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Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

On the Edge

When I wrote this poem, it was at a time I was unhappy going back into the classroom and teaching. I loved the students and looked forward to being with them. So much had changed in the little school I taught in with change imposed upon us, rather than negotiated with us. In my writing, I am beginning to look at what is essential to the spirit for each of us to flourish. What gives each of us hope? it will be different. What is certain is we each want to have a voice in what we are doing.

When I wrote the poem, I wrote from a negative place. Now, as I look at the image, the tree on the dge of the cliff fourished in its environment, which is rock with little soil. The tree is actually quite old. Our tour guide said about 300 years old. Despite its lack of size, it flourishes and that is what I failed to see in the last two years I taught. It begs the question: “what might I have done differently.” I was not very patient at times. Cornel West tells young people looking for change to be patient. Real, transformative, democratic, and sustainable change takes time and patience.

In being with each student and present to them, I found something other than gave me the impetus to teach for two more years and find ways to cope with the imposed change. One of the challenges I faced was what we did was so different than what other classrooms looked and felt like it was difficult to convince other educators what we did had merit. Teachers teach one grade at a time in isolation with children separated from families, like a workplace. We had a parent in the classroom each day to assist, many of the families knew each other, and I had a multi-grade classroom with 3 or 4 grades together. Children and youth attend school each day and homework is something we assign, because often there is not time to complete everything at school. Students attended our school 40-50% of the time on a set schedule, depending on grade level. I negotiated with parents the extra things to be done at home. Often, they were large culminating projects at the end of a unit. I taught and students learned what was necessary in class and had little homework. I did not teach all subjects in school. Parents taught Math, Health, and some Phys Ed at home. I went on home visits to support their teaching and make sure we were on track. I had no desks in my classroom. We sat at tables usually based on grade level, but, during complementary courses e.g. Art, Food Sciences, Programming, etc., students sat in mixed grade groups.

In short, we were on the margins, the edge of what was perceived as “normal’ school. Today, in the midst of a pandemic that sent children home to learn online, the relationships and support we had in our small community would have helped many families and teachers cope with the sudden and unpredictable change.

With each step,

Closer–

Be bold.

Balance precariously,

Hover over abyss

Be brave.

Instability and stability dancing–

To soundless music;

Be graceful.

Quieting one’s self;

Listening to soul’s–

Be poetic.

Between lines and stanzas–

 Wisdom emerges–

Be patient.

On the edge,

Sisters and brothers–

What calls you with passion?

I try to walk in the neighbourhood each day. When I do, I listen to music. Yesterday, I heard a song by Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, which fit with this poem and how I felt when I wrote it. In talking to one’s younger self, they use words like bold, love, bold, and fear. I use passion, which suggests suffering as a necessary piece to flourishing.

Why Do I Write Poetry

During a professinal development event, a presenter spoke about teaching poetry. To my knowledge, this person spent little time teaching, yet he was a supposed expert about all things teaching. In the course of his presentation, he expressed disdain for poetry. He claimed, without evidence, we teach poetry without explaining to students why we teach it.

In my teaching, I described reasons why I taught something, opening up learning to include what students considered important. This included questions about topics and content. Often, students began with a negative view of poetry. With time, we got over hurdles together. Without a collective effort, we do not overcome issues in life and learning. We end up with haiku written through rote formula:

Here are five syllables

And here I write seven more!

Are you happy now?

The presenter indicated, despite having written poetry, he was unsure why teachers taught poems written. I think there are good reasons, but I could be wrong.

Poetry calls me to choose words, paradoxically spare and spacious. Spareness is in the number of words; the fewer the better. The space allows the reader room to interpret. What did the poet mean? What senses are invoked through the word choice?

Instead of counting something, poetry asks me to explore life and understand quality is not evenly distributed. I have privileges, maleness, whiteness, education, that others do not have the eauitable access to.

Choosing words,

Caring about each–

Describing feelings,

Experiences never identical.

Revealing thickness in meaning,

Experiencing sameness different–

Bringing us together,

Bridging worlds.

I told students, who struggled with reading and writing, poetry was an alternative to express themselves. I used ee cummings, as a model, to overcome worries about grammar, spelling, and capitalization.

i dig ee cummings

no punctuation

no capitols

won’t worry about spellin either

no sweat

aint no problem

i write poetry

I enjoy poetry. I always have. I remember a poem, The Elevator, I memorized in Grade 4. I think it Walter de la Mare wrote it. My friend memorized a poem called Douglas Fir. His name was Douglas. When I enjoy who and what I teach, I bring enthusiasm to writing poetry.

Artists, including poets, are often at the forefront, addressing social issues. In our times this includes Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. Sometimes, I do not think of these authors as poets. Each of them wrote/writes poetry helping to raise my awareness about issues.

Below are the wonderful and poetic words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Peace in our heart

I close with a poem I wrote many years ago as a 15 year old in high school. I have never been a fan of what we call capitalism. What we have is predatory and is at the root of current political, economic, and social issues. Only a handful are admitted to the club.

Captains of Society

Captains of Society

Shallow, superficial, arrogant

Single ambition

Greatness in the eyes of others

Only those with resources can apply

The rest

Forgotten

Pay a high price, but…

It’s their fault

They own their misery.

A cheque to charity

Assuages my conscience

What about the despair?

Don’t care

I claim I do

Donations in badfaith,

It’s a tax receipt

I really claim, but…

Done on the backs of others

Get the staff to donate time

Not mine.

Increase taxes

Not mine!

No way!

It’s wrong!

Tax others!

What is work?

I create jobs

It’s a spectator sport

This work, which

I manage from afar.

Drive luxury wheels

Shout

Curse

What’s the hold up?

Who’s blocking my way?

The ‘75 Ford station wagon

Engine shot

Dead broke!

