The Legacy COVID-19? Compassionate Educational Frameworks (Here’s Hoping!)

I have been thinking about one of the last schools where I taught and realizing: what teachers are going through now, is what many students go through on a daily basis. Lack of job security, lack of structure, lack of routine, lack of control. In some cases, lack of rent, and the threat of having nowhere to sleep as spouses are laid off and people crowd food closets. And it brings home the need to support people in poverty regularly and from structural support and not just handouts. A lot of the people we teach in “rough” schools are struggling because of structural injustice, so it only seems fair. And what about compassion instead of the school to prison pipeline?

What is going on now is a wake up call to people who believe in meritocracy. If anything is clear now it is that we only have compassion for people when we realize the humanity of those at the top who seem to have earned their invincibility when really they have often only inherited it or gained their status at the expense of others. I have had homeless children in my classroom. And only when homelessness poses a threat in the time of pandemic – when we realize that many have no shelter with which to follow the law of “shelter in place” – only at times such as these, is the lack of housing something that needs remedied. We are now housing homeless people in hotels.

Many of my former students had technology at home. But many others did not. Many others brought phones to school that did not work only to have one to hold so that it seemed like they had the money to afford the technology that some of their peers had.

On the other side of things, teachers are often judged extremely harshly and now we are realizing how hard their jobs are. Parents are realizing that not everyone can teach, and their children’s behaviors seem at time unmanageable. Let alone what parents of students with special needs are experiencing as they try to work from home while tending to their child.

What I hope comes out of this are more compassionate educational frameworks as opposed to the industrial model of education that Dewey created in his extensive work with privileged students (note: he did not work with students in poverty). Our educational values have prioritized the needs of a select few, and our educational system has been created to sort, select and exclude. Here’s to a compassionate educational model in the decade of the 2020’s.

Loving Brene…

What do I love about Brene Brown?

She doesn’t believe in objectivity without the embracing of one’s subjectivity.

I think that once we realize that we are embroiled in the controversial topics facing education today rather than casual – or formal – observers of them, we can begin to heal and transform the world. You have to be in the ring, reflect there, and then – only then – can you transform the face of education. Her research is even more effective in the time of COVID-19. The need to have empathy, to be courageous and to bounce back “rising strong” is exactly what this world needs.

Culturally Responsive? Or the White Racial Frame?

“Cultural responsiveness” is a term that gets thrown around a lot and I have to say that sometimes I wonder if this doesn’t come across as patronizing to people of culturally or socioeconomically diverse backgrounds. I feel like it might if we talk about cultural responsiveness only when it comes to interacting with people of color or under-served students and this as if everyone was White except “those people” with whom we interact. The white racial frame pervades the way that we talk about social justice in social justice education, which perhaps makes it awkward for people who are not White to talk about education in ways that are not objectifying to them.

COVID-19 and kids… What if we cared this much about the environment?

I had a disturbing thought yesterday: what if people care more about this than the world we’re leaving for our kids because, unlike global warming, this impacts older decision makers and the economy and the lives of the elderly. I’m glad that we’re having the response that we’re having – this is, indeed, an emergency. A bipartisan one at that. Maybe we can learn from this disaster in the future and get on board with protecting our children as much as we want to protect our middle-aged and our elderly. Here’s hoping.

W.E.B. du Bois and Booker T. Washington

I am reading The Souls of Black Folk, which was published in 1903 by W.E.B. du Bois. I am learning a lot, and I am also remembering how he came across for me when I was a student learning about him when I was in fifth grade. I will share that with you now, though it is something that I won’t imagine being popular. I share in hopes that others will see the inner logic of a white child’s notion of race in middle class white suburbia in the 90’s.

In short, W.E.B. du Bois came across as radical and unapproachable – and he was undeniably himself and not to be tamed. Tamed. That is an offensive term in this context and I use it with care and share this mental experience to show how I had been socialized as a white person by the time I was 11 years old.

There was a sense that he couldn’t be managed or controlled and that he was himself and therefore dangerous for it. I wanted to ignore him – and yet I could not, no matter how hard I tried in my 11 year old mind.

“At least all black people aren’t like that,” I told myself as a student in Ms. Baldwin’s fifth grade class.

In retrospect, I think that I was threatened by his need not to be defined by mainstream society. In the same school year we learned the concept of the melting pot, – that America is a melting pot. And so perhaps it was this coming together of the melting pot ideology and W.E.B. du Bois didn’t fit into it. He didn’t want to fit into it. Having studied race since then, I think that by mainstream society I meant white culture. And perhaps the white supremacist aspects of it that I did not even know I had learned. And that my family had not consciously taught me.

When I looked at Booker T. Washington I was relieved. I mattered again.

This may be upsetting to read, but it also true. That was how I experienced race as a fifth grader in “colorblind” America. And it’s why I am committed to being an anti-racist practitioner and trainer.

A Best Read of 2019: “Ethnographic Thinking: From Method to Mindset,” by Jay Hasbrouck

This book was written for business by a local author and it was at my favorite local bookstore (Three Trees Books in Seahurst, WA) and it really helped me navigate difficult conversations around race, ethnicity and organizational change in 2019 (the book itself was published in 2018).

A lot of the challenge for me over the years has been getting organizations to not only understand intellectually what their problem is – namely a lack of diversity, particularly in leadership positions – but to actually to do something about it that will make a difference. Namely, how to get people to make those qualitative changes that yield the coveted quantitative increases in the number of “diverse” folks who choose to stay once they’ve been recruited. It’s not just hiring that matters. It’s retention. It’s people’s actual quality of life and sense of belonging and contribution to the places the work, study, worship and lead.

