Tag Archives: listening

Maybe The Trees

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

Here’s mine.

#compassion

Okay, here’s what I tweeted:

 

2014-06-30, 10:41 AMMy Take Away from this year: #compassion I learned to listen, to attend with my heart, to listen to the story I am retelling, gently.

 

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.

The biggies.

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.

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Home, Always.

storytime june 2013Last week I moved out of one school and into another.

Mostly, that’s true.

However, the stories remain. I’ve brought all of them with me.

All of the resources, exemplars and memorabilia are now packed and sitting in boxes in a different building. The packing of all those stories happened in a flurry of four days.

A week earlier, 30 moving boxes had arrived. The division had said they would be able to move my things in early August; upon overhearing that news, my boys had said they would show up the last day of school and that they would bring their half-tons.

So, the pack was on.

It went rather smoothly, except that it was final exam time, report card time and the most difficult part, I really had to leave!

I had readied myself for the oncoming rush of emotion. I had steeled myself.

I was ready!

I cried every moment.

Packing consisted of simply stuffing my dearest and best treasures into boxes. I cried every moment; the kids didn’t fit into boxes, or not voluntarily!team pic june 2013

I discovered a few things during the pack that I didn’t know about or had forgotten: a parachute, 80 bouncy balls and 7 machetes. Somewhere during my focus on packing those last few boxes it seems I had come to have already wrapped-up my magic wand long before it was time to pack it away as well. Oh, our stories that had once belonged only here to our family classroom-space, now belonged too to our shared adventures and our stories, and live long in our collective memory.

Last week, I said goodbye to our graduates. Students in our cozy little K-12 family school kept stopping by for hugs and to share stories.

I cried every moment.

Soon, all 30 boxes began to brim.

That final Wednesday, the boys backed a half-ton up to the school’s front doors and we loaded the graffittied out-of-tune piano, andpiano move hauled it into the city to its new space. Sure, I had heard the well meaning words of some, “Cori, do you really need to take the piano?”

However, I’ve come to listen to different stories too. One of the students at my new space, upon seeing the piano, rested his fingers atop the keys; the piano fitting perfectly in its new smaller home.

After that move, the five members of the moving crew went for slushies before heading back. After all, we needed more time, and I suppose, I still had year-end final Language Learning conversations that afternoon.

Friday arrived and I was panicked. The staff had offered to set aside their own work and venture into my class to help pack. However, at 10:00 am a team of grade 9 & 10 students arrived. “We’re here to help.” And they set to work, without my direction and because they wanted to be there, to help me, to honour our family. A few had been there all week helping, even though there had moring team june 2013been no classes.

Silently, solemnly, as family, we packed boxes.

Around 11:30 am a community member also suddenly arrived. She and the morning team loaded her SUV. She suggested she’d meet us around 3:30 pm, saving me a return trip later that night.

I realized I was surrounded with love. I was surrounded by family.

Then, the boys arrived. I had taken to wearing my sunglasses indoors.

We loaded our vehicles. I cried every moment.afternoon team june 2013

We stuffed my SUV full. We loaded the half-ton to overflowing.

I hugged the staff who had been so profoundly supportive, and then the kids and I pulled away.

I remember several years ago having moved from my previous school to this one. I was having such a heart-missing difficult time loving this space, these kids. I really had loved my previous home. It took me a long time to love my current kids that much. Yet, I did and then, something different happened along the way. Stories. We shared stories. We listened to each other share our stories. And they became ready for me to go. Now, we are both ready.

As I pulled onto the highway and headed east, I knew that all the moments we have listened to each other, shared with each other, we have been learning to honour our own stories. These story spaces will continue! We have come to understand some of the complexities of telling, living, retelling & reliving our own narratives. We have come to understand the beauty of a trusting space that supports our sharings.

So I pulled into the new school-yard-space and we unloaded the boxes.all in one home room june 2013

Okay, I drank the iced cap that the boys had stopped and picked up for me. I slurped, wore my sunglasses as a hair band while the boys filed past me, unloading boxes from three different vehicles. Then, we headed to my house to unload bookshelves. Afterwards, they drove away, leaving my daughter and I sitting on our front steps a little before 5:00 pm on the final day of school.

