Snapshots and Reflections, Memories and Moments
This essay appears in the AMS special publication, Equity Examined: How to Design Schools and Teacher Education Programs Where Everyone Thrives.
In examining my own learning and re-learning about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, snapshots emerge in my mind, representing both general memories and specific moments in time. These snapshots prompt reflections–spiraling, repeating, connecting, deepening, and narrowing to a sustained purpose. Sharing these snapshots feels a little scary, yet meaningful. They represent only a few of many memories that have impacted my life. I have become increasingly aware of how my identity (white cisgender female, raised in the U.S. midAtlantic region by a mother and father in a large extended Catholic family) has shaped the lens through which I view the world–and I hope these snapshots and reflections can create space for me to continue to examine my own privilege.
Fourth or fifth grade, walking home from school with two friends. We see very young Black children playing on the other side of the street. My friend says, “They are so cute when they are little.” I don’t know what she means, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t say anything at that moment because I’m worried what they will think of me for asking. As I look back now, I believe this is the first memory I have of a racist comment, even though racist was not a word I knew or heard back then.
College co-ed cheer teams at a Midwestern university. My partner is a Black man and over the years, a few of our teammates are also Black. After college, I continue with cheer, and our travel team captain, D., is a Black man. Each week, we travel to coach at different universities in Midwestern and Southeastern states. I love the experience; we learn so much about each other on those long drives. All of these Black men are fun-loving, easygoing, and seem to be treated no differently than anyone else on the teams. In hindsight, I wonder if that was true. One specific memory surfaces: I invite our travel team to my family picnic. Weeks later, I find out that a family member expressed anger that D. was there. I feel sad and upset, but don’t know how to follow up (or even if I should) since it wasn’t directed to me. I remember being grateful that my uncle told that family member he was out of line. I wonder now if D. felt or noticed it that day and didn’t let on. Following up with some of these past relationships might help me explore who I was at the time and what my impact was. I wonder if I caused harm to any of these folks. I wonder, and worry if reflecting is enough.
I am an Early Childhood teacher and administrator. Our school moves from a large old public school building in a quiet, upper-middle-class town to a large old Catholic school building in a neighboring city. The buildings are literally less than two miles apart but described by some to be “worlds away.” The experience of having to convince families to trust the new setting and bring their children to the city awakens a new perspective in me. What is it about the geographical boundary of a river that gives parents a different impression of the school? What is it about the city that feels so different from the little town across the river? I am a parent; my children will attend this school also, and while these shared conversations seem to help, others are not convinced. I often wonder how folks developed this prejudice. Is it from their own experiences, or lack thereof? Am I naive since I am a transplant to this area? This is something I continue to discuss with colleagues and friends to help me better understand the roots and perception of difference. One parent teaches me the difference between Black and black. “One is a person and one is a crayon,” she says. We talk about what it means to be Black; she wants me to know what she needs to do to prepare her son to live in America where whiteness is the “rule of law.” I begin to notice the ways that whiteness allows entry or preference. It takes concerted effort to notice, and more effort to figure out how to make it visible to others. It will be years before I feel confident enough to call out racism in group situations.
I am now a faith formation teacher in our church community (Catholics call the program CCD (Catechesis of the Christian Doctrine). Growing up in Catholic schools, I was taught to care for those who were less fortunate. I volunteered for organizations and school initiatives that provided resources to those who were sick, poor, imprisoned, etc. At the time, I did not consider other ways that folks may have needed additional support based on aspects of their identities that were not often obvious. Now, as an adult leading classes for young people within our church community, our discussions of identity and “need” continue to expand and impact our discussions of how to help, who needs help, and what is considered “help.” One example is neurodiversity: J. is a student in my CCD class who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Our time with J. helps us all learn more about what an inclusive setting means and requires of each of us, as we work to form a mutually supportive community. Reflecting on this experience, as well as on my interactions with other neurodiverse folks in my immediate and extended family and the classrooms I lead, I see another opportunity to create awareness and strengthen belonging. !e moments compel me to develop a Montessori Inclusion Endorsement (MIE) program at our TEP, and work to spread awareness among other TEPs about the impact the MIE can have.
Marlene Barron has long influenced my professional growth. In the 1990s, I regularly attend her lectures and workshops. She uses the term “multi-multi,” and challenges us (me) to expand ideas of how “multi” is reflected in our schools. !is term, she says, refers to everything: multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-faith, multi-anything. Back at my school, we explore why routines and rituals become patterns of behavior, and ask ourselves how we can rethink those routines/rituals so that everyone feels they belong. In 2021, the last year of Marlene’s life, she and I talk often; I am especially eager to know how she experienced prejudice or difference. She was honest and brave, and reflected on how she could not believe that, at her age, she had not truly explored her own privilege. She found that process interesting and educational even at this point in her life. Like others who were mentors along the way, Marlene was the essence of a lifelong learner. Even after her death, I am grateful for her voice in my head. As I form new questions, I wonder what she might ask to push my thinking a little deeper.
I am a member of the AMS Teacher Education Action Commission. We begin a book club; a different member chooses the book each time. White Fragility is one of the choices; it is one of the first books that helps me consider more specifically my role and possible impact as a white woman in society. I learn the importance of standing back to listen in group settings, rather than being the first to talk. I learn more ways to measure my perspective on life in the context of my privilege, and how to consider instituting systemic changes within spaces I lead. Most importantly, I learn how important it is to stand in vulnerability, take risks, and do my best to restore relationships when I get it wrong. Writing this piece feels really vulnerable, but I do so with the hope of prompting others to join these conversations!
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My identity work evolves with each interaction. I integrate new feedback into what I’ve already learned, which expands my understanding and perspective. This work feels dynamic, not static, and I hope it remains a “burning flame of imagination” that propels my education. As my learning deepens, it also loops back to those memories/snapshots in my mind. Each time I interact with folks in my world, I consider what I should fold into my life practice after learning more from their unique perspective and life experience. Who are we if not humans that grow inward and outward from our interactions with each other?
This journey of mine is a spiral, a never-ending process that continues to loop back around, but on a new level or plane over time. It allows me time to process and reflect, but also to do and act. It’s in the doing that I hope to make an impact.
This essay is a small window into my personal life and the ways these snapshots have been woven into my professional life. I offer the reflection as it stands today, knowing that tomorrow, I want to have deeper self-awareness for having shared it. I offer blessings and good effort for our collective journey and look forward to the day I can walk beside and learn from you. Peace be with you and your spirit.
About the Author
Lisanne Pinciotti discovered Montessori education as a graduate student in 1985. Her subsequent experience in the Early Childhood classroom and in administrative roles at Children’s House Montessori School in New Jersey provided a strong foundation for future endeavors. Lisanne earned a BS in business administration from the University of Dayton, an MEd in early childhood education from Rutgers University, and holds AMS Early Childhood and Administrator credentials (CMTE/NY).
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.