Quotes I’m Pondering from The Sum of Us Podcast

All of the quotes below come from Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us podcast. You can check it out on both Spotify and Apple. It was an honest and uplifting look at some of the struggles that we have endured as a nation due to systemic racism. I highly recommend it!

But it’s become clear to me that it’s impossible to see where we’re standing if we don’t know what steps, we took to get here. And looking back to the worst parts of our history, well, it helps us know what we’re up against today.

To me to see political campaigns to ban books and oust Educators in this country just because they teach about sexism and racism, the goal seems to be to scare white parents and the tax dollars that follow them away from an integrated public good, even cutting School budgets and defunding libraries for teaching our full history for being too inclusive. So often, people want to cast the debate, in zero-sum terms, it’s black history versus American history, it’s tell the truth or protect children’s fragile psyches.

We can give people today a moral choice and say, there is a tradition of Heroes that is as real as the tradition of Oppression and Injustice and that you can’t understand one without the other. Teaching our full history allows us to ask, do you want to be like the hundreds of students in the black and white photograph yelling at Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old black girl as she tries to integrate a public school? Or do you want to be like the hundreds of white students who boarded buses for the South to register black voters during Freedom Summer?

Nothing about our situation is inevitable or immutable. But you can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that created the antiquated belief that some groups of people are better than others.

Since this country’s founding, we haven’t allowed our diversity to be our superpower and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts but it could be But these stories have shown me, is that if it were, all of us would Prosper, we are so much more when the we in We, the People is not some of us, but all of us.

We are greater than and greater for the sum of us.

A Quote About Good Teaching

I recently listened to a past episode of the Leading Equity Podcast from January of 2022 where Dr. Sheldon Eakins spoke to Dr. Geneva Gay, one of the leading experts in multicultural education. Here is an excerpt that I have been dwelling on:

“There is no such thing as universal good teaching because somebody determines what constitutes good teaching and those somebodies are cultural beings. Their culture and their notions about what good teaching is and learning have been contaminated by their own cultural filters.”

When We Know Better…

A while back I wrote a post titled For My Children, Seeing All Sides which talked about the importance of supporting students to be able to deal with the barrage of information coming at them through various forms of media so that they are able to weed out the endless disinformation that is being spread.

Where do you go to find information that you feel is believable? Why do you think that these sources are reliable? Is it just because you tend to find things that support what you already thought?

As I reflect on many of the conversations from this past week’s Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents’ Annual Executive Institute, disinformation is also plaguing adults as school leaders are spending increasing amounts of time talking about Critical Race Theory and ensuring parents that it is not something being taught in schools. In fact the Massachusetts Association of School Committees tried to limit the concerns some parents have by putting out a short document pointing out what Critical Race Theory is and that it is not part of our curriculum frameworks in the state.

The fact of the matter is that it is our job is to teach kids to think critically not to teach them what to think. Attempts to limit the truth that we can share concerning the atrocities of our country’s past will only ensure that they continue.

Why would we endorse this?

We need to support our students as they read all of the sides and think for themselves…

Post #2 of 2021…Just Begin Again

What’s going to make you stronger, if the inner voice in your head is an enemy or an ally?

Dr. Kristen Neff

One of the things I got better at in 2020 was mindfulness and spending a little time meditating. The biggest takeaway from this practice has been to “just begin again” when things go off track. As someone who traditionally would spend a lot of time with self-loathing and being hard on myself when things would not go according to plan, I have finally realized that easing up a bit and showing myself a little compassion is much more productive than getting mired down in guilt.

The latest episode of the Happiness Lab Podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos, Dump Your Inner Drill Sergeant, really highlighted the importance of self-compassion. Dr. Santos was joined by Dr. Kristen Neff, an expert on the topic of self-compassion, who noted that many people are more supportive of their friends than they are to themselves. It seems ridiculous that we would be so amenable to alleviating the suffering of others, but unwilling to give ourselves a break. Neff recommended that we reframe our missteps and think about them the same way we would if one of our family members came to us after a mistake or failure.

The best part about booting your inner drill sergeant out of the equation is that you will actually have more compassion to show others. The quote below from Dr. Neff is the one that I am going to try to keep at the forefront of my mindfulness practice.

In 2021…I will do better than 18

“The most difficult thing in the world is to write…If you are going to do it, you should be told it is one of the most difficult things to do.”

Jerry Seinfeld on Episode #485 of the Tim Ferris podcast.

As I think about things I would like to do more of in 2021, writing is at the top of the list. Looking back on 2020, I only made 18 posts in this space. There are a number of reasons/excuses and I don’t think it will really be helpful to list them. What I do know is writing is something that fills my bucket, much like exercise. So, I am just going to begin…

In past years I have set lofty goals and then dealt with the guilt of coming up short. Fortunately, the bar has been that was set for writing in 2020 was a low one. I know I can beat 18!

A few other things I will do more of in 2021:

  • Show more gratitude
  • Watch my nutrition
  • Continue to grow as an antiracist human and leader

More to come…

What Do You Mean By “The Media”?

Someone told me today that “the media” is blowing things out of proportion. As I listened and asked a follow-up question, all I could think of was the contradiction taking place in this conversation and in so many these days. The fact of the matter was that this individual did not really have a problem “the media,” what they had a problem with was any media source that disagreed with their point of view.

