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Episode 9 | Free-Spirited

Updated: Aug 5, 2022


Season Two | Episode 9


Do you remember the last time you were truly free? Not held back by anyone or anything, just living in the moment and enjoying life for what it is? For most people, this doesn't happen very often. We are constantly told what to do, how to do it, and when. This lifestyle can be stifling for some people, but there is a way to break free from these chains.

To be free means to be independent and not constrained, enjoying personal rights or liberty, while spirited means having or showing courage, vigor, and liveliness.

Being a free spirit means living life authentically and with purpose, and it means being true to yourself no matter what anyone else thinks. We have the unique opportunity to show our students how this looks. We can do this by being passionate about our work, living our best lives, and treating others with respect. When we model this behavior for our students, they will be more likely to do the same! As an educator, it's our job to teach not only content but also skills that will last a lifetime.

It means being creative, expressive, and living life with purpose and power as your authentic self. It means being yourself no matter what anyone else thinks. To be free and feel free are two very different concepts to understand... one is a decisive state you determine based on your context, while the other you act upon because of your particular context. It's the addends to the sum, the parts to the whole of being free. For example, I feel free to speak my mind, and I feel free to do what is best for me, and because of that, I am free. to ______...

Your students could have been told they are free to be themselves but having the conditions, spaces, and routines in places that get them the opportunity to FEEL free enough to act on that promise is something different and requires intention and personalization.

It's equity in real-life practice!

The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. - Dr. bell hooks

I have the image of two fenced-in yards in mind when I think about freedom in the classroom. Inside both yards is the promised space of freedom and where one can go to be themselves, learn, grow, and develop.

But I imagine two very different experiences; one of these yards has one gate, and the kids must funnel through the opening in that one spot. This yard represents the rigid routines and procedures, the teacher with the attitude that they don't have time for anything you are personally going through. The expectation is that everyone meets the appointed expectations, in the same way, to be granted access to the yard of freedom.

I see there is no wait to get in on the other field. The kids are inside; it's pleasant; they are entering and exiting through multiple gates because the teacher is considering the needs of her students, removing barriers as needs. They believe this teacher when "you can be yourself here" because the environment matches that sentiment.

When I look over at the other yard with the line to get in, I think about the experience of getting into this yard. If I already had challenges making my way there, and if it was just another stressor to get into and participate in that space. Would I even want to be there? Or would I rather be somewhere else? Kids' stress response systems make that call for them.

Your environment has to match the desire and outcome you want for your classroom.

Does that mean that you are less rigorous, you lower your standards? NOPE, it's both, and... its SEL and DEI and having high standards for your students... and you can do that... WHY? Because you created the conditions for students to exist and be open to learning AND making mistakes there.

Here are 5 ways you can have a FREEDOM-FOCUSED classroom environment:

  1. Permission To Fail: When you give yourself permission to be imperfect, you take quicker action… and you fail faster. The whole point is not for us to be perfect but for us to be progressing.

  2. Lift When You Fall: You are free to fail, AND we will continuously lift you in this community. Not just once but every time you fall.

  3. Find Your Way Back: We will mess this up at some point, and there will be pathways to make amends and restore relationships here. We need each other.

  4. Your voice matters: There will be spaces where you will not feel as free; we want you to know and learn the difference so that you can advocate for yourself and your needs or remove yourself from the spaces that don't serve you.

  5. Have To Be vs. Want To Be: In this space, we honor that you have to be here, and we hope that it is a space that you would choose to be if you had the choice.

A teacher in search of his/her own freedom may be the only kind of teacher who can arouse young people to go in search of their own - Dr. Maxine Greene

The whole point of teaching is so that children can grow to enact their unique power in the way that best suits them and how they want to contribute. Your classrooms and homes have to model the space for them to freely use their voices and ideas, where they fail and feel comfortable and encouraged to be better and stronger every day. They do that because they have self-aware adults to apologize when they miss the mark and model and communicate the appropriate response, so we don't derail kids because of our adult actions.

We are not creating places of challenge and barriers to them learning the skills they need to keep us all on the path of freedom for generations to come.

That first starts with your FREEDOM.


You will find the Questions to Connections Guide for this episode on the word FREE-SPIRITED here! If you are new here, check out our Path to Meaningful Connections resource!

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