Tag Archives: classroom connections

Language of Hope


A few days ago while scrolling through a social media site, I noticed that a student I teach had posted a photo with, what I consider to be, an offensive word. It is not uncommon for me to connect with students on some social networking sites. I am as selective about who I connect with as I hope and try to instil students to be. What made me pause when viewing the post was the word ‘retarded.’

My finger hovered over the unfollow button. I fumed.

I have known the student, Mack, for many years. We have navigated many, many difficult conversations. We have navigated many moments of crisis. We trust each other.

Maybe that’s why Mack’s comment, public or not, stung. I could not understand his cruelty. Or what I assumed to be his cruelty. 
It’s not that I simply don’t allow the word in our classroom, I explain its meanings and interpretations, and I have explained, why there is almost never a place, situation, event, or time suitable to use the word. And I share many stories of experience about how this language is harmful. 

That day, in my pause, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, paintbrush in hand, having taken a break, having checked the site, my finger continuing to hover over the unfollow tab.

But I genuinely care about this young person. And what, other than fuelling my own privileged sense of justice, does stepping away silently, and yes, fuming too, serve?

I continued painting, cutting-in around the ceiling, taking time, climbing up and down the step stool.

Hmm.

After a while I sent the student a private message and asked for clarification of the wording of his post. He replied simply, after offering a definition of the word, sharing that it means, “a bad person.”

I replied “No it does not.”

~

I set my phone down again and sat on the edge of the tub again.

And so far, all of this journey was too simple. I understood I was telling, not attending to his stories of experience. Too, I was not attending to my own stories of experience.

I sighed.

~

Last week I lunched with a colleague. We shared many stories of experience. Our sharing often returned to the mad-dash made by those within educational landscapes towards a singular social justice way of knowing. During lunch, my friend & I spoke of the importance of attending to all stories of experience. 

Yet, there I was. Sitting and fuming, tapping directives into my device. I had no desire to carry forward a singular way of knowing that would silence others, nor did I wish to lead in this space, when I had not entered through the opener of story, through trust.

I sighed again and reached again for my phone.

Years ago I was married. Those who stood up for me where an eclectic group of women I referred to as my sister people, each family in some lovely way. One sister person, a cognitively challenged woman, only a few years younger than I, was often mistaken for quite youthful. I have known her almost my entire life. Her mom is near to a second mom to me. Only once did her mom speak of the cruelty of living in a world where people are deliberately harmful with their words and more so lackadaisical with them too.

My beautiful sister people.

Truth: I was six months into my first teaching position before I truly allowed the depth and breath of being a language educator to resonate.

I began to ask myself the question I was posing to students. Does language always matter? I began to wonder, was the language fight my fight to fight, like it is and was, and in the same way, and remains to be for my sister person’s mom? Honestly, in the beginning I was foggy on the ownership of this life/issue.

I have lived alongside hundreds of young people. I have shared family stories with those I teach. Students have shared their experiences with me too. My Dad and daughter have often met the students I’ve known. We have journeyed together: cheering at ball tounaments, smiling at open mics, helping to paint classrooms, and hauling boxes into schools. 

I am no different with Dad & my daughter, than I am teaching a mini-lesson, or alone hiking a prairie hillside. In all landscapes of my life, I am fierce and I am kind. I am always me/mom/teacher. And I am reflective.

To all who have walked alongside me, they know that for me, others telling stories of me is a painful space.

I am thinking deeply about how others have told stories of me. I am thinking about my elementry and high school experiences, others telling stories of me through perceptions of my behaviours and my learning disabilities. 

I have spent a life reliving and retelling the stories others tell. 

~ Not stupid. Not busy. Not wrong. Not obstanant. Not rude. Not mean. Not loud. Not silent. Not. Not. Not. Not.

I returned to think deeply with the stories of Mack’s experience. I recalled when we had journeyed the Native Studies 10 course a few years ago, his worldview shifting as we inquired together. He would often send texts and screenshots of moments when he would address oppressive language/statememts made by his peers, even his family, as his own understandings grew.

I sighed. Tap. Tap. Tap….

“Mack, let’s talk about how, for you and others, that word might be understood and used.”

