nOne of the challenges we face in Tennessee moving forward is the need to further develop and align the education-to-career pipeline.  Governor-elect Bill Lee probably expressed this better than any candidate on the campaign trail, and his potential as governor in this arena offers great hope for a brighter future for Tennessee.   The objective is clear:  we must prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce.  This will require targeted strategies in our schools to help ensure every child has an opportunity for success.

The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) did a good analysis of Postsecondary and Career Readiness in Tennessee with their study:  Educating the Workforce of Tomorrow.  As they point out a “rapidly changing economy requires urgent focus on student postsecondary and career readiness, with greater intensity than ever before.”  This is where Governor Lee can make his greatest impact in education and future economic growth of the state.   He has pledged to “establish a seamless path between our school districts, community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and local industry to empower students with the real-world skills they need to get a great job once they graduate.” 

Lee has stated that “Coding, mechatronics, logistics, and computer science will become fundamental skills for the modern workforce and I will ensure every student has access to coursework in these areas by investing in the technology, materials, and instruction to get our students the opportunity they deserve.”   This means that we must continually reimagine what education looks like for our students.  And as Governor, Bill Lee will work to make that a high priority.  This is exciting news for educators, who have seen constant change yet understand that we are transforming our schools to the next generation. 

The state has started trending this way, especially in some communities in the state.  Lyle Ailshie, the current acting Commissioner of Education, began his work on high school redesign as a Superintendent in Kingsport.  He received national recognition for his effort.   In Maury County, Dr. Ryan Jackson, principal of Mount Pleasant High School, is also garnering much national attention for his work with STEAM initiatives, dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities and is a champion for the school’s and the district’s Project-Based Learning curriculum.

It is likely that many communities in the state will move toward these flexible school models to support new opportunities for career and technical education, work-based learning and apprenticeships, and dual-enrollment courses for students preparing for their career.  The future is bright in Tennessee.  Let’s make our state the envy of the nation. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

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A new year is a time for reflection and more importantly a time for hope.  We will see a momentous change in state and federal government.  If anything is certain, it is that leadership matters, now more than ever.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.

We know that leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.  However, that caveat comes with this admonishment: “In order to lead, you have to know what you believe,” according to my mother, Linda Bowman-Lawhorn. 

The federal government is likely to remain as divisive as ever.  In Tennessee, we have some exceptional leaders representing our state in Washington, DC.   However, our federal government is dysfunctional, and has been for a number of years.   Partisanship has become an extreme contact sport in our nation’s capital.  That is why states best serve as the laboratories of democracy for our nation.          

Limited government, individual freedom, traditional values are likely to remain priorities in state government during the Lee Administration and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly which convenes on January 8th, 2019.  The challenge for leaders will be practical and innovative approaches to complex problems.   That may require we change the way people think about issues, and promote policies that allow and encourage individuals and institutions to succeed. The state has probably never had this much turnover in leadership and some people are justifiably concerned.  However, I see that as an opportunity for leaders to thrive and make the greatest difference on behalf of our citizens.  

In education we will need leaders from the Tennessee Department of Education, every local education agency and in each classroom that are tenacious in creating a world of opportunities for every learner. We must remember that our individual actions can positively (or negatively) impact the life of children in this state.  The success or failure of the next generation of education leaders will mean real changes in the lives of students and their families.  We must make the world better than the one we inherited.

Policymakers and stakeholders must collaborate to the greatest extent possible to ensure that our students succeed, and that our educators get the resources they need with the compensation and respect they deserve.  Today’s children are tomorrow’s future, and education is a proven path to upward mobility for all students. 

Embrace 2019 with zeal and enthusiasm.  It can be a year full of potential.  We have an opportunity to renew our belief in our fellow citizens and set a new course in Tennessee that our fellow Americans can seek to emulate.  It will require ethical leadership and tireless advocacy for issues that you care about, but the promise of a new year brings the best hope for mankind.  The future is yet to be written.  Let freedom ring across our state and nation. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

There is a growing focus on education choice across the United States, especially here in Tennessee. When you discuss parent choice, everybody immediately thinks of vouchers. Vouchers are only one form of choice. When you discuss school choice, the debate is unfairly focused between public and private. Terminology is constantly changing and evolving, and the words themselves create unnecessary conflict. Before we step further into the debate, I think there is one choice that is being ignored as an option: open enrollment or voluntary public school choice.

We must expand open enrollment policies in our public school districts. There are two primary types of open enrollment policies: 1) Intra-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools within their home districts. 2) Inter-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools outside of their home districts. Both are forms of choice.

Currently, Tennessee has voluntary intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies. That may need to change, if districts do not get more aggressive in championing parental options in public education. Hopefully, that will be led by district leaders or school boards across the state. We need to make open enrollment a high priority.

Today, our workforce is highly mobile. Many adults no longer work in the community they reside. This is very clear in Middle Tennessee, which is exploding with population growth with more on the way. If we want parents involved in their child’s education, it would only make sense that public school options become more convenient for the adult who then often provides the transportation.

