When I was young I learned that snow berry are sacred plants. I learned that their berries hold the spirits of our ancestors. I learned that to sit among snow … Continue reading Among Snow Berry
Our school year began on a Tuesday. We had four days together that first week, students and me. Four days.
I am a Grad Coach this year. I have my own program and many new faces alongside me everyday. The structure and design of our classes and days is different than my previous years in my school and in an Student Support role.
We began with four days. Students are with me to achieve a credit and to get the necessary supports to graduate on time.
By that first Friday things were messy. Our structure was too loose, our focus a bit too sloppy, our sense of belonging dangled on the edge.
I returned Monday and tried again. Nope.
I was not lacking the effort.
I was lacking sharing hope.
We were lacking our belonging space.
Period two Monday, I pulled the tables together. I gathered the container of rocks.
The students arrived. I asked them to join me at circle. I let them know they could return to their treasured place in the room once we had finished.
Then we defined Gratitude.
We talked of thankfulness. We talked of being grateful for coffee, food, our home, grandparents, friends, school.
I held the jar and took a rock. We each took one rock. The rock wasn’t important. The rocks determine our turn. Once we set our rocks in front of us on the table, our turn is completed. We speak in the order determined by the rocks, not clockwise, not by order or by age, but by rock feel.
From here we shared our gratitude.
In our class, we don’t do much if it doesn’t have a purpose, a curricular link. And I show students the wheres and the hows upfront. And so I did the same with gratitude.
“This week, all we are going to do is share our gratitude. I may ask why and I may not. Next week I will share a rubric and share how you will be assessed on your sharing.”
And then the rocks began to be placed. Grateful for buffalo ranching, for friends, for second chances, for home.
Just like that.
By Tuesday they had it.
By Thursday students had their favourite rocks. They began to ask after the whys, and I followed with the hows.
By Friday we pulled to circle with coffees and peanut butter sandwiches, like we had been here always. And waited. Gratitude too is hard. A student sat in tears, clutching his rock. We waited. We stayed in circle.
See. It is the circle that is sacred, that supports. That is hope.
Years ago I was teaching at an alternate school. My principal had lost her son. She returned to work two weeks later and, sitting around our sharing circle, held a rock, the word gratitude etched on one side.
“Find gratitude each day,” she had said.
That was the year dad had had the stroke. And I had ached for my chance to hold the rock. To feel safe and to cry.
So Friday we sat. Together. Together. And soon someone offered hope. Tears are welcome. “I am grateful our circle is safe.”
And a smile.
I am grateful for our circle.
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 … Continue reading Language of Hope
Supporting each other is really important. When I was a pre-service teacher, I spent one of two of my shorter-internships at a school that did this well. At this school, when kids were more successful in some spaces or with different teachers than with other teachers in other spaces, the staff encouraged kids to be where they were most successful. Often, this meant that students moved between teachers to bond with individuals with whom they felt most connected. One of the most amazing stories that remained with me long after I left my teaching block is that the teachers at the school celebrated when kids were successful elsewhere. The teachers where so unselfish! It was the students’ joy and success that mattered most, not teacher happiness or prestige. This lesson has remained one of the most profound of my career.
I used to think this special gift of allowing students to find spaces and connections where they are most successful only existed at that school. True, then I was only brining my own years of school-stories to this understanding. I had so much yet to unlearn…
More than a month ago I shared with kids and staff at my school that I’d be moving schools next fall. The last few weeks have been a sort of a finding-our-way towards transition. For some, the upcoming change is fine. For others, the upcoming change is uncomfortable. In our school, we are a family; we are more than people in a group. We know, or at least try to remember, that what we have together is meaningful. We understand sadness and joy are part of our life-story; we are a family.
The students understand too that they are more connected with some teachers than with others, and that none of us are the same. The staff members at my current school are great at supporting kids: helping them to find a key adult within the school with which to connect, and a space where kids feel connected.
