17 months ago I successfully defended my thesis. Shortly afterwards, I sought a new role. I also felt, in a way, that I had earned one. No work change happened … Continue reading My Plan
At the provincial grad symposium today, my Director of Education stated, what I believe, the most authentic bit he’s shared since taking the job. He reflected that perhaps (and I’m … Continue reading Making the Causes Visible
Trust and time.
And listening. And relationships.
And belonging. And sharing stories with kids.
Their stories. My stories. And listening
to their stories no matter what.
The cat stories, the lunch stories, the suicide stories.
Staying late, arriving early. Showing up.
Saying I love you and I am proud of you, and meaning it.
Reading aloud to high school kids. Often. Writing with students.
Sharing with students. Admitting I’m wrong. Saying I’m sorry.
Putting aside what I’m doing when a student comes up beside me, to listen.
Knowing that every shared note, every piece of writing, every hello,
Is a love language.
As are the crumpled pages, stomped feet, long tears, and reluctant hugs.
Be gentle and listen deeply.
Ask questions. Remember details. Remember names.
Notice when the room settles into a silence.
Remember then to wonder why, to ask how.
Read cumulative folders.
Stand at the door. Say hello and say goodbye. Text HEY.
Ache at the so longs. Check in.
Drinking coffee, together, honoring them all.
Be open. When a student pulls me off task; do all I can to find the function.
See past the tapping, the staples, the Snapchats, the swear words, the rule-crossings.
Sit in silence. Share stories.
Eat the left-over food the kids bring, made in Home Ec, and the baking brought from home.
Laugh loudly. Laugh often. Smile widely.
Display student work.
Say thank you. Mean it.
Cry with them. Get tired.
Get to the end of the semester, June 30-degrees-with-no-air-and-resounding-pride.
Love my kids. Explain my thinking. Explain it again. And then differently again.
Let kids design the space, even if it’s messy and asymmetrical and might smell.
Try new things.
Teach what excites me.
Share what I read. Go on field trips. Explore.
Learn in a multitude of settings. Question my work. Challenge the norms. Challenge each other.
Respond with kindness.
Ask the kids, about my instruction, about them, for feedback.
Plan with others.
Seek criticism. Reflect.
Be grateful. Be mindful.
Share my students’ successes. Share mine.
Be irrationally crazy about kids. Breathe deeply.
I changed schools this fall, moving from a traditional space, teaching kids I loved and subjects I adored (ELA, Outdoor Education and Arts Education) into a different role. A role I sought. The subject areas, for the most part, have been the same. And I still adore the kids. The move was spurred in part because of my graduate journey, but truthfully, it was time for a change; I needed to know a different story of educator me.
The last four months have been different. Mess is good right?
I expected things to be different. I expected a learning curve as I moved into the role of Student Support Teacher, and I as I began my graduate research. There is much I miss about my former school, but what I miss most is feeling validated.
The educator story of me whispers that I should now be reflecting that this is an internal struggle and I should work it through.
But that’s not how I’m feeling.
In early December the one of my committee members commented that when he feels this way, he blogs.
I live in the midst of groups of kids and yet get very little time to attend to their narratives. I feel continually rushed, as though I never really get to settle-in; I feel as though I’m never really in an at-home-living space with kids, as though I’m moving to the next place, next place, and this makes me want to put my hoody up.
There are moments of gentleness though. There was a morning in early December. Our school family had suffered a loss, our Vice Principal had lost her son a few weeks before. A student, Kate (pseudonym), and I sat around our morning sharing table. Neither of us could yet manage to take off our coats. We were tired and we were sad. Kate shared about missing her brother who had died three months earlier. Our VP joined us then. We asked questions that none of us had the answers to. We cried. We laughed. We didn’t wipe away our tears with our mittens. We sat a long while until finally we joined the rest of our school family for pancakes. These are moments of such beauty. These are moments when our space becomes a curriculum of lives.
Maybe what I need is gentle time with kids, like those after-school moments and come-of-your-own willingness spaces. I ache for them.
