Last year, a friend of mine asked me to be on a panel on allyship. The fact that she thought of me for this panel was an honor, and one that I felt uncomfortable with in many ways because of how imperfect of an ally that I am.

In prepping for the panel, I did alot of thinking about my journey of understanding about race and racism and what it means to be anti-racist. Many of the first steps on my personal journey took place in Memphis, where I went to college, stayed for one graduate degree, and lived and worked for several years. I love this city, and I reflected on it, and a little bit of my journey, on Medium earlier this evening. You can read it here if you want:

When I think about what is happening now with the death of Mr. Nichols at the hands of five police officers, my thoughts get jumbled up in many ways but there are points of clarity. The main point of clarity is that the system of policing as it is set up in the US is based in violence. Are there individual officers who are different and who do their work differently? Yes. Absolutely. But the system itself is violent and to seek justice for victims of violence means to change the system rather than just holding individuals accountable for their behavior (obviously that should be done too).

There are some in the social work profession who believe we should disavow any participation/employment in policing. Their stance is that change means abolition of the system as we know it. There are others in the social work profession who believe we should absolutely be employed in these settings, to be a part of changing the system from the inside out.

This is a great (tension-filled) example of how we can struggle with regard to ethics as professionals in the context of our own profession. Ethical standards of public participation, social and political action, integrity of the profession and more are all points from which you can have a teaching/learning moment with respect to this issue. Having this discussion in a recent semester in my macro practice class, I can say it is one of the hardest classroom conversations I have facilitated and “held space” for, especially given the experiences of the students in the room.

This is an interesting piece I want to read again, and share with students for discussion in the fall: Here is a link discussing findings from a national survey on levels of resistance and support for reform, defunding, and abolition efforts: And finally, here is a link to a piece from Social Service Workers United-Chicago that shows the power of collective action for professionals as well as our clients, and also provides some background and resources regarding how professional views on this issue differ:

My Camino

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that has been walked (and sometimes biked) by countless people since at least the 9th century. Some pilgrims (known in the local language as peregrinos) make the journey for religious and spiritual reasons, others do it for reasons of culture, heritage, fitness, and probably more. I would assume that many people do the walk for a combination of reasons.

Over the past three years I have had three friends journey on the Camino. Two have completed their certificate (compostela) and one is doing the journey in stages. To be awarded the compostela you have to complete at least the 100 kms into Santiago (62.14 miles), having collected stamps at lodgings, churches, etc to verify your travels.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash on the real Camino

I would love to do the Camino, any of the routes. My two friends who have completed it have done much more than the minimum journey, spending weeks and weeks walking, averaging 10 to 12 or more miles a day. But while I would love to do this, it isn’t realistic for my life right now given my kids ages and other situations. Maybe someday! But in the meantime I have decided to create my own camino in Nashville (expanding to other locations in middle Tenn as needed) during this semester of my sabbatical.

The main reason I want to do this ties in with a class I teach each semester, a macro practice class where a main focus is on community assessment and organizing. I have good theoretical understanding of Nashville and the broader metro area but my time is mostly spent in Bellevue, Green Hills, and Edgehill: a combination of where I live, work and worship.

So, at a minimum this semester (and into the summer if needed) I will be walking 62.14 intentional miles. (Intentional means that I am going to a particular area and trying to learn about it before, during and after my walk.) Hopefully I will get to more, but this is the minimum goal.

Photo by me 🙂

In teaching this macro class each fall, one of the resources I depend on is the Community Tool Box, It has a wealth of useful information in it, especially related to the importance of listening, collaborating, and seeking to understand rather than assuming you (an outsider) know what is “wrong” in a community. I also teach students how to use Census data to get some understanding of certain metrics important in understanding a community, but that they also have to use eyes and ears and be present in the community to really get an accurate picture.

Stay tuned for highlights of my camino, and for additional macro resources I use in class!

