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From Mirko Chardin

November 1, 2017

As I sit at my desk to write this reflection, I am reminded of a great conversation that I had with Ms. Laz a few weeks ago. It has resonated deeply within me, prompting the following train of thought about what drives me to do the work that we are deeply engaged in.

What drives me to do this work is the fact that I was a student who did not have a successful experience in the confines of traditional school structures. My teachers were well-intentioned but never genuine. They did not value the impact that their decision-making had on my life over their own intentions. I was not able to see myself reflected in school or in the work that I was expected to do there, and the work was rarely, if ever, relevant to me or my life outside of school. I felt rejected in and by school, not because the adults were not kind, but because the kindness was superficial. Those adults did not know me; they did not know my journey. There was no connection, and our interactions were based on compliance. That is not what I wanted, not what I needed; so, I rejected it, pushed back, and questioned everything and everyone. As a result, I was labeled a non-complaint, behavioral problem. I hated school and my teachers because of that label and how it was utilized to justify their treatment of me--especially when they didn't put in a sincere effort into knowing who I was as an individual, a person, a human being. This led to a tremendous level of failure and complete disenchantment with the notion of education that persisted for years. It was only once I encountered a school community full of educators who understood that their impact on and in my life--if it were to be positive--would NOT be as a result of good intentions. They would have to do more. They would have to work harder and be more reflective. It was then that I believed that school mattered and could be of benefit to me.

Once I became an educator, I learned that I was not alone in this and that the vast majority of the students that I taught had a similar experiences. That is when it first dawned on me that the best way to support and reach students is by treating them with the same respect and dignity that I wanted to be treated with--listening to their stories, helping them make sense of their experiences, and trying to help them see themselves as individuals who are striving for success. That led to a new dilemma, which was the realization that many of my students had not yet experienced success in school, and they had no idea what it looked like or felt like. To them, success was an abstract concept. This motivated me to create opportunities for them to experience success that I could then celebrate and use to motivate them to seek more success.

Those experiences taught me that I had to see my students as people, as younger human beings, as younger versions of myself, who were trying to make sense of their journeys and who had many of the same fears and anxieties that I had. It taught me that my role as an educator was to be a guide for them and try to positively impact how they see themselves, their place in the world, and what their futures may hold.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for every student who walks through our doors. I want them to be treated with respect and dignity, to know that their stories have been heard, and to help them experience success. To do this, we must not assume that they already have experienced success or know what we think success looks and or feels like. We must be mindful of how our presence in their lives can positively impact their day, week, year, and journey. We must be mindful of the fact that a mature, reflective, and authentically kind adult is usually all it takes to change someone's life. And I want you to know that I have come to these conclusions NOT because of books that I have read or theories that I believe in or subscribe to. I have confidence in this because it's what changed my life. So I am sure through lived experience, that collectively, we can do the same.

Positively impacting the lives of younger human beings is NOT an impossible task. That said, it is difficult and requires much humility, sacrifice, and work, but our students are counting on us, as are all of the members of our wonderful school community, and me, too.

Mirko