Cultivation of Connection

Today I met with one of my colleagues to plan for a mini conference we are putting together. In our presentation we want to make the point to our district administration the power that connection holds on educators. When we feel connected to one another, we want to do better by those people we are connected to.

This work of feeling connected is REALLY difficult in school spaces. As educators we have been trained to make judgements, to create challenges for students based on where we judge them to be, to find the areas of possibility for our students…AND this means that it is hard for us to turn it off with our colleagues and with ourselves.

It takes work and PRACTICE to cultivate spaces of openness towards one another, places where we can be honest about our struggles, and to say the things out loud that are hard to say.

My question for you, dear reader, is what and where are the spaces where you cultivate a practice of connection in your teaching life?

Springtime’s the Right Time

Spring is a really difficult time for teachers, that time just before Spring Break – that time when the behaviors of adults and students have simply become too much to bear. Things that could slide off in the fall, not longer hold their charm – this time of year they simply make us angry.

Despite doing the work with the inciting offenders, this time of year they continue to…well…offend.

This year I am handling my general malaise differently. Rather than getting dragging in and dragged under, I choose to show unending love towards the people who are positive influences in my life. This might be a soft note to a co-worker. Or an ice cream cone with my daughter. Or dinner with my brother. Or simply running through my day with my husband while I cook dinner.

After all, the meaning of life – the happiness we all deserve – is in the seemingly small moments. So my challenge to all of you sweet teachers out there is this: take a moment today to show those you love a little ray of sunshine.

Peace.

Undertow

This winter break I had the opportunity to sit on a beach. It was too windy to do most water activities, so sitting on the beach it was. Then I caught the crud that’s going around…the beach was a great place to be while my lungs cleared.

The truth is, I have not had the opportunity to slow down in quite some time. Every break has been taking care of family members. Every break has been filled with tough decisions. Every break has brought me further and further from myself.

At the sea there are often warnings for a strong undertow. The ocean looks the same, but there is a current that will quickly pull a person under and take them out to sea. It is a mighty force that cannot be readily seen from shore.

2018 pulled me out to sea. It was unnoticeable even to me until I sat on the beach for a week in stillness. I knew the year would be tough – I knew my father would die at some point in the year. I shored up my mindfulness practices. I galvanized what I know of grief (too much), and I spent as much time with him as I could.

But once he was gone, the undertow pulled me out. It was so subtle I didn’t even notice it. I was so busy just surviving: filling myself with “meaningful” things at work, creating time spent with others, using physicality to work the pain and grief through my body.

But now I know. All of this was the undertow – I have been pulled out to sea. I have been unmoored and now must begin the long swim back to shore.

The swim for me will involve taking stock of what is really necessary, letting go of some things, some people. It will involve tapping back in to my own vitality and self study to gain better clarity about my dharma so I can make more integrated decisions about what fills my cup. And most importantly, it will involve spending lots of time with my family.

Living the Questions

David Whyte has this poem called “Sometimes” that ends with the line “Questions that have no right to go away.” This line always haunts me and bubbles up so many things within me, things that in stillness come up from my depths of my own humanness. Things like:

  • Am I truly following my purpose in my life, or some other person’s idea they held about my purpose long ago?
  • How can I fulfill my purpose without burning myself out or getting spit out by the machine that is education?
  • How can I create spaces for reflection and self-care while still honoring the power of the hustle?
  • How do I value my self…the self that yearns to be heard, to be brought forward, to learn, to grow, and to go on wild adventures?
  • How do I live my life in the most loving way possible?
  • How do I move from the heartache I have had into a wholeness that honors the pain that has catapulted me into wholehearted living?
  • How do I fiercely love my family without driving them or myself crazy?

I challenge you, dear friends, to bring your questions to the surface. For sometimes the questions hold more power than that answers. As we move through our lives, living the questions, we find ways to answer them not through words, but through simply living them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Conference

In schools, we teach and we make decisions that we HOPE will make our students’ lives better. When we are doing our jobs well, we will not always all be happy or comfortable as adults. Whenever I don’t like how something is done, I must examine how that thing is or is not making my students’ lives better. If it’s not making them better students, stronger citizens, or kinder people, I must examine and speak out.

Last night  I spoke to a black father at parent-teacher conferences. He spoke to me about not wanting his son to feel like the token black male in any of his classes. We were speaking about his son’s ability to bring people together, to create deep understanding collectively…I was speaking about a discussion his son had in class about rhetorical strategies in the Declaration of Independence, but it quickly became clear that this father was afraid his son felt he had to speak as a black male in the class.

As I probed and asked questions to understand his experience, I landed on, “It must be very painful to bring this to the table.” He looked at me, looked down and said, “Yes. It is painful. I don’t want my son to feel my pain.”

In that moment we spoke  about goals for the class, what readings he could expect, and where to go from here. In that moment I felt close to this father, compassion, for his fight for his son. It made me feel compassion for how difficult it must be for this father to continuously fight to help his son’s white teachers understand.

 

Molly 5-0

Today is my birthday. This morning I woke up with a sinus infection, I got into an argument with my husband, and I have parent conferences this evening. Not what I’d characterize as my ideal day.

BUT I have had tons of messages on Facebook, I have had colleagues stop by to wish me a happy day, and I have even had old student pop by because they wrote my day down in their planner. Yep, life is pretty good.

These big birthdays make us sit down to reassess, to examine whether we are living our lives the way we dream. One of the things I am really missing in my life is the consistent writing I used to do. That is my goal here: more consistent writing. I desire to hone my skill, and the best way to do this is to…well…write.

So cheers to 50! Cheers to creating the best life in the second half.

