A Brené Brown quote is painted on a 4’ wooden sign at the front of my room that reads:
“There is no courage without vulnerability.”
I say it multiple times in a week. Try to model it. Explicitly point it out to kids when I’m trying to model it! Then encourage them to do the same.
It’s almost to the point where I’m expecting a student to one day say, “Enough about vulnerability!!!”
But they haven’t.
And I think it’s because it’s a message that rings true: we all need encouragement to keep us going on a regular basis, but when do you need it MOST? When you’re stepping outside your comfort zone.
When you’re putting yourself out there.
Where vulnerability happens.
Last week I tweeted out how I invited seniors from our community into our ELA30 classroom, not as guests, but to be side-by-side with students. To do everything that we did. Read. Write. Discuss. It was risky on paper and so maybe I was marginally relieved that, despite my best recruiting efforts, I only had one person agree to come back to school.
What’s one extra person in a class of 30? Lol.
Oh, but the reality was much different. The first day that Herb came into my room, I wasn’t just feeling vulnerable, I was scared sh*tless. It’s one thing to have a lesson go sideways with just the kids there. They’re usually forgiving, and I’m pretty honest when something hasn’t worked. It’s another thing to have a lesson not work with another educator or administrator in the room. But I work with some supportive colleagues, and I know that they are there for feedback, not judgement, so I don’t stress when people walk in and out of my room.
But a grown-up-non-educator-adult in the classroom is a WHOLE other thing.
In the end, the experience was amazing. As Brené Brown says, “I am a traveler, not a mapmaker. I’m going down this path same as and with you.” There were days that Herb probably wished he hadn’t come on this path! But he never said so. In fact, he contributed to discussions, shared his writing, and modeled vulnerability every week, just by stepping into a packed room of teenagers.
The kids appreciated his perspective, as did I. One of my hopes was that we would learn from each other, and when I wrote Herb to thank him for his time with us, his reply affirmed that for me.
I really appreciated the invitation to participate in your ELA30 class. I am pleased to hear that my presence was a positive thing for your students. It was certainly a positive learning experience for me. I enjoyed preparing and presenting the TED talk, and would have enjoyed hearing the TED talks done by your class. I have no doubt that they were excellent. Also, my compliments to you on your creative teaching style. English class is certainly different than it was in my day.
That's not there as a humble-brag. It really is how modelling vulnerability comes home to roost. As Herb demonstrated first, we did TED-style talks on social issues (with a personal connection if they were comfortable) and positive lessons to share with their audience.
Almost without exception, they spoke from their hearts.
Handling bad news. Disease. Divorce. Alcoholism. Death of sibling. Death of parent. Teen fatherhood. Childhood trauma. Helicopter parenting. Social Media dangers. Overcoming fears. Car accident. Truck accident. School bus accident. Losing our pets. Poverty. Suicide.
Lessons learned from grandpa. Civil rights movements. Dangers of artificial intelligence. Industrial society and the future. Animal habitat loss. Hunting changes affecting families. Fishing bringing us together. How the world has gone to crap but here’s why it’s not all bad.
It really ran the gamut of experiences.
And then this.
I had expected a speech on the impact of technology. But he made a last-minute change, and when he got in front of his classmates, he instead talked about his years in foster care. How many homes he had been in. How his mom had died, and how he hadn’t been allowed to go to the funeral. How he was estranged from his father aside from a single hospital visit. And how, just the day before, he had a phone call from an uncle he’s never met telling him that his dad had died. He spoke of how he didn’t know what to do, or how to feel.
He shared that with us all.
It was without exception, the most courageous thing I have ever seen a student do.
I shed a few tears right there, and struggled finding my voice and wrestling with what words to say to the class.
I thanked him.
At the end, for the umpteenth time, we spoke again of courage and vulnerability, about the things we learned from our classmates (and about our classmates) that we didn’t know, despite having been together for years and years. For my part, I acknowledged that this might have been good to do earlier in the semester, but we also wouldn’t have been ready for it. In Brené Brown’s words again, “We can’t expect people to be brave and risk failure if they’re not prepped for hard landings.”
That trust was built slowly. Using the words repeatedly was important for students to understand and take them to heart. Adults modeling them was even more important. But most important was the strength and support that they took from each other…as each student made themselves vulnerable, those who were wavering had the courage to do the same.
After this experience, I have a new Brené Brown sign to make now. It’s one that my students can probably relate to, after finding meaning in their experiences and having the vulnerability to share what they’ve learned with others:
“When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.”
Well, my entire weekend was spent marking final exams and assignments, and so I really don’t have the brain capacity to actually string a blog post together! However, it was mid-afternoon that I started to pick up on the thoughtful responses to one small question on an exam. It was really a non-descript question, just one of a series of response questions on one page, but it actually yielded some of the most reflective moments of the assessment.
And they were short enough to type here!
