All the Feels

It’s been an exhausting two weeks away from my family, traveling for work.

There have been many moments when I have questioned personal and professional choices, when I’ve been disappointed by people, and when I’ve wondered if I should just curl up for a long winter’s nap (I know it’s spring), do (and worry) less, and find a new calling.

But this morning, like last Saturday morning, I got to be with teachers, and not just any teachers, but teachers deeply committed to their practice, to growing in their professional lives and to remaining in a field that often tries to push them out. I got to be in community with these beautiful people who have been in community with one another throughout the year, who are working towards practices grounded in justice within unjust systems, working to make schools places that serve, affirm, and challenge all students, working towards better futures and becoming better teachers.

I love teaching and I love teachers.

I love learning, and I love opportunities to learn alongside teachers.

Teaching and supporting learning within the current contexts of schooling, particularly in public education spaces, is so complex. For teachers committed to more just futures for all students, it is even more complex. And yet, there are teachers who persist. There are teachers who, even after the exhaustion of their school days and through long school years, reach out to community, seek to grow, continue to reconnect to their roots.

Like all humans, teachers are imperfect.

Perhaps teachers are even more aware of their imperfections than the general public. We are, after all, reminded of our imperfections (quite often, in middle school!).

Yet, somehow so many teachers persist in our humanity and strive to be better, for ourselves, our students, our communities and our futures.

Teachers, in all of their complicated humanity, inspire me.

Being around these wonderful educators this morning reminds me of the joys of this work, that education, true lifelong learning, brings forth so much beauty.

This morning also reminded me of the gift of being a teacher educator and the privilege of doing the work in my new context. What a privilege to walk alongside and learn from teachers, to advocate for space for teachers to grow and learn together, to be able to do research that can be used to amplify teacher voices. What an honor to be welcomed into teacher community, to learn and unlearn myself, to remember the importance of joy and rest as part of resistance.

It has been an undeniably exhausting two weeks. There is so much more I could say about these two weeks, about love and mentoring, about frustrations and growth, about speaking from my heart when I cannot be silent, about the complexities that make the world so difficult to navigate, about humanity.

But those things to say are for another day.

I couldn’t be more grateful to be going home.

AND I am grateful to have another home I am building alongside a new-to-me, but beautifully inspiring and growing community.

I am learning to listen to my heart, to stay in my body, to find integrity in the spaces in between. Sometimes it is a space only I know, but I am learning the value of those spaces.

I am growing. I am finding spaces to blossom.

It can be exhausting. I am still working on sustainability. I am finding beauty in community and grounding in the struggle. I am sure I will still have moments when I question all the things.

And also, I think that I can find many answers when I look to community.

Rest & Care

Photo of a screenshot from my Twitter (X) account that reads, "I love teaching. Also 14 hour days are a lot and now I am going to eat pasta, then maybe collapse in a puddle of exhaustion and tears. 😭"

Whew, friends. The last couple of weeks, especially the last three Wednesdays, have been A LOT.

I love teaching.

There aren’t even really words to fully express the joy that I feel from teaching. Teaching gives me the opportunity to profoundly connect with others and (often) support them in learning, while also challenging me to continue to grow. It’s a huge part of my professional heart. It brings me energy, life, and sheer joy.

And also, it’s exhausting.

This semester, I’ve returned to the classroom to teach a double section of a Masters (teacher) (action) research course (online) which I’m picking up from two other instructors mid-way through a two-course series that is split over the spring and fall semesters.

I could have spent my last semester teaching out a course (in-person) that I helped to create and transform, that I’ve taught before, to credential students, and that I love. But, for a variety of reasons, I chose to take on a new prep, also teaching something I love (and I always love students so that is what it is), but with very different constraints.

I love these students. I love teaching (teacher) (action) research (in parenthesis because this is not exactly how the course started in the spring for almost half of them). But it’s been a rough semester of transition for students and for myself, that has involved a lot of support, unlearning, and co-construction. I know we’re all going to be fine, but it’s…well…a lot.

Beyond this, I have a foot in (at least) two professional worlds as I transition universities (between fall and winter), am at a peak moment of motherhood, as I support my eldest biological child into college (my older daughters did not choose to go a traditional college path so this is a first for me), and have been working to wrap up initiatives and support others in my professional and personal circles. I also have multiple writing projects I’m working on, lots of them with people who are deeply important to me, going on consecutively. Fall conference season is quickly approaching. Oh, and I decided to start a new (part of a) study. It is all the things.

