Guest blogger: Laura Gilchrist
My Why is a series of Lean Lab stakeholders who we feature as guest bloggers. They describe their "why," or inspiration, for becoming involved in social change and reform. We hope you find similar inspiration in their stories.
The Lean Lab asked me to blog about why I became involved in education change and reform. Why do I work and learn with kids and build education community and capacity on local and regional levels, and beyond? Why do I care so much and do so much?
I have a story to tell. Its time has come. My “why” goes back to growing up...
I believe every person (learner) is beautiful, powerful, creative, and worthy of attention, love, and nurturing. They require freedom to journey, fail, laugh, and GROW—and they require support in that journey.
I didn't have that freedom and support growing up.
I grew up alongside the disease of alcoholism. You see, my dad was an alcoholic. He tried to overcome the disease. He could not. He grew up with an alcoholic father, which affected his development, and ultimately mine.
Instead of growing and thriving, I was surviving; I was figuring out how to manage anxiety, verbal attacks, and instability along with making my way through adolescence. And I’m honestly not sure how I did it. I felt helpless and isolated much of the time, without power over my circumstances. I didn’t feel normal and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Moving twice, in 4th and in 8th grade, didn’t help. Back in the 70’s-80’s, alcoholism wasn’t something you talked about. I had no support group outside my immediate family.
My main way of coping was to dig in, focus on the task at hand (school), and be ‘perfect’ in hopes of being 'worthy' to my father -- which, ironically, I could never be, especially when he was intoxicated. I protected myself by turning inward and not trying new things to avoid hurtful judging and disapproval. I was that quiet kid in class who always worked hard and did what was asked. I always helped my teachers. No matter what I was feeling, I smiled through it. I suppressed emotions so I didn’t have to feel the pain. Not healthy, but a coping mechanism. I was a smiling introvert.
According to Mark S Gold, MD, in his article, Children of Alcoholics:
More than 28 million Americans have seen at least one parent suffer alcohol’s serious adverse effects, leading to serious family problems. More than 78 million Americans, or 43 percent of the adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.
I loved school and my teachers. School was safe and consistent. I could excel there. I had autonomy to control things. So I did. I graduated 2nd in my class of 350. I was involved in many groups and activities. I’m sure my teachers didn’t know what a great sense of comfort, community, and family they gave to me. They never knew what I went through at home, and if they did no one ever talked to me about it.
Now, I’ve been on a journey ever since I left for college to find my voice and to find me. It hasn’t been easy and the journey of discovery and healing is not over. I remember when I found Twitter and Edcamps and then blogging/microblogging beginning in 2011. These social media tools and communities, both face-to-face and online, helped me feel connected and a part of something bigger than myself.
I found my voice in education.
I have never looked back. I was empowered beyond my classroom to share my stories and to affect positive change. I was inspired by so many people to create and grow. I can’t imagine my life without these people and the support of these communities.
I strive to give my kids enthusiasm, humor, relationships, and unconditional belief and trust in them. I needed that. They need that. I am an ardent community builder for educators--both face-to-face and online--because building capacity and positivity matters for the teachers, and by default, their kids. I work with a team of outstanding Missouri educators to build up and support a learning community called #MOedchat. We meet virtually 9pm on Thursdays and off and on throughout the week. People join in from around the Midwest, the nation, and the world. I also work with KC educators and community resources to grow #KCedu, a KC educator community. I have contacted and hope to work with NaCoa, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and organizations like AlaTeen to bring targeted help to kids who suffer. I‘ve been there. And I support and believe in The Lean Lab's endeavors to grow innovation in KC education.
The voices of many people in this world are suppressed, ignored, and muted by factors such as prejudice, socioeconomic status, education, mental health, warfare, and disease. We, as educators, must become cognizant of how these experiences affect our youth. We must reach out to our kids for their sake and engage with them around the issues affecting them. Often, their needs are not met with the support given.
Imagine if we all were empowered to be ourselves and we were all supported by connected, caring learning communities and families. My why is that I will strive toward making this ideal a reality.
“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Luckily for me growing up, there were good times. There was laughter, especially in the earlier days, and my uber-storytelling dad was an avid learner and reader; we talked at the dinner table most every night when I was younger. That love of learning stuck with me. I always hoped I could help my dad feel better and get better.
It never happened but I never stopped believing in him. He died in California 12 years ago. He loved me. I loved him. I always will. In education, perhaps I can make a difference. I will work towards this ideal to the end of my days.