In no particular order, here’s some of their thinking about social issues and personal responsibility:
“Because I was born in Canada, and born a white boy, I automatically have privilege. Even though I don’t feel like I have it, I do.”
“The fear to admit your privilege has been created by society, who have conditioned us to believe that saying this is essentially admitting that we are ‘better’ than everyone else. That is, however, not the case. Admitting privilege shows that you understand your advantages. How you use these advantages reflects what kind of person you are. You can be ignorant and snotty, abusing your privilege, or you can choose to be a good person and use your privilege for good.”
“The courage to do something is often the hardest part to overcome, as the fear of being vulnerable can take over our plans.”
“My privilege stems from my birth and my luck.”
“You cripple and burden yourself with what you’ve been told is true and you become as toxic to yourself as anyone on the outside is.”
“Now this is a quote that we’ve heard a lot in this class. ‘There is no courage without vulnerability.’ In terms of social justice, I believe that this means we could end many social issues if we were all open with ne another and vulnerable, we wouldn’t feel as much aggression towards each other. In my experience being vulnerable towards someone highly decreases the chances of them being mean or judgemental.”
“Growing up in our town has shaped my perspective greatly. Racism, sexism, and homophobia is very common out here, and its easy to become desensitized to that kind of thing.”
“The privilege of being white is something that gives me an advantage in everyday life. I won’t be judged in public for being a criminal or lazy. Nothing like that. Eyes will pass over me like normal.”
“When you try and help people, then you deserve those privileges. It still is a shame that some don’t get privileges at all.”
“I know it’s small, but I’m trying my best to get my family to be fully accepting. I think it’s better to do something small instead of nothing at all.”
“Lots of people first need to realize that they are racist or have biases before they can change for the better.”
“I know being a white male alone is a privilege. No one will be staring at you and no one will question you.”
“I have tried to be less racist. I never have intentions of being vocally racist but after this class I realize I may have been without even knowing. I had a warped perception on Black Lives Matter movements, but as I learn I see that I didn’t even know, what I didn’t know.”
“I always make sure to try to find the most neutral source to get facts from. This definitely made me reconsider the struggles of inner city American youth.”
“Willful ignorance is the backbone of polarization. People refuse to listen to people they disagree with, and just label them as villains. This has led to a rise in extremism, such as white nationalism. People need to be more openminded.”
“Make sure you know the person before you make a judgement. Go and seek that information out. I was like that before the class.”
“I used to not be so accepting towards transgender people, but now that I know someone going through that I am much more accepting now that I know more about it.”
“Well I’m in this social issues ELA class and it has definitely made me open my eyes on First Nations and their community, and I learned more in depth and what they go through, so though there are differences, I’d say this made me view them more positively.”
“I’ve learned a lot more about sexism, I used to think it was just how things were. Now I realize that sexism is wrong because everyone has equal rights in everything.”
“Since dealing with addiction personally, I understand that addiction isn’t a ‘choice.’ I used to blame my dad for choosing drugs over me before I seen how powerful they can be.”
“Dealing with mental health made me learn more about it and now I look at it from a different point of view.”
“I have also been taking Native Studies and well, I didn’t realize how poorly they have been treated over the years. Deep down there is a lot of false information out there about them.”
“Gender equality - I’ve learned more about this and now actually see it as an issue for people.”
“Probably homelessness. I didn’t know about any of that before. I know now that a lot of those people that are in that, it’s not their fault.”
“This is hard to say, I don’t think it’s a good thing to completely shift my opinion but I feel there are things I see with more understanding.”
“That’s one of the biggest problems is racism that our society sees today. The fact that I otherwise would not have know that they go through copious amounts of racism and potential danger every single day, and a lot of people have no idea that it’s going on. That doesn’t even make sense and is almost unbelievable when you see the platforms we have (social media) to be able to spread this awareness.”
“I haven’t really learned about social issues until I took this class. I think about gender identity, because many things have changed for the people.”
“I stopped being racist or making racist jokes with my friends. I see racism way worse than I did before, after hearing that girl speak is when I saw it differently.”
“What I have done personally, is that I have done my best to keep an open mind when talking to others. There is no specific issue I have considered differently, it is mostly just myself trying to live among these different issues rather than live against them.”
Whew. This semester was a roller coaster, not going to lie. A lot to reflect on, but after going through these final assessments, I have a greater understanding of things myself.
And I think, if nothing else, the kids have a greater understanding of themselves.
Here’s one last thing to leave you with this week. It came off Instagram and I can’t find where! I’ll keep looking. But here is the story:
“The thing with villages like ours is for us, we are an entire universe. For us, nothing exists outside our universe. Politics, religion, global affairs. Nothing.
The last thing he wrote on the village board was ‘A star first then a part of a constellation.’
The last evening we sat in his courtyard, he seemed to have aged a thousand years but his eyes still looked like they carried stars in them. That evening, we heard him for the last time. ‘All my life I was taught to be kind to people. to not shout at them, to forgive them for their mistakes, to love them for who they are.
