Tag: joy

Keeping Talking

~

My school division recently launched a locally developed course, Mental Health Studies 20L. This course is designed specifically to meet the needs of learners’ in our division. The course addresses positive mental health, common mental health challenges, understanding stigma in relation to mental illness, and mental health and addictions. Teachers are nudged to take up the task of offering this course, helping students and school communities break down mental health stigma.

Hmm. I was in pre-start up meetings Monday with my two counterparts, the other ‘Grad Coaches’ in our division. Our mandate, or one of our mandates, is to help students at risk of not graduating to graduate on time.

Recently, I read Zac Chase’s thoughts about living educational mandates and the reality of living our work:

“I’m supposed to be talking about standards, though, right? Where’s my rhetoric around problems of practices, data-driven decision making, and instructional design?

What nerve do I have shunning my innovator’s mindset; deciding not to teach like a champion, a pirate, or my hair is on fire and focusing on something as ephemeral and un-quantifiable as joy.”

I want to talk about joy.

I need to talk about joy.

And while I do, we are also going to talk. About everything. And in this sharing space, talking is going to be ok.

~

We grad coaches sat together Monday mucking through the often hardwork of figuring the logistics of offering this new locally developed course with only two weeks to go before the start of classes, the often trickiness of the content, and the often tenderness of our students, and be certain, the pain of each of our own lived experiences.

The conversation was messy. We circled around and back to ideas, to plans, sifting through thoughts. And circled on. There were tears and smiles and harsh looks and gentle knowings.

By phone, we chatted with one of the course developers, clarifying the fundamental need to offer the course as an elective, allowing students the choice to engage with big ideas and potentially painful topics. This isn’t a core subject after all, it’s different.

Would we sit on it, spend the fall planning? Would we push through, bring in outside agencies, where possible and forge ahead, as an elective, having the tough talks, living vulnerable. Or would we pause, plan carefully and launch a well crafted, course next September?

~

See. This isn’t a core subject. It’s different.

~ Friday two of my former students were in a horrific altercation, one dying, illegibly, at the other’s hand. See. I am tired of losing kids.

That’s important. I want you to read that again.

I am tired of losing kids.

Many people have asked me if I knew the boys. And what they want is a storied telling. Stop. In all ways. Please.

One came to me years ago a gangly grade nine. I took him on his first outdoor education trip. He had very little. My dad scrounged together a sleeping bag, camping supplies. We were camped in a deep ravine, total backcountry kind of stuff. He ran free, like his smile was released from his belly and he was set to chase it. He smiled right through to the end of the year.

The other came to me years later. We wrote laters one summer while he was hoping to set his world on longed for path. The letters began after my dad’s stroke. He made a wooden cribbage board, and he gave it to me to share with my dad once dad was recovered. I shared stories of dad’s teachings, and of hope. The letters came written on long pieces of foolscap, remember that? Folded in half and then a third. Printed carefully.

Not a core class.

I am thinking about the ripple effect from the events Friday. The boys with partners, with babies of their own now. I am thinking deeply of the many, many, many lives so forever and unquestionably shifted.

I am thinking of my friends, my colleagues who live the pain of loosing kids

This is important.

Last year I did more than 15 suicide interventions. I am an Student Support teacher. There are six other SSTs at my school. How many kids did we talk with? Add the councillors? Now our caring and attentive staff. We are over 50. In Canada suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24 (Health Commissions of Canada, 2017). This statistic has not changed in 20 years. I learned this fact from the MHS20L curriculum. I feel it too.

This is important.

Tuesday my husband, Alan, asked how I am going to welcome my kids back the first day.

“Hug them.”

Wednesday, again. Again. Someone inquired about the boys.

Let me tell you. I love my kids. I can tell you something beautiful about each and every each student I have taught.

Needed.

Talk openly. Talk hard. Talk hope. Start now.

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Choosing Joy

rock joy

Last week I received two letters in the mail. I wasn’t surprised until I realized that the letters had been addressed by me.

I’d written them the previous summer during a difficult period. At the time, the letters were a reflective activity for a summer institute I was completing. The words on each envelope were in my handwriting yet the notes inside where different; one letter had been written to me from my learning partner during the institute and the other was written to me from me.

Both letters were about hope for the upcoming year.

~

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. A few weeks ago a friend shared that he wishes to live an extraordinary life. Me too. I want joy for me, for my daughter and for the students I teach.

