This is NOT sweet talk

I received an interesting comment this week on my blog, with regards to my viral post on what students remember most about teachers:

“This is sweet talk about how important it is to relate to students’ lives. A certain amount of that is important or you can’t reach the students. It is also critical to actually teach in a way that assures students gain the best education possible based on their intelligence. Yes, everyone doesn’t have to be a doctor or an engineer, but some must or our society will suffer immensely. Teachers are not there to make friends of students, but learners. Whether they remember you, is irrelevant.”

To the commentator: I beg to differ, and to also call your bluff.

There are researchers around the globe who are putting forth scientific claims as to why care is vital inside classrooms. It’s not just sweet talk anymore—there is substantial theory and research underway existent to support both my sentiments as well as the premise behind care ethics.

Towards a broader understanding of authority in student-teacher relationships,” is the title of an academic research paper written by Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) on the topic of authority utilized in school discipline, and the paper provides reason for a better understanding of “the student-teacher authority relationship” which is also central to understanding what goes on in classrooms; in particular, the authors of this article show how this idea of authority relates to school discipline (p. 494)

Authors Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) put forward in this research paper that the common approach to discipline that educators have traditionally held to, in that they have interpreted authority with relation to use of power and domination. Thus, the apparent meaning of authority in this view would be one which enables teachers to engage in forceful action (albeit, not necessarily physical) so as to coerce students into doing that behaviour which is desired; if students do not do what is expected, they run the risk of receiving consequences for their actions. This understanding in Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) view has led to a neglect of how teachers can use personal authority to elicit a more authentic, positive response to encouraging desired behaviours, doing so in caring, compassionate ways.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Gewirtz (2000) as saying “that pupils continue to be seen as problems to be managed rather than as individuals capable of making decisions” (p. 497). Although Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) state that there have been positive shifts over the past decades in terms of how schools interpret discipline, doing so in a more positive light than in some previous eras of schooling, there still is a view to discipline that students must remain compliant if they are to avoid the teacher’s use of control to exercise authority. With the agenda of school boards and government departments geared at performance and output, it is no wonder that teachers believe that classroom control of some sort is necessary (at least this is the view of many teachers) if they are to get anything done inside their classrooms, so as to meet district-mandated benchmarks.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Wrong (2002)’s research as being significant in contributing to the theory of authority.

Wrong (2002)’s view to authority is that it differs in terms of how dominating, persuasive, manipulative and forceful it is in manifestation, as well as it differs in terms of the motivation for the individual to submit to the authority (changes which depend on what form of power is being used). Wrong (2002) lists five forms of authority: coercive, legitimate, competent, personal and authority by inducement, and he maintains that each has application to the classroom setting. In particular, Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) take note of what Wrong (2002) says about personal authority, a form of authority based on a student’s compliance to complete teacher-directed tasks/do what is expected, and all because they genuinely like the teacher. This is a form of authority which Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) state “is something which school children are naturally predisposed to recognize and respond to” (p. 504). Thus, the personal qualities of teachers—their caring and compassion, their trustworthiness, their ability to form relationships with their students, their understanding, their patience and respectfulness…all work in tandem to form a teacher’s personal authority inside their classroom with students.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) claim that it is “in personal authority that teachers can find most optimism for their profession” and this because this form of authority lies directly within their means of influence. Teachers CAN decide how they will be when they show up to class each morning.

Will those teachers be fair?
Will they be respectful?
Will they be patient, compassionate, understanding and trustworthy?
Will they find ways in which to care?

If the answer to any of these lies in the affirmative, then the teacher’s ability to establish a positive, healthy presence of authority in the classroom is a hopeful possibility.

Both for the teacher AND the students.

Notice Me

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Come look at me, they cry out. Little voices calling, tiny hands reaching for my own much larger one. Watch me on the money bars, the slide, the firepole. Watch me! Notice Me! See me!

A little one comes up to me, (I know not who she is), but she has a sweet innocent face and the clearest eyes—it is almost that I can see right through to her soul. And she is calling out to me.

Watch me, she says.

I watch.

