We need others, students and adults alike. 

I thought I didn’t need anyone.  A child with my own pains and own learning fumbles, I pushed aside family and teachers that proffered to help.  The help seemed like a facade of good intentions and I felt unworthy of the true care any outlier might have had.  Yet the persistent presence of education in my life, a privilege not lost on me ever, but especially now having seen more of the world–it’s presence embedded understanding  within me. 
Understanding is a loaded word, much like pain.  Yet education done correctly is all about unshelfing assumptions, erroneous perceptions, and ignorance. Education is a noun, a verb, and an adjective all spun together to create a thing, a place, an action, and a description of growth.  I grew to understand that faring it alone would leave me less knowledgeable and less equipped than my counterparts who linked arms as little girls to skip across the playground, buddied up to create an explorer research project in the 4th grade, or crowded together in celebration of one who was accepted to her desired college years later. 

Hindsight reveals that the times others’ emotional, academic,  life support, and encouragement was present in my life, I became more–more involved in school, more able to aspire to success, more willing to dream. Trauma had short circuited my brain to believe that all of life was fight, flight, or freeze. I have spent decades dismissing learnings and opportunities not out of want, but out of a wiring in my mind that fixated on not taking risks and defending baseline.  

Indebted to educators and youth workers who modeled that I did not have to diminuitively accept the short road, the path of least resistance, the less than my potential goals, I have started to train my brain to fire in the direction of belief. I have learned how to get unstuck. With this comes the realization that we must shoulder to shoulder our efforts to make the world a better place.  Not just utopianly on a large scale, but intimately for our own lives and momentously for our direct communities.  

In understanding how people function, how systems work, how messy stories still have positive outcomes, we all grow to hope more is possible.  The dismal state of dysfunctional and injustice can always find a counterpart and these antithesis communities and peoples are ones who have not gone it alone. Counterparts who break cycles of poverty, recover from addictions, end generations of abuse, rise to stand amid the plague of mental illnesses, and those who beautifully proffer life in the face of their own ongoing grief, these are the men and women our students and children must see and have access to.  Business leaders, gym enthusiasts, Navy men and women, die-casters, musicians, hair stylists, gamers, politicians…there is no end to a list a people who learn understanding from others.

Nearly a decade ago, psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues put forth convincing research of how people, specifically students, who operate under the premise that growth and effort, flexibility and new learning can develop a mindset fortified enough to dislodge fixed ways of thinking and living.  Her work has become foundational to a number of education reforms, both overtly in professional development and low-lying in those who practice a growth mindset and then contagiously affect others.  

Dweck revisited her work in Education Week last year. Her update and clarification brings further insight to the statement of how we need others. Dweck asserts that we can’t just try for better, we must be presented with new ways of trying and receive feedback/support of others to reach optimal growth.

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches-not just sheer effort-to learn and improve. 

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset’. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr

We need others. We need people for when we get stuck, for when we are discouraged, for when our dreams need the network and support of those further down the long road. We are not entitled to the help of others, but we are worthy of it. Growth hinges on new understandings, so let us surround ourselves with those who for a “we understand” instead of seclusion or self. 

Let us teach who Orville was to Wilbur Wright, let us share stories of the Missionaries of Charity who surrounded Mother Teresa, let us uncover who encouraged Cesar Chavez to believe, and let us tell the stories of Peter Norman standing beside Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos in the fight for human rights. Let us be the ones to tip our heads and hearts to those who are different in our lives. Now is the time humbly remind ourselves we did not get this far on our own and celebrate those who helped us understand, grow, and become. 

Our students and children need us, not just as cheerleaders, but they need role-models, activators, door-openers, challengers, and genuine assistance to their next step of learning and growth.  

They need others…and truth be clear, so do we. 

The softer side of pain

Pain is a stale word without context. It can range from torture to annoyance.  It can be life long or it can be momentary.  Without knowing the person, the story, or the symptom load that testifies to the word, it becomes an over-used, misunderstood, and an assumed word in our lexicon, liken to the word love. 

