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Speaking One’s Truth

I wrote this as I was making decisions about continuing to teach. There had been considerable upheaval as new administrators arrived and left, families left, and a friend and colleague retired. I found myself constantly in the midst of a storm with little or no control in how things might move forward. At a retreat in Oakland, I spent considerable time reflecting and journaling about the issue at hand, so this was not intended to be a poem and it took a year to write itself.

What I wrote was a summary of the past year and the struggle to ways to create in my teaching and be more present to my students. What I lacked was confidence in who I was and what I was enacting as a teacher, the performativity and improvisation essential to my teaching. I planned a lot in my teaching, but the depth of planning allowed me to improvise in ways that a lack of planning could not.

In The Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss how loss and fear lead to anger. What is important is during challenging times to try to be aware of what gives us meaning and hope in life. Although I would love to teach and be part of educating the next generation of teachers, I find it easier to accept that is not happening, focusing energies on writing and teaching in a new way. If the situation arose to teach and educate the next generation of teachers, I would consider it. What it is not doing is defining who I am and my life.

It’s emerging,

Happening–

Letting go;

Speaking with love–

Accepting the lost.

Sitting with questions,

Accepting uncertainty, incompleteness–

Taking stock;

Gazing inwards–

Feeling humbling hope.

Accepting extended hands,

Discarding baggage–

Walking forwards;

Living my truth;

Questing in each moment.

I took this picture in Arizona in March. It was the last of five I took. Each day, as I walked back, the cactus had bloomed one or two more flowers. The cactus and its flowers exist just to be a cactus and its flowers, beautifying the world. They remind me, even in harsh conditions, plants and animals flourish in their time.

As I was writing, Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up played. It is appropriate. As we face challenges, we move on up and achieve, albeit an unpredictable, something.

September

I realize this welcoming of September is a couple of days late.

When I walk in the river valley at this time of the year, the changes in nature become noticeable. Before I notice the colours changing, I smell the decay as leaves fall. This is noticeable if it rains, which it has been for the last week or so. It cools the evenings and nights, accelerating the pace of change.

The decay is a necessary part of nature. It is part of the cycle of birth, life, harvest, and rest essential to health. Parker Palmer writes beautifully about this in several places. Nature reminds us we need to prepare for rest in a meaningful way, gathering our whole self in the process. It is about eloquent questions. What have I birthed and nurtured during the spring and summer months that I harvest to help sustain me in the winter months? How am I letting my Spring and Summer ready me for Autumn and Winter?

Leaves tumbling,

Time for slumbering.

New colour vivifies,

Nature electrifies.

Summer falls,

Equinox calls.

Season to rest,

Reflect on harvest.

Do Pigs Have Udders?

Part of educating for hope is “reading the world” in hopeful while living “in dynamic interrelationships” with others (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 102). This means opening the world to eloquent questions without presupposed answers and without the threat of violence of any form. I used the quote in a recent book chapter I co-authored with a colleague from North Carolina. The book is to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. What does it mean to live in a world full of hope; a hope(ful) world.

My first day back from the retreat I posted about in Welcoming Differences and Gentle Rain I noticed the students were subdued. In the afternoon, I was alone, which was unusual. Without an adult and teaching three grades, it could be demanding. Other times, it provided interesting moments, and this turned into one of those moments.

I had contacted a substitute teacher I had used several years before and who was available again after completing a long term assignment for an ill teacher. As we talked about what was bothering me, the students told me they had not enjoyed the teacher. I was surprised, as he had seemed a good fit before. I asked for an example and they told me he had told them their conversation was inappropriate. This was unusual, as the students in this group were well-behaved and respectful. I asked them what the conversation was about and they told me, while completing some Science, one student asked “Do pigs have udders?” Apparently, this became a hotly debated topic and it was brought up again today.