The last day before we left for winter break Kate and I sat around our sharing circle with Joe (pseudonym). He is the youngest student in our sharing circle. Kate came up with a plan to keep the three us connected. Kate was really worried about Joe.
“Okay but this is weird,” Joe replied. But his eyes caught mine. I wondered if Kate was worried about the long two weeks away from her circle. I wondered if Kate was worried about missing her brother. I wondered if the hum from her ear buds that don’t drown out well, would be enough. I wondered, as I met Joe’s knowing eyes, if it was Kate who needed a plan.
In December, I attended my last fall term Works-in-Progress graduate group at the University. I feel like such a kid at this table. I feel as though I have little to contribute, as though the world speaks deliberately in academic babble, and I wonder if I should SoundCloud everyone so we might return and reflect on how we share. I sit on my hands. I drink tea and water and coffee, twirling a beverage between my hands and lips to keep busy. The others usually ignore me. I am grateful. Too bad I don’t wear a hoody to Works-in-Progress group, though that’s a story of grade-five-me, of school that fits that sharing space too.
Our knowing of children’s past experiences on their in- and out-of-classroom places was shaped by their storytelling as we continued to hear the numerous accounts of the experiences… As children spoke of resistance to our plotlines of a story of school composed around making spaces for lives, we knew their resistance was an expression of the lack of narrative coherence they felt between our practices and what they knew as school. Our practices were an expression of our stories to live by, of who we were. But we also knew our practices were not coherent with the practices children knew as fitting within their stories of school. (Huber et al, 2004)
At my Works-in-Progress group, we are pulled together by one of my committee members, a professor at the University, and by our common focus of narrative inquiry. The tea is good. And so are the stories. There are two of us working on our master thesis; the others on their doctorate. In December, I sat at the table feeling as I sound now, a bit bitter, feeling a bit wiser too about the role of the University in my research, in my practice, and in the lives of students and families. I tried to stay positive. There were cookies.
The group was discussing the potential of narratives in Teacher Education programs. They were only discussing the value of narratives for pre-service teachers. I almost lost my gourd. The conversation felt so… disconnected. In that moment all I could think about what a student of mine who had been arrested two days before and whose stories had often been silenced by school or told for him. I almost pounced into the conversation, “The value of narrative is when my grade ten student is doing this with a grade two student down the hall.”
Okay. I wasn’t eloquent.
I was frustrated because the people around my sharing circle, some I trust, some I don’t, all with a great deal of influence in the education world, where having what felt like yet another conversation that did not included elementary and high school students. Where were their narratives?
I cried during the rest of group and the cookies got soggy. The PhD-ers suggested I send them my works-in-progress, for feedback. It wasn’t pretty.
A few days later, after the students, staff and I returned from our daily late morning walk; I poked my head into the office to share with my VP. She was just back on half days and she was sitting at her computer, listening to the hum of the monitor, preparing to head home. She asked about my university journey. I sank into the chair she keeps beside her desk.
“You know, I have this lens. I am not going to change it. I really don’t care about teachers or administrators, and I really don’t care about pre-service teachers or superintendents, or professors. I care about kids and families. I can’t pretend I see things differently. I don’t.”
She hugged me, and she cried. I don’t think it was my words. She suggested I talk with a teacher in the division who completed his thesis and had learned much about the journey. “Talk to him, it will help.” I kissed her cheek and joined my school family for lunch.
Just as I have been silenced and labeled by the messy plotlines of school stories and stories of school, so too have the students I live alongside.
When I arrived at my new school in the fall I had heard the rumors of how others labeled the students. I was prepared for those comments. And they came. They continue to come, but not so blatantly.
I wasn’t prepared for the comments directed towards myself and other staff at the school that similarly set us apart in negative ways. It has been a different term.
The final afternoon of term, a colleague and I were cleaning up, reflecting, celebrating successes; we’d had a busy day. We had taken the kids to another school for a concert and upon return a grade nine student stated, “Miss Saas, I’m tired.” The events of the day had exhausted our school family.
It has been a different fall.