When I look around myself, I don’t see people who are cruel to others. I see people who are so harsh on themselves that they end up turning cruel to others. School and everyone around us have forgotten to teach us the most important lesson.
So, I want you to place a hand on your heart and learn to love it every day. I want you to look in the mirror and not see your flaws but the beautiful smile that is the reason for someone’s happiness. I hope you learn to build up a good relationship with yourself first.
Learn how to shine and then worry about all the constellations you are a part of.’”
I ended last week's blog plotting, I mean planning, some tomfoolery.
Since scattering confetti was definitely out, I went with balloons. Here’s the thing, though. I have self-diagnosed globophobia. I HATE BALLOONS. The squeakiness, the popping, the fear…all of it. My kids were blowing up balloons for their own birthday parties since they were three, that’s how much I hate them.
So here’s what happened Monday morning.
I bring a bag of balloons into the room before class.
“Does anyone want to blow up some balloons for me?”
“It’s to put in Mr. Hindmarsh’s office.”
“Is it his birthday?”
“Is this a prank?”
“Nope. Well, not really. It’s a joyful surprise.”
“To bring some joy. And it’s a surprise.”
Another kid walks in. “Hey, is it someone’s birthday?”
“Then what are the balloons for?”
Fast forward that same conversation at least seven more times, plus me giving a GIANT WARNING ABOUT NOT POPPING THE BALLOONS OR I MIGHT HAVE A HEART ATTACK and the kids were blowing up balloons faster than I could gather them up.
Six garbage bags later, I unceremoniously dumped the bags of balloons in Josh’s office. It didn’t exactly fill the room, but it did pretty much cover the surface area of the floor.
So, did it work?
Well, it was definitely fun for the kids blowing them up and batting them around. There’s something about the relative weightlessness of a balloon that is different than a ball, like it’s defying the laws of gravity.
For the kids, even the big ones, who were in Josh’s office for a variety of reasons that morning? “Mr. Hindmarsh, is it your birthday?”
A trip to the office is often a stressful experience, even if you aren’t in trouble lol, but he said it absolutely diffused tension for every person he saw that morning.
Like all great ideas that cross my mind, however, this one had a couple of pitfalls. It’s like a sauna in Josh’s office, and so some of the overfilled balloons expanded and popped. I think our Admin Assistant might need a day or two off now. Out of sheer coincidence, the RCMP visited the school that day, and were in the office beside Josh’s when the popping started.
I only heard about this at the end of the day when I went with a pair of scissors and all the bravery I could muster to forcibly deflate the balloons that were left. It brought laughter to people, even in the retelling of the day’s events, so it succeeded in the surprise part, and the emotions mostly seemed to be joyful.
So the book was right on that point, and it’s really got me thinking of ways to continue to incorporate joy without having to involve those air-filled latex demons.
I've written before how we always have Games Day on Fridays, with the focus on human-to-human contact (no tech allowed) and social emotional development. It’s always a joy-filled time as kids get excited and the noise level raises. We try to stick to language games like Scrabble or thinking games like Blokus, but this week a boy walked in with two ping pong paddles, a ball, and a retractable net.
“Mrs. Landry, do you think we can play this today in games time?”
I started to explain that it didn’t exactly fit the purpose of games day, and then stopped. Why bookmark tweets about the importance of play, and read books that suggest ways to infuse joy in our lives, and then say no to a (pretty cool) student suggestion?
Well, you hedge your bets is what you do, and agree to try it this time and then see what happens for future Fridays lol.
It couldn’t have been more awesome.
Some kids chose to play board games as usual. But the ones who gathered around our improvised table had so much fun. They set up their own rules to play and how to take turns. They created a list on the board for fairness. And they laughed and laughed and laughed as they played. Even our EAs got in on the action, and the stakes went higher to see who could beat Mrs. Starling.
Adults modelling fun. It was fantastic.
I even went next door and had Mr. Hindmarsh poke his head in.
“That’s what joy looks like,” I said. Super cheesy, I know. But it’s true. And I’m starting to realize more and more how important it is to name the things that we are seeing and doing. And especially naming them in front of our students.
[I have a huge thread on vulnerability that’s coming soon that speaks volumes to modelling, vocalizing, and reinforcing these big ideas simply by saying the words out loud.]
There’s a lot more about bringing joy into our classrooms that is going through my head right now, and will probably keep writing about, but this post is already too long. So I’ll wrap this one up with a quote from Joyful:
“If we rarely laugh or play, if we never have glimpses of magic or flashes of transcendence or bursts of celebration, then no matter how well fed and comfortable we are, we are not truly alive.” (Ingrid Fetell Lee)
As we come off a week of unbelievably ridiculous cold temperatures, I actually feel like the glass is half-full when I look at the pictures from #snowmageddon coming out of Newfoundland! I’ll take frigid cold over not being able to find my vehicle under 7 feet of snow. No question.
