chauntegarrett

Love. Serve. Teach. Learn.

Posts tagged ‘Service’

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The struggle…IS REAL! This is an understatement for many people, including myself, experiencing loss over the holidays. The months of November and December especially reign as pervasive reminders of what is lost. After a loss, be it a loved one, a relationship, a home, or a job…simply put life changes; and so does the experience during this time of the year. Loss, a physical event, leads to grief, an emotional journey. Grief creates this physical sensation of hollowness that our logical brain convinces us we can find a way to stuff full again. Therefore, we seek a lot of different ways to deal; sending us on a ride of emotions.
A few years ago, a civic minded friend invited me to feed the homeless on Christmas day. In this experience, I felt many emotions including shame and gratitude. After suffering several losses this year, and remembering those lost long before, serving on Christmas day 2017 became all the more important to me. As I recruited friends to participate; I wanted to believe it was my selfless nature that was driving me. As I reflect on our Christmas day experience; I was very selfishly needing an unnamed something from this experience. I found it in the form of the lessons below:

To Remember that in the midst of our experience we are still called to serve. “On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States,” (2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, HUD Exchange, December 2017). This is less than a 1% increase from last year (HUD Exchange, 2017); yet speaks to the persistence of the issue in all of our communities. Driving home from serving, I debriefed with my godchildren. When asked, what was shocking, my godson replied, “I recognized some of the same people from last year.” Truthfully, so did I. Then reality struck: a moment of charity made everyone feel better but it did not change the condition. The emotional experience of loss does not absolve us of our personal responsibility in the world. the feelings associated with loss become inconsistent overtime; where as our homeless community experience the feelings and the conditions of loss, day in day out and for some, year after year. Service as an event is a band aid; it is help but it is not healing. What more can we do to serve others by way of healing conditions rather than bandaging them?

To Recognize a new normal. When experiencing loss, whether we realize it, the way we eat, sleep, perform basic tasks and engage in what seems like minor daily events change. We can fight it by trying to make everything look and seem the same or we can embrace it. I used to take great pride in gifting during the holidays (or anytime of the year really!). Without the chance to exert that time and energy; I am confronted with the reality that the opportunity is no longer there. Rather than gifting; my new normal is giving. Feeding the homeless on Christmas day may be thought of a selfless giving of my time, my resources and myself; but honestly, it selfishly fills me with gratitude and fulfillment and reminds me of the grace and mercy that supports me through the tough times. We cannot erase the loss we feel but our new normal can invite many healthier emotions, like joy.

To Reinforce what makes you healthy. When experiencing loss we are often encouraged to find ways to make us happy. Happiness is an emotional choice; however, because it is a choice, when we are not attending to it; it can escape us. While striving to be happy we must also strive to be healthy! Our health is the collective of what we experience emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The weight of loss is heavy and it permeates through every aspect of our being creating fatigue without obvious warrant, frustration with misaligned triggers, withdrawal without cognition of where our presence should be, and making decisions with a long-term impact during a temporary mindset. I first accepted the invitation to feed the homeless because it just didn’t feel right to say no. The preferred alternative was limited interaction, introspective solitude and sleep. What I gained is an experience that rejuvenates and recalls me to my purpose; impacting me personally, in how I steward my gifts and resources and professionally by the attention I give to identifying and supporting students affected by homelessness. This service is my healthy choice for the holidays. Before reacting, deciding, and committing, give great thought into what will help you be healthy overall, beyond being happy in the moment.

To Receive each blessing as intended. As we grow older, we realize that people and relationships we value are irreplaceable. There isn’t a new relationship that makes us forget a past one; we are simply blessed to move past it. There isn’t a new baby that replaces a beloved family member; our families are simply blessed to keep growing. The blessings that are connected or follow are the next steps in God’s design, with their own intended purpose. As I reflect upon the homeless men, women and children that came through the serving lines on Christmas day, there was no emphasis placed on their current circumstance. A citizenry that knows loss as a way of life, there was a willingness to engage and a gracious “thank you,” for the blessing in the moment at hand. Every moment of our lives works together together for our good as a part of His plan (Romans 8:28). No moment or event can be replaced or erased; only acknowledged for what it is and the blessings that are revealed unto us as we go through it.

I know holidays will always be different from before and no experience can replace what and who is no longer there.

I also know to look for more.

Christmas day, I selfishly set out to walk in my purpose of serving not knowing how I would be served. With my family and several dear friends experiencing the absence of loved ones this season and the life changes that accompany it, I felt the need to share these lessons learned. I selfishly write as a welcome for anyone who knows this journey to share the experiences that taught valuable lessons while experiencing loss.