I follow her little body as it rounds the Jungle Gym, makes its way up the stairs and ends up at the tippy-top of the Fire Pole. She glances over at me to make sure that my eyes are fixed on her. They are indeed. When she is sure that I will not waver in my gaze, she grasps the pole and wraps her little legs around securely. Woosh. She is down in a second and off and running to a new adventure.

To teach is to examine humanity at its rawest, most unadulterated form. Children are a study in innocence and purity. They are authentic and genuine. And what they want more than anything is for us to notice. They want for us to notice them, notice their antics, their comings and goings. To be attentive. To watch and consider their ways. To be mindful. To be aware of what it is they care about.

Children want us to see them.

We all want this, if we were truthful. We want to be seen. We crave recognition. My own child comes home from school today and says in passing that it is easy to get lost in the sea of bodies.

No one can really notice you for all the people, says the Child.

It takes practice to notice people. I have written the following and I stand by these words today:

“We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.”

We must take time to notice. Our children are pleading for us to do them this one humanitarian service. We must notice them with our whole being, eyes and ears wide open. Watching them not with a gaze of half-hearted interest, but with a whole-hearted, complete understanding of the incredible gift of attentiveness and genuine care with which we’ve been vested.

Noticing takes time and practice. It demands our attention. We must be deliberate and intentional in our practice. But the pay off for our children in investing this service is mind-boggling.

Who can even imagine (can conjure up the images) the gifts that even one child could offer to the world someday…and all because we took the seconds, minutes, hours…took the time:

To really notice.

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Helping Kids Deal With Back-to-School Stress

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I happened to come across the now-viral video clip of a little boy being asked if he would miss his mom on the first day of school. A question to which he promptly exhibits visibly with quick tears that ‘yes,’ indeed—he will. The shot shows him running into the safe arms of his mother, with an embarrassed reportor left to apologize.

My own children, different in every way, have varied responses to stress. Lately, I have seen tears and anxiety within one more so than the others. Tears coming quickly in a range of situations. The other night, I happened to mention that I had some spots due to infected bug bites. I said goodnights and went downstairs for the evening, only to hear feet behind me not soon after. What did I mean by spots? Was I going to be okay? With a little assurance and some hugs, the anxiety abated for the time. Enough for her to go back to bed, anyway.

But our little encounter left me to briefly wonder where the stress was coming from and why.

Of course, we are coming up to that time of the year again, a time that parents anticipate and some kids wait for, while others drag their feet. The start of school—just one of the many transitions times in life that we will encounter. While we often think about parental stress associated with the beginnings of new activities, I wonder how often we remember that kids get stress too.

The American Psychological Association, along with Mary Alvord, PhD., offer six tips for parents helping kids cope with back-to-school: practice routines (sleep, lunch, bedtimes) well before the first big day, get to the know the kids on the bus route and in your child’s class, talk about your child’s fears and anxieties openly with them (withholding judgments), show lots and lots of empathy and then find the supports in your child’s school and community that will make the adjustment that much easier.

As a kindergarten teacher (and soon to be Grade 1 teacher as well), I recognize that students will come to me with their hearts and minds full of wonder, questions, fears and excitement. But these students are not the only ones feeling these emotions. As teachers, we do well to sense within our students both the anxiety and the excitement that new school routines and schedules bring to these children’s lives.

Willow Dea, Change Management Consultant, offers the following suggestions for teachers—ways which we can help our students adjust to life back in the classroom, and these include watching for over-stimulation in the classroom which can overwhelm some children, learning your students “learning styles”, along with making sure your students feel emotionally safe. She includes ten tips for parents and teachers which I have summarized as follows:

1. Set clear boundaries and guidelines and offer fair rules for support. Be consistent.
2. Offer children unstructured playtime so that they can use their imaginations.
3. Exercise, rest, nutrition, healthy meals, downtime, and laughter are all precursors for good health.
4. Take time away from technology. Encourage quiet and calm for part of your day.
5. Be the example for your students of managed stress. Parker Palmer states: “We teach who we are.”
6. Show students you care in the ways you know how.
7. Breathe.  Structure your day to allow for silence once in a while.
8. Listen to calming music. Turn the lights off. Let kids put their heads down on their desks and tune-out for a minute or two.
9. Talk with kids about what stresses them. Help them deal with it.
10. And don’t forget to make humor a big part of your day. ;)

All these, super suggestions for teachers (and parents) in knowing how to deal with children’s stress within the home and classroom. Never forgetting that the ways in which we take time to show compassion for other people and their unique situations (from children to adults) will go a long way in helping others be the best that they can be in that moment in time.