So it was a perfect time to read my new book Joyful: the Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Coincidentally, she talks about hedonic adaptation. Up until some reading I did last week, I had never heard of it before! And it pops up again!?
The universe is speaking and I’m doing my best to pay attention.
This is a pretty good summation from Lukas Havranek: “The thing is we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. One of the problems causing this is called hedonic adaptation - standing for our tendency to consider anything new as a standard quickly and therefore losing the joy coming out of it. If not recognized and tamed it may result in increasingly expensive purchases in desperate attempt to get more pleasure - hedonic treadmill. It is similar to junkies trying to get the same level of satisfaction by increasing doses of drugs that they are getting used to. If we understand hedonic adaptation that reduces the excitement of reaching one's goals or making purchases, we can focus on more important stuff that will give us fulfillment - relationships, meaningful work or developing our strengths.”
Happiness junkies. That’s essentially what we are.
So here’s a small section to share from Joyful. She is talking about our obsession with material things but it absolutely applies elsewhere.
“All children live in a world rich with surprises. Each new thing, no matter how ordinary, inspires a sense of wonder and delight. But novelty naturally declines with age, and our surroundings begin to dull with familiarity…hedonic adaptation is often known as the hedonic treadmill, because the cycle can repeat endlessly without bringing us any closer to happiness.”
“By restoring a sense of whimsy and unpredictability to our surroundings, small bursts of surprise also change our relationship to the world as a whole. Surprise destabilizes us a little, just enough to introduce a new idea or different perspective. It brings back a bit of that childlike freshness. By snapping us out of our habitual thought patterns, a small surprise can reset our joy meters and allow us to see with new eyes.”
It’s kind of funny in hindsight.
It was a halfway-through-September blog where I was starting to lose faith in the approach I take in my classroom. The 12s were bucking me on a lot of things.
Like the fact that I had tables. (How do you collaborate in separate rows?)
That the tables weren’t giving them much room. (It was more room than a single-person desk!)
That they had a seating plan. (Even though I had a valid reason for it, and switched it up everyday.)
Oh, they had a lot of complaints and didn’t seem to feel surprised or inspired by the change.
But here it comes. This week I lined my tables up in two long rows for an activity with the 7s. Because I see the 12s in the middle of my two grade 7 groups, I didn’t switch it back. And what did I hear?
“This isn’t going to stay this way, is it?”
It was actually a refreshing change for me, and for all the groups. It meant a brief return to a more linear, structured approach to the room…and it was just enough to ‘destabilize’ us and keep things fresh.
The idea of surprise is one that I need to remember to incorporate. Even now, I’m brainstorming ideas for tomorrow…and I’m thinking our new VP is due for some shenanigans. Tomfoolery? Is there a plural form for Hullabaloo?
On an unrelated note, anyone have some confetti lying around? Amphibians? Even a whoopie cushion?
It’s warming up, so have a great week everyone! I hope there are a few surprises in there to add some joy to your days too.
It’s felt like 2020 hasn’t had a great start. Even before the horrific plane crash this week, a World War 3 hashtag was trending, Australia was/is burning with estimates of a half-billion animals dead, and somehow I keep reading posts that think because we have an extended cold snap ahead, that this disproves climate change.
It seems fitting that tomorrow is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year.
Even for the most optimistic person, January can be a rough time. So I was intrigued by a news article I read this week titled, “Glass half full? The world is getting better, says U of S philosophy professor.”
His name is Professor Dwayne Moore, and he makes a lot of good points.
We live longer and are more literate, infant mortality is down, and fewer people live in extreme poverty. We have more leisure time and technological advances continue to make our lives easier.
The caveat for me in his research, was that he was comparing our present lives to those who lived in the late 1800s-early 1900s.
What about what’s happened in the past generation? Decade? Even five years? Right now at this very moment in other parts of the world??
And this isn’t just for global social issues either. It’s about the kids we see everyday. Because as much as kids are, in some ways, so much farther ahead than we were at their age, in other ways they are also farther behind.
I re-watched Simon Sinek’s talk on “Millenials in the Workplace” from three years ago. It is a frank assessment of young people today, and on what has shaped them.
The four big areas he talks about are parenting, technology, impatience, and their environment.
If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch.
As we worked through generating topics for a personal TEDx talk in class this week, a surprising amount of kids admitted that they didn’t have anything that they felt strongly about. Not world events. Not local events. Nothing in their own lives that they felt passionate about: not angry, not sad, just nothing.
Which is a whole different thing…like the glass isn’t even there to contemplate.
So why do we feel this way?
Professor Moore says that as humans, we come with a negativity bias. "We tend to zero in on dangerous or negative things because it could affect our survival. And when a good piece of news comes, we brush it off.“ The second reason, he says is a “hedonic adaptation trait….the tendency when a major life event happens, for good or for bad, we immediately react. But then six months later we've reverted back to normal.”
