Tag Archives: social work education

“Name one interesting thing that you noticed today”

Carol A. Hand

The research class I teach class meets every other week for 2 hours on Saturdays. During the intervening weeks, students have online activities and assignments to complete. That may sound easy, but it’s actually quite challenging. Establishing and maintaining interpersonal connections, building meaningful online content, and creating and grading strategically-designed sequential assignments, are thought-provoking, time-intensive jobs.

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Class Assignment Diagram

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We begin our face to face classes with a check-in. The first question has already become a ritual. “Name one interesting thing that you noticed today.”

Students are now eager to share as soon as the Power Point slide appears. “I knew you were going to ask us that today, so I made it a point to pay attention and notice things this morning!

Hearing that is music to my heart!

It’s so important to listen to the different perspectives around the room as we reconnect with each other after the weeks we spent living our everyday lives in different places. Building meaningful connections with others and “doing re-search” both require attentive presence. Noticing what’s around us is a necessary first step. Listening intently to other views in order to expand our understanding of the world is the second.

Being witness to these “processes of practicing presence” is a precious gift. I’m so grateful for the students and colleagues who make it possible.

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White Pony Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Fall is really here. It was time to take my little “White Pony” in for a check-up and oil-change today. Yes, my 11-year old car has a name thanks to my granddaughter and an Ojibwe friend I haven’t seen in years. Here’s an excerpt from a poem that describes my car’s naming ceremony.

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La Joie de la Vie

My Granddaughter Dancing in the Rain – July 2015

“What can we do that’s fun in the rain?
Do you think we should wash the car?”
“Oh yes, oh yes!,” you said.
So I grabbed a bucket and two new sponges,
yours orange and mine purple.

Carefully Washing “White Pony” – July 2015

“Does your car have a name?”
I thought quickly of one of your favorite toys – Pink Pony!
And I remembered an Ojibwe friend from long ago
who teased me about riding my White Pony
when I drove another white car
through the forests, past lakes and farmlands
to tribal communities and the State Capitol
in our work on tribal social justice issues.

So my car was given its predecessor’s name – White Pony.
But this White Pony mostly stays in the driveway now
even though it once climbed mountain passes
as it brought me, in a round-about way, to my new home.

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I had time to read as I waited for my car to be serviced. The book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Kimmerer, 2013), is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever read. Perhaps it’s because Kimmerer blends science, poetry, and spirit from an indigenous perspective.

“A people’s story moves along like a canoe caught in the current, being carried closer and closer to where we had begun. As I grew up, my family found again the tribal connections that had been frayed, but never broken, by history. We found the people who knew our true names.” (Kimmerer, p. 36).

Decades ago, when I first entered college, my major was a blend of chemistry and biology. Nature has always fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be an ecologist, but that was not a subject the college I attended offered or even recognized. Nonetheless, my advisor and botany professor, Sister Lorita, offered me much more even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I described her lesson in a previous post

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Teaching and the Wonder of Life…

Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

Wikimedia Commons

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It would be many years before I would realize what a precious gift she gave me that day. Instead of becoming an ecologist or botanist who saw the wonder of life in plants, I ended up in social work, focusing on gerontology and organizational theory. I finally earned a Ph.D. in social welfare, although it took me an extra ten years. First, life led me “home” to my roots through a series of divergent events. It’s how my first white car ultimately got its name.

I was working as a teaching assistant and official note-taker for a diversity class at the university I attended. As I rushed up the hill to class one day in fall, I was contemplating a successful career in academia. I had just received notice that I was awarded a grant-funded position as a research assistant on a prestigious study. It was a fast track to likely success in the world of academia. Here’s an excerpt from an old post that describes the pivotal event.