Not to mention that I am a whole human being, with feelings (lots of them), limits (working on them), and only so much energy.

So this week, after my third consecutive 14-hour Wednesday, I kinda hit a wall.

Or an ocean.

I mean, something in my path that stopped me (insert your favorite nature metaphor here).

If I’m being completely honest, I began to rapidly approach the wall/ocean/ inserted metaphor last week, feeling a deep sadness & loneliness, in spite of being surrounded by people and all the things there are to do. I was not taking a moment to pause and be with myself, to nourish myself in the light of those I care deeply for and love the most. I was just pushing forward without care or acknowledgment of what I was experiencing, without pause.

Urgency doesn’t bring, bridge, or build community.

I knew it was bad (good? making its own space for itself?) when I cried in a meeting with our new department chair, the third time that week that tears welled up in front of my computer.

Still, I felt compelled to work over the long weekend. That compulsion often comes up when I’m feeling out of control, a remnant of years where professional/ academic accomplishments were the only consistent validation in my life.

But this week, after Wednesday’s exhaustion, I couldn’t keep pushing on.

So yesterday and today, I am pacing myself. I am reminding myself that the work I need to do, especially the work that involves writing and femtoring, requires my full self, and my full self requires time, breath, and the modeling of wholeness (and regathering) that is not on a defined timeline. There will still be things that get done, but I am breathing into them, rather than rushing through them, and I am working on being willing to let some of them go, if they are not for this moment.

I am working on this. I am still highly imperfect at it, but I’m sharing this as a work in progress because that is a part of the life and times of an evolving academic, I suppose, and more importantly, it is part of the life and times of an evolving human.

What Is Often Unseen

This week on Twitter, there’s been an ongoing debate about mental health days and what qualifies one to take a mental health day, considering the burden that it may place on one’s colleagues.

First, let me begin by saying that it is not up to individuals, nor should it ever be, to be responsible for systems that are not able to incentivize or support enough substitute teachers to be present when teachers take time off. As an educational leader in a higher education setting, I recently had an instructor approach me and ask what would happen if she needed to leave a course mid-semester. I honestly didn’t know, but I told her, if that was the case we’d figure it out. She ended up staying as we talked through possible shift that could make the course workable for her to continue, but had she left, it would have been my responsibility to figure another arrangement to make sure that students got the instruction they needed. That’s my job as a leader, to support the instructors in my department and to make sure students are getting what they need, which is sometimes less than ideal, but we do the best we can in the circumstances that we have.

Beyond this, however, the conversation on mental health days was extremely triggering to me and it took me a few days to realize why. At first I thought it was because I am a fierce defender of teachers, particularly teachers with whom I’m personally connected and those who have shared their stories in my research, who are going through so much suffering right now.

And that’s true, that does upset me, but there is a very personal layer to this story as well.

I have always been a performer and someone who compartmentalizes. After my son was born, I went back to the classroom less than 4 weeks after his birth (when my sick time had been exhausted) because I was deeply concerned that the subs that my students had were not supporting their learning. I planned all the lessons while I was out, continued to grade work, and refused to consider temporary disability to stay home with him until he could get his two and four month vaccines before he went into daycare.

The week after he entered an infant daycare, he got extremely sick, and because I was poorly insured at the time, my entire income for the rest of the academic year went to paying his ER visit (on top of what it had cost of labor and delivery). At the time, I was also supporting my two older (adopted) daughters with the transition that came following my son’s birth. I was exhausted and began losing significant amounts of weight.

I put everyone ahead of myself, particularly my students & colleagues and my children. I normalized and justified this, but over time these choices had devastating consequences.

Two years later, after my oldest daughter had a serious mental health crisis, and I was trying to deal with a continually tenuous financial situation which led me to work my full time job and 4 additional part time gigs, the academic job market (and finishing a dissertation), a toddler, and a second teenager, I hit a wall.

I entered the hospital at an incredibly low weight and was admitted to an inpatient eating disorder treatment program, which after 10 days was stepped down to intensive outpatient treatment.

