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Practicing Self-Compassion

A thought for teachers on Critical Consciousness versus Compassionate Critical Consciousness

[image description: an assumed Black brown-skinned cisgender womxn with curly brown hair and wearing an ivory cashmere top, sits in front of a laptop. Her eyes are closed while her hands, clasped together, hold up her head.]

[Update: I created this post on FaceBook in 2017. Not long after, I realized that most of the research I came across during my PhD studies was conducted through a white lens. Although I'm aware that a few white, hearing researchers named in this post have included BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) participants in their projects and that many folks have found information in this post useful, I must acknowledge a flaw here: this blog post refers only to research conducted through a white lens. I will take this important discussion much further in a new post with the perspectives of BIPOC researchers and teachers included and named.]

Promoting social justice and freedom in the classroom requires that teachers engage in the habit of critical consciousness. Different people have defined “critical consciousness” in different ways. Some define it as something you possess while others define it as something you perform. I’m using Patricia Foley’s definition which is more aligned with the perspective of critical consciousness as an action:

Critical consciousness is an ongoing process in which teachers “engage in a form of self-reflection that allows them to acknowledge unsuccessful ideas, as well as the oppressive forms inherent in their own educational practices…”

However, Patricia’s definition falls short because it doesn’t address the language teachers are to use during that form of self-reflection.

You see, the tone of shame is prevalent in unexamined American cultural dialogue. Over the past couple years, I’ve grown familiar with works by social scientists including Brené Brown and Kristin Neff:

  • Brené studies shame. After gathering and studying the life stories of thousands of people for more than a decade, she found that when people shame themselves, they are less likely to try a new approach in the future out of fear of making a mistake again AND experiencing the self-shaming talk that usually occurs during moments of failure.

  • Kristin focuses on self-compassion in her research and found that compassion and shame are opposing forces. The practice of compassion motivates us to “brush our shoulders off and try again” even when we fail because we recognize that failing is part of the human experience. It’s a part of growth. It’s a part of life. Also, compassion focuses on the behavior/mistake itself rather than attacks the person who made the mistake (which shame does).

When the focus is on behaviors, people are usually more motivated to grow and learn from their errors because they understand that behaviors can be changed.

So, if you are self-compassionate as you reflect on difficult moments that happened in your classroom [such as racism, ableism, audism, linguicism, etc.], not only are you more likely to be aware of harmful behaviors you may have perpetuated, remember that you’re human and making mistakes is part of the journey, hold yourself accountable for your behaviors, and genuinely apologize for your actions that were harmful to others, you’re ALSO more than willing to try new approaches in the classroom that help promote healing and learning among students.

So, let me remind you again, the tone of shame is prevalent in unexamined American cultural dialogue. And thus, I believe it is dangerous to talk about the need for self-reflective practice among teachers in the U.S. without, at the same time, discussing teachers’ use of language during self-reflection.

While more and more teacher prep programs are emphasizing the importance of self-reflection among teachers, there needs to be discussions about how we talk to ourselves about ourselves.

So, back to Patricia’s definition - here’s how I would modify it:

I would add “compassionately” at the beginning of her definition to encourage teachers to engage in a practice that not only calls attention to the ways they promote social justice or reinforce oppressive social norms, but also cultivates resilience and the constant willingness to learn and try something new after they’ve experienced moments of failure as a teacher.

Take some time to think about how you reflect on your actions as a teacher (or a parent, friend, colleague, etc.).

Be mindful of the language you using.

Check out blogs, books, videos, podcasts, etc. about shame, vulnerability, compassion, and self-compassion.

Gaining knowledge about these topics would help transform our interactions with ourselves, students, family, friends, and communities for the better.

Originally posted on FaceBook in 2017 - view to see comments:

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