Message from a Teacher

I remember vividly the adults in my community who inspired me to give back to others.

That is what teaching is about.
The passion.
The commitment.
The joy.
The stories.

As educators, we have a unique opportunity to share our empowering stories with students and communities, and elevate this profession. We must lead the charge and change the dialogue surrounding conversations about this profession.

I will make this year about bringing classrooms into communities, and communities into classrooms–creating moments–and starting a national conversation about how we can all be better for kids. Everyone has something to contribute, but we cannot do it alone.

Find your gift.
Tell your stories.

It truly does take a village.

— Jahana Hayes
    2016 National Teacher of the Year

Patient Safety and the Healing Power of Story

Recently I’ve been having conversations with nonprofit professionals in healthcare about improving safety in hospitals. This led me to two articles by David Bornstein for The New York Times: “Reducing Preventable Harm in Hospitals” and “Hospitals Focus on Doing No Harm.”

In his writing, Bornstein asks: “How can health systems be made safer when success means changing the attitudes and habits of health care professionals at a time when many are overwhelmed and deeply frustrated by all of the demands being made on them? What does it take to get them to urgently embrace new ways of working?”

One key factor for successful change is engaging front line clinicians in peer learning communities. This works best when it is collaborative and storytelling is at its core. Stories reveal small details in the work experience that can make a huge difference in the outcomes. By giving peers the opportunity to coach one another, their unique success stories become concrete solutions which, in turn, get integrated into new or existing systems. Empowering people to create their own improvements to the system will, in the long run, inspire them to welcome change.

Ric Elias, Atul Gawande, Ed Gavagan: Stories about finding meaning in caregiving, healing and facing death.

The healthcare culture must support these changes, and story is the catalyst for transformation. The human brain is wired for story. Cognitive studies have proven that telling and listening to stories enhances learning, memory and understanding. These are essential in building relationships and trust which is crucial for patient safety.

What does trust in healthcare look like? Nurses feel comfortable correcting doctors without fear of reprisal. Patients and family members are engaged in care to alert staff members when they see potential problems. Above all, doctors are more comfortable talking about change.

And it begins with story

The End of Life Teaches Us How To Live

I would like to dedicate this podcast to my BFFF (best furry feline friend) Buddy, a short-haired tabby. Yesterday, my partner Curt and I said goodbye to Buddy who gave us eleven years of his life. Truly the best gift we will forever cherish. If you have a pet or have had one, I’m sure you will understand me saying that we rely on our pets to teach us about unconditional love and generosity. If we let them, they can bring out the best in us as human beings.

Being with Buddy as he drew his last breath changed me. Now I look at my life in a slightly different way. LISTEN to two storytellers calling for a more heroic narrative for death which, if we let it, can become a more positive thread that transforms our lives.

Kelli Swazey, Amanda Bennett, Buddy

Kelli Swazey, Amanda Bennett, Buddy

What is school for?

On the heels of our observance of Labor Day, a series of questions come to mind about the meaning of work. One question I have is: What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money.  But it’s not exactly joy either. Scientific research has shown that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has presented two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.

Also on the heels of this holiday, Chicago Public Schools are opening their doors to begin the new school year. I can’t help but try to connect the dots between the meaning of work and why teachers teach? What compels someone to stand in front of young impressionable minds?

According to Seth Godin, the school system was redesigned to meet the needs of the factories born out of the industrial revolution. Students were taught respect and obedience in order to fit in, so they can do the same after they graduate and secure a job on the assembly line. Obviously, times have changed and the economy has changed. If they’re not training kids for a life in a factory, what is a teacher preparing students for? Is it still about fitting in? Reciting what’s on the text book? Knowing what’s on the test? Today, is it more important to ask kids to collect dots than to connect the dots?

I will never forget what my high school English teacher, Emannuel Leviste, said to me in our writing class: “Don’t fall in love with one idea. If it ends up not working, don’t be afraid to throw it out the window and start again.” His words have always been a pillar for me whenever I face a fork in the road. A great teacher knows what school is for: With passion, insight and love, to spark courage in every child to follow their dream.

Education and Story: Building Blocks of Community

In keeping with Barkada’s 2015 theme of education, I’d like to highlight an article that was recently published in the Chicago Sun-Times. Ameya Pawar, alderman of the 47th Ward on Chicago’s North Side, wrote an opinion piece about Chicago’s test-based high school system.

He begins by telling the story of his father living in Mumbai, India in the mid-1950s. His father and other students spent their childhood preparing for one test to secure one of a few coveted seats in the right high school. It meant the difference between spending the rest of their lives in poverty or winning the lottery for a chance of getting ahead. Twenty years later, his father immigrated to the United States so that when he started a family, they wouldn’t be condemned to the same broken system. Fast forward to 2015 and we find the same broken system here in Chicago. Pawar describes what this looks like and feels like for the families in our City of Neighborhoods:

Children begin to prepare for Chicago’s selective public high school entrance exam as early as 10 years old – spending hours on homework and stressing over earning straight As. Test-shaming and peer pressure are the norm. Parents scrounge together resources for tutors and admissions consultants. Parents peer pressure one another. To what end? Each year 25,000 eighth graders compete for 3,600 seats across eleven selective enrollment schools. A near-lifetime of preparation to get into the right high school. In a system which serves a few and neglects the whole.

And so, like many families, Pawar’s father once again decided to move his elsewhere to seek out stability and equity, fleeing to the suburbs to find a stable neighborhood K-12 system.

According to Pawar, “Chicago is doing itself a tremendous disservice by replicating an educational pattern that helped force my family out of India. The narrow focus on selective enrollment high schools is stressing families, harming neighborhood high schools, and undermining long-term growth in Chicago.”

Urban education reform treats schools like businesses, but we know that most businesses fail. Pawar’s vision for Chicago’s educational system is where schools are the starting point for neighborhoods to come together and make change happen, because everyone has some vested interest in making sure that their schools are doing well.

He describes this initiative as having three pillars:

  • Organize around the schools and change the dialogue in order to change the perception of neighborhood high schools
  • Generate conversations one household at a time and connect these conversations to a plan
  • Build community around the plan

For a community-driven initiative like this to be successful, the leaders have to be ready to do a lot of listening. By getting people to share stories with one another, they begin to realize that they are dealing with the same challenges and they all want the same thing for their children. They begin to realize that they will be more successful if they work together to make change happen around their schools to achieve stability and equity.