That seems like a sad paradox.
The good doesn’t last.
But neither does the bad.
Another researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, has found that ”50 percent of our happiness set-point is due to genetics, 10 percent is affected primarily by circumstances like where we were born and to whom. This leaves 40 percent that is subject to our influence.”
So the glass really is half-empty, or half-full, depending on how you see it.
More emphasis is being placed on ideas of mindfulness and positive well-being, for students and staff, and that’s a good thing. On a personal level, I find that I need to work on this more deliberately now, more than at any other point in my life. That empty-nest-syndrome can feel pretty real some days!
As we head into this cold week, and the Monday-of-all-Monday’s, I’m going to focus on little gratitudes: good hot cups of coffee, a warm house, a dependable car, and time.
That’s always the one I seem to forget the most!
Stay warm everyone!!
Haha, well I did get new glasses over the break, but I couldn't resist the easy laugh. Happy New Year everyone! Hyvää Uutta Vuotta!
I’ve taken my Finnish hockey jersey off now, still a bit disappointed that they didn’t win the bronze medal against their arch-rival Sweden, but it simply wasn’t a strong game for them today. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.
And then sometimes, like the Canadians against Russia, it does! Especially when the TSN camera saves you a crucial penalty, and a Russian player doesn’t drop a broken stick. Crazy!
This holiday was a pretty good one for our family. I was able to spend a few days just with my two sisters and my mom, celebrating my MUCH older sister’s 50th birthday. Our children were home from university in Calgary, and we went snowboarding at Table Mountain. It was just my second time ever, and I still really suck.
Like, really, really suck.
I mostly have to heel it down the hill (like going with the brakes on) and apparently I am good at riding switch. This mostly just means that I can’t decide which foot should go down the hill first…the board is set up for my left foot, but I kept going down right foot forward! Always making it more difficult than it needs to be…
The biggest problem is that I can’t do the S curves that you see snowboarders doing. Mine is more like a Harry Potter lightning bolt.
Get going too fast and heel it to slow down.
Go the other direction.
Get going too fast and heel it again.
Wait. Make that fall down. And stop.
My son got a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher. He did a fabulous job modelling and explaining. Going step by step. Painstakingly waiting for me to gather up enough core muscles to push myself up after I fall down trying. And then start demonstrating what to do again, BUT THIS TIME LOUDER. BECAUSE IF YOU SHOUT INSTRUCTIONS AT YOUR MOTHER, SHE IS SURE TO GET IT PERFECTLY THIS TIME, RIGHT??
Riiiight. (He’s not going to be a teacher lol.)
I finally had to fake taking a break in the chalet so they would leave me, and go have some fun by themselves. Despite the fact I have to explain all of this to my physiotherapist tomorrow morning at 7am, it was a ton of fun.
And I will get better! It’s just slow progess at my age. Darn kids make it look so easy and it’s not.
The only other event we took in (besides turkey dinners) was the new Star Wars movie. We have always been huge Star Wars fans, and couldn’t miss this last installment.
So in that vein, here are a few Star Wars quotes that I’m going to try and take into the new year as inspiration!
Like Yoda, I’m going to try and be more chill. Relax. Think. And tell that doubting voice in my head to stuff it. “Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”
Yoda also said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” I want to continue to grow as an educator because I know that I can be better. Sometimes that means letting go of what is familiar and getting uncomfortable.
And when something is for the good of the group, set ego aside and work together for our common success. Lando Calrissian, good-guy scoundrel, says it well: “I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, but I accept it.”
If you follow Star Wars at all, there is a lot of teacher-learner scenarios: Qui Gon and Obi Wan, Obi Wan and Anakin, Yoda and Luke; and then with the Sith, there is always only two. A master and an apprentice. As Darth Vader faces his old teacher Obi Wan, “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” Which is sort of true, except that over and over, the master learns lessons from the padawan too. Lifelong learning in Star Wars and not hampered by titles.
Okay, something inspirational….well, I quote thoughts about hope from the work of Dr. Sharon Roset a lot, but here’s a similar sentiment from Vice Admiral Holdo: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” A solid piece of advice I remind myself of: things always look better in the morning.
And some final thoughts from a newer character, Maz Kanata: “The belonging you seek is not behind you…it is ahead.”
Have a great week everyone! Happy New Year!
This week George Couros tweeted out a line from a blog post by Brad Gustafson. It said, “Starting new things is too easy. Stopping takes discipline. And dialoguing about what to stop might be one of the most powerful conversations your team could have.”
It was one of those lines that stops you in your tracks, because we often think the opposite: that starting new things is difficult, but quitting something is easy.
I don’t like to quit on anything. It’s just not in my nature to admit defeat. I can see it in some kids too, particularly when we play a strategy game like Blokus. When there is absolutely NO POSSIBLE move left to make, some kids won’t admit it. It could be that they don’t want to admit that they’ve lost, but I think for some of them, they just can’t accept that there are no moves left to make.
