A breath of fresh air
Something dramatic happened to the air yesterday. Walking along a familiar path through the woods, I found myself looking around at the bark of trees, filled with an unfamiliar light, and breathing deep breaths of some substance that felt strangely bright and refreshing. Though the place was familiar and dear to me, nearly an extension of my own front yard, I felt a sense of adventure, as though I had hiked for miles and was looking out at an open vista I had never seen before. As I sat down on the Yome Deck to prepare myself for our first teacher meeting of the season, I was taken over by the desire to be still, to look out over the treetops and be caressed by the minute tremblings of thousands of leaves being tickled by this new, luminous air.
A support group for educators: that's how I attempted to describe my intention for our monthly teacher meeting with myself, Chelsea Spitzer (Saplings), Mirna McWilliams (Language Arts), and Sara Carter (Seedlings). This is a unique and precious group of experimental, cutting edge educators, working in the never before seen context of this aspiring village, attempting to slowly and patiently build the soil in which a true village style education could someday grow. Each of us is on our own journey as teachers and mentors, and coming together to share our joys and struggles, successes and challenges was a long drink of water, the discovery of a deep well of potential support and nourishment. I was blown away by the courage, integrity, and creativity of these amazing teachers, the deep commitment to self-examination as the foundation of our work, the willingness to try new things and fail, the ability to hold our most precious dreams as real possibilities, while remaining committed to our own self care, to not taking on the poison of stress and anxiety about the distance between those dreams and the evident reality of each day.
It's all so personal, this teaching thing. Every failure, every missed opportunity, cuts right to the heart, goes straight to the most precious parts of ourselves, puts into question everything about which we care most deeply. It's not something anyone should have to do alone, much less in an environment riddled with competition and critical evaluation, which seems to be the norm for teachers in most educational institutions. To have a space to say what frustrates us, what confounds us, where we get hooked and how we get unhooked, and what moments of supreme grace feel like, to cry and laugh about each child and their constant miracles and surprises; to a teacher this is food of the most dense and nourishing kind, more vital and necessary than any method, any pedagogy. I give thanks to these three amazing teachers, and to all the circumstances that have brought us together, that we can work in this way, in this kind of environment, where the stakes are so high, the possibilities so worthy and grand, and the support so available, so within reach. May every educator find a way to plant the seed of such a community in their own place and work.
I can't give a roadmap for creating such a community in another place, as much as I wish I could. So much has been laid down here to support this coming together, all the visible and invisible infrastructure of community, it takes time. I do think, though, that any teacher out there who teaches from the heart, or wants to, could maybe draw together something like this for themselves. If I were working out there in the often harsh realities of mainstream education, or really in any context, I might start by identifying 1 or 2 or 3 other teachers who display a commitment to living what they teach, whose dreams shine through their eyes, who seem like they might be willing to ask and answer hard questions about themselves in order to grow into more effective, transformative teachers. If I were blessed with a couple such people in my life, I would ask them to gather together for a monthly meeting, maybe light a candle, share some food, check in a little bit about our lives outside of our teaching. Then, once we've all arrived fully, I'd open up the questions we explored in our meeting yesterday.
What's going well in your personal journey as an educator?
What are your long term goals and visions?
What are your next achievable steps?
Perhaps each person would answer all four questions, or we could go around the circle for each question, or something else. There could be some back and forth, or not. Maybe we use different questions. The possibilities are endless. I would try though, at least at the beginning, to keep us focused on ourselves, our own inner lives as educators, and how our own learning and growth creates the possibility for effectiveness in our work as teachers. I would try to bring my own whole self, as vulnerably as I could, and invite them to respond in kind. If you are a teacher, and you don't have this kind of resource in your life, I hope you find it, or create it. I hope it feeds you as deeply as it has fed me, and ripples out into your work. Thank you for all that you do, and may you be fed deeply by your work and by those you work with.