Advocacy Comes Home
By Janice Ewing
Many of us have experienced strong emotional reactions to the election and current political climate, including for some of us, grief. My experiences at the NWP and NCTE conferences have helped me to understand that we can and must move on to action, even in the midst of that grief. I came to that realization through listening and engaging with others in critical conversations, sharing of stories from our teaching lives, communal interactions with literature, time for fellowship over food and wine, and something that had been almost forgotten – laughter.
There is much to process from all this, and some of us shared conference highlights in an earlier post, but for now, my biggest takeaway is that all of those experiences that we had as teachers at these conferences can and should be the fabric of our students’ experience as well. We can’t all get on a plane with our students to immerse ourselves in days of intense learning and bonding, so how can we bring this sense of agency and connection to our daily learning spaces? Here are some thoughts:
It starts with listening: At the conferences, we had the time and space to drink in the words of the various presenters, from well-known keynote speakers and panelists, to student poets, to teachers from all over the country sharing their most personal and, at the same time, most universal experiences. Some of us couldn’t take notes or tweet highlights quickly enough, in an effort to hold on thinking. Others put their pens, tablets, and phones down and basked in the flow of words, ideas, and feelings. We were all engaged listeners, but the act of listening did not look the same for all of us. Do we allow that freedom to our students – to listen in a variety of ways, some of which might not match our expectations?
It includes stretching our thinking: Deep listening is an active process. If we only hear what we already knew or thought, there is satisfaction in that, a validation or deepening or our beliefs. But how much richer is the experience if we can think to ourselves, even during the act of listening, “I hadn’t thought of it that way before…What or who else might I look at differently, or perhaps, what (or whom) have I not been seeing at all?”
It requires living with discomfort: Opening ourselves to new thinking can lead to discomfort and dissonance. Our beliefs are like comfortable furniture; we lean on them with ease, and only pay attention when a cushion is out of place, or a table is at a different angle. Change can challenge us to move forward, and to acknowledge our grief or anger, or frustration but channel those feelings to motivate us, not to silence us.
It leads to thoughtful action: At our Continuity meetings at PAWLP, we are continuing to support each other in our growth as advocates for our students and faculties. We understand that advocacy starts with ourselves, and we are using the rich human resources of our writing project to keep ourselves nurtured and motivated to move forward. Go to www.pawlp.org to see our upcoming events and courses. At the Philadelphia Reading Council, a local council of the International Literacy Association, we have started an online conversation about resources and strategies to support students in times of change. If you would like to participate, go to www.PhiladelphiaReadingCouncil.weebly.com and click on the Forum tab.
Nicole Mirra, an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas, El Paso, said this at NCTE: “Teaching is political when the humanity of our students is under siege.”
Grief cannot be the last chapter of our story. How can we work with our students, at all levels, to use our voices to stand up for ourselves and others? What are you doing to bring advocacy home?