In Honour of Pink Shirt Day!

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“David Shepherd, Travis Price and their teenage friends organized a high-school protest to wear pink in sympathy with a Grade 9 boy who was being bullied [for wearing a pink shirt]…[They] took a stand against bullying when they protested against the harassment of a new Grade 9 student by distributing pink T-shirts to all the boys in their school. ‘I learned that two people can come up with an idea, run with it, and it can do wonders,’ says Mr. Price, 17, who organized the pink protest. ‘Finally, someone stood up for a weaker kid.’ So Mr. Shepherd and some other headed off to a discount store and bought 50 pink tank tops. They sent out message to schoolmates that night, and the next morning they hauled the shirts to school in a plastic bag. As they stood in the foyer handing out the shirts, the bullied boy walked in. His face spoke volumes. ‘It looked like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders,’ Mr. Price recalled. The bullies were never heard from again.”

— GLOBE & MAIL

Tomorrow is Pink Shirt Day!

You may or may not be aware of the origin story related to #pinkshirtday but it’s an important one in Canada. Although gender diversity is becoming a more mainstream and accepted, it continues to be important to advocate for those who live their lives in marginalization, be it race or gender or socio-economic status.

We all need to be responsible for one another. Pink Shirt Day is a great way to have a conversation about kindness! Use it as a jump-off point to start the 21-Day Kindness Challenge with your class, staff, or within your community.

 

 

The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

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The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

Five years ago at the end of each school-year in the busy month of June, I started the practice of writing a letter to myself.  Like a ritual, I would seal the letter and place it in the left-hand drawer of my desk on the last day of school.  At the end of September, during the beginning of the following school year, a time when the lighthearted novelty of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp and clean notebooks, and excitement to ignite passion in the hearts of our students seems to melt like a brightly-coloured rainbow popsicle on a hot sunny day into thick greyish soup of overwhelm, lack of sleep, and a thorough sense of imposter syndrome, I would allow myself to pry open the letter. I would read each word slowly, with intention, allowing the message to sink into my skeptical spirit… reminding it that, yes, these students would get to where they needed to go. I just had to meet them where they were.

Patience. Time. Faith.

That was all I needed to keep in my mind over the coming months in order to stay afloat.

Throughout most of my career, I have had the pleasure of teaching Grade One, one of the most incredibly rewarding age-groups to teach because of the nature of exponential, near-explosive growth and learning that occurs in such a short period of time.

Like little jumping jellybeans, pint-size bodies file into the classroom in September,

eyes and hearts wide-open to the possibility of learning,

passionate about their beliefs,

sure-footed about their perspectives of the world,

filled with a desire be their authentic selves,

some students filled with trepidation,

others eager to show off their strengths,

certain children combative and oppositional,

other kids quiet and observing,

most are not yet able to

read,

write,

or do math.

There’s truly nothing like it!

It’s exhilarating.

It’s also incredibly exhausting.

But most of all, teaching Grade One (or any grade) can seem insurmountable in September.

The magic of the learning and deep growth that occurs within the soul of each child seems impossible to the rational teacher’s mind at the beginning of the year.

And so, the letter served to remind my “September-Self” that according to my “June-Self”…it would all work out.

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, the beginning of the year can seem tough. Why not take a moment now, in June, to reflect on how far your students have come, you have come together on your journey?

I urge you to jot it down on paper, pop it into an envelope and open that gift of insight and wisdom in September. It’ll alleviate some stress and create a sense of certainty for the future.

I guarantee, it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

 

On saying “NO”

No.

I have always hated saying it to people, especially those who might judge the essence of who I am inaccurately, as a result. Ultimately, it’s always run counter to my character to disappoint.

But this past weekend, I did just that.

I said “no” to someone.

I said “no” to giving more than I could provide.

I stood within the integrity of my initial offer of generosity and refused go beyond it.

I refused to compromise my boundaries or to take time away from my precious family in order please someone else.

And it felt good. Really, really good.

In our current culture that encourages us to say “yes” at all costs, it’s not an easy thing to do, to say “no.” There are books, movies, podcasts, and movements dedicated to inviting, embracing, and devoting ourselves to “yes.”

In fact, I would consider myself a recovering “yes-person,” a pleaser or Obliger. In her recent book, The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin describes an individual of the Obliger tendency as someone who “meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet expectations they put on themselves.” Many of my past decisions have been guided by the following tenant- above all, ensure that people like you.

