From the library...

How To Behave and Why…

It’s been awhile since I wrote about a book, not for lack of books in our world but for overwhelming abundance. The collecting, reading and sharing of books is as essential to life in our house as breathing most days, and sharing all the ones we love would be a full time job!  Sometimes a book comes along, however, that is so important and good and valuable that it must be shared and celebrated. I found this amazing gem during a visit to Citylights bookstore in San Francisco. 

How to Behave and Why” was written by Munro Leaf (most famous for writing “The Story of Ferdinand” – the mild-mannered bull) and published in 1946. 

It’s a deceptively simple looking “children’s book” with a universal message…

Focusing on four essential character traits it explains what the values mean and why they are important in a simple but not pedantic way, so that they are accessible to the very young, the very old and all other ages in between. 

I love that the writing manages to be idealistic and realistic at the same time. If I could buy this book for every child or teacher I know, I would!

We are living in strange and unsettling times, but it is reassuring to know that there are still many good people living fair, honest and kind lives. We need to remind ourselves and each other that these qualities are timeless, and that they can be universal if we keep recognizing their value in ourselves and others. 

A note from the editor of the newly published re-issue:

I hope you read and share it – and tell me what you think! Have you come across any gems at the bookstore lately? 

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From the art room..., From the classroom...

Old And New…

Some time ago I had a last minute idea that involved students making art to decorate the gym for a concert.  Last minute ideas often end up being executed with last minute supplies, and this one stayed true to that rule…

  

I rummaged through the art room cupboards to find, in a dark dusty corner, some old forgotten rolls of mismatched wallpaper samples, ends of gift wrap rolls and some odd shaped scraps no one else could find a use for. What could they become?
  

I had two weeks and over 100 students (ages 6-10) to work with.  Some of them were eager to be artists, and others came at the process with great reluctance. What, and how, could we create?

  

In the end I chose a different theme for each grade, gave them basic instructions for shapes, and let them create their pieces using the materials at hand. 

 

The end results were as creative and diverse as the students themselves. No two were alike, even with the simple repeated constructs, and every  picture captured the personality of the artist. Amazing. 

  

  
None of these materials you see was originally intended for the purpose of “art”. They had all been relegated to the back of the closet as relics of another time, unable to fulfill their design destiny (brown floral wallpaper anyone?), but with a little bit of imagination and the right tools they became not just one but many new things…
       

  

Going in to this activity we didn’t have a picture of what our efforts would produce, but we had curiosity and enthusiasm for sure. The “doing” part was messy. The “engagement” part was awesome. And the end results were as unique as the sticky fingerprints all over my resource room floor. Hmmm. 

  
  

Thinking about the explore-connect-create process in this context reminds me of an artist’s quote that caught my attention at the Vancouver Art Gallery this past summer: 

“The possible does not have to be justified by the known.” (Wolfgang Paalen)

In other words, we might not know where we are going. In fact, we probably don’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and doing as we discover what possibilities await…

  

  

Looking back at these pictures of the creative and highly individual found-art project, I am seeing them with the eyes of an “old” teacher exploring the “new” curriculum. For me they make an interesting metaphor: familiar materials, imagination, open ended exploration and guided structure to create something new and ultimately more personal. Is that kind of what it looks like to you?

  

  

The teachers here in BC are well into the implementation of the “new” curriculum by now, but we are still really only at the beginning of understanding the shift in thinking, teaching and learning that is required of us as we move towards discoveries in a world that is evolving faster every day. It feels unsettling, to be sure, but we shouldn’t forget that we already have many of the essential tools in our supply cupboard…

    

  

Watching children create is the thing that inspires me most as a teacher. It reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm that set me on this path to a life in education so many years ago. It encourages me, especially on the difficult days, to remember what is really essential in education. 

  

  

Curiosity, creativity, opportunity, affiliation… 

These things we must have, regardless of what the current theme of the curriculum may be. If children love learning and playing and making – if they have the opportunity and the encouragement and the guidance – then they have everything they need to do great things. 
  

Wherever you are, I hope these things are part of your daily life too…

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.…”

(William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence)


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From the desk of...