During this whole time, I was trying to keep teaching a university class (which the instructor of record pulled from me because I was hospitalized for the first section) and get back to my classroom as soon as I could despite a medical leave note that had me out for 10 weeks. I still tried to send lesson plans and keep up with my students. At the time, I let some follow me on Facebook, and I sent a notice to please try to be good for the subs and that I’d be back as soon as I could.

A parent saw my Facebook post and called the principal saying that if I was well enough to be on social media then surely, I wasn’t that sick and should have been at school teaching their child. The administration notified me that maybe I shouldn’t post anything while I was out.

I understand the parent’s concern. I know the kiddos in my class that year didn’t get my best, but I was completely devastated that a post made on social media, which was my only real connection to the world outside and my world (my students), had been taken to mean that I was fine, perfectly healthy, and faking my sickness to avoid teaching these children that I loved deeply. I was also so sad that I was being asked to take myself away from what had been a lifeline for me, during a time of extreme isolation.

At the time, I was incredibly mentally and physically vulnerable. The parent’s comment broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit. It could not have been further from the truth in characterizing how invested I was in my profession and my classroom. It has been nearly 15 years since that incident, but I still remember it. I was so sick, but to the outside world, or at least to this parent, it seemed like I was sitting on social media, chilling out, and collecting a paycheck while those around me tried to cover the slack I had left behind.

We don’t always know people’s stories. We don’t have a right to them.

But we can hold space for the humanity of teachers who are trying their best to stay in this profession and maintain their love for teaching, students, and education generally. We can come from a place that assumes that most people are trying the very best that they can with what resources they have in the moment that they make choices. Sure, there will always be counterexamples, but I believe that they are exceptions rather than the rule.

I hope we’ll move away from shame culture and assumptions based on single social media posts and towards building sustainable educational systems that affirm the humanity of everyone who is within them. But it’s much harder to build when we feel broken, when trust is broken, and when you are building on a foundation that is cracked, or when we continue to hold on to being right about a person or people instead of trying to see their humanity.

Let’s hold on to each other, take care of one another and give one another the space and trust to know that we’re really always just trying to do the best we can.

Justice as Praxis in Education (Day 1): Preparing a Place, Holding Space & Creating Magic from the Margins

purple smoke

I have the privilege of being a part of a small community gathering of educators looking at what justice as praxis in education might look like, feel like, be like? How can we create spaces for theorizing justice & building pedagogies of justice? How can we reclaim justice as a fundamental right? How can we move away from our individual notions of winning and towards a collective healing that can only be realized when basic justice is a reality in education and in the world?

I want to share my privilege with those who may read these words because even in the past 8 hours, I feel an important shift, multiple important reminders of what the work of justice actually looks like, feels like, is, for me. And while there are certainly fundamentals of justice, as the powerful Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings reminded us in today’s open conference keynote, there is also a balance in finding one’s role in the work of justice, one’s place within a greater, beloved community.

The day began with a powerful restorative circle led by Dr. Maisha T. Winn, someone who is dear to me and my heart. Dr. Winn asked us first to consider and share who we are and why we are here in a virtual circle where everyone spoke in turn. These seem like simple questions, but they are profound. They ground my work in justice, in research, in education. She then asked us to consider the idea of pandemic as a portal, from the work of Arundhati Roy. If pandemic is a portal, what are we moving away from? What are we moving towards?

I am moving away from invisibility, fear, obligation, and a need to justify & prove my worth.

I am moving towards freedom, community & generosity.

From that grounding, the power of theorizing justice imperatives from Drs. Grace D. Player & Justin A. Coles. Dr. Player brought us first into a meditation on justice and challenged us (but it was a real challenge for me) to visually do work that heals, bringing creativity & artistic acts as a part of theory making.

people on a hill

Dr. Coles had us consider the outer-spaces and what it would look like to image our communities. What does it look like to radically dream and live abundantly? How do we speak back to a culture where darker people suffer most? How can be create alternative realities? 
My outer-space

Who comes into these spaces with us? Who is excluded from these spaces? What parts of ourselves show up & are held back?

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings was, as I mentioned, the lunch lecture, and everyone should just listen to and bask in her beautiful wisdom and brilliance. I live-tweeted her lecture, but here are some of the parts of her lecture that most profoundly impacted me:

In the afternoon, the second workshop session was led by Drs. Theda Gibbs Grey & Dywanna Smith on promoting pedagogical justice.

