Tag: stories to live by

Grateful for Our Circle

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.

Week two.

I am grateful for our circle.

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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.

i believe

believe in….

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.

Listen.

Trust.

Ask questions.

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.

Say sorry.

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.

Challenge oppression.

Respond with kindness.

Ask the kids, about my instruction, about them, for feedback.

Plan with others.

Seek criticism. Reflect.

Rest.

Be grateful. Be mindful.

Share my students’ successes. Share mine.

Trust deeply.

Be irrationally crazy about kids. Breathe deeply.

Repeat.

Red Shoes Series: fine fit

~ for Alan

Del said

When I figured things

Out, I could buy red

Shoes.

I have a pair of nearly pink

Flats. I bought them

Years ago. They pinch

My feet.

I found red runners that I wore

When I sat my ethics

Review.

The runners are candy

Apple red,

New, and they have no

Grip on my soul.

A year ago, I sipped coffee wrapped

In warm morning

Light and my heart

Understood Del’s

Meaning.

The feel of Adirondack

Chair, well worn

Home, and sand

Stone.

We are a fine fit.

Red

Dad: storying

I’ve been taking a photo a day for the past four years. For the past two years I have made these photos into a photo montage of my year, letting the adventures of the past 364 days swirl into a movie. I have even begun to add music. Sometimes I go about my day thinking about the photo I might take, ‘this moment will make a wonderful addition to the ‘year-in-video.’

But for the past 21 days these photo moments have been the most difficult to capture.

21 days ago I was waiting in my car my 17 year old daughter, Jess, beside me. We were waiting in the parking lot at the Moose Jaw Union Hospital, the nose of the car facing the doors to emergency.

We had had the call from my Mom at 4:10pm.

We waited. At 5:00pm I looked over at Jess and said, “Our world is about to change.”

Mom had said she was certain Dad had had stroke.

Dad had gone out for a walk as he did every day, walking the loop near the cabin at the lake where my parents are retired. He would likely stop to feed the birds. Likely, he would then take his usual path towards the boat dock and down towards the trees by the lake, perhaps stopping to leave a treat for the coyotes.

He had left at half past noon.

At 3:30pm Mom had called for him in the garage, she had called for him out the back door and had called out into Dad’s shop. She had then taken the van keys and had headed out to look for him. She found him face down in the front yard in the snow with the newspaper, he was responsive and soaking wet. It would take another two hours before he arrived to Moose Jaw by ambulance.

My sister was in her car next to me and Jess. We heard the sirens before we saw the ambulance. I stepped out and walked as close as I could to the ambulance bay.

I am not certain exactly why I snapped a photo.emergency

I just sensed in every part of me that that moment marked a before and an after for every person I loved most.

The ambulance attendant looked and me and said, “He’s okay.”

A hand came out of the blankets and waved, up and down: Dad.

“I love you Dad!”

We walked quickly to the front doors at the same time my Mom parked her van.

~

For nearly three weeks we lived numb. Maybe we are still living numb. What resonates the most and yet has not surprise me, is the love between my parents.

My parents.

They only wanted each other. As those first few weeks rolled out Dad would reach for her and she would reach for him, just the simple act of touching one another was what was needed, like those finger tips would make him walk, heal the hemorrhage in his brain, control the pain. Neither complained and each would say thank you to everyone that crossed their mompath.

Mom has moved in with me and Jess; it’s more like camping. We hardly see her except for the hospital. We’ve worked out the kinks of living together; we have learned not to run our blow-dryers at the same time, made certain she eats more than the tomato-macaroni soup left over from Dad’s lunch try; My Mom and her indomitable spirit. She has been there every day before breakfast and has learned to send photo and text updates with her phone. My Mom, who has not left her husband’s side, and has left the rest of us wondering from where her energy comes.

 

Dad has been moved to Providence Place and the goal is to … well, increase his independence. Mom hopes he will stand.

There isn’t any conversation we’ve haven’t had these past few weeks. My sister and I have been alternating nights at the hospital and there was a while there when Dad’s pain was so bad that we both stayed. Often, I would return home to find Mom still awake. We’d sit on the edge of her bed and talk into the wee hours of the morning. There isn’t anything we’ve not talked about.

For 21 days I’ve watched my Dad struggle with a body he can no longer control. I’ve watched him do this with kindness to his family and to the care providers around him. I’ve listened to him tell me and my family that he will be here for us when we are ill. I have watched my parents show their love for each other, over and over, show, not just share. I have felt the support of those in my life burst from the margins and bounce to life.

I missed a few days of work when Dad was in ICU, and honestly, that next week while Dad remained unstable, I was a mess. Mom didn’t want a herd at the hospital, my sister and I needed to divide our time, and I needed my other family too; I needed my kids. I am gifted by a safe space to share, to cry, to feel supported. This place is my school. Many of our kids feel the same. Many of our staff feel the same. Our school is a home place, here we belong.

My Dad has often trekked with my students. My instructional practices are replete with the stories and teachings I’ve gleaned from listening to my Dad. Every, every group of students I have taught has been gifted to know my Dad, to have trekked in some way with my Dad, to have had the chance to spend time with him, to have heard a story or two from him, some, even around a campfire, or on a basketball court.

And it may not seem that important, but it feels important. I am sad. I am scared and the kids I live in the midst of understand. And kids that knew Dad well, and knew his stories well, message often and check-in often, and I am grateful that our shared stories have created this space. See, there’s a whole wack sack of truth in my living alongside our kids right now. I share about the love between my parents; I share about how tired I am; I share that I am drinking far too much coffee, about how I am crying easily and often; I share that I love them, and then I share again.

I am sad and I am grateful. This Friday is my Dad’s 74th birthday and I want to walk with my Dad like we have done every year. This year, Jess and I will bring some eggs to Providence Place and colour them.