Grand Challenges

Wednesdays this semester have been my craziest, busiest days of the week, and yesterday was the last official “regular” Wednesday of the semester. I am so very thankful! But I totally went out with a bang, in that not only did I teach my 4 classes but I hosted a tandem drama troupe of individuals with intellectual disabilities (connected to class content), taught a WELL Core (co-curricular session for students, who need a certain number before graduating), AND picked up poinsettias from the Scout sale AND made it to my daughter’s middle school strings concert. Whew. Surviving yesterday was a grand challenge in and of itself.

Teaching at the end of the semester (especially after Thanksgiving break) is always a challenge: people are tired, often stressed, and there are other things looming for many people. Holidays and holy days are challenging for some people, and even if you love them and get to celebrate openly all your favorites, they can still be stressful. Teaching in the midst of this…whew. But somehow we all hang in there together, and I am thankful for colleagues-and-friends who cheered me on yesterday finishing my last big Wednesday. Below is a little highlight of the day, which I am sharing just to blow the cobwebs off this blog and get in better practice of writing for my sabbatical.

In policy class yesterday we looked at half of the Grand Challenges identified by the social work profession. You can learn more about those here: I had students work in small groups to get an understanding of one challenge, as well as the policy recommendations that have been made so far by the professionals. I asked them what they thought was missing, and what they would prioritize and it led to a really good discussion. In Friday’s class I plan to have them take a look at the remaining challenges, and then I am interested to see if they would have added other or different issues for our professional focus.

In my child welfare class we talked about system reform. The reasons we need systemic reform are pretty clear (and have been integrated into the course all semester) but we enjoyed listening to this 18 minute podcast episode (episode 1). After we listened, I asked them: what do you want to take with you as you go into your work with children and families? What is your “origin story” (related to this field) and how will it shape your work? You can check it out here:

In HBSE we talked about ecomaps, and families. It was not the most exciting class of the day if I am being honest….but we did it.

In my macro practice class, which meets once a week in a larger block of time, we had the brief tandem troupe performance which brought the energy we all needed. After the troupe left, we watched a 5 min performance to get an even stronger grounding in the work of this organization, especially around self advocacy and cultural organizing. Learn more here: and check out their YouTube channel!

Finally, we spent some time working in groups for their final projects, but we also had time to talk more about intervention points of direct action, ( and also reflect on my favorite Dorothy Day picture (below). To have that strength in that moment is a challenge I aspire to.

(Photo credit: Dorothy Day on UFW picket line faces sheriff. When arthritis made standing difficult, Day confronted sheriffs from her portable three-legged golf stool Lamont, California, August 1973. From the Bob Fitch Photography archive,

Cookies, crumbs, community

When I was in my PhD program, I had the opportunity to teach several courses at the UNC-Chapel Hill MSW program, as well as a course in their “triangle” MSW program (though they may call it something different now). One semester I was teaching a course that students typically dreaded (Research I) and I was talking with my dissertation advisor about it. Wise and wonderful in so many ways, she gave me great advice here as well, which was to find a way to build community in the classroom so that students had some connection with each other. I can’t remember what specific strategies I attempted, but her advice made a difference in the classroom each week, and I have since woven that idea of “building classroom community” into my overall pedagogy.

And yet….I think I have taken it for granted sometimes recently, especially post-2020, and have just assumed that of course I am building community. This week, in a class that only meets once a week, I had this sense of needing to do something intentionally for community connection. Because we only meet once a week, and because we have a lot of content to cover, I often feel pretty rushed in there. But this week I brought cookies and at the beginning of class I told them we were going to spend a few minutes just giving them time to connect with each other. I told them the only “rule” was that they had to get out of their seat for their visiting, and make an effort to talk to people that maybe they hadn’t connected with in awhile. I loved observing it (and being a part of some of their connections).

When I was ready for them I shared with them the Mary Oliver work “Don’t Hesitate” which is beautiful through and through, and which ends with the phrase “Joy is not made to be a crumb”.