They drove away, but were not gone. That’s family. That’s what it’s like when family changes homes. Sad, but we take our stories along with us. Some can be boxed, most travel with us, staying perched for hours on our front stoops, tears streaming down faces.

Home, always.

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The Importance of Crossing Thresholds

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.

Late last week, this message arrived to my inbox:Miranda

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.

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Listening with Story

I am a storyteller. I love listening to stories.Coldwell

When I was a young girl I’d follow my Dad and my sister on treks as they talked plant botany, Dad pausing every once in a while to turn and change the science into narrative, “Wolf willow has an interesting story.” He’d stand feet planted shoulder-width apart, take off his well-warn Tilly hat with the Russian thistle tucked into its fold, wipe his brow with his forearm, look off over the prairie and something magical would happen. He’d listen for story to come.

Often, my sister, then three big long years older, would fill in these stories. How had she heard them? I’d sometimes remember to wonder, but then, too often I’d be too busy to notice. I’d have fallen behind, playing in brome grass, savouring rose hips, snoozing among sagebrush, until Dad paused. Yet eventually, I’d know.

Dad taught me to listen. He taught me to follow.

What I found difficult was leading with story.

A while back another adult told me to “pretend” that I’ did not hear a student’s personal story. When I’d heard “pretend” I was stunned. My first thought was that I had misunderstood the adult’s words. I asked the person to clarify.  

Pretend not to have heard.

I remember how I felt.

Had this person not noticed the way I interact with student? Kids are often stopping by our classroom space for hugs, or to hang out, to chat.  The comforting space that lives between students and myself doesn’t only happen in our classroom, it travels with us, wherever we are. Often this confuses people, the ease the students and I have with each other.

How could anyone not understand the way I live among kids and their stories?

So I asked for clarification a third time.

I had not been listing to a student’s easy story. I had been listening to a difficult story. These are the silenced stories that school spaces often keep hidden behind principals’ closed doors, around staffroom tables and in documents filled out and filed in cabinets, silenced by folks who spend little time actually attending to people/kids.

When I was in elementary school I failed a grade. It took me decades to be able to share that story.  When I failed grade five in French Immersion and moved into the English program, you bet I pretended for a long long while. I told counterstories about why I was at a different school in my own neighbourhood. Clandinin et al explain counterstories; “These stories are rooted temporally as individual stories shift and change in response to changing events and circumstances” (2006).

I pretended.

Today I knowingly try not to craft counterstories about my elementary years. I share these stories because often, I’ll sit next to a student, who like me then, sees letters and words both forwards and backwards. Who understands words’ meaning but has difficulty expressing these meanings or can, but only through the glint in her eyes. Sometimes, when I share my-grade-five cori-who-spent-days-bouncing-a-rubber-ball-in-resource-story, kids are better able to tell stories to live by

All those years ago, did I want to tell my story? No. Did everyone who lived alongside me know my story? Yes.

Now I’m not saying I should be running around telling others’ stories.

I’m saying – I’m not pretending not to hear.

What if the story is a suicide-story? An abuse-story?

Because this was the reality, the story I was told to ignore. And then it’s not possible to pretend anyway. Thomas King tells us that when we have heard a story we are forever part of that story, our perspective is forever changed. Story cannot be unheard. (2003).

I will never pretend.

I will try to attend to story, I try to live alongside story and seek spaces that allow story to come.

My Dad taught me that.

Maybe the person who asked hadn’t spent enough time around our story spaces. Maybe this person really didn’t know I believe we are connected through story.

Mostly, I think this is my fault. I think I fell behind. Far behind.

I forgot to lead with story, even the difficult and silencing story.

I forgot, but I’m listing again.

My daughter taught me this.

Friday the high school student hosted an Open Mic. A grade twelve student shared his story.

Later, one of the much younger students messaged me, saying she never knew how strong he was until he shared. She never knew.

We must lead through story.

Story teaches us this.

Stories are, after all, all that we are. (King, 2003).

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Verb? Chatting with Zac

Stories are complex; “They are beautiful” (Lugones, 1987).

