Teaching as Creation of an Ethical Space
I’m inspired by the notion of teaching, at any level and in any classroom, as the creation of an ethical space.
Dawn Zinga writes of this ethical space as it pertains to Indigenous students in higher education. It is both concept and action. It is both discourse and change-making. I assert it is a hopeful stance every classroom teacher can take to advance the common good.
Creating an ethical space is an almost neutral space, like the space between two people sitting together on a park bench (Ermine, 2005). Within this space, we actively question our systems’ knowledge, worldviews, assumptions, intentions, and actions. Are we querying our own sexism, racism, ableism, and colonialism? Are we disrupting the power structures?
My biases (even the language I ignorantly or inadvertently use) cannot be taken off like a coat, they are woven into me, informing who I am and how I choose to act. I am responsible for engaging with the fabric of my being and reorienting it to a more equitable and ethical future.
As many of you know, I’ve spent 15 years leading the literacy equity charity I founded, Niteo. This initiative, both grassroots and humble, has been a landscape of learning for me. In these spaces, the disparity is laid bare with vulgarity. I see the desks and windows, the posters and tin roofs, and I see the children. The power injustices are clear and evident. While I am not a saviour, I will eternally be an advocate for educational access, literacy equity, and a common future for us all.
In the UNESCO publication, Reimagining Our Futures, our mission is validated,
“The new social contract must be framed by the right to education throughout life and a commitment to education as a public and a common good if it is to help us build pathways to socially, economically, and environmentally just and sustainable futures.”
Teaching as an Act of Critical Hope
Teaching is ultimately an act of hope. I was inspired again when I came across this Edutopia article, Why I Keep Teaching and its hopeful message.
“No matter how difficult this work may seem, there’s a high likelihood that we are transforming lives for the better, often without even realizing it.”
In my career that I characterize as, ‘for the sake of the children,’ I am continually inspired by the call to create a new hope.
This week, a story of a child’s breakthrough as he came into contact with a horse was enough to keep me going all week. The patient equine therapist, the creative childcare professional facilitating the experience, the beautiful animal, and the profound learning happening in those small moments inspired me from my head to my toes.
As I am confronted with poverty, injustice, trauma, and more, I know the potential of my work each day is to change a life for the better.
I pray this is what Freire calls, “the announcement of what should be the drawing of your dream.”
Teaching as a Design Process
Human-centered, empathetic design is a creative, collaborative, iterative process filled with the dynamism and evolving practice we crave in education today.
While many of us feel comfortable in our routines and staid in our ways of being, I exhort us all to design for thriving this school year!
Here are some prompts for your consideration:
- What exhilarating questions are you asking?
- How are you infusing energy into your practice?
- What new ground will you take this year?
- How will co-create with your students and colleagues?
- How will you step into this highly collaborative space and design something new?
Yep. It’s messy and requires tolerating ambiguity. Yep. You’ll have to put on your own growth mindset cap. And, for sure, you will have to apologize for mistakes you make or missteps along the way.
But, won’t it feel refreshing?!
As I look back on my educational leadership career, my most gratifying years were when we set enormous goals and created solutions to achieve those goals along the way.
Nothing freshens our professional journey like designing for thriving.
Teaching as Cultivating Community
We had four essential journeys named: faith, worthiness, selfhood, and changemaking. But as I stepped into the stairwell, my brilliant colleague caught me and quietly entreated, “We talk all about personalization, individual actualization, and more, but how are we thinking about ‘belonging?'” It was a mike drop moment. Her thoughtfulness landed on my heart like a mallet on a resonant drumhead.
You see, as much as tending to the individual child, we are coaching and teaching children on ‘how to live together.’ More than SEL or emotional intelligence, we need a pedagogy of community, collectivism, and common good.
It emerges from our stories, from the lived curriculum.
Nothing is more fulfilling and inspiring as a teacher than fostering a learning community. Possibly, nothing is more challenging. We can’t have favorites, align with some parents more than others, or lean into our own affinities. We can’t see them only as individuals. We must see them as our community, our home.
The challenge and requirement is to collect each child and help them integrate with one another. It is an act of unfolding each one’s uniqueness and strengths and honoring them within the classroom circle. It is celebrating the process of working together and supporting one another. It’s creating a team.
I hope you’ll offer these frames to your teachers, inspire them one-on-one or in a team. Invite them to consider these four inspiring stances.
For the sake of the children,