Is it their home?

 Throw a party

Drink

Eat

Be merry

No concern for homeless

A romantic notion this ‘hobo jungle’

Not my world

What’s wrong?

It’s not my fault

I gave at the office.

After all.

Throw money at problems

It might help

Don’t

Stop, see, care

If it really helps

Denying, refusing, unfeeling

I pay for a clear conscience

After all.

 The misery

In surround sound…

Is out of sight;

Out of mind

Morning Haiku

When I taught, I used haiku for a various reasons. They are included in two curricula: Language Arts and Social Studies. In Language Arts, students are asked to select words that bit fit rhythm and message of a poem. In Social Studies, haiku were part of a unit on Japan, its history, and its culture. The unit included traditional and contemporary examples. Last, but not least I enjoy haiku, as well.

I think students sense when teachers are passionate about subjects, but conflicting messages adults send can be confusing them. At times, students came to school and said a parent questioned them about why I made them learn “stupid haiku.” I worked for an administrator who made a similar comments. I tell others that leaders pick words carefully and poetry helps us learn how to make those choices.

I love poetry and haiku because they challenge me to think about choosing words, spaces between them, and punctuation. Language and its rules have power that we often overlook.

Sonia Sanchez wrote this haiku and it reminds me how I experience my day tells others something. When I responded to students about why we learned haiku, I chose my words carefully, tempering the conflict that arose because of how I experienced poetry versus how a parent did. I hoped the words I chose signaled something about my day well so that others could enjoy their day.

Let me wear the day
Well so when it reaches you
You will enjoy it.

Patience: Darkness and light, conscious and unconscious

Night after night, darkness enters the face of the lily which, lightly, closes its five walls around itself, and its purse of honey, and its fragrance, and is content to stand there in the garden, …

Source: Patience: Darkness and light, conscious and unconscious

The link includes a lovely picture of lily accompanied by a Mary Oliver poem, The Lily. The poem reminds me of the passage from Luke describing the lilies and wild flower, just being and growing.

Nature is what it is. There is a mindfulness in its creation and how it dresses. The lilies wait in their splendor for us to notice them and realize how they are always present. Nature and lilies teach us. To paraphrase Confucius, they open the door and we enter when we are ready.

Walker

Antonio Machado reminds us that the path we follow is both made anew when we walk it and that once we step we can no longer go back.

We can look back and see where we came from, but that is a distorted image and, the further we move away from that point in time, the more distorted the memories we recall. We can reflect upon those moments and steps in a caring way that takes place only after the step.

It is in mindful walking that we make the path. There is an awareness and senstivity that only happens in the very moment we exist in, the present. Our presence is important in that moment as we step and live at that point on our path of life.

The mindfulness of our steps is important when we realize we lead others in their steps. They cannot walk the identitical path to our path, but the way we compose ourselves is a model for how they might live.

Walker, your footsteps

are the road, and nothing more.

Walker, there is no road,

the road is made by walking.

Walking you make the road,

and turning to look behind

you see the path you never

again will step upon.

Walker, there is no road,

only foam trails on the sea.

Dear Universe

Dear Universe.

When you go to the linked article, you will see it is dated. However, it is not dated in that it carries a timeless message that we are able to share each day.

Kathy and I were blessed with our first grandchild in April, 2014. He is beginning to walk and his reach in the world is growing.

Similar to Mimi, new questions arise as we enter into a relationship like grandparents. We become elders and see the world through a new lens. When I spend time with our grandson, I do not feel rushed like I did at times when I was a parent with young children. I enjoy his laughter, when he plays with the little boy in the mirror, and as he snuggles and falls asleep in my arms.

I wish for a better world for all our grandchildren and children. One where we see each other in our human being and human becoming.

RUMI

RUMI.

As Rumi suggested, perhaps we look in the wrong places. When we pause and take time, we can sense where we are being called to look.

It is like an old country song which suggested we are looking in all the wrong places.

It is an issue of private shame

It is an issue of private shame.

The link is not to a poem, but rather to a series of quotes about hunger and the personal shame that comes with it. Politicians use hunger and other social justice issues as talking points and not seeing it as a matter of private and public shame in countries such as Canada and the US with their wealth.

On the left, we have politicians who would subscribe to giving people something. On the right, politicians would blame those who go hungry including the children. Giving people a hand up is important and walking with them is a part of the longer journey. Solving issues such as hunger is community work. It takes neighbours helping each other in those moments of need. Regardless of what we have, we share. Wouldn’t that be a powerful learning in our schools.

quotation: Henry David Thoreau (above morality by points)

quotation: Henry David Thoreau (above morality by points).

Thoreau provided great insights in living off the grid long before we thought seriously about that idea. Living life based on a checklist of moral behaviour is nearly impossible. Living a life that we are good at is a growing experience.

We cultivate our lives like farmers and gardeners when we pay attention to our work, our living. It is in the moment that we realize and recognize the ethical needs. Certainly, there are rules to live by i.e. The Ten Commandments and The Three Universal Truths of Buddhism. When we live life and include those rules and truths, it is in living that we become who we are. It is in living we become good for something.

Travel Theme: Inviting

Travel Theme: Inviting.

Some of the reading I have done for my dissertation has focused on the idea that teaching is an invitation into learning. I recall cold Alberta days when I would take out books and read. I never left the warm confines of the house, yet I traveled the world.

Teaching and learning are invitational. The John Muir quote in Ese’s post is easily reworded. It is not just the mountains calling. It is the world and the universe. Subjects come alive and speak to us when they hold meaning.

Teaching cannot guarantee learning. What it can do is provide spaces where learning happens as students find the subjects speaking to them. We, in turn, respond and a life-long conversations are struck up. Living and learning entangle and are inseparable.

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