Hope and healing

By Amanda Adams 

It’s natural for educators to spend a lot of time thinking about how to create the most impactful learning environments for our students. Many of us are fighting to correct the injustices that are showing up in our school districts and communities.  

I would like for educators to carefully contemplate what this means for themselves. Let’s consider what our work is in a world of political division, recovery from a global pandemic, and a continued attack on the rights of the LGBTQ community, people of color and women. Can we heal the world without healing ourselves?  

We have to heal ourselves to lead effectively and effect social change. In Shawn Ginwright’s new book, The Four Pivots, he reminds us, “Changing things that are broken in our society requires individual and collective healing. The most important aspect of social change is not problem analysis, power building, narrative change or coalition building—it’s healing.”  

We have to look at the structures causing the harm, and we also have to look at what that harm looks like in us. Without such an examination, those who engage in leadership can become toxic. If we consider there’s a leader in each one of us, then we all need to ask ourselves, “When are we going to heal? And how are we going to do it?” 

When we get stuck focusing on what all the problems are, and we don’t make the space in our lives to reflect on the root causes of those problems, it becomes impossible to imagine real solutions. Instead, we will be conditioned to only focus on surface solutions to deep problems. The struggles that we face day to day in serving our students and their families often pre-defines our dreams and dictates what we can imagine. That’s why so many of us have a hard time describing what a “new normal” for public schools feels, looks, smells and sounds like. 

Taking the time to heal ourselves creates space to practice hope. And as educators get better at reframing their conversations for change that is based on hope-filled action, we will be making a new kind of political statement rooted in love, rather than divisiveness. We will be able to fully control the narrative around how we best serve our students and why we are taking the approaches we take. I invite all educators to move from asking what’s wrong with our schools today to asking how we can embrace the lessons from the past in order to reimagine, predict and help create what the community wants for their children in the future.

According to Dr. Ginwright, traumatic and painful experiences from the past are the most enduring experiences to learn from, and they are most likely to bind us to the past. We often mull over the pain, discomfort and turmoil until it determines, predicts and becomes our future. That is how the status quo is maintained. That is how we continue to perpetuate the things we don’t like about our schools rather than propel us toward the best versions of ourselves.  

Instead, ask the tough questions that cultivate your ability to imagine and dream. Have the audacity to hope all while holding the key lessons from the past to best serve all of the students in our schools in the future.

Amanda Adams is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division and a coordinator for the NJEA ACCESS Model program. She can be reached at aadams@njea.org.