Thank you

Over the years, I have had moments as a teacher so memorable they have left a significant, lasting impression. Imprinting forever in my long-term memory the emotions that were felt when that experience occurred.

I remember a particularly difficult teaching assignment in which I took over a short-term social studies position at the high school level for a teacher with long-term illness. Who actually passed away during my time in his classroom. I was seven months pregnant with our third child, taking on three new-to-me high school courses, mid-way through the term. Not only that, there were special circumstances surrounding my hiring, along with some very special students in the classes I would be teaching. Students who were not easily persuaded or motivated to tow the line. To say it was a challenge would have been an understatement.  Overwhelmed was more suitable a word in describing how I felt about my assignment at the time.

Towards the end of June, after exams finished and marks had been submitted, I was helping the school’s graduation committee one day with various tasks associated with the graduation ceremony.  At some point, and truthfully- I can’t remember exactly how it happened,  a Grade 12 student arrived at my classroom door with a note in hand. After he left, I opened the card, and this is what I read:

Ms. Gard,
Thank you for everything you taught me. I know it was not easy to step in and take over the class, and we had to deal with a lot of unfortunate things. All things considered, you did an excellent job. Thank you for being there and seeing that we learned all that we needed.
Thank you.

Two little words. So simple, yet so powerful. So meaningful. And oh! how motivating to me as the teacher.

The whole of that message was really condensed into two little words of gratitude.  Of thankfulness.  Words that we  use at times without realizing their incredible importance in the life of another.   Have we ever stopped to consider them? For there are times when those two little words are the only ones necessary, all that needs to be spoken.  For truly, those two little words have all the power to change and impact like no two other little words in the English language. They are influential.

Game changers of the best variety.

They can melt a heart of stone. Can break a cycle of apathy. Can mend a broken fence. Build a bridge. Heal a wound. Make everything worthwhile. Those two words have sway. Gentle authority. And while there are many ways in which these two little words can be spoken. Many ways in which they can be used to convey the full sense of gratitude of which they speak, there really isn’t anything more powerful than the simplicity of those two little words.

Thank you.

Tonight, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to all those students who have crossed my path in years gone by and in these present days.
Thank you to the girl who recognized me at the drugstore two weeks ago as her music teacher back in Grade 1.
Thank you to the young man at Walmart a while back who remembered me from his junior high days.
Thank you to my neighbour’s son who walked with me the other evening and shared his heart as well as happenings of his day with me.
Thank you to my little friend from Grade3 whom I see at the pool twice a week now. Whom I love to chat with and sometimes like to tease.
Thank you to my own seven little ones in kindergarten who have taught me how to love unconditionally.
Thank you to the little boy who met me at the door today and confided to me a heartfelt sorrow. I treasure that trust.
Thank you to the boys and girls of Bloomfield- every one of them. The ones who ask me to supervise hockey games, the ones who chat with me in the halls, the ones whom I work with in extra-curricular activities, the ones who keep me company on duty.
Thank you to the little one who always writes me love letters.
Thank you.

You have blessed me in ways I could never express. My life is fuller, more beautiful. Because of all of you.

And for that and so much more, I am forever grateful

Trigger warnings and Play

Warning: the contents of this article might be offensive to some. In that, it might make you conjure up images of snot, mucous, throw-up, broken arms and the like. Consider yourself trigger warned.

Last weekend’s Globe and Mail had an article in its Focus section about trigger alerts. Essentially, trigger alerts are advance warnings that might alert one to potentially harmful, anxiety-inducing, adverse information found in course material, books, public and private settings and environments, writing and other venues of transmitting influential stuff that might need censoring.

In other words, someone could be bothered at the very least- offended at the most, by what they encounter.

According to the article, university professors are being asked to provide trigger warnings in advance of their course readings- to the extreme that any sort of ill-affect, including panic attacks and anxiety disorders, might be provoked by the influence of the potential literature, and could thus be avoided through use of such an advance cautioning system. That is, through using a trigger warning so as to alert.

Essentially, trigger warnings are kind of like car horns: they jar you so that you pay close attention. Or kind of like the jarring bellow of a teacher just before her student runs in front of the swing-set. You get the idea.

