March 17, 2020 — Have you noticed? I’m sure you have or at least I hope you have. The gentle acts of kindness. The willingness to set aside personal needs, fears, and anxieties in service of the other. The undercurrent of humanness that is running, present but silently, even as the Coronavirus spreads across the land. The author Annie Dillard in “Teaching a Stone to Talk” reminds us to remember that the dragons of isolation are a means, if allowed, to bring us to places of deeper meaning and purpose. She writes:

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.

Good and sound advice but not easy to follow for leaders, educators, and members of the helping professions. The individuals who others in need look to for guidance and visions of what is possible beyond the immediate moment of despair. Here are a few ideas to pursue if you are interested in finding the substrate of hope and mutual human care

Walk the aisle of your grocery store or pharmacy. Find the empty shelves. They are easy to locate because they are everywhere. No more tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, wipes, frozen foods, bread, eggs, dried beans, butter… A few scattered packages of Ramen noodles. The lack of essential items speaks loudly in the voice of scarcity. The temptation, and I know this when I recently shopped for my groceries, is to succumb to the social impulse to draw in and circle around my needs and concerns. This feels like a natural impulse, a move toward self-preservation. To gather up all I can find.

But I also realized, while standing there, that much of my panic is driven by my social context; a society that values individual initiative, messages that I’m responsible for acquiring my own means of sustenance, and the privatization of purpose and responsibility. So, I encourage you to go to your grocery store with no other purpose than experiencing the emotion of fear. The impulse to hoard anything you can find, even when there is nothing left to put in your cart. Scarcity is a verb in our society. But also, ride those emotions to a deeper level. Why is fear such a powerful feeling? How realistic is it? Empathize with individuals who are in need in the communities you are most intimately connected to. Expand the circle of isolation beyond your personal sphere that surrounds you as you stand in that aisle, alone while surrounded by emptiness. Connect to everyone in need. You are not alone.

Here is another idea to consider, especially for leaders, formal and informal. In the landmark study by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, “Relational Trust in Schools” they identify four social-emotional factors associated with successful school reform. These core elements are equally applicable to organizational leadership or a personal response to social networks impacted by the Coronavirus. Here they are: respect, personal regard, role competency, and personal integrity. Respect; genuinely listening to the other, with regard and attentiveness, even when you disagree. Personal regard: the imperative of extending yourself beyond the confines of your role. Role competence; possessing the knowledge and skills to complete tasks of shared interest to the community. Personal integrity; following through, in a timely manner, tasks you have agreed to complete. Attending to relational trust, as they say, is not rocket science. Saying hello. Asking, with meaning, how someone is doing. Sending a supportive email or better yet a card. Buying flowers for the office. All count toward building and sustaining relational trust. Small acts yield big results in human connectedness and social resiliency.

Relational trust is simply a more descriptive version of hospitality, the age-old commitment to care for the other, the stranger in our midst. Aren’t we all strangers to each other at work and in the grocery store as we grapple with our scarcity inflamed fear?

Hospitality has always had a subversive, counter cultural dimension. Hospitality is resistance… especially when the larger society disregards or dishonors certain persons, small acts of respect and welcome are potent far beyond themselves… Hospitality resists boundaries that endanger persons by denying their humanness.  It saves others from the invisibility that comes from social abandonment.

I find in this definition of hospitality by Christine Pohl in “Making Room” to be easy to understand only a little harder to implement. It does take courage and a degree of vulnerability to meet, greet, and care for the stranger at the gate of your city, your office, your home. But like relational trust it is the small acts that add up to resist fear, scarcity, and social isolation. Leaders should make sure everyone they supervise knows the name of everyone else in their group. Create opportunities for sharing stories about navigating, toward wholeness, moments of crisis.