I was struck by the way Dr. Gibbs Grey began with the reminder that we are here because of our ancestors, our foremothers, a theme for me. How do we hold space for Black girls, in and beyond classroom spaces? How do we identify and address structures that render Black girls invisible, as pedagogy? Who do we give up on? Allow to fail? Provoke to disengage? And how do we transform this in our teaching and advocacy?

Dr. Smith then began with love letters to those who carried her, leading us through a journey from the damage of ingesting dominant ideologies to claiming the power of her voice. As educators, teacher educators, humans, we must constantly move beyond the damage dominant ideologies create to co-create sanctuary spaces for Black girls like she was, using writing as a tool for catharsis and justice to make magic. What good is gaining tenure if we lose our souls?

Before we broke for reflection, Dr. Gibbs Grey referred to “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo and the Biblical line, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

What places are we supporting teachers to create for students? What places do we create for students? How can we enact pedagogies of love that honor the full humanity of students we are blessed to have in our lives?

Stay tuned for what’s next…

Uncharted Waters (Final Reflection Fall 2020)

Dark sunset over water

Just over 10 months ago, I accepted a new position.

Just over 9 months ago, the world, and with it the educational world that I had previously known, completely shifted.

6 months and 3 weeks ago, I started a new position.

Just about 4 months ago, I began the fall semester, teaching courses I’ve never taught before, in a new university, using a new LMS, with new administrative responsibilities, in a very different educational world, with a child starting online bilingual kindergarten in a language that neither her father nor I know, with another child starting 9th grade, with everyone at home.

It has without a question been the hardest semester of my life.

I can only completely feel the weight of this as I look back.

During this semester, my primary goal was to make it to the end, to survive.

I kept focused on what was directly ahead of me at all times, moment by moment, facing directly ahead and moving forward.

I hoped desperately that my family would be alright, that my students would learn something, that I could contribute to my program, and to the many individuals and communities that I hold dear.

But honestly, I just wanted to survive.

To do this, I had to draw from everything I’ve developed over my lifetime that has helped me to survive: hard work, years of classroom teaching, my love for teaching and learning, an adeptness with technology, my partner who loves me wholeheartedly and supports everything I do, my community who reminds me to care for myself, my refusal to do less than I’m able in any circumstance, therapy, tears, and incredible focus.

I made it. I survived. My family did well, all things considered. My students reported learning.

But surviving has come at such a cost.

It is my first real moment to sit down and reflect on it all, the victory and the cost.

The Victory

There is always beauty in the growth of my students. They grew so much and brought so much to our classes and our community. I got to bring in friends and educators from across the country to speak to these talented future teachers. I got to teach subject specific methods in my three credential areas which was a joy.

My program co-constructed a beautiful collective vision. It can become our North Star, and move us forward towards transformation. I got to co-facilitate beautiful and powerful professional learning workshops with an incredibly talented colleague and friend (shout out to the brilliance of Dr. Kristal Andrews). I got to work alongside some incredible educators and future educators. I got to work with leadership that sees transformation as the goal of our work. We are building with the help and support of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. I’m making fewer mistakes.

While I try to limit the pictures of my (home) family I post here, I am so proud and grateful for them. They have somehow thrived in this time, of all times. My 5-year old has learned so much Korean in the last four months. My 14-year old and I have made a tradition of Tuesday-Thursday hot beverage runs and he has largely self-managed himself to an earned 4.0 in the first semester. My husband still loves me despite taking on a large portion of the childrearing responsibilities while working full time from home.

My communities have been a constant encouragement. Whether they are colleagues from my current or previous institution, whether they are friends and/or friends turned family, whether they are church family, social media connections, they have helped me, encouraged me, walked alongside me, loved me, empathized with me. I couldn’t have made it without you.

I am so grateful.

The Cost

I am so exhausted. I am spiritually, emotionally, and physically drained. I was listening to the brilliant Season 2 Episode 7 of the Black Gaze Podcast and the concept of taking on too much as violence against the self hit me hard.

