All posts by Tina Starks

About Tina Starks

Hello Everybody! Through my experiences, I've come to believe that if you're fortunate enough to have a career that serves your passion and purpose, you find synergy between your work and your life. I often reflect on my vocational practices as an instructional coach to gain deeper understanding of how we think, learn, cooperate, lead/follow and create. In this way, my work informs and guides me to be a better parent, wife, friend...a better me. Then, it goes full circle, a better me makes a better educator. This kind of synergy allows for connection and meaning to surface in my day to day activities. In this blog site, I hope to share reflections on the lessons initially hidden, or forgotten, in experiences and interactions with others that may inspire new insights in living a meaningful life. I appreciate the opportunity to share this space with you.

Silent No More

Image by Alemko Coksa from Pixabay

The task itself was simple. Create one presentation slide about what you’ve learned in the past few months. Then, take 3-4 minutes to elaborate about the content on the slide. The challenge? The task came in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest for Black lives, and political upheaval in a nation struggling to collectively regain a sense of decency for its citizens. As if that weren’t enough, professionally, I am part of a team of educational leaders responsible to support teachers in returning to a kind of school that has never before existed. The urgency to restore humanity in all areas of my life is profoundly palpable.

Despite feeling oppressed in ways that I never knew I could, I channeled the energy needed to present to my colleagues a glimpse into some of what I’ve learned and continue to sort through in my mind and spirit since March of 2020. And it is with the momentum of this same energy that I now share with you my presentation in an effort to reignite my flow of creativity. May we all break the barriers of silence in whatever ways they take hold in our lives.

Presented on August 14, 2020 to a team of Elementary Instructional Coaches

What I have learned in the past few months is too grand for the span of three minutes; just as the scope of my identity is too grand for this space. I show up as a Black and Japanese woman, mother, wife, daughter, educator, meditator, friend, writer, advocate, artist, learner, teammate, and so much more. However, in the backdrop of all my identities, and all your identities, looms a power structure made up of policymakers who do not know life in the ways that I do. They either don’t know or don’t care that most of their policies harm many of the ways I identify myself.

Policymakers create policies from their own lens of reality then use those policies to judge, punish, condemn, and even destroy those whose realities are profoundly different. Policymakers make their view right. Policymakers set the criteria for success and acceptance. Policymakers determine the consequences for those who fail to meet their standards.

Yet policymakers are not limited to our state Capitol and our nation’s Capitol. Landlords are policymakers for tenants. Banks are policymakers for loan applicants. Parents are policymakers in a home. Do you see where I’m going with this? Right. We, the educators, are policymakers in our schools and classrooms. What policies have we made that caused harm to students in the many ways that they identify themselves?

For most educators, it’s because they simply don’t know. They don’t know that a shared experience can only be determined by truly allowing every student to enter with their full identities, cultures, beliefs, family values, and individual assets. They don’t know that the looming power structure impacts all of us in all these areas. It informs how we view ourselves, our students and their families. The looming power structure normalizes and empowers some while minimizing and disenfranchising others.

But the fact is, there are some educators who just don’t care. Unfortunately, sharing what I’ve learned would not be enough to make a difference for those few. But for those who realize that now is the time to pioneer antiracist policymaking, here are a few ways to demonstrate equity and lifelong learning.

1. Study methods of Culturally Responsive Teaching to inform an asset-based mindset in instruction.

2. Examine rules and policies for equity and access for all students. Remove those rules and policies that do not serve all students.

3. Enhance the four C’s of 21st Century Teaching practices: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.

4. Make room for social justice lessons and discussions in all content areas to offer context and relevance for every student.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that having an antiracist mindset is not only critically important for the students we serve, but also for the colleagues that serve with us. Silence is no longer an option. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. And inaction is no longer acceptable.

Notice and Wonder: Life in a Pandemic

Image by Joseph Redfield Nino from Pixabay

Sometimes when given a problem, students struggle to even know how to begin approaching ways to think about the situation, let alone, solving it. A common practice used in math lessons, called Notice and Wonder, provides a moment of pause for students to begin the process of understanding a mathematical problem before developing a strategy to find a solution. The teacher typically presents a math scenario then provides students with the opportunity to share what they notice in what was presented. Without the pressure of finding a solution right away, learners often feel comfortable to pick up on even the smallest details of the math problem. After bringing attention to all the various details they’ve noticed, students are then encouraged to wonder. They’re free to wonder about the how’s, why’s, and the what-ifs about the problem. These wonderings then lead students to find strategies and possibilities in a solution. As I struggle to make sense of life in a pandemic, could this instructional strategy give me the space I need to come to grips with the impact of COVID-19?

THE PROBLEM/SCENARIO: To prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the potential for devastating consequences of infection, [at the time of this writing] about a third of the world’s population continues to live in some form of lockdown, or quarantine. Despite the stay-at-home order, some still choose/must breach the restrictions because inconsistent messaging creates varying levels of concern or essential businesses still require workers to report to duty. Social gatherings, however, has radically come to a standstill. Even families have limited their get-togethers to protect vulnerable family members. If human beings are social beings, what will be the long term effects of social, and physical, distancing?

Through my noticing and wondering, I realize there is something I fear besides the virus, COVID-19. I fear the impact of the extended isolation and how it will carry over in the aftermath of this crisis. There’s no way to know for sure but I believe we will need to be more intentional than ever before to establish and maintain meaningful connections with others.  This exercise has helped me to anticipate how I can respond on the other side of this.

