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Episode 6 | Authentic

Updated: May 3, 2022


Season Two | Episode 6


What does it mean to be authentic?

Authentic is defined as not false or copied, being genuine, real, and representing one's true nature or beliefs, true to oneself or the person identified entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience being reliable or trustworthy. Wow, that's a lot, but it's so important. I chose to start season two with this concept of being your authentic self because it is a hot topic in the education world. I want to dive a little deeper into how we have conversations around some of the nuances of being authentic and teaching kids to be their authentic selves. It just doesn't happen automatically. A lot is leading up to someone being comfortable enough to be their authentic self and feeling safe enough in the spaces you curate for them to continue doing so day in and day out. We want kids to feel like despite challenges or anything that may come their way while they're in those spaces, you know for sure that you are showing up as you are, and so are they.

It is the season to have all of who one is on display. It is a time to be all the beautiful things that one is at once. It is a time to be loud and thoughtful, and angry and loving and ratchet and academic, with fire in the belly and a desire to push the world to reimagine how they see us and others like us. -Dr. Chris Emdin, Ratchetdemic

If that does not light you up or the concept of just being your authentic self, no matter what, I don't know what will truly; I was lit on fire by that quote. It just made me think that so much has changed and that today's sense of identity is not yesterday's sense of identity. Things have changed. Things are shifting. Kids are more encouraged to be empowered, which is different from what many of us experienced growing up.

Read on for additional notes from the episode!


Many of us in that thirties to forties range didn't grow up with the norm of the self-celebration that we're now tasked with doing for our kids and our students now. So, that can create a profound juxtaposition in how we interact with each other. If you haven't thought about what makes you YOU, your truest authentic self that is the YOU when nobody is around, then it is a big leap to know and advocate for showing up in other places as your authentic self for what's right for you. Also, it can be hard to determine what parts of you are revealed in different areas based on context, which is our experiences and our relationships in our environments.

It's a big leap in and of yourself, let alone extending and modeling and teaching kids to do that themselves. You have to not just know your students; you have to know yourself well enough to have a foundation that you can be consistent with and that other people can count on. I'm not talking about daily fluctuations in our emotions, moods, and circumstances because life happens, and we're allowed to fluctuate a bit. We are talking about how you show up for others that are truly aligned with your core values. Figuring that out and anchoring yourself to your core values and using that will help you persist in showing up as your authentic self even when it may not be easy to do so.

The definition of the word authentic containing the word trust makes me think about the importance of relational trust and the power it holds in how we show up as our authentic selves in the classroom and beyond. Researchers Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider published some research around four different components related to relational trust that builds trusting relationships in schools.

  • Respect: Creation of and adherence to norms, rules, policies

    • Do you treat other people with respect and listen to them?

  • Competence: Clarity and ability to execute roles and responsibilities

    • Are you attentive and competent in your role, from what I can assess?

  • Personal Regard for Others: Reinforcement, praise, inclusion, sense of belonging

    • Do you care about other people, beyond your formal duties?

  • Personal Integrity: Follow-through, consistency, delivering on commitments

    • Do you keep your word and follow your principles?

I encourage you to think through those four components and how they could benefit your teaching practice in your relationships with the kids around you. One story that pops in my mind when I think about accepting the authentic selves of others comes from a television show in the nineties. I grew up with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Will Smith. Most people know the premise of that sitcom, and there is even a reboot of the show now. Still, one of the most talked-about and replayed moments in that entire show is when Will Smith's character had this moment where his father, who had been absent from his life, had re-engaged with him in ways he had always wanted. They planned to go on this big trip and spend more time together. And then, suddenly, one day, his father came and decided that he would head on out. We saw Will sort of spiral into this raw wave of emotions in front of his uncle. He talked about how he didn't need him anyway and acted nonchalantly. He talked about everything he accomplished to that point in his life without his father, trying to affirm himself as strong. He was explained what his future would hold despite his father not being there. He's going through it, pacing through the living room. His uncle was just there for him, listening and ever so now and then interjecting an apology that he is experiencing this heartache and affirming his anger.