I like being happy. I like that I live my life seeking my sacred spaces, seeking my safe people, and seeking serenity. I also write as a means to seek joy.

I write because I am filled with narratives that weave our common tales into extraordinary stories-to-live-by. I believe, in time, I weave my stories into joy. I find hope in stories. I find joy in sharing stories.

Here’s what I mean:

I follow George Couros’s work. I understand that he’s a well-respected educator-leader. And there’s much to celebrate in that. However, that is not why I follow his work.

The truth is that it’s always someone’s story that most inspires me

 I follow George because of the way he honours those he loves. I adore the beautiful way that he shares his love for his brother’s children, for his dogs and mostly for his parents. See, I love my parents too.

I don’t know George personally, but I feel connected to him because of our lived-stories. Each of us has someone we call ‘family’, and for George and me, the ‘who’ of our family is rather clear.

I’m in the midst of living my thesis story. In this space I am beginning to understand that the most profound influence of my journey has been my parents, and their teaching stories. This past year has been filled with retellings, restoryings; I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my Dad or my Mom. This past year George and his family lost their Dad.

Last week I held the two letters for a long time. I realised my learning partner in that moment would be holding the letter I had written for her.  What had I shared with her? I know I had taken the blank card home and had taken care with the words I had shared. I remember that. What had I shared with her? I wondered how she is doing. I wondered why we didn’t stay connected. I wondered if her world is filled with joy.

Oh, I remember her stories!

b's note

At the beginning of summer George wrote about making this upcoming year our best year.

Extraordinary words from a person who just lost his father…

Our lives are story. There is so much beauty in living. “What makes me hopeful is not so much the certainly of the find, but that my movement is search. It is not possible to search without hope,” (Freire; 1997).

As I pulled the card I had written for myself from its envelope, I wondered what message I’d find inside. I wondered what really had mattered to me in that space of fear so many months ago. I wondered what, in all of my words of hope, would matter now.

What would matter now?

A really long time-ago during my undergrad studies, my Physical Education professor once pushed back against all the structure and formalistic necessity of schooling, asking us to pause and to consider other’s stories and what was possible for kids and families. She asked us to not get caught up in getting caught up, asking instead, “How important is it?”

I took a deep breath. I like being happy. 

Slowing, I opened my letter.

note me

This is our best year yet, filled with joy. I’d like to hear your stories.

The Gifts of Her Space

The best part of my world is being able to share this space with Jessy Lee, my daughter. She amazes me. She is my best support andjess and me cabin my loudest advocate. She is almost 16 years old, an avid reader and a published author. These last few months I’ve watched her craft her first novelette. Okay, not her first long text, but her first fully researched well thought-out and stressed-over text. Watching her live this process I’ve come to remember a few things: she’s passionate, she’s resilient and she’s the best teacher I know.

This past summer while I crammed my-brain-full-of-often-regurgitated-goodness-don’t-think-for-yourself-articles, my daughter was living her craft. She attended Sage Hill Teen Writing experience for young writers where she learned that often the best things to write about are the farcical events from personal experience. At the end of that week Jess, my sister and I attended Saskatchewan Festival of Words. While each of us had full passes and we all snuck off on our own during the day to savour our favourite authors and genres, we met up during larger sessions. While the three of us ate lunch that Friday in July, my sister and I were quite downcast, missing Don Kerr’s noon reading from the previous year that reminded us of our spunky Nana; my sister and I simply braved Douglas Gibson, a publisher. But Jess was riveted. She stayed afterwards and chatted. She nabbed the book I’d purchased – of course I’d purchased Gibson’s book. He’s Munro’s publisher, and all things Munro must come home, to be read dozens of times and alter my perspectives of self, of relationship, of faith and of conformity – and Jess had Gibson sign the book.

“That’s so me. If he can do that, so can I.” Jess stood fierce. Her soccer nickname is Shin-Kicker and the glaze of her eyes as she then gathered Maureen Jennings’ books deposited them in front of me and strode out the door to Jennings’ session had nothing on any game play. She’d simply made up her mind.

By late August the characters had come together. The plot was beginning to form. We’d go for long car rides, her forgoing the chance to soak-up time behind the wheel prior to her driver’s test to hold me captive to discuss characterization – Can you envision them being friends? Would you do this? – and setting – What do you mean this feels like Alberta? Well that’s just wrong. How? Oh, okay, so the river needs to run nearer town; I’ve the town mapped out. This doesn’t make sense if the rail line came through Saskatchewan only a few years before the murder – and then we’d make yet another pass through The Avenues.

