Margin Notes

Being the Change


This summer I am participating in #CyberPD, a community of learners who are gathering virtually to read Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed.  Many thanks to Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) and Michelle Nero (@litlearningzone) for organizing this learning opportunity.

In the Introduction to Being the Change, Sara Ahmed provides this context:

“This book is based on the idea that we can develop skills and habits to help us comprehend social issues and participate in relevant, transparent conversations.  Social comprehension, like academic comprehension, is how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship with the world.  We understand that the meaning making, or socialization, is learned, not inherited (p. xxv).”

She offers a few guiding principles for creating safe spaces where this kind of work can happen:

  • Do the Work Yourself First—and Often
  • Keep the Focus on the Kids, Not on You
  • Consider How You See Your Kids
  • Be OK with Silence and Discomfort (aka, Don’t “Save” Every Moment)
  • Decenter Your Normal
  • Enter with Humility
  • Remember that Progress Takes Time Effort, and Heart Work

I’ve been reflecting on these guiding principles and identifying the ones that come easily to me versus those that require more intention. Many of these principles challenge me to be more aware of the language I use and recognize that my language derives from the lens through which I see the world.  Does my language reveal my inherent biases and beliefs? Am I unintentionally centering my world view and marginalizing those whose experiences are different?

Chapter One focuses on Exploring Our Identities and offers three lessons for beginning this work: Affirming Our Identities, Placing Ourselves in the World, and Journeying into Our Family Histories.  Sara establishes the importance of identity work by reminding us:

“We have an obligation to make kids feel visible.  When we recognize and value students’ identities, we make time and space for them in the daily classroom routines, and curriculum, and dialogue.  We can help students shine a light on who they are: their hopes and dreams, talents, family histories, how they identify culturally, the languages they speak, how they learn best, the story of their names, what they can teach us (p. 2).”

This chapter has sparked my thinking about how I can weave more of this identity work into my role as a literacy coordinator.  It really has me thinking about our how our educator identities are formed.  My experiences as a reader, writer, and learner all inform who I am as an educator.

Chapter two, Listening with Love, is about active and empathetic listening. In Ahmed’s words:

“If we want our kids to truly respect one another we have to meet them where they are, consider interactions from their perspectives, and find teachable moments along the way (p.31).”

This chapter pushed my thinking about my role as a listener. Active, empathetic listening is more than being quiet and waiting for our turn in the conversation.  It requires that we “consider and utilize perspective, evidence, and language, connecting the new two the known (p.32).” How can I do more listening in the service of learning?

The Introduction and first two chapters of Being the Change have invited me to do lots of reflection. Here are three big ideas I am committing to thinking more deeply about:

  • “We have to actively work to realize how we center one race, familial structure, gender identification, degree of ableism, religion, name, or love relationship. We need to pay attention to the language we use and how it can position people, customs, food or traditions outside of what we view to be normal (the center)—for instance, the way we describe skin tone or hair (exotic) or the way we label foods (smelly, weird, gross).  That language keeps us at the center of what we believe is expected and therefore socially acceptable. (p. xxix).”
  • “When we give our students the floor to say who they are and what that means to them, they are far less likely to let someone do it for them (p. 3).”
  • “If we want kids to attend to the multiple perspectives around them and listen actively and empathetically, we need to mentor them and show them how. I purposely use mentor, and not teach, because we need to be practicing these skills ourselves rather than just telling them to do so (p.32).”

I’ll be posting a weekly reflection on Being the Change for the duration of #CyberPD.


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