May 2, 2016

Community and Activism

My school has been focusing our professional development on culture and instruction. Last week we brainstormed in groups to come up with attributes of a strong community. Then we had the same conversation with our advisories a few days later. I have seniors in my advisory so I framed the question in two different ways - everyone was talking about what makes our school a strong community and how could it be stronger, but for seniors I also wanted to include: how can you join in creating a strong community wherever you go next year? Because it's easy to leave high school for a job and forget that you need to rebuild your community after friends scatter. Because it's easy to go to college and not join your ideal community. And, as ended up coming up in conversation, because there are lots of communities that need to be better and they can do something about it!

We started with some basic characteristics. A strong community is:
  • a group sharing a goal
  • members who help one another
  • members who grow together
  • like a family
  • members who are involved
Then we got sidetracked (as expected) on the negative aspects of our school community. All of their complaints were valid, but we do plenty of complaining, I really wanted this conversation to be more inspirational! But the complaining turned back toward big issues, important ones.

Play Together
The student recording our ideas on the board didn't want to phrase it like this, but I love this idea. A strong community has to have fun together. At the teacher brainstorm, one teacher suggested sharing a meal together. One student said that there should be events like a field day. Another suggested board games in addition to the physical games. When I asked what other strong communities students were involved in they referenced sports teams who hung out together outside of practice. I think strong communities have some insider aspects to them, the jokes that only make sense if you were there. Shared memories of group fun bring people closer. The dividing line between acquaintances and closer relationships is whether people hang out beyond the times when they had to be together anyway. It's hard to plan school wide fun, but it is a reminder that my favorite classes are always the ones who can play together while they work. Some classes develop that naturally, but I should try to manufacture some more opportunities for playfulness to arise in my classroom, especially early on when I want to accelerate relationship building and get students to trust each other (or at least be willing to be wrong in front of the class).

Play Fair
Our boys basketball team made it to the semi-finals this year. It was a big deal, and rightly so. However, one student pointed out our color guard and band place in competition almost every year and they don't get nearly the same level of pomp and circumstance. Another student followed up with noting that the level of support that the girls teams receive pales in comparison to the boys teams. Then a few students started sharing what they knew about women's soccer. Did you know that the USA won the world cup in 2015? I didn't. Did you know that the women get paid significantly less than the men? I had heard about that. But I was seriously impressed that my students knew the facts and could stage a debate. They discussed whether the pay should be proportional to revenue, whether the revenue is a reflection of advertising and who should be responsible. I pushed the conversation toward equity - if the country isn't as excited about women's soccer then we should be pushing media twice as much to create the excitement. Yes, this country is sexist. Let's do something about it! Then I gave them a pep talk about being the future and having power and fighting for themselves. I spent my April vacation traveling and listened to all the back episodes of The Get in the car/bus. This awesome podcast has me recognizing my privilege, the importance of voice and the need for change. You should totally check it out. And then empower your students whenever you can. I'm working on not shying away from difficult conversations or shutting down debate between students. They need to develop their ideas and identities and I can provide a space to do that. Goals.
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