Since I started teaching throughout each term and at the end of the year I’ve been asking students to think about and to share their ‘take aways.’ A take away is a complex notion. It is more than the one thing a student has learned; it is more than the one thing that will resonate with a student tomorrow, in a few months, or in five years. A take away is all of that and more. It is a knowing students and I search for and want to come to understand. Perhaps a take away is that care-forward piece or the restorying of our experiences piece that a student might come to be able to understand. A take away is our way of naming the experience of our story. It’s tricky. It’s different for each one of us. It’s messy. And it’s beautiful too.
For several years I’ve made certain to share my take aways with students.
This year, I asked my online learning network to share their takeaways. I had four responses.
I admit, naming the resonance of experience is akin to #lifemaking
Okay, here’s what I tweeted:
When it comes to compassion don’t all of us educators feel, in some way, that when it comes to our bucket of character traits, this one overflows?
And that’s a beautiful thing, right? We are in a caring profession.
Three years ago while working with a group of grade 9 & 10 students I had my first real glimmer of true compassion. Then, with that group, I learned to respond with kindness. We had been faced with a sticky sort of change to our classroom family. The change was made to our family. The decision was made, hidden behind closed door educational discussions and off-campus narratives. The change led to silence and the silence brought confusion and pain. Silence was not the way we were used to doing things. We were used to sharing our stories of experience. As a unit we felt like we were the very bits inside a snow globe, swirling away, and that everyone outside our classroom space were the forces shaking us.
We were tired. We were silenced and we were sad.
I spoke to this group about those months, and the experience of this story at their grad this June. I shared how one of them, one day during a silent, silent reading, just tossed her journal on my desk and said, “Enough. We will respond with kindness.” And as a family we did. We pulled together, found our voice and healed.
And kindness is a starting point. It became the switch that each of us needed to bring our snow globes to rest. But kindness isn’t compassion.
In many of those moments years ago, though we forged ahead, we had simply silenced too the stories swirling around us.
And lately I’ve been thinking about trees.
Tall trees. There are tall pine trees that line my home in the Avenues. The pines are 110 ten years old. 14 years ago, during one of the most swirling snowy moments of my life, after looking at 28 houses, I stood in the back yard of this place. The wind played with the pines. The pines sang to me. There are five giant pine that reach towards the moon. They are taller than any house on the street; they nestle me into this tiny yard and wrap me safely here. The trees sang and I was home.
Sometimes I feel love can changed the world.
Recently I heard Gabor Mate say we need to ask ourselves how it is we feel about the person we are working with when we think of what we believe possible for that person.
This spring the kids and I were sitting in our sharing circle. We were sharing in that back-n-forth beautiful way. The kids were sharing about the connectedness they have with people in their lives. I shared the connectedness I felt with my Dad. Two of the boys in the circle asked about my connection. The others listened. I remember the conversation clearly. I remember feeling tired and being abrupt with the boys. I remember asking them if their others would be there if they got sick. I mean not just visit, I mean care for them. One boy answered no. One boy met my eyes, smiled at me, stood up and tossed his journal rather too forcefully into the bucket.
I can not say if the words were like me or not. I do not care for comparisons. I am blunt, though. And I sure do care about kids; I really care about the kids that sat around the table that day. I was “Imagaining what it is like where … they become gradually conscious of what it means to make connections in experience” (M. Greene, 1995, p. 55).
At the moment I am writing a letter to the boy who met my eyes. He is in custody. We’ve been writing letters for a while.
March 26 my Dad had a stroke. And I’ve been thinking a lot about trees.
I missed some school those first few days after Dad’s stroke.
When I returned, every day, every single day, the student who met my eyes would ask about Dad. Then, he would ask me how I was doing. Most days we’d have heart to hearts about ‘family,’ commitment, friendship, loyalty, and love.
Those were long weeks. You know that line ‘when you’re in the room, be in the room?” Those two months after my Dad’s stroke, I wasn’t in the room. Well, not when I was at school. I was tired and sad and I think I cried a few times, sitting on the piano bench while he worked the heavy bag, or did arm curls. I liked our chats though. And I think he did too.
He asked many questions and shared many stories. I did too. I was tired. So was he. We’d both had had a long spring.
He asked about Dad every day, first thing. Did I mention this? Every day as I said goodbye, I told him how much it meant that he had asked. So many people are afraid of crisis, pain, grief, sadness… Oh, how he honoured me by hearing my story.
When Dad had his stroke Mom who lives more than an hour from the city moved temporality into my house to live with Jess & me. Mom hadn’t been to my house, not more than to sit in their van as Dad ran in, in three years. We had squabbled over my trees – out of kindness one day she had had Dad trim them – though the squabble ran deeper and taller than trees.
Its roots reverberate every time I returned to circle with students; I am a teenager again, unable to find a way to communicate with my Mom. And I so want to share the stories of my experiences with my Mom.
“We inform our encounters by means of activities later obscured by the sediments of rationality… We can only become present to them by reflecting on them” (M. Greene, 1995, p. 73).
I am so similar to both my parents. Navigating a connection with my Mom though has never been easy. As an adult, I hid behind the guise of ‘caring’ for myself, and allowing the space between us to carry forward and the years to tip toe by.
Valleys are real though.
In the evenings as I would return from the hospital my Mom, having spent every day – and every, every day since with Dad – and I would curl up on the end of her bed, sometimes Jess, my daughter, would join us and here, my Mom and I would share stories.
There was hope in the late night shadowy moments on the futon. The compassion I found that was most profoundly needed was for a sense of rootedness, with my Mom, with my family and within me.
In June Dad moved into long term care, closer to Mom, but an hour away, and Mom moved back home.
I took time one afternoon to work in my yard. I discovered that sometime during the previous two months the neighbours had cut down one of my pine trees.
Sigh. I stood on my back deck a long time. I felt betrayed. I felt lost.
Then I asked “How important is it?” & “How do I feel about me?”
I still live here. And Here is Home.
Then, I mowed our front boulevard.
When the student who smiled at me was charged and sentenced, I shared with staff the stories of compassion that I had felt from him: asking after my Dad, attending to my stories, the hugs and tears when he had returned to us months before.
And this is what I am writing to him now. Oh, and that I miss him.
And maybe this too; when I was his age and I had gotten into trouble, my Dad would take me for long walks. He would stop at every plant and share stories. I’d taste rose hips and smell sage. I would sit for long moments on the prairie, listening to the wind. I used to find this mind-numbing. Now I know that I’ve taken every group of kids I’ve ever taught hiking, listing to wind.
My Dad would say there’s a teaching there. If I’m really listening, if I’m really attending, so would my Mom. Or maybe, it’s the trees.