About two weeks before Christmas Break, I sought out the advice of a dear friend and colleague, who has been my independent school workplace ride-and-die since 1996, to help me to craft a workshop proposal for the school’s first Social Justice Day. Although such school-based initiatives are often given the side-eye by me, I strived to go high, and not low; after all, it’s about the students.
Now, I am an experienced workshop presenter. Since 2008, I have delivered nine presentations – to adults. On the other hand, the Social Justice Day would offer me the opportunity to present to students for the first time in my teaching career. And, to middle school students at that. Needless to say, I was feeling nervous, and unsure of myself.
My dear friend and colleague and I arranged a day and a time to talk by telephone. Having worked with thousands of students – no exaggeration – he suggested resources for me to consider. Although I had a working title and outline, I needed help with filling in the proverbial blanks, or, what I would actually do for 60 minutes.
My dear friend and colleague offered resources and talking points for me to to consider, which did force me to consider the types of activities I could do with middle school students. Still, the materials and activities, in my gut, didn’t feel right. Especially for middle school students. I am not sure that I would have used the suggested materials and activities for adults – at least, not for a first workshop. In fact, I would have to present a series of workshops in order to prep a group for what my dear friend and colleague recommended.
That evening following my conversation, I scoured the Internet for activities that I felt would be more appropriate. NO JUICE. Feeling discouraged, I tucked the project away.
Christmas came and went. The New Year came and went. Even Dr. King’s birthday came and went, and I still had not formulated a concrete workshop plan. And, my workshop proposal had, in fact, been accepted by this time.
Then, the proverbial moment of truth: The week of the Social Justice Day program. In fact, on Wednesday of that week, a colleague – who was also scheduled to deliver a workshop – asked me at lunch if I was ready. I said no. I felt stuck in a paralysis of analysis, and was actually beginning to panic.
I came home from school on Thursday, and went straight to my bedroom for a nap. I awoke several hours later, at about 10:30pm, and realized to myself that I had a workshop to finish. I strangely felt like I was on auto-pilot, because after spending about 30 minutes scouring the Internet once again, I landed upon two icebreakers, as well as a lesson plan for the sort of workshop I desired to use with the middle schoolers. At 12 midnight, my workshop was finally finished. With the exception of the requisite butterflies in my stomach that I always get before a workshop, I felt confident about what I was going to offer to the middle school students.
The next morning, as I explained and guided the students through the activities, I knew I had done the right thing, and had made the right decisions. The 14 students who had signed up for my workshop responded with such interest, engagement, enthusiasm and willingness to learn. It was all that I had hoped for, and more.
So, why was this independence day for me? I have a great deal of love, admiration and respect for my dear friend and colleague. As a result, I was deeply conflicted by what he suggested. On the one hand, I felt obligated to follow his platform. On the other hand, I knew it wasn’t the right way to go with the students in my charge. This is not to say that I won’t ask my dear friend and colleague for advice on future projects; I will. Of course! That being said, I realized that I don’t have to be afraid of going my own way, or, having apologize or explain or ask permission for my reasons for doing so. I got free.