…

It just didn’t stop.  It was too much for us.  It was too much for the kids.  It was just too much. Partly because of life, mostly because of me.  Mostly because my mom guilt reached further than just the past 23 days.  It went back to last summer too.  I kept Lillian in daycare that summer because I’d just had Beau and I knew I couldn’t handle having both of them home at the same time all summer long.  I knew because I was seeing a therapist for the panic and anxiety that overcame me just thinking about it.  And in one of many sessions that has stuck with me, we talked about expectations.

We had somehow gotten on the topic that I host Thanksgiving for my family every year.  She asked me what my expectations were for that day.  I told her that everyone has a good meal and a good time.  To me this seemed minimal.  She immediately said, “NO! That’s too much.  You’re expecting too much.”  I was shocked.  She further explained, “Do you leave every family function having had a good time?”  Ummm…no.  “Exactly!  You can’t own whether people have a good time or not.  That’s on them.  They’re adults.  If they want to have a good time they will, if they want to be miserable they will.  Same goes for your meal.  To some it may be a good meal, to others it might not.  Your expectations should be that food is on the table and everyone leaves still breathing.”

As this summer comes to an end I find myself once again returning to expectations.  What were they for this summer?  Why am I left with this feeling that it wasn’t all it could have, or should have, been? I don’t know.

For summer school I think it was simply survival. This being my first experience in a principal role, I didn’t know what to expect.  I do know I did not expect it to be as demanding as it was.  Everyone said that May was the hardest month, because you were doing two jobs.  Getting everything set-up for summer school and your current job.  Once summer school started, it pretty much ran itself.  This was certainly not my experience.

For my kids, I guess I thought it was going to be easy and joyful to tote an 18-month-old and almost 3-year-old all over the place every day from morning until night, and that they too would love every minute of it. We just had to make up for all this lost time.(Insert therapist comments).  A bit much, huh?

As I reflect on this and begin framing my mind for the upcoming year two words continue to be at the forefront–re-imagine (thank you ILA) and expectations.  Maybe they’re separate, maybe they’re not.  Maybe they’re separate and together at the same time.

What I do know is that the educator and mom gig is hard.  And the hard is was makes it great.  I’m honored to be in both roles.  But the hard it also what makes it real.  And we have to be real about the expectations placed on us and those we place on ourselves. Who really expects this stuff?  If it happens, what?  If it doesn’t happen, what?

This is where my reimagining begins.  Reimagining what it means to work with kids-both others and my own.  We’re transforming lives.  That’s a big enough expectation on its own.  What the world wants from me isn’t about transformation.  It stays on the surface. It doesn’t last.  This year, I’m focusing on letting that go.

That’s my expectation.

eliminate non essentials

 

KC Social Justice Project: Week 3 and Wrap-Up

 

0e6c33d37ebc6b7b91d7b8f5776bda72

Whew!  What a busy past couple weeks it has been!  I had every intention of making these two separate posts, but as life played out that just hasn’t happened.  So, here’ what we’ve been up to!

Week 3:

Our topic this week was learning the history of Kansas City’s Troost Wall and its role is serving as a racial divide in the metro.  Students read The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, relating the symbolism of the fence in that text to the Troost Wall in our city.  Students thought critically about what it would mean to “tear down” that wall.  What does action look like when trying to uproot an entity that is so deeply rooted in KC’s and our nation’s history?

Student Response #1:

So the first thing is about Troost avenue, I have many mixed thoughts on this Avenue, a few of them consist of what is to become of this area, and I have an idea we have to tear down this wall (metaphorically). If we don’t then our generation will be known as the generation that failed, we might have created a flying car but we will only be known as the people that many generations before us believed in us but we failed again, and another thing this phrase “It’s always been this way,” that’s a load of.. Well you know what, What I mean by this is just because it’s been this way does not mean it has to, when france was conquered by germany in ww2 do you think they just went with this, NO they resisted over and over again until they broke free. Our generation is advancing. Everyday we create inventions we never believe were possible and yet we can’t understand Human rights, We feed, care and love animals a whole species different from us and we can’t do the same to US. I am pretty sure you guys know the saying “Divided we fall, United we stand,” We are falling apart protests, Lies, and profiling, how much longer will it take until there is no such thing as order or peace.