When all was said and done, this only took about 20 minutes out of class, + the cost of cookies. When class was over, several said some version of “thank you for today” on the way out. It was a good reminder for me that while much of the time we build community and make connections with people during our usual work and routines, but that sometimes we have to be really intentional about it. Community, like joy, is not made to be a crumb.

Grief and longing

Several years ago I saw a poster that said “To teach is to touch a life forever”. I like the sentiment and in general agree with it, but my experience of teaching in higher ed is that the students touch my life as much or more than I touch theirs. It is a gift that my work gives me and I feel like in general I do a good job of remembering this. But there are some days I remember this more sharply than others.

Yesterday I was on the receiving end of a call similar to one I made a few years ago. Then, I was program chair and was calling to tell our department faculty and staff that one of our students had been killed in the shooting at the Waffle House. Yesterday, I received a call from my program chair (who I am thankful to call a friend) that one of our former students had been killed in an accident related to the tornado that had passed through our area the day before. This student, Laurel, graduated with her BSW in May of 2022 and stayed at our university to study law. I had the privilege of teaching her in several classes throughout her BSW and I can say that her commitment to justice was unwavering. She was a pleasure to teach and to know, and the fact that I got to watch her knowledge and commitment deepen over 4 years is a privilege. She was a genuinely good human; full of spirit and laughter and life. Her last semester of undergrad she had a class in another department on a schedule that meant she was often in our suite during lunch time. There was one particular day of each week our schedules overlapped and she and I frequently shared food around the table in our suite. I loved hearing her plans for the future as she was nearing graduation.

As the parent of three daughters, what I have been thinking about all day today are all the times I heard her talk about her sister. With love, with joy, with pride. Laurel loved her little sister so very much.

I am at the stage of my parenting where my kids are getting older: two high schoolers and one middle schooler. We had some long planned college visits to make this weekend, and as I have been on a couple of different campuses today I have seen reminders of Laurel in many spaces and places, including that of my own children. Watching “my girls” together and thinking about how my oldest will be going to college soon is both exciting and fearful. Seeing their relationship together brings me joy; though not perfect, it is full of sisterly bonds that I (an only child) always craved growing up.

I know that I cannot feel the depths of the grief that her mother and sister and other family members are feeling. I can barely process it from my own perspective. I can only imagine the longing they are feeling.

I am faithful enough to believe that we will see her again. I am human enough to wish I could have lunch with her again in Inman 205.

I am thankful to have the gift of work that keeps me continually in the relationship of wonderful humans.

May she rest in peace and power and the feeling of being deeply loved.

Winners, losers, and nuances

I was in the car a good bit this weekend, shuttling kids from various points to other various points. I was in my husband’s car, which meant I could actually use the radio. (My car radio has been broken for….awhile.) As a result of this car change, I got to listen to the TED Radio hour. I heard two pieces that were especially good: Susan Cain: The glorious complexity of being human and Hrishikesh Hirway: Finding balance through deconstructing music The first one was about the challenge of binary thinking about people, like “introverts and extroverts”, “winners and losers”, “happy people and sad people”, and that while we do have tendencies/orientations toward certain ways of being, the fact is that we are wonderfully complicated and we contain multitudes. The second piece featured the host and producer of the podcast Song Exploder (which sounds cool too), but in the interview Hirway talked about his dreams as a musician in the context of his success with the podcast interviewing other (more famous) musicians. He had the ultimate realization that his music was important because it was important to him, even if it didn’t serve the world in some greater way. It was his work interviewing other musicians who helped him understand this, because he heard them reveal their own insecurities about their work and what it might mean, or not, to others.

These two pieces together made me think of my own life, the way I see myself, the way others see me, and the art I want to be a part of (writing). It made me think of my students, who want to do the right things in the world and in their work. This desire to do right is harder than it feels like it should be sometimes, as we know we work in an imperfect world where there are sometimes unintended consequences of actions that we take with “right” reasoning.

