Making As an Act of Healing

A cross post Written by Nico Chen, Program Coordinator, Agency by Design Oakland

When our teacher fellows came back together in March the Oakland teacher strike was still looming largely in our minds. While our professional development curricula often focuses on critical thinking, content knowledge and instilling agency in our school communities, we are reminded during this crucial time to repair our educator community through joy and creativity. We asked, “how do we, as an educator community focused on maker-centered learning, begin to heal, remain resilient, and find the agency to rebuild our seemingly broken systems?”

Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s recent talk at OUSD Office of Equity’s Culturally Responsive Practice Series reminds us that while educators should remain student-centered, we must also attend to our own socio-emotional well-being — especially during this post-strike period where our systems are still rebuilding. “Adult providers need healing too!” Ginwright writes in his article The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. “Healing centered engagement requires that we consider how to support adult providers in sustaining their own healing and well-being.”

When we reconvened with our teacher fellows for a daylong meeting of teacher inquiry, we started by facilitating a restorative healing activity: making mindful nature mandalas. This arts-integrated practice is not new — we learned it in the Integrated Learning Specialist Program, from Jessa Brie Moreno of Studio Pathways, who learned it from Dr. Monique LeSarre of Rafiki Wellness and the California Institute of Integral Studies.

“You’re doing a phenomenal job at creating a safe space for us,” says Jane Lee, Instructional Coach at Roots International Academy, a school facing closure at the end of this 2018-2019 school year. “Even starting with a mandala…[it made me think about] how many people in the US actually even know what a mandala is—versus thinking it’s stupid?”

Agency  by  Design Oakland Fellows participate in nature mindful mandalas as a restorative community healing activity before and during their teacher inquiry during a March daylong meeting.

Agency by Design Oakland Fellows participate in nature mindful mandalas as a restorative community healing activity before and during their teacher inquiry during a March daylong meeting.

While much of our March daylong focused on the intellectual heavy-lifting of teacher action research, we returned to the joys of making in our midday design challenge. Using the prompt “make something that balances on your head that shows where you are with your inquiry,” our teacher fellows synthesized their inquiry-in-process through structural headpieces.

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Seeing our fellows’ joys in their creations, we also return to Ginwright’s healing centered engagement. He writes, “we know very little about the systems of support required to restore and sustain well-being for adults. Healing centered engagement has an explicit focus on restoring, and sustaining the adults who attempt to heal youth — a healing the healers approach.” While there is not much “data” on what systems of support are required to restore and sustain well-being for adults, Agency by Design Oakland aspires to be a system of support for our community of Oakland educators.

As we continue forth with our teacher fellowship, we are continually reminded of the importance of Ginwright’s healing centered engagement when engaging our educators with maker-centered learning. One major affordance of maker-centered learning is all the joy and creativity that emerges from students and teachers alike, and it remains an integral part of our mission. Says Julia Cheng, Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow, “One thing I enjoy in this professional development is that it goes deeper than content. It allows us to explore our deeper pedagogical approaches to why we teach, and that’s humanizing.”

As we near the end of this year’s fellowship calendar, we invite you to come see what our teacher fellows have been innovating at our upcoming culminating event (see details below), and to come share in their joy and creativity.

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