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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Language of Kindness, The Language of Friendship, Everywhere the Same

Lessons Learned

Crossing Over The Bridge Of Friendship

A graduate course in Cross-Cultural Educational Trends was going to lead me on a grand adventure across the ocean, to a cozy, beautiful town in southwest England. I was to live with someone I had never met or even spoken with, observe and serve at a Church of England primary school for about two months, and find my way to various places across England for meetings with professors and other grad students in this course. There were neither cell phones nor computers. It felt very far away. I felt very alone. I felt small and not particularly brave.  Students must feel these very feelings whenever they need to start in a new school, in a new town. I would never down-play or disregard or discount or minimize the weight of that emotional strain ever again.  Lesson already learned before even setting foot in the classroom or the host’s home. My host was extremely generous, compassionate and very kind. She was an outstanding teacher and an excellent friend. Our two mile walk to school each day was filled with endless conversation along narrow English country roads lined with flowers and dotted with cottages. Our daily walk took us right past a quaint, busy bakery where each morning the fresh, delicious smells beckoned us to stop for our breakfast of a warm hot cross bun. Many lessons were learned on our walks and many more lessons were learned in the classrooms and among the precious and very welcoming families.  Children are the same everywhere. They love to play and sing, run and laugh, ask questions and tell stories. Families are the same everywhere. They love their kids, attend the kids’ games and concerts,  and do the best they can. Neighbors help neighbors. Kind, gentle words lead to kind, gentle responses. Food brings people together. Sports bring fun. Music brings life. Laughter brings health. Communities are proud and are full of stories. As is always the case, there was significant book learning that was covered and tested in the course, but the life-changing piece of the course was unequivocally relational and emerged in the sweet connections made with these lovely, gracious new friends.

A Closing Thought To Taunton
Farewell my friends of recent days
To heart and home you’ve op’ed your door
And gently guided in your ways
A foreigner of distant shore.
Though words fall short when meaning’s deep
The best I have to share
Is in my heart for you to keep
A candle burning there.

darcy hill

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Works

Lessons Learned

Why Music?

They were from the far east side of town, and we were from the far west.  Our lives, our experiences, and our schedules were worlds apart despite the few miles that separated us. It’s not that we couldn’t have been friends; it’s just that our paths would never have crossed. That is, until “The Project,” that cast us all on the same team, transitioned from dream to enactment. Two very different fifth grade worlds were about to collide and in that collision, be called upon to create and then perform a rap depicting the story of our city, our shared story.  It was to be a part of a much larger original musical work entitled, “Hometown History,” and was dreamed and written to be shared by children to an audience of all neighbors from all neighborhoods of our hometown.  It was to serve as a big affirming hug to a city besieged by violence, unemployment, and fear.  It was to be just one step toward building a bridge of hope and trust between neighbors.  The first meeting of the fifth graders  occurred at the west side school and although the air was filled with a certain amount of  tentativeness,  a pinch of suspicion, and a good dollop of curiosity, the lengthy laundry list of tasks to be accomplished while together served to quickly  focus us all  beyond our piddily concerns and doubts. We attended to the business of getting the job done and that demanded immediate cooperative effort; all hands on deck, so to speak. We worked exceedingly hard, we learned, shared, collaborated, laughed, perfected, discussed, fell short, tried again, cheered each other on, applauded ourselves, supported, encouraged, questioned, explained, tried harder, kept practicing, saw progress, high-fived,  and, after a couple of hours, enjoyed a pizza lunch together with these precious new friends.  The next few weeks were committed to practicing on our own at our respective schools.  The second meeting occurred at the east side school, and the air was filled with excitement, anticipation and warmth as we reconvened our awesome fifth grade team.  The local news media showed up to capture the joy of this creative team of fifth grade bridge builders as they zealously rehearsed their proud rap, and sang, danced, played, and laughed as all children should and do from every side of town in every town around the globe. Music brought us together. Music brought balm to hometown afflicted with fear and distrust. Music brought laughter, peace, joy and friendship. Music built a bridge of hope and possibility. Music always does.  Music levels the playing field and invites each one to play. Music is a universal language that transcends circumstances and disengages exclusivity.  Music links us, binds us, welcomes us, and calls us into a shared joy.  Why music? Because it heals our hearts and makes us better.

If you, as a parent or a teacher, need sweet, heart-warming original children’s music to bring joy, esprit de corps, and celebration to your family or to your classroom, please visit the Teachers Pay Teachers store, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, to find simple sheet music and mp4 files of seasonal  and curricularly-relevant songs.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Harriet Tubman

Lessons Learned

The Araminta Project

Harriet “Araminta” Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, had every reason to surrender to the crushing despair of slavery that oppressed her, her family, and thousands and thousands of others, but she did not succumb. Instead, against all odds and all better judgement, she ran for her life and for her freedom and did not stop until she possessed it. Even then, in the exhilaration and bliss of freedom’s joy, Harriet was not content knowing that countless sisters and brothers still remained bound in the wretched, brutal, hopeless claws of slavery. So back she went, at inconceivable personal risk, to lead more than 300 others to freedom. Harriet made nineteen trips back, undeterred by the $40,000. bounty which was being offered for her capture dead or alive. Courage, perseverance, faith, hard work, generosity, patience, selflessness, confidence, strength, and hope are just a few of Harriet’s attributes that drove her to serve, lead, and rescue others.
This summer, we will gather 100 at-risk and special needs students from grades 3-5, and teach them Harriet’s story through script, song, poetry, dance, and spirituals, which they, then, in turn will share with parents, neighbors, and all in the community through a collection of performances. The cast of 100 will also take a field trip to an Underground Railroad(UGRR) Museum, walk through an actual UGRR tunnel, and then perform Harriet’s story on the lawn of the museum for museum guests. Learning Harriet’s story will teach them history, understanding Harriet’s heroic attributes will inspire their hearts, and performing for adoring audiences will fill their souls with confidence and gladness.  With immense anticipation and excitement, we are tweaking this original musical piece in preparation for the precious children who will learn it. The TpT Store, One Arts Infusion Collaborative, contains one of the “Araminta” songs as sheet music and as an mp4 file.
Harriet Tubman: The Underground Railroad Sheet Music
Harriet Tubman: The Underground Railroad Sing Along

Can’t wait for the Araminta Project!

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Unruly Child

Lessons Learned

Tell The Truth

An unruly child. Incorrigible in many ways. Defiant. Combative. Aggressive. Befriended by other school children through fear, in their efforts to socially navigate the “walking on egg shells” feeling of coexistence with one so different from them; this was the standard and daily classroom MO in room 237. Laughing a little too loudly and often at classroom jokes that weren’t particularly humorous in order to offer affirmation and esprit de corps to one who didn’t fit; this too seemed a daily survival strategy. But this was no way to learn. And this was no way to live. It was dysfunction. Head-in-the-sand, turn-a-blind-eye, sweep-it-under-the-rug, anything-but-address-it dysfunction. What happened to the tow-the-line, call-it-what-it-is, own-it type of honesty? Can we truly improve if we do not face the problem? Can we truly grow if we do not seek to acknowledge truth? Can we be set free from the demons of defensiveness over our painful circumstances if we are unwilling to look deeply and compassionately into those very circumstances that fuel our rage and plot a path out? Hope is not found in the place where we ignore truth, but rather hope dwells in a place where we humbly recognize truth and bravely, deliberately commit to a stronger path. Hope is for every child, every student who is led by a courageous teacher, parent, grandparent, coach, or pastor who will not settle for anything short of honesty. Honesty is never the easy way, however, because honesty requires engagement and disclosure, which in turn require time, vulnerability, and trust. One child, one student, one life at a time, we must make the time for honesty, for ultimately it is the only way each one can be set on a trajectory of hope and possibility. Less than that will cripple the future and diminish dreams.  The unruly child didn’t really want to be so. The unruly child wanted normalcy and simply had no idea how to get there. The unruly child needed the honesty and compassion and strong leadership of one who wouldn’t allow any sort of settling for less. The unruly, lonely, hurting, fragile, despairing child daily struck out in the rage of accumulated pain, with actions screaming “help me” and everyone standing by saying “you’re just fine.” When did we stop telling the truth?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Shadow of a Yeller Pierced by the Light of a Kind Heart

Lessons Learned

The Power of Kindness. The Strength of Gentleness.

That glorious summer after first grade witnessed the heart-soothing balm of the summer sunshine and the comfort and calmness of home. But as June faded to July and July to August, there loomed an anxiety-evoking reality; the beginning of a new school year. Following a frightening first grade year with an incessantly yelling teacher, trepidation filled this young heart in anticipation of second grade.  Fear, one method of classroom management and control, manifests in students through their downcast eyes, rounded shoulders, and obvious crushed confidence.  First grade accomplished this for me. Just weeks from second grade, hopes were not too high for anything better.  Upon arrival in the new classroom, we second grade students were greeted with a breath of lovely fresh air. In a word, kindness. This kindness was to escort our class throughout second grade, refilling our learning sails with a gentle breeze of optimism allowing and encouraging us to bravely and excitedly explore new oceans of learning. Kindness.  A gentle voice. Happy eyes.  Probably not attributes asked about on a teacher job application, but clearly attributes deeply affecting classroom morale and ultimately individual and collective classroom successes. Kindness pierced through the learned fear of the previous school year and nurtured a restored eye contact, strong shoulders and a sweet growing confidence among all of us blessed to be in this happy second grade classroom. I do not recall content taught nor content learned in second grade, albeit to recognize that we all advanced to the third grade. I do recall, however, with vivid and joyful recollection, the loving-kindness of a very gentle, very special, very encouraging teacher, whose tender ways brought smiles and motivated excellence. I have never forgotten to consider the tone used in delivering words to children. Kindness matters. Kindness builds up. Kindness outlasts content. Kindness is soothing, healing balm to the wounded spirit that has been staggering under the excruciating weight of another’s bitterness. Kindness lifts and restores. Kindness is free. Kindness is priceless.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

You're Hurting My Ears.

Lessons Learned

In The Classroom Of A Yeller

My previous blog article reflected on the gift of a gentle tone, a peaceful classroom, and the calmness, contentedness, and security students feel when wrapped in the comfort of this. I learned a different lesson early on in school.  1965-1966. First Grade. A big year for reading and learning, as they all should be.  Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was a yeller and her perpetually frustration-laced, roarish voice filled our classroom with fear rather than sweet wonder and encouragement. Regardless of one’s tender years, one quickly learns the survival strategies of not making eye contact  and not rocking the boat, so as to be able to inconspicuously fly under the classroom teacher’s radar and avoid being at the receiving end of her verbal attacks. It’s pretty tough to be “bad” in first grade as little ones long to love and please their teachers.  Can’t imagine the exponential increase in volume and in anger had we been naughty.  We were not naughty. We were, however, terrified, and when you are afraid, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to learn. Fear has no place in a classroom, because it’s unfair and it’s paralyzing as it squeezes the life, the joy, and the hope out of a classroom leaving nothing but cold walls and clock hands that don’t move fast enough.  I survived. I learned to read. At home where I was not afraid. At home where I was encouraged and smiled at. At home where no one yelled at me. I wonder how my first grade classmates did? I played school at home. My best friend and I took turns being the teacher. We were never like her. The lesson she taught, which has been indelibly etched into my heart, is how not to be. I am sorry for her because she missed the joy, the opportunity, the brilliance, the wonder, the miracles that are forever happening in a classroom of discovery and delight.  I have been a teacher for thirty years, and now in pseudo-retirement, a substitute teacher. Each class, each day, each year is new and exciting and fresh and full of limitless possibility. A classroom full of children represents the hope for the future, and to have the privilege of serving in this way and tending to this great treasure is exhilarating. Teaching. It bears a weight of responsibility such as no other. Precious children, uniquely gifted, wired, inspired, filled with wonder and dreams and infinite potential to touch, change and serve this world as no one else can; these are the treasures entrusted to our care eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, every year throughout their most formative years. With clay feet and great weakness, I stand before each class, each day in full knowledge of my inadequacy. What have I to give them but love, encouragement, and the best of what I have and am.  I am honored and humbled and thankful to be a teacher.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Need For Loud, Harsh Answers

Lessons Learned

A Gentle Answer

“A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up,” Proverbs 15:1.

In grocery store aisles and school hallways, on sports field sidelines and in performance hall parking lots, we hear parents yell at their kids and then kids yell back at their parents, and back and forth and back and forth, escalating ever escalating as if volume alone seizes the final, most authoritative word. We shout to assert control yet this very shouting bespeaks the control we have already so very clearly lost. We shout because the loudest, most ferocious bark belongs to the alpha boss dog, right? Or does it really? I believe we shout because we have not effectively learned how to lead. One of the most amazing classroom volume control strategies I have ever witnessed in thirty years of teaching, was demonstrated by a young, shy, gentle, peaceful teacher who never raised her voice above a hushed tone with students in her classroom. Their first grade voices matched her quietness. No voice was ever raised, and it was a beautifully calm room, lovely for learning. They listened for her voice and in that stillness there was comfort and security. Conversely, several doors down the hallway was a screamer whose classroom was invariably on the brink of chaos. By afternoon each day in the loud room, the decibels had been ratcheted up to an ear drum piercing roar, with everyone fighting to be heard including the teacher.  Exhaustion. Headaches. Frustration. Why do we shout? Do we lack the confidence necessary to be still, to be gentle, to be one who brings peace? In a world that regularly shouts its demands and demands its own way, a gentle soul who patiently listens and quietly responds is truly one of great strength and wisdom.  Our children have tender hearts and ears and need the careful tending of one who teaches and leads with calmness and gentleness, both at school and at home. We all need this, no matter how thick and hard our protective walls have become over time. Deep down, we long for this.  A gentle answer, a humble response, a quiet calming word breathes peace into our harried hearts. Try it. Be still. Turn the volume down. Respond with calmness, even if the impulse is to roar. Hold back that lion and watch the gentle response that returns to you.