The world right now is full of dangerous emotions that seek to break apart relational bounds and community connections. Now is the time to turn toward others for help. When I’m sick of body and heart, and I’m isolated in my own needs and means I can only rely on others for support. This is the way humans have survived tragedy and the unexpected for tens of thousands of years. Our ancestors lived and traveled in small groups, self-sufficient to the best of their ability. But the archeological record tells another story worth hearing. These isolated groups may have been separated geographically but they were often relational connected to and dependent on other nearby groups. Periodically these wandering tribes would come together or cross paths, exchanging information, trading goods, and developing social bounds. In the face of an unexpected disaster, a group in need could turn to other groups for support until the challenge passes. Survival was both an individual responsibility but also a deeper understanding that underneath everything, as Annie Dillard tells us, is the unifying truth of wholeness; we are all connected. The Coronavirus makes this truth abundantly clear.

Sept 24, 2019—As an educator I have many rituals, practices, and traditions that inform my approach to teaching and learning. One in particular sticks out. When I’m slow to enact it my students are quick to ask me why and to call for its immediate implementation. The ritual and rhythm of snack time is at the center of their concern and interest. The classes I teach run from 4:00-6:20 and many of my students are practicing professionals in education, social work, and allied fields. They often come to class tired, hungry, and frequently distracted by the day’s work. The things they did right, and the things they did wrong. Their mistakes in particular seem to really impact their social-emotional state, even when the mistakes are less frequent or significant than their successes. In short they are often emotionally stressed, physically hungry, and in need of slowing down and centering.

Food is the base layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is both the foundation of all other needs while also holding them captive to fulfilling the need for food first. When hunger dominates, learning, a higher tier in the hierarchy, can rarely be achieved. In basic human psychology and good pedagogy it makes sense to care for the nutritional and emotional needs of students before introducing content and engaged thinking. It is the obvious pedagogical move that is too seldom stated as such. But for me, there is more going, more to this story, more beyond the wisdom of tending to stomach so brain can hear, process, and learn.

When I first started teaching I was often annoyed and bothered when students brought food to class. Even worse when they were eating during a lesson. I was unable to say why food in class felt wrong. I just knew it was. My early attempts to make sense of my concern included: disrespect for me and classmates, a seemingly individualistic act in a space that was communal, and a personal inability to wait to eat until later. All eventually seemed inadequate in capturing my dislike of the behavior. I tried all the usual strategies for managing the behavior such as making announcements, talking to students privately, and ignoring the behavior. None seemed to lessen my personal angst. I began to ask myself what I was missing. What was I not listening to or paying attention to that energized the deep core of the struggle. Why did the importance of food in Maslow’s Hierarchy explain the need to eat but failed to ease my concerns, which I fully named as my problem and in no way could it be construed as student ill intent.

I can no longer say when it happened, what the catalyst was, but I can tell you how I transformed my understanding of food and eating away from a distraction into a practice of community and caring. A ritual everyone looks forward to and willingly partakes in, a part of the instructional space as important as texts, teacher, and student to learning and human flourishing. At some point I made the connection between food and the patterns throughout human history of people coming together in community. Around a meal they would tell stories, mark important moments, share fellowship, and reimagine a life giving relationship between individual drive and communal responsibility. That was it, the reason I disliked eating in class. As currently practiced in my pedagogy it fell short of the importance of food as a builder of deep connection and community. I almost immediately initiated a “snack time” in my teaching during instructional breaks. On a voluntary basis, each week, a different group of students will provide the food.  It doesn’t matter what they bring. It doesn’t matter how much they bring. It doesn’t matter if a student forgets their week or another brings extra on a week. It only matters that food is present, it is understood as a ritual of community, and that at the end of break everyone is nourished in body and spirit.

At the start of every quarter I share the food story, my initial dislike of eating in class, and my conversion to fully embracing it. At the end of the narrative I pass out the snack list for students to signup, if they wish, to bring something to share during break. I now understand what I was unable to see earlier in my career. Food is a mechanism to foster fellowship and community. In the simplest of terms it is a deep form of hospitality, to self and others. It is an invitation and ritual to reach beyond the moment, beyond individual needs, past the tendency to treat others as something different than self, and to expand the range of human potential in a learning space.

