The Wonder of the Five-Year Old Mind

“Most of us can look back to particular teachers who inspired us and changed our lives. These teachers excelled and reached us, but they did this in spite of the basic culture and mindset of public education. There are significant problems with that culture, and I don’t see nearly enough improvements. In many systems, the problems are getting worse. This is true just about everywhere.”—Sir Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

I had a little boy on Thursday that was desperate to say thank you. In kindergarten, this is a magical time of year. About a week or so after Parent-Teacher interviews, I usually start my first reading groups, handing out new books for my emergent readers. To say that they are excited is an understatement. It is honestly magical (in a July 1st kind of way, complete with fireworks) to watch their faces when I break it to them that they will have their very first book sent home that very day. There are usually gasps of delight. And I usually see them looking at one another with wonder and amazement.

Is there anything more rewarding to a teacher than the view to sheer joy and delight on a child’s face?

The day I passed out books was also the day that our Literacy Coach came to observe. She had noticed that one emergent reader was missing a canvas reader’s bag to store his book and reading log inside, and she had made a special stop on the way home Wednesday so as to get a special bag for one little fellow. She told me that he deserved to have the same as everyone else, and besides: she did not want him to feel left out. What an amazingly caring lady this woman is.

That little boy? Well, he noticed that the effort had been made on his behalf, and at the end of the day, he came to me and said, “Who got that bag for me?”
I told him who, and we both decided it would be a good idea to seek out Mrs. Turner and say a special thank you to her, now that the excitement factor had come down a notch, enough for him to attend to business.

We walked upstairs to find her.

And as I walked the few short steps with this busy little boy’s hand in mine, I was struck by the fact that not only was he excited that he was getting a book and book bag to take home for homework, he was deeply thankful for the privilege that was his in being enabled this wonder.

It is a wonder still for me in the recalling his little face. In recalling all their faces as I watch them learn.

I still love to watch their eyes as I read a book to them that makes them laugh.
I still love to watch their expressions as they connect with the characters and story, often laughing uninhibitedly.
I still love to watch them working diligently over a story they have created of their very own, watching them laboriously sounding out the words that they alone feel are best suited to represent their thoughts.

Yes, I still get a feeling of amazement from watching them learn what we traditionally call school.

But in my classroom, I feel I have such an exquisite privilege. I also get to watch them direct their own learning through play and inquiry. I watch them create and build and form and construct. I watch them invent and discover and imagine and wonder. And all the while I wonder: is this school?

Can this REALLY be school?

There is nothing quite like an early years classroom to remind one of what school could be like if it were founded on the principals of creativity and innovation.

What are those problems with culture in public education, particularly in the years that follow primary learning? Why does the passion fizzle? Why do kids end up hating school, thinking they are dumb? Thinking school is a waste of time?

Robinson (2009) would account for three critical areas of concern that contribute to this phenomena, those being: the preoccupation of our educational leadership with certain sorts of academic ability, the hierarchy of subjects as presented by that same leadership and the growing reliance of this very same leadership on standardized assessment of these privileged areas so as to account for learning.

Robinson (2009) says the fact that schooling is primarily concerned with words and numbers, privileging these two areas as being the utmost of importance in human intelligence, is true cause for concern. What of other aspects of human intelligence? And why is it that the maths and science, along with language skills, are placed at the head of a hierarchical order of important things students must know? Are there not other aspects to being human that weigh in as equally important? And even more ludicrous: why must we assess students to the brink of sending them into fits of panic and anxiety so as to see how well they do in these hand-selected areas of interest? Placing them on a scale as to their performance in regards to two areas of human development: our literacy and numeracy abilities?

I have been writing for over a year about the importance of care in education, doing so primarily because I, like Robinson and others concerned with the state of education, believe that the way school systems have been arranged and evolved run contrary to the human spirit. We are relational beings, in need of connection. We crave response and touch. We want to be with people. But we are also creative beings who long for something more than we have been offered. We desire to learn in the safety of an environment where we are cared for enough to push the boundaries of our own minds.

What schools need is transformation.

But how is this to be done?

First, it starts with educators challenging views about schooling and learning that narrow and undermine the human capacity for connection, while not overlooking in the resistance the very integral aspects of brain development accomplished through play, wonder, creativity and imagination.

Truly, I feel it starts with investigating primary classrooms and asking whether the very inquiry-based learning projects we see underway in these classrooms could not be adapted and modified so as to uniquely suit each grade level to follow. Matching students with areas of learning that fit their interests and learning styles so as to maximize their opportunities.

