Koonlaba: An Eventful, Maddening Year…

I am a DreamTeacher Fellow with an organization called DreamWakers. This organization connects classrooms to professionals around the country. Then, the students in the classroom are able to video chat with that professional. My students have been chatting with professionals who use the skills that accompany art and creativity in their careers. This is a great organization. I suggest you check it out. It is easy to sign your classroom up. Check out their YouTube channel to see what the chats look like.

As a DreamTeacher Fellow, I have had the opportunity to network and collaborate with the DreamWaker team and other DreamTeacher Fellows. Someone pointed out Dean James Ryan’s prepared remarks at the 2016 HGSE Presentation of Diplomas and Certificates. This is available on the web. I follow the Harvard Graduate School of Education pretty closely as a regular habit. I’m signed up for all the email updates and follow them on social media. So, it is possible that I would’ve found this anyway. However, without this DeamTeacher network telling me it was worth my time, I might’ve overlooked it. I’m not one to sit down and watch (or even listen to while multitasking) a 25 minute video. So, the recommendation was beneficial to me in deciding to take the time to check it out. I hope you will also check it out with my recommendation. If you aren’t one to listen to such a long speech, the text is below the video.

When I heard Ryan say,

This has been an eventful, maddening, beautiful, tragic, uproarious, joyous, and hilarious year…”

I snapped to attention, mainly because I agree with him, but also because I could add a few more words to that list.

Ryan goes on to talk about some of the things that happened in 2016 that are specific to Harvard. Then, he talks about the “bizarre and unsettling political season” we have been witnessing. He tells the graduates that they are right to be concerned about injustices and authoritarianism, disparities among people and environmental issues.

This speech just started calling my name at this point. I have been feeling very much like there is a movement of denial and unwillingness to acknowledge that a lot of people have these concerns in this country. Talk about division.

It scares me and makes me sad. Yet, I’ve really been trying to maintain my hope. I’ve tried very hard to be intentional with my focus. I don’t want to become too depressed about all of this unrest and uncertainty. I don’t want anyone to do this. If we allow ourselves to become too depressed or overwhelmed, we won’t be emotionally available to be change-makers when we need to make change.

Ryan makes some suggestions to us in this speech. The first suggestion is to “cultivate the art of asking good questions.” We have to embrace the fact that no matter who we are, we don’t have all the answers. Whether you have three degrees and have studied at Harvard matters not. You still don’t have all the answers. We need to be intentional about our willingness to admit this. He says that we need to “resist the temptation to have answers at the ready.” We need to spend our energy on using what information we have to ask the right questions and to solve problems.

Ryan’s second suggestion is that we be good listeners who intentionally turn bad questions into good ones. Yes, he explains his thinking on how there actually are bad questions to address the cliche of “no such thing as bad questions.” He talks about hostile questions. I imagine we are all going to experience some seriously hostile questions over the next few years because of the division over the politics in this country. We may have experienced these already. Ryan suggests that we focus some energy on trying to discern the hostile questions from the clumsy questions. Clumsy questions can sometimes be mistaken for hostile ones when they are actually genuine. Sometimes they are clumsy because they are “motivated by anxiety or ignorance.”

Here is the kicker, and the reason I decided to repost this. Ryan speaks about how the only truly bad questions are the ones that are actually statements meant to be demeaning or trip you up. Often, they are designed to appear as questions.

I’ve been witnessing this quite a bit on social media. I’ve seen some mean spirited posts that at first glance appear to be just a statement of one’s beliefs about an issue. However, deep down these posts are meant to demean others who have different views, and I believe they are designed to try to get others to join in on this. If you really think about it, it is a form of bullying.

I’m willing to admit that I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. I would bet just about everyone has done it. So, we need to do some reflection and be much more mindful of what we post and how we post it when engaging in social media. It is hard to separate emotion from fact when we are doing this. I have been giving this concept a lot of thought, and as Ryan urges us to do, I am embracing the fact that I don’t have the answers. I am looking for answers and am willing to have discussions. Let’s discuss it. I mean it. Discussions develop relationships, and relationships are going to pull us through this turmoil.

This brings me to Ryan’s final suggestion which is that there are five essential questions that we should be asking regularly. Here they are:

  1. Wait, what? (Ask for clarification.)
  2. I wonder why? I wonder if?
  3. Couldn’t we at least…?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What truly matters?

I urge you to read the actual text of the speech to get the meat of why these are essential. I do believe, and this is what I want to impress upon you as I end this post, that we have to open ourselves to better understanding other human beings. We have to be mindful and intentional about it. I feel that the suggestions and nuggets of wisdom in this speech are timely and can be put to immediate use by all of us.

I noted earlier in the post that I was trying to maintain my hope. However, it really goes beyond that. Hope is a good thing, but we need to be thinking beyond just having hope to being actively hopeful. That is really what this country needs. We all will feel better about ourselves and our situations if we are actively hopeful. We need the hope and we need the action: being actively hopeful. Ryan’s suggestions make it possible to do this.

I also urge you to read, reflect, and share your thoughts with me. Like I said, our relationships are going to pull us through this. DreamWakers has a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King as a banner on their site. The quote really resonates here:

In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”

Take care each other, my friends.



Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.

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