To survive, I have begun in the last few weeks to read books for my survival: Healing Resistance, Emergent Strategy and How We Show Up and I have fought for my survival through therapy (individual and collective) and the message from God and the universe have been consistent. I cannot keep contributing from emptiness. If I am to engage in non-violence, I cannot continue engaging in violence against myself, giving away my time, energy, heart and life to institutions and systems without consideration for myself and my community.

There is a lot of unlearning, relearning and learning to do if I want to move past survival into a life where I am thriving.

These are perhaps the most terrifying uncharted waters.

But I keep being led here.

I keep finding myself washed up on shores and looking out at the horizon, but wandering the same ways to find something better.

I am not where I was 10 months ago, or 9 months ago, or 6 months ago, or 4 months ago. I am not where I was yesterday. I am where I am, and choosing where to go next.

There is power in choosing anew every day.

Tonight is the winter solstice.

Tomorrow the days get longer; there is a bit more light.

May it guide my choices.

Humanizing Practices in a Time of Dehumanization

I have been wanting to write, but things have been so hectic.  There has been so much doing in the last 2 weeks, as the spread COVID-19 has become a global pandemic, causing schools and cities to shut down globally and many universities across the United States, in the last week, to move instruction to alternative formats; causing many of us, as individuals, to reconsider what is “necessary” in terms of large gatherings and travel; causing many of us with privilege to recognize how fragile that privilege can be in moments of crisis.

There are so many things I’ve been thinking about in this last two weeks: the rise in xenophobia and racism against Asians and Asian Americans, particularly those of Chinese descent; the way this crisis highlights the vulnerabilities in our society — who deserves protection during this time v. who deserves protection when there isn’t a global health crisis, and why this is different; the importance of solidarity when thinking about people in the disabled community who, for years, have been told the type of accommodations that are now expected in the matter of hours are too hard or too expensive; digital equity issues of moving instruction online.

But, what it all keeps coming back to for me, is humanization in a time of dehumanization.

Yesterday, I was facilitating a professional learning session with teachers at a local school district when my university sent notice that classes were being canceled from Thursday (today) – Tuesday and that instruction would be moved to “alternative formats” until April 20.

I had been waiting for a message like this, but the timing and nature of this particular message, was challenging.  I had a class scheduled for 4pm that afternoon.  I am in regular communication with my students so as of Monday (two days previous), I had told students that our in person meeting was on, given my reasons (human–wanting to be together in community; pedagogical–wanting them to be able to engage with the teaching strategies in real time in a way that is hard to replicate online; and logistical–wanting to brief them on our lesson plan assignment and set them up for online learning which we had scheduled for next week anyways, given a conference that I was supposed to attend). But, I had also opened the e-mail up to them to let me know if they were more comfortable with an online, or alternative format, that it was available and they were welcome to exercise that option.

Between Monday and Wednesday, all university travel was suspended, and a conference that had been on was canceled. I also experienced a personal shift in my positioning towards this public health issue.  I began to think about the contact that I have and that my students have with more vulnerable communities. As my husband’s campus also moved instruction online, I began to think about academic staff who are continuing to work despite classes being closed.  I began thinking, through my own faith-based lens about how we protect the most vulnerable in our communities during a public health crisis and what is necessary.

So, flashback to yesterday, I immediately sent a message to my students to move instruction to online for that afternoon, but assured them that I would also be in class, in case anyone didn’t receive the message.  I asked that they confirm receipt of the message and access to broadband internet and a keyboard for the duration of the “alternative format” period. And, I said, that if they so felt inclined, some words of encouragement and affirmation were always appreciated.

My students were/are amazing.  They have been incredibly encouraging throughout this semester, in the midst of this evolving situation.  They e-mailed, and offered broadband and private space if others in the class didn’t have access, offered support for me, and offered encouragement.

We began class with mindful breaths and a space to just say what we needed to, to be present.  One of my students asked that we focus on something we were grateful for.  We made space to share those things (or not). We took a few more mindful breaths, and we began class.

We covered the content, not in the same way I had planned, but it was fine.  I have discussion boards to read and respond to this morning.  It is fine.  We joked and laughed together about my inability to make rice in a pot.  It was lovely and hilarious (don’t judge me).

We’re going to get through this together.