Whenever I have had to disappoint people, fallen short on another’s expectations of me, or had to draw a line, the decision has weighed heavily on my heart, slipped its way into my dreams, and left me sleeplessly second-guessing my choices. For too long, my decisions could be summed up by someone else’s evaluation of them. In the past, I have often ignored the signposts of my intuition, feeling compelled to meet exterior demands on my time, performance, and ability because the alternative meant letting someone down.

Disappointing someone might result in judgement.

Judgement could give way to dislike.

Dislike could lead directly to un-lovabliity.

And In my mind, there was nothing worse.

But not this time. I made the decision to say “no” with absolute clarity and peace of mind.

As time marches on, I have questioned the need to derive my value from pleasing others. Lovability, I’ve learned, comes from an inner sense of worthiness and belonging, not from external reinforcement. The truth is, the more you attempt to meet external expectations, the further you drift from your own path of purpose. The more you stay true to your integrity, the more you uphold your self-trust, the more loveable, worthy, and valued you wind up feeling deep inside.

It’s one thing to know this, intellectually. It’s an entirely different experience to put this into practice with actual, unpredictable, reactionary, tangible humans.

It was Thursday morning and I had just finished contacting beneficiaries for an upcoming charity photoshoot event.

These days, photos play an integral role in creating, sharing, documenting, and preserving memories. The cost of family photo sessions can be astronomically expensive and that cost can be a barrier to entry for lower-income or single-family homes. In the spirit of the Small Act Big Impact initiative, I thought it would be fun to offer a handful of single-parent families (from the non-profit 1 Up Single Family Resource Centre) a mini-session photoshoot and a single edited digital family portrait as a keepsake.

No ulterior motive.

No business marketing scheme.

Zero personal gain beyond the joy of using my hobby to genuinely add value to people’s lives.

That morning, several of the individuals I would be photographing reached out to thank me or share their stories in anticipation of the shoot. One of the single-moms emailed me, stating, “This sweet surprise feels like one of those little nudges to let me know I’m doing the right thing and being rewarded in this recent decision of mine to leave an unhealthy relationship and change everything for me and my children.”

I was feeling excited and honoured to be providing a service that might bring happiness to people who could not otherwise afford it.

Ping! My thoughts were interrupted by the signal of another email entering my inbox. One of the recipients, whom I had not yet met, had presumed that because the photoshoot was free, there was a catch. Her assumption led her to believe that doing the shoot would result in some benefit to me personally or financially, so she took it upon herself to make several bold demands of my time.

Acknowledging her wishes, I kindly declined and stated that in order to fulfill her expectations, I would be compromising important time with my family; furthermore, I assured her that because of the nature of the project, any benefit to be would be of the heart, not financial.

She responded almost immediately, proceeding to compare my “services” to other for-profit company ventures and marketing campaigns. In closing, she snidely asserted that the free offer was hardly worth her time, and that unless I could deliver on her list of demands, she wouldn’t be attending the shoot. Looking back now, I think her goal had been to shame me into submission. This was not a negotiation she was willing to lose.

I was stunned. I reread the email, believing I’d missed something or that maybe she was joking. And as I did, I felt an angry red heat rising in my chest, travelling up my neck, and spreading across my cheeks. I felt sickened by the skepticism lacing each line of her message, distain and entitlement emanating from the text like destructive radioactive waves.

For a moment, I began questioning my own adequacy. Maybe, she was right! Maybe what I was offering wasn’t enough. She wanted filet mignon, five-courses, and white-glove service, but what I was offering was a warm, soul-infused, hearty bowl of soup.  Briefly, I felt the need to explain myself, to make her understand that there was no catch! I wanted her to see the purpose and intent behind the shoot. I wanted desperately in that moment for her to know, see, and understand me.

But then, I realized something…

Our world is in crisis right now and we have all become victims of uncertainty and scarcity.

We have collectively become conditioned not to trust people.

We have learned that in order to survive and protect ourselves, we must read between the lines for the ulterior motives, because everything that seems too good to be true always is.

We want to win, not lose. Therefore, we continually play anticipatory offense to win the game, at all costs.

We have been acclimatised to our dog-eat-dog world by becoming takers. We have been trained to believe that since everyone else is taking, we might as well, too. Our appetite has become insatiable because there is never enough. The scarcity story plays out in all aspects of our lives.

There are not enough jobs.

There is not enough time.

There is not enough money.