Love and Christmas (Neighbours…)

The fourth and final week of advent begins on the Sunday before Christmas. Depending on where in the week Christmas falls, the fourth week can be the shortest week of all.  This year it was as long as it could possibly be – a full week to reflect on the theme of love – made (seemingly) longer by the “gift” of snow received at the very beginning of the week.  After three other city-paralyzing snow storms in just a two-week period, the snow was really starting to pile up…


…and when life gives you snow, on top of snow, on top of snow… you shovel.  We headed out on that snowy Monday morning with shovels in hand to discover another great gift of snow: neighbours.  Six families from our tiny cul-de-sac came out in force to work together that morning, including one dad who was just moving in that very day.  Really.


I shovelled my heart out, starting in on one neighbour’s driveway while he helped to fix the snow blower of another.  Across the street a dad worked to clear the outdoor ice rink he has built for the kids to play on, and another friend pitched in for hours to clear the common areas even though he his own driveway was not affected.  Neighbours.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)


Where would we be without the kindness of neighbours?  The simple gestures, the unplanned acts, the selfless thoughtfulness that happens every day in tiny unseen ways – that is real love.  The easiest way to have love, the greatest way to give love, the only way to create love is with kindness.  Shovelling for hours, thinking these thoughts, I laughed a little bit to myself at a connection that was foreshadowing at its finest.  This year, for our annual Christmas card, Mr. Martini selected this quote:

“Kindness is like snow: it beautifies everything it covers.” (Kahlil Gibran)


Those of you who live locally and have been shovelling out there just as much may not be laughing, but in a very real way the snow (and the many littles kindnesses that it sparked) has brought some of us together. Kindness is love, and in the week before Christmas I saw it flourish all around me in many little ways.  Now that Christmas has come and gone (ushered out on Boxing Day with another snowfall) I am still thinking about the love and kindness that has meant a great deal to me this year.  Through all of the challenges and loss there has been kindness, and that has made all the difference…

“There are three things in human life that are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

(I have read that Henry James spoke these words in response to a question from his brother William’s son, but my own son tells me that this quote is from Mother Teresa… thoughts?)


Love and kindness are discussed at length here at the Martini house, and often philosophically, as Miss G. approaches the “Age of Enlightenment”. She asks insightful and deeply empathetic questions about human relationships and our place in the world, and challenges the adults around her especially to be better people every day.  In response to her deep and thoughtful questions, she received this letter from a guest in our house on Christmas Eve:

“Love is very important to me, to my work, and most of all to our world.  This love, in giving and sharing, has created a special kind of magic that indeed is very real.  It comes from the hearts of people who love and care for others, and casts a glow in the world wherever it is needed most.  When people feel the love of Christmas magic at work in their lives they are able to do better for themselves and for others.” (Mr. C.)


Love.  It is the simplest and purest way to express the best of our own self, and to care for others at their most human.  And really, it is the essence of Christmas: divine love comes to earth in vulnerable human form.  It is protected and nurtured by family and friends, and eventually rises above human jealousy, cynicism, anger… but that part of the story comes later.  For now, we will think about love and the place it has in our own lives as we go about our daily work of weathering the storm…

“It is love that fashions us into the fullness of our being: who we love, how we love, why we love, and that we love which ultimately shapes us.  It is love, before all and after all, in the beginning and the end, that creates us.  Today, remembering this, let yourself acknowledge and remember the moments, events, and people who bring you, even momentarily, into a true experience of love, and allow the rest, the inescapable mundanities of life, like a cloud, to very quietly drift away.” (Daphne Rose Kingma, read from our book of daily gratitude in the week of love…)

Just… love.

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From the desk of...

Gaudete (Joy!)

The third week of advent – the midway point, just finishing now – is meant to remind us of the joys all around us. Joy comes from many places: the holiday joys as we prepare for our celebration of Christmas, the seasonal joys (strangely crisp and snowy here in the Pacific Northwest) and the daily joys – the little things- that connect our daily life to the magic of Christmas…


We spent our week of joy in a whirlwind of joyful activities – Christmas parties, family dinners, an amazing evening Christmas scavenger hunt and lights with friends, baking, delivering and exchanging packaged treats with people who have touched our lives with kindness and generosity this year…

“Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice well beyond singing, for to miss the joy is to miss all…” (Robert Louis Stevenson)


It has been a long journey from last year, when our hearts were heavy and joy felt so far away…but we have continued to live our daily lives with the belief that underneath the uncertainty and sadness there was a joy that could sustain us.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy, and keep choosing it every day.” (Henri J.M. Nouen)


Every day.  In times of trouble – in our own lives, and in the world around us – more than ever we need to reach out to the little joys and hold on tight. We need to find comfort and sustenance there, and then send joy back out into the world, wherever it may be harder to come by. 

