Read Meredith Mira’s wonderful, inspirational narrative at LCN Global Gathering 2013.
LCNTI Public Narrative
My name is Meredith Mira and I am representing the Network’s Teaching Initiative, which is comprised of six great teachers who are leading change including Mary Hannah Henderson, Matt Lewis, Celina Barrios-Milner, Tiffany Steinwert, and Hope Wood.
I grew up in the midwestern college town of West Lafayette, Indiana as the daughter of two teachers who believed deeply in all of their students regardless of their background. While I steered away from education for several years after college, my interest in student engagement led me to pursue my doctoral degree in education at Harvard.
The summer after my first year of grad school, I became part of an internship program focused on school reform. Despite the fact that I liked all of the people there, I always felt like an outsider. They were trying to solve education problems using old policy levers that didn’t work. When they asked me what I thought the solution was, I said, “We need to engage the community,” and time and again, they would respond by saying, “That’s nice, but we still don’t understand what you’re going to do to solve these problems!” And then it became clear – to them, engaging the community was not a lever for change and I felt shut down as a result.
Taking Marshall’s public narrative class was such a relief. It was the first time in my academic life that I felt validated and that my ideas mattered. And for the first time, I felt surrounded by people, like those on this call, who believe that community engagement is necessary for large-scale social change.
All of us, whether we are a part of an academic institution or a community-based organization, have felt this same sense of being at the margins of our professions. Our work sits at the intersection of common disciplines, but we add something different. We believe that in order to have healthy democracies, we need to teach our students the skills of organizing so that they can engage as active citizens. Indeed, young people are emerging from around the world with a strong desire to make fundamental social change, yet many of them are struggling to translate their capacity to mobilize into the capacity to organize. We need to equip our students with these tools, but colleges and universities are largely ignoring this responsibility.
The good news is that our initial 1:1 conversations with faculty members, graduate students, university administrators, and community-based teachers revealed that many people on this call are teaching courses and workshops that incorporate organizing, narrative, and leadership. But what we also learned, and have personally experienced, is that many of your colleagues don’t understand or validate your approach to teaching and that you have to defend your work in order to gain legitimacy. It is this kind of response that led me to shut down during my internship and I’m guessing that many people on this call have felt the same way.
The truth is that we are NOT alone in our approach to teaching, it’s just that we’re operating in academic silos instead of working together. To address our fractured state, we are creating a community of practice among teachers where we can meet monthly to support each other in our work, give each other voice, share resources, create a growing sense of legitimacy for our teaching, and, most importantly, develop and implement new courses that can provide more students with the skills and knowledge that they are craving.
Think about it…wouldn’t it be great if you could meet face-to-face with other teachers from universities and colleges in your region in order to collaborate around topics like organizing? You could co-create workshops, share teaching materials, observe each other’s classes, and publish articles on your pedagogical approach. We could even create online learning circles so that we could share our learnings with teachers from around the world. These are just a few of the ideas that we’ve gleaned from our 1:1 conversations so far, but to make those ideas a reality, we need the experience and commitment of the teachers on this call who have an interest in spreading the teaching of organizing around the world.
Our first concrete ask is to sign up for a 1:1 with our team and to share any teaching materials you have by completing our online interest form by the end of the day today, available at this link: leadingchangenetwork.com/online-interest-form/
Now, as you all know, change in academic institutions is slow and course schedules are determined at least a year in advance. To make changes within the next year, we have to begin now. We look forward to seeing you in our breakout room!