Professional Development Opinion

Teach, Learn, and Lead With Passion and Compassion

By Learning Forward — November 11, 2016 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

Today is Veterans Day. On this holiday, I think first of my father, who served in the Korean War. I also think of my husband’s uncles, who served under Patton and were part of the liberation of the German concentration camps. We honor our veterans because they ensure that we live in the “land of the free and home of the brave.”

And, on this same day, I see the front of USA Today, with a picture of a swastika and stories of students bullying other students because of their personal identity, race, or religion. As we process the results of our election and how some of our citizens are responding, I wonder how we as educators -- with our ongoing commitment to equity and excellence -- find ways to teach, learn, and lead with passion and compassion, bridging what look like deep divides within our schools and communities.

As I struggle to find my own words to describe how to address this, I am inspired and informed by those of my own rabbi, Rabbi Paley, that I received yesterday. Here is some of what he wrote. I hope you find this as helpful as I have.

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My Dear Friends,

Hinei Mah Tov Umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad -- How beautiful it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. -- Psalm 133

How are we to process the stark reality that we are not dwelling together in unity, of the deep divisions in our country, to continue the journey heavenward, and to become the kingdom of priests we were created to be? These are the questions that will plague this nation, our leaders and our institutions for many, many years to come.

I know there are some in our community who are deeply afraid, angry, uncertain and, perhaps, mistrustful of our democracy, as I know there are others who feel the opposite. But, this is the beauty and the pain of a representative democracy such as ours. We cannot love democracy only when the candidate we support wins and shun democracy when the opposite occurs. While we may not have a perfect system, it is ours and it worked as it has since the founding of the republic.

We will for sure ask ourselves, “What does it mean to affirm the government of the people, by the people, for the people?” as Lincoln proposed in 1864. For sure, it depends on whom you ask. And, if you ask enough Americans you will see, as Stephen Prothero suggests, "... that the nation rests not on agreement about its core ideas and values, but on a willingness to continue to debate them. What constitutes America are ideas -- a common commitment to key words such as ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ ‘constitutionalism,’ and ‘republicanism.’ But that is not quite right. At least it is not complete, because these ideas conflict with one another. Our republic of letters is a republic of conversation, constituted, divided, reconstituted, and maintained by debate over the meaning of ‘America’ and ‘Americans.’ ... The way to wisdom here lies not in affirming simple truths but in engaging in difficult discussions.”

Regardless of whichever candidate received our vote, while some may grieve and some may dance, may we all commit ourselves to bringing more love, more kindness, more compassion, more justice, more thoughtfulness, more care, and more peace to each other every day. Our very country depends on that and depends on us being active and involved citizens. We can and should do no less.

Hinei Mah Tov Umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad -- How beautiful it can and will be when our brothers and sisters will one day dwell together in unity. May this be God’s will.

-- Rabbi Andrew Paley, Temple Shalom, Dallas, Texas

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Engaging in difficult discussions, as my rabbi suggests, is more important than ever. Many of those discussions must happen in schools, among educators who may disagree on many questions. I know many educators are anxious. I also know their fierce commitment to students means that they are eager to protect classrooms and schools as safe havens for learning and growth.

My hope, and my request to you as a leader of learning, is that you’ll bring your leadership skills and your quest for continuous improvement to bear during these times of conflict and heightened tensions. The intentional practices you already apply in working with teachers and students each day are the same practices that will be critical to help educators, community members, and students find common ground while they stand up for their core values.

Consider how you might facilitate difficult conversations. Reflect on how your commitment to continuous growth can contribute to cultures that encourage ongoing dialogue. Choose actions that keep doors open and minds ripe for new perspectives. And, as always, let me know how we can help you.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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