~hope~

The college admissions process, if I am being honest, is a destructive force in the life of high school students (I have other language for this but it’s not quite appropriate here). The urgency for students to make the very best grades in only the most challenging courses available hijacks their high school careers, and in many cases their quality of life and mental health. Students feel burdened to focus solely on a journey toward acceptance into college rather than on a course of self discovery; they are trained before they ever venture through the doors of high school that earning the highest grades supersedes learning for the sake of learning; high school becomes a means to an end rather than a place to dive in and truly engage in exploring curiosity. Teachers work hard to battle against this disruption in the educational lives of our kids, one that owns the potential to strip the true value of learning from their high school experience.

As a high school English teacher and principal, I could express concern for days on this subject. And not because my students are delicate flowers who can’t face the challenge–quite honestly, they persevere through it in a way most adults could not manage. My concern comes from the knowledge of what their high school careers could look like and the distorted version they are forced to live.

But this position is not the point of this blog…this is the “positivity project” after all! And the title of this blog is “hope”…so where is the hope, you are wondering? It is with the kids. They are always the hope.

Today, I was working with a senior on her college essay–guiding her through the process of maintaining her voice while revealing the best of herself. It was a delightful conversation–one that allowed her to maintain total control of her words and thoughts so that her essay absolutely represented her. She chose to write about a problem she would like to solve; she chose to write about civil discourse. Okay, so it is a given that anyone choosing the challenge of modeling civil discourse in our divisive and often vitriolic world and anyone willing to encourage others to participate has my attention. But the fact that this 18 year old is so driven by the import of this challenge delivers hope to my heart and reminds me why we do the hard work. It is important to note at this point that civil discourse is a sincere concern of hers and not just some concoction of desperation for admission to college. And her words reveal that:

Before I didn’t grasp how allowing vulnerability and discomfort into a conversation could solve the problem at hand. I didn’t realize that they were valuable and essential things I should embrace. I didn’t realize that what made me uneasy was the fundamental element that makes conversation helpful.”

Hope.

Because if everyone understood this and lived into it, the world would be a far more unified place to exist–people would live in community rather than in polarity. Rather than seeking means to always be in the right, we would spend more time listening, considering, understanding–even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it means sharing in an honest and meaningful way. We would come to conversations in love rather than hate. We would be better humans.

Hope.

Because she will make this world a better place. Because she already has. Because if we listen carefully, this legion of teens we are torturing with a grueling college admissions process will show us the way. They are already leading us in the right direction. Let’s give them the credit they deserve, swallow our pride, listen and act on their guidance.

Hope.

In her words, “ I know that if society wants to reach true productivity there has to be a constant, earnest conversation. No loopholes..can be tolerated so those engaged are dedicated to working for the common good and not their personal interests. 

I don’t know where I will end up after college or what profession I’ll venture into because I am unsure about a great deal of things. However…I recognize that I have a passion and a gift for encouraging other people to listen and for exemplifying how to discuss respectfully, and I have no intention of wasting it.”

 

 

 

today

Today is a day where I am ever more mindful that speaking out for justice is always necessary, even and especially when it is not easy. Today is a day where I am ever more aware that speaking out for justice is always going to be easier and safer for me than it has been and continues to be for so many others. Today is a day where I am reminded that speaking out for justice runs far deeper than simply posting a quote from a famous(ly assassinated) civil rights leader on social media. Today is a day where I refuse to believe that civil discourse is dead when I have the ability to teach young people just what it looks like and why it is important every day of the school year–the discussions will be difficult but they don’t have to be hateful–they can and should be an opportunity to ask, to listen, to grow. Today is a day where I understand the weight of the world that my privilege allows me to ignore so much of the time, that for others is the absolute heaviness of their constant reality. Today is a day where I call myself into question for nestling into that comfort instead of calling attention to the voices that deserve amplification, instead of fighting every single day. Today is a day where I refuse to be hopeless in a world that seems tilted past repair. Today is a day where I decide that while peace is part of the answer, I cannot wait for it to arrive; I have to live into it loudly and demand it for those who still await its presence (because, quite honestly, what is my peace worth if it is a singular entity, if it is not shared broadly and widely by all–because all deserve the freedom it brings). Today is a day where I am ever more certain that the freedom that allows us to feel triumphant in the world isn’t really freedom until every single one of us is allowed to stand under the protection of its umbrella. Today is a day where I turn my gaze inward with an honest eye to understand  my own bias, to understand my role in recognizing it and in pushing past it because even though that honesty will bring uncomfortable moments, my discomfort pales in the comparison. Today is a day where I recognize the truth of what it means to love my neighbor…to love others because they are a creation of God and because they are human (just like me)…that love is always deserved.

