Students learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic in school, classrooms are also where students practice their social and emotional skills. But how can teachers support a student’s growth in these areas, and should this be treated as equally important as more test-able skills? To find out, we talked with Laura Thomas, an expert on collaborative learning communities who has served for 20 years in the education department at Antioch New England. In this conversation, Laura discusses how we should understand emotional intelligence, the importance of cultural respect, and current attacks on public education.
Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about our education programs. And here is a link to the Master of Education for Experienced Educators program that Laura directs.
Read Laura’s Edutopia column about collaborative learning communities.
This episode was recorded April 22, 2022 via Riverside.fm and released May 11, 2022.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
The Seed Field Podcast’s host is Jasper Nighthawk, and its editor is Lauren Instenes. Special thanks for this episode goes to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland for their contributions.
To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org.
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After nearly a decade of teaching high school English, debate, theatre, and speech, Laura Thomas joined the Education Department faculty at Antioch University New England, first as the Assistant Director/Director of what would become the Antioch Center for School Renewal and later as the Director of the Experienced Educators Program, which provides MEds and certificates for working teachers. Her portfolio includes our PBL/Critical Skills Classroom concentration and its related programs in STEAM. Laura’s primary areas of study center on the development of teachers’ individual pedagogical approaches, social justice and equity in school restructuring (particularly in rural schools), resistance to change, and student-centered classroom practice.
[00:00:04] Jasper Nighthawk: Welcome to The Seed Field podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity.
Jasper: I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Today, we’re joined by the educator and scholar, Laura Thomas, for a conversation about how we as a society can support young people by fostering emotional intelligence and building community, both in classrooms and beyond. Have you ever wondered why it is that we have not just free but mandatory public education for children between the ages of 5 and 18?
One explanation is that schools are basically daycare. The school looks after children five days a week, freeing up their parents to go to work, contribute to society, and then we don’t have to worry about those kids taking up their parent’s time, taking them out of the labor force. That is clearly not the whole story. In fact, one of the oldest arguments for creating the universal school system is that education is itself key to sustaining a democratic society.
That argument goes all the way back to the father of public education in the US and the first president of Antioch, Horace Mann. He went so far as to write that “Schoolhouses are the Republican line of fortifications.” How do today’s schools prepare students to be citizens? So often, when we talk about education, we focus on hard skills. Did the kid learn algebra? Do they read at a 10th-grade level? Are they prepared to pass their AP US history exam?
This accumulation of testable knowledge, while important, it can’t be all that Mann was talking about when he called education the fortification of democracy. I think that it’s clear that a lot of what school teaches young people is how to live in a society, how to be part with a group of people who otherwise you might not have a connection to. You spend your days together, you resolve conflicts, and slowly, you get adept at navigating the society of the school before you have to navigate the wider society of our world.
With this in mind, I find myself wondering how teachers can be conscious about supporting students’ growth, not just in their intellect, but also in their emotions and in their social skills. That’s why I’m so looking forward to learning more about these questions from a real expert in the field, today’s guest, Laura Thomas.
Laura has been teaching in our Education Department at Antioch New England for over 20 years. Before coming to Antioch, she spent nearly a decade as a classroom teacher herself, teaching high school English, debate, theater, and speech. She came to Antioch first as a student. Today, Laura is the director of the Master of Education for Experienced Educators program. She’s also a deeply committed scholar with many publications.
Beyond Antioch, she has long participated in Edutopia, an online community and resource for teachers. Today, she’s a regular contributor there as well. Welcome to The Seed Field podcast, Laura.
[00:03:13] Laura Thomas: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
[00:03:17] Jasper: We’re really happy to have you here. I’m anxious to get to the meat of this conversation, but before we get into talking about education, these questions of how to do it, I think it’s really important that we disclose to our listeners who the two of us having this conversation are, especially because we’re just voices in their ears. At the same time, our backgrounds and experiences in society really influenced our own understandings of the world and what we bring to a conversation like this.
