When considering our successes as educators, to whom should we be thankful?
At a meeting with a principal from one of our urban schools this past month, she mentioned that her school was selected by a local tech company to provide each graduating students a laptop. She was very excited for her mostly-students-of-color to get the resource, but also was concerned by HOW they might be presented. The principal questioned and worried the presentation of the computers might be done in a way that reinforced a “pobrecito/a” (“poor little boy/ girl”) syndrome in which well intentioned, usually dominant culture, people expect less from black, brown and poor students.
She struggled with her own emotions as a white woman who was leading the school of these children and calling out other dominant cultured people whom she easily recognized lacked the essential characteristics of humility and cultural competence while in this community. She also was challenged by the conflict between taking a stand – and just getting some important tools to her students. When I use words such as “challenge” and “struggle” and “conflict” I am describing what I consider to be very good work on her part.
She pointed out that the tech company had chosen her school because it had demonstrated great progress over the past three years, and as she saw it – when things are going well, everyone wants a part of you. She knew she would have a little time on stage when the computers were presented and she wondered how she could direct influence if not direct the tone for the meeting; her question was simple, “What should I say?”
Of course it is probably because Thanksgiving is this week, but my answer also was simple, “Say, ‘Thank you!’” Not to the tech company – we know that will happen, but to the students. I encouraged her to flip the script… rather than set a tone in which we are asking students to demonstrate extreme deference to the point of reinforcing questions of deserving, what would it look like to model for this community to demonstrate humility and gratitude for a well-deserved reward.
In the end, she decided that she would give the message that the real reward was the results of the school and that these results could not have come without the students’ great work. The computers were not only something that they earned – but something that they as academics deserved, they were merely tools for each student to further her or his work moving forward.
As Thanksgiving comes ever closer, I wonder what it would look like for each of us to flip the same script without the prompting of a local tech company. Where have any of us educators found success? At those times, how much did we attribute our success to our own – or to another adult’s effort? Well-deserved as this may be, to what extent do we as educators ever correlate or share our successes with the work that our students have done? Is this what is meant by partnership? Are we consistent in how we look to ourselves and/or our students as the cause of our failures?
I challenge each of us – this Thanksgiving, when we offer appreciation for that which is good in our lives – think about (and maybe even thank) at least one student without whom our own success (small or big) would not have been possible.