The thought of which gave me pause to consider the various trigger warnings that I should offer to all those incoming students of mine who are going to be attending my upcoming K classes in the fall. The four year-olds, that is. If I was to provide a trigger warning for them, here’s what it would look like:

Be aware, Prospective Clients of the Public School System. Entering the educational system and thus attending kindergarten classes might bring on the following adverse, unpleasant affects:

1. Sickness, after you come into contact with every cold and flu virus known to humankind, which incidentally must FIRST cross the threshold of the school doorways before filtering out into the world at large.
2. Dirty, filthy clothing, as you wear said ‘virus’ proudly like a badge (because I can guarantee: you will be wiping your nose all over those super-adorable little shirts and dresses that looked spick and span when you left home in the morning but look like a compost dispenser by the end of the day).
3. All manner of cuts and bruises, as you manage to find every dangerous corner, table, wall and other sharp object or the like inside every classroom, hallway, music room, gym and secretary’s office within the school. And yes, quite possibly even the bus.
4. All manner of broken body parts, (yes again, I said that right), as you experiment with gravity on the outdoor playground equipment. Or school banister railings.
5. Writer’s cramp, as you are reminded for the bazillionth time to hold your pencil with proper, standardized pencil grip.
6. Discriminating taste buds, as you realize halfway through the month of September that you still have twelve years ahead of you eating Flakes of Ham sandwiches.
7. Joy at discovering that mom has no idea what happens to said ‘sandwich’ when Teacher turns her head to read out the lunch menu. For that matter, neither does Teacher.
8. Cold, wet feet, upon discovering that playing soccer in mud puddles a foot deep causes one’s clothing from the hip down to become completely soaked. And then some.
9. A propensity to needing bandages, as you discover that sticky, adhesive substances are quite fun to apply to the body. And then rip off two seconds later.
10. A paranoid sense of personal space as your teacher patiently explains to you why standing one cm from a person’s mouth is not far enough away.

These are merely the top ten. I could write more. So much, much more.

The author of the Globe article goes on to cite a recent Atlantic Monthly critiqueon the topic of micromanaged kids and their helicopter parents. And he does so as to say the following: “Kids are no longer left alone to find their way, invent spontaneous and sometimes risky forms of play, to confront and overcome unknowns, to do things themselves, and to fall, fail and then get back up again.”

To which I say, au contraire. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

I was on outdoor duty Friday, and I can assure this good man: children are still testing the waters of safety, running towards the road, hiding beneath trees, escaping the confines of their boundaries, sitting on the top of the monkey bars, sliding down the slide backwards, hitting one another over the head with pinecones, branches and possibly rocks (oh my nerves) and banging into each other when playing and running.

Falling down. And then getting back up again.

And interestingly, some of these kids do have helicopter parents.

While I see that there is still a propensity towards anxiety in children of helicopter parents, by and large, most kids are running around full-tilt on the playground, as if their life depended on it. And loving every, single minute of it.

‘Cause that’s their job. It’s what they have to do.

At least, it is for the healthy, happy P.E. Island kids I know and teach.

Grace or criticism?

Grace or criticism?

I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.

For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.

Grace is second and third chances.

Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.

When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?

If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.

Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.

True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.

My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.

Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter.  I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life.  And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.

I wish this writer to know: I care.  I cannot fix or mend.  But I can care.

I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life.  And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.

In a wash of grace extended outward.

It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

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Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

Is missing school a disaster?

“The loss of these last five days has been a disaster, with the loss of instructional time…and we need to gain back as much (of that time) as we can.” P.E.I. Minister of Education, Alan McIsaac, as quoted during a CBC radio interview which you can listen to here

 

We have accumulated thirteen storm days thus far this school year. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be equally as brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Last week, added to the mix a total of five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. Talk by people concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that ‘students not learning within the four corners of the school walls must then not be learning’. People concerned with the matter that students need to be in school, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing, whatever that might be.

Yes, there have been lots of missed classes. Extreme weather conditions being the reason for such. These weather conditions can and may include blowing snow (thus reducing visibility), snow accumulations exceeding 10 cm, blizzard conditions, freezing rain or poor road conditions (impassable laneways). Fortunately, we have not gone so far here on P.E.I. to sacrifice student safety for the almighty tax-dollar. Or should I say: we haven’t done so often (there was that one day, but that was back in February- we have moved on since then). Thankfully, there would not be too many people here in our parts who would fault the schools for cancelling classes, but there are always a few who believe that classes must be made up. In other words, compensated for. By way of a sacrifice of some sort on behalf of the teachers and the schools. Which is to say, that something has to give. For that money has been invested in student learning; there must be a way of making good on our students’ education. So as to not lose said valuable education to such an unpredictable winter.

