Don’t speak about it, be about it. For most of us in education who center equity, racial justice and the like, this is our aim. We not only want to hinge ourselves to a set of beliefs and mindsets, but we want to live them out, in real time, in real ways that have a significant impact in the communities we serve. Certainly in a field where accountability is a huge buzzword, being held to certain standards and the expectation that we will meet them, is not news to most folks in education. But all too often, leaders or organizations claim to live by certain values, but don’t actually live out those values in concrete ways. In these cases, folks are speaking about it, on podcasts, mission statements, blog posts, Twitter, at conferences and a host of other mediums and platforms. But how do we know whether we’re actually, “being about it”? In our ever-busy world, do we even have, or take, the time to see whether we are or are not? How do we remain aligned with our inner sense of purpose, values and beliefs in a world that seemingly cares more about bottom lines and performative greatness? No matter how we answer them, these questions almost demand us to ensure we align our intent and impact. This is not only an important step zero, but a necessary one in this age of a “new normal” and beyond. Beginning with the end in mind, we need to understand that in light of our history and present circumstances, any desired impact necessitates a focus on wellness. And it is from this vantage point that we must set our intentions.
After centuries of oppression, Black and Brown folks have had to persevere through immeasurable odds that have only been exacerbated by the onset of a global pandemic. Centuries of genocide, land theft, enslavement, and economic disenfranchisement have imposed generational ills. So while safe space has been necessary for us for quite some time, it is of even greater import now that we are met with a global crisis that has been disproportionately taking our lives and livelihoods without regard. This rings especially true for educators at large.
Teaching is a rewarding yet arduous profession. Words like burnout, anxiety, undervalued, overworked and underpaid are not too uncommon in conversations about what educators face. In fact, many suffer from burnout before they can even master their craft. The pandemic has only brought on more stress for so many as they navigate uncertainty at every turn while adjusting to teaching in a format for which most have never been trained. For many Black and Brown teachers, these stresses are multiplied. It seems we could very well be standing in the shadows of an educator exodus, an unintended consequence of poor governance that would be a detrimental blow to education’s pre-existing condition of significant teacher shortage. If we are wise, we would set our intentions to get ahead of what could very well be another blow to a system that is already built on inequitable ground. In thinking about our educators, how can we best support them and retain them amidst so many layers of structural and systemic harm?
Harm, any kind of harm, physical, psychological or otherwise, requires healing. It requires space to center wellness and connectivity as an antidote to having to center the wear and tear of traversing oppressive systems. It requires safe space where bravery is a thing and creative solutions are the focus. It is the collectivity we have come from. For people of color, it is salve. This is what sets the stage for the impact we need.
With intentionality set on wellness and using our mindset framework as a guide, MindCatcher created Collective Support, an experience that centered connectivity and lived experience as data to support healing and growth around a pressing problem of practice for leaders of color. Beginning with our foundational beliefs, we centered on the values that matter most to us. Our core. Our why. What drives us and makes us who we are. Authenticity like this invites space for masks and armor to be placed down in exchange for connectedness through affinity, shared experiences and genuine care. From this space, we not only get to feel affirmed in our experiences that are often isolating and demoralizing, but we also position ourselves to creatively and collectively heal our own wounds. With our core beliefs as a compass, we shift our mindsets to support that healing process so we can get to the act of creating and implementing solutions in a sustainable way. Sustainability that can only be achieved by centering wellness as an embedded component of our leadership practices.
This is how we “be about it.” Without wellness at the fore, we are stunted in our ability to achieve our desired impact in the communities so near and dear to our hearts. Wellness requires things like space, time, connectivity, reflection and solution-centered conversation with those who bear similar histories, similar lived experiences and similar visions of an ever-liberated tomorrow. In this way, our intentions bear the truest fruit of all, positive impact that sustains through generations to come.
Dr. Patrice E. Fenton is MindCatcher’s Researcher in Residence.