Shouldn’t there always be another move?
For problem-solvers, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Because in our everyday life, there often is another solution. Or a compromise. Or some way to keep moving. There has to be, or else every setback or roadblock we encounter would be debilitating to us and we would quit every single time.
This is something that we want for our children: to be resilient human beings. To pick themselves up when they fall down. To keep going when the going gets tough. These are all admirable traits. But there are times that we absolutely should quit and I don’t think we talk about that enough.
Najwa Zebian is one of my favorite writers. Both of these popped up on social media this week:
“Stop making excuses for them not giving you the attention or respect you deserve. If you treat them with kindness but you accept them treating you as if you’re a burden, you’re only hurting yourself for someone who doesn’t deserve it. You need to end this. Whatever it is.”
“The best way to deal with a toxic situation is to walk away. No, run. As fast as you can. Then heal all the wounds. Then learn what a healthy situation looks like. And don’t accept less than that.”
I thought of her words a few different times this week: the domestic murder-suicide in Kindersley, more hockey players coming forward with abusive situations, and this tweet from a teacher that I follow @gromit1996.
“This is one of the most difficult groups I have ever worked with. I feel completely useless as their teacher. I’m sure they feel the same about me. I am sorry, and sad. Nothing I do seems to work.”
There were supportive comments, and a lot of “I’ve been there…not easy…take care of yourself.”
I agree. We’ve all been there.
And while the comments this garnered were positive, many times over the years when I’ve admitted that I was struggling with a student or group, I received less than constructive advice from people. A personal favorite: “Oh, they’re not like that with me...”
The more experienced I got, the more I realized that you will never be all things to all people. (And that the people claiming they had no problems, absolutely did. Just not always in the same way as me.)
That is a given when working with kids. Sometimes no matter what you do, it’s a struggle. In those times, it’s easy to throw a pity-party and believe that it is just you. Trust me, it’s not.
What’s serendipitous is that as I’m writing this blog (and checking my social media lol, I’m a multi-procrastinator) is that one of the most respected educators on Twitter @pernilleripp just posted this: “Working through heavy emotions tonight as I look forward to Monday, wondering out loud and would love your thoughts; is it ever possible enough to build thick enough skin to not care what students say about you?”
I am very good at what I do. I know and believe that. So when I am struggling with a class or a student, I don’t take it personally. Just like with the Blokus game, I try to problem solve my way through it: reach out for trusted advice, try different strategies, and always ALWAYS try to build relationship. I don’t usually respond to tweets, but tonight I did: “It hurts because we care. One thing that has really helped me is Dr. Jody Carrington’s ‘mad is just sad’s bodyguard.’ The words may be about me, but it generally really isn’t at its core.”
I truly believe that.
Many times that works.
But I am learning that there are also times that I need to know when to quit.
If I take Hattie’s ‘know thy impact’ to heart, and keep what is best for students in the forefront, I need to assess my own effectiveness. Where will my presence and approaches to learning make the most difference? Can I stop, reflect, and (putting ego aside) know that someone else may be a better fit?
As the Couros tweet says, starting something is easy. Stopping something takes discipline.
Yep, it sure does.
Oh, one more thing to take with you from Najwa Zebian; in the last week craziness that inevitably happens before holidays, “You were given the gift of a soft heart. Do not lose it.”
Well, another week of being sick. I’m sure people are tired of hearing about it…I guarantee you that my husband is! At one point last week between Thursday night and Saturday morning, I’d slept 26 hours, and then didn’t even wake up feeling rested. When I wrote last week that I was feeling better?
But finally. Finally! I was back at the doctor this week, got antibiotics, and felt stronger yesterday.
Hallelujah! The miracle of science.
I’m hoping that I haven’t jinxed it again, and that I am actually on the mend this time. I’m so far behind on life, that I need to prioritize what needs to be done first, and yet not overdo it! (How many days to Christmas dinner, which we are hosting this year??)
So although I’m still not 100%, I can function and had my first nap-free day in literally weeks. I totally understand why doctors are reticent to prescribe antibiotics. I can’t imagine going back to a world where you can die of an infected tooth, as a relative of ours did in that pre-penicillin time. Scary stuff.
And I did try everything possible. Rest. Tea. Tea with honey. Throat lozenges. Gargle with salt water. Vicks on my feet and wear socks to bed. Humidifier. Rest. Extra vitamin C. More rest.
And although some of those brought reprieve, they didn’t solve the problem.
But this made me think of working with kids. How many times are we trying everything we can? Meet them where they are? Encourage student voice? Student choice? Set up conditions for learning? For collaboration? Work side-by-side? Provide books that reflect and mirror? Nurture empathy? Encourage critical thinking? Allow for creativity in assessments? Authentic learning experiences? Foster social and emotional learning? Listen to their stories? Know them?
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
Okay, let me rephrase that. It’s not that these approaches don’t work, it’s that for some kids they aren’t enough.
