Teacher-to-Teacher: Clearing Space By Janice Ewing
“Is this the Marie Kondo thing?” my husband asked, as he saw the grocery bags
filled with recycled paper, the clothes packed for Goodwill, the books en route to possible
sale at the local used bookstore.
“Not really,” was my response. It’s more of a refocusing.”
He looked uncertain, but moved on to more practical matters. “Those bags
won’t all fit in the recycling can, and it’s going to be too windy to put them out like that.”
I paused, calm in my Zen-like decluttering trance. “We’ll work it out. We can put a couple of bags out each week.” Letting go of things, after all, is not to be rushed.
So, back to the idea of refocusing. I’ve come to realize that I can have so much ‘stuff’ around me that I no longer actually see it; it’s just a part of the landscape. For a variety of reasons, it became the right time to look at my surroundings more critically, considering what was useful and what was not. The things I kept did not have to “spark joy” to make the cut. Mostly, they had to seem relevant and useful. Somehow, I seemed to have the clarity to make those decisions and I seized the moment. I should add that my two cats, who loved the emptying of tote bags and plastic bins, were more than happy to help with the process.
I didn’t get here randomly. There were influences. One was the book Practicing Presence, by Lisa Lucas https://www.stenhouse.com/content/practicing-presence . I found that reading and discussing this book with others has helped me to reflect on my priorities, and that intersects directly with determining what things to keep and what to clear out. Lisa talks about time and taking on commitments. She guides us to ask ourselves, “What will I not be doing if I take on this task or commitment?” I’m seeing the connection with things – What would I have space for if I did not keep this (thing which is no longer useful or relevant, although it once was)?
Another strong influencer is the social justice/anti-bias book study that some of us at PAWLP have been participating in. Our reading and discussion of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo https://www.sealpress.com/titles/ijeoma-oluo/so-you-want-to-talk-about-race/9781580056779/ and Not Light but Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom by Matthew Kay https://www.stenhouse.com/content/not-light-fire have led to group and individual unpacking of past experiences, assumptions, and silences. As we examine our biases and beliefs, we look at them through a critical lens as well. How can we align our values, our thinking, and our actions as we strive to create equitable spaces for learning?
My experiences with PAWLP, from the Summer Institute to workshops, conferences, Continuity Saturdays, and other collaborative events, have all guided my thinking towards focusing on what’s important for students and teachers as writers, as readers, and as thinking, feeling co-learners. The phrase ‘lifelong learner’ tends to be over-used, but this truly is a lifelong process. That means that thinking changes over time, sometimes over a period of years and sometimes during the course of a conversation. Sometimes, we have to clear out old ideas to let in new ones. The promise of fresh space on a bookshelf, a few empty storage bins, a manageable set of files. There is still a box of mystery cables and wires that connect to things we had, or once had (does everyone have that?). There is still the box of un-letgoable cards, letters, and artifacts. But it’s good to refocus. What’s important? What do we value? What can we/should we free ourselves of? What can we make room for?
Janice Ewing is an adjunct professor for Cabrini University and a co-director for PAWLP. She also is a co-editor of the PA Reads Journal of the Keystone State Literacy Association. Janice and former PAWLP director and West Chester University professor Mary Buckelew’s book, Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry, will be published in April from Routledge Press https://www.routledge.com/Action-Research-for-English-Language-Arts-Teachers-Invitation-to-Inquiry/Buckelew-Ewing/p/book/9781138609112