Hospitality as noted by Christine Pohl in her book: “Making Room” (1999) is a remarkable “mystery” given the deep emotions and connections it fosters for the giver and receiver in what otherwise seems like a mundane and “ordinary activity”. Pohl studies faith communities and the wisdom they can offer regarding hospitality, especially in contexts where the importance of hospitality is lost or downplayed. I find the following touch points helpful in thinking about my practice of hospitality in the classroom. They also provide a compelling rationale for my act of snack time.

  • Depending on someone else to provide, even minimally, for your needs builds compassion and empathy for others in need. In a classroom setting this can help support the wider mission of building a caring community where sometimes you have to ask for help with an assignment or reading;
  • Through the sharing of a meal one experiences the joy of being welcomed into a group “even if only briefly, the stranger is included in a life-giving and life sustaining network of relations”;
  • Hospitality “transcends social and ethnic differences” by creating a space of equals around a shared table where interaction is “face to face, gracious, unassuming, nearly indiscriminate, and always enthusiastic”; and
  • To fully benefit from hospitality “requires an openness of heart, a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generosity of time and resources”.

These are lofty goals and a bit of stretch to think that they are all possible in a classroom setting. However, even little shifts in human to human interactions along the lines of hospitality will enable the development of a more life giving and academically enriching classroom. If a little food can achieve this small goal I’m all in. How about you?

Morgridge College of Education (MCE) alumni serve in every school district in the greater Denver area. MCE grads are in approximately 300 leadership positions in the Denver Public School District (DPS) alone. Those positions include 82 principals, 107 assistant principals, and 4 instructional superintendents from the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program (ELPS). That number doesn’t even include the hundreds of MCE alumni who have graduated from the Teacher Education Preparation program (TEP) and now serve in high-needs and high-achieving schools across the front range and beyond.

With such a long list of educators, it became something of a challenge to determine the best way to recognize them during the annual Teacher Appreciation Week. That’s when University of Denver’s (DU) Vice Chancellor for Advancement, Armin Afsahi, MCE’s Director of Alumni Engagement, Megan Stribling, and TEP Field Coordinator, Betsy Leonard, joined forces to create an extended two-week long Educator Appreciation Event in conjunction with DU’s Alumni Weekend activities.

According to Stribling, “At MCE, we love our teachers so much, we couldn’t show our appreciation in just one week – we had to do two! With Teacher Appreciation Week and DU’s Alumni Weekend back to back, combining them just made sense.”

The Appreciation Blitz kicked off during the traditional Teacher Appreciation Week and culminated with a visit by MCE Dean Karen Riley and Vice Chancellor Armin Afsahi to Carson Elementary School. At each school, recipients were presented with a basket of DU appreciation items, along with a Distinguished Partner certificate.

“Morgridge College is intentionally community-focused. We place upwards of 600 students in schools, mental health clinics and non-profits throughout the Denver area. We created the MCE Distinguished Partner designation this year, as a way to recognize those key organizations with whom we work. It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” said Dean Karen Riley.

Principal, Anne Larkin, seemed to agree with that description, “We love getting DU students and hiring them as teachers. They are so prepared when they come to us!”

Carson Elementary was selected as the final stop on the Appreciation Blitz due to the high number of MCE alumni that currently serve there, including Assistant Principal Valecia Von Weiss and School Lead for Teacher Mentoring Natalie Jacobsen.

Like many schools, Carson is not just home to MCE alumni, but also to current TEP student teachers. While touring the school, Riley and Afsahi made stops at each classroom where a mentor teacher was providing leadership to an MCE student educator. Mentor teachers, most of whom are MCE alumni, included Corey Broker, Natalie Jacobsen, Cynthia Smith, and Whitney Adams.

At one stop, Dean Riley was invited to participate in an impromptu sign language conversation with students in Ms. Diniro’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program (DHH) classroom.

This visit was the highlight of my day. It reminds us all of why we do what we do, and the profound impact our teachers make every single day,” said Riley.

 Armin Afsahi seemed to agree with that sentiment, as upon returning to the DU campus, he asked, “So, can we do that again tomorrow?!”