~

Honestly. I wanted to block Mack. I wanted to avoid a tough talk where I had no script. I had hoped Mack would simply learn that language is the most powerful force for change on the globe simply    by    reading       my    mind.

Language changes the world through our continuing reflection and discussion of its complex meanings and uses.

From those moments I came to teach English Language Arts courses all those years ago, I understood I must come as a Language educator.

During our dissucussion Mack remembered that the ‘r’ word is a word that I don’t allow in our learning space. I am thinking deeply too with the unfolding of that July day. I was painting my bathroom and dripping sweat. I am as fiercely blunt out of school as I am with students every day of our ten month year. My Mom says kids always know when teachers are fake. I think there’s a teaching there. This work is living work. Deeply meaningful, unscripted, and in the moment. Julys’s work too.

Maybe this is why I messaged. Because I trust my student. Because I know he trusts me. Because I already knew he was in a tractor somewhere and he already knew I was eyeball deep in blue paint, tackling a bathroom renovation. Because, we two, we trust the space between us.

Maybe that pause, is the trust that is the rootedness of our language of hope.

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coyote chalk

I’ve been blogging since I was a running-full-out, blinders-on, curiosity-driven-in-nineteen-directions, let’s-plan-like-there’s-no-tomorrow undergrad. Then, I had two courses remaining in my B.Ed., both electives. Was it happenstance that made me sign up for these courses, both becoming the courses that would most resonate, most inform my educational journey?

These courses most informing me how to best listen to students.

One was a course in Inclusive Education. The other was titled Introduction to Computers in the Classroom, #ECMP355.

Then, I was heading into the summer before internship. I had just completed a methodologies course where I had been asked to create a paper portfolio. I had not been keen on making a paper portfolio that no one without a forklift and a long weekend could enjoy. So when my instructor for the ecmp class asked what I wanted to create, I told him I might want to put my portfolio online, or perhaps, learn about spreadsheets.

But when a conversation emerged soon thereafter, ideas that connected the two courses came to light: people, caring about people and listing to people.

To show the idea of connections, I think, the ecmp teacher shared something or rather had others share something about him via twitter. And I learned some things about this dude. I was new to story and new to his story, so I quickly began forming a narrative in my own mind of him. I saw him as nuts to move out of an old home to build a new one and to golf instead of to hike, like really! But I liked the way he talked about his thinking; I liked that he shared his story. Then, he asked each of us to share one thing about ourselves. I shared that I had a stuffed great horned owl in my car that I had borrowed from the science lab. But, it was okay. I would put the owl back in three days.

I found that it was the stories of experience that I shared those fast few weeks of that spring short course that continued to reverberate. From those beginning connections I have found mentors, supports, and colleagues.

And then last spring my Dad had a stroke. Friends, friends from all over the world sent public and private messages and have continued to walk this journey with me.

I have found many platforms that I enjoy. However, I admit, I love a blog. I love reading your words and letting them play near me as I imagine your voice, image your space, and for those moments, I live alongside you, story with you in the midst. I wonder, is it in this space that I am beginning to understand? Usually this is early morning or the tired waning hours of day, while the hallway lights are off, the room next to me feels still, and the world, like the wind outside my window, pauses. Here, I am allowed to simply lean in and to wonder alongside you…

I love storying.

All those years ago my instructor gave his students a final challenge, “If you can, get your own domain.” I wonder if this was another way of asking us to retell and relive our own stories of experience? the challenge is one that I have never forgotten.

And so, my blog name as it has always been, named for the trickiest storier; may our stories forever be retold and relived. This happened yesterday.

blog photo

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So Good – Being Together

In mid-December I chatted with a few colleagues, my Prairie Land Peeps, in an on-line space. We chatted about what we’d been up to in our classes. Mostly we reflected about just finishing up student-lead conferences. 

After the on-line meeting, I received an email from my colleague, Toni, “I want to steal your idea that you did with the student that was going travelling with Facebook. What did you do?”

