I've literally written and tossed out a dozen attempts at this blog last week and tonight.
Start and stop. Start and stop.
My mind is in too many places, with too much going on. Everything is disjointed, and in an attempt to do everything and be everything for other people, it can only leave you feeling like you aren't doing enough.
Or worse, being enough.
With our son's graduation in 10 days, our daughter moving home in 5, plus every possible school commitment that June presents with field trips, assemblies, parent nights, exams, and preparing for each and every one of these....June is tough on teachers.
Throw in my birthday, and as someone who feels a lot of angst at growing older, an existential feeling of running out of time, and June is a long month for me. There's a meme that says most months have 28-31 days, except June which has 1,478. And there are days that felt like it had 1,478 hours. Which would be cool, with all of the things that need to be finished before it's all over.
So yah, this song sums up how I'm feeling right now. That's all I've got for you this week, and it's playing on repeat in my ears right now as I'm finishing up some marking and planning for the last few days.
Like a lot of you, the world isn't going to be still for me until June 29, and there are a lot of emotional peaks and valleys in between now and then. But I'm hanging on! And like the song says, if we need just enough dark to see the light poking through, that's okay, because then we know that the light is still there. This week there's a lot of good ahead: we get to celebrate my mom's 75th birthday, share the last school day for the last of our kids, and a chance to spend some time with colleagues and friends. (I just won't think about the saying goodbye part. Yet.)
Focusing on the light over me and around me this week. And love you mom!!
I'm just a dreamer but I'm hanging on
Though I am nothing big to offer
I watch the birds, how they dive and then gone
It's like nothing in this world's ever still
And I'm just a shadow of your thoughts in me
But sun is setting, shadows growing
A lone cast figure will turn into night
It's like nothing in this world ever sleeps
Oh sometimes the blues is just a passing bird
And why can't that always be?
A toss and sigh from your birch’s crown
Just enough dark to see
How you're the light over me.
When I’m out running, there are signs of things everywhere. We have had a whopping ¼” of rain this entire spring, and because we live in the sandy-forested area by Pike Lake, tracks in the sand are impeccably kept. It’s constantly surprising how many other creatures are travelling the same road I am.
I’m no expert, but there are deer, cow, horse, dog/coyote, rabbit, cat, and bird tracks, in addition to the gopher holes along the edge of the road that I try to avoid stepping in.
Sometimes their pattern makes me envision grand tales. Deep deer tracks show a quick scamper. The cows meander along the grassy edge. A horse and rider, the dog diligently in tow behind.
I swear the birds are drunk. Or they’ve had a heck of a huddle!
There are times that I stumble across the animals themselves too. The cows have been out of the pasture down the road on an almost daily basis. First it was just one. Then a couple. Tonight the whole family was out there, calves and all. Usually I just sneak slowly past, but there were a couple mamas in there that didn’t look amoosed. (Sorry, couldn’t help it!)
Lately I’ve been braver and send them scampering back to their pasture. For the most part, the animals I encounter are just as startled by me as I am of them. Like the skunk last night in the ditch beside me. I swear we made eye contact before we both jumped backward and ran the other direction…unscathed. Whew.
Thankfully, as humans, we don’t have to just read each other’s body language and look for clues in the dirt as to what we are thinking and feeling. We can just communicate.
Talk to each other.
Like, not just text. Or message. Or snap.
You mean that doesn’t happen all the time?
What possible miscommunications or misunderstandings could possibly transpire as a result?
Answering my own sarcasm: lots.
I’ll be the first to admit, I get caught in just doing the quick and easy communiqué. Literally most of my texts are just emojis and gifs! But I know that’s not enough. Sometimes we have to hear the words.
We need to hear the words.
Although I quote Brene Brown all the time, it’s usually about courage and vulnerability. But she has another idea that I keep to the forefront: clear is kind, unclear is unkind. We don’t do people any favors (our spouses, families, students, colleagues) when we don’t say what we mean or mean what we say. As we delve more into parent engagement, and I’m thinking more consciously about jargon and eduspeak, it’s something I need to continue to work on.
We also need to talk to each other to hold each other up. Because lord knows that at this time of year, we are all faltering, and likely on more than one front.
One of the popular inspirational memes that pops up periodically on social media goes something like this: a person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.