It has even been said, as evidenced in the above quote, that missing school is a disaster.

Thus, when school is cancelled to this excessive extent, there are often calls from the public that the School Board and government examine the school year thus giving consideration to whether or not the days allotted to instruction should be extended. Or at the very least, giving heed to the preservation of such instructional time via cancellation of any upcoming scheduled professional development days or other holidays in light of the missed class time. Class time deemed suitably important in that missing such time which would have been spent achieving curricular outcomes and meeting grade level expectations is too great a trade off. Thus, the reason for extending school years, decreasing P.D. days or cancelling holidays.

The debate for me is not the loss of professional development so as to preserve instructional time. If there is a benefit for students and a way to show good will to the public, I am all for that. What bothers me about all the debate and hullabaloo are comments like the Minister’s above which infer that missing school is a disaster (of epic proportions). Which, I would submit, it is not.

What is worthwhile? Knowing? Doing? Learning? And where?*

If you live here on P.E.I., there are a few things worth knowing. One of which is how to survive an ice storm (in which there is a pretty good chance that the power will be lost). Here’s what my kids learned last week about that worthy topic:

  • Board games are just as fun as video games
  • Snow forts are fun and challenging to make
  • Homemade donuts are just as good as Tim Horton’s donuts
  • Reading a book is both challenging and rewarding
  • Charades is a fun way to spend time with your family
  • Fireplaces are both cosy and warm
  • Melted snow can allow one to flush a toilet

 

And low and behold, my kids were not the only students learning last week. I met up with a friend in the grocery store the other day and inquired about a Facebook photo she had posted in which her daughter had rigged up a warming rack and candles so as to cook a can of beans during their family’s foray into powerless living. Her daughter played around with her design until it was just right and she eventually cooked a warm meal for her family using flame and metal. Ingenious. Did a teacher stand hovering over her micro-managing her design? Did someone grab a textbook so as to show her what to do? Was she told she needed to read the theory behind such a contraption first so as to make it work?

 

No. She just did it.  All by herself.  Fueled by her own desire to solve a real world problem related to her lived experience.

 

I do not mean to undermine our elected government officials and their priority placed on schooling. However, I do not share the same alarm with them that missing schooling is a disaster. If innovative, creative thinking is the result of a few missed days, then I say that was time well spent.

 

*Reference:  The questions you found me asking have also been asked by William Schubert (University of Chicago at Illinois)  in his article What is Worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing.

A challenge and response: Must we choose between Love and Academics?

I really appreciate my friend for challenging my thinking, as you will come to read below.  I am providing her challenge to my thinking and perspective along with my response to her.  This welcome challenge was issued to my last blog post regarding What is Worthwhile Knowing: A Teacher’s Perspective.  I would readily open any feedback you might have to offer by way of challenge or rebuttal.  Thanks to everyone who reads my writing.  I welcome all your views.  Iron sharpens iron.

To me:

I get where you are coming from- and I agree- students learn more effectively when they know that their teachers care about them. But as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc- what I send him to school for is to learn and to reach his full potential. That to me is the priority. Sometimes I feel that we are moving too far away from that since there are so many children who aren’t getting the love that they need from their families. But I really feel that we have moved too far. Our academic standards have greatly decreased…students reaching university in 2013 are not as prepared as they were in 2005. We need more focus on the academics….not less. I see it at the university level- our students are not as prepared for higher learning as they were 10 years ago. This is what we should be talking about- because the education system is failing their future learning potential. Sure they feel loved….but they can’t perform simple math or spell….by grade 12….this is a major problem! This is the reality that we need to correct. You may be on a different end of the spectrum being in kindergarten where feeling secure and loved is extremely important….but I don’t think that it is the universal focus of sending kids to school…at some point we have to shift more towards the academic side. I am sad for students who I meet in my class who are very intelligent, but have not been academically prepared to fully access all that they could from university. The education system is failing those kids. My favourite teachers from school are not the ones who made me feel loved….but who stretched my mind and expanded my knowledge beyond what I thought I could know- they pushed me to be who I am today and to them I am grateful.

 

To my friend: I appreciate that you wrote me with your perspective. And I appreciate that we both have different perspectives- unique to our own understandings, backgrounds and situations. It is good for me to be challenged in my thinking- to push myself to understand the ‘why’ behind my writing, of late, about love and care. About curriculum of the heart. It is something I feel so deeply about that at times I need to step away from it- step outside of my own thinking- and examine it with new eyes. New perspectacles, if you will (to use our favorite blogger’s analogy).