Peeling Back the Layers

I spent A LOT of time just trying to be noticed as a child. I am the youngest kid in my family by 6 years – and the only child of my parents’ union. I was chubby, athletic, and obnoxious in my quest for attention, my quest for acceptance, my quest to feel loved.

This summer I sat with my dad for days while he transitioned to his “next adventure” in a beautiful hospice facility called Marley House. In the time he slept, I went through box after box of files from the last 50 years of his life. Most of the boxes contained the basic old financial statements, or funny clips I’m sure he thought he would come upon one day for another chuckle.

Every so often, I came across a nugget – some glimpse into my father’s life that revealed a new layer about him. There were the papers that he saved from the divorce where my parents fought over custody for me, and then how much he would have to pay. There were the papers the same year as the divorce showing he took three months off of work to convalesce because of his depression.

Each paper revealed another layer of my father’s love for me. Each paper revealed how much he fought himself to stay healthy. Each paper revealed to me how hard life became for my dad after his divorce – how he worked to redeem himself not only in his eyes, but in mine as well.

While I spent my childhood days trying to get noticed by him, by my siblings, by anyone who would pay attention, my dad struggled. I thought I had to be more: louder, more funny, more athletic, more intellectual, more beautiful, more skinny…more.

As an adult with my own child and family, I work to get off the carnival ride of more. And what I realized sitting next to his bed at Marley House is that I was ALWAYS enough in his eyes – I didn’t need to be more. Although I could not see it, I was deeply loved. I was loved unconditionally – it was all right there the whole time – I just thought it looked differently than it does in my family.

My dad did his best to love me, to nurture me…to notice.

What if I get grounded?

I have asked my students to hold a Civil Conversation with someone over this Thanksgiving holiday. I was going to assign it later, but on my way to school last Tuesday I thought my students need to do it this weekend while families are in town, while they have an opportunity to sit down and have conversation with someone they disagree with, someone they also care about.

We are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and exploring how his experiences shaped his worldview through each of his transformations. Students have also written about their own worldview, and while they struggled to write about how their experiences have shaped their worldview, they were able to discuss it in general terms.

My hope in working on this project with my students is twofold: 1. that students will create spaces to disagree with others respectfully, 2. that students will understand how a person’s experiences shape their viewpoints on issues.

When I introduced the civil conversations project where students will film a 3-5 minute conversation with someone with whom they disagree, they got really excited. Nervous. Yes. But excited. They even stated, “I love it when we do cool stuff in here…” Students knew when they left the class with whom they would talk, what they might talk about, and had a plan to figure out how to ask questions to bring out the experiences that develop the other person’s point of view.

Their task? Not to “win,” but to come to an understanding. To understand the other person’s point of view and how their experiences support their view.

At one point, one of my students asked, “What if I get grounded?” I told her that she would stop before her discussion moved to an emotional point, and I gave her some tips. We role played in class, and they were off.

E

I listened. I did. I promise. And what I heard did not feel good. What I heard helped me find my way, a very small calling. What I heard shifted ever so slightly the way I engage with my world.

I filmed myself teaching last week. I filmed myself and then I put it up in front of my colleagues – colleagues I see and work with every day – and asked them to look for when kids looked engaged using the sentence stems “I see…” and “I hear…” to objectively point it out.

Granted, the video was not perfect. I was trying out some new technology and mostly got the tops of kids’ heads, and I just filmed my teaching, no dog and pony, just filming.

The discussion began as planned. Then one person pointed out DISengagement and the people who followed from that point on couldn’t helped but follow. One of the kids looked like he had a fight spinner, he didn’t know/ understand what you were doing…

A simple protocol, point out examples of engagement. Simple… and yet we could not do it. And I don’t say this as I condemnation – I would like to be extremely clear about this. I place no blame, I place no judgement- rather I offer this observation/ experience as a symptom of a much larger problem in academia.

We teachers are so trained to analyze behaviors, academic works, the learning of our students (or lack thereof), that we have a difficult time noticing when our students do it well. In fact, this experience has shown me that we have a hard time doing it for EACH OTHER as professionals.

If we can’t watch one another teach to point out where it’s going well, how are we going to build the trust to work together when it’s not?

Let’s face it – I can take any lesson I’ve taught and tear it apart. I can point out in any liven lesson who’s not getting it. What I can’t do by myself is to notice, analyze, and leverage what I do well.

After all, it is my faults I notice the most. It is what I don’t do well that I craft and hone to become better. What if we helped one another, as colleagues, become stronger by first noticing our strengths, the ways kids are engaging in our teaching so that we could grow those practices?

#edspiration

Intersection

As I decide on a word for this school year, I originally thought that connection would win out. But as I think about those places in my life for connection, I am beginning to think that intersection might be a better word.

When we create a connection, we intersect with whatever it is. Think about the spokes on the wheel of a bike and how they come together to connect and create strength. Without the spokes coming together, the wheel would become weak; it would collapse.

Intersection involves not merely connection, but the idea that once we meet one another and intersect, we begin to take in the other. That the other becomes a piece of us is the essence of intersection. Connection, to me, implies that we come together, but it may or may not mean anything beyond that.

Once we intersect we become stronger like the wheel. When we take time to listen, to really listen, to those we connect with is when we begin to take in those we listen to. Without really hearing each other we don’t necessarily intersect, we don’t become stronger together.

When I think about all of the roles I play, they all come together. They come together to make me a stronger and better human moving my way clumsily around this planet. I can take my experiences from travel, from skiing, from cycling, from teaching English, from working closely with teachers, from coaching colleagues, from teaching yoga, from being a yoga student, from being a mother, from being a wife, from being a sister…and use all of these things to keep me firmly planted, rooted in the strength of all of these things coming together at the center of my being.