Diversifying Our Portfolio: Building Resilience and Equity

Wise financial advisors tell us to diversify our portfolio. It offers us long term benefits, reduces risk and increases the potential to perform in a changing market.  A fixed mind set with any bias for one type of investment over another can be our downfall. Everybody wants to prevent loss and increase their equity. After all, we invest in things that safeguard our future.

The same advice holds true when it comes to education. Except, in education we often work in silos. This makes it harder to diversify our portfolio. We get stuck investing in the same old approach. Sometimes we make decisions based on bias or we refuse opportunities to broaden our reach. The notion of building resilience and equity is interesting, but we want to know how resilience and equity influence our potential to perform. How does diversifying our approach lower personal risk and help us obtain long term benefits?

We also cling to the feeling of being an expert. Academics zoom in close and can conduct important investigations but when we have to collaborate with others outside our discipline, we get rude and impatient. Our nomenclature and our language just don’t translate. Schools are organized by subject and asking the algebra teacher to teach reading and writing or the art teacher to sub chemistry can lead to anarchy.

For these reasons, when I talk about combining mindfulness and social justice in education in order to diversify our approach and increase potential, I get resistance. I am learning how hard it is to communicate why going hybrid can be a wise investment.

We all want schools that are safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating, creative and well-resourced. But how are we going to do this unless we work together and consider the problems holistically? We need to address the overwhelming stress and anxiety attached to schooling. We need to be intentional about personal and social awareness, teach compassion and  intercultural competence. We also need to understand the inequitable distribution of resources and learn how to advocate. Most importantly, we need to understand how social-emotional well-being leads to academic achievement. Safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating learning environments build trust, foster engagement, promote critical thinking, improve skills in problem solving, encourage invention and curiosity.

That said, diversifying our portfolio or investing in a hybrid model can feel both exhilarating and scary. How will this move improve my situation? How will this approach benefit the climate? These are important questions to ask. Another  important question is: Will I enjoy the process?

Infusing our teaching with mindfulness techniques and social justice pedagogy is fun and life changing. When you decide to go rogue and start driving over those dreadful lines, you will begin to see the world (and the road ahead of you) with new eyes. For example, many mindfulness folks talk about Yoga and meditation. However, for some individuals like athletes, rock stars, gamers, and so on– the idea of sitting still for too long in silence or doing yoga in a studio sounds ridiculous. What happens when we start to talk about the role of movement and stillness in our lives? When we talk about discipline and the shape of our body, when we talk about stretching and breathing before a challenging exercise? We begin to expand our reach into diversified territory. Just this week, I learned about Bomba meditation! Bomba is a traditional dance and music style that originates out of Puerto Rico. Those who practice seriously describe it to be a way to reach a meditative state.

How are we moving into that sacred space where we go egoless and free? Are we sitting legs crossed or are we chanting, dancing or drumming?

Muggles, Witches, Wizards and Yoda

“Learning organizations of the future will be centers where Master Teachers and students study consciousness and practice manifesting ideas into reality.”

~Ríos, Mindful Practice for Social Justice

What would have happened to Harry Potter if he had not attended Hogwarts School of Witches and Wizardry? Hogwarts is the highly selective school based on a magical quill that detects the birth of magical children keeping their names in a large parchment book. There is no admission test because according to J.K. Rowling, “Everyone who shows magical ability before their eleventh birthday will automatically gain a place at Hogwarts; there is no question of not being ‘magical enough’; you are either magical or you are not.”

Harry Potter discovers he is a wizard while living in a very small room under the stairs, in the ordinary, non-magical world of Muggles. It takes a pack of owls, a flurry of acceptance letters and magic to free Harry from his uncle’s grip, who wants to keep Harry from his destiny. Harry’s uncle is terrified of what the child’s powers might bring.

Did J.K. Rowling tap into our greatest desire and our greatest fear with the Harry Potter series? Are we either magical or are we not? What is it about this select group of powerful children who get to study at a magnificent school in a castle that creates widespread delight and fascination all over the world?

According to Dewey, all children are born with powers. He writes:

The only true education comes through the stimulation of a child’s powers. The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education. 

But, what are these powers exactly? Dewey refers to a child’s natural tendencies and talents and also, to a highly specialized power of plasticity and adjustment, which is the ability to grow and develop, learn from experience, modify actions based on experience and develop habits and dispositions. In other words, the capacity to become something different under external influences. Capacity, according to Dewey, is an ability, a force positively present, that when looked at from a social standpoint, involves a fundamental interdependence.

