In sessions I facilitate, we talk a lot about voice. We get curious around how we’re heard and seen with our colleagues – or not. We ask, do the learners we support have a voice and say in co-creating learning that is relevant for them? At this back-to-school time, I thought I’d share my personal journey around re-claiming my voice.
I want to acknowledge all of the teams I support in their ongoing, courageous, badass ways that they share who they are unabashedly with me and with each other.
Re-claiming my voice
When I was a child, I was shy, quiet, and obedient. In grade 2, my favorite teacher found a stash of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I'd squirreled away in the cloakroom. In the firmest voice I'd ever heard her use, she asked whose sandwiches they were. I raised my hand and burst into tears. I can still feel what I felt then: that my actions had upset her, which meant not only that I had done something wrong, but that I was wrong. Dr. Brené Brown in Shame vs. Guilt distinguishes guilt and shame in the following way: Guilt is when we feel badly about something we've done, and shame is when we feel badly about who we are. This was my first encounter with shame, and it was not to be my last.
In my family of origin, I was taught that being ‘good’ meant thinking of others first, being agreeable, and getting along. I learned that this meant responding and acting in ways that pleased and appeased others. I grew to believe that my thoughts and feelings mattered less than others' ideas and feelings. Fast forward to a social work practicum in my early 20s as a family and youth counselor at a specialized school for children with significant social, emotional, and behavioral needs. It was here, working with learners deemed ‘challenging’ that I found my voice for the first time. These children did not always listen to me, let alone do what I asked. Beyond my initial irritation and considerable discomfort, I came to realize that it was through this non-conformity and defiance that they were communicating candidly and that I needed to be more open, often to my own discomfort in feeling and thinking differently. I began to imagine what Elliot Eisner calls the alternate possibilities of how I could speak more honestly, with clarity, not only to them but to myself and the significant others in my life. It was in this place of feeling challenged that I recognized the breadth of my own creativity and how seeing things differently and integrating imaginative approaches could support the flourishing of my own voice.