The last time I walked with my Dad, two weeks before his stroke, I was walking too fast, going ahead like I did Dad and me walkingwhen I was a child. That last weekend, he stopped often, and when I returned to stand next to him, he asked me to identify the animal scat over which he bent, the twig next to which he stood, and the berry he held in his hand. When I was child, I would not have had the patience for standing and wondering. When I was a child I hadn’t yet come to honour the stories of Dad running Otter Rapids, or Dad canoeing the Churchill, or Dad building a log home by hand, or of Dad putting himself through High school and University, or of Dad choosing to love, and loving, always loving with kindness. That day, two weeks before ‘the before moment,’ I had stood and listened to Dad every time he paused.

I still have much to learn from storying with Dad. There are many walks left in both of us.

Dad would say, there’s a teaching there.

Piano Stories

“I tell stories not to play on your sympathies but to suggest how stories can control our lives, for there is a part of me that has never been able to move past these stories, a part of me that will be chained to these stories as long as I live,” (King, 2003.)

~

Mid-morning Saturday, a friend sat at the graffiti-covered piano in the classroom and tapped out a melancholy tune, “I am afraid of your past.” The words weren’t meant for me; they were sung in response to the tensions that live in attending to stories.

He shared stories of his childhood mentor and shared stories of his summers at the lake. What resonated were his messy stories.

Long ago a student had sat at that same piano and shared similar stories, his hands too lingering over the piano’s out-of tune keys…

This is a story I know.

piano photo

~

Several years ago as part of an identity project a student, James, painted a piano with graffiti. His father wanted him to study classical piano. James wanted to compose his own music. More than that, James wanted to write poetry. The piano is covered with James’s story and his poetry. The piano’s wooden shell is pulled off to reveal its keys. The piano was one way James found to give voice to his story, to come to honour his own story. When he graduated he entrusted me to continue to care for the piano.

This week I’ve been feeling the messiness of my own piano stories.

Saturday night, while my grade-eleven daughter, Jess, and I relaxed at my Mom’s and Dad’s home, I received a message from James; he was having a difficult weekend. For many folks around here, last weekend was Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and of being with family.

Though James has left home, his stories linger. Though James has spent a great deal time thinking deeply about his messy stories, coming to honour his stories, he is still learning to retell them.

Saturday he messaged, asking for the second time since I’ve known him, “Don’t give up on me.”

I am beginning to learn that coming to retell our stories into stories to live by takes time.

I remember when I first began to learn the depth of the messiness of James’s story. I can still see him standing in the doorway, a big kid aching to live a story of confidence, asking me to do more than hear, to do more than listen. James was asking me to attend to his messy stories.

James was asking me to honour him. And he asked me not to give up on him.

This was a request for trust.

What I learned as I came to attend to James’s stories, I learned that I was at the same time, learning how to honour my own stories. “The curious thing about these stories was I had heard them all before, knew them, in fact, by heart.” (King, 2003). For so long I had forgotten to listen to my own stories.

Together, James and I were life making.

~

Friday I sat alone in a car dealer’s office. I was about to purchase a new-to-me car and I was wiping away tears. Six week previously, my car had been stolen. Weeks afterwards I had settled with insurance. The day before the car dealer, on my way to an educational conference, I stopped at the salvage yard to gather my personal items from the retrieved car.

The person at the gate warned me about what I’d find, “Honey you’re gonna drive down there and I’m gonna turn off the security cameras ’cause you’re gonna have a little cry.”

“I’m not going to cry.”

I drove through the compound. Two days before my car was stolen it was my best friend’s wedding. I had given her a ride to the church. When the car was stolen I told the officer that the police could identify my car from the wedding dress glitter in the front seat. There was no visible damage to the car, inside or out, yet it took me more than a minute to get out of the rental car. Grasshopper remains coated the vehicle. I was not prepared for what I’d find inside, rubble: bottle-caps of used dark maple coloured adventure, baggies dusted and discarded.  Sour scent and earth comfort and sweat stank clung to the fabric; attacking the closed doors of my memories like sealed papers locked in safety deposit boxes and packaged away perfectly in 12 step programs. Angrily, with some sort of misplaced power, I began to gather strewn paperclips. I pulled them from under seats, between cushions, under mats. Then I found the seven beads from the discarded key chain a student had made for me during my under-graduate degree, the first student with behaviour challenges that I had taught. Seven beads. Strewn. The security guard had warned me.

“I don’t tell this story out loud because it’s not much of a story. No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase. And because I always end up weeping… But for myself,” (King, 2003).

In my fancy teaching garb I crawled over remnants, lifting my shovel and my soccer chairs from the trunk.

My thesis advisor recently asked, “Why this work? Why now?”

Stories matter.

Okay, maybe I am afraid.

Tears came that afternoon. They were not the ones I’d expected. Life is messy. The prairie wind danced raw across my face. A salvage yard tow truck in the distance dredged up steel and more steel like stories. Inside that car lived the messy stories from which I had walked away. The experiences that had led me to pick up my daughter and to retell our narrative into a story to live by. Standing in that compound I know I am still learning to live with the messy tellings. Standing in the salvage compound, I ached to share my story. I ached to have my story honoured.

Stories matter. I am beginning to wonder if it is the messy ones that need the most attending.

All those years ago a scared grade ten student stood in my doorway and asked me to attend to his stories.

Wiping away tears in the car dealer’s office, I heard over and over the comfortable, common story of trying to be like steel. It is a difficult story to live by. Sometimes… It is messy.

~

When I think about James standing in the doorway and asking me to attend to his story, it was James who was courageous. I am beginning to realize that it takes so much faith to trust another person with our stories.

Stories matter.

 I am beginning to understand that attending to stories takes time…