I laughed. For me, it was funny and pointed to an irrevocable human truth: curiosity about the world we live in and eloquent questions leading to exploring the world and learning about it. We had serious fun as we talked about what udders were and their role in feeding offspring. I even phone Kathy, who was raised on a farm, and asked he. She was not sure, but thought it was a structural thing and pigs probably did not have it. We left it as an open question.

Simple question,

Emerging eloquently,

Not presupposing answers;

Fueling curiousity–

Energizing learning.

What does this mean?

Is it true?

Querying and questing;

Seeking to fill gaps;

Not with certitude;

New questions emerging.

With passing years,

Recalling that moment,

Smiling, chuckling;

Appreciating simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

As best as we can learn, they do and it was fun trying to figure it out. Adolescent children ask the darnedest things. Laughter is an antidote for difficult moments. Something I learned as a student teacher was a safe classroom allows children, youth, and probably adults to ask provocative questions with no preconceived answers. In the polarized world we live in, we have lost that assurance of safety and are reluctant to ask questions needing answers.

I will save you looking up the answer on the Internet. Pigs do not have udders. Udders are a reference to mammary glands on certain mammals and it has to do with their structure. I read a version of this poem for a group at a retreat in Wisconsin. As I finished, adults wanted to know the answer. I said I didn’t know and someone looked it up on the spot.

I don’t have a picture of a pig. Here is one of a bear I took in Waterton Lakes National Park. Bear and pigs are related, so it was as close as I could get.

Mindfulness

Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I am a diehard sports fan in general and hockey specifically. Even with Covid19, I find time to follow hockey on TV without disrupting my writing. What made it interesting was the “work stoppage” by many professional athletes in North America. More than a love for hockey and sports, I feel there is a need for more compassion and equity in this world.

As the National Hockey League was announcing the “work stoppage,” one of the Canadian sports networks interviewed Brian Burke who is a former hockey executive and current hockey commentator. He lives in Canada while holding dual Canadian-American citizenship. He talked about a need to understand this is an important moment in social justice in the US, and I submit Canada. I was excited hockey players and other professional athletes, regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., took part in the “work stoppages.” (The video is at Burke Supports Players Regarding Boycott).

Burke spoke about how great change is not kicking the door down. It is more like a mud wall being eroded. I think it is watching a mountain change. You have to leave and come back to see if any real change; transformation happened. He mentioned the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and how little of substance has changed since 1968. There are still major impediments and barriers to equity for those who are treated as less than human, denied of rights those who are privileged take-for-granted.

What does mindfulness have to do with all this? We often use the word to simply talk about being aware of something. In a broad sense, it has moral and ethical implications we can overlook. We just say, “I was mindful of such and such.” To mind something or someone is to demonstrate care, tend for it or them and cultivate it or them in a loving way. This crosses boundaries and is steeped in mystical traditions of all stripes e.g. Buddhism, Sufism, Judeo-Christian, etc. It involves lovingkindness, compassion, flourishing, and stewardship. It is about becoming better in indefinable ways.

Several years ago, I wrote this poem after reading a meditation from Father Richard Rohr. Often, he writes about a radical unity that brings us together with our self, creation, neighbours, enemies, and something that is transcendent and beyond each of us.

Mindfulness,

Seeking to choose better–

Blending one’s passion;

Joining with lovingkindness,

Binding together.

Nurturing better angels,

Ripening, maturing–

Bearing healing fruit;

Joining a universal banquet;

Responding to life’s bounty.

Assuming responsibility,

Passion for one’s self–

(Com)passion For one another;

Minding the world;

Becoming one;

Becoming whole.

I began talking about hockey, so I will close with a video by David Francey who we have seen numerous times. You will note he has an English accent, but lives in Canada and grew to love hockey while in Quebec. The scene is how many youngsters were introduced to hockey in my generation. I began as a pre-schooler on an outdoor pond. As well, I listened to Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and La Soiree Du Hockey on Radio Canada Sunday nights. The latter was in French, but, as a person whose first language is French, I was blessed to listen to both. I sat on a kitchen stool in the corner just under the window. When I am on the road, I listen to hockey games on my laptop, never streaming them. I close my eyes and imagine the game as it unfolds.

