MLK’s legacy in education today

Jacqueline Martin/AP
Jacqueline Martin/AP

In all of my classes this week, we have been reading and listening to a couple key speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In my Junior SAM class, I asked students to write a brief essay or make a Prezi that answers the question: How is the legacy of Dr. King relevant today?

After participating in a good discussion with my PLN on #satchat this morning about social media as a tool for professional development, I thought I would use my social media presence to answer the question I assigned to my students and focus it on education.
In King’s “Loving Your Enemy” sermon, he talks about why and how one should love one’s enemy. He delivered this in the late 1950s amidst a very different historical and social context, so I don’t mean to suggest that he was speaking about education. However, as I listened to this sermon with my B block junior English class, I couldn’t help noticing how his message applies to me in my work with students, parents and colleagues. In the first few pages of this 40-something-minute-long sermon, he states that we should never seek to defeat other individuals. Defeating people hurts the defeated and gives a false sense of superiority to the victor. Now he was talking about parties and individuals who are enemies and that’s not what’s going on in education today. We maintain good relations with all stakeholders and, thank goodness, we rarely have to deal with “enemies” who hate us. In the classroom, we sometimes feel antagonized and we sometimes feel defensive. When we negotiate grades with students, when we engage with parents to hear their concerns, when we meet with our supervisors to discuss observations, when we meet with our team to decide on action plans to address common concerns, and when we go home and try to balance our personal lives while our heads swirl with “work,” we have to choose our ground and figure out our attitude with which to take on these challenges. King instructs us to approach every individual with a kind of love, philia that helps us find the good in that person. When we are face to face with others who need our help, who need our cooperation, who need us to hear their concerns, who need us to make an adjustment to our practice, it helps to focus on what is good in the individual, the situation, the request. If we can do this, the relationship becomes constructive and proactive. If we dig in our heels, if we defend our position, if we take it personally and feel attacked, the relationship might devolve into the destructive.
This idea resonated for me when I listened to Dr. King say to his congregants, to his fellows in the civil rights movement, and even to his enemies who conspired to destroy him, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”
This kind of sentiment that inspires us to look for the good in everybody leads us to a kind of love that King defined as agape from Greek. Agape is the love of humanity, of life itself, that is connected to an unshakable optimism and faith that good will win over evil in the world.
King’s legacy, his gift to our children and to us, is that studying him, we have a real world example of agape.

In my life as an educator, agape is the nourishing feeling of inspiration I get when collaborating honestly and without pretense or desire for self-promotion with students, parents and colleagues.
I feel it when I read the drafts of my student’s sophomore speeches and I see that each is engaging with the world thoughtfully and sincerely. I feel it when I read emails from parents, who are at once my partners, my bosses, and my supporters.  I feel it when I open my twitter feed and see a well-spring of partnership and collaboration. I feel it as I sit here in the stands of the community swimming pool at Blue Hills Regional High School and watch my kids being encouraged and coached how to swim by a team of enthusiastic instructors.

This weekend as we enjoy the holiday dedicated to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, let us try to see the good in everybody. Let us try to love unconditionally and through this love redeem our adversaries. Let us try to forge and maintain constructive, positive relationships with everyone in our public and private circles.  And, most importantly, let us never seek to defeat anybody.

Why Twitter?

This time of year is very challenging as a teacher. The euphoria of vacation has passed, students get anxious about their grades, parents start feeling the need to check in on their kid’s progress, administrators start getting antsy about budget preparations, the calendar reminds you that there’s more ahead than behind, and you start to realize that there’s a lot of curriculum yet to come.

One natural response to all these concerns is to bear down, block out all the noise, close that classroom door, disconnect from your colleagues and community and get down to business in the classroom.  I’ve been doing this lately.

At this time of year, it’s easy to begin to feel a little isolated and lonely.  I haven’t even felt even a hint of inspiration to post to this blog in about a month! I don’t know if it feels the same way in other professions, but that’s how it can feel to the veteran teacher.

The positive side to the “bearing down” approach is that it lends to the sensation that time passes quickly. We don’t sit around and complain about our lot! No we just get to work.

The negative side of “bearing down” is that we lose out on our last chance of the school year to innovate. Once spring break arrives, schools enter into their landing patterns and teachers and students start stowing all their gear for landing.

So how does one “get back into the groove” while still looking to get new ideas and to tweak new methods that were implemented but not perfected in the fall?

I love the team of educators with which I work at my school, but we’re all battling the same constraints on time and morale right now. I’ve been relying on my colleagues in my PLN on Twitter for inspiration to try something new, support with previously implemented methods, and a collegial exchange of ideas.

I usually begin each day by reading two or three blog posts that come to me via my twitter feed. Looking at the time stamps inspires me when I realize that I am not the only one up and engaging at 5:15 AM!

Maybe it’s just that I follow some of the world’s most indefatigable educators, but I always come away from the activity of tweeting with my PLN refreshed, informed, and ready to collaborate.

Many of my readers, however, do not yet see the purpose of joining a community on Twitter. A friend of mine works in real estate development and tells me that he’s busy enough responding to the never-ending stream of emails and cringes at the notion of having to check Twitter to keep up with more request for his attention. I tell him that it’s a tool and that he doesn’t have to use to connect with clients. He could follow a select group of thought leaders in urban development, finance, retail to try keep aware of cutting edge ideas. He tells me he reads trade publications for that. I tell him that Twitter allows you to make a personal connection with the authors that you just can’t do when reading the print journal. In the end, I agree that no ones more work. Twitter can be overwhelming if you try to keep up with the stream. But it’s a tool that used thoughtfully to execute a needed function. You will never be able to understand how it can help you in your professional life unless you give it a try. You can start by looking through those trade publications for names of the thought-leaders in your field, creating an account on Twitter, doing a search for those names, and hitting the Follow button.

I usually restrict my time on Twitter to before and after school hours. Occasionally, I tweet about school activities during the day because many of our students use Twitter. I use the hash tag #modglobalcom for tweets regarding my sophomore MGC classes.  You can type that #modglobalcom into a search and see what we are tweeting about there. This could be a great way for parents to monitor bathe conversations that students and teachers are having. Parents of high school student often report that it is hard to get information about school out of their kids. If students are using Twitter for educational purposes, then parents could engage in those discussions too. The beauty of Twitter is its transparency.

If students, however, are only using Twitter socially, that’s OK too. It is still a transparent community. If students aren’t comfortable knowing that their parents are following them in Twitter, then they really need to keep those messages private. I try to always remind students about privacy issues. Twitter is where students should begin to cultivate their public selves. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be kids. Many of the folks I follow also tweet about their personal lives. I enjoy reading these tweets too because it is important to get know these colleagues as people too!

This brings me to my last suggestion. When you do take the plunge and give Twitter a try, be clear about your interests when you create your Twitter bio. When people see your tweets, they will usually visit your bio page to see if they have anything in common with you. They follow you if they appreciate what you say on Twitter and if they see a common connection.

I used to think Twitter was just for people who wanted an audience. There are still lots of those narcissists out there getting a big head over how many followers they have. To these people followers are not people but numbers.

If you use Twitter to seek out people who enjoy the free exchange of ideas, you will find them!

Here’s a video that will walk you through the basics of setting up a PLN on Twitter: