Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This Place -- Kirkridge

Sometimes it is scary! Home is here, and here, is home away for many who seek their birthright gifts. And that is scary, for most of the days, I am alone. Without the daily routine of children to call me away from our vision, our call to the next place, the journey to what can be… is scary.

Being here, really here, in this place called Kirkridge, our home, is not for the faint of heart. The heart beats differently here. The heart listens for sounds and the mind can hear those calls in this place. Whether at my special corner or on the path, or in a meeting room, or in the company of others, the silence calls.

Most days I find that there is not enough silence, enough time to hear my heart. I hear the call of the children at the school from my desk in the corner of our house. I hear the birds and the squirrels calling out, rustling in the leaves left behind by fall. I move quickly. I half hear you; my colleagues, my friends, my family. I rush to a solution, a way to fix. Sometimes, that is really scary.
I work each day to slow down, to listen, to learn, to wait, to hold. Some days the minutes pass as I troll down the dark hole of the internet, lost in an abyss. I “X” out tabs that distract me, I work to stay present, to be present. I am happy for the awakening. This very scary place in my heart, under my feet, in this chair, that calls me to be myself, my whole self, happens here at Kirkridge.

Forgiving myself when I fall into the trap of the world and stuff – thankful for the holding in this place, ever so gently, right now.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Little Things

I didn’t know when I took to indoor planting this winter quite what I got myself into. First, I underestimated just how much could come from one tiny seed. Now, I have more plants than I really know how to handle. These little things take care and nurturing. I want them all to flourish, and I need help! Words of wisdom often come at the strangest times and when we least expect it. A passing phrase and I realized that small things can be scary to take care of; babies, puppies, kids and plants. They are fragile and dependent. School can be like that too! Lots of us want schools to be better, we do at the School at Kirkridge, and the Alt Schools are exploring how to use data and different ways of measuring performance in reforming education. The concepts of collecting video and data on everything that happens is kind of like planting a million seeds. Right? Wouldn’t it be like finding a needle in a haystack?

And, I really think some of the things Alt Schools' hope to do are noble:
  • Personalize learning.
  • Paying attention to social and emotional learning.
  • Cultivating grit, resilience, kindness.
  • Creating children ready to enter the world.
  • Building relevant experiences.
  • Blending the use of technology and teachers.

As educators, I think we long to do these things in a classroom or school or district. Yet, how do we embed the small things like saying good morning, picking up the trash, or sharing our lunch or an idea.? Days end sometimes before we even begin. Wanting to linger when it is time to leave. We have more to accomplish and build. I long for one more cup of coffee, one more story or a little more time to write. The computer battery is dying now that I am thinking of so much to say! So much…. The first light of dawn and the sky clearing after a storm. Fleeting moments. Hail storms in the afternoon. The budding weeping willow at the edge of the woods. The chirping of the salamanders and frogs in the vernal pools. Savoring the voice of children playing. The joy when you know your own children are happy. The pain when you hear the quiver in their voice on the phone. So much to learn!

The tension of life plays on us all like an out of tune guitar. Wanting to get it right – to be in harmony. Little things really do make a difference. Turning to wonder these days as we sit in a circle at school. Trying to help young people get along, care about each other, honor our differences and celebrate our sameness. Trying hard, wondering if we can create a community that can navigate the divisiveness of our politics. The little (and not so little) jabs. So we try – and we hold.

Can we embody life-giving rules like these from Circles ofTrust:
  • Giving and receiving welcome – knowing that we all want to be a part of something.
  • Being present – open to make the most of opportunities to learn and be kind.
  • Know that what is offered is an invitation – to learn, to grow and to become people of hope.
  • Speak your truth in ways that honors the truth of others – is it kind, is it helpful, is it necessary.
  • No fixing, saving or advising – each of us come with our own truths – honor those differences.
  • Learn to respond to others with open, honest questions – rather than tell others what to do, respond in ways that help a person learn for themselves.
  • When the going gets tough turn to wonder – set aside what you think and put yourself in the shoes of the other.
  • Attend to your own inner teacher – know you have the answer inside of yourself.
  • Trust and learn from silence – sometimes when you are quite, you hear what you know is the right thing to do.
  • Observe deep confidentiality – don’t share another persons story – it is only for them to tell.
  • Know that it is possible – Each of us holds the key to being our best self.

Great stuff, really! The experience of helping to change the landscape of learning will take all of us, The School at KIrkridge and other alternative private schools, Public Schools, the reformers in places like the Alt Schools and the many more. The idea of personalized learning and the value of living together in a way that is healthy and creates a society worthy of our human spirit. Just like the little seeds; “little things”, children or adults, it doesn't much matter, we are in this together. The wide landscape of learning to learn. Individual or same? Where does it intersect? Like capturing a range of meanings; from a small acts of kindness to figuring out how to persist when the technology fails in the beginning of a lesson. As I planted seeds this winter I was reminded that small things can grow into larger things. Ideas can become reality. And sometimes you need to let go. Some of the seeds won’t make it. Sometimes we fall down or fail. But, come spring – I am still going to have a ton of basil! And – I am going to keep trying to help others learn, to help make schools safe and fun places to learn. I am going to keep trying! 


Friday, March 11, 2016

Courage at School

Some days are more difficult than others. Sometimes hard days roll into one another. On these days none of the literature about social and emotional intelligence makes sense in isolation at a school (or home or office). The buzz of one person’s bad day crashing into another. One broken heart spilling its pain out in the room. Today, nothing seemed like it was going to work. It didn't seem like Listening and Being Empathetic was going to get a chance to show up. One Habit of Mind* at a time perhaps? Or, frame the circle with with Parker Palmer’s “Touchstones”**? Or invite the Arab proverb of checking your words; are they kind, necessary or true? Maybe, allow the silence to call the good and kind into each of us?

I wrote about persistence the other day. The stick to-it-tivness that helps us hang in when times are tough. Why do we have it for something’s and not others? Why can I persist on one day, but not the next? And, if I can’t do it, how can I expect it from a kid? I felt at a loss for words as we sat together and tried to figure out why really good people hurt each other. We had tears and hard conversations. We had affirmations and frowns. We were frustrated and upset. We listed possible ways to avoid the painful actions, recognizing that we mostly hurt each other un-intentionally. We listed words that make us sad and situations that we might want to avoid. We swirled in doubt and hope wondering if we would rise up or fall apart.
It seemed to end well as we gardened together, the dirt and sun washing us with grace. Our guest gardener shared bread and jam that was sweet and kind. Wondering, now, if the hard work of today can become empathy tomorrow? Will our empathy continue to grow, like our persistence, as we continue to show up when it is hard? Because this is really hard. Some days I think we all feel tired and lost. I am proud of the young people who sat in our circle, they stuck with it when it was tough. They didn’t walk away when they were faced with the truth that they hurt other peoples feelings. They were careful when they told each other how they felt. They were courageous. It was not easy to sit in a room and face the truth that we all hurt each other sometimes. And I know the teachers, parents and volunteers who show up each day are modeling this persistence. I know that they are kind when times are hard, when it would be easier to stay home. And, I feel hope. I believe that these days when we persist through the messiness of living we are creating a better world.
I am proud of our community. I am hopeful that so many people believe that there is a better way. That we all show up with courage and the hope that school can be a place to bring our whole selves. I have hope for the School at Kirkridge.

*Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series, Copyright © 2000

**Center for Courage & Renewal, founded by Parker J. Palmer©.