By Ruth Hellams
We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!
Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.
The ALP Conference concluded on February 17. 2023, and now the stories start coming in. A team of twenty-seven—including eight educators from Tucson—were a storytelling team in Tucson. For the next few months, this blog will share the stories of those folk.
This is a story of many voices. This is a story of intimacy and vulnerability. It is a retelling of recorded bits of thinking out loud shared by courageous humans who spoke their passion and truth.
My notes are a coterie of thoughts. They evoke ponderings, reflections, musings, and ruminations. He asked, “Who am I? Who are my people? See me! Speak to me! Hear me! “Who am I? Consider, who are my original caretakers? To speak is a valuable privilege.” I could not speak. “We need to be willing to stand up. We need to get away from compliance.” The words were a call to action. “How do we show up for them?” An invitation was unleashed!
“Why not our kids? Why do you do what you do? Why this work? Why this way?” He spoke about anchoring the work and lifting communities. He said, “Let’s create a village of wisdom.” The room was a village of wisdom. “Do you take your words lightly?” Followed by, “What’s the noise in the system?” There was an empty space in my notes. Again, he asked, “What are we anchored to?” There is a picture of an anchor in my notes. It is tied to a picture of a boat filled with the word equity. He talked about hurt and joy as part of the same student’s daily experience. I drew a line with the word hurt on one side and joy on the other. A simple question noted, “How do we show up for them?”
The speaker asked, “How do we honor our identity? How are student’s identities playing out inside the classroom?” The speaker said, “Voice and choice aren’t agency. When we talk of learner agency, what can we highlight and amplify?” Seven question marks filled a space on this page. I heard someone say, “Feedback isn’t feedback unless it moves the learning forward.” This sentence is circled several times. “School is something I have to do.” Then he asked, “How do we change a legacy system?”
“If this were any other business, would we be going about it like this? What data do we have that says this is working?” Someone shared, “I’m on a mission to change school. I’m on a mission to expand the notion of school. We have a scoreboard for schools. Who manages it? The student’s voice isn’t living in the data.” I thought, “Where was the student’s voice in my data?”
She stated, “We must take ethical care. We don’t encourage risk. We need to take responsible risk.” Another person said, “There is a tension that happens when you want to be seen and heard.” This was followed by, “I want intimacy and trust.” Someone else said, “I love being here. There are like-minded people who care about things the way I do.”
He said, “We are at the center of our stories. Let’s change the role of student learning and be aware enough to listen to your students.” I heard someone say, “True agency is when students take charge of their learning.” Someone asked, “How do you keep yourself motivated about learning?” Then this, “We are raised to hoard power.” He questioned, “Why must students be at the center?” I wrote, “You learn the work by doing the work.”
He asked, “How do you create an anchor? How do you ground your work?” Someone said, “We give each other support. We support each other’s ideas.” The listening journey ends with this, “When it comes, and it will come, we will need your stories.”
About the Storyteller
Ruth Hellams is a retired school administrator and currently serves as an educational consultant and adjunct professor. She received her Educational Doctorate in Leadership from the University of California San Diego/California State University San Marcos Joint Doctoral Program. Her most recent leadership experience was as a high school principal at an innovative nontraditional public high school whose culture for teaching and learning is predicated on the principles of Competency-Based Education, Competency-Based Grading practices and the use of Restorative Practices as the foundation for building and sustaining a culture of excellence. Her work is rooted in the belief that the principal serves as the school’s Lead Learner, one whose role is to relentlessly focus on building and sustaining school culture through collaboration and innovation.