Might we also remember that small acts of kindness, along with the presence of caring, kind people, can serve to make an important impact in a person’s day. Let us live our lives so that when others think of kindness and caring, they think of us (quote taken from H. Jackson brown, Jr.).

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Be a Noticer

“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.” — Augustus Waters, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

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We are almost there.
It’s almost that time of year again, Students. And while you’re probably not even thinking about sitting in class behind a desk, not anxious yet to trade in summer for fall: I am already there in my mind. It’s already happening.
I am already planning and thinking and wondering and hoping. I am already imagining you.
I wonder who you are, what makes you tick, what you like, where you live. Are you a morning person or a late-night owl; are you funny, are you loud? Do you have any fears of your own? Are you ready for this next chapter of your life to open wide and be written?
Who are you?
And while we might have never met, I do have one thing I want to offer you right now, before everything begins again and we are caught up in the surge of emotion that accompanies each given school year.
My biggest hope for you—what I want for you even before I have met you and come to know your unique personality and particular way of knowing, is that you be a ‘noticer’. A ‘see’-er of life.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page 5 and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.
Students, if I can ask of you just this: learn to notice the world around you. Learn to watch more carefully, listen more closely, feel more deeply, understand more fully.
Watch with both your eyes and ears. Use all the senses that have been gifted you.
Listen with both your ears and your heart.
Feel others pain and joy with compassion and care.
Understand that this life is not just about you—it is about a world around you full of people and living things that beg for you to notice them.
We have not been shown well, not really been taught how to notice the people and world around us. You can change this pattern, Student. You can be the one to do things differently.
One smart decision at a time.

People, I need you to hear this…

It is disheartening, to say the very least, to realize yet again that the public’s perception of your work as a professional is characterized as being whiny, over-paid, indulged, lazy, self-centered and existent so as to be servile.

I have spent the past number of years in deep contemplation of my teaching practice- writing, thinking, reading and reflecting almost daily. And I am coming to comprehend that the overall public perception of teachers who run in North American circles, anyway, is extremely negative and it probably will stay that way until we as teachers re-invent ourselves.

Interestingly, I am conducting thesis research on the ethic of care and its relevancy to classroom experience. In this endeavor, I am coming to realize more and more that care is the absolute primary concern of teachers. We teachers are there in our classrooms because we care about what we are doing and the people we are doing it all for. However, unlike caregivers such as doctors (who at least have the potential of making sick people well), teachers do not always seem to serve the immediate betterment of the children they work with. While a doctor has the immediate function of providing relief (through medication and treatment), a teacher’s impact often is never realized until well after the children they have taught are moved on to another classroom and grade level. Furthermore, unlike doctors, people do not come to us of their own free will. There is compulsory attendance in school. Generally, no one is going to force you go to the doctor’s office.

But if doctors can be perceived in a positive light as care-givers, well so then can teachers. It just might take a little blood, sweat and tears to get there.

In writing about teaching as a profession (and in turn, trying to debunk the myths that teachers are money-hungry, union slaves that think solely of how to raid public coffers), I am also realizing the need for teachers to present another alternative image to the world than the one currently being upheld. I think what is needed in our profession is for teachers to show those that are unclear about what teachers really care about- that is, the public at large, the truth of our identity. As young people fresh out of high school, we were not drawn to the teaching profession because we couldn’t wait to one day be part of a union that would help us get rich. Hardly.  We were drawn to teach because we cared about the ideals of the profession and because we cared about connecting kids to those ideals. Then, as we became employed, we realized something even more important (if we hadn’t come to the conclusion already): we realized how incredibly important the kids in our classrooms were to us.