And yet, change happens. For one of our high school students the upcoming change sits before us consuming joy from every moment. For her, the looming is real. We are a family, the real kind. The kind one chooses, creates, and keeps. We have strategies and back up plans for such things as loomings,
Shouldn’t we rely on one another? After all, isn’t that what schools ought to be?
“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” (Steinbeck, 1937, p. 104).
Last week this high school student was feeling the loom. There were many tearful chats with our high school student, she knows that when I go in June we can still message and chat, and of course I will read her writing, and see her at Open Mic nights. However, we are a family so I shared something more. I shared how amazing I know the teacher down the hall to be when I venture into her room to share my stories. I shared that I visit her room often, just as I had done that day. I shared that the teacher down the hall -and and the teachers down the other hall the other direction too, also listen. They just look different. Often, knowing someone will listen is about permission, reminding, teaching, approval, modeling, and most importantly, the crossing of thresholds.
I’ve been wondering if maybe change wouldn’t be so hard if we had help, if others listened to our stories, and held our hands while we tiptoed through the process. I’ve been crossing the threshold into the room down the hall myself. I’ve shared. I’ve cried a bit. She listens beautifully. Wow, these people here sure remind me of that school from long ago.
I want to share something beautiful with you. Jane (pseudonym) stayed in my room this recess and chatted, and chatted, and chatted. I really think she took your words to heart and is trying to make an effort. I had supervision but I just skipped out on it and hung out with her.
Thank-you for doing that for me, for her, for us. I am worried about her and I really want her to know I will be there for her. Hopefully the seed has been planted and we can care for it and watch it grow (is that lame?) I don’t care.
Let this warm your heart.
Love, respect, and kindness.
M. (The teacher down the hall)
Next fall I return to teach at the school that I once thought of as magical. And perhaps it still is. However, I know the treasures I saw there I often also see here every day, living in the kindness of those with whom I teach. Listening isn’t such an anomaly as I once believed it to be. I think this is because I too have gotten better at crossing thresholds myself, sitting down and allowing others in.
On a Friday about three weeks ago, just after drama/choir practice while I was post-conferencing with a student, I received an email stating that my transfer was confirmed. Next year I will be teaching at John Chisholm Alternate School in Moose Jaw.
I was really happy for about 4 minutes – I looked towards the grade 12 student sitting across from me. He graduates at the end of this year, yet he wore the look like a four year, that look of certainty that I’d always be here, perched on the corner of the desk, on the counter, staying late after choir or basketball, here listening to or sharing stories. I watched his face. His features moved into a sort of contorted calm. The storying space he’s found these past few years lives now inside him. This space is no longer tied to the classroom, to the basketball court, to the short-stories, to the hours spent chatting after school or, really, sigh, even to me. It is his stories that matter. “It’s a good move for you. I’ll help the others on Monday.” He looked down then, and then, back up, and he was again the youthful-teary-eyed kid from moments before. And then he left. He said he’d stop in and say hi, even have coffee when he was in town on Saturdays to work on projects with my daughter. And then he left. As I watched him go, I wondered if it was my face I saw mirrored in his puffy cheeks. I am ready; I am just not always as brave as I seem.
That next Monday I had to tell my kids that I would be changing schools next year… At the urging of a dear friend and teacher on staff, I told the kids in first period. I know I’ve had more difficult teaching days. There are suicide-stories that are part of my teaching story. There are days when kids have walked out. There have been times when I’ve held kids as they’ve wept in pain because of situations beyond any of our control. There have been days when kids have been missing and we’ve driven around into the night looking for them. Those days have been tough. That Monday ranks among them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve moved schools before. I’ve said goodbye to students before; three years ago when I left my previous school I thought the pain and ache of leaving there would never subside…
Kids are not names on an attendance list nor are they only faces in a room. These kids have been part of my family for three years. We listen to each other. We look out for each other. That first period we sat. That day we kept busy.
