Updated: May 9
Let's talk about humanity.
What does humanity look like, feel like, and how is it practiced in schools?
I am operating on the belief that, at their core, humans desire to be loved, valued, and appreciated. If this maxim is true, the question becomes how educators restore and operationalize humanity as the fundamental focus of the school and classroom spaces we influence and occupy.
There is a current shift in education to ensure inclusivity and achieve equity, and those ideas should be realized in schools; however, humanity is where we start.
Humanity is defined as "the human race, which includes everyone on Earth. It's also a word for the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love and have compassion, be creative, and not be a robot or alien" (vocabulary.com).
If schools are places where we produce citizenry, it will behoove us as educators to emphasize humanity as a precursor to scholarship; love and compassion as a precursor to grades and tests. This comes from the true essence of education being usurped by political exercises on a local and national level that put agendas over progress from various angles and viewpoints.
I have become a leading voice for restoring humanity in classrooms and schools, particularly in the most fragile environments where it should be practiced effusively. These environments, more often than not, are school environments mostly comprised of children of color.
My passion comes from my positionality as a Black male child of Caribbean descent matriculating through school and having my humanity stripped away at various points throughout my school journey.
Whether it was the teacher who, in a moment of infuriation, raised his voice to the point where I can vividly remember his face turning color as he told me to "Get out of his classroom!" because I didn't bring back a form signed by the due date.
Or the BRACE Advisor who informed me in my senior year of high school that "I'm not college material and the best I could do was a technical school, based on my grades." (I am now Dr. Nicolas)
These are among a myriad of personal experiences I've faced combined with transformative texts I've read that have solidified my understanding that there is a significant humanity gap in schools.
In speaking to diverse audiences around the country, I realize that I am not alone in this assessment and that more should be done to preserve and restore children's humanity in schools and classrooms.
So how do we begin to go through this process? How do well-intentioned, well-meaning educators begin to examine themselves and enact practices in their classrooms that promote the preservation and restoration of humanity in schools?
Drawing upon my personal experiences, both in research and practice, I created a Cycle of Support that encompasses research-based best practices that school leaders, teachers, and teacher leaders can incorporate in a professional learning community that can lead toward progress in restoring humanity in classrooms and schools.
My Cycle includes the following five components:
Digging Deeper: Asking Humanity-Centered Questions to Drive Humane-Centered Learning Environments
Give Em' Space: Channeling Frustration and Tenuous Situations to Teachable Moments
Real Mentorship - Reframing Mentorship as an Idea, Not a Program
Circle of Influence - Leveraging Your Circle of Influence to Help, Heal, Love, and Value the Students You Serve
Be Transparent, Be Consistent - How Transparency and Consistency Promote More Humane and Just Classroom Environments
Whether utilized individually or collectively, when enacted, I have seen how these components can contribute to shifts toward more humane learning environments that we should strive for and desire.
For example, Digging Deeper is a practical shift that requires teachers to ask humanity-centered questions focused on the whole child instead of giving into narratives or biases related to a student in your classroom who may be struggling with behavior or academics. We are responsible for those in front of us, and it may require asking more nuanced, humanity-centered questions proactively rather than deficit-laden questions reactively.
In Leveraging Your Circle of Influence, I describe how each of us has a level of influence over a group of people. This influence is evidenced by your social media followers and group chats. As we share information, jokes, and encouragement through these platforms, we, as educators, should internalize our responsibility when something may be shared to represent a view that may be counterproductive or dehumanizing to someone within our purview, which includes the students we teach. We should leverage this influence to promote words and actions of healing, love, support, and humanity.
Restoring humanity within children only has tremendous benefits. It establishes purpose, fosters engagement, prioritizes self-care, realizes equity, and produces hope. Humanity is not a shiny new acronym, program, gimmick, or buzzword. It can be accomplished through best practices and a willing heart.
I provide more in-depth explanations and examples of these components in my e-book. I also share ideas about how they can be operationalized in schools. You can request a free copy here. I also conduct virtual and in-person, highly-engaging, interactive workshops discussing the Cycle of Support, its origins, and how it can be incorporated into a professional learning community, discussion, or training at your district, school, or classroom.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Jung Kim (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).