The book is about bringing the myriad represented cultures in all their wholeness, to bear in the organization’s culture, their offerings, and their voice and tone guides. From a holistic as opposed to a reductive perspective; to do this, the book draws on the field of ethnography. Ethnographic thinking, Hasbrouck teaches, is not as a method that is obsessed with metrics and big data, but as a mindset – one that we cultivate while reading this amazing book, written from the perspective of a talented anthropologist and ethnographer.

What I particularly appreciated about this book was that, when I applied it to race, it had the effect of centering, on a conceptual as well as a concrete level, the bodies and lives and minds people who are otherwise objectified in our desire to attain more diversity.

I got a lot more buy in with the organizations with which I consult after reading it, because it was prioritizing business and led to a robust shared pool of meaning for practitioners of all backgrounds to come together for the public good – without sacrificing the bottom line.

In Defense of Mothers

The mother cult in Western culture. The thing is that this “cult” is damaging to so many women and it places a great burden on all of society. Not only are mothers put down as responsible for everything that their children do or say, and thereby a huge burden is being placed on mothers and the concept of “attachment,”- but we are also causing ourselves loads of trauma in the process as we judge our mothers and reframe our past without redemption. Therapists encourage us to unpack our childhoods, and often to the detriment of our mothers.

It is ridiculous that children growing up in war-torn parts of the world, or starving, have been discussed as lacking because of their mothers! James Hillman in The Soul’s Code writes about the absurdity of this as well when he explains the thought process of people bemoaning the absence of their mothers: “Had these children been ‘well-bonded,’ with ‘good-enough mothers,’ secure in their ‘attachments,’ the devastation, genocide, and despair would have been incidental to their deplorable condition!”

Education versus Schooling: Two Sides of the Same Coin – but not the same thing!

I love helping students who do not traditionally fit in in their educational environments. Why? You guessed it! Because I don’t fit in as a student and I believe that that makes me uniquely qualified to help people like me survive school in a way that keeps their callings and self-esteem intact. So that their early years post-high school or post-college aren’t merely built around trying to undo what industrial educational experiences did to them.

I read through most of high school, and did have to go to summer school a couple of times to recover credits. Ironically, this was for English and foreign language, which were my strongest subjects in college and graduate school.

Have you ever considered that some of the things we most struggle with in school are those same things we are also the most gifted in once we’re mature adults? There is an incredibly long list of people who were told they were failures by the teachers of the very subjects that they later transformed. Education is essential and so is schooling. But they’re not the same thing and they’re often at cross purposes with one another.

The Unpredictability of Trauma-Informed Classroom Teaching


The structure and worldview of the classroom always takes time to establish, but when there is an environment that is constantly in flux, we cannot forget that there are multiple classroom cultures and also individual student cultures to consider and, therefore, multiple pools of meaning coming into contact. These pools may be at odds with one another.

We need to have a shared pool of meaning that allows people to rise above the fray and work together as a team in “rough” schools. Students and staff need a shared vision to bring out their best selves in the service of learning. What often happens, however, is the combining of classes multiple times a year to accommodate the unique demands school districts. I recently had the privilege of consulting for just such a classroom, and the behaviors of the students were much improved once we established routines that specifically enhanced the rapport between teacher and students and also horizontally among students more broadly.

The more you can create that shared pool of meaning in the classroom through a class charter and team building exercises, routines and protocols, the sooner the students will know what to expect. Behavior issues will be minimized because there will be less anxiety and uncertainty. It will be hard, but it will pay off ten fold. Then you’ll be home free – until the next students come a few weeks later to throw a wrench in it. But that’s why those structures exist: they will set the tone in a classroom that is continually in flux. And student ownership of classroom roles will make it so students teach other, newer students, how to fit in. The more things are in flux, the more pronounced those roles need to be.

Irlen Syndrome?: The Politics of Helping a Special Needs Student

I was a guest teacher in a special needs resource room recently. One of the students was a sweet boy who came in and sat with me as we tried to transfer the information that there on his paperwork (there were four dots on the page) into the numeral four – “4” – underneath the picture. He worked hard and failed to finish the sheet after twenty minutes, and I had to help him a great deal. He went to the next class with three out of six problems incomplete.

I told my personal trainer about this the next day – my trainer’s name is Dave.

Dave said that as a elementary school student, he was pulled out of class daily for resource lessons around reading. He had had similar difficulties to this student and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity syndrome, also known as Irlen syndrome. The writing or print on the page would move or not show up. Special glasses and filters helped him immensely.

“Wow! The other teacher I was co-teaching with yesterday said that they’ve been doing the same worksheets with this student for a year and half! What if it’s visual processing and not an intellectual disability?”

I emailed the classroom teacher and heard back that the testing was too expensive, not covered by the district and that the student was financially not well-off and that, furthermore, the parents were school-averse. The teacher was so grateful I had written and wanted to know if there was more information available, and I passed on the website about the syndrome.

The website, it turns out, had filters that could be used for all students who needed them that would only cost 20 dollars.

“Why not just buy these and use them and see if they help without getting a diagnosis? I don’t know if he had it, it was just a thought and maybe it will help others in the future,” I wrote.

The next day, I actually met an adult resource teacher with Irlen Syndrome who had done just that, had bought the filters, but he said that he had had to do it secretly lest the district politics got involved. Politics. And kids at the intersection. Underpaid teachers buying resources out of their own pockets to help students that the district couldn’t test because the process is privatized in the US.

I hope they don’t give up trying.

Dave said, “They just haven’t figured out how the kid learns, yet.”