I’ll go first, I am White. I’m a cis-gendered man, part of the generation known as millennials. I had the chance to go to and get a university education and a postgraduate education. Also, on an economic level, currently, I’m housed. I have a steady income, and I’m not living with the disability.
Laura, as much as you’re comfortable, you don’t have to list all the same categories as me, but would you let our listeners know where you’re coming from in this conversation?
[00:04:13] Laura: Sure, sure. I’m Gen X, I’m cis, and I have been married to my college sweetheart for almost 30 years. I’m currently housed and have been in the same house for a really long time which has made me really, really happy. I am a second-generation college attender, went to public college, grew up in the MidWest. I was also a step-farm kid. My family has a farm in Northwest Missouri that we’ve had for over 100 years.
While I didn’t qualify as a farm kid in terms of living there full-time, I spent a great deal of my growing up in that rural agricultural environment. That’s where I sit I guess in the world. I’m also a parent. I have two college-aged students.
[00:05:05] Jasper: Thank you. Thank you for your service in raising the next generation. Thank you for sharing those details. I feel like those specifics are always illuminating as well, like growing up with a rural agricultural setting as a big part of your life. I think maybe it makes sense that you think of education as not just butts in chairs and classrooms but also a little more expansive.
Let’s jump right in. Today, we’re talking about fostering emotional intelligence and social skills and building community inside our classrooms. I think on one level, this seems really obvious despite my introduction. I think everyone knows that in schools, you gain skills in collaborating and being kind and interacting with classmates.
At the same time, our state-mandated curricula and standardized tests really universally fail to test for what we might call emotional literacy. I thought a good place to us is by just asking for your definition of what is emotional intelligence or emotional literacy?
[00:06:10] Laura: There are capital E, capital I definitions of those, there are capital E, capital L definitions of those. I don’t work with those as much as I do with the lived experience of those terms, because so much of my work as a faculty member at Antioch, is about the lived experiences of teachers and students and schools and families and communities.
For me and in my work, it is about helping learners understand their own experiences, their own felt experiences, and to make intentional mindful choices about their actions.
There’s understanding what I’m feeling and then there’s making a decision about what I’m going to do in response to that feeling that isn’t completely governed by my amygdala. That is thoughtful and intentional and aware that I’m not the only person in the world.
Some of that is developmental as we grow as human beings. We become more aware that the universe does not revolve around the end of our nose, but it doesn’t always happen naturally for everyone. When I think about emotional literacy, it is the process of gaining emotional intelligence. It happens over time.
[00:07:29] Jasper: Could you give us a hypothetical example of what it would look like for a student to approach a situation without really having developed these skills of emotional intelligence and what it would look like if they had?
[00:07:42] Laura: Post-pandemic, in classrooms everywhere we are seeing kids who and they’d been through clearly a deep trauma. We’ve been through a deep societal trauma and we just have to own that like that just exists. We do have kids who are coming into classrooms, their emotional literacy is two years behind where they are physically. They are sixth-grade in their hearts and minds, but they’re in ninth-grade classrooms.
The situation that they’re moving into has a lot of social complexity, it has not a ton of predictability. We know those are things that make it worse. When there’s a lot of social complexity and not a lot of predictability in terms of what’s going to happen, the brain is more likely to react in a stress-reactive way. Fight, flight, flock, freeze, appease, all that.
When we see kids who throw chairs, or kids who just get up and walk out, or kids who speak disrespectfully to one another, who commit acts of vandalism, who get into fights, physical fights, or verbal altercations, those are all signs of a lack of emotional intelligence and a lack of development in terms of emotional literacy. It’s really a direct result of not being with your peer group and not seeing the people who are directly ahead of you, and not having classroom teachers available to help you navigate what it looks like to be in this other situation.
Now, in a seventh-grader, here’s what seventh grade looks like and feels like because so much of what kids learn, they learn by observing their peers and by hearing their teachers talk about what is and isn’t acceptable. We have a lot of kids who didn’t get that. Their teachers did their best, parents did their best, but they didn’t get it.