You mentioned that you “get” where I am coming from, but I wonder if we can truly ever get something like this. I think we have to believe it. You state that “as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc.” I am glad that your son has that. Many do not. In fact, it is not the norm to have what your children and my children have for experience. Two parents in the home who are university educated, double incomes, every opportunity. A comfortable lifestyle. Values that support life-long learning and ambitious achievement. These things are not the norm, as you well know.

That being said, I agree that even for those parents sending their children to school who are not in your or my position, those parents still might echo your sentiments: that they aren’t sending their children to school primarily for love. They might even agree that they are sending their children to school for the very same reasons that you state: to further their academics. Widen their possibilities. Further their potential. Whether or not parents are sending their children to school for reasons that reflect your stance or reflect mine, the fact of the matter is this: children and students learn best when their learning is cushioned in an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

What is love? Am I talking about warm, fuzzy, sweet-talking love that always pleases? Am I talking about feel-good, low-pressure therapeutic love that focuses solely on self at the expense of all else? What is love, anyway- it means so many different things to so many different people. What I am talking when I refer to love in my writing is that which is the deepest emotion known to humankind: something so over-arching, all-encompassing and profound that it permeates our very being. When I speak of love, I am talking about everything that is good in this world which could be then funnelled into our being. So as to inspire, motivate, compel, arouse, encourage, stimulate, provoke and stir up whatever might lie dormant within us. Whatever might lie fallow. Whatever is ready for awakening.

Love as an emotion is often highly undervalued in education. Sure, we embrace it in its place: but it is always put into its box and asked to sit there until it might be of use. It is not always on top of everyone’s list of priorities when it comes to academics.   In fact, love might very well be at the bottom of the list for some, as you have expressed. It is so often undervalued through statements that contend that it is a poor reason for a teacher’s purpose in offering an education to their child. After all, and you are right here: our job as teachers is to deliver curriculum. Teach the standards. Expound the outcomes. We are expected to deliver on the core fundamentals of a solid education: the arts and the sciences. And in doing so, prepare our students for the workforce.

But what if love was the standard by which everything else was measured? What if love made me a better teacher? What if love made my students better students? What if love made people better, just through experiencing it?

What if the love I showed in my care and concern for students then allowed me to, in love, inspire them to have a passion for language, for prose? For nuances in language? For poetry, literature and classical writing?

What if love opened a door to enable me to share with my students a passion for mathematics? For precision and exactness? For reasoning and rationalizing? What if love paved that way?

What if love gave me the inch that could buy a mile? What if love was what every foundation I built upon? What if love was everything? In everything, through everything about everything?

What if love was everything?

Can we ever really know for sure if it was what really made the difference- or not-when we who have always known love are the ones calling for less of it? We who have always had love at our fingertips saying it is unnecessary? When we who are deeply loved, who have always had love at our disposal, are saying it is the drain on academics and learning? Keeping us from excelling? And by what standards, I might ask? Are we really in any position of saying that love isn’t necessary, in such sweeping statements, when we’ve always had enough ourselves? What if your call for less love was the unravelling of that one student who could have been destined for great things. But because love was removed, then became a hardened, bitter being?

Who are we to say?

You are right- love isn’t everything. There is also pain and sorrow. There is hatred. There is always an equal opposing force to everything we know. And I could say that we can teach without love, but then the door is wide open for anything else to move in. Anything else but love. And while you claim you didn’t need love, and I am assuming that you are implying here that some teachers might have adopted stances that were quite the opposite to love: for some students, this would close the door to learning. And quite possibly forever. I am glad this was not the case for you. This wouldn’t apply across the board, however. What works for one scenario might not work for another. But we all need love. We certainly don’t need hatred or ill-will. Nor do we need hardness and rigidity. While learning might still transpire, it does in spite of these qualities. Not because of them. Unlike with love which paves the way.

As for taking that chance- of doing away with love in favour of dry, rigid adherence to the standards: I am not willing to take that chance. So I continue to offer love. And offer learning and opportunity to my students in as passionate a way as I know how.

So, what about academics. We are in the business of learning. How can I the teacher find balance between my call to love and my job to teach? When I offer love, I find that my passion for learning is that much easier to transmit. When I show care, I have won my students’ confidences so that I can then offer instruction. When I value their opinions and thoughts, I find they are stimulated to think above and beyond what I ever dreamed possible. When I open the door, and I know they trust me, I also know they will follow. And sometimes they even lead the way.

