Mind Dump: Youth in Participatory Politics?

Let’s get the conversation started. What’s the role  of  youth in the democratic process?

As an English teacher, I am aware of the literacy skills crucial to being a contributing member of the democratic process. In the United States, we have the privilege of voting for those who represent us in government,

  • But how does one make an informed decision?
  • How does one attempt to make changes if our representatives aren’t working in our best interest?
  • How do we inform and persuade others for the need for change?

Literacy skills. It’s all about being able to research, read critically, and compose effective, logical texts that will appeal to varied audiences for a specific purpose.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first gain an understanding of what youth today feel about political action.

  • Is it important?
  • Are there ways to foster agency in youth today?
  • What are the roles of all stakeholders in such a process?

Please contribute your thoughtful reflections on this HackPad:

From Dreams to Details: Invitation to Lead

It’s a wonderfully synergistic day. One where I attempted to escape finding the baby in the King Cake but found it anyway. I literally went out of my way to cut the slightest sliver of the treat to avoid the baby, but I got it anyway. Lesson duly noted, Universe. I am ready for some luck and celebration for this coming year!

This morning, I walked in hopeful yet unsure of what may unfold in my scheduled meeting with Heather Cato, Coppell ISD’s Director of Language and Literacy. We have been discussing using NWP’s CLMOOC as our district’s summer professional development. It was time to try out the idea on some of the district literacy coaches so we met to get an idea of what that may look like.

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Inevitably, we discussed this week’s Building New Pathways to Leadership retreat in Austin. We commiserated on how returning to the why is essential, how the questions aren’t only what learning is or why learning is happening but also where. We rallied behind how it’s important for people to feel safe to “fail miserably” and still be supported.

And the question, of course, reared its unavoidable head: How? How do we encourage other educators to take risks? How do we foster learning for learning’s sake? Learning that sprouts from their own interests? Learning that is collaborative in nature? Learning that extends beyond any four walls and across any time zone?

Yes, it was so NWP.

And rightfully so. Heather is also an NWP leader. She has been for some time, regardless of the many, many hats she has worn in her career as an educator.

And here’s the exciting part, the sweet spot every NWP advocate longs to hear. Heather pondered aloud, Heather, my boss, my leader, wondered, “How do we scale this? How do we make an entire district-wide site of NWP leaders?”

Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness, gracious! Beautiful cliched music to my ears! An incredible testament to putting it out there, connecting, collaborating, and receiving echoes of goodness and positivity and hopeful change in return.

We shared the common interest of finding new entry points for district teachers to do NWP work. We articulated being thought partners in this effort, and then, I was reminded of why I love this district so much. I was reminded of why I love NWP so much.

Right there, right in front of me, right there along side me in my own district, I had a leader who was in a position to make important decisions who spoke my language. She gets me. She gets us. She gets NWP. She is NWP. She and I are NWP, and we hope Coppell ISD can be NWP, too.

And when you hear things from your district leaders say, “I come to you because you dream big.” You feel really good.

I know. Later, I will feel the weight of her statement. I will surely feel the pressure and obligation and the overwhelming sense of accountability being a dreamer feels. Sometimes, the most tender of dreams become haunting nightmares… looming shadows of unfulfilled expectations. I know… but today, I’m going to enjoy it.

And when your leader has the capacity to make meaningful transformation happen and when she sets aside her own dreamer role to be the “details” person, you know something really great can happen. And yes, it will be loads of work, loads of incredibly important work. Just how I like it.

I’m going to take all the energy and passion from today’s soul-nurturing discussion, and I’m going to run with it because having a partner who is there not only in proximity but also in philosophy and pedagogy calls for celebration.

Maybe that King Cake baby had it right all along!

Reluctantly Leading, Eagerly Following

“I’m thinking about starting a National Writing Project site at UTA,” Jeannine started, “would you be co-director?”

“Sure,” I responded without hesitation because she had a knack of asking people to do things, and we just couldn’t refuse.

