This episode is the last for 2023, and the Truth for Teachers Podcast will be back in January.
I thought carefully about the message I wanted to leave you with for the coming weeks, and since I’ve already talked about the logistics of a sabbatical in past years, I thought I’d focus this year not on how to carve out the time or what to do during that time, but on how we can direct our thoughts.
With everything happening in the world and in our schools, this feels like a really important time for what I think of as “radical re-imagination.” This is the ability to imagine the world, life, and institutions not as they are or have been, but in an entirely new way, so that we can bring that imagination into reality.
In this episode, I’ll share:
- Why I think winter is the perfect time for dreaming and visionary thinking
- My beliefs on the inherent value of imagination and why we shouldn’t immediately rush to practical, actionable steps when creating change
- Thoughts on the power of grassroots change and dreaming of a better path to collective action together (rather than waiting for top-down transformation)
- Questions you can ask yourself as we head toward the new year to prompt visionary thinking and help you reimagination your life and work in any area(s) that you’d like
In the stillness of winter, it may look like there’s little activity in the natural world, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. The time of rest is essential preparation for the activity of the spring to come. There will be a time for doing … but first, there must be a time for stillness.
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Get inspiration for dreaming through the Daily Encouragement Podcast
The Truth for Teachers Daily Encouragement Podcast will continue through December. New episodes drop each day from Monday-Friday. Each episode is 3-5 minutes long, so it’s perfect to listen:
- When you first wake up to start your day on a positive note
- During your commute to school to ease into “school mode”
- On your break to re-energize yourself for the afternoon; OR
- After dismissal to ground, calm, and re-center when the day’s done
I’m going to do some really fun things in the second half of December on Truth for Teachers Daily Encouragement that have absolutely nothing to do with teaching, and will just help you relax into your break, be present in whatever you’re experiencing at the holidays, and spend some time on reimagining what you want your life and teaching to look like in 2024.
If you like this idea of taking a break from working and thinking about work during your time off in December and early January, and re-centering on what’s important to you for the new year, make sure you’re subscribed to the Truth for Teachers Daily Encouragement podcast. It’s $3.99/month billed through Spotify, and you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. Cancel anytime.
I’m only committing to the Daily Encouragement podcast for this school year, so if it’s something you’d benefit from, don’t wait to subscribe!
Why winter is the perfect time to reimagine
The late December episodes of the Daily Encouragement podcast will help you create space during your time off for dreaming and radical reimagination. Let’s get into that topic more now, and set the scene for what you may want to do during your December break, and throughout this winter in general, assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere like I am.
Winter, to me, is a time of slowing down, going inward, of finding stillness that’s harder to access during the warm months. Winter’s long dark nights give us more time indoors, so we can concentrate on more home and personal projects with fewer distractions from the outside world.
This is a big part of why I take my sabbatical in December. This is a tradition I started out of mental health necessity in 2020, but have made it an annual tradition because it’s a good time of year for it. Schedules are shifting for the holidays, most people have more time off, and there’s an eagerness to rest, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy gifts and special treats. The expectation to answer emails or get things done is loosened, and most people shift to a more relaxed schedule.
So, for my sabbatical, I stay offline as much as possible during the first two weeks of December, and then in the second half of December, I completely disconnect from work and the online world until after New Year’s Day.
The inherent value of visionary thinking and dreaming
Since I’ve already talked about the logistics of a sabbatical in past years, I thought I’d focus this year not on how to carve out the time or what to do during that time, but on how we can direct our thoughts.
With everything happening in the world and in our schools, this feels like a really important time for what historian, author, and UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley referred to as “Freedom Dreaming.” To him, this meant visualizing a future of joy and liberation for all people. He says, “Freedom Dreaming is a tool that invites us to create the world we dream of by, first, visualizing the future we want to live in, and second, determining the actions that will lead us there.”
Freedom dreaming originated with the liberation of and leadership by marginalized people, so I want to be careful here in citing that important work while not appropriating it for my own purposes. The type of dreaming I’m referring to certainly includes liberatory practices but may not always center on that.
Rather than use the term “freedom dreaming” which is a bit more specific, I like the term “radical re-imagination.” This is the ability to imagine the world, life, and institutions not as they are or have been, but in an entirely new way.
This quote from Max Haiven sums it up:
“The radical imagination is not just about dreaming of different futures. It’s about bringing those possibilities back from the future to work on the present, to inspire action and new forms of solidarity today. A part of liberation, of freedom, of creating the world we want to live in is being able to imagine something better. If we can’t imagine something better, then we can never have it.