The edges of the thistle and the razor of the sword, the pulse of reverberating ache, and the heart-sink of trauma–pain is a voluminous word without context. It could encompass all of grief and hurt, loss and longing, injustice and instability from here to the far corner of the village we have yet to step foot in. 


Why then must my thoughts gather at the bank of this stream? Why does my soul perch upon the low branch that catches the wind and offspray in tandem return? Why, when I say a faith and foundation grant surety of hope and sanity in the unseen, do I fold and bend to places of dull and hollow?  Oft I am unwilling to tell my story or feel the ground beneath my wander.  I exclaim the joy and beg the real, but I close down access when the whisper of pain sneaks in.  

Of who we strive to become, each of us, to the world around us, may we be willing to give pain a place next to purity. Not to become pompous or pretentious, negative or naysayers, but to etch the sky with images of people who stand when storms swipe.

This is the softer side of pain.  The cushion that let’s us engage in memories or circumstances knowing hardship can thieve joy, but we can gain more again. Knowing more confidently that pain prevails in portion, but the forward gives function to hope and fervor to our diligence.  We won’t win every hour or each day of these battles which wage, but we will soften the struggle by elevating healing, honoring stories and people, and claiming life over defeat.  We were not created for defeat, but rather vibrancy and overcoming. 

Stay the course–pain not given the crown nor allowed to be the crutch. Press on, for growth and perseverance pay out dividends fresh.
#courage 

Gasping for Air: The Love Strong Chronicles Part II

Gasping for air.

There have been moments the past few months I have been gasping for air.

I had not run too far.
Smoke had not met my lungs.
The walls did not actually cave in.

But oxygen escaped rapidly.

When my lack of belonging and my questioned purpose lifted breath out of me and prevented it from returning to fill my chest, I felt lost.

A teacher without a classroom.
A writer without a book.
A speaker without a message.
A sojourner without a destination.

An orphan without a home.

But how dare I feel that.

How in the facts of being granted a family and chance at life in the States, with adoptive parents who sacrificed much and got a run for their money in my rebellion, could I say I was an orphan without a home?

Might I have any claim to be without destination when I have been blessed with two towns that have welcomed me and embraced what I had to offer? When I profess a faith that keeps its eyes not on this world alone, but in the promise of more?

And of the message, the hope chaser, the one who believes that in loving strong we truly become alive and when we do good work, activate in our potential, we can grow ourselves, communities and the world. Of this message, did it fall mute on my own ears when death stole from those I care for or did it lose strength when people stood on the fringes of faith?

Write on and remember it as such. No book defines the writer, rather words scribbled on paper or across the heart, splattered on the computer screen or spoken into the open. This inflicting thought reared false too. Surely the ink has dried to reality.

But the teacher. The teacher without a classroom is perhaps the most absurd. Are we not all teachers? And one of curriculum and academics, desks and pupils, shall not the lessons ring evermore in new venues and mediums if the passion and training did not exit?

Why then did my chest concave?

Was this fear?
Was this hurt?
Was this hunger?

I chased air.

I needed answers.

I chased.
I needed.
I craved just enough to get in a car with a dear friend and meet the unknown with urgency unqualified and my momentum uncategorized.

Yes, two weeks ago I talked to a nun who held my abandoned, rejected self and who had set out to care until I was gifted a future. The phone had been pressed to my ear and my beating heart nearly muffling the song her voice was to me.

My lungs burned to expand again.

I heard her words.

My husband and boys gave me space and I listened. I listened to the nun.

She told me to come soon. (Read Part I HERE)

And I did.

The next day.

Her words fought against my buckling from suffocation and landed me in South Bend, Indiana.

This, the visit to the Sisters of the Holy Cross to see the nun, who with others, would finish out the days of her vows at the Mother House. Each with decades spent abroad serving with their nursing and teaching skills, with their hands of love, I went to visit.

There we sat.
Holding hands like we had loved for a lifetime.

The nun held my hand with a quiet strength.

Her eyes bounced around her memory and then shifted to take me in.