They in fact were everything.

As such, we started to care for them personally- and deeply care. Care about what they were eating both in school and without. Care about who they were friends with. About how much sleep they were getting on school nights. About what they were watching on television/social media. We started to care about their personal history and their present situations. We began to notice when they looked sad. Started to tune into their moods and feelings.

We noticed when things began to change from their typical interactions. Started to notice so much more than even this. In short, we were not really expecting this part of our calling to occur. It wasn’t exactly what we trained for in university; but somehow, in conjunction with the first day of our teaching contract, we realized that teaching content would sometimes take a backseat to caring for kids as people. Actually, we learned rather quickly this would happen A LOT of the time. Because our job as a teacher was profoundly about the students- their concerns, feelings, beliefs and identities. Our calling was wrapped up in the whole student- not just concerned with their brain. Wrapped up in the health and well-being of their body, heart and mind.

When I read comments like this one: “whine , whine , whine , move on and get a different job”; and this “what teachers want is more money”; and this one “get back to work, public servant! If you don’t like your job, get another one. Got that , public servant?”, I am extremely saddened. I think what bothers me the most is that we as teachers have not been enabled to truly represent ourselves in the media so that people can understand what we truly care for- after collective bargaining time is over and done with. I think the public MUST know about the absolute and incredible gift it is for us to be a teacher all those other days of the year. They must hear directly from us and often about what exactly our job entails. The highs and the lows. We need to share with the public about our well-founded concerns as well as our ample ‘gratitudes’. Need to tell what it is like to struggle with meeting the needs inside our classroom and what it is like to triumph in spite of the shortcomings. And we need to continuously share the importance that a teacher can make in the life of a child.

In my blogging, I have made this my goal: to raise awareness about teaching. To be a voice in the wilderness, if need be. To be a rally cry for teachers to unite and care about our profession enough to invest in it. To be a clear and concise storyteller so as to draw people into the world of education. I want people to care about what we do because we are teaching the children that people care about. What we do inside classrooms is incredibly significant, particularly when it gets personal. I have written before the following words:

Until we as people are impacted personally by this care-giving aspect role that describes a true educator, we really don’t understand how important it is.
And what I mean by this is the following:
Until your child has been bullied, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher calling you to see what they can personally do to rectify the situation.
Until your child has been without a lunch, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher offer half of hers to your child.
Until your child has been excluded, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher notice your child and seek them out.
Until your child has been owing money for an event, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher notice and make up the difference in the amount.
Until your child has lost a loved one, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher take the time to make a homemade card for your son or daughter.
Until your child has been scared, anxious, worried, fearful, hurt, overwhelmed or endangered, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher in their corner- rooting for them, whatever it takes.

Because until it hits you personally, it is really hard sometimes to remember what a monumental role care-giving plays in the day-to-day life of a school.

Care-giving is the heart of teaching.  And it is absolutely crucial that the outside world- the one not caught up in education- become aware exactly what this adage means.

On Your Graduation…

I sit back, watching them interact in the dramatic play center, mixing up imaginary food and having fun with the farm set and dinosaur bin. Role-playing. Make-believing. Pretending. Watch them piece together chain links with number pendants to make dog leashes for the play puppies and creating Lego masterpieces in the Math and Science center. I observe their little hands fashioning airplanes and hearts and all manner of interesting creations from our well-used set of classroom Wiki-Stix. Watch them as they chatter and converse over lunch. Listen to their banter.

This thought does not escape me: how quickly these tender years fly by.

Just yesterday you too were an innocent five year old boy. Tractors and Gators and trucks and cars your preferred toy. Lego came next, followed by bikes with training wheels and soccer balls. Anything John Deere for quite some time. And oh the books. Loads and loads of books. Dog-eared copies of a few.

Where did the time fly off to?

Blink my eyes, and you are five years old. Blink again and now you’re a fine young man waiting to start the final chapter of your last three years at home.

Do you know how proud we are of who you are? Proud of who you have been and proud of who you are becoming?