Humanizing pedagogies are still possible as we transition to an alternative format course.  I told my students that we’re ready for next week, but asked them for their flexibility as we move forward after that, and that right now, I think we’ll do a format similar to what we did this week.  We’re going to take it class by class, as the situation keeps evolving.  We’re going to keep relationships going through various online spaces.  We’re going to check in with one another.

But these things don’t happen without intentionality.  Faculty colleagues, be kind to yourself and gentle with yourself. Do what you can.  And, also do what’s best by your students as people first — make space for their voices, their feelings and their contributions. This morning, my friend and colleague, Dr. Raina Léon shared this resource that her colleague Dr. Mary Raygoza in collaboration with Raina & Dr. Aaminah Norris developed on Humanizing Online Teaching. It was both affirming and informative and I highly recommend it.

As I said in my TEDx talk, it is our responsibility where we have power to use our power and privilege to support those who have less in any given situation, to highlight their voices, to change our actions in response to their concerns, to do better.  This is an opportunity to do the best we can by those who are vulnerable around us. I hope we take it.

 

Grace and Gratitude: Final Reflection on EDSE 457 Fall 2019

The semester isn’t quite over yet. Grading remains. Observations remain.  Final meetings remain.

In fact, even when the semester is over, it won’t be over for me because I have overlapping Spring & Fall semester student teachers…

But, classes are over and that means it’s time for my final reflection.

12 hours ago, I was feeling some kinda way about the previous 48 hours.  I mean, I was feeling some kinda way about today because I’ve been feeling some kinda way about this day for the last 7 years.

But, life has taught me to ride the waves, to get it out so you can let it go.

To breathe in and then breathe out….

Mindfully.

In doing that, and in having the first moment in a long time where it is very quiet and there aren’t things to be done and I really just want to sit, write and reflect, with a warm cup of tea, I am finding peace, and grace and gratitude.

I am ready to think over this semester.

It has been an incredibly emotional, busy, exhausting semester.

I am super blessed to be surrounded by greatness.  People in my life opened doors for me this semester and I walked through them.  I started new collaborative projects, continued other collaborative projects, presented to new people, developed new ideas, pitched a TEDx talk that I’m giving in February, submitted some article manuscripts, taught some amazing students, mentored some others in their student teaching placements, led in some inspiring faculty professional learning spaces, helped edit a guidebook, pitched a couple of books, wrote a sabbatical application (fingers crossed), amplified Asian American voices in so many spaces I occupy personally and professionally, served in my faith community, served at my son’s school, started driving him to and from school more regularly, continued actively seeking out representation in books for my daughter, designed PRESCHOOL lesson plans (I’m a secondary teacher by trade so this is kind of a big deal), finished my second semester of Chinese language class.

Yeah, I guess it was kinda busy.

But, more than ever this semester, I centered compassion and mindfulness and tried to practice it in my work and my life.  I infused it into each one of my classes. It helped get our class community through a lock down on campus.  I was more mindful about representation in my curriculum that I’m committed to.  I was more compassionate towards my students and myself.  I gave us breaks.  I took breaks.

I tried my best….except when I didn’t, and that was new, but it was a relief, because actually, the world didn’t collapse.

I didn’t always get the results I wanted.  But that’s okay too, because it has helped me to grow.

At each moment where I’ve struggled, I’ve felt the support of my community, the deep love and connection of people who lift me up, who believe in me, who have connected with what I have to offer, who have connected with who I am.

In the hardest moments of this semester, my community has never let me give up or give in, although they have told me to eat and rest.  They are a treasure and I wish for everyone in the world to have community like this.

EDSE 457 students, this semester, there were many times where I felt like I failed you, but your love and support, your learning and growth remind me that we are all doing the best we can.  I love each of you, truly, and appreciate what you have to give to your future students.  It was a gift and an honor to work with you.  Thank you.

 

Reflections on Today’s Community Circle & Doing My Best

The items at the center of our community circle

I have pretty much been on auto-pilot since Monday.

I have been in periods of survival mode for so long that the last 4 days have somehow seemed relatively normal.  It’s a little harder to remember things. It’s harder to focus.  It’s harder to stay present.  I want to be on social media or watch junk television more. But I’ve been eating and gotten the things done I’ve needed to (even if they weren’t at my best).  I’ve been running and working and studying, even though all the things are taking more effort.

I’ve been doing the best I can.

