“I can’t tell,” she said to her friend, eyeing another one of my students sitting on the couch. “I can’t tell if that’s a boy or a girl.”
“When everything is connected to everything else, for better or for worse, everything matters.”
I heard this in a recent TED talk from Manuel Lima, expert in visual data analysis and researcher of human thought-mapping. While Bruce Mao, designer and founder of the Massive Change Network, was the originator of this piece of wisdom, Lima used it in his talk to discuss not only the historical mapping of human cognition, but also the importance of making connections and forming networks.
For whatever reason, my first inclination when trying to analyze a problem is to break the it into smaller parts, or to put each of the pieces in little boxes. By doing so, I’m able to find root causes or discrete components that might give me insights about the function or form of the whole. And this aligns relatively well with Lima’s visual history of human cognition, in the sense that our ancestors started here, too. They made trees that represented knowledge and broke it up into little pieces, whether it was Darwin using a tree to represent many of the world’s species or governments trying to display and classify the laws and philosophies of their nations.
And I, too, have been making trees for quite some time, but I make them for something different. I make trees for standards instead.
“Well, what is truth?” she said to me from across the table. Our beers bubbled in front of us, the light from the window accentuating the amber hues of my lager. I took a deep breath and rolled my eyes.
“Oh, you’re one of those,” I said to her, already pushing away what she about to say.
“Think of your most compassionate voice,” she said to me. “Who do you use your most compassionate voice with?”
“Easy,” I replied. “My students.”
We sat in a coffee shop, a summer Chicago rain soaking the streets with darkness. The warmth of the coffee shop made me feel a bit better, and so did talking with my friend.
“Okay,” she continued, “so next time you’re feeling anxious, talk yourself through it, and when you do, use your most compassionate voice. Use the one you would use with your students. What would you say to them?”
“I would tell them…” I paused. I wasn’t quite sure. So I imagined an experience with one of the students I had that year, one that, like me, battled anxiety. I imagined her wide eyes staring up at me, her shoulders tense with fear, her silent squeak of a voice responding hardly loud enough for anyone around to hear.
“‘You’re doing the best you can do,'” I said aloud. “‘And you’re getting better!’ That’s what I would say to her.”
“Great, so use that. Next time you’re feeling his anxious, stop yourself, tell yourself that you’re doing your best, and that you’re getting better.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t necessarily the advice I was looking for, but it was a place to start. So I decided to give it a try a few weeks later when I found myself alone and in a pit of anxiousness. I stood in my apartment, my esophagus twisted with tension, my heart beating double it’s speed. I whispered the words aloud to myself, in my most compassionate voice.
“You’re doing the best you can do, and you’re getting better. Today is just a hard day,” I told myself.
After that, my anxiety manifested itself as salty streams of tears, running rapidly down my face. It had seemed my compassionate voice had given me the release I had needed. My heart rate slowed slightly, and the tension in my chest slowly released. It wasn’t long before I laid down and was able to go to bed.
Emotions, at their rawest form, are uncontrollable. While we can attempt to control our responses to them, we sometimes cannot help when they take over. Fear is potent, anger formidable, and happiness contagious. And I think being a teacher has helped me see this — and helped me help myself — most of all.
Incredibly enough, we share so many of the same struggles that our students have. Not only can we learn from them, but we can learn from our own interactions with them. That day, when the warm summer rain shrouded the streets of Chicago, and just a few weeks later, when rain clouded my brain and muddled my consciousness, I channeled the best part of me: the part that is compassionate, kind, and whole-hearted, the part that makes me a teacher, and I was able to pull myself up.
Today, I’m feeling the same, distracted by my own emotions, controlled by irrational anxiety, unable to fully turn my brain off. But my students are in the back of my mind, I’m using my most compassionate voice, I’m cutting myself a break, and I’m already feeling better.
I stood, staring at the wall, slightly downward towards the baseboards. My gaze was blank, and I could feel blood rushing up to my face. I was exasperated, overwhelmed, and a little bit panicked. I saw my entire class crumbling before my eyes, the room in disarray, and off-task, directionless children milling about the room. As a teacher, this is, quite possibly, one of the worst feelings in the world — when you feel like you’ve lost control, when you feel like you’ve failed your students.
But regardless of how I was feeling, that is precisely what happened to me yesterday.
Over the past two days, my ears have been immersed in the sounds of hammers banging against wood, drills grinding against hard metal screws, and marbles clinking against each other as they happily slip and slide down tubes and tracks. I’ve found myself, somehow, in the midst of a maker lab, working with a group of 18 students on various projects, all that incorporate some sort of making.
Just one week ago, I was voraciously preparing for what I envisioned to be pandemonium, immense complexity, and unmanageable activity. Suffice it to say, I was a bit scared, not only having to manage all of these projects, but the mere idea of managing a type of project that I had never had to before.
For two and a half years now, I’ve been keeping this blog. In its infancy, it was titled “The Thinking Specialist: the Musings of a Heterological Teacher.” I titled it as such because I wanted to expose educators and parents alike to one of the most important jobs of an elementary school teacher: nurturing thinking in the classroom.
As the blog developed, I developed, too, and as a result, I had a period of time where I split this blog into two separate pieces, one that was meant for the “personal” side of me, and this one–the original–was meant for the professional side of me. I soon realized that this division of myself, this splitting of my persona into two, was neither authentic, nor helpful, especially in the context of a job that is so personal. And as a result, I remerged the blogs together, making my largest goal of writing authenticity, laden with an empathic tone and vulnerable undertones.
I’m now at a place where I feel like I’ve truly found my niche and my voice, and as a result, my capacity to share has strengthened, as well. Most recently, I was able to sit down and chat with EdSurge specifically about the power of teacher blogging, and coincidentally, a few days later, I was nominated for EdSurge’s “Sharing is Caring” award.
While I was nominated for this award last year, I knew that my entry lacked something, and I know now that what it lacked was the voice of my readers. Check out my entry from last year below:
And so this year, I’m asking a favor of those of you who have been so kind as to open your minds to my words over the past year or two:
I’m asking that you record a short video snippet (20-30 seconds) where you can share what you’ve gotten out of reading InspirED, to be used in my entry for the EdSurge DILA Awards. It doesn’t have to be much! Any little bit helps!
Above all else, I thank you sincerely for reading and following along as I discover more about teaching and learning each and every day.
If you’d like to submit a short snippet, record it using your computer and e-mail the file to paul.emerich.france [at] gmail [dot] com. If by some chance the file is too large, you can upload it to Google Drive and share it with me that way. Thank you!