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I have been thinking a lot about nuances in language as a starting point for connection, as I’ve been reflecting on my role in caring for and mentoring my Year 11 Tutor Group.
Listening to a conversation between the incredible Brené Brown + Marie Forleo, and Brené said something to effect of:
Don’t ask someone who is in suffering to ‘call if they need anything’. They won’t call. It’s an empty sentiment designed to make us, the helper + supporter, feel better. Ask them instead: ‘What does support for you look like right now?’
And my heart did a backflip.
I realised that I had been asking my students to “call if they needed anything”. I had missed the opportunity for connection every time I said that. I needed to change my words, and therefore my intent, as the beginning point for connection.
The sheer power of language is unmistakeable.
We had one very germy Miss Year 12 who came in especially to do her Solo Performance assessment today before going home to die quietly.
As she was getting ready, a one Sir Year 12 took a can of Glen20 from the side pocket of his backpack, (where the water bottle normally goes! ), and proceeded to spray a protective circle around himself and the healthy members of the class.
“I am NOT getting sick this year. I REFUSE to get sick this year!”
Poor Miss Year 12 is now feeling FABULOUSLY LOVED, and choking back incredulous laughter in between the coughing and spluttering.
And then he holds up the Glen20 and very seriously asks: “Ms Kwok, do you want a protective barrier as well?”
“Sure, why not?! Bring it on! Give me the Glen20 treatment!”
Next-level hypochondriac or smart-kiddie?! You decide.
Miss Year 11: “Tough call for me last night Ms Kwok; I had to choose between making brownies or plucking my eyebrows. So I chose the brownies + decided to rock the hairy brows.”
Me: GUUUUUUUUUUUUUURL! I be so PROUD! 🙌
YOU ARE WINNING AT LIFE. 👊
An excellent reminder that teenagers need to practise emotional literacy as a skill, and we as teachers need to model healthy emotional problem-solving behaviours to the students under our care.
An interesting read in terms of teaching teenagers, who have crap-detectors on their heads in knowing if you truly see + value them for all that they are. To be totally present is to care for them. 💛
I knew that if I loaned headphones out to Year 6s, 7s and 8s, there was a high chance to me not getting them back. Actually, there would be zero rate of return. Minus rate of return. Into the red, without any borrowed headphones in sight.
But I wanted to have headphones available for those students who didn’t already have them on person.
And then I remembered THIS genius borrowing system, one I learned as a teacher at Brighton Secondary School, as a means of borrowing drumsticks + mallets, two very highly desirable + expensive-and-annoying-to-replace commodities.
Students would surrender their shoes in return for borrowing the requested equipment. And not the pair; just ONE. You can forget a student ID card, or even a mobile phone, but ONE SHOE?! Impossible.
I remember the first day I tested this out.
Sir Year 7: “Ms Kwok, can I please borrow a set of headphones?”
Me: “Absolutely. Please give me one shoe.”
Sir Year 7: “Uh…I’m sorry?!”
Other Year 7s started to look up and giggle.
Me: “One shoe, please!”
Sir Year 7, still unconvinced: “Uh, okay. Which one would you like?”
Me: “Any one. Just under the desk would be fine.”
Sir Year 7 limped around lopsidedly for the entire lesson, with the fluorescent pink headphones I decided to loan him. He became somewhat of an accidental hero in the eyes of his classmates.
I’ve not lost a single set of headphones all year.
This is pure courage with such an important message contained within. As a teacher it makes me think deeply about what I am doing in my classroom to teach connection and healthy extrovert qualities such as presentation, performance, and collaboration, as well as introvert characteristics such as the ability to work individually, with periods of intense focus, and the ability to look within for those powerful moments of creativity.
This week I was reminded of the extraordinary and quite freakish extremes of the Teenage Appetite. I was privy to the making and consumption of Surely One Of The Most Epic Easter Chocolate Fondues In History…and this is how it went…
So the Year 11s and 12s have a brand new Senior Learning Centre, equipped with (and I LOVE this bit!) no stove top, and THREE microwaves, 2 of them in-built, and one additional one tucked in a cupboard. This is quality teenage philosophy and thinking at work here…because cooking via stovetop as a Year 11 or 12 is about as foreign as the concept of a mix-tape, walking to get places, or a world pre-Facebook.