Today, at the start of class, we took 30 minutes to do a community circle. I had been thinking since Tuesday about how to engage with the lockdown, and last night, had realized that after 6 weeks of explicitly working on trying to build community on a foundation of compassion and mindfulness, that a community circle might be the best way for us to try to give space to something that had broken the safety of our campus community.

We opened the circle with 3 mindful breaths on a 4-4-4 (inhale-hold-exhale) count, then I asked the question, “What makes you feel safe?”

Next, I asked, “What happened and what were you thinking at the time of the incident?”

We continued with, “What have you thought about since?”

Then ended our circle with, “What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible? And what is our role as humans and educators?”

It was not a perfect circle (literally, I mean, we just didn’t have the space for a 24-person circle, but also figuratively, in that there are things I likely would have done differently to open the space in different ways to more of the voices in the room), but it was the first time in 4 days that I had taken a mindful breath.  It was the first time in 4 days that I had brought myself to be completely present with people.  It was the first time in 4 days that I could actually feel what I had been holding in my subconscious (even as I wrote about it on Tuesday).

We closed the circle with 3 more mindful breaths.

As we moved the furniture back and transitioned into class, I felt like myself, certainly for the first time since Monday afternoon, but maybe for the first time since long before Monday afternoon.

Sometimes, the academic semester seems like a long exercise in survival, moving from one thing to the next without a moment to stop and be present, and be in community. Monday’s lockdown just heightened that feeling.

But today, I am reminded of the power of community, in the form of imperfectly facilitated community circles, in the form of so much still there, in the form of texts and tweets and hugs.  I am reminded of the power of breath and of our stories, to bring us back to ourselves, to remind us of our lives.

Today, I did my best.

Blessings on My Day 1 (of Teaching)

The last of the police cars in front of my house yesterday. Hint: They weren’t there for me

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the fall semester, my second day of Chinese class, and my third day of running (of my 11th week of training for the Long Beach Half Marathon).

I had trouble sleeping, woke up early and read some discussion board posts before taking off on my run.  After 4-miles and about 4o minutes, I was crossing the railroad tracks near my home when I realized that there were three police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck outside my front door.  I stopped to talk with an onlooking dog walker who told me that 15-20 minutes before a man had apparently randomly attacked two men on the street, punched a car window and tried to get into the passenger door of another car window before trying to enter a neighbor’s condo and being tackled in the bushes next to our front gate where he was held until the authorities could arrive.  I missed the whole thing on the 40-minutes between the time I stepped out my front door and the time I returned from my run.

Feeling fortunate to have missed that particular adventure, I went about my day, heading to Chinese class with my homework complete but confronted by the fact that I still struggle to remember tones and characters when writing.  It’s definitely still an ongoing process.

Finally, at 3:50 exactly, I was able to enter my classroom for my first (teaching) class of the semester.  I was nervous about this for a couple of reasons: 1) I wasn’t in the active learning classroom and since much of my pedagogy has been adapted to writeable surfaces, multiple whiteboards around the room (that students have easy access to) and multiple usable screens in the classroom, I was nervous about the activities in the space; 2) I was starting the semester with a new activity around compassion and mindfulness.

But, as students began to file in, I appreciated their energy, excitement (many clearly knew one another), and engagement.  We did partner interviews & introductions, explored literacy and then came to our activity around mindfulness and compassion.  I asked students to define mindfulness & compassion then asked them how they could be mindful and compassionate to others in the space and how we could be mindful and compassionate towards them.  We then did a snowball (anonymous) discussion, unpacked our mostly convergent definitions of mindfulness & compassion and then ways in which we could show compassion and mindfulness to one another in the classroom space.  Students then engaged in a conversation about why it might be important to start class in this way.  It was inspiring.

Our debrief board from the compassion & mindfulness activity

This was a good first week. It was balanced and full of community and collaborative learning.  It was a first week during which I was present to the many blessings of this work and life. I am grateful to do work that I love, work that centers compassion and mindfulness in teaching, work that broadens notions of the importance of language and literacy, work to humanize pedagogy and teacher education.

Hope the end of this week brings peace and presence to all of my (educator) friends.

Self-Care, Preservation, Resistance: Dr. Hsieh’s Final Reflection Summer 2019

Shoutout to the amazing Dr. Angela Chen of https://doctoradesigns.com who makes these amazing & empowering bracelets

Whew!

