We’ve all heard that we should talk to our plants. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who is obsessed with plants showed me this video of two plants. One of the plants is praised and spoken to with kind words while the second plant is being told it is worthless and bullied.
Two years ago after watching the video, I shared it with everyone in my district because I found the video and the message so moving. Though this experiment may not be as scientific as a true scientist would want it to be, I hope you are able to focus on the intention of the message. Words matter. Kindness matters. If it can impact plants, imagine the impact on people.
In New York, where I work, while in the middle of dealing with the pandemic and fluid learning models including hybrid teaching, having students on campus part-time, masks, desk separation, and all of that, the State Education Department (SED) continued to move forward with work around their Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CR-SE) Framework. This Framework focuses on four main areas:
Welcoming and affirming environment
High expectations and rigorous instruction
Inclusive curriculum and assessment
Ongoing professional development.
I’m not going to lie. The truth is that I was exasperated with SED for trudging ahead with the Framework in the midst of everything else. Please do not mistake my exasperation with dismissing the need. These two things are not the same. I was aware we have issues to address regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) which are at the heart of the Framework. I fully supported the concept that the Framework “helps educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepares students for rigor and independent learning, develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and empower students as agents of social change” (p. 3). However, the issues related to trying to navigate public education during a public health crisis felt more pressing. More immediate. More attention-worthy. Dealing with the urgency of COVID left little room to consider other issues that were taking place even if those things were equally important.
Fast forward to 2022. It’s not that COVID isn’t still impacting teaching and learning or that people are feeling like they finally have some metal capacity to make room for the Framework. No one was thinking that. Even so, just like COVID gave us no choice but to deal with the health pandemic, in my district we were confronted with some student actions that meant we needed to start addressing the Framework. While I will not go into the details here, what I will say is that the board of education and the superintendent decided we would have a Town Hall style meeting. We had a keynote speaker, we had our building administrators share what they have already started doing, and then we opened the mics for public comments and feedback.
I do not yet have the words to express my feelings regarding the Town Hall--both to support the bravery of those who spoke and the bravery it took to host the event. I do not yet have the words to express my feelings about what was said--both the sadness of those who are hurt and the gratitude for those who advocated. I do not yet have the words to put my own feelings about diversity, equity, and inclusion in writing, but I hope to soon.
In the meantime, I can’t help but share that as Americans, when we think about the terms, "diversity, equity, and inclusion," we often can think about race. While race is certainly associated with these terms, the terms are not limited to race. Bullying, for example, is experienced by students in ways that have nothing to do with race, and yet bullying is the antithesis of celebrating diversity, equity, and inclusion. Words matter. Actions matter. People matter and it matters how we teach young people to treat all people. I hope you are able to use your actions and words to lift up others because we could all benefit from giving and receiving kindness!
P.S. My Catch of the Week this week is a video about unconscious bias. If you think you don't have unconscious bias that is why it is unconscious. The goal is to better understand how our hidden thoughts impact our behaviors and how our behaviors impact others. Let me know what you think.