On Teaching After an Election

Teachers across the nation are asking: How do I possibly show up in my classes and for my students over the next couple of days and weeks? In considering the current results of the elections — with so much still unknown and with so many of us with an already near-empty gas tank — it will be difficult to show up as an educator today and in the days to come if you do not take care of yourself. We must then — as educators — find ways to support and care for one another as we each make our own meaning of the results.

In terms of working with students, though, and as we imagine how to be in conversation with them, Leadership + Design posed a question that is imperative to consider: Is sharing your own happiness or grief in service to that student, or is in service to you? Let us consider how we might be in service to our students.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to sit on a panel with Nicole Furlonge. Furlonge is a scholar, educational leader, and author of Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature. In her book, she wrote:

We are a nation of talk. When we cast our votes, we describe doing so as a way to have our voice heard. We emerged as a nation by declaring our independence. Yet we have developed a speaking voice at the expense of listening with a public purpose. We are unaware of the conversations we miss when we speak. And we tire of the conversations that do not immediately confirm our worldview, particularly those discussions concerning race and other social differences.

Last night and early this morning — as 12:00am became 1:00, as 2:00 became 3:00, and then as the light of today crept into my living room where I sat in front of my computer, watching the results — Furlonge’s words echoed in my head and in my heart. With her words in mind, I considered how to show up today. I then begin to consider the responses I had read to the 2016 election. I had then, out of both curiosity and what felt like a deep need, read every response in 2016 I could find by a school leader after the results came in, searching for meaning and for action. John Palfrey’s response was, in my mind, one of the best. In it he wrote:

What I believe is that there must be a point at which the tolerant are allowed to be intolerant of those who are intolerant. Our study of history points to many examples when it was a terrible mistake to tolerate intolerance for too long. This is the paradox of tolerance — and it is much on my mind today. Each one of us must find for ourselves that point. For me, that point is here, where I insist that we value all our students and their well-being equally.

What he asks is not easy, as we each are undoubtedly responding and reacting ourselves, likely in profound ways. The way forward, I believe, in terms of valuing each student and each other right now, is through listening.

“Listening,” Furlong writes, is “as a practice of social, public, and civic citizenship.”

So what do we do today and in the days to come with our students? Create spaces to listen. This does not mean foregoing your class planning: it is fine to analyze Balzac or integrate polynomials or build statistical models or interrogate the ethics of food. But if you choose to engage with students in conversations about the election (and it is your choice), do consider the question: Is sharing your own happiness or grief in service to that student, or is in service to you? Arguably the best way to be curious, courageous and compassionate is to listen.

It is my belief that to fully live our mission — and by that I mean leading with curiosity, courage and compassion — each student must feel seen and heard in the days to come. Let us all have the strength to listen. And let us lean on one another in the days and weeks ahead to give one another the strength needed so that we can be in service to our students.