Many Voices, One Message

Many Voices, One Message

My husband walks into the room and stares at me. I am sitting on my bed, looking at my phone, and he instantly knows something is wrong. He pauses before he speaks because he already knows the answer, but he asks anyway. “What is wrong?” I look at him and all of the pieces begin to crumble because everything is wrong. People are saying hurtful things about educators, the funding  is not there, and there are zero decisions that will make any of this easier. To be frank, being a teacher has always been hard, but right now, it feels like the hits just keep coming.

As I lie awake reflecting on what it all means, I realize I need to apply a principle I use in my classroom when I open Facebook or Twitter. Behavior is communication. There is an underlying message that is being spoken right now through everyone’s social media posts that actually  points to the same message.

That message is: public education is important.

To understand this message, we need to listen to the meaning behind the words. When people say we need schools to open so we can fully open the economy, they are really acknowledging how critical our educational system is to our society. When they say kids' mental health is at stake, they are really saying schools provide so much more than an academic instruction. When they say my child's sports and extracurriculars are important, they are really saying my child connects with school through those extracurricular activities/sports. I don’t know what they will do without it. By listening to the meaning behind the words, we can hear community members actively saying  "we value our schools and we need our teachers".

On the flip side, there are people who are advocating for schools to provide virtual or hybrid instruction. Their opinions are actually communicating the exact same message when people say schools cannot open and guarantee safety. They are really saying I care too much about my students and the teachers to allow for someone to get sick or possibly die. When people say that the inconsistency and pivoting is too much, they are really saying kids (and people in general) need routines and consistency to feel safe. Too much uncertainty is bad for students, staff, and working parents. By listening to the meaning, we can hear community members actively saying "we value our schools and we need our teachers".

We begin to see a pattern behind the words.

We can faintly hear the heartbeat of the community saying this: public schools are important. We need you. The question becomes, how do we do that? Instead of asking/demanding an overburdened, underfunded, educational system to independently and completely address our community issues of COVID-19, the Digital Divide, and opening up the entire economy across America, what if we problem solved using that exact lens: this is a community issue and it will require a community solution. Let’s dream up what this could look like:

  • What would it look like for our legislator to pick up a clearing rag, and help us clean buses because we cannot afford to hire more custodians or provide enough transportation?
  • What would it look like for businesses to help by sponsoring technology purchases so districts can provide one-to-one devices or hotspots?
  • What would it look like for work spaces to provide spaces/staffing for parents who choose virtual instruction?
  • What would it look like for churches to open their buildings and offer free wifi to people who do not have access?
  • What would it look like if local stores held PPE drives so that donations can be made to schools?
  • What would it look like if vacant offices that are allowing people to work from home, allow districts to spread out and use those spaces?
  • What would it look like for doctors and schools to develop workable solutions that meet safety and educational needs?
  • What would it look like if the community response was reaching out to the local school districts and asking the question, how can we help?

When we begin to dream up ways to solve a community problem, we find that we can all work towards a mutual goal. Today that goal is opening public education. At the end of the pandemic, we may find partnerships that are strengthened because we worked together. We may find the feeling of support we are desperately looking for. We may find an entire community who firmly believes in the power of education.

Rachael Wilcox is a  first grade teacher at Independence Elementary School in the Francis Howell School District. She has presented sessions on character education and social emotional learning at various state and national conferences. Additionally, she has served as an implementation consultant for Character Strong and is on the Practitioner Advisory Board for the Learner Variability Project with Digital Promise. Rachael enjoys inspiring educators, but her most significant impact has been on the hearts of her students. She is a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist and has been a member of NNSTOY since her recognition.

© 2024 NNSTOY, All Rights Reserved
Website by David Taylor Design | NJ Website Design Company