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!
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.