“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials, because you know it produces perseverance…” (James 1:2-3)

Where are you finding joy in your daily life? 

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From the desk of...

Peace

Advent, week two.

During this second week we are reflecting on the theme of peace. It seems to come right when we need it the most – December can be the exact opposite of peaceful!  At the Martini house we have been making an effort to find peaceful moments as often as we can, but sometimes the rush of daily life ( a minor blizzard, or two…) gets in the way.

One peaceful family habit we have tried to focus on since October is a meaningful moment of gratitude before dinner every night. We started taking turns reading out of an old family book of daily graces (“A Grateful Heart” – thanks Mimi) and the tradition quickly became so popular with every family member that we sometimes have to have multiple readings.

Day by day the different quotes, prayers and readings seem to echo the significance and concern of our current daily life.  When my turn came last Saturday, on the eve of the “peace” candle, this is what I read:

“By being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find our self engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations… May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the centre of our being.  It will not fail us.” (Thomas Merton)

The imagery in this passage (“silence printed at the centre of our being”) was so striking to me that I spent some of my Sunday afternoon reading more about Thomas Merton, and discovering a bit of a kindred spirit.  While many aspects of his life and writing are fascinating, the part that connected most with my thoughts about peace was his exploration of the depth of human experience and wealth of perspective available through a collaborative understanding of various faith traditions.

His philosophy is not just inspiring – in our current culture it is essential.  How can we be at peace with ourselves, how can we create peace in our world, when we are overwhelmed with fear and misunderstanding?  Even as we reconnect with our own spiritual roots and traditions we can draw on the mystical traditions of other religions in order to better understand ourselves, as well as our relationship with others and with God (or the “reality that is present to us and in us: call it Being…Silence.” (Thomas Merton – again – brilliant…)

 

Merton’s idea of peace in silence reminded me of another quote I return to often, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Two weeks ago, when coming back from a school field trip with Miss G., I sat with a friend on the bus to the ferry and talked about how we find time for peace in our busy grown-up lives.  “You have to go to it,” she reminded me, emphatically.  “It can’t find you unless you make time and space.”  In her life peace comes in the silence of nature, and she makes time to seek it out every day…

Seeking out a peaceful moment, a peaceful thought or a peaceful time in this modern world is increasingly a challenge.  Being a peace seeker, a peace keeper, a peace maker, has become almost counter-cultural.  (Inspired by another amazing article about Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.)  Peace, however, is imprinted at the centre of our being.  We must not neglect it, and it will not fail us.  Where do you go to find peace?  Is it in the silence of nature, like my friend from the bus, or in the transcendence of music?  Is it in the warmth and comfort of home with your loved ones, or in the rush of energy that comes with dancing, running, sledding, flying?  Can you get yourself there today?

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” (Max Ehrmann)

(Art by primary students from Norma Rose Point School)

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From the desk of...

In Between…

There are certain times and places in life that are neither one thing nor the other. In between seasons, in between jobs, in between awake and dreaming, in between childhood and adult life…

Coming through these in-betweens always gives me a slightly unhinged feeling; the surreal rearranging of place and personality goes through a period of “unsettled” before becoming something new. Nothing is familiar, there are no landmarks or keystones, there is a lingering feeling of discord.

  

I began this post in between seasons – in that wet grey time that isn’t winter and isn’t spring. I kept thinking about it as I travelled with my family – in between work and holidays, in between countries, in between states, in between city and country landscapes, in between ever changing weather patterns…

…but now I have come to an in-between that goes well beyond unsettling. In between life, and death.

I have lost an amazing friend. Even though I knew it was coming, even though I thought I was prepared, I am in between acceptance and overwhelming grief. I might be here awhile.

