Recently I have been exposed to two ideas that are shifting and shaping how I view and understand myself and others: contextual wellbeing and ubuntu. By extension, these ideas are also very much changing how I view, understand and interact with the students in my class. As I consider both the African philosophy of Ubuntu, and the idea of contextual wellbeing, I see the many connections between them. And I also see the many, many reasons why in the past my unintentional focus on individualistic wellbeing hasn’t produced the long term results I hoped it might.
Dr Helen Street discusses the idea that “wellbeing is about the space between us as much as it is about us” within her book, Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools from the Inside Out. Now that she mentions it: OF COURSE. Every time I have felt truly well as a person has occurred within a social context that supported my wellbeing. Yet our society regularly champions individual heroes, breeds unhealthy competition, often promotes external motivation and advocates for compliance over agency. We live and learn in an imperfect system. OF COURSE it’s not as easy as looking solely at an individual. Wellness is not an individual pursuit.
In grappling with these ideas and the implications for the classroom, a colleague introduced me to the idea of Ubuntu. In investigating Ubuntu, I’ve discovered various different explanations but many of them come back to one of these two definitions: “I am because you are,” and “people are not people without other people.” I don’t, in any way, claim to be an expert on either of these two ideas, but I have become particularly intrigued with how embracing Ubuntu may have the power to shape our view of humanity, our community and our wellbeing.
A small seed began our class inquiry: What is Ubuntu? We’ve watched videos, read definitions, analysed examples and discussed our own explanations. We’ve used thinking routines to go below the surface and explore more of the nuances. The concepts of connection, wellbeing and community have been thoughtfully unpacked through the process. Debates have taken place as we’ve grappled with the tensions we see between our current reality, our context and Ubuntu. It’s brought to the surface previously ‘undiscussable’ topics as we honestly engage in dialogue about the challenges that we face, and the frustrations that we feel as humans. It’s tricky and messy to own your hurts and your vulnerabilities and your mistakes. And, quite honestly, we’re not there yet. We’re still figuring out just what Ubuntu is within 6B. We’re in the midst of reevaluating who we are as a community and who we want to be. I wish we’d had this seed months ago. But would we have been ready for it? I don’t know. We’re ready now. There’s enough trust in the spaces between us.
We also think we finally have an Essential Agreement: Ubuntu.