I am seeking to make my own journey in education one that is characterized by love. By empathy and kindness. By an overriding influence of Care. In order to have a Curriculum of Love as the guiding light within our classrooms, we must acknowledge that we are part of a vast connection of interconnections- even within the borders and boundaries of our own four walls. That is, within our classrooms there are children and students representing much diversity and much difference. We are very much the same even while we are uniquely different and special. As educators, we must never lose sight of this tension: the fine line between similarity and difference. While I am similar to you by virtue of the fact that we are human beings, I am different from you by the very same token- no two human beings has ever been- nor ever will be- exactly the same. We hold this tension carefully in our hands as educators, never losing sight of the awesome responsibility it is to recognize our students for their individuality and complexity. Along with their connected humanness.
In Becoming Human, by Christian philosopher Jean Vanier’s (1998), he proposes seven aspects of love for educators that will transform the heart. This kind of love that he speaks of is an antidote for fear (those fears expressed by both teachers and students) that are found inside our classrooms. Curriculum theorist and poet Carl Leggo, writing in his relevatory essay called Living Love- Confessions of Fearful Teacher, echoes this sentiment that educators need to address and understand these aspects of love so that they might in turn transform their classrooms from the inside out. In Leggo’s paper, he outlines Vanier’s tenets of a curriculum founded on love, for he sees them as the guiding hand of direction. Those aspects are: revelation, understanding, communication, celebration, empowerment, communion and forgiveness. I will include Leggo’s thoughts on each tenet as well as attempt to explain them in brief by way of elaborating on how I see them personally expressed within my own classroom.
To love is to reveal.
Leggo asserts that we need to tell each other our secrets because all the human family has the same secrets. In being transparent, we seek to live out a text of openness that is based on love. As teachers, we need to show our students our frailties. We are not always feeling happy. Not always feeling joy. A few months ago, after a particularly difficult morning getting away from the house, I was on my way to school with my four daughters in tow when I broke a tooth eating a piece of raisin bread toast. And I did so because I have a habitual problem with grinding out all my concerns on my poor permanent teeth throughout the course of my sleep. This was the fourth tooth to break in two years. Breaking that tooth was the proverbial last straw for me that morning, even at the early hour of 8:30 a.m. Everything came crashing down on me: the stressors of work and home and school. The difficulties I was having in a few key relationships. The tensions of raising four children. The stress of everyday living. And when I got to school and met the principal at the door, I just lost it. In front of all the children. In front of every one. And while I quickly ushered myself into a far corner of the school to “cry it out”, out of the view of curious eyes, I still had to face the children one last time before taking the day off on “stress-leave;” I had to face them so as to explain to them why Mrs. Gard was losing her marbles. I told them in as simple terms as I could muster that Mrs. Gard would be taking the day off work because she had broke her tooth. And unlike five and six-year olds who want to lose their teeth, Mrs. Gard herself did not wish to lose any more teeth than she already had. At a most alarming rate, nonetheless. This was most definitely not a celebration for the tooth fairy but a time for recuperation. They got that- it was not lost on them. And in time, they would remind me of the day I broke my tooth- and all because I was willing to reveal to them my humanness.
To love is to understand.
Canadian poet Margaret Avison (2002) says “there’s too much of us/for us to know.” We thus open our minds and we open our hearts to understanding each other so that we can begin to know and be aware of our complexity as human beings. We must begin somewhere. bell hooks (2003) says love in the classroom calls teachers and students to open their hearts and minds. As a teacher, one of my greatest challenges and privileges has been to understand my students. I am drawn to understanding like a moth is drawn to light. I think it is one of life’s greatest mysteries- the unfolding of our personality and character through conversation and shared life experiences. Each of my students is unique and whole, and the challenge lies in uncovering their gifts and capacities. My recent blog about one student I’ve named K. is a great illustration of my own discovery of his person. It is through understanding that we truly come to love one another.
To love is to communicate.
With communication comes community and communion. We often think of communion as the breaking of bread around a communal table, and certainly that is part of it. One of the most relaxing parts of my day as classroom teacher to four, five and six year olds has been our shared lunch time meal. I’ve arranged our tables to form a block so that we are face-to-face with one another. The conversation is rich with laughter, conversation and joy. There is usually lots of silliness- compatible with the sense of humor of this age group! In learning to live together we must be committed to learning to communicate with one another. We share the joy and the sorrow, as I have already expressed in the aspect of love that concerns itself with revelation. Overall, a focus on love is a commitment to living together and learning to communicate with one another. Communication allows us to understand one another better.