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You Need to Remember…

(There were no public domain photos of the plaque…)

As I crested the top of the hill, I neared the site of the last battle of the Black Hawk Wars. Just shy of the plaque commemorating the war, a tribal elder appeared dressed in an unlikely outfit – blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He looked at me with severity and simply said, “You need to remember what is really important.” I didn’t have time to reflect on the message then, but in the decades since it is something I contemplate often, although this isn’t a story I share with others for obvious reasons. The challenge of walking in two worlds, one based on rationality and empirical evidence and the other based on a deeper spiritual awareness are not easily reconciled. It turns out that I didn’t finish my degree based on elder caregiver issues. It would take more than a decade and many experiences later to finally complete a study on Indian child welfare, but that’s another story.

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Reading about Kimmerer’s experience with academia connected me with my own. I made a connection that I hadn’t even contemplated before. Perhaps I would have dismissed the elder’s appearance as too bizarre to consider. It would have been easier to simply ignore the message even though it made me feel a tinge of guilt.

In all likelihood, the study I would have been working on wouldn’t really have made a difference for people who were marginalized. It might, at best, have added to scientific knowledge about caregivers of adult children with mental retardation. But I doubt that I would have based a life-changing decision solely on a “vision” I couldn’t scientifically verify as “real.” At least at that point in my life. Fortunately, life had already set in motion a context that would lead me home in my yet-to-be named White Pony, both to seek refuge and to work on issues close to my heart. Tribal social justice issues. Following are excerpts from older posts that describe the context.

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We’re Honoring Indians…

When my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

A Mixed Message

At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.”

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Memories and Prophesies

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods…

Amik Lake, Lac du Flambeau, WI – Early 1990s

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Life circumstances led me to a place where I felt at home. The animals, trees and earth sometimes spoke to me. Although my job was not an easy, I had a clear sense that what I was learning and doing mattered. Perhaps the elder who visited me by Blackhawk’s memorial marker would agree.

“There was a time when I teetered precariously with an awkward foot in each of two worlds – the scientific and the indigenous. But then I learned to fly. Or at least try. It was the bees that showed me how to move between different flowers – to drink nectar and gather pollen from both. It is this dance of cross-pollination that can produce a new species of knowledge, a new way of being in the world. After all, there aren’t two worlds, there is just this one good green earth.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 47)

My old White Pony drove so many miles she finally had to be replaced. These days, the White Pony I drive doesn’t travel far. I make sure she’s taken care of because I rely on her to get me to and from the tribal and community college where I teach research and co-teach social work macro practice. I often think of Sister Lorita’s example as I try to weave science and wonder together, encouraging students not only to count and measure, but also to see, feel, hear, and sense the wonder of life all around.

Hawk’s Ridge, Duluth, MN – October 13, 2017

 

I am grateful to Sister Lorita and thankful for the memories sparked by Kimmerer’s eloquent book today. I appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from yet another generation and the chance to share some of what I have learned in exchange. Ah. But that reminds me of the papers I have to grade today…

Work Cited

Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Learning and Celebratory Joy

Carol A. Hand

In the bleakest of times

with the most mundane tasks

transformation is possible

It’s what life sometimes asks

us to do

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Fern Unfurling – May 7, 2017

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Holding focus on celebratory joy

opens up sacred heart spaces

where deeper lessons are discovered

and shared perhaps tearfully from inner places

revealing what is true

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An Early Blooming Gift, Scilla siberica ( Siberian Squill) – May 7, 2017

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The threads of our kinship to all

strengthened anew

Our unique connecting patterns

in the tapestry of life

shining through

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Blooming Pulmonaria ( Lungwort) – May 7, 2017

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Acknowledgements:

In honor of the colleagues and students who continue to make teaching and learning sacred endeavors. And in gratitude to the computer and cable technicians who made it possible for me to continue writing despite a malfunctioning anti-virus program.

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Celebrating Possibilities

Carol A. Hand

Who would believe it’s possible
to witness lives transformed
in the span of a mere 2 years
by working together on a vision
of what could be?

Skills, knowledge and lasting bonds are built
when everyone shows up
graciously offering open minds and hearts
contributing their critical creativity to overcome challenges.

Divisions between teachers, learners, and cultures dissolve
expanding inclusive caring communities
empowered by life-long liberatory curiosity and compassion.