So maybe this winter could be a time for you to dream freely or radically reimagine possibilities:
- Is there an aspect of your life that you know needs to change? Something that’s not working well for you? Something you need to let go of?
- What would something better look like in that area?
- What else could be possible beyond what you’ve previously experienced?
Also, consider what you could radically reimagine in your work. For example, in the training I do with teachers on my Finding Flow Solutions curriculum, there’s a big emphasis on radically reimagining student engagement. What would it look like for students to fully participate, to care about their learning, to experience success in class?
Only once we imagine something better–really see it in our mind’s eye–can we plan the short-term and long-term steps to get them there. The vision, the radical reimagination of the problem, is essential. We are so used to students being apathetic or disengaged that we assume it could never be any different.
So, what is happening right now in your school community or classroom that is disempowering and de-energizing? What’s something you’d like to see change but don’t even believe it’s possible?
I think because there are so many limitations and systemic issues in education, it’s easy for teachers to say, well, this is just never going to happen. This is completely unrealistic. And I think that stems from them being asked to do the impossible, right? If you’re constantly being asked to do more than you actually can, then when someone’s like, I know, let’s have this collective vision where we all support each other, you’re like, yeah, right? I can’t even manage what I’m already doing, much less that.
But I think it’s important not to lose that space for dreaming because if we wait for someone else to have that vision, it’s not necessarily going to be what we need. I don’t think anyone knows your classroom as well as you as a teacher, and no one knows your community, your school, your demographics as much as you.
Dreaming of a better path to collective action
And so I think we need teachers and parents and students and other stakeholders to all have a voice in this dream and to be able to dream together without saying, we’re going to go implement this in a three-step process tomorrow.
The thing about freedom dreaming is that you can’t systematize it. You cannot standardize it. You cannot look for a consultant to just come in and make it happen for you overnight.
It’s something that everyone has to be collectively invested in. It happens over time. It’s shaped by the individuals in a specific location. What’s going to happen in one school is not going to be what’s happening in another.
I understand that dreaming of something better can feel unrealistic, and it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to go implement it right away. There is value in the vision. There’s value in dreaming, imagining working towards something in your mind, even if the system isn’t cooperating in terms of actually being able to implement it.
It does have to be a collective effort. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a top-down thing.
I think that a small group of teachers, particularly if teachers can align with parents, because a lot of times parents tend to have more influence on what’s happening in the schools than teachers, for better or for worse. If you can align with just even a handful of parents, we’ve seen how a handful of rowdy parents at a school board can push a whole agenda through. And I think that folks who are really thinking about what’s best for teachers and kids can be doing the same thing in the sense of recognizing the power of a minority, that you don’t have to get everyone on board in order to create change.
You can find like-minded folks and band together and work to create change and look for things that you have in common with people who oppose it.
So there may be certain issues that you’re just never going to all agree on, but maybe everyone agrees that kids need more recess time. So there’s very few people, I think in terms of teachers or parents who would say, I want less recess for kids. I think we’ve all kind of gotten to the point where we understand now, physical movement and creativity, fresh air, all these things are very important.
So are there things that we can actually band together in and accomplish together? And then you’re more allies. It’s much harder to dehumanize or demonize the quote other side people who don’t share your values, if you have accomplished something with them, if you’ve worked to get an extra recess break with people who have different viewpoints than you, it’s much harder than when we’re talking about book banning to be like, you’re a monster who hates kids. Clearly, you’re not because you just worked with me to get more recess time.
Are there ways that we can work towards things that we do have in common to create positive change? And then can we just find this small cadre of like-minded folks to push the envelope a little bit towards the things that maybe not everyone agrees on, but something that could be maybe brought into existence?
Because a lot of people are not freedom dreaming. They’re not envisioning something better. And, they don’t actually have a plan.
I think that’s something we’ve seen at these school board meetings too. They don’t actually know what they want. They just have vague fears around certain things that they think might be happening that they don’t want. They don’t have a clear vision when it’s like, okay, so what harm do you think is being caused? They’re not telling you that. And then when you say, okay, so what should we teach instead? They don’t have a clear answer for that either.
So we can have clear answers: ‘This is exactly what we want to do, this is why we want to do it, this is how it’s going to affect kids, this is how it’s going to affect different demographics of kids. This is our goal.” It’s much harder to argue that down with vague feeling-oriented statements like, “Well, I’m just afraid somebody might feel bad if they hear this. They might feel bad about themselves.:
I think that we can come in with that freedom dream, formulate it into something that could actually be doable, and articulate that plan, it’s just much easier to get change accomplished.