Currently, open enrollment policies may be either mandatory or voluntary. Under mandatory programs, districts must allow for open enrollment. Under voluntary programs, districts may choose whether to allow for open enrollment. It is easy to see that the direction by the state will be to move from voluntary to mandatory, if districts do not adopt open enrollment policies or do a better job of highlighting voluntary public school choice.

Questions that policymakers and the media should ask: 1) What districts in Tennessee allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 2) What districts in Tennessee do not allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 3) What districts in Tennessee accept students transferring to schools outside of their home district?

As the focus on education choice is elevated by Governor-elect Bill Lee, maybe the easiest place to find initial consensus is with open enrollment. Mandatory open enrollment policies will likely be promoted by the state. This could either be accomplished by funding, new legislation, or districts adopting new policies. Intra-district and Inter-district open enrollment policies must be on the table, when the subject of education choice is discussed. The message is that public schools are the best option for parents. Parents should be able to trust public schools to educate all children to the best of their ability.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions.  When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children.  If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education.  Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative.  Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic.  Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened?  That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students.  How do you improve morale?  It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school.  Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues:  educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation.  Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale.   Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts.  It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers.  This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations.  Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators.  Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement.  In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education.  Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school.  But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state.  Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation.  Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done.  Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students.  As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students.  Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic.  However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming.  It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours.  We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain.  Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students.  Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis.  However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide.  It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students.  One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues.  Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time?  School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students.  Without discipline, students cannot learn.  Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues.  Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district.  This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education.  Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues.  Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

Running Towards Eternity

We all have a limited amount of time, unfortunately too many people waste it.   Once it is gone, it is gone.  Time is one thing we can never get it back.  We will make time for what is important to us.  So, the best gift you can give someone is your time.  This Christmas Season find time for those in your life. —JC Bowman

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multi-million-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education re-imagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.

To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

Dream On

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

the golden rule

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures.  Living by the Golden Rule can serve any person well. But here are some addition reflections for the journey ahead:

  • Life is a gift and not a burden. Even on bad days, we have so much to be thankful for.
  • Love is a choice and an action. It involves risk, perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work. Love drives out fear.
  • God is working in ways that we cannot even begin to understand.
  • Pain and suffering are real, but they always make us stronger.
  • Admitting we are wrong from time to time is necessary and healthy.
  • Technology is both a blessing and a danger. It will run and even ruin our lives if we let it.
  • Social media is a great way to connect but can quickly lead to narcissism.
  • Be realistic about taking on commitments. Being busy has become a sign of status. Sometimes simplifying our lives is the best option.
  • Money can buy lots of things but it cannot buy happiness and meaning. Many wealthy people are miserable and have not figured out the meaning of life. We all create idols in life without even knowing it.
  • Knowledge is power, but it’s different from wisdom. Personal growth is essential. We are all works in progress.
  • Theology is a life-long endeavor. God cannot be put into a box.
  •  We should never say things about other people that we wouldn’t want them to hear. If we say it, we should be willing to stand by it. Nobody wants a two-faced friend.
  • Materialism and a false sense of self-sufficiency is an ongoing temptation in North America. The more affluent the society, the more distractions to real faith. Christ was right: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Heart follows treasure. Money makes a great servant but a terrible master.
  • The government is not the answer to every problem, but it is responsible for certain things. Hateful partisanship and incivility have the potential to tear our nation apart from the inside out. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a
    monopoly on truth. Labels are dangerous. Civility is admirable.
  • The birth lottery is real. Some are born to privilege. Some are born to poverty. If you’re born on third base, don’t act like you hit a triple. Be humble and grateful every day.
  • Fear and anxiety must be faced, acknowledged, and sometimes medicated. Anxiety is simply fear of the unknown and will ruin the present.
  • Tell the truth because lying is a slippery slope. Truth seems to be in short supply.
  • Don’t judge people based on their age, religion, or skin color. We can always gain insight from those who are different.
  • The United States is a wonderful country but it’s not the only nation under God.
  • Travel to new places. Expand your worldview. Don’t stay in a bubble.
  •  Perception is not always reality. Accusations can be false. Rumors can ruin somebody’s reputation. Groupthink is dangerous. Always check the source.
  • Credibility is built over time. Trust is built over a lifetime and is the currency of relationships.
  • Love your family, even when it’s hard. Forgiveness is a recipe for survival.
  • Be thankful for friends, for they are one of life’s greatest treasures.
  • Pray regularly. Eat healthy. Exercise often. Read to learn. Hope. Dream. Listen intently. Be slow to speak and slow to anger. Live life one day at a time. Plan for the future.
  • The grass may seem greener elsewhere, but usually, it’s not.
  • Learn from the past, dream for the future, and live in the present.

Adapted from many places.  What would you add?  