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Students sharing what they learned to open up new possibilities and help create healthier communities

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Promoting restorative justice as an alternative to juvenile corrections

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Preserving culture and language by bringing generations together through storytelling circles

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Using research to involve youth in diverse communities to improve education

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Using skills to build programs to improve services for people who are homeless
and inspiring the next generation

Celebrating Accomplishments –
April 21, 2017

Celebrating connections and accomplishments

Acknowledgement:

In gratitude to colleagues and graduating students who make liberatory learning possible, and a special thank you to MJ for inspiring others by sharing her exceptional scholarship, tenacity, and wisdom.

“More or Better?” – Revisited and Updated

Carol A. Hand

For the past month, my friend, Cynthia Donner, and I have been working on revising a class focused on social justice. It’s been a daunting process to frame and describe the purpose and create new assignments. And we’re facing our first class in less than a week, so please wish us luck.

We’ve decided to use trees as a metaphor, focusing on the importance of roots, landscapes, branching out, and nurturing supportive inclusive communities. With Cynthia’s permission, the draft purpose we developed is posted below. I’ve included both a text and photo version. Although I like the look of the photo, I’ve learned that it’s difficult to translate words on WordPress photo images into other languages, at least with my level of computer skills. As an educator, I believe innovations, even those in process, should be accessible as a foundation for dialogue.

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Spring 2017 Course Overview
Spring 2017 Course Overview

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The health of trees is also dependent on their environment, as is ours. This has changed over time for trees, as it has for people. Environments have become less and less healthy and nurturing in the name of progress. Policies have not always been developed with community well-being in mind, either for trees or people, with increasingly alarming consequences. It’s crucial to understand how things have changed from a broader historical perspective.

Social work has sometimes focused on helping individuals adapt to an unhealthy environment, rather than remembering their mission to serve as effective and visible advocates for equality and social justice. We can fertilize and trim individual trees, but their ultimate strength comes from standing together against the storms, supporting each other in times of drought and scarcity. This is a crucial lesson for social workers of the future.

It should be clear that we can’t expect governments to provide the types of social services that build on people’s strengths and reweave inclusive, supportive communities. The challenge before us now is to think critically about how we can support and help create informal mutual support systems that provide a sense of roots in a healthy landscape.

Our goal in this course is to engage in imagining what the world be like if we learned the lessons of trees, nurturing all, knowing that by standing together, we’ll be better able to weather storms.

Cynthia and I are both excited to see how this will work for students in the real world. But there’s a story about how our friendship and collaborative teaching partnership began. This morning, I revisited one of my earliest blog posts. It describes our first meeting and represents one of our initial collaborative projects.

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Carol A. Hand & Cynthia Donner
(Originally posted on December 15, 2013)

The following essay is written in the spirit of collaboration and reflects two voices, Carol A. Hand and Cynthia Donner, to describe our efforts to develop social justice curricula for undergraduate social work students.

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Recently, I agreed to come out of retirement to teach for a private Catholic College with a satellite program offered on the campus of a tribal and community college. The decision came after a surprising lunch meeting. I reluctantly agreed to meet with Cynthia Donner, the coordinator of the satellite program, in order to explain face-to-face why I no longer wished to teach social work. Perhaps the easiest way to explain my reluctance is a graphic I use in my classes to illustrate the possible purposes of social work interventions and social welfare policy.

Carol A. Hand - PowerPoint Graphic
Carol A. Hand – PowerPoint Graphic

As a profession, social work has competing goals. It is rare for textbooks or professors to acknowledge which of the underlying goals influences their practice, research, and teaching. Sadly, the focus has often been on enhancing the status of the profession, and hence, the status of its practitioners as equals to those in the medical and legal realms. Increasingly, the focus of research and education has been on a narrow clinical focus that attempts to help individuals adapt to their circumstances more effectively. Just as family-based physicians have been replaced by a spectrum of medical specialists for every aspect of the human bio, case managers and specialized clinicians have replaced social workers who used to focus on creating change in systems and society.

