Surrounded by Witnesses

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. . .” – Hebrews 12:1

The last few weeks have caused me to question almost everything I thought knew about teaching, learning, and leadership. I’ve questioned myself, and I’ve questioned the world I’m navigating with students. Don’t get me wrong, we should constantly question the ‘why’ behind what we do, but it is quite unpleasant to question the foundation of that which you have dedicated your life to doing. So I decided to do what I always do when I find myself in one of these moments—go for a run. And in between the rhythm of my heartbeat and the rhythm of the bass, I was reminded of true foundation of why I do what I do.

A little over a month ago, my school said goodbye to a giant, a woman who dedicated over twenty years of her life to one school, one community, one race--the same race that I’m running today. And in thinking about her, I was reminded of each of the other ‘witnesses’ who did the work of running the race before me. In moments of frustration, it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to forget that the call to do the work and the struggles that accompany it are not new. It's the same call answered by those that saw brown bodies spat upon and cursed for daring to ask for what was theirs; those that had homes bombed and lives taken for daring to read the written word. We walk in the footsteps and under the gaze of those who have gone before us, beside those who are navigating the journey with us, and before the next generation of runners occupying the seats in our classrooms.

So, if you find yourself like me—questioning, look to those witnesses who have gone before us. The teacher that showed you the impact one teacher can have on a student’s life. The teacher that made Friday’s bittersweet and Monday’s a little brighter. The teacher that believed every student deserved a shot, a chance to be his or her full self. Those that came before for us ran in the manner they did because they knew that the race is bigger than any one person. They realized that it’s not about seeing the end of the race, it’s about what happens when you hand off to the next runner.

Run the race set before you with endurance, because one day we shall move from runners to witnesses.




The Work of Back to School

‘Twas the week before school and all through the building the teachers were scurrying, checking to see if the floors had been waxed. The decorations were hung on the doors and walls with care, in preparation for the students who would soon be there. . .

It’s hard to believe the beginning of a new school year is two days away for me. I am always excited to see all of the posts on social media of my friends and colleagues working hard to paint walls, decorate doors, and ensure the tables are positioned just right. I also stand in awe of those who are blessed with design skills that I will likely never possess (HGTV won't be calling anytime soon). I wonder, though, if we work on ourselves as much as we work on our classrooms? I don’t mean do we sit through 10 hours of PD on reading instruction so that we can become better reading teachers, although that is necessary and important.

What I mean is how much time have we dedicated to doing the internal work required to become better educators? We can write the most brilliant syllabus ever, but if we see families as impediments, needing only to come when we call, not as partners, the syllabus won’t matter.  

If our paint scheme is more warm and welcoming than our attitude towards students, having flawless walls won’t matter.

Do we spend as much time thinking about our disciplinary practices as we do making behavior charts? Have we spent time working to mitigate our own biases so that we do not become active agents in the disproportionate discipline of black and brown students?  (Side note: I encourage you to do some research on the effectiveness of public behavior charts before you hang yours).

We plan activities to get to know our students in authentic ways, but do we have a plan to ensure they get to be their authentic selves in our classrooms?

We can spend hours unpacking the standards in our curriculum binders, but if we ignore the curriculum the world is handing us each day, we will have failed our students, regardless of if they pass the end-of-year standardized tests.

A paint scheme or flexible seating won’t change a student’s life, but a teacher who is committed to respect and creating an equitable environment will.

Know this: your classroom does not have to look like it's pulled from a Pinterest board to make you an effective teacher. You are enough. You don’t have to teach like a pirate, like a champion, or like your hair is on fire to be enough. You do have to commit to showing up for 180 days and doing the work—the work that is not always visible, the work you may never be recognized for doing, the work that is the foundation of all the other work.

Copyright ImagineLit 2015