Saturday, April 20, 2019

I Remember

These are new shoes. Are they going to get all scuffed up?

On Wednesday, my district, along with several other districts in the state, cancelled school. Not for a snow storm or other weather-related issue, but because of the threat of school violence.

It's hard to describe my thoughts and feelings about that. I'm grateful to everyone who keeps us safe, and I'm grateful that the decision was made to put safety first. But I'm also sad and mad that this is our reality. That a threat of violence can shut down the schools of an entire metro area, because we can't risk sending our kids to school.

It COULD happen here. It is happening here.

It also makes me remember an incident of school violence I experienced a few years ago. It wasn't a shooting, nobody died, and it quickly faded from the news. But something like this brings back the details, sharp and clear in my mind. The shoes I was wearing. The calmness that blanketed me during the day, as we took care of all of the kiddos in the school, and the shock that came later, after they were all home with their parents. The realization that it could happen anywhere, anytime. And the decision that, even knowing that there is never a 100% guarantee of safety, I don't want to live in fear.

"As teachers, we are so wired to take care of the kids. Don't be surprised if this hits you harder weeks or months down the road. It's normal."

That quote above, from a principal at another school, was some of the best advice I received when it happened. She was right - that was my experience. I'm just dropping her words here in case somebody else needs to hear it.

Back to the present: returning to work on Thursday, after they found the person who was making these threats, was weird. Everything just felt off. They found her dead, an apparent suicide. I was glad that the threat was over, but can you ever really rejoice in someone else's death? Especially an 18-year-old girl who clearly had a lot going on?

I'm not really sure where I am going with this post, other than putting my thoughts out there, but I do want to end with a few takeaways I am thinking about:

  • Watch out for each other. We are built for relationships & connection, and it makes a big difference in life.
  • Reach out. I was so grateful for a friend who texted me, following the school closure, to share her experience (she was also at the school I was at when the incident happened a few years ago). We had a good little texting conversation about some of what we remember and how it changes how we process/experience events like the one that happened this week.
  • Be real. Don't pretend nothing is happening. Acknowledge it with your kids (in an age-appropriate way), your co-workers, and parents who are around. We are all feeling it, and hiding it makes things even worse.
  • Live life. Don't let fear take over. We can't control everything (nor should we). So don't get caught up in trying to be in control. Just live!
  • Finally, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this and want/need to talk, please know that I'm willing. It's such a taboo subject in our culture, but holding it in can make it even worse! So whether we've met IRL or are PLN friends, know that you are not alone <3.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Words Can Hurt; Words Can Heal

A couple of years ago, somebody made a comment comparing my cello playing to my violin playing. I didn't think anything of it at the time - I am a violinist, and play cello as secondary instrument. I am nowhere near as skilled or as comfortable playing cello, and it didn't surprise me when this person alluded to that!

Fast forward a couple of years, and I realized that I was feeling significant anxiety around playing cello in certain environments (especially on worship team at church).

This weekend, as I was preparing to do just that, I said something at practice about not being very confident on cello. And was met with this response: "Well, we're all confident in your cello skills!" I was amazed at how much that single comment made me relax. 

As I reflect, I wonder, did I let an offhand comment, said innocently, grow into a cloud of doubt about my own musical skills? I want to be clear - I don't blame the person who originally said it to me - it was a completely fair assessment! But something about it affected me far more than intended.

***

How do words our students? I was fascinated when I was reading a book by Brene Brown, and she shared, "When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.
(TBH, I don't remember which book I first read that stat in, so I Googled it...the quote here is from a podcast.)

As teachers, our words can have a huge impact. They can hurt, but they can also heal. So how can we give constructive criticism in a way that builds, rather than squashes, creativity? The following is a list that comes to my mind - feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

  • Balance is important - this feels like something we hear all of the time in teacher prep courses and PD sessions, but pay attention to what kind of feedback you are giving to each individual over time, and make sure it includes both positive feedback and feedback for growth.
  • Specific suggestions - "This needs to be better," feels hopeless, but "This needs to be better, and I think you can work on it by _______," instills a sense of confidence and expectation that they can get there.
  • Recognize the growth - if you give feedback to somebody and see them follow through on it, follow up with a compliment about how they improved! This strengthens not only the relationship of working hard = getting better, but your personal connection as well, because you noticed something specific about the way they have improved!
  • Ask questions - Particularly in creative subjects, what might look or sound like a blob or a mess to me might have significant meaning to the creator. Ask them questions about their intentions and the meaning of their work, and then give feedback to help them more clearly get their message across (if appropriate).
  • Be vulnerable with your own creativity, too - Being creative is risky. It is vulnerable. You are putting yourself out there in a way that is more individual and personal than something where there is a right & wrong answer. When we model our own triumphs and successes with creativity, we give our kids the freedom to do the same.
***

This weekend, I was able to play with freedom. Instead of spending the whole time worrying about getting this note in tune, staying solidly on the bass line, or balancing with the rest of the group, I was able to just play and have fun! Words can hurt, but words can also heal. Which words will you speak to your students with this week?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Grace in the Moment

This week, I have had lots of tough conversations.
But I have also witnessed incredible grace.

Nothing sticks out to me more than when I was delivering bad news to a friend and colleague this week, and she was clearly very upset (with good reason). But then she turned it around on me and said, "I'm sorry, it's probably been a hard week for you, delivering bad news to so many different people." Wow, talk about empathy - thinking about how I feel in a time like this?

Her comment reminded me of the humanity of this profession. Sure, we are workers, but we are people first. And people can love and support each other, no matter what the circumstances are.

It also made me think that, while I hate the fact that I have to have some of these conversations, it's also an honor to be able to stand with people in tough times. I can handle the news with as much compassion, kindness, and care as I can. There's something so beautifully human about being with people in their brokenness and vulnerability, and mine as well - it creates a bond. A human connection. An authentic relationship.

So, while it stinks to deliver bad news, it comes with an opportunity. Whatever the news or relationship may be professionally, in that moment, we are two people on the same ground, connecting with each other. And that's worth something.

I guess it hasn't been such a bad week after all!

Inspired by Brene Brown's video on empathy - watch it here!