Cultivating Inclusive Education Spaces for All Ages with Karen Thomas

Everyone deserves fair and equitable treatment, but that treatment doesn’t come from doesn’t come from overlooking differences in our cultures, our circumstances, and the societal assumptions we face throughout our lives, contrary to what the Supreme Court might say. Feeling like we belong starts with being included, differences and all, in the spaces where we grow up.

Karen Thomas is the content facilitation  manager at Ethos. Her experience as a transracial adoptee, and then as a third-grade teacher, has culminated in a vocation teaching parents in transracial families how to cultivate belonging for their adopted children, who will face very different challenges growing up in their adopted cultures.

Striking an intentional balance

Karen mindfully uses the term “cultivation” to define her practice of care work because it speaks to the essential, inseparable balance within that work. 

“I have intention to make a very specific environment,” she explains, “…but that often doesn’t go as planned, and that’s okay.” Every interaction calls for planning and creating a space conducive to growth while accepting that the outcome also relies on her clients’ own efforts and circumstances.

Cultivating approaches to difference

When educating adults who have adopted children from different cultures, Karen cultivates skills essential to raising kids who will inevitably be seen as different and treated accordingly in their adopted cultures. While there are beautiful aspects to transracial adoption, she stresses that there is also trauma. 

That means a lot of healing and learning, led by parents, needs to take place in the home in order for these young people to still see their needs reflected when they “won’t be represented inherently in the culture that they’re being brought up in.”

Cultivating kindness in the classroom

Between seeing these differences in herself growing up and helping parents navigate them with their own families, Karen worked as a third-grade teacher for nine years, where she directly honored and accommodated different learning styles with children. 

In her classroom, she built a supportive space where she could cultivate knowledge in every child, regardless of their learning style. Not diagnosed with dyslexia until adulthood, Karen grew up wondering why she learned differently. Was it because she was Black? Did she not belong in the same educational space as her predominantly White classmates?

She loved teaching children to know themselves and advocate for their needs, and she misses interacting with children in the classroom every day. However, Karen became disheartened by the education system’s lack of “fostering spaces for critical thinking” and the fact that what became of children at the end of the year, when they moved on from her supportive classroom space, was out of her hands.

Preparing parents to cultivate safe spaces

Despite joining committees dedicated to change, Karen saw the inequity of the education system continuing largely unchecked. 

So, she refocused her efforts on helping parents erect the best long-term home environment for their adoptive children, on teaching them to create a “space for healing so we can all enjoy a meaningful and expansive life together,” whatever the space or place of healing from which a child might come.

Listen to Karen Thomas talk about the experiences that led her to educating parents in the transracial adoption sphere and her hopes and concerns around education in episode 11 of the Care Work podcast with host Alida Miranda-Wolff.

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