Carol Mendenhall, Director of Program Design and Professional Development for the CAST Schools Network, shares why the 2020-2021 school year is, “The Year of Courage.”
“To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a
degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which
few people realize.” – Rollo May
As an English teacher, I tend to “borrow” from my favorite authors. This morning I was thinking that Charles Dickens must have been living through some type of pandemic when he said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Because living through this “once in a lifetime” pandemic definitely feels like the best and worst of times. The best of times is reflected in people coming together to fight this virus. It’s families spending more time together and parents developing a greater appreciation for teachers as they try and teach long division to their children. Seeing people dying alone and feeling shut-in for months at a time while we wait for someone to point the way to recovery are all signs of the worst of times. Thinking about this ongoing paradox and what word should become our touchstone for the upcoming school year, the word “courage” jumped into my mind.
Courage is one of those words that conjures up certain images. Asking some of my friends what their images of courage are went from the image of firemen running into a burning building to peacefully protesting in the face of tear gas and hostility. But I also heard that holding the hand of your mother when she slips away from you, as well as standing up for something you believe in or going against the crowd are examples of courage. When you realize that the root of the word courage is cor, the Latin word for heart, all of these images make sense, because they all come from the heart—it’s when you put your heart on the line. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Cor brings us to the Spanish word, corazón, also meaning heart, but an expansive version of heart, big-hearted, the core, the center (and dissimilar to the Spanish word for courage, valor). For my purpose, doing what’s in your heart is at the center of Courage.
I was transformed when I read Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach. The phrase “we teach who we are” resonated with me. I believe that to be true and I think that when teachers are at their best, they are coming from their hearts. You are there with your students with all of yourself trying to guide them in both your content and in helping them become who they want to be. That takes real courage. Everyday teachers and students come to school with hope and courage in their hearts. And that was before COVID-19.
Courage and Covid-19
During a pandemic, courage for teachers takes on a whole new meaning. It will be an act of courage just to show up—whether it’s in person or online. Teachers are walking into an unknown world that is filled with questions and quite frankly, pitfalls. And the amazing thing is they will do it. They will do it because all children deserve the best education we can provide. COVID has shown how teachers not only teach, they keep their students safe, they make sure their students feel valued, they make sure students have an adult advocating for them. They do all of that even though the virus is threatening them and their family. They do all of that even though many people with political power have no real appreciation of their gifts and talents. Teaching has always been an under-appreciated career and yet when you ask almost anyone for the name of a teacher who influenced them, they smile and tell a story about that teacher. It may not come to them that they are describing teaching is an act of courage and when they speak about that teacher they are talking about a courageous individual who made a difference in not only their life but also in the world at large.
“COVID has shown how teachers not only teach, they keep their students safe, they make sure their students feel valued, they make sure students have an adult advocating for them.” – Carol Mendenhall
Courage and CAST
This year the word for the CAST Network is courage because we believe our principals, teachers and support staff exemplify that word in everything they do. As Jeanne Russell said : “You all are fierce warriors, greeting each day with fearlessness, optimism, and the adaptability we saw this morning.” At our launch for the new year, we asked our teachers and principals why they teach, and here are just some of the answers:
All of those reasons embody courage –they come from the heart of our teachers and principals. So, this school year of 2020-21, we will be highlighting the everyday acts of courage our teachers and principals make in order to give our students the education they both need and deserve.
“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.” – Maya Angelou
Carol Mendenhall is an educator with 45 years of experience who has done everything from teach high school English to direct professional development for a nationally recognized school district. She is passionate about student voice and believes that CAST Schools are transforming the education model by giving students the best resources and support to “determine their own path in life.” Mrs. Mendenhall has been involved with opening 40 new high schools through the Asia Society (globally focused schools) and through Educate Texas (STEM focused schools). She is a national facilitator for the Courage to Teach and Courage to Lead programs and believes all teachers deserve to take the time to remember why they became educators in the first place. Mrs. Mendenhall most recently worked as a leadership coach for Trinity University and was part of the founding design team for the Advanced Learning Academy. She now tackles a similar role for the CAST Network. “Young people are transforming themselves every day,” she said. “At CAST schools, we give them the space and support they need to develop their creativity, their problem-solving skills, and their desire to make a difference.”