It made me think of, among these other things, the death this week of Queen Elizabeth. The monarchy is something I don’t really understand and have never really followed. The Twitter threads, since her passing, seem to paint her as either an overwhelming winner (determined, gracious, focused on integrity, full of wit, etc) or an oppressive loser (which I know is a weird way to phrase it) where she was at best a passive symbol of colonial history and at worst, an active participant in political and social violence.

This idea of nuance and of each human containing multitudes applies to all of us, including royalty I guess. It is hard (for me at least) to know how to hold the tension point when the stage that a person occupies is so big. Teaching that, and discussing that with students, is so much harder than talking about principles of systems theory, and social welfare policy.

Poet Lesle Honore says it so much better than I can (taken from her facebook page on September 8:

May our memory and nostalgia

Never cloud the truth

May we hold in tension

Our entertainment

Our fascination

Our indoctrinated fairy tale culture

With the legacy

Of colonization


The transatlantic slave trade

The sun that never set

On oppression

May we separate the crown

And the woman

And as we bury an era

May we never bury



Freedoms and reparations yet to be received

God Save The Queen

The policy class challenge + The 1619 Project

I love teaching policy. I have taught it at the BSW level for close to 20 years, whether the foundation class (an overview of key social welfare policies) or the policy practice class. The one I have taught most frequently is the former, which includes a fair amount of history (to set the stage for the policies we have now) as well as a staggering amount of content in order to give a general “big picture” look at key policy issues. I love teaching it, but most students come into the semester not knowing what to expect of it, or even (as they admit later) dreading it. In every cohort there are a couple of students who come in with a mindset of loving policy, but they are in the minority to their peers.

Knowing I have an uphill climb to get students interested and engaged in policy is one part of the challenge. The other challenge I have faced consistently is the choice of a text. I have never found any text that I felt covered all that needed to be covered, was worth the price point for students, was organized in a way that made sense, and was updated frequently enough. Every year this has been a frustration point for me as the textbook selector and teacher, and for students as the readers/learners.

For this year, I have decided to use a non-traditional text and supplement with a number of article readings. Most weeks find us reading a chapter or two from The 1619 Project along with peer reviewed articles on everything from TANF, the Every Student Succeeds Act, The Farm Bill, the Violence Against Women Act, and more….aligned with whatever is our major content focus for the week.

We are in week 3 of the semester, and I am loving our class discussions so far. They are intense, and highly participatory with almost 100% “out loud” student participation. From The 1619 Project they have read the Preface, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 13. From these sections alone we have had rich discussion on all the things we didn’t learn in our K-12 education, history and current issues of women’s rights, and the role of churches in social issues. Students have come with passion, with other suggested readings, with questions about what they can do to make a difference in everything from “book bans” in certain states to healthcare access, and with the stated desire to learn more. My class is a MWF class and by Friday at the end of class I was exhausted with trying to pay attention to all the nuance of the responses.

While I know there will be points at which people will question what they read, will experience resistance, will have some cognitive dissonance (which has already happened) and more, I think the value of this book in getting them to read and think critically about ways history shapes our current policy landscape is invaluable. I will try to remember to do a summary at the end of the semester of highs and lows of using this book, but feel free to reach out with questions, a syllabus copy, etc. I shape it every year and know it isn’t perfect, but I love teaching the topic and love to talk with other policy teachers.

Laying a foundation for community in a class with (emotionally) tough content

I am teaching a child welfare class for the first time since spring of 2020, which as we know is a semester that went upside down and sidewise due to the onset of COVID. And, we haven’t had a truly “regular” semester since then. Even in the summer I feel like there has been a heaviness in faculty and staff and students I have talked to about the fall. So, when I was renewing my syllabus for this semester, I wanted to be intentional about using some “check ins” in each class, that would both be relevant to the class content and also helpful in building community. As we get into other topics, these check ins will be central in making sure people are experiencing community and safety in the context of learning about child welfare issues, including childhood trauma.