Today is a day where I remember (who I am called to be). Today is a call to action.

(I found this sonnet recently by James Weldon Johnson–I’ve spent some time with it today so I figured I would include it.)

(Day 16 of the king cake season blog a day challenge! This one is short but today was a lot about internal work. This blog speaks to the nature of it–more to write in response in the days to come)

inquiry

This weekend, I’m attending a Heinemann Professional Learning Institute in New Orleans on Curiosity across the Curriculum with teachers from across the country and I’m totally geeking out over the opportunity to sit and wonder and have my thinking pushed to the far reaches. I think that is something that so many of us as teachers–wait, what am I talking about…this is universal…I will rephrase–I think that is something that so many of us as humans are afraid of these days. We cocoon ourselves in the thinking that feels comfortable and safe in order to shield and protect ourselves from ideas and questions that might challenge what we are currently doing, feeling, or believing. I think this is part of what has led to the deterioration of discourse. It is, after all, easier to hide from or to yell over new ideas rather than to listen and consider them.

This institute is not only putting adults of varying backgrounds and viewpoints in a room together and asking them to question, consider and wonder, but the presenters are asking the teachers in attendance to help our students do the same thing. To allow students entry into their own education. To grant students permission to hear not just the teacher’s opinions on what is most important to know and how to learn it, but also permission to voice their own opinions and wonderings about the world…to invite students to be heard and to be seen in this moment as they are for who they are. If we preach acceptance of others to our kids, then we have to start living into that and that means accepting the kids in front of us too.

Instead of denying their thinking (and its validity/quality) and their curiosity because it doesn’t fit the curriculum, let’s start listening with ears that build bridges between their thinking and that mandated curriculum instead of with ears that only hear the disconnect. The concern that the curriculum offers no place, no time for wonder and for student driven inquiry is a valid one because often times it does not. So, we have to be creative and push ourselves to think beyond what has been handed to us in order to see further possibilities. We need to consider how much deeper the learning will be when the kids have taken ownership of it and are invested in a very real way. Make that concern your next wonder, your next curiosity and let it drive your next personal inquiry. If we are the lead learners in the room, we also have to be the lead wonderers. So, dig in, ask the questions, tell your kids about them and then figure out a means to experiment and play around with how to enact this in your classroom. And by all means don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what you have always done. That is, after all, what we ask kids to do every single day that they enter our space to learn!

At some point today, I realized that I hear all of this as a mom as well. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day actions and jobs of taking the boys to school, carting them to activities, ensuring homework and studying are completed, feeding everyone, and so on that I lose sight sometimes of asking them what is on their minds…and then also really listening when they share that with me. It is easy to get caught up in the need to clean rooms and to be on time and to ask the questions that I want to know the answers to that I forget to find out what questions are brewing in their brains. And I am certain there must be a zillion of them. It is so easy for me to pontificate on what to do in the classroom with other people’s kids when it comes to wonder and curiosity but when I consider if I have actually enacted that in my own home, well, I’m pretty guilty of not always being able to find the time. So, there’s that…

As I sit and listen this weekend…as I sit and enact an inquiry project, I am not only thinking about how this applies in my classroom but also in the world at large and in my home with my own family. Always important to remember that out of the cocoon, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Hoping to break out of my cocoon of comfort this weekend and spread my newfound wings as I reach for new understanding and begin to live it out.

(Day 14…this might be more of a rant than anything, but it just kind of flowed naturally so I let it happen instead of stopping to craft and edit along the way…a fun change. Many thanks to Sara Ahmed, Smokey Daniels, Steph Harvey, Nancy Steineke, and Kristin Ziemke for pushing my thinking this weekend! You guys are amazing!!)

unison

It began with a solitary voice.

She stood in front of the congregation, no music, no accompaniment…just a lone voice singing out, filling the silence.

“As I went down in the river to pray/ Studying about that good old way/ And who shall wear the starry crown/ Good Lord, show me the way!” 

Then suddenly two more voices joined hers and there were three voices singing together, filling the silence. Two by two, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, walked up and joined each other standing side by side singing. As more members of the choir and other church goers joined in and the sound of those beautiful voices singing in unison crescendoed, I found myself overwhelmed, tears welling.

