We just wrapped up the first week of planning with our staff. As a math guy, it’s difficult for me to capture the emotions that were experienced last week. Let me just say it was really, really amazing. Six new teachers, six returning teachers, the secretary, the principal and the SSA all planned together. Our task – figure out what a democratic, project-based approach was going to look like and feel like for our students come September.
We wrestled with our beliefs as educators, planned projects, refined our principles, and ran through several of the community building activities we use to create the school culture. One of the early activities (which is borrowed from Mark Springer), asks students, “How do you want to be known?” Students deliberate over the course of several days through a series of related activities. They create lists, work in groups, debate the meaning of the words, argue about the value of “voting”, and ultimately land on four words that capture what they believe is the essence of how they want to be known. To teach the staff how to do this activity, we simply do it with them. We asked the staff, “How do we want to be known this year?” We listened, argued, and debated. We laughed, got angry, and withdrew. We had the same emotional response our students have and will have (what better way to prepare someone?). And just like our students, we got stuck on a couple words.
After the set-up activities, we pretty quickly agreed on our first two words. We grouped words, we defined them, we gave voice to each staff member and then we got stuck. “Scrappy, Poppin, and Compassionate”. I loved one of the first two words and hated the other. However, my feelings toward the hated word were slowly changed by a colleague who was a champion for that word. It’s interesting how that happens.
The word I was surprised by was compassionate. Who, in this line of work, doesn’t want to be known as compassionate? Furthermore, we had all just read a book about “boundless compassion”. Compassionate, really?
Compassion literally means, “to suffer with”. It has the idea of justice and action and love wrapped up in it. It’s not pity, nor sympathy. Compassion captures the idea of our need as humans to live for something bigger than ourselves. It stretches us. Compassion sees everyone as equals. But as we argued about this word, I began to appreciate my colleagues’ differing views. For a few of them, it invoked a strong sense of “pity”. For them, it represented those who have power helping those who don’t – puffing your chest out – making yourself important. Ultimately, for that reason, I abandoned my plight for the word.
I left that day thinking about what makes the word “compassion” important to me. I feel fortunate because I have found my calling. I love my work. I hope I’m never seen as someone who is stooping down to help someone else. We all need each other – I need help every day. And I’m so thankful for those who come along side of me, despite my faults, and help me. I want to work in a community that takes care of each other, that sees the best in each other. I want to be compassionate.