When it comes to understanding oneself and others – at any age- it is worth considering the framework introduced by Emily Style of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) Project. Style uses the concept of “windows and mirrors” as a metaphor to illustrate the experiences of looking out and looking within during our daily lives and educational experiences. When specifically geared towards youth, it is commonly used as a way of framing literature but it can be equally impactful as a framework for all sorts of experiences.
“Windows” in Style’s description are meant to represent the things that allow us to look out into the world. For example, when we read a story about someone from a different part of the world, we are given a window through which we can learn about their culture, their life, and how their experiences are related or unrelated to our own. “Mirrors” alternatively are ways that we are shown truths or possibilities related to our own lives. When reading a story where the protagonist reminds the reader of themselves, they are able to gain better self awareness by further comparing themselves and relating to the character while also considering what they are capable of or could be based on what the character is able to accomplish or do.
What happens all too often in youth spaces is either a lack or an excess of one or the other of these concepts. Many young children do not have the opportunity to see themselves as having potential, or worse see themselves overly represented as “bad guys” or cautionary tales. Furthermore, when a child sees an overabundance of mirror when introduced to positive stories or experiences, there is a negative impact on that child’s ability to consider those who are different from them as relatable, or good people. Youth of any race, any gender, any situation should be able to believe in their abilities and potential while simultaneously being able to value the abilities and potential of those around them. This of course does not just apply to movies, TV, and books. Who are the real life role models in a youth’s life? Do they have diverse adults to look up to and learn from? Are they able to see the strength and value of leaders who are different from them? Are they able to see themselves as possible future leaders?
As youth leaders, be that parents, educators, older siblings, or any sort of influential person in young adults’ lives, we have a responsibility to balance and support both the windows and mirrors that our youth experience; Self awareness and empathy are two of the most crucial skills young adults can develop when it comes to social emotional learning. While we look at this as a way of informing and helping our youth, the best first step as always is to consider the application in our own lives. Who were your windows and mirrors when you were growing up? Who are they today? Gaining your own perspective can prepare you to consider how you may help create better windows and mirrors for the youth in your life – and even help you consider how you can be a window or mirror in the lives of others.