A week ago, our country watched in awe at the deadly shooting that took place in Orlando. The shooting was the largest mass-shooting in our nation’s modern history. It was not only an assault on the LGBT community, but on our country as a whole. Some of us sat speechless and shocked, while others strained to find the right words to express their emotions. It is in these times that I wish to speak love to the hate that we all see in this world. I want to give my students a chance to speak their thoughts and acknowledge their feelings about the truth of our violent and often hateful world. I want to give students a chance to sit with their emotions—pain, fear, anger, worry, or neutrality.
Last Monday morning, I walked into my classroom and addressed the class: “As many of you know, our country has experienced yet another mass shooting. With each act of hate, I find myself feeling powerless— unable to use my voice to reduce the violence in this world.” With my sharing my own feelings on the most recent massacre, students began to share their own— some asked questions, some expressed their feelings, and some just listened in silence.
As the conversation came to a close, I asked: “How many of you have felt powerless to make a larger difference?” A few students raised their hands, some just sat and pondered. I followed the question with a quote from Mother Theresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to make many ripples.” I left them to ponder the types of ‘stones’ they could cast to reduce the hate in their immediate world. Even in the last days of the school year, I stood as a part of a community that cares deeply about our shared humanity.
The truth is that this conversation would not have made an impact or would have even been possible without creating the space for student community— a space for students to feel safe to share their emotions. I know that this type of community does not happen by accident. The community was a space that had been cultivated, nurtured and protected. Like anything else, the community ebbs and flows but separates it is the fact that there always remains a commitment to each other. The very same conversation in a place where students do not feel that they are safe and respected— free to share their beliefs and emotions could end up doing more harm than good . We hope that tragedies do not happen, but they continue to be an unfortunate recurring part of the world that we live. When events occur whether they are within our own community or in the larger world, it is important for our students to have a space that they feel comfortable opening up and sharing or even to just sit with their emotions. After all, we cannot teach the content without first addressing the needs of the human person.
As most have ended the school year, we should all ask ourselves: “Have I created a space for open conversation—a space for students to feel safe?”
I would love to hear your responses. In what ways do you foster space to have open conversations?
Tweet to @IntoOutside or comment. I look forward to hearing from you.