To love is to celebrate.
We celebrate with joy and engagement. And certainly classrooms need to be places for celebration, laughter, acknowledgement of joys, and commendation of individual self-worth. When I started teaching kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to develop a writers’ workshop for my students so that they could discover the joy of writing that I have come to love so very much myself. I worked closely with a Literacy coach to find the best approach. One thing she felt strongly about was that writing needs to be celebrated. Even if it is as small as the sharing of stories on the blue rug: there must be time for each student to showcase their work so as to experience that thrill of pride that comes with accomplishment. I celebrate all of my writers. In fact, recently I took part in a three day in-service on writing in which I spoke about my writers’ workshop program with teachers from all across the Island. And the writers that I wanted to acknowledge first and foremost were my struggling writers. Theirs’ were the stories I shared prominently. The pages of their books are filled with seemingly in descript scribbles and wordless text- but it is writing to them. And it is writing to me. And I enthusiastically celebrate their amazing accomplishments.
To love is to empower:
Leggo writes that love seeks transformation- an ongoing process of creative change. Love calls out the gifts in others. And each of our students comes to school with their own unique talents and abilities. We as teachers must seek opportunity to empower our students- so that they believe all is possible, even from the greatest of possibilities down to the small. Whether we empower them academically or emotionally, as teachers we find a passion in our calling to make that impactful difference in the lives of our students so that they are then able to leave their own mark on the world. Often, the most powerful expression of empowerment in my classroom is by way of our words. I have a five year old student in my classroom right now who came to me with limited speech. Throughout the course of the year, she has found her voice. And she uses her voice now as a means of expression, assertion, connection and relationship. Even for my students who have no ‘voice’, in the conventional sense of the expression, they have still been empowered to speak and relate to others through the methods available to them: communication devices, PECS, sign language and body language. To communicate is a form of empowerment. And I am learning to be more aware of each student and how they can access this source of self-expression.
To love is to be in communion with one another.
We recognize the ‘otherness’ of each person- each unique individual, and we acknowledge the connections we have with each other by way of this recognition. According to Leggo, we need to learn to tell our stories to one another, practice an ethic of love along with forming loving relationships with one another. And it is through trust in each other and love of each other that we find the antidote to fear. Trust and love go hand in hand. We must not fear each others’ ‘otherness’. And though trust is harder to come by as we get older and more ‘wordly’, it is often a naturally, effusive response when one is five. I am often amazed at how trusting- at how innocent their faith in us as adults often is. They have trusted me with their most private secrets- sometimes outright hilarious, sometimes sweetly sentimental and at other times, heartbreakingly sad. I will never forget the stories my students have told me and the ways in which they have expanded my thinking about what it means to become human. The process itself is one which breathes life and love into this accepting heart.
To love is to forgive.
We think at the same time as we open up our hearts. And thinking is often what stalls us in the act of forgiveness- we remember. We have a hard time forgetting. The mind holds captive secrets that are hidden in deep recesses of the heart. But we learn to forgive – first ourselves, so that we in turn can forgive others. And in the process, we find that we are able to better understand that love can compensate for a multitude of errors. In becoming a teacher, I had to learn to forgive those in my past who formed deeply felt impressions of what education was all about- conformation, mind control and thought policing. I had to forgive the very ones who hurt me most. And I had to forgive so as to learn to love. I am convinced that I am the kind of teacher I am today because of the painful experiences I went through as a child and teenager. I have learned to forgive, and in the process I have come to understand, even if only minutely, what it means to love.
Carl Leggo asserts that in order to live fearlessly, we must learn to live in and with love. What I love about kindergarten is the fearlessness I find in students learning at this level. The fears are there, true. But by and large, there is no shame in fear at this level. Perhaps that is what it is- a lack of shame. For there is great belief in one’s ability. How is it that we lose this ethereal quality as we grow in number of years? There is something so beautiful and hopeful about a five year old mind. And it is in great part those minds which have taught me much of what I know for sure about love and what it really means for this simple teacher to become human. To become all I was meant to be.
To be fearless in love.