George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

A Like-Minded Community: Key for Sustaining Our Work as Educators

June 12, 2013
Photo credit: eldan via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Who are your people? I mean, your people at work, your community of like-minded folks who make you laugh and appreciate you. Who are the people who help you muddle through the messiness of our education system and with whom you discover new trails to travel?

I hope that as you read this your people -- in the present and from the past -- come to mind. I hope you recall how you feel when you're with them, the acceptance, lightness, and rejuvenation that surges in your being. I hope you have memories of working through challenging problems, building on each other's ideas, and offering and receiving support. I hope you have memories of breaking bread together, playing Pictionary or some game that makes you laugh hard, and perhaps of walking together through a beautiful forest.

It's those people, that community, that makes it all worth it. That makes it manageable. And by it I'm talking about all the hard stuff, the exhaustion, the battles that we lose, the torrents of grief, the confusion, and insecurities. When we emerge from those places and recognize our communities surrounding us, it's manageable.

I have those feelings regularly -- both the ones that make me feel like I'm drowning, and the ones that jolt me with awareness that I am supported, I'm not alone. I'm wrapping up 18 years of working in the same school district -- a large, mostly dysfunctional urban district that includes some really, really good people. They are what keep me in this district; the ratio of Good People to Challenge and Dysfunction remains one that I can manage.

A Community of Resistance

As this year closes, I'm awash with gratitude for the team of coaches I've worked with. As I review our journey, my attention rests on the eight members of this team -- on who they are as individuals, and who we are as a group, and what they each mean to me. I have learned so much from them; they have brought and shared so much of themselves. I'm inspired, strengthened, and more effective with them -- what a gift.

I posted this quote by bell hooks next to our office door this year: "One of the most vital ways that we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone." It was my intention to carve out such a space where we'd support each other and also push each other's learning. While I have yet to engage in a deep reflection on this year with my team (we'll do that next week) I definitely feel that at least for myself, I fulfilled this vision.

I struggle with finding hope in this work we do, the work of transforming schools. It often feel that the transformed vision of education that drives me is so far out of reach, so unattainable. I read a lot on this subject of hope and one of the most useful things I've read is by Margaret Wheatley in So Far From Home. She writes:

"We are consoled and strengthened by being together. We don't need specific outcomes. We don't need hope. We need each other. And as we share our common journey, careful to stay together, we discover that hope has never left us. It is the essence of being human, always present just beyond the horizon of events and difficulties." (2012, p.161)

Lessons Learned

Here's what I've learned this year: With a powerful community I can do so much more. I am happier. I learn and expand and, possibly, I can transform. I can imagine many more years of work if I'm surrounded by people like Anna and Manny, Han and Noelle, Michele, Dave, and Rafael and John. Thank you, team of coaches. Most humble thanks.

And I'm ready to say this: If you don't have a powerful community around you, build one. Find one. Look and keep looking until you find one.

Editor's Note: Edutopia will be relaunching a new and upgraded online community starting in the fall of 2013. Hope you will join us!

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