The Identity Web

Participating in a conversation about equity at High Tech High typically begins by constructing an identity web. I have made several identity webs in the past so constructing a new web to begin a deeper exploration of my own story seems like a logical place to start. Before beginning my current identity web I reflected about my experiences with my previous webs wondering, "how will this one be different?"

I made my first identity web almost a year ago. I'll be honest. It was an uncomfortable experience for me. I was instructed to write my name in the center of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. The directions are straightforward: “Write your name in the center circle. Each additional circle should contain a word or phrase that captures some element of your identity. This means those terms or descriptors that have most helped shape who you are as a person, how you interact with the world or how you are impacted by the world.” I remember sitting and staring at the paper. Who am I? Am I doing this right? What are other people writing? Is mine too boring? Am I bragging? Before I knew it we had 1- minute left and I had written, “daughter,” “sister...” I quickly jotted down a few more descriptors and then breathed a huge sigh of relief when I found out we were not sharing our identity webs with anyone, they were just for us to gather our own thoughts.

The next significant experience I had with an identity web was 4 months ago. This time the tables had turned. I was leading a group of people through the same activity I had participated in early last year. In preparation for the activity I decided I would share my own identity web with the group as an example. I drew my circles and filled in some words and phrases. Ideas flowed more easily this time. I explained the the activity to the group and quickly drew my identity web on the board for everyone to see. Then, something unexpected happened. As I walked the group through my example, I felt a lump forming at the back of my throat. I could hear my voice becoming shaky and I felt a slight burning sensation in my eyes. Was I going to cry?! I realized this web was a much better representation of what’s at my core than my first web had been and when I shared these deeper parts of myself with a group of strangers, I realized how vulnerable I had become.

Uncovering my own vulnerabilities and being able to share with others what inspires me, what drives me, what gives me pause, and where I need help is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. In that moment, a strange weight was lifted off my shoulders and my desire to articulate how my past experience shaped me as an educator became a new quest. As John Dewey wisely shared, we don't learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. So, with that reflection, I think I am ready to begin. It's simple, right? I am going to write my name in a circle on a piece of paper, and then begin connecting words and phrases in circles about who I am as a person and how I interact with the world. What about you? Are you ready?

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