One Year At The Table
One year ago today, I hunched over my laptop at my kitchen table with my friend and colleague Jessica Bailey, and we took the first baby steps to make a long-term, collective dream a reality: we designed the first Her Voice at the Table logo and masthead for our blog. Our dream was simple; create a shared space where teachers (and students!) could write about and explore the relationship between student well-being and curriculum. In my first post for the blog, I talked about how my research (called an Innovation Time Grant at my school) included teaching my 9th grade English class through the lens of a well-being and writing rubric in which the writing process and literature would be our teachers and our guides as we explored resilience, empathy, growth mindset, and voice. My purpose was twofold: I wanted to support my students as they tended to their own well-being during a very challenging school year, as well as explore how to make the oft-cited yet somewhat nebulous priority of “student well-being” a tangible and essential part of my classroom instruction.
Over the past two years, we have experienced an extraordinary amount of change and threat that often leaves us feeling exhausted, worried, or maybe even hopeless. Humans are collectively grieving the “old days” or our lives before the pandemic uprooted our traditions and our plans. In no way have we even begun to understand the way COVID-19 has altered our culture and ourselves, but our intuition that it fundamentally has, and continues to do so, is calling us to embrace a unique flexibility and a rearrangement of priorities to meet this extraordinary moment. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time wondering what this call looks like in education, specifically our classrooms. We are constantly asking questions like: what do these kids need? How has the pandemic and distance / hybrid / masked learning affected their pace of learning and their emotional development? What skills do our students truly need to help them navigate a rapidly changing world, where they have learned that sacred, safe spaces such as school are also uncertain and at the whim of outside forces? What can be culled? What can be kept? What has yet to be imagined?
We are en media res, to give a nod to the Ancient Greeks (Love you, Homer!), so of course we do not have answers, and instead are asking more and more questions of ourselves, of our curriculums, and of our goals and dreams for our students this year. However, it is in this dark and uncertain moment that we have been gifted by the light of fellow English teachers, math teachers, administrators, librarians, and students who all have invested their hearts and souls into exploring what skills our young people need to walk out of our schools and into the world feeling empowered and resourceful. Their voices this year have given us the “audacity to hope” and to dream and imagine, even on days when survival is the goal of our day.
Our American community is tackling our history, our priorities, our identity, and our future in a complex public conversation that requires empathy, listening, an understanding of identity, and a belief that we can grow and make mistakes. Our students need these skills, among so many others, to build their lives and achieve their soul purpose. So as we launch into 2022, we are asking ourselves, of course, more questions, and making goals that we hope meet this moment, and live the classic teaching advice to “meet (our community) where we are.”
This year, our focus at Her Voice at the Table is to continue exploring how to teach voice, empathy, growth mindsets, and resilience through our curriculums, as well as welcome more teachers, administrators, and students to the table. Maybe just staying the course and keeping the blog alive will be a wonderful accomplishment, and maybe giving ourselves that grace is the best way to stay well in 2022.
Every year I choose intention words to set the focus of my year and help me establish my goals, and this year my words are devotion and community. I view daily routines such as yoga, walking, reading, and meditation as devotional practices that I have faith will help me manage my own mental health, allowing me to bring my strongest self to my family, my friends, and my students. Through my focus this year on creating an identity competency in my well-being and writing rubric, I hope to work with my 9th grade students as we explore the foundations of identity, such as our name, our family, our neighborhoods, our race, our gender, and our faith in order to lay a foundation for them to engage with our American community on more complex issues relating to their identities and the identities of others. For all of the discussion about our separateness as an American people, I don’t believe we are separate at all, and we can only solve challenges as a unified community.
As I sit here on this overcast and chilly New Years eve morning, writing and thinking about 2022, I am overcome with excitement, and this is entirely because of the wonderful colleagues and friends who have been with me and Megan Griffin every step of our journey to build and manage Her Voice at the Table, including our school administrators and department members. These same colleagues are also supporting me as I begin working on my Masters in Social Work, a lifelong calling but one I might not have answered without Her Voice at the Table. Through my studies I hope to add more insight and understanding of student well-being to our discussion of pedagogy.
And to our students. You are living through the same pandemic that we are, but doing so as young people with big hopes and dreams for an uncertain world. We see you, and this work, our work, as always, is dedicated to you.
Kate Schenck is a collector of pigments and spices, dreamer, and builder of tables for lesser heard voices.