Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is it FEAR you’re afraid of?

afraid of fear
While mowing my lawn listening to Switchfoot on Spotify, I paused for a second as Jon Foreman sang the lyrics, “is it fear you’re afraid of?” Had to think about that line for a second. How many times are we afraid? Afraid of change. Afraid of living. Afraid of risks. Afraid of fear. Some people live in constant fear. Sad really, when fear takes hold of a heart, driving people to irrational anxiety or worry to the point of not living. I’ve been there myself.

As a child, my parents would send me downstairs to fetch something for them. Being the oldest child, it seemed that responsibility fell to me more often than my siblings. I hated going downstairs by myself. Some people love the isolation and quiet of the basement, but not me. It was one of my greatest fears. I was convinced there were people downstairs just under the stairs ready to grab my ankles through the open stairwell. To make matters worse, the light switch was at the top of the stairs. On more than one occasion, one less than sympathetic family member found it funny to turn the light off while I was downstairs. Fumbling my way through the dark I would clamour up the stairs to find the door locked. I could the hear sniggling siblings on the other side of the door getting all kinds of pleasure at my expense. Fear would rise inside of me intermingled with physical panic causing me to gasp for air. I hated those stairs, I hated that basement, I wanted to hate those siblings.

Years later, my fear turned to full blown anxiety when I found myself working in a group home trying to put myself through college. As much I told myself that I didn’t need to be afraid of those kids, my irrational fear could not control the thought patterns I had trained my mind to think. I felt so out of control and afraid. It took a lot of reading, self-reflection, journaling, and talking to finally change those patterns.

That was over 30 years ago. Over the years, I have used my weaknesses and failures as a means to empathize with my students in the classroom. As teachers, Parker Palmer reminds us that we “try to teach to their fearful hearts” so they can be freed up to learn and change their hearts. How many of our students struggle to come to school each and every day? Fear is fear, irrational or not. It still bottles people up limiting them from really living. Nothing drives me crazier than watching unsympathetic and uncaring individuals ignorantly go about their daily affairs, so wrapped up in their selfish lives, oblivious of people suffering from fear. And even worse, when it’s kids who are suffering!

It takes very little for us to smile and say hello. It takes very little to stop and engage in conversation. It takes very little to give of our time to make another feel of some importance or significance. It takes very little in comparison to a lifetime to stop and listen to the heartbeat of a child’s soul echoing its sad refrain. Yet if it takes so little, what stops so many of us from giving a little of ourselves to ease the child’s fearful suffering.

I think truth be told, many of us have yet to master the fear we have within ourselves. We are still afraid of fear. We are afraid to die, we afraid to live, we are afraid to fail, we are afraid to succeed, we are afraid to lose, we are afraid to win, we are afraid of change, we are afraid things staying the same. The list goes on. But we downplay the power fear has over us when we don’t acknowledge how much it controls us.

“As soon as our own safety is threatened, we tend to grab the first stick or gun available, telling ourselves that our survival is what really counts even if thousands of others are not going to make it. Aren’t we so insecure that we will snatch at any form of power that gives us a little bit of control over who we are, what we do, and where we go?

“I know my sticks and guns. Sometimes my stick is a friend with more influence than I; sometimes my gun is money or a degree; sometimes it is a little talent that others don’t have; and sometimes it is special knowledge, or a hidden memory, or even a cold stare. I will grab it quickly and without much hesitation when I need it to stay in control. And before I realize it, I have pushed my friends away.” Henri Nouwen.

I am not afraid to say that I still live in fear, but I have acknowledged it, talked it through with loved ones, embraced a growth mindset that doesn’t feel shame for being afraid. I may still be afraid of fear, but I don’t let it stop me from living. I use fear to keep me alert to the dangers in life, not to force me into hiding. I don’t keep it all bottled up inside anymore. I’m honest about what it did to me. I’m not ashamed of it because I’ve had to push passed it. I allow myself to feel things and not become so detached and calloused. I let myself be human. So, yes, it is FEAR that I’m afraid of. Truth be told, we’re all afraid. But can we all admit it?

Karen Thompson Walker adds some of her thoughts on what fear can teach us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Dared to Gaze Off into the Sunset…

How often do we fail to stop and appreciate what we have in life? We get so mired in the negative. So much is lost of time because we fail to adjust our attitudes. If you were to ask me how I was doing a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have replied with much positive, because all I could see, feel, breath was the noxious negativity that I found myself in. Every time I opened my mouth I hated what I heard myself saying. I was frustrated and angry. I could choose to remain in this state of mind, or I could lose myself in the beauty of nature and space to regain perspective.

So for the past three weekends, we have gone camping. A time to get away and reflect. A time to read and escape into a world of fiction and fantasy. A time to rest and get away from the demands of life. A time to refresh and feed my soul. A time to heal from all the hurtful things hurled at me. A time to forgive and release the bitterness that encompassed my being.

And then on one of these camping excursions, a sunset rests gently into that goodnight that reminds you that everything will be okay. The winds still. The glassy mirroring water shimmers tranquillity for those willing to stop and dare to gaze off into the sunset to lose themselves for the next few minutes. Peace floods my soul. I am in awe and wonder of such beauty that the toxic tentacles evaporate into oblivion unable to maintain its hold on my heart. I want to feel love, not hate. I want to care despite the hurt and pain of rejection and failure. I am free to love because I choose to let the negative go.

