Icebergs and Trees
An iceberg, it can sink a massive ship with one blow. Remember the titanic? Of course, you do, a tragic story of something that was bigger then what met the eye. These “tiny” blocks of ice, powerful, yet hard to fully grasp unless you can view from below. Only then will you realize what is actually seen on the surface is only the beginning. Possibly one of the most effective visual tools to our view on culture, the iceberg, what we see and what we hear is only surface level. There is so much more; the depth culture goes is far beyond what we might understand. How do we train and teach our organization, our school, our team to look more into culture? How do we teach them to unpack culture at a more individual level? These are all questions I attempt to answer, and by answer, I mean hardly scratch the surface. This topic is ever changing, and I believe will just continue to grow, so come along as I attempt to challenge and grow us as individuals as well as team members. Keeping an open mind that we are in this together, learning and growing and myself as well as you (yes even you) are all growing so this topic will always have room to add more…and by all means you write the next one, ok?
I invite you to come along with me, grab your scuba gear, fins and wetsuit and let’s go underwater and explore this iceberg of culture together. Let’s begin to unpack how we can become educators who seek to understand. We will focus today mainly on our tongue, the words we speak and the words we do not speak. We must never forget, the words we use are powerful, it’s only when we stop to think about what we are saying we will begin to grow. If we want to see a difference, we must be willing to model that difference. As Gholdy Muhammad’s call to action, “We need teachers who are on the front lines modeling, guiding students, participating, and doing what we ask of students (Muhammad, 2020, p. 78). Let’s get ready to be that teacher that we can often think “I wish I was like….” My simple suggestion, just start somewhere! Be the teacher you wish you were. Let’s take a few moments to dive deep, ready? Set? Go!
As an OCDE Project GLAD ® trainer, we use a powerful model of this iceberg to just scratch the surface of culture and what it means as we educate future generations. Now what if we used that slide and worked with it among our organizations. I’m asking for a call to action, a call to find a way to make this meaningful and to begin to unpack what culture is throughout your team. So take a moment and think about right now, yes, really, stop and think…how might to share this iceberg slide as a team, organization or classroom and what might you do with it to help bring a better understand of culture?
Another more recent visual (similar to the iceberg) is the Culture Tree by Aliza Maynard, featured in Zaretta Hammond’s book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain”. In both, the visual that is displayed begins to unpack the depth and complexity of culture in the classroom. (both visuals found here Culture Tree Culture Iceberg ) Both of these are fantastic representation of how there is so much more than what meets the eye when it comes to humans. Is it not amazing how sometimes we think we know someone or something, and then we learn something new and are instantly amazed we did not know that fact. Just the same, watch a scientist be so sure of something, and in one simple experiment they prove themselves wrong and are back to the drawing board. That is also the exciting part of being here on this earth, we get to see and learn new things in this ever-changing world.
The old proverb “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” could never be further from the truth. With our tongue, a small yet mighty tool, we can tear down a person with a single blow. On the flip side of that, we can build someone up to the highest mountain by what we say, or even what we choose to not say. Words have the power to change the future, but they also have the power to break the strongest of mankind. What are your words doing? Now let’s grab our garden boots, a shovel and a watering can as we begin to explore those roots some more. Green thumb or not, here we go!
Think of a beautifully landscaped yard, the one where they left the old oak tree in the center and planned around it, your favorite flower, succulent or bush is there; I’m talking HGTV amazing, got that visual? Now think of that giant oak tree in the center. It’s beautiful, it is lovely but wow it has roots! Just ask your plumber or electrician the next time they must remove one of those roots just to fix a problem. You learn very quickly that roots run deep. They touch nearly every part of your landscaped yard, and you don’t even realize it until you dig down. Now think of a colleague, a student, a friend, how deep do their roots go? Think about those roots, they touch every part of that person’s life you are thinking about. I challenge you the next time you hold a conversation with someone just begin to think about the roots you already know about and wonder how many more you do not.
Now shift your thinking to the words you speak, like water flowing down to the roots. Do the words you speak impact the roots below the surface? How much have you thought about what you are saying when speaking to them and their culture? When you begin to see that there is truly more than meets the eye, you begin to understand how little you truly know. A wise rabbit named Thumper once said, “If you can’t’ say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all” (Bambi, 1942) and how true that is. Sometimes we need to stop thinking of things to say and just be quiet. When words are not spoken as quickly as we might want to, a shift happens, and we begin to truly think. As we think deeper, their roots begin to show (and not those type of roots!), when we allow our brain the opportunity to pause, the impact it has is astounding.