We all have people that we care about, that we know are working hard, that could use a little extra encouragement to get them through the next few weeks.
You could leave tracks in the sand per se, and leave a note. Or email.
Or say the words.
(*They’re just words. Your mouth makes more.)
But they impact the listener not just at the surface, but in their heart. Immeasurably.
My goal for the week is to be brave, and vulnerable, and each day to say the words that someone needs to hear. To use those words to lift them up. Remembering that clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. I see you. I hear you. You are powerful and amazing and talented and inspiring.
And you matter.
It’s almost the end of May, and every teacher knows what that feels like. It’s like my computer looks right now…I’ve got seven tabs open, and I’m bouncing back and forth between catching up on reading emails about field trip planning, the Social 7 curriculum, twitter, and trying to write this blog since I didn’t do one on the long weekend and felt guilty, and I’m going to be in Regina this next Sunday so the odds are against getting one written that day too.
Yep. Something like that.
There are so many things competing for our time and energy and attention. And that’s before we factor the kids in!
So when successes happen, you hang on to them.
Cling to them.
Today had a few of those moments, which is almost statistically impossible when you teach middle years. So bear with me for sharing!
The first was in my period 1 split class of grade 7 and 8. It was a beautiful morning and I haven’t done as much with the walking classroom philosophy recently as I’ve wanted. So we walked to downtown Delisle (yep, there is one!) to a lot with some benches, rocks, and old farm equipment, where the town sets up seasonal displays.
Before we left the classroom, I described our activity. I often explain how we differentiate activities between the two groups, as the 8s don’t like to do EXACTLY what the 7s are doing all the time. So I explained how the ELA 8 course asks us to work on describing a landscape whereas the ELA 7 one suggests describing a character, but that today we were all just going to go out and describe a scene. Surprisingly, it was one of the 7 boys that wasn’t happy with that arrangement and said, “But that’s not our curriculum!”
I lol’d a little bit to hear a student use the word ‘curriculum’ but it got even better when I explained that the 8’s were staying out for the second hour for Social Studies to take pictures of private and public businesses, and the 7s would come back to the classroom. The same boy piped up that they should get to stay out too, and I got to use his line: “But that’s not in your curriculum!” We did a quickwrite before we left, and despite his grumbling, this student called me over to say, "Mrs. Landry, this is the most I've written this year!" Small victories.
Our time outside was awesome. We worked on our descriptive writing out there with all the sights and sounds of a small town on a double lane highway. At one point, one of the students said, “We should be out here everyday.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The second success happened in the afternoon. My Arts Ed 7 students are working on small passion projects in their choice of music, art, drama, or dance that we plan to perform in a few weeks. One boy brought in his electric guitar that he wanted to learn how to play, but he didn’t know what to do, and it had never worked properly. So two days ago, a former student who now plays in his own band came by to look at it for him. He made some adjustments and fixed it right up.
That was a generous enough gesture for me to feel good about. But today it got even better. As I was helping my student find some youtube tutorials (I really suck at guitar!) I asked a grade 11 student to help out. I knew that this boy didn’t have a period 4 class, as he sometimes pops in to demonstrate something on the guitar or ukulele for the kids, and he gladly agreed. Knowing the two personalities, and their shared short attention spans, I wasn’t sure if it would last much more than a few minutes or a couple of riffs.
But when I introduced them, the older boy held out his hand for a handshake, and then they were off. At the end of the class, my student had already put his equipment away but stayed to grab a ukulele to show me what he had learned. He was proud and excited. When I asked if he’d be okay if the two of them kept working together, he said yes. (My inner voice? Yessss with a fist pump!) Small victories.
I also had a group of three girls who are working on a dance. They had come at the beginning of class wondering if it was possible to video their dance to present instead of doing it live. When I asked for more details, one of them said she didn’t want to perform. She’s a strong athlete, and not in dance like the other two. I broke out my usual Brene Brown pep talk about courage and vulnerability. But I also said that the feeling you get when you finally score a goal in hockey, happens every time when you finish a live performance. The rush of adrenaline, the faster heart rate, and the shaky hands all remind you that you’re alive and that you just did something really, really cool.
I also let them know that I would be performing too, but I just hadn’t decided how vulnerable I wanted to be yet! I can do music easily enough, drama with a little trepidation, but if I’m really going to practice what I preach, then I’m most vulnerable with dance. I said that it’s important for me to model what I’m asking them to do, so I’d be doing something for sure.
