Teacher to Teacher: Expectations and Commitments By Janice Ewing
On June 1st and 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend workshops facilitated by representatives of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. There were a few other PAWLPers in attendance for one or both days – Liz Mathews, Tricia Ebarvia , and Brian Kelley. A group of us at PAWLP are in the midst of organizing a Social Justice/Anti-Bias Study Group, and much of what we learned and experienced will help us to move forward with our shared inquiry. I also reconnected with former grad students and colleagues, and got to know many new people as well.
Each morning, we started by reflecting on and sharing our expectations and commitments for the day. This was a valuable practice. It helped us to set aside distractions and focus on the present. To me, it translated to asking “Why am I here?” and “What is my responsibility?” These questions helped me to realize that I was experiencing the workshops through a variety of lenses: my own learning, how I was contributing to the experience of those around me, and what I could bring back to share with my grad students, with PAWLP, with the Philadelphia Reading Council, and other groups. One of my expectations was gain a deeper understanding of the Social Justice Standards that Teaching Tolerance has developed (along with numerous other print and digital resources). I also hoped to learn more about recognizing bias in myself and in others, and strategies for pushing back against it.
My first commitment was to fully listen to the ideas, experiences, and points of view of the facilitators and co-participants around me. My second commitment was to then reflect and write about what I learned and experienced, to put it into practice, and to share it with students and colleagues. This is a start.
After expectations and commitments, we went on to Community Agreements – how would we function as a group, especially in the context of discussing sensitive topics? Once again, this was time well-spent. As a follow-up, each individual, and then each table, was asked to come up with one word that epitomized what is most needed for critical conversations to take place. Some of the words chosen were safety, trust, humility, and compassion.
On Friday, at a workshop called “Social Justice 101,” we dove into the four domains of the Social Justice Standards: identity, diversity, justice, and action (accessible at Tolerance.org). We explored the themes and issues that underlie each one, and how they intersect. Relating this to our classrooms or learning spaces, we constructed and shared essential questions that incorporated these standards. This practice helped to reinforce that social justice is not an ‘add-on’ but is interwoven through everything we study, and in fact, through all of our interactions.
On the second day, the workshop was called ‘Facilitating Critical Conversations.” Early in the day, the facilitators reminded us of the importance of the Community Agreements that we had discussed. As the day progressed and our shared experiences, reflections, and conversations took us into increasingly thorny areas, we had a deeper appreciation of the role of community norms and community building in creating the conditions for facing and grappling with difficult topics, individual and collectively. Through guided identity work, analysis of scenarios, and closely monitoring our own communication patterns, we found ourselves muddling through discomfort to insight and goal-setting. My expectations for the workshops were met. Moving forward, I plan to follow through with my commitments.
You can find numerous resources at tolerance.org, and on Twitter @Tolerance_org. Please share resources from this site or others that you find valuable in exploring Social Justice. If you’re on the PAWLP mailing list, you’ll get info about our Social Justice/Anti-bias Study Group, which is just beginning. All are welcome.
Janice Ewing is an adjunct professor for Cabrini University and a Co-director for PAWLP. She is a board member of the Philadelphia Reading Council and serves as an editor of the PA Reads Journal of the Keystone State Reading Association. Janice and PAWLP director Mary Buckelew are in the process of writing a book about teacher inquiry and action research in English and Language Arts for Routledge Press.