And that is tough.
When you work in a school, you are a problem solver. From opening locks to locating missing binders, sometimes there are easy fixes. Figuring out who hasn’t had breakfast or why someone is having a head-down, hood-up type of morning? Requires some perception and discretion. And then there are things that there is just absolutely nothing I can do to make better. To make right.
I don’t have the answers.
And maybe that is the answer. That it isn’t always about a strategy to try or an adaptation to make, but for me to be humble enough to recognize that it isn’t about me or how I try to affect change.
That what works for one student won’t work for all.
That what has worked in the past, won’t necessarily work for the future.
That best intentions and efforts are not a guarantee for best results.
That we are humans working with small humans, all within the frailties of our own humanity.
That all I can do is keep searching for, and be open to solutions, however and whenever they may come.
And if they don’t, to keep believing in the value of what we do, and to just keep trying.
The book sitting beside me tonight…Embers by Richard Wagamese:
Me: What does it mean to believe?
Old Woman: It means to trust with your whole heart, to have faith. It means to have courage to act out of your belief.
Me: How do I do that?
Old Woman: You have to be honest.
Me: What do you mean?
Old Woman: You have to live your belief every day. To believe in something and not live it is dishonest.
And the song that was playing in my ears a few minutes ago…“For You” by the Barenaked Ladies:
There is nowhere else I would rather be
But I just can't be right here.
An enigma wrapped in a mystery
Or a fool consumed by fear.
And for every useless reason I know,
There's reason not to care.
If I hide myself wherever I go
Am I ever really there?
Here’s to a week of not hiding! Of being courageous, being vulnerable, being present, being honest, believing, and living those beliefs!
Sorry that I missed writing last week! (Mom, I know you will have noticed lol.) By last weekend, I finally admitted that I was sick and had to go to the doctor. Today was the first day in a looooong time that I was starting to feel like myself again!
So there were a lot of things that I was thinking about, but in the end, I decided to do some writing of my own. I have used this style of poem in class before, but wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to craft one. (It was!) It isn’t perfect, but it got me thinking about how things aren’t always as they first appear.
Read from top to bottom, then rewritten in reverse.
This meme making the rounds this week: “Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.”
I’m getting better at showing vulnerability. With teaching, it’s easy to model, and I make lots of mistakes throughout the day. I try to show my thinking out loud, which probably explains the semi-permanent arched brow and deep creases in my forehead! I should also count how many dozens of times a day that I say, “I don’t know…that’s a great question!” Usually someone quick on the Google will move us down the path toward an answer, or lead us into another question lol.
Like these actual questions from Friday: Do you think that the cover of a book weighs more than its pages? How much of its weight comes from the ink? What is the average age that girls get their period? Why is it different for everyone? Do you think that it depends on when your mom got hers? When there are two mice plugged into the computer how does it know which one to use?
As a bonus, the day before I got to watch a noon hour dramatic production of a boy giving his Old Spice deodorant stick the most realistic CPR, followed by a bloodcurdling “NOOOOO!” and then asking, “Where will we bury him? In my armpit, of course!” I don’t say it enough: god, I love grade 7s.
But for me, actually admitting that things are hard is different. As opposed to saying, “It’s all good. No problem!” but letting people know that something took an exorbitant amount of time and energy? Very difficult. The problem with making something look easy, is that people believe that it’s true.
Like the poem above, not everything is as it seems.
It’s something to remember for our students too. For as many kids that will talk about difficulties they may be having, so many others carry on without letting on at all. The other day in health, we were having table discussions about positive ways to deal with feelings of anxiety. There were two boys that weren’t really very focused, so I pulled the classic teacher move and sat at their table to redirect them back on task. It took less than a minute of me modelling vulnerability, talking about when I feel anxious or stressed out, and how that sometimes shows up in overthinking things, replaying conversations in my head/thinking of things I should have said, or taking something small and snowballing it until it feels overwhelming. Suddenly the two of them were talking about times when they experience anxiety, with one boy even offering up that he had seen a therapist when he was younger, and started listing strategies that he still used. To say I was stunned was an understatement.
It also made me think about Dr. Jody Carrington’s statement that ‘mad is just sad’s bodyguard.’ I think we throw up a lot of emotions as bodyguards to protect us from other people really seeing what we are truly feeling. Adults too.
I get my best reminders through memes. As we ramp up toward Christmas and holidays, and knowing that there is a lot of stress and anxiety for many kids, the picture below is printed and ready to be taped to my computer. Be gentle with each other this week, and have a great one!
I’m not a huge believer in karma. That is, until it boomerangs back and hits me when I’m not expecting it!
Earlier this fall, I was a little boastful about never getting sick. It’s true, though, as I haven’t had a cold in at least two years. Honestly, not so much as a sniffle.
Because when I do get sick, I get REALLY sick. And for the past two weeks, I have been really sick.
