A guest post from Pete Coulson on the @VandVLearning blog.
Feeling a bit apprehensive?
Nobody would blame you.
As we look forward to a new school year in September we can’t help being aware of the bigger picture. The summer of 2020 presents us with some very pressing environmental, economic and social issues that impinge on any vision of a sustainable future. We and our pupils may well be aware of opportunities to be grasped in all this, but perhaps overawed by the size of the obstacles too.
In particular I’m thinking of these:
- environmental: the climate emergency
- economic: leaving the EU during a Covid recession
- social: systemic racism
So I thought I would share my personal mantra for trying to face up to problems: be brave, be joyful and let it go.
Being brave relies on the development of our inner strength, and in the V&V cycle it extends to taking action too. Sometimes this may involve standing up to be counted, but often it just means staying true to yourself. Have another look in the book at “Purpose and Action” activity 13 ‘Traffic Lights’ in Chapter 13.
For me, being brave also requires an attitude of acceptance, in the sense of acknowledging and not denying real problems. Acceptance of the real world doesn’t need to mean giving up and giving in – it just means facing up to the truth. As a white teacher for example, I believe that we, our white pupils and white people in general have an opportunity this year in particular to consider our own place in anti-racist conversations. We certainly have to be brave in this, because changes need to be made and there will be resistance.
As consumers we will need to face up to over-production of greenhouse gases and over-consumption in general. Many of us have become used to the idea of having more. Making do with less sounds, well, less appealing. We’ll need our courage there too because, again, change is going to come.
Of course, change can be fun, exciting, stimulating; but even when it’s not, do try to stay in touch with the joyful. Having to be brave all the time without that would be too hard to bear. I particularly love what it says on p191 of the V&V book about accessing the reservoir of happiness within us. In case that feels like a tall order, here is some advice from a yoga tradition that resonates with me:
“At the heart of being joyful is the sincere desire to feel positive. It isn’t some place you suddenly arrive at years down the line. It’s not some feeling that becomes permanent with the acquisition of some material object. Rather, it’s a mentality – a constant self-reminder.” [Jesse Rich, 2014]
Finally, letting go is about another kind of acceptance: allowing yourself to be satisfied with doing what you can. There is a danger in ruminating constantly about the problems of the world. I’m old enough to remember what it felt like during the Cold War under the constant threat of nuclear warfare, and the harmful worry it caused for so many people.
Letting go can sometimes involve giving things up. For white pupils and white teachers in the light of Black Lives Matter, it can mean letting go of past certainties, and of privilege we might not even have realised we had. Yes, that can be hard. If, because of the climate crisis, many of us as consumers are suddenly going to have to learn to live with less, perhaps we can imagine a “new austerity” of our own choosing. The practices of Ramadan and Lent, for example, show that austerity can be a positive concept, and not just a series of spending cuts to public services.
If we are to accept change, let us accept changing our minds too. I am sometimes saddened by how hard many people find this. It would be one of the gifts I wish for pupils: thinking for yourself and being prepared to change your mind. In my classroom I used to like using a ‘Crossing the floor’ activity, encouraging children to walk across the room as a physical sign of being convinced by an argument. Sometimes we find ourselves agreeing with whoever has just spoken: in that case, you’re allowed to walk right back again.
So do what you can, reflect and then let it go. Chapter 10 in the book has some lovely examples of letting go in relation to grieving, linked with acceptance and finding peace. Your pupils might also enjoy activity 8 in Chapter 12: ‘Overwhelmed? Dump it here.’
Feeling a bit apprehensive?
And let it go.
Pete Coulson, June 2020