Though we cried, I don’t think we really wept until a few days later. I arrived for class then already in tears and was met by senior students who had questions, who wanted to spend time in our space to share stories, to push back. They wanted me to share the movie I’d made of our “storying” for my final course for my graduate thesis work. After all, this is the work that is ultimately pulling me away from our space.
I shared the video with the senior kids and by the afternoon, the 9s & 10s had caught wind of this sharing and insisted I share the video with them as well. But sharing is difficult. Leaving is difficult. One of my grade 10 students – a kind, gentle 18 year old – who watched the video earlier and who had come to our story space just this past September, who has had many school-stories filled with negativity (stories to leave by) and learned in our space to tell his own stories to live by, is struggling with my leaving. He went home.
After we watched the video, the rest of us walked and walked.
Over the next few days, many of the kids, in their own gentle way, stopped in. It was like they knew, like they had times slotted in, though, of course they didn’t. What they shared with me was that they believed this transition was a good one. They shared they were proud. They shared that they felt I would fit well at JC. The kids spoke of my needs – not theirs. The kids responded with kindness. They spoke of this transition in a way that said it was needed to continue the work of honouring stories.
They shared that stories matter.
You know, it has taken me weeks to write these few paragraphs. I just can’t seem to capture how much the past three years with these kids has meant to me. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to live in the midst of their stories. They are amazing human beings. They have taught me so much.
When I arrived here three years ago, I missed my old home. Now I know I have another home too; home is a storying space inside. My students have taught me how to listen, how to share, and when & why we share our stories. How will I ever honour that gift?
When you do not want me but need me, I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, I must go. ~Nanny McPhee.
Late last week, one of the kids in grade 11, Sydnee, looked at me, smiled beautifully, slowly, came over and hugged me.
I said, “I’m not spending the next two months crying, Sydnee Marie!”
She smiled, “Yes, Yes you are.”
She’s probably right.
I love our kids. I will continue to know them.
They are my family
We have snooped abandoned houses, shared tea at four in the morning, played basketball all night, rubbed regurgitated fur on our cheeks. We have held each other while we shared our stories of death, illness, loss, suicide, abuse, addiction, fear, oppression, and indifference. And we have laughed. Oh, we have laughed. We have sat around our class tables pulled together, around campfires we made, atop snow piles we shoveled, in thickets filled with wood tics and we have laughed until our sides ached, until our cheeks hurt, our eyes blurred until our stories mattered; we have laughed.
We have shut our door and talked it through. We have hiked it out. And then, we have done it all again.
We have opened our journals; we have sent text messages, picked up the phone and just checked in because, “I know you’ll worry.” We have let each other find our own way – turned to story and just let be – because that is trust too.
We remember. We remember because we have storied.
We remember because we are family. Mostly, we remember because we love each other.
So, I’m changing schools next fall.
Leaving home is difficult. Sydnee was right, I’ll likely cry for the next two months. I’ll likely always be smiling-crying; I am so proud of my kids.
I like that all of us know that none of us have any intention of saying goodbye.
I love my family, yes, I’m crying…
I have been thinking about trust and loyalty. I have been thinking about my Dad.
I have been thinking about family spaces.
Snuggled on the sofa last night with Jess, my daughter, we shared about my Dad, Albert, and about family spaces.
This story is for you, for Jess, for me, for Alec & George, for my Dad, for the kids now and the kids who came before, and certainly, for the Snow Shoveling Five.
This is for us.
This is for our family. This is for our family-story. Please, share your family-story…
A few weeks ago my Inclusive Education cohort at the University of Regina got into a passionate debated over the use of cell phones in the classroom.
Part of me feels like this is such a tired and old discussion. Yet, at other times, I know, because the discussion was filled with confusion, and because of comment’s like, “Aren’t you afraid of kids having your cell number?” and, “It’s just too personal,” these discussions are still needed.
But the discussion only focused on kids and cell phones, and so often a whole other group other than the kids gets missed: families.