I was one of her babies.

Warmth found my chilled skin.

Belonging danced with acceptance in my soul.

The chairs around me filled with angels as if the great cloud of witnesses came to affirm this aging nun that she had done good work.

The unfaltering smile on her face hastened me to believe that the trip to the convent was well-placed.

The demons of my insecurities would not find welcome here. Peace drew close and wonders piled in, but with calm, they filled the couch space to my left.

My mouth parted open but nothing met sound. It turned to a nervous smile and the nun swiftly let her other hand reach to tap my face.

A hush little baby lullaby floated through my head and the slam of a creaky door outside the room brought the finale to my minds’ wander.

The tap tap, as if a secret handshake between her years gone by and my cheek.

My body leaned in.

Had I felt this before?
Her gentle constant.
Had she really never stopped loving me?

The final tap lingered and turned to one of the purest strokes my being has been witness in.

Gasping for air. Again. Here.
This was not fear.
This was not hurt.
This was not hunger.

This was being overwhelmed in the gift of time. The eight hour drive exclaimed confirmation of time well spent.

I was nearly not able to bend to grab the scrapbook that sat near my feet. She thought I was leaving and she clutched tightly until I spoke of pictures I had brought. Pictures sent with letters during the long wait for my arrival 30 years ago.

She took in the pictures.

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She told me of laundry.
She remembered the hostel she founded.
She recounted the hours she spent after teaching to help babies eat and be safe.
She spoke with fervor as she spilled details about the group of 19 Precious Jewels she brought to America.

And then she said it.


I can hardly breathe.


One of my babies is here!
You came all this way, I sure hope I’m worth it.

The nun.
The one who told me to come soon.
She gasped for air, too.

She wrestled worth just as I do.

And then she stopped.

Swept back to the joy, she began to soften her shoulders and moved back towards me.

She stretched her heart and life’s work out like the table in front of us. The years had smoothed out the mountains and valleys and her spirit had peace.

I soaked her in.

I listened as she continued recalling snippets of a life I had once been a part of.

I vaulted it. The hurt of my story was certainly going to arrive, but not there in the visitor’s house lounge.

Not then.

Hours later it would, but in that moment, I belonged. I had a right to teach others of their belonging even if I question mine.

She, the nun who ascribed worth to little dejected children, she questioned her own and then stopped…

….to start breathing again.

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There is more.
But this Friday bids us pause.

Tell me of you.

Feel the air with me.
With her.

We are allowed to breathe.

Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song. ~Konrad von Gesner, scientist, theologian, writer

For all that you enjoy and for that which you endure, chase hope, breathe deep, and when you gasp, remember you belong.

nasreen

10 things you should know about your teacher (or your kid’s teacher)

 

School is in session.  Best wishes to all of you intertwined with the education system, whether student, parent, teacher, or staff!   Here’s a quick list of 10 things you should know if your teacher is anything like me or the people I have taught with.

photo by karla kantola

1. They think you rock! They have been excited to meet you!

2. They may actually enjoy going on tangents as much as you do.  School is very much academics, but it is also full of life lessons and relationships.

3. They partner with your parent(s) and guardian(s), so they will share how wonderfully you shine and may have to share when you miss the mark.

4. They want you to have your own pencil.  Everyday.

5. They think learning and sharing is fun, so don’t ask if the class will have any fun today, the answer will always be YES!

6. They are just human, they make mistakes just like you do.

7. They do want to hear about your weekend, your dog, your fears, and what makes you happy, so just pay attention to when it is okay to share those things.  They also want to know if you ever feel bullied, lonely, or lost because although they think all their students are cool, they will take extra time to encourage you if they know you are hurting!

8. They call you Mr. Matthews not because they forgot your first name was Jordan, but because it is how they chose to show you respect.  They may have other ways of showing you respect too, see if you can figure it out.

9. They consider your smile, your questions, and your willingness to help your classmates as some of the best parts of their day.  Keep it up!

10. They think you ROCK!  They look forward to seeing you in class!