Although the professional code of ethics espouses the importance of working toward social justice, I would argue that clinical practice is not the way to do this. Clinical work may reduce suffering, but it can better be described an effective means of social control. My critical stance toward contemporary clinical social work practice and education is grounded on my revulsion toward any practices that are reminiscent of the centuries of assimilation forced on Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. and world.

The western medical model is rooted in disease discourse and controlled by two industries of the neoliberal corporate elite, insurance and pharmaceutical. It drives most clinical social work practice today with diagnostic pathological criteria for treating and medicating a plethora of “disorders” and “disease” type conditions. Yet, how much anxiety and depression among people today can be attributed to histories of oppression associated with the colonization of nations, cultures, economies, and minds? Add the current daily struggles experienced by a growing majority associated with discrimination (from verbal attacks to outright violence in our schools, workplaces and communities), and with basic survival (as forces of neoliberal corporate control drive people and whole communities into desolate poverty and widen the gaps between the rich and poor, the politically powerful and powerless). Today more than ever, we need people trained for the goals and strategies that will lead to structural changes our world and humanity are depending on.

When I met with Cynthia, I shared my perspective honestly. I expected the typical response. “Thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately, we have chosen someone who is a better fit with our focus at this time.” Much to my surprise, she smiled broadly and animatedly began to share similar perspectives.

I sensed a common orientation as we shared our perspectives on social justice and our approach to education. Like Carol, I ask my students to consider historical truths about U.S. social welfare policy and pose the question, “are you satisfied with helping individual people manage their suffering within the context of oppressive forces, or do you want to work with people to help them find ways to liberate themselves from oppression and the suffering it imposes on their lives individually and collectively?”

Through a dialogue that spanned hours, we discovered that we shared experiences on the margins, Cynthia because of growing up in poverty, and me because of growing up culturally mixed. Rather than accept that we were inferior, both of us sought the education and positions that would allow us work with disadvantaged groups to challenge the structures of oppression. Cynthia, like me, had worked in “macro practice” settings focused on enhancing lives in addition to reducing suffering, confronting the forces causing oppression rather than helping people merely adapt and conform to those forces.

Toward the end of our conversation, I agreed to teach the course on social welfare policy. This was the beginning of a still-evolving experiment to find more effective, experientially-grounded ways to help students think critically about oppression and encourage them to consider careers that focus on policy and community practice. In the process of designing our latest lab focused on social justice, Cynthia discovered an amazing resource that we felt might help our undergraduate students envision how to create a “better” future. For me, it transforms “the change paradigm” by providing a clear goal to work toward rather than a problem to fight. We wrote this brief introduction as a way to share a resource that may be helpful to others. The video that focuses on solutions (posted below), created by author Annie Leonard, presents a feasible alternative to “fighting the system” and left me with a sense of hope that transformation is possible, even during these challenging times (and perhaps, even in social work education).

 

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Life sometimes opens up possibilities we had never envisioned and presents us with interesting choices. I remain truly grateful to Cynthia for inspiring me to take the risk of starting over yet again. Who knows what my retirement years would have been like had I not met her and been greeted by her sparkling eyes and enthusiasm to challenge the status quo. Chi miigwetch, Cynthia, for being an inspiration and supportive friend.

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Ah — The — Um — Clicker/ A Reblog

Carol A. Hand

This was originally published on August 25, 2013. I thought of this experience again this morning when I decided to join my class via conference call rather than drive on hazardous snow-covered roads. It reminds me why I decided to return to teaching as an adjunct after my formal retirement in 2011. I love the chance to be a small part of liberatory education.

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Years ago, I was a faculty member for a school of social work at a western university. It was not a school that welcomed diversity. Many faculty members used a heavy-handed method for assuring conformity, an approach that was as odds with my beliefs about education as an opportunity to help students learn to unlock their potential. I was astounded when a graduate student related her experiences in a class on human behavior in the social environment. The instructor wanted to teach students to become accomplished public speakers. He noted, “Social workers are so often terrible speakers.” Perhaps, but so are many others from other backgrounds.