At that point, I got pulled into a half-hug.
People that know me….not a big hugger lol.
But it was when the student said, “That’s how a teacher should be!” that I think I got something in my eye. Small victories.
Like I said, it’s the end of May. You hang on to these moments.
You need them to balance the rest of the day out. Trust me. There’s a whole water-bottle story in there today too.
If I don’t manage to get back on here on Sunday, have a great weekend everyone. And with June around the corner, here’s a reminder that I totally stole from a friend’s timeline!
Remember, you are doing important work.
Heck, YOU are important,
simply being you.
On the days that life hits
you hard, remember this:
You are enough.
You are kind.
And you’ve got this.
Today is Mother’s Day, and our social media timelines are filled with tributes to moms, whether they are still with us or not. Yesterday, I was fortunate to be able to spend time with my own mom and younger sister, as well as being able to visit with two of my aunties. A day well spent!
As @cossOnEveryHook had posted on twitter, this is “Super Mother’s Day. Every other day is regular Mother’s Day.” And that’s not far off. From the amount of phone calls, texts, and snaps that I get from my own daughter every day, asking a question or just wanting to connect, I can vouch for that. And no matter how old we are, we always need our moms. Even if I haven’t called or messaged my mom to look for a recipe or access her amazing memory of my childhood, there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not heeding some advice that she’s given me.
I don’t think there is a female educator out there that hasn’t mistakenly been called ‘mom.’ I even got called grandma once! When I was younger, I was equally as embarrassed as the student who accidentally said it, but now I see it’s the highest compliment.
Because when you have a question or need something, that tends to be the first word that bursts forth.
And we are there.
Working in a school for thousands of hours each year, as teachers and EAs, we are school moms for so many kids. We literally and figuratively bandage up hurts. We help negotiate fails and falls and friendships. We listen. Rough mornings and bad weekends. On dead pets and bothersome brothers. Whispered questions on sensitive topics. Period problems. Patient and honest answers.
High fives. Hugs. How are you doing?
The flip side of that, is that when we are so invested in our school kids, it’s sometimes to the detriment of our own families. The weekend tournaments, band tours, morning practices, planning and marking, and the dozens of other ways that we bring our work into our homes…sometimes in being there for other people’s kids, we aren’t there for our own. It’s a difficult balance and different from other occupations. When you are dealing with small humans, how can you say no? It’s something I bear some guilt about, particularly from when my kids were small.
I might have been thinking that as three of us were spending our Mother’s Day afternoon preparing the track for the local meet coming up this week.
But it also speaks to how important our school families and kids are to us too. The Education Act speaks to that relationship as in loco parentis, or that we are acting in place of the parents while the kids are with us. The latin seems so clinical. It’s so much more…a sacred trust. Parents give their children over to us for hours of each day, for years of their lives. Kids need us to listen, to care, and to love them. Just like a mom would.
Heartbreakingly, we know that throughout time, school has not been that for so many children. And for too long.
The women I work with are so unbelievably dedicated to doing what is best for our kids. I used facebook to say thanks to my own mom, and I’ll use my blog to say thanks to the amazing women that I have the privilege of working with each day. Especially for sacrificing the greatest gifts of time and love from your spouses and families, to give to our other kids each and every day.
Hyvää koulun äitienpäivää…happy school moms day!
This is the fourth do-over for this blog tonight. Four ideas that only got so far before they fizzled. Before I got frustrated. Before I almost quit.
It probably didn’t help that my evening was broken up by a phone call from my daughter in Calgary. She made it back yesterday after having two weeks at home between semesters, but could only move into residence today. Even though she was already living in residence, for spring session they downsize all the students into one area, so everything had to be packed up, driven across campus, and unpacked again. Not fun.
Plus, starting over is hard.
