Welcome back to the Hacking School Culture Book Club!
If you're new to the club, here's what you need to know: Each Monday, Ellen or I will share a brief video introduction to a new chapter (or hack, as they are referred to in the Hack Learning series) along with an invitation to read it. The videos that we share will include our reflections about the writing process, our experiences meeting and coming to know the teachers featured in that section of the text, or perhaps a few thoughts about the ideas that you'll encounter there.
Each Wednesday, we will return with meaningful reflective questions, invitations to connect with us here or in our social spaces, and tools that can help you apply the ideas that we share in our book, including a few that we haven't shared elsewhere before. And if you subscribe to our blog, you'll receive some exclusive giveaways each Sunday. If you have questions as you're reading along, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd love to hear from you.
Want to begin at the beginning? We have archived all of our Hacking School Culture Book Club videos and posts in one place for you to access anytime.
In Hack 4, Ellen and I invite a conversation around this initial premise: In order to serve students well, teachers must not only be strong enough to bear witness to their pain, they must be brave enough to sit with their own, as well.
Teaching is a mirror, much like parenting is. As we endeavor to serve others, we can't escape our selves. This is such a challenge. It's also an incredible opportunity.
Those who disregard, minimize, or compartmentalize their own pain will often struggle to create a compassionate classroom, but the good news is that those who teach are also offered a great big "do over." This vocation gives all of us the chance to create the world we want to live and work in. It gives us a chance right the things that may have felt so wrong in the past, too.
Teaching gives all of us a chance to finally distinguish responsibility from response ability, and when we're able to do this, we finally begin taking better care of ourselves. This helps us care for our students better as well.
Distinguishing Responsibility from Responsibility
As I wrote in Hack 4, responsibilities are weighty matters. They're often serious and even burdensome. Accepting responsibility shifts our attention to the past. Demanding that others do the same pins them there, often until they make what we feel are satisfactory amends.
Talk about a recipe for misery and resentment.
Recognizing and improving our response abilities is a very different thing that accomplishes so much more. This is how we move beyond problem finding, out of the past, away from shame and blame, and toward solutions.
Which responsibilities are weighing on you most?
Human beings do not have a limitless supply of empathy or compassion, and when we are pushed to our limits, our relationship with ourselves and those with others, including our students, begins to break down.
First, we begin by ignoring our pain. Then, we begin avoiding situations where we might experience it. Finally, we make moves to silence others who choose to express it--often shaming them. And then, of course, we eventually feel guilty about handling everything this way. This guilt often perpetuates the cycle, and we spiral further down into shame, blame, anger, resentment, avoidance, and defensiveness.
One of the first ways we can begin changing these patterns is by identifying where we are feeling overwhelmed by our responsibilities. Which of our students are neediest? Which colleagues or superiors are treating us in ways that we feel are unfair? Sometimes, we might wish we felt differently about certain situations or people, but wishing does us little good. Our feelings are our feelings, and it's perfectly healthy to acknowledge them--even if we don't particularly like the fact that we're having them.
It helps to examine our perceptions about our responsibilities carefully. It's also very helpful to seek diverse perspectives. Which friends might best provide them? Which colleagues? Family members? Acquaintances? Consider who might have had similar experiences in the past. Tap their expertise. Try to connect with people far removed from your situation, too. That distance might offer perspectives you haven't considered before.
Finally, ask yourself how you might set better boundaries with yourself or with others, in order to lighten your burden and serve everyone else better. Consider the expectations that you're setting for yourself and others, too. I often find that my definitions of success need to shift significantly if I'm to pull out of a responsibility rut and enter a response able frame of mind.
This is where it really pays to see rather than sort people. Our standard operating procedures often need to be adjusted when we're dealing with situations that demand response ability. Who are the people you are trying to support....really? What do they really need? What will truly help them? What is enabling more dysfunction or pain? Often, when we take the time to truly see people....including ourselves......we realize that what may have helped so many others simply isn't going to help this person. And the standards we usually set for ourselves may only be perpetuating our pain and frustration in this specific context.
If we want to feel differently, we need to act differently. This is often uncomfortable, but sometimes, it leads us to a much more comfortable place.
Starting a Courageous Conversation
Rather than swallowing your frustration, ignoring your growing sense of overwhelm, or waiting on a future meltdown to discharge your pent up fear and anger and shame, why not reach out to someone who will support you without imposing judgment? Have you identified these people in your life? Are they hard to find? If so, you aren't alone. It's important for me to be real about that. We are all over scheduled, a bit disconnected, and striving hard to be successful in so many different ways. Sustaining solid relationships with others in the face of that reality is a challenge for many.
So, let me ask you this: Whose support do you wish you had? And can you trust them to engage with you around your issues without judgment? If so, consider starting a courageous conversation with them. Make yourself vulnerable to them. Explain how you are struggling, what your issue is, and how they might help you.
And if you can't trust that person, make it your mission to find others that you can. Seriously, now. Don't put this off. It's important.
I'll be very honest: There have been many times in my own life when I didn't feel I could share my struggles with certain people for fear of being judged (and I had good reason to remain distrustful). If you're finding yourself in the same situation, it's important to trust your gut, set deep boundaries....and reach out to others instead of isolating yourself.
I can't tell you how many people create professional learning networks online in order to find this sort of support. It truly is abundant. Just because you live and work in close proximity with certain people, it doesn't mean that they're your people. It doesn't mean that they will have your best interests in mind. They may not be as self-aware or sensitive as they would need to be in order to have a trusting relationship with you. And you can't change that. And that's okay.
Your people are out there, though. And it is up to you to become response able enough to find and connect with them. This is how you will sustain your energy for this work. It's an important part of taking care of your mental health, too.
Designing a compassionate classroom is all about taking good care of you.
Ellen and I are good listeners, and so are many of the people in the Compassionate Classrooms Facebook community. Join us there, if you'd like. Build a network on Twitter. Reach out to some of those bloggers that you're admiring from a distance. Listen to podcasts that tackle tough issues in inspired ways.
And, if you need to, find a therapist who can help you examine the weight of your responsibilities from different angles and support you through some necessary but perhaps, tough decision making.
Sixteen years ago, a therapist helped me grapple with some very difficult professional choices. She helped me see my place inside of a dysfunctional system, and she helped me understand where far better boundaries were needed. She also suggested that I could walk away from situations and people that weren't serving me well. Was this frightening? It certainly was. Did everyone seek to understand my position and decisions? Nope. And that was hard. It was also the first step to creating a professional and personal life that I absolutely love today, though.
You don't have to merely survive.
You deserve to thrive. So, perhaps it's time to start creating a team of supporters who will help you do just that. I hope that at the very least, you can begin noticing where your responsibilities are holding you down and how you might help yourself become more response able instead.
Ellen and I would like to invite you to continue this conversation by reaching out to us on Facebook, on Twitter, or even through email. We aren't therapists, and we have no desire to become yours. At this point in our careers, we do consider ourselves great colleagues and coaches though, and we're happy to share our perspectives and connect you to other compassionate people who know how to listen without judgment, too. We'd love to hear from you.