Critical Hope

In mid-July 2014, I had a chance to hear Jeff Duncan-Andrade speak to a group of new teachers about Critical Hope. This talk was my first time live sketchnoting. I learned the value of a hard surface when sketching due to the absence of one.  More importantly though, the talk reinforced how critical relationships are in education.

If you are not familiar with the concept of Critical Hope, it is highly recommended reading for all educators, especially those working in urban schools.  I sometimes wonder if I had heard this message prior to my first year teaching in Baltimore if I could have avoided the multitude of mistakes I made.

There were so many messages in his hour-long talk. For me what resonated then and continues to resonate in my work is the priority of relationships.  Without relationships, nothing else we do really matters. We must authentically start with the heart.  That is where hope resides.  "Kids don't care what you know until they know you care."  You can substitute kids with adults and this statement still rings true. Fifteen years of experience speaks this truth even if I had to learn it the hard way at times.  Building authentic relationships built on trust is hard and takes continuous and ongoing work.

Working in education provides a reflection on one's own self.  Each year, I learn more and more about myself due to my work in schools. Too often we focus on those things we can not control but do affect the lives of our students. These factors are not to be ignored but by hyper-focusing on them we can often fall into the "half-empty" mindset of thinking that will influence how we approach our work.  If we approach our work with a half-full mindset, it implore us to see the amazing, limitless potential in every child and act accordingly. If a child is not engaged in our class, rather than placing blame on the child or on factors we can not control, we ask " What are we doing as adults to ensure that the child is engaged?"  Then, we change our behaviors.

Duncan-Andrade said, "No Master Gardener blames the flowers for not growing."  As educators we must become master gardeners. We must look at our practices and our systems for how better to support all students so they can reach their fullest potential.  Just as a master gardener tills and fertilizes the soil to ensure an optimum growing environment we must build those relationships on which learning can flourish.   Just as a master gardener knows when some flowers need additional water or less shade, we must use the information gained from our relationships to change the conditions for individuals to ensure maximum growth. I am still working towards becoming a master gardener after fifteen years. Chances are good I wouldn't have avoided all the mistakes I made as a first-year teacher in West Baltimore. Probability says that I would have just made different mistakes. Regardless, the mistakes I made and lessons I learned from them have brought me to where I am.