By Brittany Usiak
I chose to work in education because I am driven by a love of learning, and I believe in the power of schools as the foundation of thriving, democratic communities. When I first connected with Touchstones’ Executive Director, Stef Takacs, about the possibility of joining the Touchstones team last spring, I knew intuitively that my philosophy of education aligned perfectly with Touchstones. Since beginning in August, I have been delighted to have this confirmed! Touchstones’ work is truly changing the world by fostering the active listening skills and power sharing that are essential for everyone, now more than ever.
As part of my training, I support workshops, both virtual and in-person, for teachers using Touchstones in a variety of contexts, and I have been inspired by the educators dedicating themselves to their students despite the pandemic’s immense challenges. Teachers find themselves bearing the burden not only of teaching through COVID, but also through contemporary America’s highly polarized climate of social discourse. In one recent workshop, I was impressed by a group of teachers who wrestled together beautifully with how they might navigate discussions of particularly challenging ideas raised in Audre Lorde’s poem “Who Said It Was Simple.” I have also had several conversations with individual teachers who shared vulnerably about their anxieties going into the school year but continue to pursue professional growth in order to provide their students with the education they deserve. I am proud of the ways that Touchstones works not only to support students but to build transformative skills and mindsets for teachers as well.
I am grateful, too, to be part of such a genuine, rigorous, and reflective culture of learning at Touchstones. Touchstones staff and teachers are committed to lifelong learning, and to constant reflection about fundamental questions for all educators: what is the purpose of learning and teaching? How do—and how can—schools be living laboratories for collaborative problem-solving, for community-building across lines of difference? Touchstones staff and discussion leaders are concerned with these and other vital questions for a democratic society, but the Touchstones culture connects these big picture questions to the individual level of classrooms and students. It is wonderful to be part of an organization that works on both the large and small scales of educational theory and practice.
I am eager to continue my own journey with Touchstones, particularly now that the school year is beginning, and I will be able to spend time with students and teachers. Within a time of uncertainty and upheaval, I know that at Touchstones I can work towards building the empathetic, inclusive, collaborative, and creative world I want to see.