I have held Mark Twain’s definition of courage in my pocket since my special crew of fourth graders six years ago helped me discover that I could. Being brave, facing my fears, and trying to master each are certainly challenging tasks, but I work on them most often with the help of others. Recently, I have also made room for and even fallen in love with another kind of courage. Unintentionally reading Brené Brown’s books in reverse order, I was so happy to finally make time for The Gifts of Imperfection. She explains that the original meaning of this special word is “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart,” that talking about who we are, how we’re feeling, and our experiences both good and bad, is the definition of courage.
In seventeen years as an educator, I’ve learned that a thriving culture where every administrator, staff member, and student feels valued fuels on the strengths, passions, and authenticity of its people. I have recently written with joy about my school and district, the tremendous support we have in taking risks, and the strong doses of empowerment we receive to make them happen. Daily inspiration from colleagues and students (sometimes more than I know what to do with) has become the norm. I have never been so invested in teaching and living courageously.
Even with masks on, increased distance, and a whole lot of remote learning, bringing who we are and nothing less, a theme I hold close to my heart has kept me going over the last several months. It has given me energy through a continuous wave of exhaustion. I have had moments of doubt, wondering if I should be holding back, yet I keep coming back to this. We are all showing up every day through a pandemic, and racial and political tension like many of us have never seen before. From public displays of hate to thankfully those of love, hope, and light, emotion has been banging on our doors both at school and at home. There is no better time to be human.
Part of my title is technology teacher and I love technology. I am also blessed to have written a book about giving ourselves the freedom to live past the print. I was disgusted and shocked by the horrific events at the Capitol Building on January 6th just one month ago today. The disparity in security when compared to Black Lives Matter protests, violence, and pride in racism and anti-semitism were overwhelming. I had never seen clothing that praised the Holocaust and I couldn’t stop thinking… “Do they really believe what’s printed on their shirts?”
My grandparents lost their parents, my grandfather lost his wife and son, my grandmother lost her fiancé, and they both lost almost all of their siblings. Most of their relatives were either killed or didn’t survive traveling by foot and train to escape Poland. My grandparents met when they returned to Poland after having fled to Siberia. My mother was born soon after and when she was two, in 1950, they left for Israel as refugees. My grandparents would tune into the radio every day for months listening for news of found family members but they never heard the names of their own.
It’s important to me that my children understand what it means to be fourth generation Holocaust survivors and the history behind their mom being an immigrant. It’s important to me that they are proud to be Jewish. I avoided books and movies about the Holocaust, and even listening to stories about my family for years. It felt too terrifying and still does. Yet it’s a part of me and it’s a part of my kids. Whether they are our own or those we carry with us, administrators, colleagues, and students show up with different stories in the same space.
Here is my grandfather in Caesarea, Israel and my grandmother is standing with my cousin in Netanya, the city where I was born.
The day after the events in DC, I sensitively mentioned the news, but I felt like I could do more especially after seeing this tweet from a friend and colleague who happens to be a phenomenal educator.
Although I am motivated to get there, what I tried wasn’t a deep dive into civics and social justice. It was, however, new for me. I launched a breakout room to talk or “chat” about the events that occurred for anyone interested. I was nervous, not sure I would know how to handle unanticipated conversation with my middle schoolers, but I’ve learned something from colleagues near and far over the last several months. When we don’t open the door to discussing important matters, some of which may connect to our students in ways we don’t know, we risk implying that these important matters don’t actually matter.
Many kids joined by accident out of habit but it was a welcomed chance to say hello. Some asked a variety of questions that pertained to class and a few talked about something unrelated to the news. Yet I hope the message was clear, that even if it doesn’t occur in real time in our own little virtual space, that I am genuinely interested to know what’s on their minds, that I will also share what’s on mine, and that I, their technology teacher who shows up through a screen, am human. When we give ourselves permission to be seen, with all of the imperfections that go with it, we have an opportunity to extend our courage to those around us during our time together and beyond.
We all have the power to bring who we are, regardless of our roles and titles, especially now. In fact in our current times, I believe we need ordinary courage in our schools and classrooms more than ever. I never decided on a #oneword, but I believe through writing this post I found two. I can’t wait to write soon about recent experiences in working with other districts where we embraced courage in our journeys together, the ordinary kind.
It took one person to encourage me to write my first blog post and since then, I have decided to keep writing about anything I’m truly inspired by. This led to writing a Lead Like a PIRATE series guidebook, Lead beyond Your Title: Creating Change in School From Any Role.