Even if you have been there before, there is always the stress of the unknown. New classes. New roommates. New room. And no matter how old you are, taking on something new isn’t easy.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand that when I’m convincing my daughter to embrace, not fear, change. I love change. I love working through the problem-solving aspect of a new situation or sport or instrument. It’s exciting. It’s not that I get bored easily, but every once in a while I need to feel the challenge of a new experience, which is why teaching is such a perfect fit. Every year we have new students, new colleagues, new courses, new strategies, new, new, new. We are in the change business, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
But for someone who, as a little girl, stressed over the countdown to Christmas, the scary-mystery of wrapped presents, the fear that Santa might not come, and a myriad of other holiday anxieties, it’s not easy for her. So we talked about growth mindset. Again. Because that takes practice…to know that you will learn something new in that stats class….to know it’s okay to ask for help early and often…to know that new friends will be made…to know that challenges make us stronger and more resilient…to look for that silver lining in every one of these new experiences.
Point by point.
And the fear dissipates.
It’s easy to forget that if we haven’t pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones for a while. It’s a good feeling to remember, especially when we work with students, because that is their lived experience. Actually, they don’t have much experience, which is why everything we ask of them can feel new. And uncomfortable. And scary.
We are often trying something new to the kids in the classroom. This past week, it was playing a lot with poetry forms, like blackout poetry and book spine poetry. These are hard for my rule-followers and perfectionists as there isn’t one hard and fast way of creating them. It requires creativity and experimenting and letting go. For some kids, the fact that there isn’t a right/wrong answer here, or a single way of doing it, is hard…the paradox of choice paralyzing. I do a fair amount of talking kids up there too. Modelling and sharing.
But they all did it. Most exciting for me was seeing their pride as we shared pictures of our book spine poems in class, and seeing other students stop and check out the blackout poems on the bulletin boards in the hallways. (Kids. Stopping to read poetry. Yah it happened.) It’s when you get past the fear, that something awesome can happen.
We all need these reminders. I almost quit on this tonight. I thought I’d given all my positivity away in my phone conversation. I wasn’t sure I could find anything to write, yet here we are, and it’s not even midnight! Silver lining lol.
As we go into a new week, no 'almosts' allowed: embrace whatever comes your way, with the best mindset you can give it.
We were driving back home Monday afternoon. We were at our third Easter dinner, this one at Unity, when we first saw the smoke rising south of Biggar. As we got closer, the plumes of smoke got larger, and although the fire was miles away, at one point the gale-force winds blew the smoke across the highway. It had only started a few hours before and would take days to contain, the sheer size of it was immense.
Everything is tinder-dry here. It literally only takes a spark for a wildfire to start.
But I was surprised to read this week that there are places where fire can remain hidden underground, even over winter, and then make its way up to the surface again. If there is a lot of deep organic material, and little spaces in it for oxygen, the fire can smoulder there for years. And our winter snow? That’s just insulation, not a deterrent.
So you don’t know IF it’s going to pop up, and if it does, you have no idea where it might be. Good luck with that one.
I had a recurring nightmarish fear of fire as a kid. Okay, even into adulthood. Enough so that I have a collapsible emergency ladder in our bedroom closet, in case we ever have to flee a fire from the second story of our house. Which is likely never going to happen, but tell that to the irrational part of my brain that can visualize it all happening. In great detail. (Which reminds me to check the batteries in our smoke detectors later…)
But why think so much about it now? Well, because for whatever reason, my mind also loves to make connections. Continually. I’m sure that 80% of my writing in this blog is just me making analogies lol. This is no different.
Fire makes me think of hope.
I haven’t had time to make my way through any more of Dr. Roset’s dissertation on hope, so I haven’t been thinking about that. And I’m not thinking about people in the news, hoping that a wildfire spares their house or farm.
No, I’m thinking about people who have been losing hope. Who don’t see it in their work. Who doubt its power. Or who just look at the events of the world and feel really helpless.
I feel that too. Maybe that’s all someone else needs to hear. Despite whatever positivity I try to muster, there are times when I don’t see the hope in a situation. I don’t think that there is anyone out there that hasn’t felt it. I do things to mitigate and manage that feeling (like muting Trump tweets for a bit…it works!) but like fire, it can be stubborn to put out.
But I prefer to think of the fire not as hopelessness, but as hope.
There are times that I am overflowing with it. Burning up with it. I can see it everywhere. I take inspiration from everyone. And that hope fuels itself. One hopeful and positive act turns into another one. I am on fire with the belief that everything is possible and in turn burn brighter because I know that I am bringing hope to someone somewhere. A contagion. Wildfire. Spreading.
And for the times that hope can feel so, so far away, where isolation and frustrations take their toll, I imagine that hope is still under there burning. It never stops. It just is looking for a way to get back to the surface again.
