Have you wondered what educators do during that first vulnerable day of faculty meetings-- before the students return and we are all both jarred by the end of summer and exhilarated by the prospect of a new year?
We chose to take a single step on the first day of our faculty work week: We gathered together as educators, enjoying breakfast and sharing stories of our summer lives. We began the journey of this new school year with a simple thought:
Teaching is a gift--a journey--that both requires and inspires courage.
And while our journey may not take us across 1,000 miles, it will easily span 10,000 moments, emotions and memories. And what will sustain us through it all?
The courage to teach.
In his profoundly moving book The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, Parker Palmer demonstrates how good teachers "join self and subject and students in the fabric of life." This is where a school year deserves to begin: With the source and soul of good teaching.
"Good teachers," writes Palmer, "possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem solving, creative chaos. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts--meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit will converge."
And so, we begin this school year with a commitment to sustaining the courage to teach--literally by attending to the heart of teachers: intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
Intellectual: "[T]he way we think about teaching and learning--the form and content of our concepts of how people know and learn, of the nature of our students and our subjects."
Emotional: "[T]he way we and our students feel as we teach and learn--feelings that can either enlarge or diminish the exchange between us."
Spiritual: "[T]he diverse ways we answer the heart's longing to be connected with the largeness of life--a longing that animates love and work, especially the work called teaching."
The poem was Naomi Shihab Nye's beautiful "Shoulders."
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
But he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.
We finished this exercise by reading together Alison Melotti-Cormack's essay "The Gestures of Grace." This essay resonated with with many of the qualities and experiences our educators shared from their own lives. Equally important, these "gestures of grace" are the very qualities so apparent in our Summit teachers--and the very gifts for which our students and their parents are so deeply grateful. Here's an excerpt:
I believe that Velcro has all but eliminated one of the most intimate gestures in education--that of a teacher kneeling at the feet of a five-year-old who cannot tie is shoelaces. Teaching is all about learning the gestures of grace. . .
I believe a good teacher is one who loves learning; one who is constantly curious about the world she lives in and the world that lives within her. . .
I believe that a good teacher must be able to connect with her students –- to meet them heart to heart rather than head to head. . .
I believe that a good teacher eventually learns to welcome the child who will push her explode button, trample on her last nerve and ultimately expose a deeply hidden flaw. . .
I believe that a good teacher evolves over time. . .
I believe that listening to my students is a gesture of grace. It is the place where I learn most about resilience and pain and courage. It is the place where I have the opportunity to reflect back the strengths I see in each student. . .It is the place where, like Velcro the gesture is one of connection in this thing called life.
Our work together as we begin this new year is to recognize--and celebrate--the fact that we best engage the whole child when we embrace and celebrate the whole teacher. As Parker Palmer writes, "Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life." It is our teachers' profound commitment to the weaving of that fabric that allows them to share their unique passions and insights and experiences as a source of inspiration for their students.
Here is to a year of whole teachers engaging whole children.