Educators are passionate people! Continuing my Passion Series, Adapting Professional Passions is a follow-up to Guiding Professional Passions. My journey reflects soul-searching experiences that strike at the very heart of education. It’s deeply personal. And it ain’t all pretty. This is a long one–bear with me.

Before

I joined twitter in August, 2013, just to create, archive, access, and share learning and teaching resources through specific, curriculum objective hashtags. I literally thought: “How cool would it be if other fifth grade science teachers in my district and state could exchange ideas and resources thru twitter-searching #sci5E11 (North Carolina Science Essential Standards for fifth grade science about general weather data and instruments), for example. No matter your school or location around the state, we could create better learning experiences for ALL of our students because we would be sharing FREE resources with each other on a FREE platform!”

During

The movement that became known as #Hashtag180 did not take off as fast as I had hoped. The name is memorable, although confusing and not appealing. Despite sincere efforts, my freelance marketing skills did not pedal the “product” effectively and efficiently. “Why doesn’t anyone care about this as much as I do? This Dewey Decimal System of the 21st Century idea is fantastic–isn’t it? Curriculum matters!” My voice screamed on the inside.

Recently, a friend invited me to #wcpssTeachUsAll. About 200 educators in my WCPSS district registered to view Teach Us All, “a documentary film + social justice movement,” followed by small group discussions, at East Millbrook Magnet Middle School, 9:00am-12:00pm, on Saturday, September 30th, 2017. I didn’t really know what it was about exactly, or what to expect. But I do respect my friend, and he invited me face-to-face with a firm handshake. I accepted, and I am a man of my word. I was going–Now what’s it all about?

The experience was intense and incredibly uncomfortable. There were no sidebars or whispering conversations during the viewing. I was tense, shifting in my seat frequently. As an educator (and expecting parent now), it really hurt to see students and kids not receiving what they need at schools, in their communities, at home, and in life. Deep down, I always knew that there were students in the world, country, state, and in my district with needs and challenges that were much different than the needs of my students. But I didn’t know it was like THIS.

Yet sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with educators who are actually living these experiences every day while viewing a documentary on a heavy topic, and interacting face-to-face, chair-to-chair in small group discussions is waaay different than just knowing about students battling single, double, and triple segregation, for example. Wow–Wonder what it would be like to spend a day in their shoes? Wonder how much more eye-opening and perspective-gaining it would be to visit these educators’ schools, to see them giving so much of themselves, to see them investing in people so compassionately, unparalleled.

After

Who cares about hashtags? Who cares about devices? Who cares about twitter or the internet? And yes–Who even cares about curriculum… If your students’:

  • Basic needs are not being met (food, water, rest, warmth, safety);
  • Home lives are unstable, exempt of physiological fulfillment (love, care, relationships), and
  • Self-fulfillment needs are not actualized (self-esteem, realizing potential)

How insignificant hashtags must be in these learning spaces. Not just–not a priority–but nonexistent. How foolish it would be to assume educators in these environments have time, energy, or desire to embrace a movement so distant and disconnected from what really matters most. How inappropriate would it be to impress my passion upon fellow educators who have REAL concerns for their students’ well-being. How embarrassed I feel for not exercising better situational leadership, awareness, and perspective in the past, especially with people I really admire.

Curriculum is important, somewhere on the list. But at the very top of the list and at the inner core of our educator heart? It’s really about people. People matter. Their needs matter. And then their learning matters.

For a long time, I was unnecessarily seeking an exact definition of equity in education. Now, I believe the definition may be as diverse, complex, nuanced, and thought-provoking as the world itself. How do we–as public school educators and as a society–meet the needs of ALL learners? I’m not sure. There are lots of moving pieces in humanity’s puzzle. But I am very fortunate to have friends in my network who are living this unparalleled dedication every day. They’re so wholeheartedly invested into doing what’s best for their learners that they uniquely inspire everyone around them. Their passion is evident. Their advocacy is real. You should be following: Mike West, Brendan Fetters, Chris Tuttell, Juliette Chappell, and Karen D’Elia.

Before building cultural competency, I think the very first steps are acknowledging, researching, and being open to discussion. This will help you figure out where you are. I know where I am right now, and it’s not even close to where I want to be.

What if we could simplify the definition of equity? Despite our backgrounds, differences, current situations, and unique passions as educators,

We ALL want what’s best for ALL learners. Can we start there?