But unlike fire, it doesn’t have to be unexpected. We can make a path for it:
Visiting a friend.
Talking to a colleague.
My go-to line with kids, “what’s up?”
Take that break. Yah that means I’m putting down my phone. For a bit.
Lots of breathing.
Going for a run, even if you think running is stupid.
Smile. Without teeth if it feels like a grimace. Or a thumbs up to someone will suffice.
Step back, figuratively or literally. Use the 24 hour minor hockey rule.
Gain some perspective. As I’ve often heard, things will look better in the morning.
Find that one positive.
Tell someone what you appreciate about them.
More breathing when they don’t reciprocate. Patience. They may spread that fire to someone else who needs it too.
Remember we are all in this together, no matter how politicians or media soundbites might make us feel alone, or divided.
As we come back from break, hopefully re-energized and rested, remember that when you need hope, be open and let someone else spread their fire to you. When you feel the fire, be the spark to help someone else.
“Just like an old friend, reach out to me.
Bathe me in the light of understanding.
And try to help me to share the trouble
that you've got burnin' in you,
then you can help me.
And in our time together, her memory will ever
Shine like golden embers in the night.”
Golden Embers by Mandolin Orange
Normally, a 2am text is a cause for alarm, but there’s an 8 hour difference between here and Barcelona, Spain, and that’s often the time that our son has been messaging me. He is on a trip with a group from our town, travelling to Spain, southern France, and Italy; and for the most part, besides being tired and having one rainy day, he is having an amazing time.
Which is good, because travelling doesn’t always bring out the best in people. You are exhausted, it’s stressful, and things aren’t like home. We’ve travelled with our kids a lot, almost every summer to the USA, and they know that in small and big ways people are not the same all over. So when we first found out that they were paired up with a group from Pittsburgh, we talked about being patient and polite. When they met the other group, it was 1/3 kids and 2/3 adults. He still had some reservations, so our text conversations shifted to giving people the benefit of the doubt, and that first impressions aren’t always as they seem. Things seemed to settle in for the kids.
The adults in the other group? A whole other story.
Whenever I hear complaints about “kids these days” I take them with a grain of salt. Granted, some of them will be valid, but after twenty years, I know that kids are literally just kids. They have such limited experience with life, that they make a lot of mistakes. They can misinterpret situations and misjudge their reactions. They are impulsive and often their filters don’t work consistently. But they are also full of wonder, kindness, questions, and concern for others.
I have infinite patience when kids mess up. They’re still learning. I’ve written before that an area I continue to work on is remembering that adults are learners too. That they need differentiation just like kids do. I totally get that.
But……it’s tough to remember when this series of texts starts rolling in at 2am.
Only 9 kids with the other group and the rest are adults. They have made us late and make a real fuss about everything. We talked about this at supper and this morning as well. Today we are supposed to leave at 9. It’s now 9:16….
And it didn’t get better.
Just saw the La Sagrada de Familia and it was awesome. But of course we lost one of the americans so now we get less time to see the city and some of Gaudis architecture. I’m trying really hard not to let it ruin my trip but when I have to rush or only get a few mins at some places now it really does wreck it.
Yah found them. The tour guide just ripped her. It was an adult. Classic American tourist wants to go to Europe then complain that it’s not America when they’re here.
We’ve encountered that a lot in our travels, and that’s not to say that all Canadian tourists are amazing either. Of course they aren’t. But we’ve tried to practice the ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ attitude when we travel, and to take in as much of the local culture as possible. We balance seeing the sights with getting off the beaten path.
As our kids got older, we also tried to appreciate the sights that we see with the knowledge that so many of these amazing structures and places were built with the power and money gained from the oppression of other people. That sometimes getting off that beaten path was literally as close as a tent city of the homeless a block or two away from the great opulence. It’s not about sucking the fun out of travel, but at a minimum, acknowledging the reality of the place we were in, and appreciating our privilege to both visit these places and to come home again.
To differing degrees, you can see most kids get that. They understand what the social norms are depending on the situation or place they are in. They say good morning. They use their manners. They hold doors open (even when adults suspiciously go to the next door instead of one being held open!?)
Of course there are kids that don’t get it.
I wonder if they just haven’t been exposed to many different situations? Yet another reason why we always took our kids out with us to restaurants when they were little.
