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Monday / December 5

We Can Do Hard Things

I am acrophobic. I became aware of this fear when my parents moved to a beautiful apartment building in Brooklyn Heights while I was away at college. Our new apartment was on the 17th floor, and when they took me to the roof to enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline, I was initially in awe. Once I realized how high up we were, however, there was a surge of what felt like heat throughout my body and my legs felt like jelly. I may or may not have crawled off of the roof.

As educators, we are encountering significant challenges. If you are committed to shifting to and sustaining antibias, antiracist (ABAR) instructional practices, you are facing active resistance in the form of book bannings, “anti-CRT” legislation, and the proliferation of accusations of indoctrinating students. Facing resistance can be scary, and if you’re feeling anything like I felt on the roof that day, the fear can feel immobilizing. Though this resistance is not new, it is hard. Let me remind you, however, readers – we can do hard things.

Here are some steps to take and questions to ask yourself when engaging with challenges to ABAR instructional practices:

1. Identify the Challenge

There was a Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) course that included a zipline at a summer camp where my husband served as the director several years ago, and when I saw how much the campers and staff enjoyed ziplining, I was intrigued. I wanted to enjoy the experience, too, and my challenge was that I was acrophobic. What is the nature of your challenge? Are you concerned that you don’t have the resources you need? Are you afraid of pushback or of making mistakes?

2. Find Your Marigolds

Once I made the decision to overcome my fear of heights by ziplining, the COPE staff member who served as my belayer (the person who controls the safety rope for the climber) secured my equipment. The role of the belayer is to hold the rope to catch me if I were to fall. This reminds me of the role marigolds can play in a garden. Marigolds can repel certain pests to keep them from harming other plants.  Who are the belayers in your school community and beyond? Identify the colleagues, administrators and family and community members, as well as online professional learning communities who can provide you with support as you engage in ABAR instructional practices.

3. Prepare

My belayer explained to me how to use the climbing equipment, and how it would support me as I climbed up to the platform. I needed to pay close attention to their instructions, and allow their expertise to guide me. How can you prepare to engage in this work? What do you need to read, listen to, reflect on, and practice to begin or continue your ABAR journey?

4. Identify Your Starting Point

In order to zipline, I had to make the 20 foot climb to the platform. It was quite daunting to look up to see how far I had to go, but eventually I just focused on climbing each rung to get me to my destination. What will your starting point be? Perhaps you will begin your journey by writing your own racial autobiography, learning about racialized trauma, or exploring content that expands your awareness about the experiences of people who are racially/ethnically different from you.

5. Begin

When I finally reached the top, the thought of sitting down on the platform filled me with fear again, despite having just successfully climbed 20 feet. I felt that same heat surge/jelly-legged feeling I felt on the roof, and I now know that this was adrenaline and cortisol coursing through my body in response to my amygdala hijacking my brain.

Once I sat down and remembered to breathe, the view above the trees was breathtaking. It offered me a totally different perspective. When it came time to start my ziplining experience, I asked the COPE Director if he was going to push me off of the platform, to which he promptly responded, “No. You’re going to have to push yourself.” I took a deep breath, and launched myself forward. It was scary for the first few seconds, but then I felt like I was flying, and it was incredible. What will you need to do to get started on your ABAR instructional practices journey? How are you going to push yourself?

You know that roof I mentioned at the beginning of this post? My husband and I got married on that same roof 25 years ago. I learned that I am able to do hard things, and you can, too. What’s waiting for you on the other side, when you allow yourself the gift of rising above what’s challenging, is an amazing view of all that’s possible – not only for you but for your students. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

Written by

Afrika Afeni Mills is an Author and Education Consultant. She has been featured on podcasts, blogs, and at conferences across the United States. Afrika believes that educators can be effective practitioners when supported to create and sustain student-centered, antibias, antiracist, culturally responsive communities that center on wonder, creativity, and belonging. Her book, Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students, is available from Corwin now.

Latest comment

  • Well written and very encouraging! I love this!!

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