So none of this obviously is easy. None of this is overnight. None of this is individualistic.
And I don’t ever want to put more on the backs of teachers because I think those of us who are not in the classroom also need to be leading this kind of work or assisting, supplementing this kind of work, amplifying this kind of work because it can’t be another thing just for teachers to do.
But I do want teachers to feel like you don’t have to wait for help to come from the outside, that you have power, you have influence, and you know what those students need better than anyone else because you’re the only one who’s in the classroom with them altogether every single day. Parents know their individual children, they don’t know the whole class. They don’t know what these other kids are going through. They don’t know what their families are like. Their upbringings are like their personalities, their likes, their dislikes.
The teacher knows that. And so I think really drawing on those strengths when we’re creating change can make a big difference. So as much as student choice, student buy-in, and so on feel like meaningless buzzwords sometimes, that really is so much of it. The kids have to feel connected to the teacher, feel like they can be safe and feel vulnerable in order to give that kind of input and in order to get the kind of engagement that you want.
In our reimagining, I would urge you not to underestimate the power of following your students’ lead because a lot of times they have even better ideas than we do. They see possibilities that we don’t see, and they can think of things that are going to engage their peers that we might not think about. So some of the most powerful things happening right now in schools I think are very much student-driven and kids really kind of lead the way for teachers.
Questions to ask yourself to prompt visionary thinking
My challenge to you is to spend some time over the holiday break reimagining what could be possible in your classroom so you return to school reenergized in 2024.
See if you can carve out time to prioritize visioning, daydreaming, and imagination:
As you think about a community you belong to — your school, your neighborhood, or another community that has personal significance — what would it look like to radically reimagine how something is working?
Just play around with ideas. Get your imagination going with prompts like these:
- What if…
- Wouldn’t it be cool if…
- Can you imagine if…
- I would be so excited if…
Try to really embody that re-imagination: a classroom in which students are engaged and enthusiastic; a school in which colleagues and admin are family members are on the same team working together; a community which is working toward a shared goal.
Or maybe it’s something in your personal life: you have a comfortable home in which you are surrounded not by clutter or lack but with things that enhance your life. Or, you have a peaceful home that feels like a place of refuge. Or, you’re doing something for your physical, mental, emotional, or relationship health that will transform them into something even better than you previously dared to imagine.
Let yourself daydream and envision.
Also, think about why this imagination matters to you. Why is it important? Really ground into the purpose of it.
And then, allow yourself to imagine how your radical reimagination can become reality:
- What would need to happen long-term that you’d work toward?
- Who else might be involved?
- What small, everyday steps could help you make that dream a reality?
All of these re-imagination steps don’t have to be done sequentially, or while you’re sitting down focused intently with a pen or laptop to take notes. Certainly, you could do it that way.
I’m just trying to plant these ideas in your head, so that they’ll resurface when you’re sitting at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green, when you’re standing in line at the grocery store, when you’re looking up at the dark night sky at 6 pm and trying to find the stars.
Plant the seed for your dream. That’s the priority. Return to it again and again. Allow your mind to wander to it and think about stuff that seems impossible or far-fetched. Don’t jump immediately into action mode, just practice dreaming.
You might even want to dedicate this entire winter season to freedom dreaming or practicing radical imagination. Go inward more, carve out more time for stillness and solitude, and more time for playfulness and joy which spur creativity and outside the box innovative thinking.
Almost everything outside right now is about to go into a phase of semi-dormancy in my part of the world, here in the northeast United States. The animals will be less active. The trees and plants won’t produce leaves or flowers until spring. The ground will be cold and hard.
But that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.
The stillness of winter, the time of rest, is essential preparation for the activity of the spring to come. There will be a time for action, for movement, for doing. But the time for stillness is valuable too. Take all the time you need.
You’ll hear from me each morning throughout the month of December on the Truth for Teachers Daily Encouragement podcast, and in the second half of the month when you’re on break, I’ll help you create space for dreaming and radical reimagination through those short 3-5 minute episodes so you keep this idea in the forefront of your mind. Click the link in the show notes to subscribe there if you aren’t already.
I’ll be back here on the main Truth for Teachers podcast in January, ready to ring in 2024 with you and sharing more resources to help make your imagination a reality. Have a wonderful December, and I’ll see you in the New Year. Remember, it’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be worth it.
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