3 months ago

From Despair to Hope

No matter who you are or where you’re from, this pandemic has done some damage. It’s by no means the same for all of us and I count myself as one of the fortunate ones in so many respects. Yet even as fortunate as I am, every once in a while I find myself going down the rabbit hole of despair. Whether it’s the implications of the pandemic, political unrest, the rise of conspiracy theories, racial injustices, climate change and the list goes on. Then there are the stories of friends and connections who have been hit hard by these things and it becomes more personal. Some days any of these issues weigh heavy and depending on who you are listening to, reading or watching, it can make these seem insurmountable. You can certainly make the case that these issues are unresolvable and over time that mindset and consumption of fear and dread can lead anyone into some level of depression.

It’s partly due to our extra time to linger and wade in murky waters of sadness and negativity and partly due to the endless stream of voices more than willing to feed your fears, it’s at times difficult to see any hope or light. I can’t and won’t ignore these issues but I also can’t and won’t spend my precious and limited time on this earth wallowing in despair. So I think about what small contributions I might make to bring joy, delight and hope into the lives of others. I believe that’s my thing, some would say calling. My job is a great conduit to do that and no matter who I work for it’s been increasingly my MO. While on the surface my work is couched in academic pursuits around assessment, engagement, technology, leadership and curriculum, I view those as simple conversation starters to what I’m really offering….hope and joy. At times that seems lofty and maybe even arrogant that I think I can be a vessel that brings hope and joy to folks but while I’m not always sure to what degree I can foster that, it is what I think I need to do. My belief is that community, curiosity and conversations are the foundations for joyful learning.

When we consider how divided we are as a society in so many ways, I think about how we can double down on the unfair advantage schools have in bringing diverse people together. Spending any time on social media and even mainstream media there are few if any spaces where meaningful, intelligent and honest discourse takes place. Every approach I see is about how to denigrate and vilify others and bolster arguments. Very few reach a point of at least understanding other points of view. I recognize it’s complicated and some are choosing to remain vigilant in their worldview. Many have given up on those who view the world differently and have bought into a belief that polarization is inevitable. However, I have not and perhaps I’m naive but this is my approach and it’s one I’ll continue to advocate for in the pursuit of joyful learning.

Curiosity: For me, this is lumped into ideas of engagement and it’s in large part at the core of what it means to be human. To ask really good questions and wonder without always seeking solutions or answers. It’s also about acknowledging all the things you don’t know. I want to create spaces where asking questions, even ones with difficult and unknown answers take priority over what is known. See also the Dunning-Krueger effect. In some instances curiosity trumps literacy when it comes to reducing tribalism. Curiosity is fueled when we know enough to know we don’t know very much.

Community: This is the core of why we have schools. Not to instill knowledge or ever curiosity, but to learn and live in socially. Again, you can disagree but this is my belief. The pandemic is making this more clear. Celebrating being and learning from each other is a true gift. The best part of my work is learning from others. While I enjoy spending time with others who share my interests, I find it equally delightful to learn from those who come from a different space. This is largely how I’ve been introduced to issues and ideas that aren’t in my daily life. I’m grateful for that kind of community that challenges me.

Conversation: This is perhaps where curiosity and community merge. Once I’ve been able to share my curiosities and spend time in community, I naturally have a space where deeper learning can occur. That sentence represents an extremely complex and challenging thing to build but it is something I believe is what schools can do and should do. In Canada, schools are working hard to try and address the inequities and racism that our Indigenous people have and are experiencing. Admittedly, it’s not easy work but I’m grateful to know so many are making this a priority. And as important as it is, it is not just about a select group of people. It’s about hope for the future where we work towards a community that lives and works together with understanding and appreciation.

As naive as all this might sound, I do recognize it sounds like I’m seeking world peace. I write all of this as a reminder to myself of why I get up in the morning and try to design meaningful experiences for those I serve.I’m well aware of our limitations and my own small contributions won’t make much of a dent into these colossal issues. But I do have hope in pursuing a remarkable life, a life that experiences joyful learning through curiosity, community and conversation. I think schools can do this as well.