A Call for Peace-Based Teacher Leadership

July 14, 2016

The violent events of early July weigh heavily on my heart and mind. It seems that America is a pressure cooker that has exploded with hatred and brutality. I have read my friends’ sentiments on Facebook, but I haven’t been emotionally ready to even have a face-to-face conversation with them about all that is happening. As an educator and a parent, it’s difficult to believe that this is the world in which my students and children are growing up.

However, I recently came across an artifact of inspiration while reading the community bulletin board at the Grove Hall Library, located on the border of Boston’s Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods. It is a brochure published by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. The front cover lists “Seven Principles of Peace” and provides brief descriptions of each – Love, Unity, Faith, Hope, Courage, Justice, and Forgiveness. When I opened the brochure for the first time, I was surprised by the inner contents – a list of suggestions for people whose friends and family members have been murdered. No one wants to believe that there is a need for this type of brochure, but, tragically, violence and homicide are everyday occurrences.

Students and families in Boston, including my own, are strongly affected by violence in the community. I myself have witnessed violence – when preparing for summer school a few years ago, I heard shots outside the window of the classroom. I looked out and saw that a man with a bleeding arm and bullet holes in the side of his car had pulled into the school driveway. Two years ago, a student at my school lost her mother to murder; her mother was killed by a bullet while walking in her neighborhood. These incidents have have deeply informed my personal and professional lives.

I recognize that I have the opportunity to be an agent of peace, and my goal for the upcoming school year is to develop a practice of Peace-Based Teacher Leadership. A first step in this process is to reflect on my strengths and weakness within the Principles of Peace.

I am strong in embodying Hope (“believing in yourself, someone, or something”). I have a strong belief in the power of education to be life-changing, and I know this from personal and professional experience. As a child and teenager growing up in a family affected by mental illness and addiction, school was my refuge. I was able to find quiet places of respite in school, which I did not have at home. During elementary school, I worked with the school librarian for an hour each day, helping to shelve books and creating a bulletin board of book reviews. In middle school and high school, I often spent my lunch hour in a favorite teacher’s classroom writing poetry or reading alongside other students seeking solace. I’ve also seen the power of education for my students. My first ever class was made up of students who were all new immigrants to the United States. Two years ago, these students graduated from high school, and most are attending college and working at jobs in their communities. It inspires me every time I hear from a former student and learn that he or she is achieving personal aspirations and living in line with his or her own definition of success.

In the upcoming school year, I want to work on developing a stronger practice of Love (“showing care for yourself and others”). I care deeply about my students and colleagues, but I don’t think they always know this because I can be moody, stressed out, and anxiety-ridden. I hypothesize that, by maintaining a consistent practice of self-care and by actively and explicitly practicing mindfulness and better listening abilities, I can better outwardly demonstrate Love towards my students and colleagues. At a trauma training last school year, the instructor encouraged us to ask “What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?” This one change has helped me to think more carefully about my interactions with others, but my actual practice is very much a work-in-progress.

Reflecting on the Seven Principles of Peace is only a starting point. With all that’s happening in our country, it is essential for all educators to begin an intensive dialogue around and plan for action that addresses peace-based practices in schools. It is a time to actively embrace love and unity within and around the school walls, so that schools and their surrounding communities are consistently and completely supportive for our neediest students, rather than a step along the path of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Jennifer Dines, NBCT

Jennifer Dines is the Director of English Language Learners at the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, a Pilot School in the Boston Public Schools. Jennifer is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of English as a New Language. She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, Lesley University, Northeastern University, and the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. In addition to blogging for The Standard, Jennifer currently maintains her personal blog as well as a newer collaborative blog focused on writing across the curriculum: Follow her on twitter @literacychange.