When I was 5, I had a stroke that I miraculously recovered without any health challenges. Looking back, prior to the stroke, I remember feeling lots of stress and shame about having to overcome my speech challenges at school under tremendous judgment and vulnerability from my peers, my teachers and myself. I also had major anxiety and concerns about my older sister, Eve, who was not fitting into the protocols and methods at school. She seemed to be always getting in trouble, getting yelled at to be and do things differently. My parents were frustrated with her and home life was very tumultuous. I decided to be the “good child” that did what I was told. But underneath I was giving myself up and holding back who I really was. Overall, Eve’s and my emotional needs were not being taken care of. Neither one of us felt seen and valued for our true essence. I remember seeing the quote a few years after my stroke, “Be the change you want to be in the world” by Ghandi, and I knew right then I was going to be a teacher that helped kids like me and my sister so that no matter what, we shined. I saw how brilliant and loving Eve was. She was my hero, a wonderful sister and friend. Why couldn’t anyone else see it? I wanted to soar and lead and make changes in my family, but I was too young and didn’t know how. And as I realized later, it was not my job as a child to take care of and change my family.
I began my teaching journey in a preschool excited to carry out my hopes and dreams that I had had for years. I was well trained from Clemson University and had a masters in educational technology from UC. I was ready. But I quickly became disillusioned and frustrated. I worried about protocols, rules, and if I was doing everything “right”. I was not able to honor my deep desire to support each of the children to learn, grow and contribute from the place of truly knowing, loving, and being themselves. A year later, I left that job and went to public school kindergarten to see if it would be different. I found myself disappointed again with teaching and the whole system of education. My students were being made to fit into one box that I inherently knew was not ideal for them. I didn’t know how to help them in a system that was not designed to give them what they truly needed. I felt like I was just trying to get them to perform, produce and behave the way they were supposed to. I was seeing my sister in the eyes of most of my students.
I was about ready to quit, when a friend of mine introduced me to Meg Hanshaw who had started a nonprofit program for teachers and principals called Empowerment Education. Meg was a PhD applied researcher, certified life and wellness coach, and curriculum developer who was piloting and implementing a new way of learning and educating students in the public school system. We sat down together and the hours flew by as we talked about what young people and teachers really need to be healthy and empowered. Meg happened to be looking for a pilot teacher and classroom, so I signed up. She came to my classroom one time a week for an hour, and personally coached me two or three hours a month. She taught me the concepts, skills and philosophies behind the new paradigm of education.
What I experienced in the 2 years Meg came to my school changed my beliefs about my students and how they learn. It is challenging to put in words, but something magical happened to myself and my students.
Overall, my students and I were:
-more self-regulated; many times I didn’t say a word as my students worked with each other to learn and moved through their challenges.
-more confident in who we were and what we wanted to learn and how.
-more connected and had trusting relationships with everyone in the class.
-less stressed and overwhelmed.
This program had such a profound effect on me, that after 3 years of this program, I decided to work with Meg to be an even bigger ripple in changing education. Meg and I did a 5 year longitudinal pilot at a poorly performing elementary school stemmed with behavioral and academic challenges. We started the program with the three kindergarten classes, the principal, and the counselor. We then followed this same class of 60 students into first grade working with the 3 first grade teachers. By the end of our 1st grade year, this class had the least amount of referrals, their grades were greatly improved, and the school went from a D- school to a C+ school. What we experienced, learned and changed, catapulted our program to another level.
I decided it was time to come full circle and open a new-paradigm Empowerment Education based preschool. On March 1, 2020, Evolve Preschool in Asheville NC opened during the Covid 19 pandemic and today, we are open to full capacity with a waiting list. At Evolve, we are breaking through the education system’s red tape that takes away from what young people truly need to thrive. It works, and I would love to see every veteran and new teacher be trained in Empowerment Education.