Welcoming Differences

I wrote this poem in SeaTac airport in Seattle waiting for my flight I had about 6 hours so there was considerable time to reflect. I make a point of scheduling reflection time into my routine and, when blocks of time emerge reflect, I take advantage of them. Reflecting on what happened and what we aspire to are essential to a well-lived life.

This poem emerged from a conversation about leadership allowing the uncomfortable to reveal itself in conversations. Jacques Derrida may have concluded being uncomfortable is admitting the strange into one’s life and the moment. There is a risk of danger and rejection, steeped in possible hospitality towards of one another and acceptance.

With patience and humility, I can welcome and listen in what Martin Buber referred to as an I-Thou encounter, not an I-it encounter where I diminish and objectify the Other a a thing. As noted in Gentle Rain, when we encounter someone, even briefly, we grow and add a little of each other to our selves. As humans, we are more alike than different. This is lost in the highly politicized rhetoric where purported leaders pit us against one another, dividing and highlighting differences for the sake of conquering.

Patience–

Conversing fully;

Making the world anew,

Healing through listening–

Welcoming uncomfortableness.

Information prevailing–

Supplanting heart’s courage;

Its wisdom,

Sensing the common–

Common sense.

Awakening, pausing, observing–

Emerging from hibernating;

Welcoming that which is different,

Iniviting–

Completing unfinished circles.

Piecing together peace–

Filling voids;

Voicing the silenced,

Heralding life–

Each voice rejoicing.

Making ones’ self whole–

Accompanied by others;

Joining hands and hearts,

Belonging to each other–

Fulfilling humanness.

I took this picture as we travelled through Glacier National Park. At the time, I just took it. Later, as I read about deep ecology, I learned geologists look at the strata in a mountain as chapters in the mountain’s story. For me, this is much like how we each have our unique stories brought together both in what makes us unique and what we hold in common.

Gentle Rain

I wrote this poem as part of a Sabbath activity at the retreat I mentioned in One’s Story and Companions. When I attend a retreat, I enter into a covenant with myself to slow down, talk less, and listen more deeply. In most retreats, that is the norm. We choose to set time aside purposefully and share with purpose in small groups, listening and being present for each other, reflecting in time set aside for solitude, and finding our way back to the circle of kindred spirits. In these ways, it is unlike other conferences, workshops, and training filled with busyness. I focus on opening up space where I experience being vulnerable, in solidarity with others, reflecting, and as I find myself coming home.

The poem began to emerge as I meditated in the morning in the main hall. As I sat, I became fully aware of sounds coming to me from outside as the voice of nature spoke. The reflective moment brought back a memory of the sudden and tragic passing of a young woman the year before. I met her briefly several years before.

Shunryū Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about how each person we greet on life’s journey leaves an imprint on us. We only need to stand or sit quietly and listen and like a wind and gentle rain voices are heard again and again in the silence of that moment.

Sitting inside the drum;

Hearing rain,

Singing a reverent song,

Tapping, oh-so gently–

Occasional Increased tempo

Adding rhythm in a fresh moment.

Shaking tree limbs and leafs–

Sighing gusts of wind;

Breaking free from reverie,

Dreaming, exploring, imploring

Reaching out–

Turning inward.

Inviting gently,

Each receiving;

Walking, remembering, enjoying–

Gathering together–

Carrying bits of each other.

Yet, in solitude

Communing.

I took this picture in Waterton Lake National Park several years ago. Memories act like water on rock. They live an imprint, carving out a place in our lives.

One’s Story

I wrote this poem while I was at the retreat I mentioned in Companions. The retreat was long, tiring, and rewarding. Even though events of this nature can be stimulating, I also find I run up against blocks due to how tiring they can be. I mean tiring in a good way. We spend time in solitude, which is not something that is easy. When we were together, deep listening, another overlooked quality, was essential.

