Living into our values

What is education for?

The past 13 years have prepared us for this moment of uncertainty and possibility in education. Many in our community are facing significant hardships. As educators – in many forms – we have so many roles and respond to many different needs and challenges in our classes, our communities, our families, and beyond. We want to take time to appreciate just how complex the role of teacher is in our society, and say thank you to all of our member teachers (and all teachers!) for the many things, seen and unseen, that each of you – whether directly working with students, or in another role in education – are doing to provide the best possible response to the dramatic shift in how life has looked this year. 

At this most pressing time, our Coalition is serious about asking ourselves the question of how to build and protect communities where all members feel a deep sense of belonging; where all members are loved and have ample opportunities to love others. We face an unusual moment in which all of us are asked to identify the values we want to prioritize, and to stand together behind the ones we hold dear. One way to do this is to create democratic spaces where we do things with each other, not to each other. We understand that our main task is to grow youth and adults who can create healthy, just, resilient, and thriving communities. 

We believe that democracy is not a thing but a process. We believe that we are not isolated individuals but that we are inextricably interdependent. And that we must not only recognize this human interdependence that we have with each other, but understand it and act with all other living things on earth.

We believe that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. And that communities that are healthy and just are grounded in the strengths, passions, needs, and eccentricities of their members. We believe that we are all works in progress, and that the basis of all learning comes from our ability to give ourselves and each other space to make mistakes – then to reflect, recover, re-create and to learn together. We are all learners and we are all teachers. 

In SEMIS we do things with students, not to them, and in this way students learn what it means to live in a democracy. We know that if we want a democracy in this country we have to practice democracy. And if we don’t practice it we will lose it. 

When we align what is taught and learned in schools to the very real problems of our communities – to examine them, understand them, address them with each other, even with others who we may disagree with, there is no separation between academic and social emotional learning. 

When we empower youth to ask questions, to negotiate disagreements, to examine complexity, to be flexible, make decisions, to empathize with others, including beings in the natural world, we know this the most powerful way to grow the ethical, civically engaged, curious, and deep thinkers we need more than ever. 

We believe that if we are to thrive as a species and in our communities not only now but in our era going forward, these values must be at the center of our schools, Pre-school through university and beyond. 

We’ve always known that the time is now to transform education into what it should be (can be!); into what we need it to be. Right now we are feeling two calls: the call to care for ourselves, our families, and our students in a way that is consistent with the values described here, and a call to lead. 

We have a vision that is desperately needed right now. We have been setting a foundation for the kind of teaching and learning that puts individual and community wellbeing at the center of what we do in schools. When this chapter of the crisis is over, we do not want to go back to ‘normal’, because normal will not get us where we need to be now or in the future.

What values are you committing to living into, in this time, in this place? What values are we committing to as a community?

In gratitude,

Ethan Lowenstein

SEMIS Coalition Director