Thinking about that giant tree, with deep roots, the one that grew into the sidewalk, made you call the plumber and electrician, now that represents the culture that is under the surface. Taking culture deeper is a process, it’s something that is earned not demanded or forced. The first step of understanding those roots is recognizing that those roots run deep and are connected to each part of that person. We take that into consideration when we talk to them, when we ask questions, and we listen. Take a moment to, yes again, pause, think about someone who you know, and then begin to think about their culture…do you know surface culture or deeper culture? Why or why not?
Have you ever started a project, taken on something new and as you research you realize that the more you learn the more you truly do not know? You might even say to yourself “Wow, as I learn about ___________ I feel like I know zip, zero nothing!” Now think about those around you, we think we know someone but how deep do we understand their roots? Do we know them for their surface traits more than what is hidden among the depths? Remember to look below the surface, begin to use your words for change, dig deeper when appropriate and allow others to see your roots.
One way you might begin to unpack culture with your team is to have each of them create a Graphic Organizer (GO) of the culture tree. Have them bring in picture file cards or artifacts that represent each aspect of their culture below and above the surface that they are willing and ready to share. When your team gathers for meetings or planning time have one team member share each time you meet. One by on you will begin to unpack the culture of your team, and if its anything like learning something new, the more you unpack the more you realize you truly do not know about that person! Imagine the safe space you have created as you allow each other to share just what is under the surface.
There is another piece of this time of sharing the GO, it’s the almighty tongue. The tongue can be used as a weapon for good or a weapon for harm, it is up to you to decide. You might have some active listening during and after the GO, being mindful of our 7 Norms of Collaboration (Garmston Wellman). I challenge us to take it a step further and consider what was just shared in the GO and think about how it might help to communicate in a way that best suits their shared culture background. Do not just practice active listening during the GO, take to heart what they have shared and think through how you speak to them and how that might need to shift or change to foster a better working environment. Maybe you need to do an Inquiry Chart prior to this GO if the individual is comfortable, or possibly an interactive journal entry, or another OCDE Project GLAD ® strategy. Think of your team and what their needs are; areas of strengths and areas of growth.
You, have the ability to impact change. If you begin to watch your tongue and craft your words carefully others will see and notice this. Remember how as good teachers we are taught to “I do, we do, you do” well I am here to say start with the “I do” and YOU, yes you, start first! If you don’t start somewhere, it might never happen.
Maybe you are thinking this is too hard, you might fail, or you might mess up. Want the truth? You might! The first time you try you might say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing or just plain old mess up, but if you keep at it and keep a humble heart able to seek unity, I promise you it will be worth it. Maybe you need a practice space, start in your home, your local supermarket or even a good friend can help. Begin to think about your words and what they say. Imagine your tongue as a flame, a powerful tool that you can train to use for good. Be the one to walk away from a conversation that is hurtful and harmful to others, walk away from the gossip and the slander and promote good among your team. When you interact with students, be the one to build up, to listen to hear what their roots are and begin to think and process ways in which you might speak to them and build them up knowing your new learnings about their roots. Be the “Master Gardener” of your team!
Consider your own roots as the final piece to this puzzle. I urge you to create a GO of your own roots, iceberg or tree, it’s up to you. Study the visuals and decide which one best represents you and your culture. We all have culture; we all have things above and below and we all have the desire to belong and be known. Look inward, begin to unpack what your roots look like, what are the large roots, easy to find easy to see, and where are the smaller roots, harder to find and yet still a massive part of who you are. I challenge you; find out who you are. I promise, you have roots that maybe you haven’t even considered. As you discover more of who you are it might be just what you need to understand someone else in your circle of influence.
Lastly, imagine you have an empty bucket. Each of you, your teammates, classroom, your tribe, just picture each of those members having an empty bucket. You have the smallest water dropper; I mean this thing only drops a single drop at a time, the kind you want to roll your eyes at it is so slow. A drop in the bucket, a simple pause in a conversation, splish, a glance downward, splash, taking time to listen to someone at a deeper level, splish, giving space and wait time, splash, a follow up question from a close friend who cares, splish. All these things are drops in the bucket. As you walk through life with students and colleagues, each of these times you use your words carefully you are adding yet another a drop to their bucket. It might seem that at first it will never make a difference, but over time that bucket will have a puddle and the puddle will make way for a cup and a cup makes way for a bucket filled and overflowing. Imagine the impact each of you will have as you fill each other’s bucket.
Think of each interaction you have where you are watching what you say and how you say it as a drop in that person’s bucket. You might not be the one to fill the bucket, but you are a valuable contributor and isn’t that just as important? Grab that dropper and start filling buckets!
Let me leave you with a quote: “A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over” (Benjamin Franklin)
For further wonderings: What is one way you can impact your organization or team for change in this area of culture?