In a split second, everything changed. Will made this switch to reveal the truth behind all the emotions. He says, "Why he don't want me, man?" He breaks down. His uncle hugs him, and it's one of the most heart-wrenching moments on TV, I swear. At that moment, his uncle stepped up to validate his emotion, his disappointment, to describe how much he is loved and accepted and his place in his life and in his family. Later in another episode, he says, "you're my son." Moments like that can change somebody. If you think about your students and how often they go through moments where their acceptance, their belonging, and their authentic selves are being challenged based on their experiences, their relationships, and the environments that they are in outside of school, they're constantly going to be wondering, who am I? Is who I am worthy enough of love and attention? My teachers want to pour knowledge into me. But do I have the capacity to learn more, grow, and evolve into better versions of myself as time goes on?

Their contexts are challenging that authentic self. And that's what I saw at that moment when I rewatched that sitcom moment as an adult. He had experiences that helped him feel like a good evolving teenager. Still, because of that relationship with his father and that experience of abandonment again, it all got questioned. What makes the difference in those moments, the science tells us that those relationships are what turn toxic stress into tolerable stress moments. The trusting relationships and a trusted adult in those moments are the game-changer.

When we think about it as our jobs, as educators, it makes it that important. Behind the behaviors we see on the surface, there is also this internal battle around who I am, based on my experiences, based on the people that are around me, and what they're telling me I am. Kids are growing, but they're also growing into themselves. That's why we pour over kids, and we speak power over and around kids. The power around our words can make a world of difference in them winning that internal battle of my true, authentic self, who am I, that is developing now in class, in your class that is developing now. And that is so powerful to think about. When I think about those moments where students have had that sort of switch, like will Smith in that TV moment, it was in those moments that I saw the opportunity to add to what they believe about themselves, to help them separate themselves from the context that they were experiencing in that moment to leverage all of the value, all of the genius, all of the special, truly unique qualities that I see within them. To give them something to use and move forward within their toolkits.

We are not replacing parents and guardians, but students spend so much time with us, and they deserve that affirmation. They deserve the opportunity to be themselves fully and not check any parts of themselves at the door. They deserve that affirmation that we care about what they see, that they are felt, and that what they go through is an important part of them. Students have to know that the light they have to offer your classroom, the school, the community, and their homes is necessary and welcomed to get to that point. They have to have the opportunity to discover, explore, and dream about what they want and who they are. Here's the caveat, though. You have to be in a place as the adult to show up authentically for kids to want to do the same with you, to cultivate and curate that relationship and environment, where that becomes the norm of support and sharing and caring. You have to show up as your authentic self for them to know that you're a person they can do that with. That looks different for every educator, every parent, and how we open up the opportunities for kids to share with us and be vulnerable and learn and grow. It may happen through conversations or by creating a space for students to share privately through writing or journaling.

These frames can help you think about how we are breaking the barriers between us to own and operate as our authentic selves and encourage our students to do the same.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the differences between us and in ourselves. What is preventing us from fully seeing another person's perspective? What is different about our perspectives?

  2. Leverage the strengths and assets that exist within yourself and those around you. How are we adding value? What value is those around us adding?

  3. Decide to step forward in kindness and love, grace and gratitude. Despite all of the differences you might have discovered in this reflection, decide to step forward, have forward momentum, and action together in the community.

  4. Establish healthy boundaries for how you'll continue to work together moving forward.

When we model being our authentic selves; we're leveraging and asking students to do that themselves. We're creating opportunities for them to show themselves and share themselves with the class. When you do that, you'll notice differences and tension points, and there are moments of pushback between us. That's when we have to operate in grace and gratitude, kindness, and love, and then talk about how we will communicate together, moving forward. So that classroom communities and home environments can continue to ebb and flow and share and not become cold, stagnant, closed off in silos. So we're constantly thinking about how we can feed off of each other together and not go in opposite directions apart.

I thought it was so interesting that Zaire used the language of "walking in shoes," in the episode. We often use that to talk about being considerate of other people, their perspectives, and their journeys. I welcome the reframe that Zai offered. How often do we look down and check our own laces? Making sure we are walking in shoes that are suitable for us and serve us well enough so that we can reflect on the walk of life of another person in their shoes. So sticking with that shoe analogy is a beautiful reminder to check in with ourselves because considering the style and the flare it relates to whether we are in environments that suit our authentic selves at this present moment. Then like shoes, if we think about the support we have during our not-so-fun emotions, will those "shoes" take us where we need to go in the challenging portions of our journey. Does it call for growth in certain areas to actually be our best authentic selves? Are you willing to do what it takes to BE YOU in the classroom and beyond?


You will find the Questions to Connections Guide for this episode on the word AUTHENTIC here!

If you are new here, check out our Path to Meaningful Connections resource!

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