The teaching method he used seemed at odds with a program that was purportedly based on promoting a strength-based foundation for working with people. What astounded me in the student’s account was her feeling of humiliation. Public speaking is, after all, the number one phobia of Americans. I still suffer the effects of this phobia. So, I am particularly sensitive to others’ challenges. My colleague’s unique style of teaching this skill quite frankly would make me grow silent.

Rather than focusing on the message, the organization, the audio-visuals, the strengths of voice, facial expression, or a host of other positive attributes, the focus was on a student’s verbal fluency (or lack thereof). That is, the faculty member counted the number of “ums” or “ahs” the student used during his or her presentation. The logic of this approach escapes me. In fact, I found it hard to believe that a faculty member in social work, in a strength-based program, in a program that emphasizes a commitment to social justice, would actually treat students this way. I asked another colleague for confirmation. “Was this practice really happening?” My colleague laughed and said, “Well, yes. But it’s better than it used to be.”

I learned that what used to be was even more troubling, but thankfully students rebelled and the practice was changed. On presentation days, the instructor would arrive with a small instrument, a “clicker.” It was a small twanging instrument with a button that was pressed by the instructor each time a student uttered “um” or “ah” as they presented in front of the class. The audible click each time the button was pressed added to the students’ humiliation. The “clicker” tallied the total number of the deadly space-fillers, and grades were assigned in large measure on the results of the count – the more ums and ahs, the lower the grade.

A "Clicker"
A “Clicker”

I listen to public radio regularly and often wonder why there are so many speakers on an auditory medium whose speech is punctuated by hesitations of various sorts, or whose voices are stridently nasal or lackadaisically monotone. Yet I ask the questions, “What is the most important way to judge a message, even on an auditory medium?,” and “What is the purpose of communication?” I have encountered a lot of gifted snake-oil salesmen in my career, and a lot of people with profound messages haltingly delivered. (I would rather listen to meaningful messages delivered inarticulately than the self-promoting drivel of a snake-oil salesman any day.)

As I write this, I shake my head, still in disbelief. What are the real lessons of this exercise? But this story doesn’t end here.

One of the students who had class with “the clicker” internalized the message that she was not good at communication and needed to improve if she was going to graduate. It was not until her second year that she asked me to serve as her advisor. During our first meeting, she told me that she had been told she needed to learn how to communicate. So, I asked her to tell me what she meant by “communicate.” (I knew from reviewing her past classes that she had been studying dance.) Her response was that she needed to learn to speak in front of audiences. My reply was that speaking was one form of communication, yet 85% of what we understand is based on cues other than the words that we hear. How people look, the pitch and volume of their voice, their body posture and facial expressions often tell us far more than their words. I asked her if she thought of dance as a more powerful form of communication than a speech.

She listened politely, but I could tell (not by her words) that she really wasn’t convinced that anything other than speaking in public was real communication. Over the course of the year, however, she had an opportunity to discover the power of movement as a form of communication. It just so happened that she worked as an intern for an agency that was designed to help teenage girls improve their self-image by becoming involved as leaders in local environmental issues. She became aware of the negative images the girls had of their bodies, and how this prevented them from really expressing themselves as leaders. She worked with the girls to design a presentation that involved movement, not words. When the girls performed their creation at the end of the year, their teachers and parents were profoundly touched by the beauty, strength, and pride expressed through dance.

My advisee did graduate. Yet unique among all of the students, she did not use oral argumentation to support her graduate portfolio. She danced. And amazingly, “the clicker” attended and even participated when the audience was invited to join. Although he was deeply affected by her performance, he later decided that no other student would ever be allowed to defend their work in any way other than spoken argumentation.

