Note: I wrote this piece for my friends and family at my current school; however, I hope this speaks to people in all places experiencing the same, "Do I belong? feeling. Edited slightly from the original version.
Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you.Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about your struggles is the key to liberation.Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we can all be free. Love so we can all be liberated. The moment is now. We need you.-- Yolo Akili Robinson
What is my job?
Sure, there is a job description. Sure, there is a job expectation. And, yes, sure, there are job norms -- like, what are other people doing in other schools with the same job title?
I've even defined each of my job words into phrases: Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there.
But, for real. What is my job?
You can read the 50 page report I wrote. You can walk into the office and check out the decorations on the walls or the artifacts on the shelf or the letters students have written. Or, you can ask a colleague, a student, or a parent what I may have done to help.
But, friends, my job, at its most basic element, can be summed up in two words: human experience.
Simple human experience.
Okay, put aside your lesson plan. Put aside the class roster. Put aside the to-do list, the screen full of emails, or the articles that someone sent you as as a "must read". Put. It. Away. (okay, maybe don't put away this blog post until you've gotten to the end....)
Here is my big question for you: What is our human experience at our school?
I mean, really. Who are we? Who are you? Who are you at at work? Who are you outside of work? Who do you want to be? Who do you hope to be? What do you hope people say when they think of you?
For the past three weeks, I have been visiting faculty divisional meetings at my school and, well, just setting up an environment where people can explore the human experience. That's all. While I fully enjoy the pat on the back and the kind words of thanks, all I really did was just put four questions on some slides.
You all made it happen.
But, what I learned from these dialogues was that people are craving human experience. People are desperate to connect. People want to talk and want to listen.
We want to come to a place where work feels like play; where play feels like joy; and where joy feels like learning.
We want to come to a place where our colleagues think of us as interesting, as curious and as insightful.
We want students to say that "We are kind" or that "We inspired them" or that "We believe in who they are."
We do a great job with our students, but, have we done that for ourselves? Have we asked ourselves whether or not we create a community of belonging among our faculty and staff?
In these past three weeks of community dialogues, people have been left with "What now?" and "What happens next?"
Well, that's up to you.
Sorry if it feels like that's my easy-out answer or one that I just don't feel like sharing.
Friends, if you want to make a human connection, then commit to 5 minutes a day of having a non-work related conversation. If you want to make a human connection, actually stop and wait for someone to answer the question, "How are you?" If you want to make a human connection, learn and use people's names. Not just, "Hey" or "Hi" but actually show people that they matter, that they exist in the same hallway that you do. And, if you don't know that person's name -- even if it feels too embarrassing to ask all these months and years later -- ask anyway. I guarantee you that the next time you use that person's name, s/he/ze/they will feel pretty awesome.
Take five minutes and write someone an email with 2-3 sentences about something they did that mattered to you. Or, better yet, find them and tell them in person.
If you just read the first line in that previous paragraph and thought, "Whatever, Liza. I don't have 5 minutes," then I'm not sure what to tell you. I'm not sure how to help you get to a place where the human experience means more than whatever it is that is taking up 5 minutes. Something has to give. Something has to take. Something has to bend.
But, is the human experience worth it?
It's too easy, friends, to say, "The school has changed" and "It's not like it used to be." I get it. As a new member of my work community, I have nothing else to compare early-Park to now-Park. But, I can tell you, at each of the schools I travel to and even at my previous school, everyone around the country says the same thing, "There is just more to do and less time to do it" or "It just doesn't feel the same as it used to."
I hate to tell you, friends: but, nowhere feels like it used to. Nowhere feels the "same as it used to." I have yet to travel to a school where someone says, "Oh yea, the pace of life is way better than it was 10 years ago. We are so much closer and nicer and focus way less on academics and innovation!"
But, what if the innovation was that we became more kind as adults? What if the innovation was that we cared more than enough about people's day and lives? What if we showed an equal amount of love to each other now that we do when someone is sick or hurt?
What I most love about the people of Park School is that, even though I was a total stranger connected only by my partner, the people of Park School showed me intense care and love. The people of Park School went out of their way to make sure my family was fed, happy, and healthy (as best as we could be). It wasn't "The Park School" that did it -- it was the people of Park School.
I have been on the receiving end of that love. So, friends, what would happen if we showed each other the same amount of care and love in times of joy, in times of boredom, and in times of our every day musings as much as we do in times of tragedy and illness?
That's the human experience. That's the humanity that connects us. That's the humanity that senses we belong.
Peace finding that human connection,