I began receiving texts on Fridays last Fall:

Take your time, I want to write.

Why not go out for supper with friends, there’s some research I need to do.

In her clothing class she longed for a research project in the time period of her story. Dinner became filled with lengthy stories dancing between friends, soccer and detailed descriptions of 1910 footwear.

Do you know?books

She read all Jennings work. We watched the Murdock Mysteries over and over and over.

And she wrote. I’ve never seen anyone so focused.

This summer at the Festival she had listened to Terry Fallis share how he had published his novel online with much success chapter by chapter before the novel had been picked up by a publisher. This had happened before Fallis had submitted his work for the Leacock and had won.

Though Jess has been published traditionally, she wanted to try publishing her own story online. Last summer she expressed that if Fallis could do it, so could she. Not much daunts Jess.

And she understood she needed this online perspective. After all, she’s going to open her own publishing house. Ask her, she’ll tell you.

Watch. She’ll show you.printed

So, by last November the novelette was crafted, printed and we were back to driving around. The jaunts became longer. Much coffee was consumed. We visited many small towns hours away.

All of this and she plays competitive soccer five nights a week, writes to perform spoken word and there is school too.

The point? She is living it!

I’ve heard writers, friends, family and educators say that the difference between good writers and great writers is that they write. But I am beginning to wonder if the difference between writers (all of us) and those (kids) who grow up to publish great Jess reading 2writers is that they have been taught the skills to create with minimal support, they seek critical feedback without pause, they envision themselves as becoming successful and, most importantly, they find great personal joy in the process.

Now, imagine if all our learning spaces might be like this…

Like They Owned The Place

Today was spectacular. The Middle-Years kids laughed. The Middle-Years kids stayed behind after class like they owned the place!

See, Tuesday was our first day together. I’ve not been with the M.Y. crew for a year. Oh, sure, a few of the kids know me. They were in my Arts Ed class two years ago when they were part of group of kids who taught pre-service teachers about student-led learning. These same kids were the group who created installation art, braking away from their classmates, visiting the Dean of Education’s Office, and leaving a wee sculpture resting on someone’s desk!

But Tuesday the entire group sat frozen. While some might like the idea of sensing fear within their students, this is not me! Afterwards, at the staff table, I nearly cried. And I sulked all evening!

#fail

Most of the students I teach are high school kids, and I am comfortable among them. Yet at the same time, I have ached for our middle-years kids.

That first day, with three grades together, four subjects wrapped-up into an hour a day, every time I shifted or began to speak, the room fell deeper into what felt an irretrievable silence.

They were scared. Oooh!

The second day I tried to ease us into our first project, and though the kids were trilled to be up and moving about the room, it was still me leading.

I teach in a small school, and sometimes it is easy to overlook the stresses that jumping into the higher grades and/or spaces brings. Though for the kids I teach, the higher grades might simply mean a stroll of forty feet, the journey is real. The change is profound.

There is a great deal of pressure in the elementary-high school shift, metaphorical or tangible. I tell all our kids I want them to leave happier then when they arrived to school in the morning. For the first two days of this new year, our M.Y. kids did not leave with joy.

About 40 minutes into today’s lesson, I had had enough. What walloped me in that moment was that I had recently taken a class where my learning needs, where my narrative had been silenced.

If I can help it, I will listen!

I asked everyone to drop what they where doing. I asked our kids to join me in a circle.

What’s our question?

Why is this important?

How would you like to go about figuring this out?

To my left a student said he’d like to think with rock climbing.. I said that sounded thrilling! Then, the room exploded.

Their homeroom teacher had told me they where excited to be hanging with me. If I had stopped long enough to listen to them, to remember their stories, to recall that they are experts at leading the way (in the circle discussion today the group talked about race &privilege, and began to critique how whiteness affects them ) and stopped trying to teach them we might not have waisted two and a half days!

The lunch bell rang and the kids where making plans. Outside, the senior kids had to wait, their space had been changed!

#yay

The best part: A grade seven student had sat red-eyed hunched over for most of the three days. All of a sudden she was beaming! Here were smiles and words and questions and joys! She asked if she could bring her tablet to our class…

Yes!

She asked three more times making certain I was telling the truth. She smiled as she left the room. Our room, chairs in disarray, no one in assigned spots, excited to jump into different and difficult discovery.

#messy
#better
#home

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