  1. Recognize privilege and suffering is relative. I fully understand that my experience in all of this may look very different from so many others. For this reason, I pray for the awareness to be empathetic to the disposition of the people I come in contact with in the coming months. While some may be jumping for joy to get a haircut, others may be relieved to return to earning an income. While some may be thrilled to get back into the gym, others may be happy to be breathing freely and without pain. Each of these situations out of context makes sense. However, when placed in close proximity to each other, it becomes problematic because we tend to compare and judge. This is will not be the time to compare. We all expereienced our own traumas.
  2. Know that people grieve differently. According to David Kessler, co-author with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, when we experience loss of normalcy or loss of connection, our feelings of uneasiness and discomfort can be described as grief. Certainly we all, in differing degrees, must adjust to a new normal and reacquaint ourselves to socializing and sharing space with each other. How does that look and feel when the masses are going through a grieving process? I pray to extend patience and compassion to others and myself as we may not be fully ok, yet. And I will remember that it’s ok to not be ok.
  3. Exchange meaningful pleasantries. The standard “How are you?” will now be an opportunity for a check-in with family, your neighbor, local service workers, colleagues…a stranger. When lockdowns are lifted, we will return to being able to perceive body language, facial expression, or a look in someone’s eyes. I pray for the discernment to realize when someone needs to be seen and heard. Even if it’s just an exchange of a much needed smile.
  4. Take notice of inequities. In the past several weeks, the systematic inequities in our schools, local communities, and nation have been blaring louder than normal. Though we often think of inequities in terms of a host of deliberate and unfortunate –isms that seem too large to overcome, there are some disparities that we can reduce in our immediate environments with heightened attention. The voiceless still need people to speak up for their needs. The weakened will continue to need the strengthened to lift them up.

In actuality, I, like many of you, live most of these practices regularly. However, what feels different is the urgency of doing these things. Perhaps I took it for granted that we just do these things because it’s a way to be kind or show courtesy and decency.  However, our current reality is showing me that it is an absolute necessity. We are not meant to live in isolation. We need each other. Humans need other humans to live, thrive, and survive. I pray that we all become more intentional in mind and spirit.

Hear My Truth

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

“Your duty is to scream those truths that one should shout but are merely whispered.” –Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Sometimes in the pursuit for lessons from my past, I discover that a single event has been a gradual time-released dose of medicine for my soul. At various points on my life’s journey, I garner just enough truth and nourishment from that experience to guide me forward to yet another morsel of healing and personal growth. As a lover of words, I’m not lost on the miracle that one such experience took place in an unassuming bookstore.

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Not Me but We

Image by Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay

I stood at the checkout stand as the cashier quickly scanned the items I placed on the steadily moving conveyer belt. The next customer in line slowly rolled his shopping cart forward into what was apparently too close for the cashier’s comfort. She looked at him, moved his cart away, and snapped, “Can you move your cart back and stay there until I’m ready for you?” Then she looked at me and with disgust said, “Chinese people are so pushy.”

Whoa! Did she just say that? Not only did she say those words but she was now casually asking me to collude with her in this act of racial bias. The following exchange took place:

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A Spiritual Hot Spot

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

“What art does is to coax us away from the mechanical and toward the miraculous. The so-called uselessness of art is a clue to its transforming power. Art is not part of the machine. Art asks us to think differently, see differently, hear differently, and ultimately to act differently, which is why art has more force…Art makes us better people because it asks for our full humanity, and humanity is, or should be, the polar opposite of the merely mechanical. We are not part of the machine either, but we have forgotten that. Art is memory…” –Jeanette Winterson

If you live in the Los Angeles area, you likely know all too well the tourist hot spot called Venice Beach. The popularity of Venice Beach can more specifically be attributed to the 2.5 mile Ocean Front Walk that takes on a carnival like atmosphere with endless sightings of the outlandish, the amazing, and the breath-taking.  According to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, every year an average of over 10 million visitors come to soak up the sun, some fun, and the spirit of Southern California.

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Karma and Balance

“Fairness is a human concept. Balance is a universal one.” – David James Lees

I grew up in a home with a mother who is deeply committed to Buddhism. She continues to chant regularly in the morning and then again in the evening as she has done since her late teens. I don’t know of day that she has ever missed this daily practice. My own practice wavered as I developed my own beliefs about religion, spirituality, and the deep meanings of life. However, the philosophy of Buddhism remains a foundational influence in my Becoming. One primary concept is karma.

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Legacy of Courage

As we were finishing a late breakfast, a notification goes off on his phone. “Mom, it’s bad news. It’s really bad news.” I struggled to process the words that came out of my son’s mouth as he proceeded to inform me about the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Fragmented details were beginning to be uncovered and released while we sat in silence. Only my unrestrained sobs and tears would disrupt the quiet at our table.

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Proud to be a Military Brat

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Are you familiar with the term “military brat?” This term generally refers to someone who grew up in a family where the parents served in the armed forces.  My father served in the Air Force which makes me a military brat and I say that with pride. Though the word “brat” usually carries a negative connotation in the civilian world, those of us who grew up “on base” know that we belong to a resilient and diverse subculture of individuals bonded by common experience and mutual understanding of what it all means.

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Matters of the Heart

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

HEART (noun)

  1. a hollow muscular organ that pumps the blood through the circulatory system by rhythmic contraction and dilation
  2. the emotional or moral nature as distinguished from the intellectual nature
  3. one’s most innermost character, feeling, or inclinations
  4. the essential or most vital part of something

When you look up the word “heart” these are a few of the definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I bring your attention to these specific definitions because they lie at the heart (pun intended) of what I’d like to share in the following post.

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We Are Family

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When we conjure up examples of a strong family, images of a father who provides, a mother who nurtures, and children who obey may emerge because we have been led to believe that this is the standard. However, in our ever-changing world, the limiting definitions of a “traditional” family no longer suffice to fully encapsulate the complexities of familial strength. In fact, it is arguable that we fall short of considering the cultural influences on family structures and dynamics that offer variants on the way family strength manifests in different communities today.

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