By Janice Ewing
This school year has amplified ongoing challenges and created unique ones as well. Now, as the end of the school year approaches, many teachers do not know what the fall will look like. More than ever, teachers need supportive communities in which to learn, grow and refuel. One such community is PAWLP’s social justice study group. As we’ve shared in previous posts, this group challenges us to examine our biases and assumptions, to place them in a larger historical context, and to translate our new understanding into action within our schools and communities. Along the way, we find that a corollary to learning and growth is discomfort. The willingness to sit with discomfort has led us to a deeper refueling, based less on restoring equilibrium than on finding new ways to see and to navigate the world around us, personally and professionally.
Our social justice study group continues to meet on the third Saturday of each month. When we meet on May 15th, we will finish our discussion of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua. Of course we are never really finished with a book, because the ideas and reflections that we have shared from and in response to the book are ongoing. Still, each book that we complete offers a natural stopping point for reflection, and that process leads into the selection of the next shared text. In the past, we have also used the summer months as a time for members to choose individual texts and share their new learning with the group. We’ll talk that through and make that decision at our May meeting as well.
Along with This Bridge Called My Back, we have also been reading The Tradition by Jericho Brown. One of the reasons that we chose to read this poetry collection is that it is as the One Book/One Philadelphia selection this year. This led us to set up a collaborative book talk session with the Philadelphia Writing Project (philwp.gse.upenn.edu), which will be held virtually on May 12th (You can find details about this event and our study group at pawlp.org).
In a year that was filled with challenges at all levels, this group has provided a valuable space. Some of the participants have commented that they didn’t know what to expect from meeting virtually, whether the atmosphere of sharing and trust that we had been cultivating as a group would flourish. We were gratified to find that it did. In spite of some people feeling over-Zoomed from their weekday schedules, this group flourished as a time and place for growth. In addition, as in many groups, our experience was enriched by the participation of members from other geographical areas, who would not have been able to join us face-to-face. We’re grateful for these new relationships and hope they will continue.
I invite you to reflect on the groups or communities that have sustained you this year. How have they provided sustenance? Have they also opened the door to discomfort and struggle? How have you changed? Thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.
Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague, Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).