[00:09:35] Jasper: I like that you recontextualized these behaviors that might when I was going to school it would be like, “You’re acting out,” “You’re getting a referral,” “You’re going to the principal’s office,” “You’re getting suspended,” and thinking of that less as a behavioral issue which is almost like a moral failure and more as a skill that’s been underdeveloped.
[00:09:57] Laura: I think it’s Ross Greene. I may be wrong about that. That says behavior is communication. When we have students who are behaving in certain ways, they’re telling us things about what they know how to do and what they don’t know how to do, and about how safe they feel or not. The hard part for the adult in that space is to not feel that as a personal upfront, it’s not a– they’re not doing it to you. Something is going on with them that they need support with and it’s coming out at you but that’s only because you’re the closest target.
[00:10:32] Jasper: It requires a lot of emotional intelligence on the part of the teacher as well. I guess to follow up on that, what is the interplay between emotional literacy and developing that and developing competence at other tasks, like learning math or developing good reading skills?
[00:10:51] Laura: Yes. Classrooms are systems, right? We’d like to pretend that they have neat rows and straight columns and that kids move from discipline to discipline through the course of a day. If they’re elementary students, we close our math books and we open our reading books or we line up and we head to music. In reality, over the course of a day, kids are interacting with one another. They’re interacting with teachers. They came out of family systems, right? They came from home and they’re still carrying that experience of whatever happened in the morning, whatever happened in the bus, all of that stuff.
When kids come into classrooms and we want to start developing skills, the best way to teach them those skills is to teach them in the context of everything else, because when you think about as an adult, you never have a time where you’re just collaborating, right? You’re always collaborating for some purpose. You’re never communicating just to communicate. There’s always a purpose there.
To practice social-emotional skills, to really get them, you have to get them in the context of meaningful work that you’re doing with people that you know well. In the classroom setting, that means taking that system’s view that we’re not just going to practice respect during morning meeting, or we’re not going to have respect week at the high school, which is something that I see a lot of schools doing. It’s going to be ongoing. We’re going to target things that we know that we need to work on and we’re going to really break them down into what they look like and sound like. We’re going to do that in the language that works for the kids and that fits into their cultural context. That’s really respectful of what is going on in the rest of their world.
Then we’re going to practice it and we’re going to reflect on it at the same time that we are working with math manipulatives or we are having free reading time, having our quiet reading time, or whatever it is that we’re doing in class. We’re not just looking at, okay, what do you know now that you didn’t know before about negative numbers, but also what do you know now that you didn’t before about what it feels like to collaborate around the idea of negative numbers to talk to a partner about that.
What made it easier? What made it harder? What do you think you could have done differently? Or you want to make sure you do the same next time, and then to be constantly reflecting on that. Kids understand what we mean. We throw around a lot of words like respect and collaboration and communication, but we never unpack them. Kids don’t know what they mean. They know what they mean for them or for their family, but they don’t have a shared meeting with us.
[00:13:36] Jasper: Yes, and with their classmates. I want to get into those meetings for this conversation even. I love that you brought up how a classroom is, it can be seen as a system. I think that when you think about it, it’s obvious that like all classrooms are communities. They can’t help being that, but I know that you argue for this term collaborative learning communities and really fostering those. I was wondering if you could define for us, maybe this involves a definition of what collaboration really looks like, but what are the characteristics of a collaborative learning community?
[00:14:09] Laura: Well, there’s an official definition, which I should know, but I don’t. The definition that I work from is that a collaborative learning community is an intentionally created and maintained learning environment that is dedicated to the safety and respect of all of the people in it. That includes the students and the adults in this space. Yes. We talk about collaboration as being the holy grail when it comes to classroom environments. It’s the thing that we’re shooting for. It’s not a binary proposition. It’s a developmental process.
To create a community where kids can talk to a partner about what they know and don’t know about negative numbers or discuss the mistakes they made on their math homework the night before, they have to feel really safe with the people around them.