Recently I was chatting with Zac Chase. During our conversation for #LearningGrounds he asked a few questions. I stammered while I answered some questions, yet others I answered well enough. However, when we were done chatting, I had the feeling that I had sounded like a text book. I don’t like jargon, but sadly I often use it. I prefer clarity. As I write this now, I know I am also not keen on regret. Besides I liked sharing and I liked that Zac had asked about stories. I liked that he had asked about what is important to me. I felt honoured. Next time, I’d like to listen to Zac’s stories.

Zac asked me to elaborate on why I use the word story as a verb: to story and storying. I don’t think I answered his question.

I story. I say and write and do and live storying often.

Interestingly, Zac also paused to wonder about the citations popping up in my posts. There is no separation between the two questions Zac posed.

The first time someone said these words to me or, said them so that I heard them, I was 29 years old. I was standing near a doorframe on the second floor of the university. Though I don’t think I was near a corner, I felt pushed that way. I had been explaining why I needed to separate my personal narratives from my teaching philosophy and practice. I was storying a narrow dominate narrative. Kumashiro helps us understand dominate narratives as oppressive stories and practices, “masked by or couched in concepts that make us think this is the way things ought to be” (2009). I remember feeling the ‘there is no separation’ lighting bolt and being so affronted by the assumption in its meaning. “What gall to imply there is no separating between past, present and future? What gall to imply that all that I have tried to keep hidden is actually visible, connected among us?” There was no one actually speaking then. It was terrifying. It was messy. It was beautiful. It was a retelling. Sean Lessard calls this a teaching. (2011).

To try to add some clarity to the first question, I’ll begin with Zac’s second question. Citations are easy. I adore what I am reading. I enjoy what others are writing. Why wouldn’t I share? I share with the students I live alongside. I share fiction. When Munro wallops me with crude truths so that I interrupt classroom silent reading by tossing a novel across a table and onto the floor, you bet I share. Why wouldn’t I share all literary treasures? There’s another reason too. I am selfish. I want to share the beauty that students and I find in honouring our narratives.

As well, Zac asked me, and perhaps a bit hesitantly and too happily, if I worry that others view this work as lesser work, easier work? Heck, even my own family has been known to refer to narrative inquiry as navel gazing. My mentor/instructor at the university where I am doing my graduate work, a colleague to many instructors who discount NI says she receives at minimum of two emails a week challenging the authenticity of narrative inquiry; my mentor is a tenured doctor at the university specializing in narrative inquiry. Questioning is part of story.

I am deliberate. I need to be.

I’m not so naïve as to assume narrative inquiry fits everyone, nor can it be understood comfortably by everyone. Stories are messy. Yet more difficulty to understand is that storying (openly attending to narrative) is even messier. My grad writing group meets every second Tuesday. One of our common bonds is our research methodology – narrative inquiry – we are storytellers. Last Tuesday after I shared from my work-in-progress, one of the group members leaned over, grabbed my hand, thanked me and said that no matter how much she wants to, she will never be able to share openly. And she is one of the few who invites storying into educational spaces. Storying is “the attitude that carries us through the activity, a playful attitude [that] turns the acidity into play” (Lugones, 1987). 

Storying is boundless and resonates with each telling, retelling and reliving of our narrative. Through our connected storying spaces, place is created. This connected way of living and being is the creative process of storying. This is the beauty of the complexity of stories. (Massumi, 2002).

Stories are beautiful. (Lugones, 1987).

I story because when stories are not honoured my narrative becomes someone else’s way for me to live and be in the world; I become someone else’s agenda. Not easily, but in time, if our narratives are silenced, we begin to tell a story to better match narratives others tell for us. Kumashiro writes, “What students learn depends significantly on the unique lenses they use to make sense of their experiences” (2009). Most of us have these told-for-us stories. The stories when family, community, friends or teachers have tried to or succeed in storying us. Often within school spaces, when students begin to tell, retell, and relive their own narratives they do “not identify” (Lugones, 1987) with dominate narratives. Often, students are “coaxed, seduced” (1987) through dominate practices to tell a dominate story. Students, marginalized by told stories often find a “profound desire to identify with” (1987) these dominate narratives.

The trick here is “to understand a loving way out of it” (1987).

Stories matter.

I need to be deliberate.