Did I know what NWP was? Heck, no. I was just dipping my toes in the shallow end of the infinity pool that is teaching.

Did I understand what being a co-director of an NWP site meant? Heck, no. How could I? Even if I had been a veteran TC or director at that point, I wouldn’t know. Roles are fluid and flexible in every NWP experience. Responsibilities are shared. Challenge and joy are waves that are parceled out across eager participants.

Did I expect anything to happen to this request made in passing? Heck, no. And that was just plain ignorant of me. It was as if I hadn’t been working with Jeannine for over a year. It was as if I had forgotten who she was, how I had found myself writing and analyzing and publishing under her mentorship. I should have known better.

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Fast forward.

“We got it!” she exclaimed over the phone, excitement rising from the the higher than normal trill in her voice.

“Got what?” I asked unsure of which endeavor she was speaking.

“NWP! We got the site funding!” she exclaimed giddily. “Get ready!”

What did that mean? How did it happen? What is NWP? 5 weeks in the summer? What?

And so it began, my journey with National Writing Project.

I had no idea what wealth this organization would add to my life, how it would nourish me and calm me and inspire me again and again. I had no idea this launch into NWP which had been planted in pretty nutrient-barren soil would repeatedly catapult me into reaching deep down and doing more than I thought I had in me. I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for the transformative process NWP carries with it.

All I know is every encounter with NWP is much like that time with Jeannine: clear vision, passion to do what’s best for learners, unquenchable thirst for learning, risk-taking, trusting, and above all, knowing where to go with the freedom of finding our own way of getting there.

We write the stories of our lives one page at a time, and our journeys with NWP are no different. Some of us take detours, others direct routes. Some of us hitch rides, Whatever our chosen or thrust-upon-us methods of movement, we know we will get there… together.

Retreat? Never!!!

It’s a cool winter day in Texas: dry and crisp, demanding a vest not a heavy coat.

The trip from the DFW metroplex to Austin Hill Country is its expected “How is this just 3 and a half hours away?” sentiment. The concrete highway slowly gave way to hidden couloirs punctuated by succulents and groves of mesquite trees. It’s a welcome change from barren suburbia.

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Earlier that morning, I quasi-hyperventilated as I read the lineup of extraordinary educators on Yammer. People casually bouncing hellos and can’t-wait-to-see-yous in the private group. The list read as a Who’s Who in literacy education, and I sunk deeper into my sheets, trying desperately to be swallowed up by the white duvet and the white king-size pillow.

No luck.

How in the world did I get myself into this? Why did they invite me? How in the world could I have anything to offer this richly talented, passionate group?

I was overwhelmed.

Still, deeper down, I knew that I would gain more than imaginable at National Writing Project’s Building New Pathways to Leadership Working Retreat. I knew that as with everything else with NWP, I would dig down, step out of my comfort zone, find my edge, and get it done. Because it’s not about fears or residing in trepidation. When it comes to any of my work with this network, it’s about trust, empowerment, and risk-taking.

And I lay in my lavish bedding, having been catered to as every teacher should be, with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart: poised to eagerly accept the invitation to make, reflect, and articulate what it is to be a part of NWP.

It is a privilege. It is a calling. It is a part of me and everyone else in the Lone Star room tonight.

It is our responsibility to ponder how NWP has become such a powerful catalyst in the journeys of so many who have made such a difference one classroom at a time. It is our duty to sort through the seemingly charmed experiences of our NWP lives to find patterns and differences that will give way to more lucky souls who are fortunate enough to associate with NWP.

So, no. No, I will not retreat back into the safety of my bed. I will not hide and listen passively to other stories when I have one of my own to share and make sense of. I will not question my being here.

Instead, I will soak up the rugged breathtaking scenery. I will listen for hints of my own experiences with NWP in the stories of others. I will write and revise and scrap and rethink and write and revisit and make and question how NWP has managed to get so much more out of me than anyone else.

I am ready to, as Elyse put it, “blow the lid off!”