I am amazed at, especially when I taught middle and high school, the number of kids that had been in class with the same group of kids all year and they didn’t know the names of the people on either side of them. To start by building this base of really safe knowledge and then moving to some very simple cooperation, cooperation is really just the tacit agreement not to get in each other’s way. It’s low level. You and I are going to work together to sort these Legos into the red ones and the green ones or whatever.
[00:15:34] Jasper: Yes. I like that you’re drawing that difference between cooperation and collaboration, and that cooperation is one of the steps on the path to collaboration.
[00:15:44] Laura: Yes. A lot of folks think when they get to cooperation, they’re good. In reality, there is this moment– Usually, I find it usually happens in cooperation where folks start to notice the ways they’re different, conflict arises, kids stop doing what we expect them to do.
Some teachers will say at that moment like, ”Well, see, I told you we couldn’t do this with these kids.” They’ll go back to just a completely teacher-centered classroom. This is impossible with these kinds of kids. I hear that a lot. Then we dig into what exactly you mean by these kinds of kids because there’s a ton of internalized bias and there’s just so much in there.
[00:16:27] Jasper: Yes. That’s a statement that really exposes about the teacher more –
[00:16:31] Laura: Yes.
[00:16:31] Jasper: – than about the students.
[00:16:32] Laura: Yes. I get it because it’s so deeply held that any collaborative work is reserved for gifted and talented kids, or honors kids, or the kids who are largely dominant culture affluent, kids whose parents have a high degree of education. Those are the kids that end up in those groups. There’s this way that, for a long time, this idea has been perpetuated that anything beyond the most really perfunctory level of cooperation isn’t for any kid except for the kids who belong to that group.
What we say then is that when you hit that tension, what your kids are trying to find out is can I trust you? Can I trust the people in this space? Can I really be who I am here? Or are you going to shut me down?
That’s where the teacher has to lean in extra hard, more reflection, more conversation about what it looks like when we do this well, and a lot of conversation about what we expect from one another. Once kids figure out that you mean it, you really are going to hold them to this shared set of expectations and the classroom is going to operate that way. Then they jump into this other place which is collaboration where they can do really extraordinary stuff.
Classrooms who get there, oftentimes the teacher will say, ”Whew, oh, I’m glad we got that done.” Then they stop paying attention and then it all falls apart. There’s a continual maintenance just like with any good relationship, right? You’re constantly checking in with one another. It’s that same check-in that happens on an ongoing basis to make sure that we’re still living into our shared agreements. What do we need to change? What needs to evolve so that kids get the chance to practice healthy disagreement, healthy conversation around places that maybe their needs aren’t being met. They also get a chance to talk about how do we fix it when somebody hurts somebody else?
[00:18:42] Jasper: Yes.
[00:18:42] Laura: How do we repair that? If everybody had those skills, what a different world it would be.
[00:18:48] Jasper: Oh my gosh. Yes. I love the way that you define the difference between cooperation and collaboration. I feel like that applies beyond classrooms. That almost can apply in families or in our broader society.
One more question just to really understand collaborative learning communities is when you go into a classroom, say you go into one classroom where this has really consciously been created and you have the full buy-in of the students and the teacher, then you go into another, which might be a more traditional classroom. Like many of the ones that maybe you or I went to school decades ago, could you just compare and contrast how learning is happening in those environments?
[00:19:33] Laura: Yes. I think one of the things– Just to step back from that a little bit is that– and this is tertiary, sorry, but it’s a little bit of background. I’m a big Yoga with Adriene person. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Adriene Mishler.
[00:19:47] Jasper: Yes, she got me through the pandemic too.
[00:19:50] Laura: Exactly. One of the things that she talks about a lot is this idea of finding what feels good. I feel like for classroom teachers, there are a lot of times where we say it has to be this way. This is what a good classroom looks like, and it doesn’t fit. There are yoga poses that I can’t do because I have steady little arms and so I can do the pose but it’s not going to look like anybody else’s version of that pose.