Fortunately for all of us in this profession, this student has gone on to use movement and dance as tools in her work with individuals who suffer from mental illness. I am truly grateful that I had a chance to work with someone who was courageous enough to break through the taken-for-granted definition of what it means to communicate. Certainly a method that helps young girls overcome the silencing shame they feel about their body image may offer all of us a way to express ourselves with greater freedom and joy

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The Dancer - Drawings by Carol A. Hand - Inspired by a courageous and creative student
The Dancer – Drawings by Carol A. Hand – Inspired by a courageous and creative student

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As human beings, we have a simple choice. We can choose to relate to others in ways that are hurtful and oppressive. Or, we can choose to help others find their strengths and the song in their hearts. But we cannot help others until we find the song in our own hearts first.

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Teaching #3385

Carol A. Hand

As another semester approaches the end,
I ask myself once again,
Why do I teach?
What do I know that’s really worth passing on to others?

Grading research proposals is not my idea of fun.
It’s a sacred duty for generations yet to come.
I won’t be here to see the future you help create
But my daughter and grandchildren will, and your descendants as well

How can I convey the most important lessons?
All of you carry potential to breathe a new world into being
But it’s a responsibility that requires study, reflection, and courage
My job is simply to help you discover your gifts and who you are

To encourage you to reflect and challenge socialization
that has lulled you to believe you must follow leaders and experts

To help you find your own inspiration to carry on
as life-long learners who know how to think critically,
To ask the right questions and pursue the best you can imagine
based on the certainty of connections to all our relations

To understand who you are, that what you think and feel and do
all matter more than scores on a paper or final grades in a class

Learning to listen deeply, observe, question, and reflect
unlocking your potential, your joy in the exploration of new possibilities
are the gifts and responsibilities you all carry as co-creators of what will be

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A gift from one of the students in the first university class I taught (edited photo)
A gift from one of the students in the first university class I taught (edited photo)

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It’s an honor to be a small part of your lifelong journey of discovery

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Making Peace with Lessons of the Past

Carol A. Hand

I stand here before you to present hard-won knowledge
to qualify for entry into your elite club in academia
Many may judge me as an Affirmative Action token
who’s not a “real Indian” because I’m light-skinned like you
A “nice Italian lady – well – maybe not so nice
You may not know that I carry a tribal ID with my enrollment number
certified like a thoroughbred horse by US government policies

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(Screenshot of a lecture to a university class: TV Clips – Logo Issues)

You applaud my critical analysis of Native American issues
but recoil when I assess your systems with the same analytical skills
You think I want what you want – comfort, fame, petty power
Diminutive and soft-spoken, I may be seen as vulnerable prey
easily assimilated and controlled by superficial perks or censure and ridicule

It would be nice if you liked me, but that’s not why I’m here
I won’t compromise my integrity to please you
I’ll try diplomacy first, a lesson from my wise gentle Ojibwe mother
I won’t fight to defend myself, but I will stand to protect powerless others
My abusive Anglo father taught me well how to think and wield word weapons
There’s grave danger in doing so – word weapons are only to be used when lives are at risk
for the sword of brutal truths that wounds others cuts my own heart most deeply

Protect your power as you will, fabricate lies about me as you choose
I’ll forgive you and pity you for what you have allowed yourselves to become
oppressors masquerading as experts in social justice who seem to revel in the pain you cause others
Yet many you have tried to destroy, though wounded, survived and are stronger
Lost possibilities of communion may break my heart open but that won’t break my spirit
for you see, I view you as my relations regardless of how you judged or treated me
And in the end, I find that I’m the one who’s really the lucky one – I’m able to be free

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Yes, you taught me to put aside the moccasins of my childhood,
too fragile to survive your concrete jungles and marbled mausoleums
But I’ve learned to accept that path with both resignation and gratitude
It’s an honor to walk between worlds with the wisdom of ancestors deep within
With my morning prayer I send you healing thoughts and blessings
May you learn to unlock the gifts you also carry deep within for the sake of all our relations

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections – Monday, September 19, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Gazing up at surrounding trees
silhouetted against cloudy sky
watching as four eagles circle above
grateful for the sheltering and life-giving presence

Returning to the tasks before me
Grading and building new course assignments
deeply grateful for the honor of trusting students
eager to learn so they can build a healthier world