A few years ago I began to pay attention to online work. I began to note the work, not the authors, which gained notice. Certainly, but not exclusively, citations set many apart. Sometimes, even with citations, the work felt fantastical. However, folks seem to listen.

I’ve been researching narrative inquiry in my undergrad and graduate work for a long lime. I’ve lived in relational narrative spaces my whole live. I’ve learned to trust listening spaces. So I’ll cite some of my work so that you will be better able to live alongside narrative too, first here and later with student narrative. I can try.

I want this work to matter. I want this work to matter – without me.

The playfulness that gives meaning to our activity includes uncertainty, but in this case the uncertainty is an openness to surprise. This is a particular metaphysical attitude that does not expect the world to be neatly packaged, ruly. Rules may fail to explain what we are doing. We are not self-important, we are not fixed in particular constructions of ourselves, which is part of saying that we are open to self-construction. We may not have rules, and when we do have rules, there are no rules that are to us sacred. We are not worried about competence. We are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. While playful we have not abandoned ourselves to, nor are we stuck in, any particular “world.” We are there creatively. (Lugones, 1987).

Stories are all that we are. (Thomas King, 2003).

So I story. I create. And like Zac, I listen.

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Stories to Live By (Stories to Leave By)

Every other Tuesday I attend a writing/story group. Attendance isn’t a requirement of my graduate work, but yet I feel it is a useful space to share stories with other grad students who tend to have a relational narrative way of living and being with the world. Along with my instructor, there are six of us. Everyone shares.  

Last Tuesday I shared a two and a half page poem about a former student’s suicide journey and how my then principal and I had come to journey alongside his narrative. After I had shared, the group’s feedback almost stopped, stuck between discomfort over both the shift in style and content as well as the power of the story, “I feel like you’ve pushed me in the stomach and I don’t quite know how to respond.” I tried to meet my group members’ eyes, but really, the discomfort had been the point of the poem.

I looked toward my instructor, not there to grant grades, simply a woman giving her time, and offering time for story-sharing, pulling us together so we might … I don’t know: grow, create, critique, pause or push.

The purpose in sharing the story was to show through narrative that in so many ways students’ voices are silenced in schools, in classrooms, within teachers. Some stories are told with the hope they live only as hidden-stories.

Darn it! I wanted feedback.  

The poem will become the transition to a larger document I will share with my division in a few weeks. After a few moments of silence and after I had shared the poem’s purpose, many in the group asked if I was worried whether this professional work of opening spaces where student narratives are honoured will put my job at risk.

I wonder.

Pushing the boundaries around silence is messy work. Those on the boundaries listening to narrative for the first time “cringe at the mantra of people growing ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty feet tall with pride as they “disclose” the sexual abuse they suffered at residential school or the relentless cycle of attempts and failures as characters try to put their lives in order. But in all this, there is a delightful inventiveness of tone, a strength of purpose that avoids the hazards of the lament and allows the characters the pleasure of laughing at themselves and their perils,” (King, 2003).

My instructor listens well. She allowed me to talk my way through to understanding how best to figure out this question.

Much of our work attending to the lives of children involves creating safe spaces by listening to each other creating stories to live by. Clandinin et al state we are creating and sharing stories to live by when we are “finding the space with parents and children to try ‘something different’,” (2006). For the most part, our ways of attending to the lives of families and of children creates stories to live by.

But sometimes kids aren’t connected to schools or to their teachers, and they leave. Sometimes, the same thing can be said for teachers who similarly are not connected to their school, to their administrators or to their divisions. And this happens again and again.

I’d sure like to understand why.

When I looked up and met my instructor’s gaze last Tuesday, it is stories to leave by that she was sharing.

Years ago, before my instructor was a Mom, she resigned her teaching role in a large school. Dismayed over changes in the division that demanded shifts in her practice that did not coincide with her philosophy, she resigned. Her departure was an act of activism, though a silent one then. Her choice to leave her position had a lasting effect on her future. Tuesday she shared that when she left, for the most part, only her immediate supervisors knew the reasons for her departure. Hers was a silenced story to leave by.

My work is messy work. “Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous,” (King, 2003). I do not want my work to become a story to leave by.

I hear stories to leave by every day with kids I live alongside.