When I think about the different ways that classrooms can look, I’ve seen very traditional teachers that did an amazing job of building classroom community. Part of that was natural. Part of it was the way they naturally were with other people. They were naturally curious, they were naturally engaging, and they had a culture. They had created a reputation, I guess, as being that teacher that really liked kids. They still ran a very traditional classroom and it worked because everybody was equally engaged in the community.
Even if the teacher was a straight lecture teacher, they did it really well, and the kids were really into it. The kids asked questions and you had that great dynamic discussion environment. The kids also held the line on what questions you ask and coming to class prepared and not interrupting. There are behaviors that are just expected in this class because it was part of the culture.
I’ve also seen teachers that did completely progressive problem-based, what I’d call a critical skills classroom, which is the approach that we use where it’s problem-based experiential, hands-on, kids are up to their elbows in all stuff all day that had equally great collaborative learning communities. I’ve also seen places where people were trying to teach in a way that didn’t feel good in a way. They didn’t find their pedagogical best version of the yoga pose. They were forced into a model that didn’t fit. Then they did it really badly.
Part of that is because the teacher is a co-learner in the classroom. The teacher is a part of that system. If the teacher feels shame, if the teacher feels incompetent, if the teacher feels threatened, if the teacher is living one of those stress-reactive behaviors, then the teacher can’t be fully present in that space and can’t be responsive to the people that are in front of them.
If they’re at the same time under threat of losing a job, you have to do it this way or you’re going to get fired. The principal shows up unannounced and dings you because your objectives aren’t on the board. All of those destroy the collaborative learning community because the teacher can’t create it.
Then I’ve also seen teachers who really felt pressured to be very, very progressive. It just wasn’t their jam. It didn’t fit for them at that moment in time. They needed to shift into something that was a little bit more uniquely them, but they felt shamed for not being able to do whatever was the cool thing their school was expecting. They were equally shut down.
Teachers are perfectionists. Even if they say they aren’t, they are. We want the kids to have the best possible academic and social experience, and we want it to happen now. There’s a lot of discomfort with the idea that a classroom may not hit its stride if you’re in a full-year space until March. It doesn’t mean that all the work that happened from August to February wasn’t valuable. If you’ve ever witnessed construction on a building, it takes so long to get to the stage where you’re picking out paint colors, wood, and deciding what kind of windows. There’s so much foundational – rebar, concrete, and drainage, and it’s ugly.
[00:24:00] Jasper: I also think that the places where it can be sometimes hardest to see the results are those same places where the need is greatest because the soil hasn’t been tilled. To continue the seed metaphor, the foundation hasn’t been laid yet. That laying in of a foundation can take the work and it can feel less satisfying, but maybe in some ways more important.
[00:24:29] Laura: Especially right now, because we do have kids that are coming in. I’m not going to use language behind or ahead because everybody is where they are, and then they’re where they need to be.
[00:24:42] Jasper: That partakes with the illusion that there’s a single track.
[00:24:46] Laura: Exactly. What it does mean is that teachers who are used to seeing a certain set of developmental behaviors in their classrooms are now seeing a different set of developmental stages and they may not have the experience or the tools or the strategies to teach at that developmental stage. That is really hard because if you try to teach above where kids are in terms of development or at a different developmental stage, if that doesn’t match, then it’s even worse. It’s really bad.
If you’ve ever been in a classroom where a teacher talked down to you or talked way above your level of expertise, you can imagine how that shuts people down and especially for young people or for adolescents, for any learner.
[00:25:33] Jasper: I think as a guest teacher, in my own experience, I have been the teacher who did both of those things.
[00:25:41] Laura: Oh yes.
[00:25:41] Jasper: When I was starting out, it’s a hard skill and one–
[00:25:46] Laura: We all have been there.
[00:25:47] Jasper: I want to talk a little bit more about this very question of reaching students who most need this emphasis on collaboration and who could benefit most from it. I have this sense from being somebody who reads a lot, that there are many schools that serve populations that historically have had fewer resources that have been systematically excluded from education. Those schools, even to this day, are often ones that underperform on standardized tests.