It’s my own doing too. Not getting enough sleep. Over-committed. No down-time. Still working through an injury with physio, so not running or getting to the gym. There is a lot of talk recently about the importance of self-care and prioritizing, and it's not that I disagree, but I’ll just say this: it’s not always easy. Because saying no to opportunities for kids is, well, saying no to opportunities for kids.
This weekend I did manage a bit of time on my own, and finally finished Jody Carrington’s book, “Kids These Days.” Ironically, that might not have happened if it wasn’t overdue from the division office library, with a nice email reminder to bring it back!
I loved hearing Dr. Jody speak at Warman last month. Passionate, invigorating, and compelling. Reading the book was just like being there all over again! She references one of my other favorite writers, Brene Brown, quite frequently and covers a phenomenal amount of topics in such a short space. But the one that stuck this week was right at the end of the book: taking care of ourselves. As she said in Warman, “Kids are only as okay as the people who hold them.”
So here’s her main points, and my goals this week!
Know whose opinions count. Those few people who you want to make proud. “In the big moments, only their opinions matter. The rest don’t score.” As Brene Brown says too: “Get clear on whose opinions of you matter.” She also says to beware of the invisible army (of WE) and nostalgia (HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY.) Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you can’t win for trying, or get sucked into excuses instead of action. This week, I need to touch base with the people I trust and stay focused on what I know is best.
Choose joy. “Leaning into joy, for me, means slowing down long enough to notice the little things. And believe me, they’re everywhere.” I like to think that I am a joyful person. A hopeful one. But the truth is that it’s sometimes a foreboding joy, as Brene Brown puts it. We don’t celebrate or get too excited because we’re not quite there yet. There’s more to do. It didn’t go as well as it should have. Why don’t we let joy in? “Because joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel.” I’m a stop-and-look-at-sunrises person, but I need to stop and look more! I also need to truly accept a compliment and to celebrate the feeling of accomplishment too. We are surrounded by many small, good things. This week, I need to notice those more.
Gratitude and intention. Dr. Jody talks about practising gratitude and bringing focus through making intentions. I’m not always organized enough for daily routines (outside of coffee lol) but I do like these lines: “Stopping for a moment to slow down the crazy can change everything. When you do that, you come back to yourself. Ever so slightly. And that is where your best version of yourself resides…Anxiety or depression cannot live in a relaxed body. Slow it down as many times a day as you can muster.” For me, I’ve literally been forced to slow down due to injury, which sucks, and have been obligated to carve time out of my day for stretching and physio. This week I won’t cheat, because I know I won’t get better if I don’t do them!
Practice forgiveness. “I know I needed to repair it. I know it would work. I know he needs it. And I know it wouldn’t be hard. But I didn’t want to do it.” Oh, this is a hard concept for me and I totally feel that last line. As someone who sets high standards for myself, I am sometimes frustrated with other people when I feel they have let me down. As Brene Brown says, I need to “shift my mindset from wanting to be right, to wanting to get it right.” But maybe it’s a meme that shows up on the internet every once in a while that really reminds me why forgiveness is important: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This week, I need to feel this message.
Collective Effervescence. “We are wired to do hard things, but we do those things so much easier when we remember we’re wired for connection.” This coming together as a community is something that often happens when the worst happens. But it really should be the way that it is. Every day. And that’s challenging. “It’s so much easier to assume that our differences mean we’re right and they’re wrong…Just like with kids, the hardest ones to give it to are the ones who need it the most…How do we create that sense of ‘we are in this together’?...It’s empathy - suspending judgement for just a moment and stepping into another’s shoes - that will always, always get you there the quickest.” This one shows up on the internet frequently too: “we are all fighting battles no one knows about.” This week, I need to do my part to foster those connections and let those around me know they are important people doing important work.
Lean in. We need you. As her last piece of advice, Dr. Jody writes, “This is not the time to be humble my sweet ones. I’m going to need you to get uncomfortable. To lean in to your true power for the lives you influence and have influenced.” Brene Brown says it this way: “Let yourself be seen. Love with your whole heart. Practice gratitude. Lean into joy. Believe you are enough.” It’s been a hard two weeks being sick. When your body is run down, your spirit goes with it. Everything requires so much more energy to do. And of course, those last two weeks just happened to be the busiest of the school year yet.
But it’s funny what a difference focusing on a few positive moments can make. Some time with a book. A nice email. Visit with a friend. A string of texts from my son, even if it’s just to complain about the Riders disappointing him every year. And Cam Talbot. The Flames sucked tonight too.
Dr. Jody’s parting words in “Kids These Days” were this: “What you do is holy work. You are wired to do this. And with all my heart I know this to be true: You are exactly where you need to be.”
As I go into this week, still sick but getting better, the words that really stick with me most are from a colleague, Brett Kirk: “I know that none of this will make the problems we are facing disappear. I’m not that naïve. But it might just give us the strength we need to tackle them.”
And that’s the truth.
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