Yesterday was municipal election day in Alberta: an opportunity to have our voices heard.
Our voices matter not only in an election but in our daily interactions. Words of support. Words of encouragement. Words of protest. Words in defence of another. Words of solidarity. Words of hope.
If you have ever wondered if one person, one voice, can make a difference, consider this group of people: Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai.
“When we extend ourselves to another human being in any way at all, when we positively touch the life of one person, we benefit the whole of humanity.” Gail Pursell Elliott
Our voices matter.
In my new role – leading student writing residencies – I had the pleasure of working in three schools last week. It has become quite obvious that kids are kids wherever we are! Sure, individual personalities are unique and group dynamics distinct; however, the tendencies are the same.
Each class has the intent listeners, the social butterflies, the compassionate kids, the deep thinkers, the complimentary kids, and of course, those-who-would-talk-all-day-if-we-let-them kids!
I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach my passion to children: I delight in their authentic, enthusiastic and joyful nature.
My heart is heavy. After watching the news yesterday, I went in search of a book to read. My plan was to have a bath and escape the reality of world events for a time. I pulled a favourite author off the shelf, Rex Stout: one of his books that I’ve read many times over. I was comforted by the familiarity of the characters, their banter, and the old brownstone in which they live and work.
I often speak to the power of words and yesterday I proved to myself their power in my own life: I sought to read and write, both, for comfort.
This week is Read In Week in Edmonton: a week long event designed to celebrate reading and bring awareness to the importance of literacy. A variety of community members – parents, grandparents, media personalities, politicians, artists and athletes – are invited to read in classrooms throughout the city.
As teachers, we rarely need an excuse to read a good book. We know they have the power to transform lives: to entertain, inform, uplift and inspire. Books make us laugh and cry. They provoke thought, spark conversation and spur ideas. And yesterday, I was reminded of the escape they can provide on difficult days.
Today, as a guest reader at my former school, I look forward to reading A Perfect Day by Lane Smith and Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton to several classes of Kindergarten, grades 1 and 2. I’ve chosen The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore for the grades 3 to 6 classes – always a fun choice in celebration of books!
In these days of confusion and despair, let us be distracted by a good book. Let us find love in the world and hope in each other.
As I look down at my dog, he is only half in his bed: his head spills onto the floor.
Now, his bed is big enough. In fact, we have two beds in two different rooms. And every so often I see him lie as he is now. And I wonder, why? It sure doesn’t look comfortable.
Is he so deep in sleep that he loses track of his own body? Is he just off balance and can’t find the centre of the bed? Is this the canine equivalent to thinking outside the box?
He reminds me though, that what seems normal or expected with our students, sometimes isn’t the case. Our students may choose to do things that seem illogical or senseless to us, but we don’t necessarily know their reasons.
Thankfully, unlike with my dog, we can ask the kids. And we may be surprised at their reasoning!
Words delight me. I like the sound of them when I read them. I like manipulating them to roll off your tongue. I like playing with parallel language, alliteration and syllable count.
Yesterday, my mom heard an interview on CBC radio and texted me to tune in. It wasn’t long before I had found another lover of words, Daniel Tammet. But as I listened, I became more and more intrigued. This man spoke of words in a way I had never heard before: words as numbers, images, shapes, colours and emotions.
Daniel is a high-functioning autistic savant.
After listening to the interview, I went out and bought his book: Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing. I just finished watching a documentary about him entitled The Boy With the Incredible Brain. The more I have watched and read about him, and by him, the more fascinated I am. He experiences the world – nature, numbers, words – unlike the vast majority of us.
He says this, “Words have been knots of beauty and mystery as long as I can remember.”
Although I cannot experience words as he does, I share his love for them. And, I will never again look at a word in quite the same way.
Over the last few weeks, the world has been especially ravaged by earthquakes, landslides, floods, fires, hurricanes, war and political unrest. It can be difficult to watch the devastation faced by millions without knowing quite how to help. I can pray, provide monetary support, and help students with their fundraising efforts, but really, in many ways, I feel helpless.
Yet it is important to find ways to remain hopeful in today’s world climate and to help our students do the same. I take comfort in art.
Artists can take difficult situations and create beauty, provoke thought, construct meaning, make us laugh, and challenge our norms.
Don McLean wrote American Pie about the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. New Yorkers created a Tribute in Light: twin beams of light reaching up to 4 miles in the sky as a commemorative art installation to 9/11. Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr collaborated to create a stunning picture book, Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, about a Syrian family. And, I’ve especially appreciated (and found comfort in) SNL over the last seven or eight months.
Each of these examples has the power to uplift and provide hope. Providing our students with opportunity to both experience and create art is life-giving. George Bernard Shaw was right: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
I sit at my computer, coffee within reach, candles lit, dog curled up in his bed beside me, and I write. Yet today is the first day of school. I have taken a year off to do exactly what I am currently doing, but I have to admit, today feels strange.
I love the first day of school. The back-to-school hugs. The summer stories. The “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown over the summer” comments. Reassuring the kindergarten parents that their children are fine. My walk from class to class hearing, seeing and feeling the excitement this day brings.
But today I am home. And I am happy to be home. Just know a little piece of me is in school with you…
I visited four schools this week. There was an excitement in each building – the back-to-school buzz! Secretaries and clerks accepting new registrations. Administrators planning for meetings and adjusting class lists. Custodians moving, culling and cleaning. Teachers completing all of the last minute classroom preparation: labelling, organizing and planning.
The promise of a new year is before us. Goals to be accomplished… ideas to be tried… staff to reconnect with… new students to meet, motivate and inspire.
Remember, in Malala Yousafzai’s words, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
Happy New Year!
There’s nothing quite like the unexpected death of a family member to jolt you back into reality and remind you that life is precious. Without warning routine breaks and what seemed important before the event, suddenly holds little significance.
These last few days have reminded me to live in the moment not knowing what is around the corner. I am reminded to take care of myself by valuing my mind, body and soul. I am reminded to chase after my dreams while I have the awesome opportunity to do so. I am reminded to hold my loved ones close and to tell them how much they matter. I am reminded to enjoy the little things, for perhaps, they are the big things.
Yesterday has past and tomorrow will come. I will live today.
As the days of August pass, some schools are already back in session and others will begin in the upcoming weeks. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
Although he was speaking of the seasons of nature, this quote reminded me of the seasons of school. Students and teachers look forward to summer and the time it provides. Many though, also look forward to the beginning of the school year and the opportunities it presents.
As you prepare to return to the classroom, enjoy the time, relish the excitement, reconnect with colleagues, and treasure each moment. Returning to work means you are alive and well!