Generational curses or cycles – any pattern , framework of thought, types of actions, expectations and skills or lack of skills that are taught or learned in family and are passed down which results in each generation repeating and living in same or similar lives with little growth or mobility from generation to generation.
Growing up I had a friend. We had attended different elementary school but went to middle school together (we only had one middle school in my town). He lived close to me in my new neighborhood. In school I was always an honor roll student and in the honor classes, but I quickly learned that my friend was not. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t in any of the regular classes …he was in “that” classroom. Now as educator, I know the proper term was Special education or self-contained or small group. If I remember correctly, as kids say his family had never been “good” at school and I believe that previous siblings may have been in similar classes.
Nevertheless, we became good friends and played often after school and as kids often know…there are no labels or special education in play. On the verge of our 9th grade year as all 8th graders do, we started the process of registering for our High school classes and back then our “high school diploma track”. (College preparatory, General, Special Education or Vocational). There was no option or discussion in my house for me choosing anything other than College Prep. One day as we concluded our play, I remember distinctly my friend talking with my mother about what diploma track he should take. He asked,” Do you think I could take those same classes your son takes?” My mom responded that” she didn’t see why not. He could always try it and if it didn’t work out for some reason, he could change it later.”
So, he did. Four years later, he graduated as an Honor graduate. Four years after that he graduated with a college degree (scholarship). In the time since (because we are still friends) he has traveled the world far and wide and have been places that few people in my small town or his family have dreamed of going. Great and awesome story that I love to share because I am very proud of my friend.
However, there is a part of the story that I don’t often share. At our graduation, I distinctly remember my friend’s middle school teacher (it really was a small town) attending our graduation. He was in the crowd of well-wishers congratulating us all. He kept saying that he just couldn’t believe how far my friend had come since middle school. He couldn’t believe that a kid who in that small group class in middle school could barely do math was graduating with honors. He was moved to tears.
This is a part that stuck to my spirit and stays with me today as an educator: His teacher did not believe in him. The teacher did not believe that the student could be more than the situation he was currently in.
Breaking Cycles/Generational Curses:
Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes spoke to my student leaders at the high school where I was principal once. Governor Barnes was alumni from the school, and I consider us friends…I mean I don’t “have his cell phone” type friends but I’ve been to his house a few occasions and have watched a UGA football game or two with him. In his speech, he spoke about breaking family cycles. “My brother and I were the first to graduate from High school. Once we did that everyone after us was expected to graduate high school. The cycle was broken. Once I was the first to graduate from college. Everyone after me had the expectation or hope to be able to at graduate from college. That cycle was broken in our family forever.”
There are a lot of cycles and curses that can live in families from generation to generation. Examples of some family cycles can be poverty, poor education, poor health choices, addictions, racism, incarceration, routines, geographic location, types of employment, …even political views. These cycles/curses can seem to lock students into a spiral and path that can seem automatic, inescapable, hopeless, trapping and without options.
However, as Governor Barnes explained all cycles/generational curses can be broken. And once they are broken, they are broken forever. Education is the key to unlock them, break them and set our students free to pursue their dreams and destinies.
How We fail to believe in students:
Belief is required to break Generational curse /cycles. As adults we can often fail on this one thing with students. Educators can start to doubt students based on negative parent interactions, sibling’s behavior or their current circumstances that they see. “Well you know I taught the older brother (or sister) …” or “You know that family is ….” or “This student will never be able to …”
Parent can make the mistake of wanting the exact same education for their child …even if the education they receive was inferior. “When I was in school we did it this way “ or “I think this should happen in class because that’s the way I learned it. “ We often pass on educational curses by saying such things as “I was never good at math “thereby inferring that understanding of math is “genetic” and that students have a born excuse or limit. Sometimes we are the ones who limit students, and we have to learn to step out of the way.
My passion as an educator grows from the belief that we must see past students’ current circumstances to see their true potential. We must believe our student have unlimited potential. No “ifs”, “ands”, “buts” about it. We must believe in our students without limit.
As a leader you must push past the current circumstances of students and train others to do the same. You must also teach the students to see past their current circumstances too. Even now many of the students in our high schools are the first to graduate from high school, many are the first generation in America, and many are the first to consider future with collegiate aspirations or professional careers. At one of the schools where I served as principal, I coined the motto and mantra “We are not what people may say. We are not what people may think. We are more than they can ever imagine.” This was repeated daily, on all parent communication, spoken at all assemblies and displayed for all to see.
My six grand children
As a principal you have to listen to your parents. Even when sometimes it’s difficult, critical, or hard. I remember being in a meeting with a grandmother who was expressing her frustrations with the school and her grandchildren. I had suspended one of her grandchildren (I don’t think it was the first time) and we were conferencing about what we could do to prevent the incident in question from recurring. I was raised to always respect my elders and so I simply allowed this grandmother to talk and I listened and didn’t interrupt…even though I was “the principal”. The grandmother laid out her frustration. Not blaming me or really blaming the school directly but she began discussing the experiences she had had with the school over the years. “I have had 3 grandchildren to come through this school and not one of them have graduated and I have 3 more.” I continued to listen. “I’m not blaming you or taking up for them, but something is not right about that.” Three of her grandchildren had matriculated through before I got there but based on the one, I was currently dealing with discipline wise …I understood how.
This grandmother’s approach was one which may have turned off or offended others ( her tone was rough and she was loud with a sharp tone ) and it would have been very easy for me to stop listening and said to myself ” well that’s not my fault because I wasn’t here then!” or as so often we do “ your students are misbehaving and that’s your fault at home because we didn’t raise them” or “ I can’t fix your family that’s not my job.”
However, I continued to listen as she continued to talk and gave me some of the history with the family and how she came to raise all of her grandchildren… things I knew and many I didn’t know. Then as I listened through all of it… I started to “hear” her clearly. “Help me. Help my grandchildren do better. Help my family break this cycle.”
When the meeting concluded, I remember telling her I would do my best to get her that diploma for her. And just like that I had a new challenge. Despite my efforts and building relationships, I struck out with grandchild number 4 and number 5. No diploma. Due to circumstance beyond my control, they moved and eventually dropped out. However, 5 years later… Proudly, I was able to give grandchild number 6 their high school diploma. I remember seeing that grandmother at graduation sharply dress and beaming with pride. I am not sure if she even remembered our conversation at all. But I had because it made me a better principal and educator. I began truly seeing past the circumstance of my students, all of my students, and working to break their generational curses and cycles. I pushed my staff to do the same and it changed our school culture. I found ways to exposed students to ideas, concepts and cultures that would cause them to think past their current locations and circumstances. Creative scheduling, engaging conversations, creative course offerings, mentor programs, fieldtrips, career fairs, college fairs, academic competitions, innovative programs, increased rigor, guest speakers and unconditional love plus a principal and staff that built the best positive and caring relationships. We were not going to be the limitation to any student potential or the reinforcement to any family cycles or generational curses.
“We are not what people may say. We are not what people may think. We are more than they can imagine!”
Educator. Believer in Children. Breaker of Generational Curses.
- How are you working to help students in your school to see past their current circumstances?
- As a leader how are you ensuring that your staff and teachers are able to look past their students’ current circumstances?
- What are some barriers and blockers of student potential in your school and how do you remove them?
Please continue to read my blog posts as I continue to reflect on how to lead past your mistakes. Please “like” my post, leave comments, follow my blog, and share your stories so that I can continue to learn too.