I am easily moved, so tears like this aren’t uncommon. But today was different. Today, it wasn’t the words or even the beautiful voices. Today was a realization.

~~~

We live in a world where voices seem more often to scream out in discord rather than to join together harmoniously. Lone voices would rather be correct than work together to uncover what light and goodness might come from that union. Barriers go up so fast and they are built so solidly that it becomes impossible to even make sense of what is being said on the other side–we don’t hear the song, we just hear the noise…and the noise is loud. It feels unknown and unfamiliar and uncomfortable and what we don’t know frightens us so we fortify the barriers instead of asking questions, instead of seeking to understand. Our barriers are decorated carefully with words, phrases, posts and reposts so others will view them with reverence and maybe even fear. In their reinforcement, our barriers make us feel important. They make us feel right. They convince us that we don’t all have to live in this world together, that we really can separate ourselves and not interact, let alone interact civilly.

~~~ poetic interlude care of Robert Frost~~~

My students are currently conducting a little study on sonnets. One of the greatest common factors in the earliest sonnets is a diligent rhyme scheme. My kids tend to  love this quality because to many of them, rhyming poems feel like “real poems”…don’t get me started on this… Those rhymes echoing the same sound as the end of the line before, adding emphasis, adding rhythm also add a bit of comfort for my students who sometimes find themselves disconcerted by free verse. The earliest poems and stories we come to know in life rhyme, the first poems we write and are praised for often rhyme and so the rhyme in these sonnets brings on nostalgia for what was once deemed proper and correct. Breaking free from this concept that all poetry rhymes kind of terrifies some kids. It calls them to venture into territory they aren’t certain of, begs them to tear down barriers, requires them not to rely on the echo, on the creature comfort, but to create something that resonates with those around them for other reasons–meaningful reasons they must consider and craft. That is difficult work.

~~~a sonnet interlude care of Elizabeth Bishop~~~

I was working with a group of third through sixth graders at church one week and in the middle of a pretty lively conversation about judgments and bias and stereotypes asked them what it really means to love our neighbor. The inevitable eye roll and rote answer came my way. “Treat others the way we want to be treated.” Yes, but what does that look like? If we are truly called to love one another, what does that mean? How can we live into that? They thought for a bit and were hesitant to respond but once they did, the answers rolled in beautifully and honestly–“well, it’s hard because we are supposed to love everyone and not everyone is nice” “it means we are supposed to be kind” “it means that if someone is sitting alone at recess, I should go sit with them” And more…answers and examples unique to their daily experience came pouring in. It was a good reminder conversation with kids who have been taught this idea all of their lives. I ended the class by asking them to think about what specific actions they would really need to take in order to honor this commitment to love our neighbors. I joined in this thinking because I don’t think any of us are ever too old for this kind of intentional living, intentional loving. We all agreed that the things we thought about would be tough, but so is living in a world where people shy away from loving others just because sharing that love, sharing that grace, sharing that kindness feels like a risk. But we also agreed that it would be a risk worth taking.

~~~poetic interlude care of Naomi Shihab Nye-stick with this one, it is worth it~~~

I wasn’t even going to attend church today. I didn’t feel well last week and have so much work to do and so much that I could have gotten done during that time that would have made Monday far easier than it is going to be. But, my husband said the choir would be singing this song and it would be different so I went.

As I sat there in the crowd witnessing the growing number of voices joining in together to sing, my tears welling, I realized that there were no barriers. One lone voice singing out goodness was magnetic, and planned or not, others joined in, and like a light filling a dark room, the joy and goodness in their voices permeated hearts (or maybe just mine, but I’d like to think others felt it too). They weren’t echoing each other–Sure, they were singing together, but each voice sang out its own unique tone in its own unique way. There was no hiding in the choral unison because as voices joined in, they could be heard for who and what they were. Yet they all still made music, beautiful music together. There was love. That group of people, knowing them as I do, represented viewpoints and opinions that span the spectrum. They represented varying ages and identities, varying backgrounds and abilities and they stood together in agreement to sing a song about renewal, welcoming, and prayer. It was a visualization of what we need most in this world today, a visualization of what we could be–of what we were, if only for a moment and not just in a church but anywhere, everywhere.

And it was beautiful.

(Day 8, done. I’ve come to spend my days searching for something to write about since I’ve started this challenge instead of just waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s a good process I think but today was a moment in and of itself and begged me to put words to the emotion. Always the best when that happens!)