You know, I ask my students all the time if they are excited for days off from school. We have one coming up next week. Invariably, the answer I get is no. Is this because I am such an awesome teacher! Ha! I wish. No, it is rather because these children know that their learning is up to them. They are integral to the success of their day. I am only there to guide them, enable them, assist. It is their job to make the school day worthwhile.

They intuitively know this. It is just the way a five year-old brain was made to work.

I think that is why they love school. Because they still have some leverage in terms of how and what they learn.

May that always be the case.

I Am Only One

I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
-Helen Keller

You wonder sometimes how one person can do any possible good in this world.  How one person can make a difference.  How one can be the change. We are all like tiny starfish scattered on a sand-swept seashore. Helpless to rescue ourselves. Often absolutely powerless to rectify our dismal state of affairs. And what of those seen as our salvation? What good is it to them in rescuing the one lone being when there are so many others lying there beside? What possible good can one tiny being salvaged be, amongst the many, many others who are not?

What difference does rescuing one mean in the larger scheme of things?

I had one student tell me this week something that has remained in my thoughts for two solid days straight. I cannot quit this thought, not remove it from my mind. It is there, and because it is, I must address it. Must listen to the quiet thoughts that run like cool waters through my sub-conscious, sending small shivers up my spine.

We’ll say it was a little girl who spoke. Could have just as easily been a boy. But nevertheless, a child. And that child: she told me she felt loved at school.

At school, no less.

I asked the question, but only because it was in that book we were reading.  That book about feelings.  And because we were talking about feelings, I asked them about love. Asked about when and where we as humans might feel caring, compassionate love. And among the many, many others who responded in the affirmative about love in its many capacities within family, she did not. She just made the very small motion to me that she felt loved best at school.

My breaking heart. I cannot rid my thoughts of the enormity of this travesty.  It hurts to even think about it.

And yet, is this not such a wonder, such a gift?

To know that one child feels loved. That one feels noticed, feels seen. That s/he feels cared for and loved within the safe haven of the classroom. That school has allowed a cushion to form for him, for her, that it has provided a soft landing, a gentle reprieve? It is a blessing in all its many capacities to know that even if as few as just one child has left the school building feeling loved, our work as teachers has been accomplished.

Teachers are not often connected with notions of heartfelt love and care. It’s not really in our mandate. It might even be frowned upon, a little. We are not parents, not guardians. We are not true providers. But we are caregivers just the same. And if a child needs us to notice them, care for them, reach out to them among the many, many we see and interact with each and every day, and we can do so with loving-kindness and genuine care: we must.

We absolutely must.

That one child’s life is worth the risk it takes to reach out to them in love.  It is worth the time, the effort and the investment.

I am only one teacher: as such, the task seems overwhelming in its most accurate description. But in spite of this, I am still one teacher.

I can reach the one student that needs me to love her/love him most.

The Grace that is Gratitude

I am walking along, feet feeling chafed along the inside of my sneakers. These shoes are wearing thin. And I feel the many miles I have walked in them so very much tonight. Feel the tired, the exhaustion, feel the weariness. But with the sunset in the distance, the wind at my back- it is a good night to take pause for thought. A good night to think and wonder at the life I have been given.

Even as I call to mind- first the few minor irritants in my day-to-day life; those things that cause me slight annoyance and minor setbacks (and then, later recalling the good- is not that just the way: glass half-full!), I am reminded that these are still gifts for which to be thankful. For we are called to be thankful in everything. Not only in the good, in the pleasant, and in the enjoyable: but to give thanks in everything.

In everything?

Even in those moments we feel we have failed?
In those moments we feel we have been wronged?
In those moments we feel we have been misunderstood?
Even then?
In those moments when we’ve been slighted, offended, hurt or angered? Then?
Even then?

Oh, but yes, offer thanks in everything. For in offering gratitude in everything, that blanket of grace that covers and permeates all, we open the door for understanding more of what we were meant to know about thanksgiving. In everything, we learn. In all our life experiences, we come to know, come to understand. Come to glean meaning about ourselves, about the others whom we share this living space, and about God’s compassionate, merciful, holy love.

So even when we have little to be grateful for, it is still enough. Little is much. It is enough. There is always something to cling to, always something on which to build a foundation of gratitude. Even if only for the little things we count as graces.

When thinking of what we don’t have, let us remember what we do have.
When thinking of what we want, let us be grateful we have what we need.
When thinking of how we have been wounded, let us remember where we have been healed.  When thinking of wrongs in our lives, let us focus for mere moments on what has gone right? For in so doing, we will shift our thinking just enough to allow the room gratefulness needs to make a difference.