Never had the norms of that place reinforced? Ahem, just because it’s a rink, doesn’t mean that you get to run wild.
Never had anyone model that behavior? Plausible, but make sure I catch myself from making assumptions about their lives.
A better check: am I modelling that behavior myself?
Which is why, in a world that is more technology-dominated and less physically-connected than ever before, I strongly believe in working with kids on social and emotional learning. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about restorative alternatives when they don’t. It’s all those things we want from them as adults in the ‘real world.’
Hmmmmmmm…..like being on time on a tour??
Maybe it’s the hypocrisy that gets me most when adults complain about kids.
Kids are late? Lock the doors. Reem them out for being late without ever asking why.
Adult late to a meeting? Comes in and sits down. No interrogation.
Kids don’t have a writing utensil? Huuuuge deal. You’ll have to do without.
Adult forgets a pen for that same meeting? Quietly asks to borrow one.
Kids need to use the washroom during class time? We just had a break. You can wait until noon.
Adult needs to go? Doesn’t ask admin for permission, quietly leaves and returns.
Kids don’t have assignment done on time? Late marks or don’t accept it at all.
Adult didn’t complete that form for the SPTRB? Email reminder to get it done as soon as you can.
Kids get an essay assigned to complete over the holiday week?
Adults….okay, I can’t even imagine this one. I would have had a few choice words if admin had assigned some mandatory reading or a project over the break.
*And just to be clear, you won't hear those lines in my classroom!
The Easter Sunday sermon wasn’t on the golden rule, but it’s one I try to remember: treat other people as you’d like to be treated. And for me, that’s something I live by in my classroom. Honestly, the real world is the one we are in right now. The ‘fake one’ is really the contrived rules and expectations, and our responses, that we set up for kids in school that simply don’t exist anywhere else.
To the adults who I will never meet, but who are causing stress to my kid somewhere in Spain, get your shit together and act like…well, act like your responsible kids….and show some courtesy to your fellow travellers.
And to my education colleagues, enjoy the break and recharge. Get better, some of you that were sick! And read if you want to, not because someone made you. I’m hoping my students are doing all of those things too. See you next week!
As I was struggling with what to write about this week, I decided to come back to some notes I’d made from Dr. Roset’s dissertation. Instead of just copying them in here verbatim, I decided to reframe them as verse, and the occasional sets of haiku lol. So kinda like a found poem, none of these words are my own…none…but they are some hopeful words as we head into another week! (Page numbers and other authors referenced!)
Children tend to come to school hopeful,
with conceptions and ideas that are
personally meaningful and
significant to them.
the child does not expect
that most of what goes on in
(thoughts and feelings and
questions and hopes and
desires and fears)
will have to remain
- PRIVATE -
- off limits -
in the social world of the
The prescription for
a dull, uninteresting
and boring classroom
for both students and
teachers is to start where you
want to start, pour in
what you want the child
to learn, pace that instruction
according to a
determined and the pressure of
the school calendar
and then ignore the
inevitable and brute
fact of our students’
I N D I V I D U A L I T Y.
If the conditions
that make for productive growth
and learning do not
exist for teachers,
teachers will be unable
to help to create
and sustain those same
conditions for their students.
Because when the juice
stops flowing for the
teachers, the juice will not flow
in students either.
Hope is the
precursor of action
in the move toward the
realization of desires
Hope is the
precondition for action.
Hope is not itself a force,
But it is a condition,
existing in varying degree
that may SPARK
---> toward goals.
Hope does vary
in the sense that it may be
Coerced from outside oneself
or initiated from one’s own
It may be
Hope grids action.
It is not
Optimism and hope,
like helplessness and despair,
can be learned.
The individual who hopes has
a worldview that looks beyond
the present situation and
there is a way out to a more
that when you
what is in your
it will be
it will not
We cannot achieve
commit ourselves to the
love thy neighbor as thyself.
these are sacred words,
but then again,
COMMUNITY is a
Development of hope
is a process
and stands as the most
Life without hope
carries more trauma
than the human spirit
is an essential condition
for being human.
This past week we hosted our annual Heritage Fair, where students choose topics they are interested in and passionate about, and present their research in a display board and speech in front of judges. It’s a big deal and no small feat.