On the last day of school, the senior students decided to try and hit comatose state solely through the means of sugar, butter + cocoa. Into an industrial-sized, heatproof oven dish went the following:
This bounty of goodness was then MICROWAVED into a sickening sludge of molten chocolate goo, whereby 3 dozen packets of Baker’s Delight CHOC-CHIP hot cross buns were produced, ripped into bite-sized chunks, skewered onto pencils (non-lead end) and devoured, fondue-style.
I was a mixture of grudgingly impressed at the ingenuity, horrified, mesmerised wonder at the extreme consumption of sugar, and total amusement at what was deemed “a perfectly legitimate snack” in teenage eating terms. So I thought this would be an ideal time to recount all the hilarious, awesome, disgusting, and just plain weird things I’ve seen come out of students’ bags masquerading as “lunch”. Some by choice, others by unfortunate default (fridge, time constraints, mistaking a broccoli for an apple…you know, the usual food struggles…!), with all of them actual sightings, and very, very funny.
Actually, I think my return to full-time classroom music teaching was more like a catapult into space, with me shrieking, arms flailing, legs kicking…! I reckon I did all that in real life, too…
And I think I spent the whole week drooling…into my pillow, wrecked after a full day of running fast, into my lap, whilst looking at a brand new teaching plan or curriculum that I had to pick up…or CREATE…and onto my laptop, whilst trying to understand the new roll-marking system, read exotic names without completely slaughtering them in front of their owners, and trying to create some sort of flimsy lesson plan to carry me through the next 23 minutes that I’d unexpectedly inherited to teach…
But I am so incredibly, ridiculously excited. I’m back in a world I love, in the groove, running VERY FAST…!
I’m back…in a school community, in a new place I can build, create momentum, and affect positive change. I just have to remember to take it one step at a time.
I’ve felt everything on the emotive spectrum this week. There have been snotty tears of appreciation, swells of gratitude, abrasive stabs of frustration, as well as the slightly crazed laughter of the overwhelmed…I’m starting in Week 8!…I don’t know any of the kids!…I have no idea where I go for the care group I’ve never met!…I’ve just met my Year 12s and now we’re diving into the lesson, never mind names!
For the first time in ages, baked beans straight out of the can with a tablespoon of Nutella afterward seemed like a reasonable dinner + dessert combo…
But I survived, in full-colour and not without some semblance of style!
I came out of last lesson Friday fist-pumping, happy bum wiggling, and WINNING at life. “We Are The Champions” was playing in my head, and the crowd was going wild.
In the wide stretches of bug-eyed, high-octane thinking, and planning on top of planning, my 3 little mantras of 2014 popped up into my head:
1. I don’t need to figure it all at once.
I don’t have to plan 211 lessons all at once, and pronounce the umlaut on the strange last name perfectly, or have a photographic memory of the school down to where all the fire exits are…I am ALLOWED to be on L-plates…and revel in it!
So I did. Walking the school grounds LIKE A BOSS with ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE OF DIRECTION. I had an awesome Friday morning randomly wandering in and out of classrooms, having kids wave at and recognise me, (“she’s the REALLY COLOURFUL new music teacher!”), and meeting all the staff by default.
2. I absolutely have the capacity of figure it out.
I get to change the momentum of this place…how incredible is THAT!? Yes, I’m starting halfway through the term, but, when you think about, there’s no perfect start…you just build. I didn’t get the team-building games or Week 1 opening credits…but I know how to care for the students under my direction. It will take time, patience, loads of advice, trial-and-error, humour, and courage…but I know this story. I’m just starting in a different spot, that’s all.
What’s the thing most needed?
Students absolutely need to be seen, valued + heard.
I know I can do that.
In caring for them, I will take time to learn their names, plan supportive, interesting and suitable lessons…even if I’m only ONE lesson ahead, that’s PLENTY ENOUGH TO STAY ALIVE RIGHT NOW!…and teach with my heart open, alert to all the little characteristics which form them. In caring for them, I am building my foundation to teach well…and this is my work. This is my new thing to practise.
3. I’ll dust-bust it later.
New mantra: There is always wine. That is all.
Wish me luck for Week 2 of Running FAST Like An Idiot!