Speak Your Own Truth in Empathy

March 16, 2015 by Bill Ivey

To all my new #TLConf2015 friends, go back home and make a difference. #DoSomeGood #PeopleAreWorthIt - Val Brown (via Twitter)

It was like the best of all fantasy books, when you walk through a door and suddenly all your favourite literary characters have come to life. Only this was better than a fantasy - meeting face to face people I'd known through various virtual communities, sometimes for years. Mutual smiles and long, tight hugs showed I wasn't the only one who felt a deeper connection. I knew the meetings and conversations would enrich not only my present, but also all future online conversations with these people. What I didn't expect, though, was that I would also travel back in time and retroactively add layers of feeling and meaning to words I'd already read.

This sense of a nexus of time infused the entire Teaching and Learning Conference 2015, as one of the main themes was learning from and drawing on the past to both understand and act in the present to help build a brighter future. Looking around me, it was easy to believe this was possible. These were people, many of them players on the national stage, who knew their craft cold, who love kids in that special way unique to teachers, and who knew exactly what was needed to bring about the kind of bright future our children and our educational system deserve. They projected confidence, hope, and realism. The only question was, would anyone listen?

Sitting around the lunch table with five of my friends, it was impossible to conceive anyone couldn't be compelled to listen. As these people told their stories, sometimes anecdotes and sometimes longer tales, deep truths emerged that added layers of meaning and depth of feeling to each story so you felt you weren't just learning the history of such and such a student or such and such a class. You were also learning about who these teachers were as educators - and as human beings. Everything they said came from a place of their own lived experiences and revealed how their students and their students' parents - and their own families, too - had shaped those experiences.

Each of these people loved students and saw them for exactly who they are - people like anyone else, with human strengths and human failings, imperfect as we all are, yet perfectly worthy of the respect and dignity due any human being. Some might have a rougher row to hoe than others, but their stories, too, were told as a simple truth, not grounds for pity.

 These teachers spoke, in other words, from a position of empathy. And, in the listening, one could not help but be both moved and inspired.

But that's the thing. Not everyone is listening. Teachers are listening. Social justice activists are listening. Students are listening, and the parents that love them. For some reason, however, few in the media are listening. Few politicians are listening. Even the Department of Education, for goodness' sake, is only intermittently listening.

So that's where the rest of us come in. I see part of my job as listening and understanding, and passing the word on so that others might listen and understand. And I've been working hard to do that for years - certainly since 2000, when I first taught middle school.

And I think - I hope - I've learned to speak my own truth as well.The day after the conference, Dave Orphal asked "#teacherleaders if you could work on one issue to change our profession, what would it be? #ctqcollab #coreadvocates"? I responded, choosing every single word carefully, "a deep understanding of intersectional feminism as a path to equity."

When she was our Head of School, Martha Shepardson-Killam used to talk about the importance of an interconnected root system in enabling each individual tree in a redwood forest to stand tall. That's how I envision our work together, advocating for our students and our profession, and welcoming in all stakeholders - students included - to reach out to each other, build the strongest possible foundation, and unite our individual voices and our individual truths into a force that can not be denied.

Join us.

(with thanks to my lunchtime companions (Melinda D. Anderson, Susan Graham, John Holland, Renee Moore, and José Vilson), CTQ presenters whose sessions I attended (Jennifer Barnett, Val Brown, Brianna Crowley, Jessica Cuthbertson, Nancy Gardner), other online friends I also saw there (including Megan M. Allen, Dan Brown, David Cohen, Lauren Hill, Lori Nazareno, Rod Powell, Ben Owens, Mary Tedrow, and Noah Zeichner ), and non-attendee Kris Giere whose own work spreading the message that #PeopleAreWorthIt I value greatly)

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: find your voice, Education, NBPTS