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What Does it Mean to Be You?

Moral Moments helps us to understand and ask this question. I cannot tell you how many times I have said Moral Moments in the past few months, but the more conversations I have, the more I am compelled to spread the word about this framework that provides individuals and communities the agreed upon space to […]

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Moral Moments helps us to understand and ask this question.

I cannot tell you how many times I have said Moral Moments in the past few months, but the more conversations I have, the more I am compelled to spread the word about this framework that provides individuals and communities the agreed upon space to pause, be present, ask questions, listen, be challenged, learn, grow and move forward. 

I was first introduced to the Moral Moments Project through a pilot program at our Penn State Lehigh Valley campus in summer 2018. I had no idea how much this Project would mean to me as a person living in the world, as an educator and career strategist, a practitioner of mindfulness, and as an advocate for social justice. The Moral Moments Project is indisputably a Moral Moments Movement.

The first time we met, Susan Russell asked me, “What does it mean to be you?” In that moment, I truly felt that my response mattered. I understood that whatever I responded was the most important thing to Susan in that moment. She was not listening to respond; she was listening to understand. She was present. My story would provide feedback and information that would help her to recognize my place in that moment, my willingness to share further, and navigate our conversation together. There was no rule that said I had to reveal all of myself in one response, but in the safe space I felt that I could share something and in so doing, I could possibly encourage others to share too.

We cannot change the past, but we can address the present needs of our young people by reframing teaching and learning in our classrooms and our communities. The Moral Moments Project is just such a reframing. The Moral Moments Project is a movement, a lifestyle, a sustainable process of self-reflection and community building based on knowable, teachable, and repeatable skills of communication, empathy, compassion, and strategic decision-making. Empathy and compassion are the landmarks of mindfulness, and because these elements are required to create a civil society, meeting this challenge became the very beating heart of the MMP.

(Russell, Ramsay, Lonsinger, Davis, & Aldemir, 2020)

We are living in times of great uncertainty. I find myself putting one foot in front of the other while planning for outcomes that will likely need to be modified. I am not alone in this. As leaders, we are expected to have a clear level of calm and comfort in uncertain times. Management requires structure. A crisis requires structure. But for structure to exist, there needs to be collective agreement. And those collective agreements need to be respected and honored. Moral Moments is based in agreement. If there is no agreement, there can be no movement forward.

The course is firmly rooted in a foundational agreement within the community of teachers and learners. This agreement is called The WOMPP Factor and is intended to promote emotional intelligence by identifying obstacles to connecting with someone or something seen as “different.” The WOMPP Factor is based on taking personal and collective responsibility for creating an environment for learning, and by attending to these questions:

Am I willing to learn something new?

Am I open to a surprise?

Am I mindful that I am not the only person in the room?

Am I present so you and everybody around us can be possible?

In this context, the space of teaching and learning opens to the possibility that everyone in the room has something valuable to contribute. This shared experience of worth and value sustains the community of teachers and learners, and shared experiences become the foundation of community building, which is the core principle of a Moral Moments Experience.

(Russell et al., 2020)

When we are respected, we feel safe. When our needs are met, we feel safe. When we have structure, we feel safe.  

Moral Moments is a time-based, self-reflective, community-engaged process intended to strengthen cultural awareness, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking. In the MMP, students think about morals, ethics, actions, and faith. But before they encounter any Moral Moments content, they are invited to define “thinking” through a specific perspective we call a Moral Moments Experience. A Moral Moments Experience frames thinking as a pause, an intentional time-based process of

(1) taking a moment to realize a thought is present,

(2) taking another moment to uncover personal perspectives, privileges, and prejudices framing the thought, and

(3) taking another moment to use all that self-aware “information” to build a question about the thought.

Once the first three steps are accomplished, the thinker

(4) brings the “thought question” into a community for discussion and, based on all the information gathered,

(5) then makes a personal decision about whom the individual wants to be in the world and how that being might look in words, thoughts, actions, and deeds.

(Russell et al., 2020)

Having taught Moral Moments in my classroom, and having served as a faculty trainer, I see the possibilities that exist for this framework to guide conversations and support both the listening and learning that is essential for us individually and collectively. I have seen an entire classroom of strangers evolve over 15 weeks to become a community built on trust, mutual respect, and genuine concern for one another. I have experienced students telling me that Moral Moments is one of the most important things they are learning, because it has shifted their awareness and has informed their decisions in other areas of their lives, not just in our classroom. I have had several students that decided to get involved in community work and volunteering, and said they were inspired by our unit on Action. None of this was required for the course.

This past year, I had two students disagree openly in class about gun control. After class, they reached out to one another to continue the conversation and share their perspectives. Without prompting, these same students wrote reflections about their conversation and shared their experience openly with our classroom community. I could not have dreamed up this scenario prior to Moral Moments.

What if we took a pause?

What if we stopped to ask someone, “What does it mean to be you?” the same way Susan Russell asked, and truly listened to hear and understand.

What could our communities achieve if we collectively respected one another, ensured individual needs were met, and provided structures and systems for this to persist unconditionally?

The invaluable work of Susan Russell and the entire Moral Moments team is so impactful, I am compelled to share it.

If you are looking for a framework to support your understanding, growth, and forward movement, I offer you this testimony and opportunity to consider Moral Moments.

Russell, S., Ramsay, C., Lonsinger, Z., Davis, S., & Aldemir, T. (2020). The Moral Moments Project: Where Technology and Compassion Meet, Educause Review, Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/6/the-moral-moments-project-where-technology-and-compassion-meet

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