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THE ACT(ION) OF KINDNESS

downloadDuring election night, and the days after, I was away from school. I was traveling from Florida to Ohio to attend a conference. And, regardless of political preference, we all witnessed that our country was divided. No matter if I was at the airport, in a taxi, at a conference, or waiting in line at Starbucks, there was something in the air. And, I found myself thinking, “I wish I was back at Park.”

As the days passed, my news feed was filled with even more divisiveness — the same divisiveness we all thought would go away after November 9th seemed to heighten and continue to raise the level of discourse.

But, in the midst of some of the bad behavior, I found myself looking for examples of kindness. I was looking for examples of people going out of their way to be welcoming, warm, and generous with their time, their homes and their lives. I began to ask people, “So, what makes you a kind person?” And the answers came back with, “Well, I’m not mean.” That didn’t sit well with me. 

In a morning meeting with students and faculty at Park, I scrapped my existing presentation and decided to just freestyle about kindness.

I wanted to impress upon the community that “the absence of meanness is not kindness.” I said, “Just because you don’t make fun of people or tease others. Just because you don’t trip people in the hallways or gossip. Just because you don’t make others feel bad — the absence of meanness is not kindness.”

Because, after all, the absence of meanness is just neutral. Kindness is an actual act of generosity, of welcoming, of outreach and of goodness. Kindness is not just an act, it’s an action.

It’s time we shifted away from the notion of kindness being an absence of meanness. Kindness must be the presence of good.

Mr. Vega, our Director of Technology, always asks three questions when encouraging others to make things (e.g., the world, our community, our home) better:

  • How do people feel when they spend time with you?
  • What do people learn when they have spent time with you?
  • What do you do to make things better?

We have all heard of “random acts of kindness” — things we do without any purpose of acknowledgement or appreciation or recognition. Keep doing those.

I’d also encourage you to engage in “intentional acts of kindness” — things we do because we know the impact of outreach. Some of that intention might be repairing hurt relationships. Intention may mean moving from neutral (e.g., I haven’t been mean to you, but I also haven’t been nice to you) into kindness. And, intention might mean recognizing the act(ion) of kindness in others. 

I’ll be honest — the act(ion) of kindness is not always easy. Even just in the few days, I’ve felt myself fall into bad habits. I’m committed to trying harder each day. 

So far, here’s what I’ve done:

  1. I wrote a note to faculty members who had been doing great things but who I have never said, “I notice you are doing a great thing.”
  2. I wrote a note to faculty members who I have been neutral towards with “I don’t recall ever saying anything kind to you. I am sorry. I will do better to be more actionably kind to you.”
  3. I wrote a note to faculty members who I had been mean to or been unkind to and sought forgiveness.

Here’s what I’m doing coming up:

  1. Creating small care packages and keeping them in my car to distribute to anyone who is asking for some assistance. The bags include: a pair of gloves, a few dollars, sanitary products, soap, toothbrush/paste, a kind note. 
  2. Sending notes to people who I take for granted — people who I am thankful for
  3. Purchasing or making thank you notes for others to use as we share kindness

What act(ion) of kindness can you make these next few days or weeks?

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T

GENERATIONS

(Note: I have written and deleted this entry seven times. Just thought you should know…)

My job is to talk about difficult issues. 

My job is to research, teach, explore, examine, support, and introduce difficult issues. And, yes, occasionally, I write about them, too.

But, today has felt different because I often write in reflection, in retrospection, and in examples of events in my life as a parent, teacher, scholar, research and practitioner. 

So, to write a piece about “How to Talk to Your Children Post-Election” is nearly impossible because, well, I haven’t yet talked to my children. For the past week, I’ve been traveling around the United States and internationally. So, I haven’t talked to my three children. 

And, I won’t see them for another few days, either. 

But, I already have a feeling what that conversation is going to look like. They’ll reflect on the phrases we’ve heard and conversations we’ve had over the past 18 months about anger, fear, language, equity and kindness. They’ll reflect on the actions they’ve heard about that violate our U.S. constitution. They’ll reflect on the amped up rhetoric that affect our families and their friends. 

In our house where we openly discuss issues of identity, my children are likely feeling a certain kind of way about the election results; but, make no mistake, my children also are very aware of the history of our country and that these words we have heard from this President-elect are words that have echoed throughout our nation’s history. 

But, I have far more questions than answers and advice. Admittedly, some of this is written out of frustration. Some of this is written out of kindness and urgency.

All of this is written as a call to action and to begin asking the impolite questions of ourselves. 

To teachers, if you did not actively include identity in your classes or lessons or morning circles or read alouds, I’m not asking you to suddenly do it. I’m asking you to think about why you weren’t doing it in the first place. I’m not kidding. I appreciate that this feels a little bit like a call-out rather than a call-in, but our election results have me feeling a certain kind of way. Yes, sure, read that book in class. Yes, grab your book bin that is filled with identity texts. Those are helpful for our students as they affirm identities and, more importantly, reading these texts demonstrate to them that YOU affirm their identities. But, really, I’m begging you to think about why you weren’t doing it already. Is it structural? Do we need to change aspects of our schedule? Our curriculum? Our daily format? I’m serious. What can we do so that you feel ready, empowered, or interested in including this teaching tool as a way to engage in this dialogue on identity? Or, is this dialogue as important as anything else you are doing in class? Yes, I am asking you, #doesthismatter ?