May their thoughts soar with the eagles
carrying the message of our shared dreams
for the sake of all, and for generations yet to come
of healthy communities nurturing children in a world at peace

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eagles-soaring-2

Eagles Soaring: Eagle photo from Pixabay, edited in Microsoft PowerPoint and Word 

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections – Focusing Close to Home

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Carol A. Hand

As I drove the 20 miles on Saturday morning (September 10, 2016) to meet my class for the first time, I thought about the sense of wonder I had about the world around me when I was a child. Everything was a mystery. I loved to explore pond water under my microscope. I was fascinated by people from different cultures and eagerly sought to understand more about them by watching, asking questions, and reading any books I could find.

I would spend hours watching ants, butterflies, and all types of insects. My mother was upset by the “creepy crawlies” that I piled on the table. I watched them disappear over the edge and quickly gathered replacements. But she tolerated it. She knew that children are all born to be inquisitive. Tragically, our experiences in school often make learning a bore. We lose our sense of wonder as we memorize often indistinguishable facts and factoids.

I thought about lessons I learned about teaching long ago, described in an older post.

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Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Sister Lorita, my undergraduate advisor from St. Xavier College for Women in Chicago, taught me more than botany. Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

The wonder of life.” Isn’t that the most important thing we can learn? Although I was a chemistry and biology major at the time, my life took a different path. Instead of science, I teach students how to work with people, although there are many times when I would rather be an ecologist.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t remember Sister Lorita’s lesson. I taught the same meaningless theories and content in the same boring ways as most of my previous teachers, yet I noticed there were differences. Unlike colleagues who told me they never admitted they didn’t have an answer to a student question, I was honest. While other faculty told me they made up an answer, I admitted it was a good question that I needed to research before giving an answer. I was encouraged by a friend, a linguist and Jewish scholar, who supported this approach. She told me that the Hebrew word for the verb “to teach” is an intensive form of the verb “to learn.” It is this chance to keep learning that makes my work so rewarding. The other difference I noted was my tendency to highlight student strengths and accomplishments, rather than merely point out errors in their work.

It took me years to recognize that these differences were truly significant. Like Sister Lorita, I became far less concerned about what others thought of me and more concerned with how what students learned in my class would affect their views of the people they were responsible for helping during their careers. Could they learn to see the wonder of possibilities in all people, regardless of their past and present circumstances? So I began experimenting with ways to consciously “walk the talk.”

I am consistently exploring ways to operationalize a liberatory praxis framework in my research and teaching. Liberatory praxis is based on a dialogic approach for raising awareness about the ways in which dominance is established and maintained. Praxis, the synthesis of theory and action, results in recognizing that both those who dominate and those who are dominated share in the perpetuation of oppressive institutions and paradigms (Freire, 2000).

blade of grass

Photo Credit:
3quarksdaily: Tuesday Poem

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The last time I taught research (Summer 2014), I asked students to focus on a global issue – the impact of climate change on the lives of those who are most vulnerable. They are the populations social workers typically serve. This time, the focus is closer to home – healthy community. The reason is quite simple. Rebuilding or nurturing respectful, inclusive, empathetic relationships with our neighbors is something I believe we need to do in the divisive times now. It’s the only thing that will help us in an uncertain future. Even if our only motivation is self-interest, survival, it makes sense.

The challenge is how to create a context where students have an opportunity to explore what their views are about “healthy community,” and develop their own tentative solutions using the inquisitiveness that research skills offer. This is the task a colleague and I have been working on together. The question we asked was simple.

How can we interweave research with community practice (organizing) to increase the likelihood of constructive change efforts that are inclusive, egalitarian, and based on scientific community-based perspectives?

We designed two new shared assignments with this question in mind. Not only will this approach reduce student workloads by allowing them to do some of the same assignments for two classes, it will help students think about and explore healthy communities from different vantage points, hopefully demonstrating the importance of knowledge-guided transformative action.

I decided, with my colleague’s approval, to share our new assignments here.