As we gathered in the gym that morning, our VP talked to the kids about the importance of knowing Canada’s history and heritage. About not understanding our present until we know our past. Of celebrating the good things about who we are as a country and learning lessons from the things we’ve done wrong.
But he started by asking, “Who here is nervous about today?”
Just about every hand went up.
And he let them know that that’s okay. That it means you care about what you’re doing. And that we’d be worried if they didn’t feel that way.
I came across a tweet by author/speaker Brett Bartholomew that had the same sentiment: I still get anxious every time before I speak at a large conference. Used to think it was a weakness, the truth is I’m anxious because I care enough about wanting to do a good job. Never take one moment for granted, and learn to use your emotions to focus your work.
It’s also one of many lessons I’ve taken away from Brene Brown:
Are vulnerable experiences easy? No.
Can they make us feel anxious and uncertain? Yes.
Do they make us want to self-protect? Always.
Does showing up for these experiences with a whole heart and no armor require courage? Absolutely.
I was really proud of all of our students, and knowing the whole journey of how they got there made it even more impressive for some kids. That two days before, I had students asking me to stand beside them for support as they did a dress rehearsal in front of the class. That one student absolutely froze and was convinced she was going to faint. That a display board was literally unassembled a day before, not because the parts weren’t all there, but because this student has some roadblocks getting work to completion.
The day arrived.
I didn’t have to stand beside anyone as they presented. That student didn’t faint, and in fact, came to tell me how well her speech had gone. And the board came together, with the help a big sister and a confidence boost from home the night before.
It’s not often that we ask students to be so vulnerable. It’s scary.
Even more so for the kids who had two RCMP officers in uniform sitting in front of them as judges!
Brene Brown writes that “Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege.” I was also proud of the students who chose tough topics, ones that challenge our narratives and call attention to colonial practices. Residential Schools. Highway of Tears and MMIW. The Sixties Scoop. LGBTQ Pride Awareness. A student who chose John A. Macdonald as a topic and didn’t ignore his racist policies. A student researching the Canadian Pacific Railway WITH HER SOLE FOCUS ON THEIR COLONIAL PRACTICES AND THEIR HARMFUL EFFECTS ON CHINESE AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE. Wow. I sometimes forget these kids are 12 years old.
They give me hope.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was finished on November 7, 1885. The last spike was pounded in by Donald A. Smith in Eagle Pass, British Columbia. It was a huge success for Canada. All that was seen at the time was the railway, a sign of unity, power and a quickly developing country. What wasn’t significant in the minds of Canada – or the rest of the world – was the price that others had paid for their benefit. The Chinese and what could almost have been called slavery. Half of the population being called upon to hand over resources and money to a cause that had nothing to do with them. First Nations being forced off their land by white settlers that had just come to Canada and still were favoured over the people native to the country. Those are the things that nobody sees. And sometimes, they are the things that matter most. Some people look only at the good history, the things that Canada has done well and done fairly. But to get a true picture of Canada’s history and who we really are, I believe that we need to look deeper. The only way to learn is to learn from our mistakes. And I believe that the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway is an opportunity to do just that.
When we care, and make ourselves vulnerable, disappointment can be soul-crushing. And because we are only allowed to send six projects out of our 53 to the next level of competition, I had a lot of disappointed kids.
And for different reasons, none of the examples I mentioned above were chosen by the judges to move on. There was a range of reactions to that disappointment: some were angry, some wanting to place blame, and some literally already planning for next year.
It was a good teachable moment, made even more poignant when a student asked, “Well if we didn’t move on, what was the point of it all?”
We asked “why” so often through the process, I never anticipated we would be asking it at the end.
So we answered that together too.
Like I said, they give me hope.
It’s difficult for me to write essays and present information to you, because like most of you I’m scared to be judged. Today I’m talking about LGBTQ+ movement. This topic needs to be discussed more. Yes, gay marriage has been legalized and yet there are people who still don’t understand the community. There are parts of the world where being gay will get you killed. I believe most people understand and accept our community and yet sometimes that’s all they see when they look at gay people – they forget we are human beings. Our gender and/or sexuality is not all of who we are. It does not define who we are, just like your gender and sexuality are not what you are…I hope you will have gone home with a little more knowledge than before. Remember that no matter who we are or what we do, we are all equal. One day I hope sexuality isn’t what people think define us all. I hope we accept everyone for who they are. And remember, ‘open your mind to wonder instead of closing it with beliefs.’