~

Three years ago I met two brothers – kind kids, busy. They reminded me of me when I was their age. I coached them in junior basketball; they hung out outside my window on Saturdays while I worked late at school. We talked dirt bikes, school, Graffiti Art and life. Through a series of events, the boys had been storied negatively by some adults as trouble makers. I think this was why they liked being with me. I let them tell their silenced story. For hours and hours, while they cleaned the classroom and Art room, they shared. But outside the classroom other stories were being told. Soon not only were the boys able to explain the benefits of moving schools, but it was like no one could read any other story than a story to leave by; “storms can be tricky,” (King, 2003).

And their lingering story, these many years later, some days feels as though, if I were to let it, would become the opening line of my own story to leave by. I just never understood this until I sat down to write this post.

Years ago I met a fluffy haired kid dressed all in black. He knew no other story than a story to leave by and he told it clearly and to anyone who would listen. “I’m a drunk” & “I’m dumb,” (he is not & he is not). He became one of my favourite students. His name is Dylan.

When he graduated his classmate told me it was really important that I speak at his graduation. When I asked why, the classmate said that he had been ready to drop out of school when I had met him. What is important about Dylan’s narrative is that it wasn’t his connection with me that helped him retell his story. Dylan began to tell a story to live by because he had a space where he felt safe sharing his story.

I guess you can say Dylan’s story is my plot.

Last fall I met a senior student, Derek (pseudonym) who had been silenced in his home life and at school. Though he is happy now, and expresses a deep connection to his learning space, Derek arrived open to listening. I arrived open to listening. Derek has a past filled with the kinds of stories which the community and parents caution should not be shared in learning spaces. I find these statements oppressive. I am my stories. We can no more silence student voice than we can be allowed to hide students. Yet often, this is the norm.

Often I wonder how anyone could have chosen not to listen to this young man. But Derek tells me he wasn’t the same then, and I get that. I remember the way I lived alongside my high school teachers. The other day, a community member stopped by the school and Derek, seeing the vehicle, returned to check in on me. He wanted to make certain “I wasn’t’ getting any grief.”

I am amazed how well my students understand the tensioned-stories that I try to keep silent. I know they can read my behaviours, the times my eyes are a bit darker underneath, or when I’m not bouncing around the classroom as much. They listen to me as well as I listen to them.

This weekend, as I sat down to read journals and prep for student-led conferences, Derek, who had been away from school three years and is back, sent this note, “you better not leave until I do,” (Personal notes, 2013).

Last Friday one of my grade ten students decided to transfer.  I wasn’t surprised.  I had been listening to him tell his story to leave by for months. I knew he’d go. Last year, it was a grade eleven student (who has since returned home now to graduate with his friends).  But each story is different. Each child is different.  I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened. The grade ten student and his story to leave by had begun when his best friends moved three years ago. I had tried to help him tell a story to live by.

Why had I allowed him to keep telling it as a story to leave by? Maybe, it was because I knew I’d open a space by listening. Maybe it was because I cannot save kids. Maybe it was because, I just don’t know…

Why do we allow some students transition between places, why do we allow teachers to leave without asking why? Why do we choose not to listen?

Why do we choose not to share our stories to leave by? Why do we stay silent?

I am guilty of silence.

But I’m learning.

When my instructor retold her story to leave by I think she was saying, “Share, for goodness sake, Cori, share. Don’t stay silent.”

Write.

This is messy tension-filled and valuable work.  Do not let the voices of a few force you to be silent.

Stories. “I tell them to myself, to my friends, sometimes to strangers. Because they make me laugh. Because they are a particular kind of story. Saving stories, if you will. Stories that help keep me alive,” (King, 2003).

So, I am pretty sure, Derek’s story, like the stories of so many of our students, is my theme. His story is my theme because so often we have told stories to leave by and have come to tell stories to live by.

Last Friday after our first basketball game while the kids were running amuck in the gymnasium, I shared my week with a friend and colleague. And you know what? He storied in return. He shared a tensioned-filled grief story. And I felt honoured.

More importantly, I felt rooted in our story space.

If I so desperately need this space, so do kids.

Honour stories. Live, tell, retell and live stories to live by.

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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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