I want to warn you – I am not coping well. I am not coping with the hatred, bigotry and lack of humanity I can’t stop watching and reading about on social media, 24 hour news cycles and newspapers. I am teary and angry and unable to stay silent.
Truthfully, I am also at a bit of a loss. Though I normally consider myself an optimistic problem solver this time I am stuck.
One of my friends and mentors often used the phrase “pick the hill you want to die on”. Wiktionary suggests the history of this phrase is “possibly an allusion to the Battle of Hamburger Hill or to the general idea of capturing/holding ground in a battle no matter what the cost.”
As educators we must negotiate this idea each and every day. To set students up for success, to develop collaborative relationships with our colleagues and to reassure parents/caregivers that they can entrust their most precious gifts to us each and every day we MUST pick our battles.
Well… it’s time we decide what hills are really worth dying on.
Let me start by ranting a list of a few of the hills on which I am asking educators NOT to take a stand this year:
- Get over the kid that never brings a pencil to class. Have a basket of pencils ready for them and reach their mind and heart with this simple gesture that says they are valued more than an HB #2. Is this a hill worth dying on?
- Some kids won’t ever get homework done. There are a multitude of reasons for this that are valid and in many ways none of our business. Accept that these kids are with us for just over 6 hours per day and we can use that time to judge them and make then feel bad for their lack of homework completion OR we can inspire them to engage and learn and grow each day while they sit in our buildings . Is this a hill worth dying on?
- Teacher Librarians – let’s always return to our primary goal – foster LOVE of reading and literacy. Does restricting which “levels”, genres or format of texts students read really support this goal? Does holding that one lost book over a child’s head increase their passion for literacy? If we run the Forest of Reading or other book club programs and we have an eager or struggling student who wants to read outside of the level their grade prescribes – is restricting their access worth it? Does saying NO to a child who wants to read EVER achieve our end goal? Is this a hill worth dying on?
- Some parents/caregivers will not fit in to our ideal of an “involved” adult. They won’t conform to our system’s perception of what a loving parent/caregiver does – agenda signing, homework help, reading at bed every night, organic fresh fruit and vegetables each meal etc. But their children are ready and eager in front of us every day. Is this a hill worth dying on?
Here are the hills on which I am BEGGING you to take a stand in 2017:
- Look closely at our own bias and how the privilege of our jobs affects our view of our students and their families. This means that we must refuse to see our students through a deficit model and instead change OUR perspectives and assumptions to see strengths that we can help our learners build upon. Their home languages, faiths, traditions, family models and world views are the assets we must use as the foundation of learning – not our own.
- Learn all we can about our own country’s history and continuing legacy of cultural genocide against the First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. Embed these truths in our daily practice and speak out over and over again.
- Use, understand and value the ideas of equity, social justice, power, privilege and oppression with our students, our colleagues, our friends and our families. This should be the foundation all our classroom communities are built upon. Allow these values to affect each and every decision we make.
- Challenge any member of our school communities with respect and conviction if we witness any form of hate speech, violence, cyber bullying, bias, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, religious persecution, white privilege and on and on. Language matters and our silence or inaction can send the deepest message of all.
These are this hills I will stand upon in 2017. I am overwhelmed tonight yet still I will stand.
I can’t stand alone.