Till next week, tervetuloa, tawâw, welcome.
One of my guiding quotes for life is by Maya Angelou: Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better. But what I’ve been stuck thinking about lately is, if I am doing the right thing, do the reasons why I’m doing it matter?
This week I was able to take a few students to a leadership workshop put on by the WE Day group. In it, they talked about the difference between simply taking on an awareness or fundraising project, and learning WHY the project is important. Essentially, that context is crucial for empathy, understanding, and long term changes in attitude.
For most of us, it’s not that hard to do the right thing. And usually, the right thing is pretty apparent. What is more difficult is getting to that WHY part.
I’m a self-professed rule-follower. A lot of the time I am doing what I’m supposed to, well, because I’m supposed to do it. For our students, we have a multitude of expectations in terms of behavior and work habits. So does the world. Most kids will follow these out of compliance. Most adults will too. But is that good enough? Is it good enough that you are following the norms if you don’t understand why we expect the courtesy of not interrupting? Is it good enough if you can’t translate that into another space and place? (*rink behavior anyone?*)
Consequences work, but should we do the right thing simply out of fear? I don’t need the RCMP to be at every construction zone running radar for me to not speed through them, and my heart rate jumps a bit when I see them, even though I’m not doing anything wrong! But do I slow down for the speed cameras in the city? I sure do. I don’t want to pay a ticket any more than the next person. Does it make lasting changes to my driving habits? That’s more debatable. In my classroom, I’m not big on using rules, and try to reframe them as ‘courtesies’ instead, with one exception. If a substitute teacher takes the time to leave your name for misbehaviour, it’s an automatic detention. The expectation is clear. Yet knowing full-well there is a consequence, why are there always names on that list?
I don’t think we can underestimate the power of obligation either. Maybe this is more for adults, but even though there are worthwhile endeavors, both in and out of school, I find myself committing to things out of guilt. Feeling that I need to do it, because no one else can. Doing things because you know it will make it easier for another person, even if not for yourself. For our students, even when given a lot of student voice, choice, and ownership of their learning, it can still feel obligatory. They will do things for a myriad of reasons, but not the main reason we want them to: because they care deeply about it.
For the most part, I try to do the right thing because I try to be a good person. But there’s a line somewhere where the things we love become chores. Where the passion plummets.
Rekindling that desire isn’t easy, but it’s doable.
But what really scares me is seeing kids who don’t care about anything. Not issues. Not people. Not the world they live in. And definitely not the world beyond themselves.
Doing the right thing is infinitely harder if you don’t value anything. What happens when you know better, but don’t choose to do better?
Last week, I felt really bad, and I don’t feel that way very often. I try to be cognizant of other people’s feelings, mostly because I feel really guilty when I hurt someone, even inadvertently. But this wasn’t just a guilty-bad. Nope, it was more than that. And I didn’t like that feeling. At all.
For the first time in a long time, I truly thought about the power of restoration. It was a feeling so strong that I knew I would do whatever I could to put things right.
And maybe that’s what is missing in those times we don’t choose to do the right thing, or we do the right thing, but not for the right reasons…the restorative aspect. The “why.” Looking someone in the face and seeing them as a person. Looking beyond what was happening to consider why it happened. Looking beyond my own perspective. Not just saying sorry because its expected, or because you feel guilty, or because you should… but because you understand why you should. Like I was reminded at the leadership conference, understanding how/why your behaviour impacts others is an empathetic response that leads to long term change.
“Emotional regulation isn’t instinctive, it’s learned.” Which is why we make our own children say sorry when they are little. Excuse me, when they bump into someone. Please. And thank you. We need to continue to do the same thing with them as they grow, but with the additional understanding of who they affected and why.
I’ve ordered a book by Maynard and Weinstein that talks about working with students around the values of: respect, relationships, responsibility, repairing the harm, and reintegrating back into routine. “Holding students directly and personally responsible for their behavior is what sparks intrinsic change. Mediations give students insight into the real impact of their behavior. Combine them with restorative practices and you have the formula for empathy, positive culture, and lasting change.”
If I am doing the right thing, does it really matter my reasons why I’m doing it? Yep. Yep, it does.
Hang in there everybody! Tervetuloa. Tawâw.
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