I also encourage my kids’ families to connect. And not only with their kids, but with me: stay in touch with your kids, stay in touch often with me and stay up-to-date with what and how we’re doing here in the class.
It’s how we begin to grow as a classroom family.
We listen and we connect. We chat and we connect. We share and we connect. We connect and we trust. It’s pretty amazing, really.
Many of the adults in my kids’ lives like to stay in contact with the school. For me, emails tend to be long, and like many of my teaching colleagues, I’m busy. 140 characters or so feels just about the perfect length.
Last Sunday, though, as I was busy working on a University paper, my cell phone lit up.
“We called you first.”
The key adults for one of my student’s were calling to share news that my student had decided to move. The student’s key adults were concerned and, to say the least, sad too. For the past ten months, for many hours a day, for this family, I’ve been another caring adult. Last Sunday, they needed someone with whom to share their concerns.
After all, aren’t we as teachers connecting too? Doesn’t that start with building a sense of classroom family? Are we or are we not then connected beyond the students in our rooms.
I listened while they shared the events that led to my student’s decision to move, and I agreed, yes, I’d love to come for supper and say good bye. And then, I set the phone down and cried.
I cried for my student’s best friend who needs him. I cried for the basketball team who will miss him. I cried for the drum set in our homeroom that will stay silent next fall. I cried because my kid is leaving. I cried because I wonder if, as my student steps towards his teachers next fall, scared and lost, and asks for support, will he find it? Will he seek it? Has he learned well enough to use his words and ask for what he needs?
I cried for my boy.
Make no mistake, I am a teacher. I am not a counsellor or a social worker, but you bet, I am a community member and a friend, and just as I am with my own girl, I am always a mom. I cried because I used to think it was OK for my kids to leave, but I’m learning the ‘OK’ feels only ‘OK’ when they are in grade 12. It’s ‘OK’ when we’ve shared all the stories we need to share, when they are almost grown, and this sure doesn’t feel near to ‘OK’ to me.
Like my student’s loving supportive caregivers, we all need more time.
Every day, my student was a gift galloping in the front doors, questioning, challenging, smiling, wondering, offering, encouraging.
So last Sunday, I answered my cell phone and listened while my student’s key adults here, shared about their boy who has spent the previous week walking around the house in his school jersey, set to step away…
They asked nothing from me, but to come for a meal. And I agreed.
For me, teaching and learning lives in personal connections. Always has, always will. If you share a story with me, spend a period in my room, hike with me, you’ll soon come to know, I’m irrationality crazy about my kid(s). My kids’ families know it and they value our classroom family.
Sherman Alexie states in my favourite middle-years book, “Nervous means you want to play. Scared means you don’t want to play.” I’m in this profession because giving voice to youth matters most to me. I am unable to separate educator from being a mom, a friend, a learner, a child or a woman. And sure, I am always nervous. And nervous is a good, good thing. It makes me cautious and caring, and better planned, and more passionate, and more fiercely resilient than I can possible express. Mostly, it keeps me focused on putting the needs of kids first.
So here is what I’ll share…
I’ll let my student know that he always has us, his team, and that our classroom door will always remain open. The family of our classroom is tangible, after all.
I’ll tell him how proud we are of him. And more importantly, that he has friends here, and a family here, that needs him and loves him very much. And that this family and this family love includes me too.
I’ll remind him how successful he has been here both in school and out of school, and that I believe he will find those same successes there, too. I’ll tell him to never forget the finale of the winter concert, the elaborate breakfasts on the field trip, the 33-year-old provincial track record that he shattered, the conference basketball finals his team played in for the first time in our school’s memory, and the beauty of the poem of the girl on the swing, because after all, all of that belongs to him.
And I’ll hug him and I’m sure I’ll cry. I’ll make certain that he knows I’m really here too, and then I’ll make certain he has my cell number.
And then, I’ll let my boy go.