And always remember:

“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.”
-Alan Cohen

Let Me Be One Standing

Travel anywhere on the Internet, and you will come across conversations about opening/closing doors to Syrian refugees. Discussions abound about whether opening doors will bring about an influx of terror, as well as about whether closing doors will negate our sense of social justice and responsibility. These are heavy discussions for difficult times in history. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

Jean Vanier, of L’Arche Daybreak, had this to say about the recent attack on Paris:

“I think this event urges us to follow Jesus humbly, by daring to ask us for small gestures of love and forgiveness. We can begin in our daily lives, being more present to others, so that together we remain standing.”

So then. What do I feel is my calling right now? How can I remain one standing? I think Micah 6:8 sums it up pretty succinctly:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Act Justly: when faces of weary, worn and haggard refugees stream across my Facebook feed, I am reminded again and again that these are people. They have needs and desires. They require air to breathe, the same as do I. They have families and loved ones. They have felt love- feel love. Have been loved. Have known love. In justice, I must show love as well, offering what I have. Even though what I have might be small. It might be as small as a prayer. It might be even as faint as a fleeting thought or as fragile as the whisper of an image striking my mind in quiet, speaking to my soul. But to do justice, I must seek for the best for all human beings across this globe.

Acting justly starts small. If I cannot act justly to those I know and care for, how can I act justly for others in far-flung regions? It starts here. It starts now. It starts with me.

Love Mercy: I must cleave to compassion, strive to be kind, urgently aim toward benevolence. If I have, I must give. If I can share, I must allocate. If I can offer, so I must do. In considering others better than myself, I am showing that I love mercy. In placing others needs above my own, I am showing that I love mercy. In offering my life for the betterment of another life, I am showing mercy.

Our lives are not our own. Do we not believe that we have a Father that protects us? Is He not bigger than terror? Are we not held in the hollow of His hand? Whom shall I fear?

Chris Tomlin has so beautifully written the following words:

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear?
You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield, Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

Walk Humbly: when we refrain from extending ourselves, there can be issues of pride involved. But so can they become intertwined in our motives when we give. We must continuously contend for humility in all aspects of our life. If we have been chastened, accept and move forward. If we have been convicted, act on our convictions. If we feel strongly, question the motive that has brought about the feeling. If we do not feel strongly, we can then ask ourselves: why not? In humility, we are made more in His image. We are more of what we could be. More of what we should be.

I ask each of us—myself included—when considering what our role is in the unfolding story of world history (whether that be a story told close to home or farther abroad: what would Jesus do?

Let it be what I would do too.

On Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis

I notice lately more pain within the body. Aching pain in fingers as they type and play piano. Stabbing pain in a shoulder when I reach back. Dull pain in the stomach area when I have to do something for which I feel inadequately equipped. Searing pain in injured feet where I have numerous cracks due to sensitive skin. Crushing pain at times in the head due to years of clenching my jaw. Pain in places I previously felt nothing. Pain where I once felt fine. Pain. It accompanies me now wherever I go. Accompanies me now whatever I do.

It feels rampant, cropping up everywhere. Just like its infamous side-kick: stress.

I had an aunt who died when I was a young adult. In her late forties, she was going to a Nursing Convention in New Minas, Nova Scotia on a winter’s day, when she came upon black ice. Indeed it was a patch of treacherous ice which immediately sent her tumbling over the bridge on the highway she was traveling, to a ravine far below. She broke her neck in the plummeting spiral that sent her car to its demise, but interestingly- she was aware enough in her injury to take her own pulse. She knew her neck had been broken, but she was able to relay directions to the emergency crew that worked on her, telling them exactly what to do so as to salvage what little of her systems that remained. She eventually became paralyzed as a result of that car accident (occurring in her late adulthood), an accident which left her without feeling from her chest down.

I remember one time she had relayed a story to my mother about wheeling her wheel chair into a room. Wishing to reverse, she began to back out of the room, at which time she jammed her hand in between the spokes of her wheelchair. She kept pushing and pushing on it, wondering why she could not go backwards any further. Coming to find out that it was her own hand that prevented her from moving any further, she realized her own inability to feel pain had been the cause of even more trouble for her.

Because of her inability to feel pain in most of her body, she was unable to prevent injury to herself on numerous occasions. To give another instance, she also relayed the story about burning her hand on the stove trying to remove a pot from the burner. Not realizing that her hand was on the burner, she had left her hand there on the coils so as to support herself in removing a pot. Her melting flesh what alerted her that there was a problem.

Pain is a double-edged sword. With it, we feel like we die slowly. Without it, we know we die faster. But the very response which can be so unpleasant, that which we wish we could eliminate all together, is what we need to survive. Why is it that the thing which can at times save us is the very thing we wish to free ourselves of? Certainly, pain is a necessary response to injury. Because, in truth: while pain hurts (and we don’t like hurt), it is the alarm bell that also rescues. We need the hurt further so as to experience the reality that life presents to us.