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Assignment 1: Orientation Reflection Paper: What Does a Healthy Community Look Like?

Purpose: 
It is crucial to remember that effective social work is grounded within and intricate web of interdependent human relationships. One way of representing this is the person-in-environment or eco-systems model.

ecology of human development

Ecology of Human Development: Adapted from Bronfenbrenner (1979)

Conducting research studies in this context requires us to be mindful of the need to define complex issues in clear, concise, measurable ways. The purpose of this assignment is to begin that process by asking you to think critically about broad ideas and goals that require more precise language that clarifies our frame of reference.

Assignment:
In order to prepare to explore healthy communities in research and communities, there are some crucial questions we would like you to consider before we begin. Please write a one-to-three page paper that addresses each of the following requests or questions,

1. Briefly describe what a healthy community looks like from your perspective.

2. Operationalize each of the following terms (i.e., define each in observable, measureable, strength-based language):

a. Health
b. Community
c. Healthy community

3. When you think about where you live or work, what’s standing in the way of a healthy community as you defined it in your answer to question #1?

4. Where is a feasible place to focus in order to conduct a study of one aspect of healthy community? (narrow focus so it’s doable for study and intervention)

5. What are your initial thoughts about how you could use research as a tool to help build healthy (or healthier) communities?

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Assignment 3: Exploring Positionality and Perspective Exercise

Purpose:
It is crucial to consider how our prior experiences have shaped who we are today and our perspectives about the world we live in. We need to understand how our perspective influences what we choose to look at, often without our conscious thought, and how we make sense of and interpret what we see.

Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent. (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

The purpose of this assignment is to help you explore who you are and how you see the world.

Assignment:
1. Take a photograph that answers each of the following questions:

a. Who are you?
b. Where are you from?
c. What one image shows your feelings about the place you define as your community?
d. What image conveys the strengths of your community?
e. What image conveys a compelling issue or challenge affecting your community?
f. What image shows what you would like to see in your community in the future?

2. Prepare a PowerPoint with a slide for each picture and one sentence or phrase that explains why you chose this photo or what it means to you. (Other audio/visual alternatives may be used.)

3. Present your PowerPoint to the class and describe what you learned from this exercise.

4. Be prepared to engage in dialogue with the class to further explore the significance of your perspectives.

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During our first class on Saturday, my colleague and I learned that the first assignment and dialogue helped students overcome a little of the understandable fear and resistance they initially felt about research. The third assignment is actually one of the research methods used to involve community members as partners in exploring important issues – Photovoice.

“Using creative tools such as Photovoice can help changemakers understand the lived experiences of disadvantaged communities and give a voice to underprivileged individuals… Photovoice is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.” (Community Tool Box, University of Kansas)

By the time I left the tribal and community college to drive home, I was excited about the opportunity to work with such a diverse and engaging group of young women. They were eager to learn how to use a range of new tools to develop skills and explore possibilities. New course development is a lot of work, and for most of the drive home, the list of things I still need to do ran through my mind.

It’s understandable why so many faculty stick to “the way things have always been done,” as I did when I first started teaching. The old banking model paradigm requires little creative thought. Students are kept busy writing research proposals, reading texts that emphasize methods rather than inclusive processes, and regurgitating facts on fill-in-the-blank tests. My colleague and I knew it would mean a lot of extra work when we decided to try something else.

Why not let students learn through doing? Why not expose them to a variety of methods, including those that emphasize community participation in defining issues, listing strengths and proposing solutions?

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We need to begin where we are if we want things to change. Healthy relationships among all residents and between all residents and their built and natural environments will mean different things in each community. And it seems that authentic inclusive community engagement is an essential foundation to begin exploring how to do that in contextually and culturally appropriate ways.

My colleague and I are walking the talk as we roll out a new way of teaching for us. We hope it will allow students to envision new possibilities for themselves and their communities and are eager to see how this experiment evolves. We would love to hear your thoughts!

Works Cited:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Crabtree, B. F. & Miller, W. L. (Eds.)(1999). Doing qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.