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all-i-wanted-to-do-was-teach-graphic

ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS TEACH. However, often I find myself…

Baffled. I received praise as I traveled my 50-mile commute post the 8:00 PM hour because we received a call about a missing student. I was just informing. I did not need the praise. I needed to find the student. The student was found.

Humbled. In my absence, my mom informs my church that a number of students were affected and even displaced by Hurricane Matthew. My church family proceeds to fill whole rooms in my mother’s home with clothes and goods to donate to the families I serve.

Grateful. When I share with the marketing director of the local Zaxby’s of the challenges we face in a school in which 75% of students receive free and reduced lunch, she reaches out to her church and provide us with enough food to serve 75 families the Saturday immediately following Hurricane Matthew.

Awestruck. Three local churches reach out to our schools because they know our needs and offer assistance during the holiday season. We were able to provide Christmas gifts to over 32 families.

Relieved. When a parent expresses wanting to find work and establish a career; I can connect them to the local agency and they receive one-on-one assistance and guidance toward their goal…toward better for their family.

Hungry. The snacks purchased for personal sustenance during the day becomes manna for the hungry students I serve. The snack drawer; now a pantry.

Sympathetic. Preparing assignments to send to the local prison for an incarcerated or homebound students. Developing a means to translate the content feasibly in the absence of face-to-face instruction.

Empathetic. Stock piling clothes into a clothes closet to ensure students have uniforms and clothing to wear to school.

Infuriated. Adhering to policies that do not serve students well and ostracize certain populations.

Exhausted. Addressing social-emotional needs that stem from loss, lack of exposure and experiences, and poverty, be it absolute, generational, or relative. We extend our day to support students in extra-curricular activities or engage parents in meetings, conferences and discussions.

Excited. When donating items to a local church for Hurricane Matthew victims and volunteering during their giveaway, I connect with families that I did not know were displaced and in need. We are able to help them find the social service assistance needed to help with recovery.

Hopeful. Helping more students to gain exposure to a college-going culture, career pathway, and opportunity unknown as they prepare for graduation through local community college partnerships. Connecting with local mental health services to address some of the needs students have that may impede learning.

Triumphant. Doubling the number of students gaining access to college level courses in high school.

Data-driven. Using every tool to understand what the students I serve need and how the curriculum needs to be delivered to ensure they receive it.

Thoughtful. Trying to determine what needs to happen to create the best school culture for students to learn. Figuring out ways to reach parents and partner with community entities. Putting the puzzle together to determine which partners can help plug which holes for students and their families.

Pensive. Racing to the end of the year, to get end of grade/course test scores securing the evidence needed to show we helped students grow and gain proficiency.

ALL I EVER REALLY WANTED TO DO… WAS TEACH and somehow I find myself on this emotional roller coaster.

I enjoyed teaching so much; I wanted to help others love teaching and curriculum as much as I do. In July, I began serving in my dream job: Chief Academic Officer. I love where I am in my career. Although, there were many changes traveling the road from being a teacher; what has not changed are the daily peaks and dips of this roller coaster ride.

When I share my day with others I often hear the sympathetic, “I do not know how you do it.” Or as we vent as colleagues I hear, “That’s not my job.”

The issue is…if I was not doing all of these things…I would not be able to do my job.

I would not be able to educate.

All I wanted to do was teach. After years as an educator, with the ups and downs, sways and jerks of the roller coaster, I now understand it all as my “reasonable service.”

What necessary “ups, downs, sways and jerks” would you add to the roller coaster? How are you addressing them? Share your thoughts. Let’s keep this ride going…

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“No Gifts this Christmas!” That was my Christmas 2016 declaration for my godchildren. Although worried that others may have the impression of me being cruel to my 10 and 12-year-old godchildren; I could justify my declaration.

  1. I believe in investing in experiences. Often aligning these experience to what they are studying in school. These experiences are necessary support to their achievement in school and quality of life.
  2. As they grow older, they are developing an awareness of wealth and it’s perceived connection to success. With this growing knowledge, there seems to be little consideration of the efforts “successful” people put into acquiring their wealth.
  3. My godchildren have the fortune of being raised by a village. In this village their primary responsibilities are to:
    • Attend to the lessons that will make them healthy human beings and
    • Attend to their studies.

I grow concerned that they are not prioritizing their responsibilities as they should. I do not want them to develop a sense of entitlement. Christmas 2016 was an opportunity to work on this. I set out to provide a different type of experience that would help my godchildren understand the value of service and the meaning of gratitude. They did not receive toys or gadgets for Christmas this year. Instead, we would serve together to feed the homeless in our community.