Why are students not ready for university, as you have so aptly pointed out? One cannot argue with statistics. But maybe they can offer some plausible reasons for such. My belief is this: I feel that quite possibly we have not offered enough in the way of love. Perhaps students haven’t known the freedom to explore, to climb to lofty heights and ambitions. Perhaps love never paved the way. Maybe students do not know the grace that is compassion-perhaps if they did we would see more students moved towards social justice and outward thinking. Perhaps students have not been shown the generosity that is passion and joy for learning. There might not have been allowances made for outside the box thinking. There are a multitude of reasons for why the stats are what they are.

Perhaps schools have failed our students in not preparing them for university. And perhaps we have also failed in not offering them a curriculum for life in stressing the importance for love to underlie their very existence.

Perhaps if we focused more on love, we might see changes that surpass even our own expectations: for learning, life and love itself.

It’s a Hard Knock Life

Three Stories That Prove I Am A Bad Luck Magnet:

1.) We arrived home from our 2014 March Break trek to N.C., U.S.A., pulling in Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. From the minute I opened the van door, I hit the snow/ground running. And I didn’t stop until I had most of the bags unpacked and put away. Things were pretty much back to normal by the time I went to bed that night, minus a suitcase that sat in the hallway upstairs for the better part of a week. Anything that could be stowed or shoved out of the way was, so as to buy me some precious time.

In some ways, it was like we had never left. Life falling back into a rhythm of fast pace hectic mayhem. Such is the busy life we lead. Sunday was church and the Ice Show, which consumed most of the day. Monday was school and meetings and piano lessons. And course readings late into the night. Tuesday was more of the same with the added bonus of a course exam by Skype that night with my professor. Since lunch time was taken up by meetings/preparations (as was more of the same after school), I had made up my mind to go home and make supper then head back into school at 6:30 to finish up the last minute preparations prior to taking the Skype call.

Everything running on schedule, I got supper started and made, and then decided that in order to save time, I would eat later. So I headed into school as planned at just an hour and a half before the exam.

The school was a quiet place to be- no noise and worries. Just peaceful silence. I settled in to read over my papers and print off my notes. When I was ready to leave, I locked the office and got my coat on. I had twenty minutes to spare. Everything was running on schedule. That should have been my first clue.

I was just about to leave the building when I put my hand into my pocket to retrieve the keys, only to discover: I had no keys. No keys. No KEYS???? To say I freaked out is an understatement. And to say that this really wasn’t that much of a surprise is telling the honest to goodness truth as well. I looked up at the clock. There was not a minute to waste. I ran back up to the office to see if I had happened to leave the van keys in the door, but unfortunately had not. I ran back downstairs to see if they were anywhere in my classroom. Not a chance.
I looked near the phone. Nothing. And then, I started to panic. I had no keys and an exam that would now be starting in 15 minutes, thanks to my dim-wittedness and lack of attention. In a moment of clarity, I dialed my Husband’s number and then completely unravelled when he answered the phone.

“I left my keys in the office,” I spluttered. “Come get me.”
“I’ll be right there,” the reply. Sweetest.man.ever. What I ever did to deserve him I will never know. I could almost see him rolling his eyes at me over the phone line. That this was happening to me was certainly no coincidence.
Because of course, these things ALWAYS happen to me.

While I waited for my Knight in Shining Armour to arrive, I desperately dialed my principal to see if I could avoid embarrassment in the morning and have him run out, unlock the office door, and allow me to slink out of the school with my keys in hand. No harm done. No one would ever know the difference. Alas, I could not get through his phone line, try as I might. It just kept running a busy signal.

I paced back and forth, knowing full well that I now had under ten minutes to make it home in time for that exam.

Finally, our truck appeared, barreling down the road; Husband pulled into the parking lot. I rushed over, grabbed the keys and took off in a record-breaking sprint for the van. T minus 10 and counting. I drove home, trying to pace myself and calm down from what could have been a full-blown anxiety attack. By the time I got to our driveway, I had resigned myself to the fact that “whatever will be, will be.”
I arrived home at 7:59. Walked in the door. I put my hands into my pocket, just a natural instinct. A reflexive gesture. And what do you know?

There were my keys. In my pocket. Exactly where I had put them twenty minutes earlier. Isn’t that always the way?