A result that often follows from your students not doing well on a standardized test is that, the state will come in and will mandate increasingly draconian policies of forcing all the teachers to teach to the test, to teach out of a book and to focus entirely on these testable qualities at the expense of fostering community. I guess my question to you is, is this practice of building collaborative learning communities really reaching the students who might most benefit from it today?
[00:26:58] Laura: Wow. Thanks for the easy question. [laughter] I think that there’s some things to unpack in that and you touched on it. The schools that serve Black and Brown kids, schools that serve recent immigrants, schools that serve a lot of kids who live in poverty, who are experiencing houselessness–
[00:27:22] Jasper: Those are categories that overlap, but also people of all races can experience these things.
[00:27:28] Laura: Yeah and native kids, our indigenous populations, our native American students also, and you’re right, that our current educational system likes to punch down. It seems it seeks out with laser precision the schools and communities that need support. It provides that support by hitting them with a baseball bat over and over again. It is a terrible system. I know educators everywhere have been fighting back against it. For as long as there’s been schools, there’s been this pendulum swing.
One of the things that we try really hard to help teachers understand is that building a community, teaching kids social-emotional skills, it isn’t an add-on. It isn’t something that has to take up additional time in your day. It is something that you can do within the framework, within the fabric of your existing curriculum, whatever that is.
There are ways in your day to honor your kids for who they are, to make space, to get to know them, to let them get to know you, to engage in meaningful work together. Those are the things that build community. The other really important part though, I think for particularly affluent dominant culture, folks who teach in communities that do not look like the communities that they grew up in. There’s a huge piece there around unpacking our own definitions of what makes a good student, what makes a good family, what makes a good school? How do we define good in all these different contexts?
I speak from experience on this. In my first teaching job, I was hired to teach in inner-city, Kansas City, Kansas. My students were about 50% Black, maybe 20% recent Asian immigrants. Then a tiny percentage of students who were white. Then the remainder of our students were Latina/Latino.
I was pitched into this school partway through the school year and I was a farm kid from Northwest Missouri. I had not lived that experience and I’d never even driven in the city until I got the job. I had no preparation. The number of ways that I messed up in that job, sometimes I lay awake and just cringe at things, the ways that I judged kids, the assumptions I made about families because no one had ever told me just stop a second and define these terms for yourself. Then ask these kids in front of you how they define these terms.
Get to know their families and get to know the community, because a lot of the assumptions I was making about what was good didn’t match. My definition of good didn’t matter at all, what mattered was the definition of good carried by this community. As we were talking about things like communication, well, one of my things about communication was that you speak in a low tone of voice and there’s a way, and that’s how you let people know you respect them.
For some of my students, that was actually disrespectful, and that did not resonate for them. For them, if I had had the chance to be able to unpack with them, what does respect look and sound like in different contexts in your community, then we could have talked potentially about what we all needed together in this community of very different people that were trying to learn English. We were doing a junior level English language arts class, how are we going to do this together? But I didn’t have the skills.
[00:31:22] Jasper: Yes. Thank you for sharing your personal experience there. I feel that grounds it and also being vulnerable about this thing that you still feel look back on and cringe and I certainly have, I could share my own things that I lay awake at night cringing about. I just think that what you’re saying is food for thought for me and what you could have done differently. That’s really powerful.
We’re almost out of time, but I wanted to look at this question of reaching the people who most need this from a slightly different angle too, which is, I feel like this whole style of learning that does see the whole student and try and make them feel safe. It feels increasingly under attack here in 2022 as state houses across the country are proposing and often passing and signing into law laws that not only ban the teaching of critical race theory, which is often defined in these laws so broadly as to make it impossible to accurately teach America’s history of enslaving people. There are laws targeting social-emotional learning, and just straight up saying that’s illegal to teach in our state.
I guess my closing question for you is what is it like to work towards these more just educational practices when these activities are under fire and so contested in our larger society?
[00:32:49] Laura: Well, I think that there are probably a couple of different ways to go at that. The first is just to recognize that as long as there has been public education, there has been an attack on public education as long as it has existed. Especially compulsory education, even though it is foundational as the education is the key to a free society.
