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In August, the families of our communities will once again entrust us with their most valued of all things: their children. On the surface, they will count on us to manage their intake of knowledge. Please make no mistake about it, though; they are counting on us to support their children as they navigate massive societal changes when trust is challenging to come by.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines zeitgeist as “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” For more than 18 years, a zeitgeist of testing accountability has dominated our field. It has had the unintended consequences of disillusioning a generation toward schooling and driving away dedicated teachers until we faced a national shortage.

This disillusionment, in turn, drove the need to establish management strategies aimed at extrinsically motivating students with external rewards. While I support Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) over the control-by-punishment methods, I have often felt that it was a retrofitted solution that only salved a deeper problem. (Ask any teacher who has spent hundreds of dollars from their own income to meet the students’ escalating expectations for rewards.)

Finally, a new movement has begun taking root among my colleagues: increasing student engagement. Authentic engagement cannot be bought. Only the outward appearance of compliance can. So, this new aim to get students excited about learning (intrinsically) stands as a beacon for me as I train and support first-year teachers.

As I contemplated recent events surrounding the pandemic and social unrest regarding race relations in our country, I began processing how to prepare our teachers to receive their students when the new school year begins in August.

Educators will be faced with supporting students and colleagues who have experienced isolation and trauma of varying degrees. Where do we even begin with less than three months to prepare? We begin by getting inspired to be change-makers.

I have gathered together some “taster talks” that are intended to inspire you to research further as you prepare for this daunting task: shifting the zeitgeist of education from compliance to community.

First, We Must Prepare for Healing

What used to be the language of special education and other specialized educational and social service fields will need to be brought further into the lexicon of general education. Fortunately, there are pioneers in the following approaches that have paved the way for us to get a head start.

Building Healthy Relationships

I could go on and on about this one, but I think that Rita Pierson says it best. Unfortunately, Ms. Pierson is no longer with us, but her message is timeless and powerful.

Culturally-Responsive Educational Practices

Culturally-responsive teaching practices acknowledge, respond to, and celebrate fundamental cultures while providing equitable access to education for students from all cultures.

Here I want to share the inspiring message of Jeff Dessources, the Director of the Center for Leadership and Engagement at New Jersey City University.

Resources for Culturally-Responsive Practices

Trauma-Informed Educational Practices

There is little doubt that each of you will be faced with supporting students and colleagues who are traumatized on some level. Trauma affects the brain in all humans, but the impact during the time when the brain is developing can have profound, long-term effects.

This talk is by Mark Sander, the Director of School Mental Health in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Resources for Trauma-Informed Practices

Shifting the Zeitgeist

If I have learned anything during the pandemic lockdown it is this: Educators are a powerful force in our society. Released from the confines of compliance, I have watched teachers rise to the occasion of engaging their students while growing meaningful and empathic relationships with them against the odds.

Join me in embracing a new educational zeitgeist defined by making connections with the community, being responsive to the needs of all learners, and healing our communities while building up the resilience of our future community leaders.

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