Knock one.

2.) I was loading the laptop in preparation for the Skype call to my professor. Ten minutes into the wait, I realize that maybe I am missing something here, as I am getting no calls. I check my e-mail and find out that my prof has already sent me two messages trying to figure out where I am in Skype-land. Turns out, there are twenty other people with the same Skype address as we have. I didn’t realize that there were that many Brian Gards in the world. Fifteen minutes after our exam is scheduled to begin, I finally clue in to the fact that I am the one to make this call. And so I do.

Knock two.

3.) Every week, we have at least one major liquid spill in our classroom. You’d think I’d learn. You’d think I would’ve bought a mop bucket by now. And you’d think that after a while I would have some sort of a slick system devised. But apparently, this is par for the course in Kindergarten, as I have come to learn. So it was on Tuesday that we had two chocolate milk spills in the span of an hour, causing me to wonder if there is such a thing anymore as powered milk. If so, I am buying shares in the company.

Knock three.

And there you have it.  My three stories that span the perimeter of one day in the life…of a woman with a few hard knocks.  It’s a hard knock life, boys and girls.  But it ain’t so bad as I make it sound, really.

At least I still have my sense of humor.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do with it, anyway? Got to do with education? Got to do with teaching?
What’s love got to do with it?

Everything. It’s got everything to do with it.

I am delivering a dynamic lesson on adding detail to writing. It has spanned two days of teaching, and I have covered the gamut. I have used mentored text. I have used my own illustrations. I have allowed more than enough time for the students to think through, talk through and share ideas. I have all the bells and whistles- anchor charts; word walls; alphabet and number charts; soft music. Nice sharp pencils, which I just barely finished sharpening this morning. In spite of the rush. The classroom has even been designed so as to be conducive to writing. We have a writing centre and various writing stations, but there are of course other spots in the room that a writer could settle down for a productive writing session. I can’t imagine what stone I have left unturned.

“Okay, everyone!” I urge. “Let’s get writing!”

And with that send-off, I see the students scatter into all four corners of the room, ready to write. And I think to myself…”what a wonderful—”

…wait a minute.

All but one has settled down for that intended writing session. There is always one.

In a matter of minutes, I can see that the best laid plans are still only plans. For this little writer has not been inspired to write today much more than a scribble. And when I approach and ask why, I am met with a bit of defiance. A little bit of defensiveness.

And some little feet propped up on the table.

This was not what I envisioned the writing session to be.

No not at all.  Rather, I had pictures in my mind of children, heads bent low over papers, hands moving furiously. But never did I conjure up images of students sitting back, smug looks on their faces. Telling me “I’m done” after three minutes have barely passed since the send-off.
This is not what my ideal vision would be under any circumstance.

I approach the student quickly and ask how the story is unfolding, as we have spent considerable time developing the idea for this book that he is making. He points to a circle on the page. I ask what it represents. “A circle,” he says smugly.  I am not ready to admit defeat, so I probe further.

“What is it suppose to be?” I ask.

He looks at me and shrugs.

“A circle,” he repeats.

I know and he knows- that the story he had told me he would working on today was about a movie he had seen over March Break. He had left our gathering place on the blue rug with ‘next steps’ already in place. But here we are- with circles that look more like scribbles than they do circles. And these ‘circles’ are covering his page.

It’s easy to forget that teaching, like all of life, is not about us. It’s not always a rejection of what we hold near and dear to our hearts when plans fail to follow through. Sometimes, it’s just that people are different. Some of us enjoy writing. And some of us do not.

I later talk to this student’s mom about our writing session, and in the process I realize a few things.

I really like this boy. A lot. And the more I try to understand him, the more I realize I can accept him: just as he is.
• I need to work harder at helping this student see the value in writing. If what we are doing is not connecting, there needs to be another way. Another approach taken.
• This student is more than just a would-be writer. He is a comedian, a reader, a brother, a son. He is a strong personality with the ability to stand his ground. He isn’t easily persuaded. He has resolve. This child is going to be fine- so what if he decided this week to just draw circles? Next week might be a whole different ball game.

Which brings me back to my first question: what’s love got to do with it all?

There are many aspects of my job that I am required to do. I am required to deliver curriculum. I am required to teach certain skills and knowledges. I am required to prepare my students to enter the next grade- the next level. The next unit. I am required to look after my students in their parents’ absence. Overall, I am required to begin preparing them for life. Real life.

