Creating a More Compassionate, Thoughtful World

Posted by Mary Hendra on March 16, 2022

Over the years, I have had the honor of sharing many thoughts and resources on this Learn+Teach+Share blog. This one is a bit more personal. 

I will leave Facing History and Ourselves at the end of this month. After working for Facing History for 16 years, I know this will be a big change for me and for many in the Southern CA Facing History community. At the same time, I know that there is a phenomenal program team ready to carry the work on, and I look forward to all they will bring to Southern California. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what drew me and kept me at Facing History for so long, and wanted to share a few final reflections.


I was first introduced to Facing History when I began student teaching 24 years ago. A teacher mentor gave me a copy of Holocaust and Human Behavior (the old “blue book”), and I began teaching a subject I had never fully studied myself.


I still vividly recall listening to Leon Leyson, the youngest member of Schindler’s List, share his story at my first Facing History seminar. I had the privilege to hear Leon many times over the years; he never failed to move me. Perhaps more than any specific detail of his experience, it was his gentleness which stayed with me. After all that he had witnessed and experienced, he approached life and people with a gentle attention that recognized that each person deeply mattered. 

That is core to Facing History - a recognition that history is not inevitable - that individuals matter both for our presence and our choices. As a new teacher looking for the curricula and resources that most resonated, I recognized that as my core as well. 

The student-centered approach presented by Facing History was why and how I wanted to teach.


I had not actually been a history nerd before teaching. My motivation came from a strong civic core - the desire to make a difference in this world. Facing History taught me a new way to explore history. 

History isn’t important just for dates, facts, and macro trends, but for the stories of individuals whose choices shaped their society and their legacies. That approach also puts students’ voices and agency front and center. Their curiosity, their space for reflection and growth, and their brilliance fills a Facing History classroom, and I still love seeing that expressed in the classrooms I’ve visited over the years as well as my own classrooms.

After teaching Facing History for 8 years, I left my classroom to join the organization as staff, drawn in by the passion I had developed to support teachers. 


The community of Facing History teachers connected me to educators who were likewise centering their students, consistently open to learning, and entering classrooms every day with humility and growth. As I transitioned from Facing History teacher to Program Associate to Program Director, I had the immense pleasure of building even deeper relationships with this community.

You all are amazing! 

I can’t imagine a more brilliant and engaged community; it has been incredible for me to witness your dedication to students, your creativity, and your commitment to growth. While some may think of the amazing scholars and speakers who inspire at Facing History events, for me it is the teachers who are the true rock stars.

It can be “easy” to play the role of expert. It is much more difficult - and important - to create and inhabit spaces of uncertainty and ambiguity, spaces which require understanding nuance rather than reducing complicated narratives to simplified tropes. These are the spaces where we build empathy and strengthen community, recognizing that each person experiences even the same event differently.


As I prepare to leave Facing History, I carry with me a deep connection to the educator community and our shared dedication to a more compassionate, thoughtful world. 

I am thrilled to continue supporting educators across California in a new role with the California Global Education Project at The Jacobs Center for Innovation in Education at the University of San Diego. And, I will continue to cultivate and share my personal practice for cultivating stillness, creativity, and community with all of the cross-industry circles I inhabit.

I believe that the world needs all of us - from our multiple organizations, roles and perspectives - to create the compassion and understanding our world, and our young people, deserve. I look forward to continuing on this journey with you.

Mary Quote 1


Topics: Los Angeles

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This blog helps Southern California teachers connect directly with each other, share ideas, and learn about new resources and opportunities for those interested in or already implementing Facing History.

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