Yoda_Empire_Strikes_BackYoda, the legendary Jedi Master in the Star War series is known for his deep connection to a force positively present. The teachings of Master Yoda are based on learning how to tap into the force by channeling energy and a training of the mind. What starts out as a seemingly simple mindfulness meditation practice, becomes the capacity to move material objects— in other words, the ability to alter the material world through the power of our mind. Watch this:

Why is taking a break from reality and thinking about Muggles, Witches, Wizards and Yoda important? This week, we have witnessed the unraveling of a scandal amongst the rich and famous for admittance into several top-rate universities. At the same time, in New York City, we are witnessing a full blown battle involving Mayor de Blasio over entrance into eight specialized high schools, centered around the notion of equity. Both cases raise important questions about fairness, merit and the purpose of education.

Perhaps we have got it all wrong. Perhaps we are wasting our energy trying to fix a system that is broken. Visionary Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting an existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

It is important to take notice of where we focus our attention. Are we channeling our energy to create the schools of the future that serve a higher purpose? Are we taking the  time to look beyond old mental models that have created the current situation? What I see are new schools that are designed to tap into each child’s innate power and potential. They will be open and accessible, magical and fun. They will be led by Master Teachers who will lead us through change and adaptability. There in this vision, I experience a positive force present, and a deep regard for our interdependence.

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Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education John Dewey, New York, The Macmillan company, 1916.

My Pedagogic Creed, John Dewey, Journal of the National Education Association, 1929

 

Common Mistakes When Approaching Race in Schools… What Should We Do Instead?

Race is one aspect of human identity that changes reflecting the politics and science of the times. Now more than ever students are identifying as mixed-race or do not identify with any race category at all. The latter is especially true for Hispanics, according to a recent Census bureau research. Racial categories, which have been included on every U.S. census since the first one in 1790 have changed from decade to decade. The biggest mistake teachers make when trying to approach the topic of race is not to recognize that race is a social construct. The actual genetic difference between individual human beings is only about 0.1%. The second mistake teachers make is not seeing variation within racialized groups. Teachers do their best when they design learning experiences that reveal the multifaceted and complex nature of human identity and offer ample opportunities for students to teach others about their unique cultural experience.

According to Sonia Nieto, a leading scholar on this topic, culture is extremely dynamic, multifaceted, embedded in context, influenced by social, economic and political factors, socially constructed, learned and dialectical. Further, she suggests that culture is not a given, but a human creation, dependent on particular geographical, temporal and socio-political contexts and therefore vulnerable to issues of power and control.[i] Understanding the interrelationship between culture, learning and how students construct knowledge is important, especially now when we fall into the trap of reducing students to fixed, racialized identities when in fact, a student’s culture is the total expression of his or her humanity—that which includes race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation but that which also includes other parts of who we are that are not always apparent, such as how we express ourselves through language and art, what religion we identify with if at all, how we communicate love, how we understand relationships and power in society and how we perceive, interpret and integrate historical events.

Culture and learning are connected, however fluid. Advances in the modern learning sciences have revealed that our brains are constantly shaped and reshaped by the interaction with the surrounding environment.[ii] Social experiences and human interactions that engender fear, trauma, stress, hate, shame, embarrassment, low self-esteem impact brain functioning and cognition. These experiences are endemic and indicative of oppression. Our country grapples with a long history of racism and inequality, therefore it is important for teachers to learn to pay attention to their own mindset and behavior. The goal is to reduce stress, build trust and create an inclusive environment with love and acceptance so learning can occur. In order to do this work artfully, proactive teachers adopt a practice to foster critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is awareness of the intersection of factors that contribute to a person’s identity, a person’s sense of well-being and their readiness to learn.

Three strategies to develop critical consciousness are a) take time for self-reflection and meditation, b) engage in intergroup dialogues on culture and class c) analyze human rights movements and d) participate in imagery-based learning activities to strengthen your brain’s ability to see the world with novelty (Siegel, 2007).

In my forthcoming book, Mindfulness and Social Justice in Practice: A Guide for Educators and Professional Learning Communities (Routledge, May, 2019), I provide teachers and school leaders with numerous strategies and tools for developing critical consciousness infusing mindfulness and social justice pedagogy.

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[i] Nieto, S. (2008) Culture and education. In Yearbook for the National Society for the Study of Education. Blackwell Publishing

[ii] Rose, D et al. (2011/12) The Universal Design for Learning Framework to Support Culturally Diverse Learners, Journal of Education