To parent and caring adults, what do you need in order to talk about identity in your homes? What do you risk? What do you lose? What do you fear? What do you want to protect your child(ren) from? What messages are you sending to your child(ren) about identity dialogues? What do you want to learn? What do you need to learn? What do you want to talk about with other adults? Our children look to our adult community for safety, stability, and security. Yet, regardless of who you voted for, if you were able, our country is waking up a divided nation. How do you want to talk about this with your children who, for the next four years, will experience this social climate? What do you gain by not talking about it at all? What do you lose?

To administrators and leaders and aspiring leaders, what does leadership look like in a time of division? What does it mean to support leadership? What does it mean to challenge leadership? What does it mean to be charged with unifying a divided community? What does it mean to be disappointed in leadership or to be fully energized by leadership? What expectations do we have of leaders? What role do we play in supporting or disrupting leadership? 

Finally, I want to caution us, as caring adults, about promises. There is a blog post going around with advice to adults about what to tell children. I loved most of these sentiments — that bigotry is not a democratic value (yet, our current election has proven us wrong) and that bigotry is not tolerated in our schools (I totally believe this at our school).

While this is comforting, I am compelled to respond from my lens as a woman of color and as a race scholar, particularly about “I will protect you.” Unless you are willing to go to court or be there when INS shows up at a family’s home or throw yourself in the pathway of anti-Muslim taunting, please know that you, singularly, cannot protect people. Unless you can be everywhere at all times, you cannot protect people who are targets of hate and bigotry. Democratic processes and laws are only as good as the folks who believe that they apply to them. We have laws that protect LGBT communities, yet my newsfeed is often filled with hate crimes and violence against people in this community. We have laws against assault and brutality, yet we have witnessed how those laws do not always protect people. 

I write that paragraph not to dissuade folks from allying with communities; however, I do write it because I do not want to pretend as if minoritized people are always protected. We can have agency in our own classrooms and in the small hallways of our school (I make this distinction between our school and larger schools). Yet, we would be naive to believe that our students have not made homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and classist comments to each other. And, as we know, we cannot protect our students who leave our campus and then walk through life outside of our campus. 

Over the past few hours, i have found great comfort being in the presence of other race and identity scholars and practitioners. We exchange knowing looks; simple nods; hugs; holding hands; and deep breaths together. I sit through sessions about race and identity; am comforted by the weight of a hardcover book in my hands (one that centers around race — I picked it up after the election results); and appreciate being seen and heard. 

It is important for us, as adults, to process our feelings about a divided country. And, it’s important to find ways to move forward. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, eventually, we have to keep pressing on (note: not moving on .. there is a difference!). Ask young people (and each other), “What’s one thing you can do this week to press on?” 

I think about how future generations will look back upon this time when they study this moment in history; and I look forward to the many ways that we can generate ideas and action to shape a more inclusive and equitable community.

Peace and Park, 
Dr. T

 

 

Feedback as Kindness

Disagreement: a windy road or a straight path?
Over the past few weeks (okay, 18 months now), our country has been engaged in deep discourse. And, the next few days seem to be creating even more anxiety.
With our United States elections just a few days away, I am reminded about the pathways of discourse. Now, it’s not just our election viewpoints that inform this discourse — it’s our actions towards each other, our behaviors, our attitudes and our feelings about each other that are also impacted. 
I recently read a blog post by the brilliant Gloria Ladson-Billings where she describes “being through“:
  • I am through indulging comments like, “everything is not about race,” when most times it is;
  • I am through explaining my style—hair, dress, swagger;
  • I am through being your teacher when I am not paid to do so;
She even begins her blog by mentioning that her post is probably a surprise to most folks who know her to be a scholar who engages in critical discourse around race and teaching and talking with other folks about race and racism. But, there comes a point when the scholarly pursuit — the talking about, around, through, upside and down — about race meets the every day lived experiences of race. “I’m through.” 
We, as adults, get frustrated when we witness children being so direct with each other. “I don’t like Petunia” or “Petunia is not my friend anymore!” or “I don’t want Petunia to sit with me.” (PS: Thanks to my colleague Alice Lucey who often uses “Petunia” in examples). As adults, we have learned to be kinder about feelings — a very important skill. But at what point did that kindness turn into avoidance? And, at what point does that avoidance turn into dysfunction? 
What does it mean to give feedback or engage in conversations that are straightforward and concise? Why have we as adults circumvented difficult conversations? 
And these past 16 months — the time in which candidates began announcing their interest in running for President of the United States — has been a real-time case study of disagreement. 
As often we should, I learn a great deal of children. One of my favorite ones is Kid President. Here, he has a great video about disagreeing that you should check out here
As we wind down (or up?) the election season, here are some helpful reflection questions you might want to consider. Then, have a conversation with your child(ren) about what it means to disagree. What does it mean to give feedback? What does it mean to receive feedback? What does it mean to approach “feedback as kindness”? Is it compassionate to inform others about the impact they have or is it easier to avoid these conversations? 
Wishing you the best as we head into the final few days before our election! 
  • How would you describe your experiences with discourse or disagreement leading up to the election?
  • What examples do you have from conversations with your children that made you think about discourse and disagreement?
  • What are challenges we, as adults, have around discourse? What are challenges we, as adults at Park School, have around discourse? (and, are they different questions?)
  • What do you wonder about discourse and your children? What are you curious about? These prompts might help: “I hope that my child(ren) learn that…..” or “I wonder if my child(ren) …..”
  • What strategies do you have moving forward to encourage and support healthy disagreement?

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T