A Gradual Release


annie rim -a gradual release-3

In sixth grade, we had to create a “mousetrap vehicle.” As I remember, we were given very little instruction beyond the requirement that our creation was propelled solely by the snap of a mousetrap for a certain distance. In the days before YouTube, I still remember struggling at home with my parents, trying to figure out how to engineer this incredible feat. I finally was able to make mine snap and move just enough to get a passing grade, all the while amazed at my classmates whose parents had engineering degrees and had been able to make their mousetraps do tricks while gaining momentum.

Maybe my teacher had done a whole unit on propulsion but I just didn’t retain any of it. All I remember is the feeling of overwhelming frustration and defeat as I tried without resources to engineer a small vehicle across a masking tape line.

Years later and armed with a degree featuring new educational methodologies, when presenting new content to my second grade students, I would first model a lesson to my students, showing my thinking process using large chart paper. Then, they would practice it in small groups with me so that I could offer immediate feedback. Next, we’d do a guided practice as an entire class. And finally, my students would be able to implement the concept independently into their own learning. It’s essentially an intentional way of holding the hands of my students as they mastered a new idea.

Sometimes this would take a week or a month. Some concepts took the entire year, like learning to write a multi-paragraph essay. But we would keep working at it. The release didn’t always go in order. Sometimes, we’d have to go back a step or two until a student was ready to move on. Some kids got some concepts quickly while others took more time and guidance. It was rarely a linear process.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve dipped my toes into the world of activism. I love following activist parents on Instagram and Twitter. These families may have kids who are a bit older than my own, so I can learn from their journey. They often are farther along in their own awareness of activism and practices of inclusion than I am. I gain insights and learn from their confidence and courage to teach big concepts to their young kids from the safety of my screen. But I can also get overwhelmed—they seem to be doing so much more than I am! It seems so much easier for them to live out the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

I’m remembering to view my own path toward activism as a gradual release of responsibility. I’m remembering that I need to find models who help me along this journey. I may know them in real life or I may simply follow them on social media but these are people doing it “right.” They are the ones I look to when I am stuck or lost or need an idea to spur me onward.

Sometimes, I can get stuck in the model phase. I simply follow along without engaging myself. I need to remember to move up a bit. Maybe this next gradation in becoming an activist looks like asking a friend to go with me to a forum or a march. Last fall, one of our pastors invited me to take a class about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at one of our city’s universities. Going with her helped me take what I had learned in books to the next level. I had guided instruction to help with the foundation I had started in looking for models.

When I feel overwhelmed with all that I don’t know, I remember that life isn’t like that mousetrap project. We aren’t given a task to muddle through on our own, without the help of those who know more and who have gone before.

When I feel that way, I know I need to go backwards in the process, to look to those ahead of me to model best practices; to engage in conversation with those who can teach me; to test out the waters on my own while remembering that it’s a process.

I’m learning to look for people to hold my hands on this journey. Who has gone before me? Who is walking beside me? Who can I reach back to and help forward? Ultimately, it’s remembering I’m not figuring this out on my own in a linear fashion. We’re holding hands, figuring it out together.

As I put myself in the role of student and when I remember that life is a big gradual release of responsibility, it takes some of the pressure off to check all the boxes and perform perfectly. It allows for grace in the process and an attitude of continual learning.

Maybe I’ll never be a model activist and I’m ok with that. Maybe I can be part of a gradual progression for someone else, as we lean in and learn together.