Cristina Santamaría Graff, Ph.D. is the founder and main contributor of EduSpirit. She has been an educator for over 20 years and has taught as a bilingual general education teacher, a bilingual special education teacher, an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher, and as a teacher educator in higher education. Currently she works at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) where she is an Assistant Professor of Special Education. Her area of expertise is in bilingual special education and her main research emphasis is collaborating with families of children with dis/abilities on projects in which families are positioned as experts in the decision-making processes that impact their children.
Cristina is also a certified Zen Shiatsu practitioner who graduated from the Desert Institute of the Healing Arts (DIHA) in Tucson, Arizona in 2002. This practice led her to work with children with intensive physical and cognitive needs. Working with these children and their families taught Cristina the multiple ways in which self is healed through intention, love, and alternative ways of understanding our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies.
With her varied experiences in both education and the healing arts, Cristina is interested in expanding upon the concept of education. She asks herself frequently, “What is education and whom does it serve?” Often she receives unfulfilling answers that consider only the academic success and socially-acceptable behaviors expected of our children and young adults. She has come to realize that traditional successes demonstrated through grade point averages, mean scores on standardized tests, accolades given to those who look and act a certain way, or performance-based assessments that do not take students’ natural assets into consideration stifle our abilities to see our students holistically. She believes that many children’s well-being is endangered by limited structures and tools by which we continue to measure their innate value and worth.
In March 2012, Cristina was diagnosed with infiltrative ductal carcinoma (i.e., breast cancer). At the time, she had recently given birth to her second daughter. The devastating diagnosis followed by a series of difficult surgeries and treatments left Cristina asking, “What is this all for?” On one particular dark night of the soul, she begged for mercy and guidance. The answer she received was clear and concise, “Cancer is a choice.” She understood immediately what this meant for her. It meant that she had the power within to create her life. She could choose to see herself as sick or she could envision herself full of life. She chose LIFE and, by doing so, became passionate about finding authentic and tangible ways of infusing life, love, and hope in all spaces in which she resides and interacts.
Being an educator, it was clear that the system in which she had worked for all of her adult life was worn out. There was so much inconsistency, inequity, and dysfunction. The system itself could no longer support all those, including children, who depended so much upon it. To her it was obvious that the system, as a whole, was never intended to “serve all” and for those whom it had historically served well were now also highly dissatisfied with its quality.
She realized when she was well enough to return back to work after cancer treatments that there was little support in educational systems to help a person build or rebuild themselves spiritually, especially after setbacks or challenges. With a renewed sense of clarity, she saw – in the classrooms she visited – little children covering up their joy and light to conform to norms imposed by a broken system. She witnessed exhausted teachers at their wits’ end juggling high volumes of students with serious internal and external challenges. She observed frustrated administrators pouring over students’ poor test scores wondering what other school-wide intervention they could try. In her mind, she saw the educational system as a large, rickety wooden wheel spinning unsteadily about to fall off its axle. She understood through this imagery that if we didn’t try something radically different, we would ultimately be left with irreparable damage.
Cristina conceived of the idea “EduSpirit” in 2012 – though, at that time, the name “EduSpirit” had not manifested. Her idea was to bring educators together for the purpose of transforming educational systems by spiritually “awakening” ourselves through teaching. Originally, Cristina envisioned a brick and mortar “Center,” dedicated to this work, but, over time, understood the necessity of connecting with educators across the United States and globe. As a website, EduSpirit can potentially reach many educators who are seeking to connect with others interested in the genuine pursuit and implementation of spiritually-centered practices in educational spaces. Cristina trusts that EduSpirit will evolve and change as it expands. She further explains her positionality in this work for everyone to understand from where (in her heart) EduSpirit has emerged.
EduSpirit, is a beginning. It is a space that does not belong to any one person. It is for everyone. In its current state, it is only a seedling. But with our collective nurturing, it can be a “place” and “space” of enormous growth. Thank you for visiting and for contributing your positive presence and thoughts to this process.