I have been thinking a lot about space lately.
Not the kind that surrounds us on a dark night, but the kind that surrounds us as individuals.
Perhaps it is because I have been flying more and as a woman, I constantly find my space taken by white men sitting next to me, refusing to even share an armrest. I am so used to it, I have found I slip into patterns to make myself smaller in order to not encroach on their space.
Perhaps it is because in my thinking work this summer I keep coming back to how white my professional space is within my district, reflective of the lack of diversity of so many districts here in Wisconsin. How can we change this to be reflective of the kids we teach?
Perhaps it is because I see the critical conversations surrounding education online and how often it is silenced because people say we need to speak nicely to each other, to not make the space unwelcoming or unkind. We use these platitudes so often to silence the voices of those who have been silenced for so long that we fail to recognize the same destructive patterns.
Perhaps it is because I see my own daughters apologize for the space they take up at times as we remind them to be nice, to be kind, to speak appropriately, whatever that may mean. Even as I cringe when the words slip out inadvertently, taught to me by many years of public socialization where we are taught which type of women should be heard in this American society. And I can tell you from experience that the minute you raise your voice, you are deemed angry as if anger is a bad thing.
Perhaps it is because I feel like as a white woman I am often afforded more space because of my skin color than I really deserve.
Space, and how much space we are given, seems to be crowded with well-meaning intentions and misguided constraints. Space and what we do with it also seems to be dictated by those who feel their space encroached upon and who must make a decision of whether enough there is enough space for us all. (I think there is, but that is for a different time.)
I think of space when it comes to our students, how for years I have discussed student voice on this blog and how I have attempted to create an environment where students can speak up no matter what they are saying. How for a long time, through my personal reflection, I have implored others to give students’ voice without recognizing the inherent problem in that statement; students already have a voice, they come to us loudly, yet, it is within our pursuit of calm and compliant that we silence them for the benefit of “learning for all.” And so I come to the natural conclusion that my work is not about giving students a voice but instead about space and more specifically, giving them back the space we took from them in the first place.
And that starts with the very first day, the inequity of our voices as we go through our day with kids we don’t even know. How many of us talk about those first days as exhausting because our voices are constantly heard? How many of our students feel drained not because of all that they had to do but instead all they had to listen to? How many of us plan out to the minute what we will be doing in order to “Set the year up right” without a care for how welcome or even safe students may feel in our rooms? Perhaps what we need is a little bit of silence, more them than us, more we than I.
So as I plan for those first of many days, I am thinking about the space of my voice. The space of me within the room and how it needs to be balanced with the space of others. How I need to think of my voice, the adult voice, as something that also takes up space and therefore needs to be weighed in order to give back space to others. And not just in the classroom, but in life. After all, we get one chance to start off right with these new kids, why not get our priorities straight from the get-go?
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.