    
There is no easy way to be in this place.  I am wallowing in sadness – for her beautiful girls, for the man who loves her, for her younger brother and his family too, and selfishly for myself and my own family as we have to live in this world with a little less light in her absence.   

An amazing friend. In her last letter to me she noted the in-between herself:

“It’s funny how certain life changes make us appreciate what we have/ had before it’s too late. It’s good that they come our way sometimes.”

The moments that give us pause, that make us uncomfortable, unhappy, unwilling… Those are the moments that can really open our eyes to ourselves and our possibilities. They’re like windows into or out of reality – a place to change perspective and focus.

  

In those places in-between we have the opportunity to transform. As quoted in my favourite film, just a few seconds are so much more than waiting:

“We Breathe. We Pulse. We Regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.” (Mr. Edward Magorium)

  

In between sunrise and sunset there are hours filled with choice and opportunity. There is life to be lived. There are people to be loved and helped. There is laughter, there is joy, there is kindness. Use your in between – it’s everything…

“The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.” (Barbara de Angelis)

Oh Margaret; How I miss you…
 

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From the desk of...

Yet…

My new favourite word. Three letters, but strong enough to hold the darkest thoughts and feelings back long enough to give a little bit of time to regroup…

  
  
We’ve all been there: a place where frustration or discouragement keeps us from seeing clearly the potential on the other side of a temporary setback.  As adults we (hopefully) have the tools to deal with the emotion and to motivate the action needed to get past that place. As teachers and parents we have the responsibility to model and support children who haven’t (yet) developed those tools for themselves…

  
  
Regularly, in the resource room, I work with children who have been unsuccessful in much of their short lives so far. Often their default phrase is “I don’t get it.” This is my least favourite phrase, and has been jailed in my classroom for many years. I have asked children to replace it with “I need help” or “I don’t understand”, but that was all before I discovered yet.  

  
  
When visiting another school recently I joyfully came across some fantastic “anchor phrases” in an eighth grade science room… The classroom teacher was surprised I didn’t recognize them – they are inspired by Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” – based on her 2006 book. (I was having Miss G. In 2006  – quite a few things snuck by me that year…) 

This post is for Miss G. She is talented at many things, but not so much at accepting her own (even temporary) limitations. Of course, she’s 9.  When she’s having “one of those” moments I get her to scroll through the pictures and read them out loud – it’s cheesy, and she laughs, but it works. There’s hope for us yet…

  
    
    
    
    
  

I have looked at these pictures over and over again since taking them, and have shared them with friends, colleagues and students alike. The magic word is yet. There isn’t a phrase I can think of that doesn’t improve with the addition of those three letters. 

Today’s bonus: this rubric of assessment language posted in the same room:

 

I had the fortune of hanging out with some students who belonged to this actual classroom – they explained this rubric (in their own words!) for me, emphasizing their understanding of each stage of learning, and how important the growth continuum was.  Each phase, just like in life, was essential before moving on to the next.  We are not born ready to be extending learners. Many of us will spend a great deal of time in the acquiring phase. There is great satisfaction in developing and refining our learning, and in circling back to another round of acquiring… If we are learning we are living and changing and successful – we’re not done yet

  
I can’t help but connect these ideas to some speakers I heard at the FISA conference earlier this month – one on the inspiration for change (learning?):

“How can we make small changes toward bigger change? Attunement: understand perspective and find common ground. Buoyancy: face rejection, setbacks and failures. Clarity: curate information, develop expertise, find and identify problems. Tapping into feelings of why we do what we do increases our effective connection to tasks.” (Daniel Pink)

…another on the diversity required to create a world changing around us:

“Producing only one type of people reduces talent diversity. We need people on the fringes. We are differently talented and differently motivated – this is the beginning of passion. Doing things we are interested in makes us intrinsically motivated and gives us energy. Desire creates opportunity for creativity – human diversity becomes valuable. Successful schools value creativity, entrepreneurship, unique talents, autonomy, voice, exploration. Develop the discipline to sustain creativity and discover strengths. Learning from and for other people creates authentic products.” (Yong Zhao)

…and lastly:

“We have to be hopeful to help humanity adapt to its challenges.” (Charles Fadel)

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