"every living thing, at every living moment
is all-ways in transition...
and isn't that just really fucking beauty-full?"
It was not long ago that my sense of competency as a teacher was so tied up in getting things “right” that unpredictable feelings in regards to my own daily process would have left me paralyzed with worry and anxiety. I was therefore very thankful to realize recently that clear and definite change has somehow become a reliable internal indicator that I am doing my job well… Conversely; stagnation, predictability and rote process are the things that now cause me greater preoccupation and restlessness.
The most poignant example of such a shift also ties directly to my experiences thus far with ALL THE STARS. This program, which has only just begun, has already been a gift to me in so many ways. Some of these are of the BRIGHT ! SHINY ! SPARKLY ! present variety…
Things so full of amazing that I couldn’t miss them if I tried:
Things like watching a kid who this time last year I could barely get through the door let alone keep IN school for a full day totally engaging with a virtual stranger about the trees around our school…
Like seeing my ENTIRE class participating in amazing creative movements and cheering one another along in the process…
Like having the very rare and precious opportunity to step back and really SEE these wonderful small people for ALL of their wonders – including the bits that are very hard to see when the only view that there is time for some days comes from the FRONT of the classroom…
Other gifts – which I am aware enough of to be thankful for their full-ness, but in many cases cannot yet articulate their many specific attributes – are so vast that I only know they are here as a result of the way that the atmosphere is shifting around them... How the way that I see, hear and FEEL in relation to processes that I developed for a reason at some point in my 7+ years of classroom teaching are also shifting in accordance to who I am and what I do as an educator in this particular classroom, with these particular students, today.
For the past 6 years and right up until the second week of this school year, I have spent an average of 1-2 hours every single day completing a very detailed pictorial and written documentation of the happenings inside classroom life. I started this process on the first day of my second year of classroom teaching in response to an incredibly difficult first year that was full of hate, violence and homophobic harassment. Coming out of that year, I was willing to try anything, no matter how random or unorthodox, if it would help to shift the feelings of dissociation, numbness and fear that I still experienced even once I was out of that acutely threatening environment. I had heard about the concept of daily documentation through my research into the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and the use of this process in many Reggio-inspired classrooms to assist in the creation of child-directed curriculum. I was interested in this process for all its more standard pedagogical purposes, but I also had a hunch that it could help me to find some things that I was lacking at the end of that first experience; clear sight, greater presence, and optimism. Being a visual artist by both training and vocation, I was already accustomed to the practice of keeping a sketchbook to stay connected to my internal thoughts, feelings and ideas so it seemed quite natural to adopt a similar process in trying to establish and maintain a more authentic connection with my students.
The very short version of the next 6 years is that “it worked”… Spending a significant amount of time each day on these books was very much a meditative practice. Along with innumerable other benefits, it gave me much of what I needed as a beginning teacher (not insignificantly, one who also transitioned schools 5 times during those 6 years + legal names, preferred pronouns and physical gender presentation) to keep track of who I am and what is important to me as an educator and person in the world in the midst of all the change. In regards to my relationships with my students and their families I feel like these books were invaluable on many levels, not the least of which being that it has provided them with tangible proof that I care a whole heck of a lot about continuing to improve my understanding of who each of them are and what they specifically need from the education system (such that it is).
I would have been starting in on my 14th full-length class book some time in the next couple of months had I not felt the need this year, particularly with the start of the ALL THE STARS program, to more closely assess what it is that I do for mySELF each day in my teaching practice to keep balanced, present, seeing clearly and full of hope… In other words; the things that have been so important to me in continuing this documentation are also the things that now help me to question whether that exact process it still relevant to who and where I am today.
My conclusion at this point, for the rest of THIS school year anyhow, is that the best way for me to spend both my practical and emotional energy in the service of meeting my students’ needs involves more direct action, connection, and creation. In this our second and last year together, I am therefore planning to focus more energy on specific documentation of our work in relation to this program. In doing so, I am also very aware of my hopes that this process could evolve into something that the students themselves can all take part in and contribute to in accordance with their own communication strengths and needs. Stay tuned for more blog check-ins later this year in regards to our progress!
I cannot pretend that deciding to give up this specific daily documentation practice was an easy move. As fond of natural transition as I have become, I am still very much a creature of habit at heart. In addition to the huge benefits for my professional development, I also really like my fancy pens, colour photos, charts, graphs, and various hand-written fonts… These books are kinda pretty, and I LIKE pretty things. Yet therein also lies a core piece of my reason for changing things up right now. The ALL THE STARS program creation, management and facilitation is taking up a heck of a lot of time each day – all of which I am happy/excited to do - AND I am also painfully aware that there are only so many hours in a day. Something had to go, and it needed to be the thing that was more about how things “looked” than how things actually need to BE. This is what my class book began to feel like THIS year; a very pretty thing that was actually rather redundant with the REAL connections that we are making in 3-dimensions amongst ourselves and with our amazing community educators, volunteers and other supporters.
I am sure that this decision and my feelings surrounding it will continue to evolve throughout the year in ways that I can’t possibly foresee at this point. At THIS moment however, I am thank-full for the gift of this change.