Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Order ≠ Justice

Adapted from an email I sent my staff after the first week of school at KPEA last week. 

I have a whiteboard in my office where I work out problems and jot down random thoughts on my mind. If you could see my whiteboard right now, it would show lots of unfinished tasks from this summer and some big ideas for this school year, including the short phrase, “Order ≠ Justice”. This idea has been burrowing deeper and deeper in my head all summer, thanks primarily to educator and activist Brittany Packnett who has written a number of times about it on Twitter (seriously if you don't follow her on Twitter I don't think we can be friends).

Whether we’re talking about schools, responding to protests, or policing in general, people in power too often value “order” above all else and confuse control/order/lack of disruption for justice. In schools, we are those people in power – as weird as that is sometimes to think about – and it’s so easy to slip into a mindset where “order” is the central goal. Too many schools in fact don’t just slip into that mindset; they proudly plant their flag there.

Of course, we know a calm, structured learning environment is essential for any school. But doing right by and with kids – which is basically what justice means to me in our context – needs to be what we aim for. It means we get to calm, engaged, focused, and fun learning environments not because kids are afraid of us or worried about getting a detention. It means our goal cannot simply be compliance. It means we can't think about our job as so tightly regulating our students' behavior that it's impossible for them to make a mistake- because by doing so it means we've also taken away any freedom from them.

Instead we aim to build calm, engaged, focused, fun school because students trust the adults in the building, they are invested in themselves and the work we do together, and they know we have their best interests in mind. They know they matter to us and we treat them as the young, but important people they are.

I say all of this because when I walk around KPEA right now I see untold examples of us leading and teaching with justice in mind, not simply order. We don’t yell at kids. We don’t obsess over trifling “offences” that really don’t matter. We don’t expect 25 7-year olds to all do everything the same way. We don’t confuse rote compliance with authentic learning and real investment. 

Instead, I see us starting the day with morning meetings that start the day off right for us and our kids. First thing in the morning, kids are singing and dancing, they’re doing yoga breathing; we’re playing Responsive Classroom community building games together; and we’re having kids share how they feel this morning. When kids are struggling in some way, we’re giving them 1-1 attention so we can work through whatever is going on together. Sometimes we’re simply giving a hug and some space. We’re giving kids options and choice and asking them “what can we do to make this go better next time? What ideas do you have?” I see us building deep relationships with kids and families already and when needed, making sure families are getting the support they need so they can support their kids. I see us asking ourselves, “what kind of classroom would I want to be a part of if I was a student?” I see students authentically reflecting on their day before they go home and setting their own goals for what they want tomorrow to look like. I see students learning about limits by having the freedom to make good choices and learn from the bad. I see kids having choice, freedom, and the trust of the adults in the building. I see us aiming for justice. 

I’m proud to do this important work with you all and continue to build a school that understands that we must never confuse order for justice for our kids.