Student Response #2:

“This is what i think just myself i think. Why would people think it is ok to separate someone who is just different than just by a hair, color of skin, teeth, clothes everything that is on the outside instead of what they are like, because we are all the same in a way sure we might look different and act different but that doesn’t mean that i am better and more important than anyone in this classroom. There is books out there telling people that we should stop this because of this, i mean it spreads the word but not as effective as people of different kinds going together to make a stand and tell people that this is a real thing and there is no way around it. And people can  easily not get the book because they have the choice to get it or not but when people are using words and is talking to you not typing in a doc on a computer. We all should think before we do something like what everyone has done in the past all they did was tell people different from us that they are no good and we should be the main show and they should just be the crew in the back making sure everything runs smoothly in the play. Lets just think for a second that white people are the performers in this play and the colored people or anyone different from us is the crew we shouldn;t be the main show because if we didn’t have the diverse that we have this country wouldn’t be the same everyone is important. “

Student Response #3:

“I think that troost avenue should still be there but it should not be separated one white  one black because it’s like that story the only reason  one is on one side and one on the other is because of the government and the people because only like two people are helping this from the white side and i’m sure that the black try more but white people have more of a chance of there voice being heard and i don’t like that and maybe someday that will change only if more than  like 10 people from the white side would stand up for these black people maybe we can change this city and not just this city a lot of cities but you start with one step at a time”

These passages gave me pause, because I can see where these students are starting to understand the power structures that underlie these issues.  And while that idea generally makes us run the opposite direction, these kids are ready to face it head-on.  Part of this lies within naivety, but even more so in passion.  A true intrinsic desire to face “the man” and exact change in their community.  As the adults leading them, we cannot let this fire die.

So, on May 9th we brought them all together at the Johnson County Library under the amazing direction of Angel Tucker and her team.  Students gathered in large and small group settings to continue exploring these issues with their peers from across the city.  We used the texts The Best Part of Me, Mixed Me! and Chocolate Me! and Courage of the Blue Boy to engage students in discussion and writing.

 

Due to the number of students and time constraints of the day, much of the writing is still being developed by the students.  I’ll be sure to share the final products of the day when they are ready.  As all initial projects go, there are places to grow into and revisit.  But when I think about the overall goals of this work I find my ultimate hope in the fact that our city became more connected on Tuesday.  We stepped across our own boundaries geographically, meeting people we’d likely have never crossed paths with had it not been for this day.  We extended ourselves personally by thinking more globally about the importance of community connections and really knowing your neighbor.  We shared our voices without fear.  We became activists. We united.

There’s not many (or any) email folders I have ever been excited to create, so this is certainly a first (and possibly a last).  We have a wait list for next year!

email folder snip

Word is spreading and we are growing.  Let me know if you want to be a part of this project.  We’re just getting started!

#KCkidsunite #GKCWP

sjs_logo

KC Social Justice Project, Week 2: Analyzing Race Through Family History

shades of peopelThe Skin I'm In

 

This week students began their work with a discussion around the following questions:

  • What is color?
  • What is skin?
  • What is skin color?
  • Why is skin color important?
  • Why isn’t skin color important?

Then students read, The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism, by Pat Thomas.  This book does an excellent job of explaining racism in an age appropriate way by embedding discussion questions throughout.  Its content also builds beautifully on last week’s work, communicating that just like we aren’t all one color, neither are we from just one place.  From this text students then spent the week researching their family history.  Below is the result.

Chalk Talk with Discussion Questions:

 

Using the text, Shades of People, as a way to understand race and place

frick 1frick 2frick 3frick 4IMG_0968

 

More “The Skin I’m In” Poetry

Vincent 1vincent 2vincent 3

 

This week students are learning more specifically about racial issues plaguing Kansas City, including the history behind the Troost Wall.  Next week, they will all get to meet each other in person for the first time.  The participating teachers have brought life to this work and it’s amazing to see what is playing out in their classrooms.

Week 3 post coming soon!

Social Justice Student Work– Week 1 Bonus Footage

In last week’s post I highlighted only a scant portion of the work and conversations playing out in classrooms across Kansas City.  As teachers have had to play with time in creative ways to fit this work in around testing, some were able to get started sooner than others.  This week student work kept rolling in as teachers launched, and to truly encompass all that this work means to our teachers, students, and city, I have to share.

  • Our participating classrooms connected with each other across the city.  

At our “Launch Meeting” we decided we wanted students to have an idea of who they are working beside before actually meeting.  So, we set up buddy classrooms and teachers decided what forum they wanted to use to connect their classes.  Below are one class’s letters shared from the students and teachers.

diegoHogan Prep #1Prep 2

Salma

 

  • Student used the self portraits they created reflecting their skin tone and the book, The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald to reflect and write about the best part of each of them.

adelinecisneroswalker

 

  • Students wrote poetry reflecting on the importance of their skin, highlighting all it does and can do beyond its color.

bellacorahenry

Get ready for Week 2!  Post coming soon!