I've been doing a lot of what Marcus Strother describes below as "people watching" on Instagram. There's nothing wrong with that, however, after reading this post that he wrote for Teacher Magic, I feel even more compelled in my mission. Much of what I do on Instagram is reposting other people's work with a few bits and pieces of what I'm doing sprinkled in. When I see an educator like Marcus online, I become extremely excited (and a little bit obsessed). Everytime I see him online, he is with one of the many youth groups that he works with, and I just love seeing people out here actually DOING THE WORK.
People always ask me when I am going to get back into the classroom. They tell me how great I am/was and how much the students need me. The truth is...I have engagement, rigor, standards-based learning, content, and culturally relevant lessons on LOCK! But, I am growing myself personally and professionally in the area of social emotional health. I have had many great lessons and my student data reflects that, but I WANT MORE. I NEED MORE. The children, families, and communities that I serve are more than just numbers.
DATA...with a Soul!
written by Marcus Strother
For the better part of 20 years, I have walked into a school building of some sort to work with young people and adults on all different levels. For the better part of 20 years, I have also been in this weird tug of war. Am I just supposed to make sure my students get good grades and achieve the numbers that make our district look good or am I supposed to develop the best human possible, knowing that that won’t always be done by focusing on graduation rates, attendance and behavior? For the better part of 20 years, I have always known the answer to this self-proclaimed tug war.
On Sunday mornings, I wake up between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, I make my coffee, smudge my home, clean my pond and meditate. After this is complete, I sit down to read from a book called “Soul Matters for the Heart” by Mark Gilroy. Why am I telling you this? It’s important to the story. It was my boat.
There is a story that many have heard, probably in many different ways, that talks about a drowning man praying for God to help him and during his plea, three different boats come by and he passes each one up and doesn’t get on any boat. Once he did not make it, and was able to ask God why he had not helped him, God said, “I sent you three boats.” Now, I know that is a rough draft of the actual story, but I believe you get my point. Two years ago, I, along with some of my team, came up with this ideological way of approaching our work by calling it Life Data. We even began branding it with the hashtag #LifeDataMatters and completed a documentary of the same title (which has 3 more parts coming). We have a short animated manifesto and logo. Everything that you need to begin telling the narrative of what life data is. At least I thought. It wasn’t until I continued building relationships with even more educators that I began to understand that I needed to do more to help people understand what Life Data is.
I have tried to be very intentional with who I follow on Instagram. I love to be inspired. I love to watch people thrive. I love to people watch. Instagram has become my daily airport. It’s the best place to sit and watch people do what they are meant to do and that’s live. I came across one account that caught my attention, so I had to follow. When your IG name is @teachermagic it’s going to catch your eye. As time passed, @teachermagic and I really started sharing ideas about our work and who we are. One day I got a message that read, “I need you to share your work, you need to write something and tell people about what you do!” These were the words that ended up in my DM (Direct Message) from @teachermagic. What do I do? Since @teachermagic put this in my DM, I have been asking myself this question every day. What do I do?
The day you realize that you are teaching humans and not teaching Math, Language Arts, Social Science, Physical Education, World History, and so on, is the day that you become a teacher. This is what I do. I teach young people who have biographies. They are not data points. They are stories. They have human testimony that equates to assessment. They are my DATA…With a Soul.
I spent the first day of school at a large comprehensive high school. Now, in my district role and not as a high school administrator, I am approached much differently from teachers, since most of them believe that district office staff actually come from the Death Star (Star Wars). Although I am there in a district role, I cannot step onto a school campus and not immediately begin thinking about the young people and what is happening to them, as if I was their building principal. As I spent my time in this space, it was amazing to me the lack of relationship building that did NOT occur during this first day of school. Although students were lost and needed help finding a class and new parents stood outside watching their child go into high school for the first time, the feel of the day felt like it was the 100th day of school. This was the first day back. This was the opportunity to start building culture and establishing who we were as a community. But it didn’t take long for me to recognize that what lacked in this building was the sense of community. A sense of belonging.
I often find myself in meetings feeling like an outcast. I often question if anyone sees our students as real human beings with real stories. What’s even more interesting, is that most people, after the meeting is over, feel the same way I do but just don’t speak on it. What happens to us in meetings that we shut down and allow for our students to simply become statistics?
I am as much a proponent of academic progress as any other educator. I do NOT want this to come off as a condemning of academics and its importance. I do, however, want to continue to push us (educators) into a place of comfortable living with Life Data. Our young people need good relationships with the adults they come in contact with. Our young people need to be seen as real people with a real story. Our young people need a hug. They need a high five. They need to hear that you are proud. They even need us to sit down and have that “get your stuff together” moment as well, because that also lets the young people know you care. All of this, on top of making sure they are academically strong, can be done. We can make sure our young people graduate, go to college, finish college and are good human beings that are healed, healthy and empowered, all at the same time. #LIFEDATAMATTERS is real. It is important. It is the work.
When I think about what I do, I think about it in this way. James Baldwin once quoted Ernest Hemingway by saying, “I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done!” This calling for helping educators understand the importance of Life Data within our young people, is my work!!!!!
PLEASE! Don't let this "boat" pass you. Watch the documentary, follow Marcus on Instagram (click here), check out his youth-led podcast "We Dream", become familiar with his work --- and if you're in the position to, HIRE HIM.