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Welcoming the Unwelcome

Holiday stress. Climate change. Local and national political issues. At times we may survey the state of our schools and the world and wonder — how are we supposed to teach in the midst of all of this? Life is messy. The world is messy. And at times in our schools (especially during the holidays), it can feel nearly impossible to keep things running smoothly when there is so much shift, emotional volatility, excitement, anxiety, transition and at times…chaos.

From the inception of our work, the principle of “welcoming the unwelcome” has been at the core of our approach.  This principle refers to our capacity to see challenges and obstacles as opportunities for learning and growth. When we take this perspective, we are more able to lean into—rather than away from— those situations that make us uncomfortable.

A student acts out. A colleague snaps at us. A new policy comes down from on high. A conflict erupts, or stews under the surface. We might find ourselves feeling resistant, frustrated, confrontational, afraid, or avoidant. Our heart shuts down. We can’t see a solution. 

This is the opportunity—right here and now, in that moment—to pause, breathe, get curious, and ask ourselves: what is the hidden opportunity here? What gift might be waiting me or my students if I can meet this challenge from a place of resource and connection to myself and others?  It’s a simple but not an easy turn to make in the heat of the moment—when our amygdala and reptilian brain may be on high alert.

The student who is sabotaging our classroom might be crying out for help or giving us important information about the safety or lack of safety in our learning community.  The colleague who confronts us angrily in the hallway might be giving us a chance to clear a long held tension that has prevented healthy collaboration.  And a funding cut or new policy might shakeup our old ways of doing things and invite our community to come together to creatively meet the challenge and speak to the impacts of this change. In other words, welcoming the unwelcome empowers us to act, choose our response, and transform ourselves in relation to any challenge that comes our way.

So in this season of long nights and short days and celebrations and holidays from diverse traditions around the world, we invite you to consider practicing “welcoming the unwelcome,” —whether that’s during an uncomfortable political discussion or interaction with a student or simply in your own heart.  Sometimes, simply shifting our perspective can open the space for entirely new learnings and pathways to appear. 

See this inspiring 60 minutes video about Ryan Speedo Green. It is a story about a teacher welcoming the confusion of Ryan when he was 12 year, a caseworker’s kindness in a juvenile detention center, and a role model in the opera  … and how Ryan changed his life trajectory.

We wish you a beautiful and nourishing holiday and fruitful new year.

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