John Keats (on pain): “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

And C. Joybell C. (on pain as well): “Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.”
Pain is necessary. While difficult and trying, it is the body and soul’s means of sensing trouble so as to make sense of the hurt and find ways to cope. Pain makes us alive to our senses. It helps us feel, to know, to understand. And it enriches our lives by providing depth and context to an otherwise bland existence.”

I sometimes wish I could live without the pain. There are some pains that are certainly more worthwhile than others. The pain of childbirth brought me more rewards than that recurring pain I feel from stress in my abdomen, each and every day. But all my pain-body reminds me of what I have. And when equilibrium is restored, even if but for a short time, I am grateful. Grateful for the body and for the sense of pain I feel within that body.

We must learn to embrace pain, accepting that it is often through pain that we see the beauty that unfolds in its wake.  Pain reminds us all of what we have and what we so often take for granted.

How To Really Get Along With People

How to really get along with people? Well, I think it starts with seeing the best in people. Starts with finding the good. That is: it all starts with adopting a kind view to the people we encounter in our day-to-day lives. So someone messed up? Look for the plausible reasons why so as to provide a reasonable explanation. Someone offended you? Try to understand why you feel the offense. So someone said something, did something to cause you frustration? Ask them why. But be kind about it. Direct, honest questions do not nullify kindness and understanding.

She wanted to react. It would have been so easy. It was in her right, was it not? She was slighted, offended. Hurt. And did this not happen time and time again? She deserved to feel angry.



According to Mikey D. of Feel Happiness, there are three basic social skills that can be adopted to make it easier to help us see the best in people. In his own words:

1. Slow Down And Be Curious About Others

Don’t rush into making judgments about other people.
Take your time and gather some information about them first.
You should enter your interactions with an open mind, curious to find the positive attributes that the other person possesses.
Wouldn’t you prefer to be interacting with a person who you actually like?
In order to see the good in other people, you need to look for it.
This takes both patience and a curious mind that is ready to accept the good attributes of others.

2. Look Them In The Eyes

This used to be a huge problem for me, and I wasn’t even aware of it for years.
As soon as I started making stronger eye contact with people, the world opened up to me. It was like I had been blind and could suddenly see.
Eye contact is an important part of your social skills toolkit for countless reasons. It is practically a prerequisite for finding the positives in other people.
When you look someone in the eyes, you stay focused on that person rather than the multitude of distractions in your head and in your environment.
Not only that, but it helps you build a connection with that person. You’d better believe that will help you see them in a more positive light.

3. Smile At Them

Usually, they will smile back.
And when they do, you immediately have good things about them (nice smile, friendly, positive attitude, etc.). That was easy.
Smiling puts you in a good mood, and will make the other person like you more.
When you feel good, it is far easier to see the good in others. And if they like you, they are more inclined to show you the positive aspects of them.
Smiling greases the wheels of this whole process.
By neglecting to smile when you talk to other people, you give up one of the easiest things you can do to help you see the good in others and have a positive interaction with them.

Thanks Mikey D. But, it all sounds so simple. Of course, we all know: it takes practice. Practice making the connection, practice keeping the connection and practice maintaining the connection. But is it worth it? You bet it is. Not only in terms of the ways we interact and connect with others, but also in terms of how we view ourselves.

The more we see the best in ourselves, the more we will see the best in the others with whom we share our lives.

And that’s as good a reason as any to get started.

Right here, right now.

Living a Paradoxical Life

“The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”
― Kent M. Keith, The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council

Do you ever feel like you are trying to hold 25 corks underwater, but to the best of your ability you can barely keep one down under? Life is hard. There are a lot of corks, a lot of things to think about. There is your own life (and the aspiration and dreams you wish to chase). There are you own problems and battles to fight. There are your own inner struggles and outer turmoil with which to deal. Not to mention, everyone else around you living out their own stories amidst the backdrop of your own life. Somehow, their story gets intertwined with your story and then it is no longer just your life anymore: it’s our life you must think and worry over. In a world that is bent on breaking us down, I wonder: can we do things differently? Can we live a paradox? Can we live harmoniously?

Yes, but only:
If the expectation is hatred, let us then rather love.
If the expectation is blame, let us then exercise forgiveness.
If the expectation is shame, let us then give grace.
If the expectation is frustration, let us then exercise patience.
If the expectation is to react, let us then rather turn the other cheek.
In so doing, we live out life the Father’s way.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
The Beatitudes
He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5, NIV)

To which I say: Blessed then are those who live their life in paradox. For this is far from the natural bent our hearts would follow after.