It’s the end of an incredibly intense 6-week summer session of my preservice Reading & Writing in Secondary Schools course.  And so, it’s time for my final reflection.

I try to reflect at the end of each semester/ course, in line with what I ask my own students to do, to think about our learning in our time together. However, this time, I haven’t blogged since the end of the spring semester, just over 6 weeks ago, because the last 6 weeks have just been that intense.

In addition to working with 18 amazing teacher candidates from a variety of single-subject specializations (it was a small class because summer school is expensive) in a super-packed 8 hour/ week (broken up into 2 4-hour sessions from 6-10pm on Tu/Th nights) course, during the last 6 weeks, I have wrapped up my spring student teaching placements (yes, during summer school because K-12 & university calendars aren’t aligned), been de facto “mom camp” for my 13 year old, written the bulk of 3 research conference proposals (and contributed to 1-2 others), contributed to 2 co-authored peer reviewed articles, begun work on another co-authored peer reviewed article, reviewed an article and a tenure file, written a letter of support and several letters of recommendation, been to my first 2-day retreat/ board meeting for a state teacher education network, co-facilitated the teacher educator strand of the amazing Institute for Teachers of Color committed to Racial Justice (ITOC), lost my dear uncle and gone to his memorial service, attended the year 2 institute by the Center for Reaching & Teaching the Whole Child and presented (virtually) on a digital equity panel at the International Society for Technology in Education conference. We’ve also been bowling, to the aquarium, and to the dentist twice with my 4-year old (she’s got the bad genes with teeth, sadly).  I’m sure there are other things.  I can’t remember them now because, well, I’m tired.

At ITOC this year, I was inspired to buy another Doctora bracelet. Last year at ITOC, I bought one that simply said, “Be Present,” because my goal last year was to working on being wherever I am.  This year, because I know that I am doing too much, I bought a bracelet that said, “Self-Care, Preservation, Resistance.”  This is such an important symbolic reminder to myself.  I have been doing anything but self-care for the last 6 weeks and have gone into full on, super-mom, survival mode.  It’s not only not good for me emotionally, but it led me to a 2-week cold, with no voice for one of those weeks.

I know it’s too much and I am tired. Actually, I’m exhausted, unmotivated and often on the verge of tears.

I know myself and know that I can’t give less than 100% to everything I do (I’ve tried. It just doesn’t really work) without a feeling of extreme guilt and shame, but I can’t really go on the way I’ve been operating for the last 6 weeks.  I’ve come to this point before and I recommit to taking on less so I have enough room to give more.  But then, things feel freer, I feel better, I take on more, and the cycle starts again.

It’s hard. I never know what to give up. I don’t know how to give myself more time for an extended period of time, for any reason other than exhaustion. I don’t know which hard lines to draw in the sand.  I don’t know when to say enough is enough, so I usually let illness do it for me. This is not self-care, preservation and resistance.

So, I come back to my class this summer.  This summer, I had to be flexible and adaptive.  It was too much to cram a 15-week course into 6 weeks.  Even with relatively similar hours, the cognitive load was too much, with not enough processing time.  I had to be true to myself. I had to cut things out in order for my students to get the most out of this course. In honoring who they are and their life commitments, sometimes, I needed to extend grace.  And, because of many circumstances beyond my own control, sometimes I needed to extend grace to myself. We made it.  Many of them told me they learned a lot.  Some of them told me it was the best class they’d taken in the credential program.  One of them told me it was the best class she’d ever taken.

It was okay to cut some things out. It was hard, but in the end, it was better, because we all need the space to breathe, and we needed compassion to grow.

This is my hardest journey: self-care, preservation & resistance.  It is a journey that, at one point, almost cost me my life. I don’t want to go back to that place or that time.  I want to move forward purposefully. Align my activities with my objectives, just like in the best lesson plans.

It only gets easier with practice, and with each mistake, I learn something new.  I will get it, in community, with the support of those around me.  I will learn because I am committed to learning and practicing until I get better, because it’s important and because I am important.

And I am grateful to be in a profession, and living a life, that encourages constant self-reflection to keep going and keep growing.  I will keep going and keep growing.

Self-care, preservation, resistance.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Keep moving forward.