The course outline for the class includes some really emotionally heavy content, as you would expect. We talk in depth about abuse and neglect and other experiences of childhood trauma. We talk about disproportionality in child welfare and we talk about burnout. (We also talk about well being and strengths and resilience and positive things too, but the hard “stuff” can take a toll regardless.) I build the semester so that we have a few sessions of less intensive topics before we get into the content that can be more distressing and so that we can have some different types of discussions as we are getting to know each other.

On the first day we used a “mood board” which was voluntary, but all of the students (25 of them) participated. They could choose how they felt about the first day of the semester, and for many of them—my 9 am class— this was their first class of the semester. Their choices were “Great!”, “Fine-ish”, “Meh”, “Don’t want to talk about it” and “Don’t know yet”. We had 1 “meh”, 7 for “Fine-ish” and 17 who were manifesting “Great!” We talked a little bit about the value of helping children identify their feelings about something, and the value for us as adults in doing it too. It was a good lead in to the discussion about the concepts of safety, permanency and wellbeing in child welfare and the related concepts of safety and trust and relationship we want to build in our learning community.

We also shared a book, movie or TV character that we found comfort or strength or inspiration in as a child. I loved their answers: everything from Violet and Sunny Baudelaire (sisters who were strong!) in the Lemony Snicket series, to the Penderwick sisters (they look out for each other), to Clifford the Big Red Dog (just because), Luna Lovegood (its okay to be weird), and more.

Here’s a good list of questions you can use for check-ins for yourself and your adult learners.

And again, I always tell my students that they don’t have to do the check in and also I always respond to the question myself, since I am not going to ask them to share something I am not willing to share.

I also plan to use some music on occasion. Here’s a piece I used last week and it was a fun way to kick off a class, and then we had a brief discussion about the lyrics they remember from this song in childhood versus this updated version.

Hopefully by the time we hit the harder topics of discussion (after a couple more sessions) we will know each other’s names and have a sense of community in the classroom.

Being kinder to yourself: Strategies for self-compassionate talk.

In the swirl of prepping syllabi and other things to get ready for the semester, I am feeling exhausted and scattered. Trying to remember that I don’t have to do everything (or even anything) perfectly. This piece from the Harvard Business Review was very helpful, which I found surprising because I don’t think of the HBR as speaking to the soul of a social worker, but there you have it. I love these specific strategies for self compassionate talk, and I plan to share them with students. And maybe post them all around my office and living room for my own benefit!

(I am also going to strive to remember moments of peace, like working puzzles at the farm and seeing some livestock casually strolling around. )

Blank space

We listen to a lot of Taylor Swift in my house, as I am the parent of three “Swifties”. Some of the lyrics get into my head whether I want them to or not (though I am a moderate Swiftie myself). “Blank Space” is one of those songs I like even though I am sure I am not the target audience for it, but her blank space is different than the one I have been experiencing this summer.

I have not been able to write, and haven’t really wanted to write. I have wanted to want to write, but that is about as close as it gets. Part of not wanting to write has been time, but the big part of not wanting to write has been about feeling like it doesn’t matter what is said. I don’t mean this piteously, like, “no one listens to my words, poor me” but rather I feel like I don’t see much evidence in the current world that people are swayed into thinking or acting differently about something because of someone’s written words.

The closer we get to the start of the semester (hello, next week!) I have felt the pull to organize my thoughts into writing more, which seems promising for my teaching if nothing else. I have been developing syllabi and am excited about some of the readings and discussions we will be having. I am hoping to approach my classes with more curiosity and creativity this semester, leaning into that with the comfort of the fact that I have a million semesters (maybe a few less) of solid foundational teaching to support some curiosity and creativity.

At the end of the spring 2022 semester, our seniors gave each faculty a book. They did a great job matching books to people, and the picture below is the one I was lovingly gifted. Love the Fur You’re In: Monster Wit and Wisdom from Sesame Street is going to be a guiding force for this semester, I can feel it.

Here’s to embracing the blank spaces as periods of rest….as something that comes “before”, and as something yet to be determined. Pressing on in the creation of the beloved community!