Hugs and Hope, Integrity and Inspiration

Today I received the book Hugs from Obama: A Photographic Look Back at the Warmth and Wisdom of President Barack Obama. As you might expect, it is full of tender (and sometimes amusing) photos of Obama with everyone from babies to seniors: all ages and all ethnicities. The pictures are complemented by his own words.

One of my favourites quotes in the book is this: “For, it turns out, we do not persevere alone. Our character is not found in isolation. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down, it is found by lifting others up.” On the opposing page Barack Obama lies on his back on the floor of the White House, smartly dressed in a suit, lifting a baby dressed in an elephant sleeper in the air above his head – eye contact and smiles shared.

On another page, the words he spoke at a memorial service in Arizona in January of 2011: “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” In the accompanying picture he embraces a women whose head rests on his shoulder, smile on her face, eyes closed.

I can tell this is a book I will flip through from time to time… perhaps when I want to be reminded of the grace and integrity in our world… perhaps when I need some inspiration or a smile.

It’s only fitting that I leave the last words to him: “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mercy, Compassion, Hope and Purpose

I am deeply affected by the news: images of violence, injustice and suffering stay with me. I could turn away or avoid watching. Instead, each time I see poverty and injustice in our world, each time I see news of a mass shooting or an act of violence, I try to remind myself of the human element within these stories. I remind myself that the perpetrators of crime, those who demonstrate hate, those who seem ignorant, they too have stories. They too were once children on a playground. And sadly, many of these perpetrators have been victims of violence, hate and ignorance themselves.

Does this cycle of abuse, or of ignorance, excuse their behaviour? Certainly, no. But it does give us some perspective.

This summer I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice that defends the poor, the disabled, the wrongly condemned. One afternoon as I was nearing the end of the book, I found myself in tears. I was moved by the determination of this lawyer who continues to act with compassion and mercy despite the ongoing obstacles he faces and the unthinkable inhumanities he witnesses. It would be easy to say, “Someone else can do it. Someone else can make the difference.”

But despite everything, he forges on. “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering” (Stevenson, 2014, p 294).

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t do what he is doing. But I can do my part in my circle of influence. I can give value and voice to those I teach. I can educate with love and compassion. I can provide insight into alternative ways of being through literature and by example. Perhaps the connections I make with my students will provide hope and purpose in an otherwise desolate situation.

Jack Canfield says: “Every day we have the opportunity to make a positive impact. No matter how great or how small, you can make a difference.” I am uplifted by the potential of our collective actions! 

“If you build it…”

I’ve watched Field of Dreams many times over the years. I was even fortunate to meet W.P. Kinsella, the author of the book Shoeless Joe, on which the movie is based.

I connect to the movie for a number of reasons. First, it’s about the father/child relationship. Second, it’s about baseball. Not only have I played for more than half of my life, I have countless treasured memories of playing catch with my own dad. And finally, the movie also features a writer. So yes, I connect to the movie. But isn’t that the point? Connections.

Perhaps Field of Dreams doesn’t do anything for you. Perhaps you have another favourite movie or book that means little to me. We don’t always know what our students will connect with. This is precisely why we must provide literature on a variety of topics and themes. When students connect to the literature they read, they will forge a relationship with books and reading, and perhaps, understand themselves a little better.

“If you build it, he will come.”

The All Important First Day

Tomorrow morning, you will meet those with whom you will spend the next ten months. You’re not the only one feeling a little anxious today; many of your students are a jumble of nerves, too.

And although you have your lessons planned and your lists of things to accomplish on that all important first day, the most important thing you can do tomorrow is connect with each and every one of your students. To ensure they feel valued as a member of your classroom. To convince them that you look forward to seeing them back again the next day and the day after that.

Not all of them will be as easy to welcome as others. Some will not arrive with school supplies tomorrow and others may forget their homework most days of the year. Some will test you and others may lash out at their peers. But likely, these are the students who need you the most.

Our students come to us with past experiences: some wonderful, some tragic. They come to us with dreams and flaws. They come to us with a range of emotion, confidence levels and abilities. Regardless of how they come – and this you will learn more about each day of the year – they need you. They need you to demonstrate patience and compassion. They need you to love learning alongside them. They need you to be their champion. 

