When the spell starts to break
As I sit in my sit spot on the outer edge of the forest garden, the soft grey clouds filter the sunlight until it becomes almost liquid, pouring through the trees and gently washing over my body, the wet leaves around me, the mossy trunks of nearby trees, painting them with subtle textures. It’s a softness that my own animal body has been craving, and my chest expands to take it all in with my breath.
In the past few weeks, my experience at school has been riddled with anxiety and symptoms of impostor syndrome, questioning my own qualifications and wondering what I am doing with school and whether it is really serving the kids. Over the last several months, the ground has been slowly shifting underneath my feet, and the strategies that I have relied on in my work with kids seem to be less effective than before. This has left me feeling disoriented and out beyond my edge. But it’s been hard to put a finger on what the change has been, and therefore hard to figure out how to move forward, both with school and with my own learning journey as a teacher.
Yesterday however, at our teacher meeting, as I listened to the others talk about their own journeys with impostor syndrome, and also about the dynamics in their programs and classes, a new understanding began to wriggle in my belly. When asked about my teaching style, my gifts as a teacher, I have often described myself as a magician, constantly tending an invisible web that holds the children in a spell of wonder, creating magic for them. When I began working with this group of kids, I think that role was appropriate and effective. Wonder and awe were their primary developmental tasks, drinking in the magic of the natural world, their own bodies, even the more abstract worlds of language and mathematics. And they were relatively content to fall into that spell, to lend their consciousness to it and allow it to carry them.
As they have grown older, however, that sense of spellbound attention has waned. The spell takes more and more energy to maintain, and feels less and less magical. The style and aesthetic that caught and fascinated them earlier in their childhood no longer holds them. I think that this is because they are working on a new developmental task. It’s time for them to prepare themselves to leave the nest, time to learn how to fly.
When I named the program the Fledglings, I was mostly looking for a good nature name ending in “ings”, to fit with the Seedlings and Saplings. I certainly thought about the metaphor of leaving the nest, and it seemed appropriate, but I didn’t slow down enough to consider deeply what it really means, and how it needs to change the way that I teach. What does it take to leave the nest? What kind of support is needed? What does it feel like to be asked to fly when you’ve never done it before? What kind of containers and content support a child in that developmental process? How can it be a little less scary, and a lot more fun?
In response to these wonderings, I’ve formulated the following long-term goal for the fledglings program, perhaps the core of a mission statement for the program:
“The Fledglings program supports each child in “leaving the nest”, in making the transition from wonder and awe as the primary relationship with the world to a relationship of creative engagement and reciprocity.”
Stating this as a long-term goal allows me to relax and accept that I am in a process, that I am at the beginning of something big and mysterious, and that it’s ok not to know all the answers right now. I don’t know what it looks like, exactly, to have a program that supports children in leaving the nest. I’ve never done that. But now that I know that’s what I’m doing, I trust that I can learn how to do it. As an added bonus, that relaxation allows me to open myself up to what I do know already, knowing that it will grow and change as I go along.