Right now, you are exactly who you were meant to be, and we couldn’t love you anymore today than we already do.

The older I get, the more I am appreciating the little moments I am given. Tonight, I borrowed your coat that I had given you for Christmas, wearing it for my walk. It still strikes me strange that you are now taller than I. I will never lose the picture in my mind of you- that tiny baby boy I held in my arms nearly fifteen years ago. I remember clutching you fiercely to my chest, wanting to shelter and protect you. A mother’s shielding embrace. And now your strong arms wrap around my shoulders when I lean in for a hug. I cannot quickly adjust to this change in roles; I am now the one who looks up to you.

As you and your classmates move into this next phase of your youth, remember who you are. You all belong to someone. And you, Son, are ours: a boy born to two parents who have loved you even before you were born. When someone is loved, as are you, that someone might not realize what this privilege entails. Our love for you encompasses the following:

It promises to always provide as we are able.
Covenants to continually be involved, available and present.
Commits to see you through the tough times as well as the best.
Gives its word that it will stand by you, whatever it takes.

Just yesterday, it seems, I was a young mama waiting by the gate for a little boy to come bounding up the walkway from his first day of school.

Blink and there you were.
Blink again and here we are.


It is one of those balmy, beautiful outdoor recess days that you might think would create the reality (or illusion of such) of not a care in the world being felt or expressed. You would expect to see everywhere…children running hither, thither and yon playing tag, catching butterflies, picking daisies. Strains to Pharrell’s Happy theme being piped onto the playground. Unicorns floating lazily in the sky.
Rather, it is a bit of a zoo- and I feel like a chicken running around with my head lopped off, my nerves frazzled and my sanity nearly unattached. All because ‘so-and so’ just did this- and Little Miss just fell off the tire swing and he just said THAT. Can you come quick? Somebody else just got slammed into the soccer nets and somebody ELSE just got into a fight on the playground equipment.
It is not easy, either- trying to figure out the truth of the matter. Not easy at all. Trying to sift through the facts to get to the bottom of the story at hand, particularly when there are three or four or more stories to attend to. Listening to stories and first-hand accounts is almost a full time employment.
But one thing as a duty teacher that I am trying to honor and privilege with my generous ‘doling out of justice’ responses is the following:
Truth matters. And it matters more than what just happened or what will most certainly happen again in five minutes if we don’t establish the facts of the matter and own up to them.
Truth has come under fire lately- because, as it has been contended- who really knows? What is true? What is false? Is there really such a thing? I believe there truly is.
When it comes down to brass tacks, there is always a true account of what occurs- whether we want to admit or deny it or otherwise. Something had to occur so that another something could then follow. Usually, there is a tangled web of facts and information that somehow ties back to what originally went wrong- it has been my job each Monday afternoon, as the teacher on duty, to help my students find their way back to the start of the issue: so as to re-trace the original steps that were taken. In doing so, we collectively arrive back at the beginning where the truth resides: arrive at the truth of the matter somehow, someway.
I honor children who tell the truth. I once had a child steal from me. In questioning him on the matter, he would not own up to the contention, even though I had caught him red-handed. Later on, with some careful questioning and encouragement, he confessed. I told him that I appreciated the truth he had the courage to tell in spite of his fear causing him to withhold that truth from me. I expressed that even though what had happened was not a choice he should have made, his decision to tell the truth was certainly commendable.
Even in the difficulty of the moment, I honored that simple truth he had the courage to tell.
As teachers, we need to encourage our students- our children, to tell the truth; and somehow we must show them that this route is a better way for them to travel. Yes, it is not easy owning up to mistakes. Yes, it is hard to admit that we’ve done wrong. Absolutely, there are greater consequences which eventually await the child or student who has both made a poor choice to act unfavorably, along with lie about it.
But for the child that tells the truth- I personally have a special place in my heart for those young students and learners. This goes against the fabric of our culture and society. These students are swimming against the tide- have come to the realization that truth-telling- as hard as it might be- is more desirable than covering up and hiding beneath a blanket of false pretenses.
And that is about as true as it gets from my vantage point on the elementary school playground.