Last night I jumped into a brief Twitter chat with the Deputy Minister of Education and two university professors about measurement, standardized testing, assessment and evaluation. In the end, what I wanted to share with everyone was an invitation into our classroom, but I didn’t.
What I wanted to share were the different stories of experiences of our sharing space.
I wanted to share student narratives.
There are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day. I am going to write that again, there are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day.
Our successes sure aren’t small. And, they sure can be different too. And we need everyone to look closer; we need everyone to note that just because our world is different, it is also filed with successes.
Our successes – I am crying – are Robert Munsch Enormous in the lives of our youth. Sometimes they are so big they are like tectonic plates shifting lives and so embodied that kids bolt from school. This is success. One day this term a student slipped in from another class, walked down the hall and asked me if I would help him to learn. He shared that he had not understood the idea of a story having a beginning, middle and end until I wrote it on the board, and that he and I had to work on this during out-of school hours so no one in class would know. There was another student who hugged me goodbye because he had come to understand he needed a hug. This is success. There are the smiles of showing up, and showing up first to make coffee, and staying an entire day or understanding the sense of ditching class because for the first time, a student experiences the beauty of the middle-years pull of liking someone; these are successes. And these we celebrate.
So Kate came up with a plan.
Every day during the break we would message photos to each other and to Joe. We would keep Joe connected to our sharing space through photo stories. Some days slip by where all we send is a photo. Some days, we share a photo and a few words. Other days, Kate will ask questions and ask me to send a specific photo, or I will send a photo that connects to a story I’ve shared.
Two days ago she shared a photo of a letter her brother wrote to her while he was in jail, long before the accident that took his life. She has been rereading his letters and notes. Her messages and photos are filled with reflection, courage and sadness. “I miss him so much,” she writes, Kate who four months ago now never spoke about her loss, Kate who now finds ways to connect to others through it.
Maybe the glitter and easy isn’t needed? But I think some of it is. I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in all this messiness I am learning something about what I need and who I am. Maybe, in the tension of my graduate journey, school spaces that were once closed will come to listen, to really, really attend to silent stories like Kate’s, just as she has listened to Joe’s? Maybe when our grade ten student returns from lock-up he will share his stories of his experiences. I miss him. Perhaps, I am just not supposed to know, not supposed to see around as many corners like I did in previous years. What if the stories of experiences are our successes?
Some successes are profound.
The new school year is just past three weeks gone.
The second week flew by; I liked almost every moment of each school day. The first week however, simply slogged along; I felt frustrated.
I’m teaching at a different school this year. I am no longer the ‘single story’ high school ELA, Arts Ed and Outdoor teacher, though I am still responsible for these subject areas. My first week was filled with moments when I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. This year I work with students to meet their personal goals, to find hope as our school phrases it; as I see it, to come to honour students’ narratives as stories to live by. Sometimes our days are so busy I don’t feel the end of week approach. Other times there are only a few of us and our space changes frequently; we move at a gentle pace that best fits the story of us. We laugh often. We talk often and we share often.
My transition into this space hasn’t been easy (I wonder every day about how our kids feel as they live this transition. I requested this transition.) There are people and aspects about my other school that I miss very much. Of course, I miss the kids. I miss our regular (and our inquiry based learning never felt ‘regular’) ELA periods and discovery. I miss after school chats and moments when I could find a private silent space during the day just to myself.
That first week I was hit hard by all the missing stories. As well, that first week I also allowed my ego to get the better of me. Those first few days I took to heart comments and questions from others as to how I had come to have my new teaching role and whether I really understood the ‘kids’ I’d be teaching. By mid-week, I had begun to doubt my skills. Worse, by mid-week I had begun to doubt myself. I had stopped honouring my own stories of attending to youth.
However, towards the end of that first week something beautiful happened.
I invited students to gather and I read with them.
I opened a book I love and I read. While I read, I shared with our kids about the story and about myself. As well, I talked with our kids about what I was sharing. I asked our students questions. I paused often. I listened often and soon our students asked questions. I listened. I read, I reread and I read on.