 

As a teacher I used to keep a framed picture in my classroom which said, “Your Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your Life is your gift to God.” I truly wish every child could hear that repeated every day. And what teachers do with their gift benefits so many children on a daily basis.

Teachers are often on the front line of the poverty battle. It is important that children know from where their gifts originate. This Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to be thankful for the gift of life we have and the gift of others in our lives.

I have worked with many faith and community organizations and it seems to me that many of the problems they seek to address have one root cause: poverty. I take the problems of global poverty much more serious, and have noticed a rise in poverty in both urban and rural America.

It is the best American tradition of helping others help themselves. Now is an opportune time for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of our nation and the world. I see a passion for compassion diminishing in America. Government simply cannot meet the needs of all citizens. Faith and community organizations need help. They need your time and effort. They need your money and support. We should embrace government partnership with faith-based organizations and other non-profit community organizations to do the work of fighting poverty and other issues.

To his credit, former President George W. Bush recognized the poverty problem when he said, “The growing divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery, is both a challenge to our compassion and a source of instability. We must confront it.” “We cannot,” said the president, “leave behind half of humanity as we seek a better future for ourselves. We cannot accept permanent poverty in a world of progress. There are no second-class citizens in the human race.”

Bono, of the rock group U2, said in an interview, “It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Let’s be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.”

Poor and starving people are not particularly appealing news stories, but fighting poverty is and should be a moral imperative for citizens in our cities, state and nation. I am impressed by country music singer Tracy Lawrence, who regularly takes time of his schedule to feed the hungry in Nashville, and in other locations across the United State. Most recently Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley opened a free Nashville grocery store for those in need. That use of fame is a worthy cause that is under-reported in our country.

Faith reminds us that theological apathy is not an acceptable excuse. Yes, “the poor will always be with us.” However, Jesus, in his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

As we sit in our comfortable pews on Sunday morning singing about what it is like up there, we should remember that the poverty of spirit as equally lamentable to poverty of physical wealth. This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessing in our lives. If you are a parent and your child is about to enter the world, it would be a great comfort to know that your country will use all of its resources to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, so they can succeed in our country.

To paraphrase an oft cited poem, “If you want to touch the face of God or His heart, it is not necessary to escape the surly bonds of Earth.” Take an interest in the things that interest God. Eliminate some of those nonessential things that clutter our lives. Recognize what is really essential: faith, family and friends. Embrace others. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Lose control, let God love through you. Don’t fear the politicians. Hold them accountable. God will indeed hold us all accountable.

Think of those less fortunate this year before your Thanksgiving prayers, those in poverty whose plates are often empty. We are incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty without all of us working together. The number of hungry people in the world reached over 800 million, a harsh reminder that the world has yet to get serious about the challenge of ending hunger. We can make a difference, can’t we?

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Heftiger Disput

During the holidays, our goal and objective is to have a peaceful gathering of family and friends.  Peace is not lack of conflict, it is the ability to manage conflict by peaceful means.  But is it possible to simply just avoid conflict when so many are outspoken about their beliefs?  Probably not, however, that should be our objective.

Conflict is inevitable, whenever humans live together.  However, it can be set aside for a greater purpose, such as fellowship, thanksgiving, worship, and helping others.  Dutch clergyman Henri Nouwen wrote that we find “words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.”  That is how we should approach interaction with family and friends over the holidays.

In modern times families have more commitments, and often there is a geographical distance between members of the family.  Historically, families do not gather together like they once did.  It would seem then, in the few minutes or hours that you may be with families and friends you can lay aside politics, and other items that divide families, ignoring past squabbles.  Simply enjoy the company of other people and give a moment of gratitude for our lives and blessings.  Failure to avoid conflict, may mean that some members avoid future family gatherings.  When that happens, everyone loses.

If you are sincere about making memories with people that you love the most you should avoid political talk and probably turn off the news.  Work on reconnecting with family and friends. Start new or enjoy old family traditions. If you are religious, do not change your belief to accommodate people who have entered your home. They already know who you are, and should respect it.  If you watch football or play football do that.  Watching the Macy Day’s parade on television on Thanksgiving was a tradition in my home.  Use laughter to defuse awkward conversations.  Remember the adage, it is hard to argue with food in your mouth, especially dessert.

Make the effort to create a relaxed environment.  Be focused to all your family relationships in between holidays, so that hurt and resentment don’t build up in between visits.  Time is important.  Set a time to start and a time to conclude an event.  We all have that family member who overstays their visit.  If you are not certain who that family member is, it’s probably you. Also, make sure you do your part to help out.  Hosting a family holiday is a lot of work.

Family holiday time is not the time for therapy. Turn to professionals for that, and handle in private. It is important to be reminded that you are not forced to spend time with people who are harmful to your mental health, even if they are your relatives.  However, with proper ground rules and a positive attitude you can avoid conflict and reduce the stress, making the holidays successful for everybody.  If you are still uncomfortable, have another piece of pie.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.