By Sollok29 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

We need to be clear that media is everywhere and where you choose to get your information matters. Are we taking in factual information or someone’s hypothesis of a situation? Are we reading facts or opinions? Are we watching a news show or a talk show?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the importance of taking in all sides of a story or event. We cannot move forward constructively if we are not willing to look at other points of view and make informed decisions for ourselves. If we just cling to one source that maintains the narrative that we want to hear, then we will never really be well-informed.

For My Children, Seeing All Sides

There is a lot of misinformation floating around right now. I know we have talked recently about both misinformation and disinformation. Where do you go to find information that you feel is believable? Why do you think that these sources are reliable? Is it just because you tend to find things that support what you already thought?

It is more important than ever that we check our sources and spend a little time reading stories from multiple sources. With this in mind, I wanted to point out a site called All Sides. It will help you gain some perspective on the major news stories we are hearing about by providing articles from conservative sources (the right), liberal sources (the left), and more balanced sources (the center).

Check out the great chart below that helps illustrate what I am talking about. Make sure you are reading varied perspectives.

Permission to Feel, We Need This Book Now More Than Ever

One of the things that has been at the forefront of my mind in the past few weeks has been my heightened concern for the emotional well-being of the members of our school community. While many conversations center around grades and curriculum, I cannot stop wondering about the mental health of staff, students, and parents

Because of these concerns and my own heightened anxiety due to this pandemic, I am going to start a book discussion of Marc Brackett’s Permission to Feel beginning on Monday, May 4. As I have listened to the chapters of the book during my walks, I keep thinking this is the book that WE ALL need right now.

Even before we left school during the second week of March, there were troubling signs about the mental health of students, staff, and the world at large.

Brackett highlights statistics the following in the Prologue of Permission to Feel:

  • From 2016-2017, more than one in three students across 196 U.S. college campuses reported diagnosed mental health conditions. Some campuses have reported a 30 percent increase in mental health problems per year.
  • Anxiety orders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 25 percent of children between thirteen and eighteen years old.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Closer to home, we have very similar statistics. Our most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found the following for MA students :

Nearly a third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks in a row, inhibiting them from performing usual activities and twelve percent considered suicide. Our numbers in Burlington and the Middlesex League high schools are right on the state average.

This is a Critical Time

While we have this brief hiatus from our schools and classrooms, we all spend our days wondering what life will be like when we get back. One thing that is sure is that we will enter buildings and classrooms where every member of our school community has experienced some level of trauma. Those of us who are able to have a better understanding of our emotions and the emotions of those around us will have a smoother transition back. The tools in this book and the ensuing conversations will help us achieve this goal.

How You Can Participate

I have started a Facebook Page where I will post discussion questions each Monday. The discussion on the Facebook Page will be asynchronous, so you can share your thoughts any time.

The Schedule

Week of May 4 – Part 1 (Prologue and Chapters 1-3)

Week of May 11 – Part 2 (Chapters 4-8)

Week of May 18 – Part 3 (Chapters 9-11)

Week of May 25 – Creating an Emotion Revolution – Concrete Actions you will take based on the book

Please join me!

Video Killed The School Administrator

My morning routine has been pretty consistent during our school closure. I get up and shower and put on a clean outfit like I would on a normal work day. I go downstairs and make coffee and try to fit in a short mindfulness exercise before online meetings. After a couple of online meetings, I have been feeling wiped out and I can’t figure out why.

A colleague shared this article today by Steven Hickman about online exhaustion caused by meetings held on video platforms and I am thinking that it could be the reason. While I love the ability to connect virtually with colleagues to problem-solve and continue to revise our routines during this “current normal,” the end of these calls has been leaving me drained in a way that I never felt from in-person meetings. The following line from article summed up my feelings perfectly:

“I’ve been so busy lately that I thought perhaps I was just fatigued. But the more it happens, the more I realize that I end up feeling both connected but disconnected to these people.”

The article referenced a tweet from management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri  that quantified the reason for the feelings of exhaustion:

“It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” So beautifully and eloquently perceptive!

Today I started practicing a few of the six ways highlighted in the article to help find a better sense of balance during these many online meetings and I definitely noticed a difference. The most useful of the practices for me was to “Choose “speaker view” and not try to stay attentive to all of the attendees simultaneously like I normally would try to do if we were in the same physical space.

There are so many nuances to take into consideration as we deal with physical distancing from our colleagues (and students) while using available technology to maintain interpersonal connections. I can’t imagine doing this without some of these tools, but it is not the same and we all need to acknowledge this and realize it is normal to feel disconnected while we are connecting.

There is no balance – Take care of YOU!

As we head into our fourth full week of the school closure, I am reminded of a section from chapter 4 of Culturize by Jimmy Casas where Jimmy discussed the importance of educators balancing their passion for education with their commitment to themselves and their family. Never has this been more important than it is right now.

It is hard to find balance, when you are finding your way in such a unique experience. While I know is an oversimplification, the focus has to be on you first. If you are not doing what you need to keep your own mind in a good place, then there is no way you will be able to support the people who are relying on you. Take care of yourself, take care of your family, and support your students…They all need you more than ever!