May you dare to gaze off into the sunset and find some peace too! 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Love and Learning Go Hand in Hand

I was reading this morning from 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. Not to get all spiritual on everyone, I was, however, drawn into thought about the centrality of love with regard to schools and learning. As a teacher, if all l focus on is covering the curriculum outcomes without a love for the student, or a care for their situation in life, I may get results, but not near the results I would with love.

Let’s break this down. I’ve copied the passage that so many of us are familiar with from the numerous summer weddings we have attended. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not brag, it is not puffed up, it does not behave inappropriately, it does not seek its own way, it is not provoked, it keeps no account of wrong, it does not rejoice over injustice but rejoices in the truth; it bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. Love never fails.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4–8‬ ‭TLV

The teacher that loves the students, from a place so deep that cares for their being and the whole child, gets results beyond the curricular outcomes. That teacher puts the students needs before their own. That teacher is patient with all the frustrating and repeating negative behaviours of the student. That teacher shows kindness in return to rude comments and doesn’t keep a record of wrongdoings by the student. That teacher doesn’t think themselves better than any students but is grateful for the opportunity to positively influence and change a life. That teacher doesn’t dig in their heels against change because they want their own way, they put students first. That teacher doesn’t label students lazy when the student underperforms, instead, they look for ways to engage the student and build a healthy trusting relationship where learning can happen. That teacher embraces their own failures as well as the students so that they can both learn together. That teacher believes that students can learn and bears that responsibility to ensure every student is given that opportunity. That teacher possesses a hope that every student will grow up with a passion for learning and growing. No matter what happens in and out of the classroom, that teacher endures all things until retirement day still believing in students and wanting the best for them. Why? Because that teacher knows that love never fails.

I was talking to a friend and colleague recently, and he shared a story about going into a Principals office and being the question, “Whose the most important people in the school?” He replied, “The students.” The principal made the buzzing sound you hear when you give a wrong answer and said, “Wrong, the teachers are the most important.” I’m saddened by that principal’s perspective, because when we as teachers, administrators, and staff put students and their needs first, we all benefit in the end. In my school, students are the most important. Why? Because I love my students. I want them to learn. Love and learning go hand in hand.

You think about that.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Makes a School Great? Whole School Approach to Learning

I want to start by saying, Bassano School is a great school. It’s a great school for a number of reasons. 

First of all, Bassano School has a great history of educating children. Some of you may have been so fortunate to have attended Bassano School fifteen, twenty, or even fifty years ago. I love walking the hallways in the high school and looking at the photographs of past graduates. Whether you attended in the past or not, I think we can agree that Bassano School has established quite a legacy of giving students opportunities to advance themselves beyond Grade 12 if they so chose. But our school isn’t made great simply because of what it did in the past, we must continue to stir the minds of students for learning. If all we strive for is to educate students as our primary goal, we have missed our purpose. We want to teach students how to learn as a lifelong pursuit. If all we do is equip students with the tools to learn how to think for themselves, learn new things as they grow, and know how to work, we have reached a great goal. So we are not in the business to educate as in a task to be completed, but rather we are a school that teaches students how to be learners.

Second, Bassano School is a great school because we challenge students and teachers alike to love learning. We want each person in our School to become independent, critical thinkers. We’re even okay with students arguing their point of view, albeit respectfully. Our task as teachers is not to teach students to submit to strict compliance. Our oldest daughter was the compliant child. She did exactly what she was supposed to do most of the time. She may not have agreed with what was asked of her, but she dutifully complied. That’s not what I wanted for her because so often I found that she was living her life to please us as parents and not living out her passions, her own dreams. Not unlike our students, we want them to add their own flavour and style to their learning. Learning needs to be relevant to their own lives in order for it be meaningful. The learning isn’t limited to students. As teachers, we need to be reflective in our teaching  and learning. It requires us to stretch ourselves and ask the  important questions of why we teach the way we do or do our assessment more fairly. If we want students to love learning, we need to love learning too and model it for our students.

Third, Bassano School is a great school because we believe that students and teachers alike are important. We believe that we cannot teach a child unless we foster an environment for relationship building with students. We need to be transparent mentors that can admit to failures and mistakes. Students need to know they can fail and still make things right and move forward. That’s why we allow students to do rewrites, redos, and retakes for tests and assignments. We encourage students and teachers to work together and find ways to demonstrate learning. We believe that every learner can learn, it’s only a matter of when they will learn. 

Fourth, Bassano School is a great school because we celebrate the diversity of race, religion, and orientation. We promote respect for all types of learners. We make no distinction between those with money and resources and those with little or no accumulated wealth. Everyone is treated with equality and fairness. We will not condone a sense of entitlement to dictate the future of our school. We live in a transient society with people coming and going in and out of our community. Everyone’s opinion matters, whether they have a short-term relationship with the school or have been here for a lifetime. We may not agree with one another, but we will respect the opinions of others with open-mindedness and tolerance. 

Finally and most importantly, Bassano School is a great school because we have a caring and kind group of students in our school. We may have our conflicts from time to time, but that’s life. We will listen to students first before jumping to conclusions. We will hear every side out and try to talk things out before making decisions. We don’t expect perfection from our students, but we expect effort. Try, fail, try again, fail again, try harder and succeed. Not every student is destined for college or university, but we will make sure everyone is assisted in finding out what they want to do after school. We will listen to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks. Everyone is important and has value to us as a school.