But in all the descriptors that I have been given, no one has ever required of me to love them. Interesting, really. Their parents have much the same job as mine, but love is always underlying the relationship. Why is this so? And why is it not something we think that we as educators should be compelled to feel as well?

In spite of this fact, I find that love happens anyway. We come to love our students, in spite of ourselves. In spite of the odds. They wrap themselves around our hearts and we are not easily able to let them go. We think about them after the buses pull out of the parking lot. We consider their needs as we prepare lessons for the next day. We care about their lives as we make after-hours phone calls. We enjoy when we run into them at Wal-mart on the weekend.

We end up loving them. We really do.

Because in the midst of teaching and facilitating and preparing and instructing, I find myself caring about the students I teach. In the midst of guiding and disciplining and leading my students in key areas of fundamental learning areas, I find myself empathizing with them. In offering to assist them during writing workshops, I find myself coming to understand them better. In watching them discover key math principles, I find myself delighting in their learning- appreciating the young wonder that is a five-year old mind. In listening to their stories- as told by them and by their families, by their parents: I find myself coming to love these children. As if they were my very own.

I can’t get them out of my heart. It’s about love, really.

And even though I am passionate about writing and reading and math and science- and passionate about learning in general: I am more passionate about people. And I have come to believe that my calling is relationship, not teaching. The teaching is secondary to my calling to connect and relate and commune with those little people who show up in my room every day. It’s about reaching my students through relationship so that I might later on influence them to use their learning to develop their own relationships with people they trust. So that they might come to see that getting an education is about finding ways to connect with people in the world around them. So that they can thrive and flourish in this wild and beautiful life we have been blessed to live.

It’s about using the learning of writing so that they can then encourage, persuade, inspire, motivate and compel.
It’s about using the learning of math so that they can then reason, problem solve, analyze and explain.
It’s about using science to wonder, imagine, discover, uncover, explore and investigate.
It’s about using social studies to remember, consider, understand, appreciate and recollect.
It’s about making school a place that we learn the art of relating to people so that we can use the knowledge and skills we learn there in that place we call school- so that we can then go out into the big, wide world we live in with other people, and use those skills to better the world around us.

So that we can transform the world through love.

Through LOVE.

So you see, love has everything to do with it. Without love as the basis for learning, how are students to then know that love underlies everything we do? Everything we learn? Everything in life?  Love is everything.

And love has everything to do with it. For without love, writing is just a subject. It’s just writing.  So is reading and math.  They are just a skeleton.  Love makes them whole.  Breathes life into them and makes them come alive.

We will have more writing sessions much like the one I have described above. I realize this. I am no naïve fool.
But what else I understand- what I know for sure about our future sessions is this: I teach people, not subjects.  I teach boys and girls, not writing.  I teach human beings full of potential and wonder and possibility.

So when we have those kinds of days, we’re going to get through them. Together.  And always through the power of love.

8 Random Things I Wish I Had Known Five Minutes Before/After they Happened.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be if I was to be living up to my best, ideal self.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about- five minutes before/after they happened…here they are for your reading pleasure:

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left at my lovely friend’s house in N.J.- wished I had known it was sitting there in her man cave- five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wished I had thought about it- five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrivebaby

3. Those three fish tacos I ate at the Ground Round- wished I had looked around the menu five more minutes before deciding what I was going to eat that night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wished I could have traded it in for Twinkies- five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. That one hour trampoline privilege that I paid a left leg for- wished I had a catheter- five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids).

6. That email that I was trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so important at the time- wished I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER- about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at for various reasons and rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a dither over.

8. That conversation I had with my mom today- in which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had of been able to go back five minutes before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need.

It’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating and the pleasurable in life- at one and the same time.  Is it frustrating to leave behind your dirty undies at a friend’s house you just met?  You betcha.  But, taking away the memories of the wonderful time we had acquainting ourselves- after a two year journey over the Internet- well, that bag of smelly clothes I left behind (and will spend $44 American to recover) is small things.  (Mostly for me, by the way.  Not her.  I bet she’s also wishing for that five minutes back because let’s be serious- who really wants dirty laundry from a new acquaintance kicking around your man cave??)    Five minutes- it’s enough time to put life into perspective. Particularly when comparing small loss to the loss of a life, as I would come to find out in conversation with my mother.

Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not- in talking about them, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And we realize- life is full of moments that we live.  Five minutes at a time.