Begin tomorrow. And at day’s end, ask yourself if you took the time to talk, however briefly, with each little soul in your class.

The First Assignment of the Year

In their book 180 Days, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle explain an assignment they give to their grade nine students on the first day of class: a letter to themselves. “We ask students to share their hopes, their dreams, their goals, and their fears. We encourage them to ponder the questions they have as they enter high school, and we ask them to make predictions as well” (p. 25). The letter is returned to the students at the end of their senior year. 

Regardless of the grade you teach, the idea for this assignment is powerful. Day one: a letter to self. Students become actively engaged in authentic and meaningful writing immediately. The expectation is set: writing will be a part of your daily classroom work.

Good practice reminds us to spend time in discussion with our students to ensure they have generated some ideas before it comes time to write. For those students who need further support, consider prompting them to begin three paragraphs with starters such as: I hope…, I’m nervous about…, I predict….

And while the students are writing a letter to themselves, write one to your self as well…

Our Mission

In Book Love, Penny Kittle challenges us as teachers: “Every student needs to know the power of a reading life. Dickens simply won’t matter to most twenty-first-century teenagers unless they have developed a love of books first – a trust that even the most difficult ones can be worthwhile. We can and must develop that trust every year in school.” (2013, p. 23)

Despite the grade we teach, we can undertake the mission to hook our students on books and instill a love of reading. Share your favourites. Read to your class every day: no exceptions. Talk to your students about books. Let them see you reading. Reveal your excitement. Feign excitement if you have to. Just do what it takes to hook them on books!

I urge you to read Neil Gaiman’s speech: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming. The twelve or fifteen minutes it takes will confirm this all important mission that we undertake together as teachers.

“The Greatest Benefit to Mankind”

This summer, I visited both the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway and the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Surrounded by screens displaying pictures of past Nobel Prize winners and reading the brief descriptions of why they were chosen, I couldn’t help feel inspired. Over the last few years, I have found listening to the news especially disheartening. Yet these museums reminded me of the remarkable, positive impact that individuals can have on our world: something we don’t hear enough.

Alfred Nobel himself is quite an inspiration. By seventeen years old, he was fluent in five languages. In his lifetime he held 355 patents and established countless factories throughout the world. Nobel died in 1896. In his will, he explained his wish for his fortune to be used to honour those who demonstrate the greatest benefit to mankind in five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. The annual honours were first awarded in 1901.

In 2017, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was the organization ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons). Part of the exhibit which featured this winner was directed at children. The exhibit made me realize that the Nobel Prizes would be an excellent topic of learning and discussion for our students with links to the curriculum in science, social studies, language arts, health and for those of us in faith-based schools, religion class.

Upon my return home I took a look at the Nobel Prize websiteThe organization clearly values teachers! In their words: “Without great teachers, no new Nobel Laureates. Therefore, teachers and students are especially important to us.” 

The website has lesson plans, slides and many videos available for teachers to use with their students. How might the awarding of this prize or these inspirational laureates make their way into your classroom? A few minutes of exploration on the website will likely spark an idea or two!

Today I’m giving the last word to the youngest Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014:

And, breathe…

You did it! You survived another year.

This summer, I wish you:

  • longer than 4 1/2 minutes to eat lunch
  • time to go to the bathroom whenever you please
  • time to read at least one of the books on the stack you have waiting
  • every day moments of beauty
  • a little bit of adventure
  • and, of course, some well-deserved rest!

As for me, I won’t be posting for a few weeks… see you in August!

It’s not too late to write!

With one week left of school, it’s not too late to write!

Ask students to write a letter! To who?

  • to a student entering their class next year telling them what to expect
  • to next year’s teacher sharing accomplishments or anything they want the teacher to know about them
  • to you, their current teacher, sharing their learning and memories from the year

Another engaging writing task? A summer bucket list! Encourage students to research activities within your city or community including prices. Challenge them to make a list of ten things they would like to do, half of which are free.

To promote summer writing, provide students with an envelope addressed to you at the school. Invite students to write to you over the summer highlighting their adventures.

If you have older students who love to write, suggest one of the websites within this link: http://www.readbrightly.com/6-great-websites-teen-writers/

So… enjoy fun day and the end of year celebration, but in between, find a few moments to write!