Experienced teachers have already seen this. They have watched this pendulum swing. Even in teacher prep programs, we talk about, if you look at the history, there’s a great book called The Teacher Wars that looks back on the history of education as just a series of conflicts. When students read that in their programs or they take foundations of education, they come into this knowing that there’s always been a segment of society that doesn’t feel comfortable with public education and has gained and lost power.
That exists. You come into it knowing that they’re going to just about the time a good idea really starts to take hold. Someone will legislate it and then someone else will legislate against it, and both are equally miseducated because it’s just as bad to tell teachers what they have to do versus what they can’t do. Because it shackles them, right? It prevents them from being responsive to the kids that are in front of them and the needs of their communities.
It’s also really important to understand that pedagogy goes by a lot of different names. Good classroom practice has been called a lot of different things. The creation of the collaborative learning community, building communities where kids feel safe, that’s basic brain science. Even kindergarten teachers, when you think about your kindergarten experience, your elementary school experience, every parent wants their kid to walk into a classroom with a teacher that’s going to really be aware of them and take care of them and keep them safe. That’s just basic parental – I think it’s a shared parental instinct.
If we work from that, if we put aside as much as we possibly can, the stuff that the posturing that goes on at the state level and the federal level, and we really focus on the people in front of us, the learners in front of us, the communities around us, and we take care of those pieces, then a lot of the stuff that goes on up here continues to go on up there, but it doesn’t impact us.
I say this from a place of course privilege, because the places that I’ve taught in my teaching career have been, even if they weren’t in states that were terribly supportive of this kind of education, they were places that either had very little infrastructure to chase after teachers who weren’t doing exactly what the state said or who were hands-off. I haven’t had the experience of teaching someplace where somebody might walk into my classroom and check to make sure I’m reading the same word as the teacher next door. I know that that exists.
I think that in those moments, really, we have to go back to that putting on your own oxygen mask first thing. You cannot be a responsive caring teacher who cares for the kids around you if you are not in a place that you are safe emotionally. It’s Maslow, right? I can’t do the higher level stuff, which is taking care of other people unless I feel physically, emotionally safe, and supported.
If you aren’t physically, emotionally safe and supported, then that has to be your priority as an educator because you’re not going to be a good teacher if you can’t get to that place and I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of teachers leave, honestly, because they’re looking around and saying, “I can’t be the teacher that I know I need to be for these children. I am not going to commit educational malpractice.”
Eventually, I think that the pendulum– I think we’re already starting to see the pendulum swing in a lot of places. There are a lot more conversations about what kids need and its emergency pedagogy right now around trauma and support. You can’t have that conversation effectively if you’re not talking about community.
[00:37:14] Jasper: Yes, so it’s swinging in a good direction and in a bad direction. It was the worst of times and the best of times.
[00:37:19] Laura: Well, I don’t know who said it, but justice rides a slow mule, and so we have to take care of ourselves as educators before we can take care of our students, and while that mule makes its way. Some schools are getting that. I read all the time about schools that are saying, we’re going to change the way our week is structured, the way our day is structured. Fewer kids in classes, systems where teachers can get emergency coverage like, “I just need somebody to come in for 15 minutes and be with my students so I can go take a deep breath because I’m right on the edge. I don’t want to be stress reactive. I want to be present, but I got to get out of this space for a minute to do it.” We’re starting to see that. It’s just going to take some time.
[00:38:08] Jasper: Yes Well, I think that’s a good place for us to leave it. Although a note of some, not ambivalence, but cautious hope. Thank you so much for coming on The Seed Field podcast, Laura.
[00:38:19] Laura: Thank you for having me. It’s been great.
[00:38:30] Jasper: The program that Laura directs, the Master of Education for Experienced Educators, is available at Antioch New England with both full-time and low residency options. We’re going to link to more information about that program in our show notes. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Lauren Instenes. I’m your host Jasper Nighthawk. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode, we hope to see you next time. Don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been The Seed Field podcast.
[00:39:42] [END OF AUDIO]