There is not enough sleep.

There is not enough stuff.

Not enough,

Not enough,

Not enough…

We feel we need to negotiate by asking for more than we deserve because that’s the only way to get what we need.

We actively eliminate humanity from our interactions to protect our tender hearts and, in doing so, we become ever more disconnected from the heartbeat of the world.

And so, I understood that this woman was simply a casualty of our current culture. Compassion and empathy edged out the anger.

As I crafted my response with a more open heart, I was reminded of Dr. Maya Angelou who once said: “You teach people how to treat you.”

My goal was not to please. My goal was not to win, either. My goal was to stand strong, with respectful integrity and say “no.”

So, I did.

 

 

Small Treasures

Overcome by the enormity of change that inevitably arrives with every end-of-year transition at school, I remember gazing at the naked mismatched desks, the barren coatroom, and the dozens of cardboard boxes stacked precariously and filled to the brim with classroom essentials awaiting their new destination, nostalgia tugging at my heartstrings.IMG_2828

As I waited for the entry bell to ring one final time, the early morning sunrays streamed through the exterior door’s small square window, illuminating once-white walls of the classroom, now scuffed and dented, proof that for a whole year this silent space had indeed held and nurtured a group of exuberant, jostling, and lively beings.

It had been unforgettable year. I had spent it teaching and learning from a diverse, challenging, wonderful group of Grade One children, connecting deeply with their families, and creating unbreakable bonds with the dynamic staff and administration of an inner-city school in Victoria.

It had also been an exciting and surreal time, for me, personally. That August, while vacationing in France, I received the surprise of a lifetime when my now-husband ushered me to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, lowered himself onto one knee and proposed. The moment had been nothing short of cinematic. A small crowd cheered and applauded as I accepted his offer, we laughed, cried and embraced. Right then, as if on cue, the great tower had come to life, enveloping us in its dancing, sparkling light. A few months later, we purchased and moved into the home in which we are now raising our family.

We had spent the year carefully balancing the many aspects of our busy, young lives, palpable pre-wedding anticipation and excitement permeating everything.

In this brief moment of solitude, peace and gratitude stood beside me as I peered over the edge of transformation.

Suddenly, the bell rang. I could hear the unmistakable boisterous voices of my students rising to crescendo as they formed a line against the outside wall. Inhaling deeply, I carefully swung the door open and welcomed my eager students inside for their last day of school.

“Mme. Michael! Mme. Michael!”

Julia*, a normally-quiet, compassionate, and patient little girl, excitedly pushed her way through the crowd and bounded toward me with a toothy smile, thin blond pony-tail swaying. I noticed she was clasping a bulky shoebox adorned with stickers and decorated lovingly with paint.

The eldest of four children, Julia was classically responsible, earnest, and always heartbreakingly willing to help others. She was also chronically tardy for school and would often show up wearing the same clothing she had worn for several days in a row.

I recall one particular day after school her exhausted mother had lingered, a baby on her hip and a couple of mischievous toddlers keeping her running in frantic zigzags throughout our conversation. With tears welling in her eyes, she had confided that with a husband frequently deployed on important military missions, despite her best efforts, she found it hard to make it to school on time. The baby was up throughout the night, she struggled with her health, it was hard financially to get a meal on the table, and she often felt overwhelmed by loneliness. Although my 20-something-self wasn’t entirely sure how to help or even respond to this mother’s plea for support and kinship, I grew to understand how Julia seemed years beyond her six-year-old-self.

Ignoring the other children jockeying for their positions on the carpet, impatient to begin their last day, Julia thrust the decorated box into my surprised hands.

“This is for you, Mme. Michael!” she exclaimed with glittering anticipation.

Drawing the box toward me, I hinged it open.

Inside, arranged in a cushion of newsprint carefully folded into the base of the shoebox, were the following treasures, meticulously selected for me, undoubtedly from the shelves of her very own bedroom:

A factory painted bunny with a broken ear,

A bright pink, bouncy ball,

A handmade bracelet made of mismatched letter beads,

And a vending-machine ring

Julia stood before me beaming with pride and excitement.

This sweet little girl, who had nothing to give, had given me the most meaningful and beautiful gift I have ever received.

It took everything I had not to break down.

In that moment, I pulled her close to me, wrapping my arms around her tiny shoulders, tears brimming in my eyes.

Thanking her for thoughtful kindness, I collected myself and turned to the class, ready to start our last day together.