Although the senior leadership will probably not be making daily school visits, they will be hard at work raising awareness around the critical advances that DU alumni and all teachers are making to create more possibilities through access to quality education.

Morgridge College recognized the innovative service of community partners at this year’s Appreciation Breakfast held in the MCE Commons. This annual event seeks to honor this group that inspires, mentors, and partners with MCE to provide enriching opportunities for students while bringing about social impact in a variety of community and educational settings.

Learn more about the 2018 Honorees:

Department of Counseling Psychology: Denver Jails Correctional Psychology Program

The Denver Jails support opportunities for our students to provide individual and group therapy to incarcerated men and women. In addition to this unique clinical placement, with a myriad of diagnoses, presenting problems and intersecting traumas, the Denver Jails correctional psychology team is dedicated to providing outstanding individual and group supervision. Our students have opportunities not only to learn about the intricacies of counseling with an underserved population, but also to learn about the dynamics of intersecting a system of criminal justice and health care that impacts the mental health and well-being of their clients. We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the psychology team in their support of the professional development of these emerging clinicians.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies: Amy Keltner, Deputy Chief of Schools, Denver Public Schools

The goal of the Tiered School Supports team is to accelerate improvement in the highest needs schools in order to increase the number of students with access to high performing schools in Denver Public Schools. The team does this through alignment of supports, resources, and interventions to a school’s unique needs, and through partnering with the community to design new or innovative high performing district schools. They partner with schools, district departments, network teams, communities, and other partners to develop and implement improvement strategies that will result in dramatic gains for all students.

Department of Higher Education: Campus Compact of the Mountain West

Campus Compact of the Mountain West is a membership organization of college and university presidents devoted to promoting civic learning. They have served as an invaluable resource to Higher Education students by acting as an important link to the national Campus Compact and the Colorado Civic Health Network, as well as providing opportunities, such as AmeriCorps leadership jobs. The initiatives of the Compact align well with Morgridge’s overall goal to investigate how institutions embed civic and democratic commitments.

Department of Research Methods and Information Science: Museo de las Americas

Museo de las Americas is a fine arts museum in Denver, Colorado. It is dedicated to educating the community through collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting the diverse arts and cultures of the Americas, from ancient to contemporary. The Museo offers cultural workshops, professional development for educators, and summer camps for children. The Museo was selected as one of the honorees this year because of their close alliance with Dr. Bruce Uhrmacher’s work in the arts and aesthetics. Since 2005, the Museo provided Bruce’s classes with special tours of the museum, offered space for seminars, and hosted Morgridge internships.

Department of Teaching and Learning Sciences: Colorado African Organization

The Colorado African Organization is a nonprofit agency located in Denver whose mission is to “support Colorado’s migrant – refugee, immigrant, and asylum-seeking – populations in their pursuit of integration, self-sufficiency, and freedom.” From its inception, CAO has been at the forefront in promoting the role of Community Navigators – who are former refugees with a deep appreciation of the resiliency displayed and the challenges faced by newcomer families and students, as they adjust to new systems in our country, including our public education policies, practices, and expectations. This award reflects our sincere gratitude and appreciation of the insights willingly provided by the Community Navigators at CAO over the last nine years and their help arranging meaningful preservice, social-bridging experiences between our students and newcomer families.

Morgridge College of Education community members had the unique opportunity to ask new University of Denver Chancellor, Dr. Rebecca Chopp, questions about higher education, inclusive excellence, technology, and community building. The video series Chatting with Chopp features Chancellor Chopp as she answers questions posed by the DU Community.

Chancellor Chopp brings a wealth of experience to DU.  Most recently, she served as the president at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. In addition to her advanced administrative roles at numerous institutions, Chancellor Chopp is a widely published author and editor. In 2013, she co-edited the book Remaking College: Innovation in the Liberal Arts. The Morgridge College of Education is excited to share our opportunity to Chat with Chopp.

Watch the video above to learn more about Chancellor Chopp’s perspective on higher education.


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