The story didn’t fix everything. However, that moment sure offered a beautiful piece of awareness for me. More importantly, as I listened to our kids make connections, think about the stories I’d shared, and then share their own narratives, and I began to see our kids.
My fear or sadness or worry had prejudiced my instruction of our kids.
Finally, that afternoon, sitting in circle around our table, I felt like I was coming home…
There is this way with narrative: once heard, it can not be unheard.
That afternoon, we attended to our stories. I was beginning again to understand my privileged lens; I had begun to let go of assumptions. Through narrative we had begun to puzzle our way into the space of where we could become curriculum makers.
Our storying space is becoming…
We are slowing attending to our stories. Sharing narratives takes time. I understand that I long to rush, rush, rush into our space and share. But this is my way. This is my voice. I understand too that my story is important. So I share as well. But I am (re)learning to listen here with this new family, learning to attend to different narratives and to trusting a new place.
When I was a child I remember overhearing my educator parents share school stories about the kids in their midst; “Parents send us the best kids they have.”
The next day after I read I looked around the room and realised that I was in the midst of the best kids. Since that moment, I have offered our students every ounce of beauty in me. I have extraordinary expectations for kids. And our kids know this.
The second week flew by. The third week I began to push, to listen and to share.
I am learning that the more I know our kids the more joy I find here.
I am learning that beauty and sadness and joy are part of my teaching story.
These last three weeks I (re)learned that I belong to a family, and the story I share of myself is connected to this family.
I am pretty sure the students are supposed to be learning, but it is my head that hurts from all I am (re)learning.
Sunday afternoon as I sit here in our classroom-storying space, I feel that (re)learning that I am connected to a family is sure a fine story to live by.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I like staying connected with kids. It’s a messy topic.
Here’s what I know. And it’s not much.
About every month or so, my daughter goes out for coffee and a muffin with her former grade six resource teacher. My daughter is in grade ten. Actually, she’s almost in grade eleven. Their suppers are at Tim’s and sometimes they run close to five hours. They talk and talk. The teacher is incredibly dear to my daughter, Jess.
I joyfully support their relationship. The more positive supports in Jess’ life the more likely she is to make positive choices, or so I believe. Sure, Jess shares the messy business of our life with this teacher. Life is messy. Sometimes, it was extraordinarily messy. It still can be at times. Sometimes, Jess needs to share with someone other than me.
I get this.
I’m not so closed that I believe my family or myself can be or will always be everything for Jess. She needs safe people. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather ‘safe people’ be like that amazing grade six teacher who told Jess that her stutter just didn’t matter rather than someone who only listened to Jess’ common story.
See, that teacher and I are a team.
About four weeks ago, right out of the blue, on a Sunday morning, she called me. We are a team. She’d heard some things about some kids in Jess’s world and she felt she needed to check in, sort of a mom-to-mom. I was so moved, so honoured to have someone love my kid that much. She’s a mom too, after all. And let me tell you, she’s a teacher too; she was nervous as heck calling me. The truth is, she loves my kid more than our friendship; Jess’ safety came first – and I sure do like that!
She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, that Jess and hadn’t discussed at the end of the day, sitting perched on the bed talking into the wee hours. ‘Cause we share, we story, all the time.
Still, I did share with Jess what the teacher had shared. It is good to be so profoundly loved and looked after. Around here, in August, my Dad begins worrying about the snow that might begin to fall and for my safety on the highway; being loved is good.
As I shared this story some folks asked if I was offended.
It takes a community to raise a child; this isn’t a line, it the messy resonance of truth. Long ago, I understood that our stories, messy as they may seem, need safe harbors. The grade six teacher is one. I like that Jess has other moms. This list just grows and grows. As it does, it makes the two us so strong.
I don’t know if I have a point. I know I have a student whom I taught six years ago that I speak with every week, without fail. He is like family to me. I know he’s not my son, though at times, he feels like it.
Sometimes I don’t understand this notion of family or community while at other times, I sense it in my bones.
Love is messy. Life is too. Positive connections make everything more beautiful.