We walked to the venue. During our walk, Isaac asked, “Chaunté, what are we going to be doing?” I replied, “Feed the homeless.” He then looked at me as a know it all 12-year-old would and said, “But WHAT are we going to be doing?” I explained we would help where we could. I did not have a clue as to the specifics of this experience. For them, feeding the homeless resulted in many lessons. In this experience, I found several affirmations for me as an educator:

  1. The Value of the Hidden Curriculum! Hidden curriculum are those covert or unintended learning opportunities that are developed throughout or embedded in an intended lesson or curriculum. The skilled educator can find these opportunities and deepen learning to create relevance for students. Our four block walk, is one I often make and take for granted; however, they were curious with many questions about people and things we encountered along the way. Acknowledging their questions and finding answers along the way allowed me to create lessons for them and expand a context I never bothered to acknowledge.

Educators are the content experts of their classrooms; content knowledge can easily be taken for granted. What we know may look and appear very different through the lens of the children we serve. For fear of getting “off pace,” or not being explicitly included in the curriculum guide we may not embrace their questioning and queries. Be aware and embrace the hidden curriculum. Hidden curriculum provides valuable learning experiences too.

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Distributing toiletries

  1. The Value of Student Autonomy in Learning! I was worried they may be paralyzed with discomfort. Upon arrival, we had to “jump in” to help and they looked at me baffled as to what they were supposed to do. I gave them the following directions, “You see the man in the red shirt? Ask him if you can assist with handing out the toiletries.” The first 5 minutes they were paralyzed. My goddaughter, even looking back at me with confusion. Within the next five minutes, they were independently distributing materials. As toiletries were no longer available they began to distribute socks. As they served more people, I heard their wishes to have a “Merry Christmas” become stronger and more confident. They even decided to enhance the experience and entertain by playing music from the new cell phones. They became so committed to their assignments that they would even come from around the table to run and find people who missed picking up toiletries and socks as they came through the line. The humbling reality is that I did not have to do everything in order for them to engage and learn the intended lessons. All I had to do was create the opportunity; they were empowered to build the bridge. They turned this experience into one of the their own and brought some of themselves to it.

How awesome would classrooms be if we gave our students the opportunities to explore during learning more often? When they have the directions, tools, know what they are supposed to obtain at the end of their engagement; let them. They will meet and exceed expectations. The inability to provide student autonomy is stifling to their learning at in-depth levels. Allowing students to bring parts of themselves to their learning opportunities creates levels of relevance and a sense of achievement that we as educators cannot create for them.

  1. The Value of Curriculum Connections! On our walk home I questioned the pair, “What was interesting today?” Isaac responds, “I have never done this before. That made it interesting for me.” This was a shocking reality for me. The many donations we made purging closets and pantries in the name of service to others; I never provided them with the connecting experience of seeing and knowing how their efforts impacted other people. I set out to teach them to be servants and gracious givers; but did not provide the connection for them to fully understand the concept.

As educators, we provide great lesson plans, unpack the content to its foundation but often miss providing the experiences that provide the conceptual understanding. Curriculum connections are critical to students acquisition and comprehension of what it is intended for them to learn. Opportunities to engage authentically and immerse themselves is key to developing conceptual understanding of the content.

  1. The Value of Service! As we continued our walk, I continued to probe. “What did you see?” They questioned seeing children in the serving line; I explained that children are homeless because their parents are homeless. This was an unfathomable reality. They recalled seeing people juggle multiple plates of food and bags of food. I explained that this was because they did not know when they would receive a meal again. As I explained, we were passing the park just as the many served were unpacking their dinner plates. As we approached the house, Isaac turns to me and asked, “Chaunté, how do we keep them from being homeless?” I was proud; because he “got it,” and yet ashamed, because with all the effort to teach the lesson, I did not have the answer. I gave him the best I could at the time; honesty. “Son, I do not know. People are homeless for a lot of different reasons. As we learn their needs, we can try to help them.” He responded, “Well what do we do?” I am surprised at his probe of me now. “We can help in the ways we have: collect clothes, food, and assisting like today,” I needed him to know his previous efforts were accounted for and then followed up with, “I think we ensure we are always able to serve and make sure we continue to serve.”

As educators, we all have a classroom of children or a child that baffles us and challenges every best practice we know. We want so much for them, their circumstances, their qualities of life, their lack of support are constant hindrances to their success. There is no simple, one solution. We CAN dissect and develop the learning opportunities and experiences that will expose students to the hidden curriculum, give them the autonomy to develop in their own learning and provide the appropriate connections. WE CAN CONTINUE TO SERVE.

The holiday break is a time for educators to rejuvenate. Reflecting upon Christmas 2016, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time learning and growing with the children I love. I am grateful for the affirmations gained in practice that I can employ with the students I serve when we return to school in the new year.

What affirmed best practices are you looking forward to using in your service? I welcome you to share.

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