I wanted to share my experiecnce at the retreat here and questions that emerged. To write the poem, I let ideas percolate for a couple days. The word courage and heart are related. Courage comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart. The heart is the holding place for our truth and we often have to have the heart and courage to tell our story. Humans are the only beings capable of telling their story, flawed and essential to their being and becoming.

One’s courage;

Revealing one’s story,

So telling to tell,

Always emerging.

Narrating and sharing,

Telling one’s story;

Sharing to be heard,

Listening differently,

Listening deeply.

Words anew,

Illuminating, enlightening

Sharing sacred space;

Recognizing and loving.

A colleague took this picture of me at the retreat. We spent a considerable amount of time on our own and in nature. It brings out the best in me.

Companions

I wrote this poem as I prepared to go to Bainbridge Island, WA. While there, I attended a leadership retreat offered by the Centre for Courage and Renewal based on the writing of Parker Palmer. As it was the second part of the process, I had a sense of how rewarding the process and journey were.

Like my time at Gonzaga, I found companions who I remain in touch with via social media and as I travel to various parts of Canada and the US. These companions complement the ones I have at home.

Companion and company come from an old French word (compagnie) meaning to break bread with others, usually on a journey. We accompany one another and share what we have, including conversation and care for one another.

Beloved community,

Inviting, one another,

Sharing more than a moment.

For alone,

Troubles weighing heavy us down

Each step, we struggle.

Gathering together,

Enlightening–

Feeding each other’s souls.

Backs straightening–

Shoulders squaring–

Holding heads higher.

Journeying, sharing, entrusting–

Becoming together,

Breaking bread.

I took this picture several years ago of Kathy just above and around the corner from some serious waterfalls on the Fraser River.

Just Being

Sometimes as I write one poem, another emerges in the tangle of thoughts and words. This happened with the post Transforming. One poem gave way to another. Both poems remind me of the unnecessary chase in life. Life is not a race or hunting trip in which I seek the biggest prize. What I need is patience with life arriving fully in each moment, revealing itself in  extraordinary ways.

There are quotes that are on the tip of tongue at all times. Alfred North Whitehead wrote the present moment is holy ground. The  past and future meet in each present moment, making it whole. Some humans tend to see life as a competition and end up running in one spot. This contradicts being present and patient, echoing Matthew 6:28: consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. To flourish and experience good health, one has to reduce the stress of spinning in one spot.

Seeking,

Chasing,

Competing–

Failing.

Patience calling,

Just sitting,

Cooperating–

Life discovering.

Life revealing itself,

In its good time,

Arriviving–

Right on time.

I know these are not lillies. Kathy took this picture hanging out the window of her car while driving on the Highway to the Sun in Glacier National Park. Elements of nature complement one another, forming the whole.

Weekending

Although it has changed somewhat, the weekend is less hectic than weekdays. At my age and, to a lesser extent the current healh crisis, days blend together a bit more and abitrary barriers dissolve between the weekend and the work week. That is what the weekend constituted for me in the past. Now, I plan out days to fit reading, writing, taking care of social media and email, etc. Part of my routine is to walk each day and it is always interesting to observe and appreciate the unexpected.

For several years I observed Sabbath differently. I took time each Sunday to shut off computers, TV, and be less busy. Now, I make sure I have quiet time to withdraw and rest each day. It is essential for one’s overall well-being to take time and just be. In a way, it is like gardening. We take time to plant seeds and nourish them into life so they can flourish. Too often, I found, in the rush of getting things done for the sake of getting them done, I lost some of that in my younger years.

Turning soil,

Planting seeds,

One at a time.

Nourishing with rest,

Flourishing wholeness,

 Becoming whole.

Just being–

Breathing,

Light giving.

Weekending,

Waiting quietly,

No rushing.

Tiling with care,

Enlightening,

Even weeds.

I took this picture several years ago in Spokane as I walked back towards campus along the river. As you can see, the sun was setting beautifully and was just above the horizon. In the midst of light, shadows emerge and their presence signals light is there.

 

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