Although I teach mostly senior students, one of the courses I teach is Middle-Years Arts Education. Since these kids aren’t my homeroom kids, I don’t have them for student-lead conferences. A brother and sister in my middle-years class were about to leave for four months. Their parents scheduled a meeting – which happened to fall during some down time during conferences – to chat about their kids. I think they wanted to talk about what the kids would be missing in terms of assignments. But the kids and I knew we wanted to chat about ways to keep the kids connected to our amazing classroom family – so that’s what we did. And J, my grade eight student, took the lead. With his Iphone in hand, he flipped through apps while the adults chatted about the nearly impossible availability of computer access during the upcoming trekking trip. Hence, using our class blog would become a cumbersome task – asking his parents to deliberately stop so the kids could post, and thus the blog might soon offer no excitement for J or for his sister, C. 

Then J and I started to chat about what we really wanted his family’s trekking to offer our class. We agreed that we wanted to learn and experience alongside J and C. And we wanted the connection to be as seamless as possible. J, who was still flipping through his apps, found one that uploaded video to Facebook easily and for free. We agreed on a family page created by the kids where J and his sister could bring us along with them. The space offered one where the kids could still lead their own learning, and a space where the kids could teach their peers. J’s parents loved the idea. 

Now some people have asked if I was worried about using Facebook in the classroom, the big bad FB. Really, what do we think the kids are doing anyway?  But just because they are doing it doesn’t provide justification for its use in our classroom. The truth is, I never had a moment of pause with my students and FB, with this family, or with J, and I couldn’t wait to share this project with the members of our School Community Council either. Why? So they could follow one of our families that we all love and respect on their amazing journey. As you’re reading this, don’t you want to know what the family is up to?

See, I talk to my kids and to my kids’ parents about their connections – because really, it’s the parents who should be talking with their kids about FB, but until the world agrees, I talk. And talk, and talk and show and talk, all the time. And, too, I listen. Positive connections are the norm in our classroom, they see me network, they see me chat, they see me share, with others, with them, and most importantly, in a responsible way. And I share about how I am connected and involved in my daughter’s social networks – the on-line ones, the soccer field ones, the mom-daughter ones and the daughter-friend ones too. I try not to separate. I heard a long time ago about striving for transparency and though they don’t all know my deepest secrets, they do all know my age.

So really, when J got really excited about that free app and making a FB page and looked up at me, he knew he would be supported in taking a new step; he knows I trust him. And he knows he is expected to model responsibly to his sister and to his friends. More than the rest of us, this family has traveled the world and opened connections for their children in every way. Their children are true global citizens. J messaged the other day about his adventure diving for neon crabs along the beaches of Penang with his family; he messaged his classmates, family and community members; he is connected. 

That last class period before he left, J and I sat together and set up his official trip FB account. But make no mistake; the account is under his name. “And I’ll connect to you as soon as I get home,” J said.  I replied, “And post from the airport tonight too.” He almost seemed overwhelmed with the freedom to use the tool, and with leaving his classroom family. But post and connect he continues to do.

And yes, he has connected to me too. Yup. Connect. Post photos. No separation. What you see, is what you see and what you know. That’s transparency. So three days into his trek when J messaged me asking if he could connect to his extended family, I replied, “Connect, connect, connect!” And before I wrote this blog, I messaged him and asked his permission, “J, can I share your FB page?” 

Sharing J and C’s FB story with others has raised a few eyebrows. And it’s true, paradigm shifts can be tricky. Shifts can often require listening, much resilience and much more care. Recently I listened to a radio broadcast entitled “To Friend or Not to Friend [our students on Facebook].” Mostly, the show was a typical pro-con FB discussion. However, this gem popped out, “I care and work with kids, and I need to be where they are.”

Me too. Oh me too! In the same way I hang out after-school every day, and coach b-ball, and edit poems messaged to me at 10 pm on a Saturday night or in the wee hours on Christmas day. I care and work with kids, and I need to be where they are. And maybe, my kids and their families and their community might just need us (teacher-and-other folk) to be there too.

So why not follow along? I mean, at the start of class sure enough, someone fires up the interactive-white board, grabs my lap-top, logs into Facebook and finds J and C. Sometimes only a few students (known as LinKX) are involved; sometimes we all compose a note, or watch a video, or post. 

The thing is that it’s just so good, so very good being together, being family.

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