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I had a colleague walk by today and say, “Smile, Kwokkie! Why so serious? That’s not you!”
And normally I wouldn’t mind, but today it really got under my skin. Probably because there’s a lot buzzing away in the background with overseas tour preparations and I have limited smile-capacity at present. 🤣
And it got me thinking about the cost of not receiving people as they were, especially those who are normally strong, joyful, resilient, positive, and thoughtful, and the expectations we place on ourselves and others to be a certain way.
For me, I was totally fine with whatever resting bitch face I had on; it was honest + authentic. Why so serious? Because at that moment, I WAS + NEEDED to be. Did that comment mean I’m not taken seriously? Because I certainly DO SERIOUS work. I just happen to like doing seriously SERIOUS and EXCELLENT work with JOY + ENTHUSIASM.
It was SUCH a reminder to me to receive my own students, particularly the very exceptional ones who give their very best selves each day, at whatever state they are in without judgement, just care + connection.
I am guilty of giving that very same passing remark when I am not thinking, without any desire to make anyone feel less than.
So that’s why I’ll take my very special, give-it-all-to-the-world super students, at face value. I’ll ask them how they are travelling without asking them why they’re not looking stupendous every moment of they day. That they are allowed to have moments in the day where they can be un-smiley, resting-bitch-and-bastard-faced grumpy sods, and ultimately perfectly normal, healthy, wonderful human beings.
Teaching teens as well.
And I absolutely did this as a teenager, even though I loved learning + school. I pushed to see if my teachers really cared for me unconditionally, and not for my excellent grades and for being a good student. I wanted to see if I was SEEN + VALUED for who I was, rather than just a nice little marks generator.
And I was lucky; I was fully seen, valued, and loved by many wonderful teachers + mentors, for me as well as my achievements.
We did a professional development as a whole staff recently where we were asked to name, in a sentence, what sparks our passion as people. Not as teachers, but as people. And found myself saying immediately, without thought or preparation:
“If ‘excellent’ is the highest pinnacle, like the North Star, or the top of a mountain, then I am determined to find a way to get there with my students without shame. I will not hold any of their personal attributes or actions against their inherent value, or allow that to colour their pathway to achieving excellence. But I WANT excellence. That’s unmistakable. It’s in the blood. I just think that you can do it joyfully, with a love of learning the whole way. It can be honest, gritty, no-frills, and monotonous, but it will not cut or hurt them personally.”
So my spark of passion in one sentence is this:
I want to bring the students under my direction to their best selves in an envelope of joy and worthiness.
I’m an example in my words, in how I am as a person, in how I recover, in how I deal with stress, in the challenges I choose to accept, in how I love and care for myself and the people important to me, and even in how I interact with the people I do not like or respect.
You can get to “excellent” by squeezing it out of a kid, by threatening them, by coercing them, by holding academic barriers over them, by comparing them to others, by pitting them against your own self-worth, by unwittingly emotionally cornering them into doing what you want. You know what? It all produces the same result of excellent. How twisted is that?! I hate that. But there it is. I will actually get you the result that you want. I’ve seen it happen.
But THAT version of excellent, forged from a foundation of shame – and that IS what it all is, shame packaged in various forms – doesn’t eff-ing fly. It doesn’t stick, it’s not life-long. And students will fight it the way their bodies fight disease; instinctively.
And why would you want to connect that with excellence and their self-worth?
Teachers, check your words + intent carefully. I have to on a daily basis.
And find another way.
I will find the only other way to “excellent” that doesn’t involve shame, even if I have to find the goddamn scenic route that takes twice as long.
Because that’s my spark.
I was thinking about the concept of self-worth today, not in terms of how effectively we set boundaries, but what we actually do to follow through with them. I see myself as a comfortable and developing boundary-setter; I need time to consider a situation, consider what I need versus the greater good, and then decide what I am comfortable with and what my boundaries are. I also line up my decision-making with my values, which, I have found to my equal joy and frustration, are continually evolving. Values are elusive things that are continually shifting ever-so-slightly, constantly becoming more defined as you gain life experience. For example, one of my values is to be kind. This then grew into, “Be kind where possible, and if that is not possible, be accurate and honest.” The addendum to that was, “And if all of that is impossible, then don’t say anything at all.”
I like my values. They have formed me into a compassionate, imaginative, articulate, courageous, and determined woman with a blood-linked desire to grow.
My errant thought today was to do with kindness. I have always made it cost “more” to me when an apology is being made. That is, when I can see there has been genuine suffering and remorse, and someone I value is making an apology, I accept it quickly and readily, almost to take the pain and suffering away. Why? Because, I figure, if they’re sorry enough to make an apology, they must really be sorry about the action that caused it. I also see it as a good mark against my own character, “Oh, there’s Annie, so easy-going, and ready to let things go!”
But the thing is, generally I’m not that girl. I’m not that easy-going girl. Forgiving, playful, and joyful, yes, but forgetful and easy-going? No. I like checking things out. I like understanding the inner workings + motivations of people. It’s what makes me the teacher I am today. It’s my super-power.
But then there’s the shadow-side; it’s also my kryptonite. I think that I can predict good behaviour, and I have an unfailing ability to see the best in people. Sometimes, I have to protect my ready compassion + optimism my fencing people out until I can observe them a little longer. And why should I apologise for my own values? If I forgive, and I DO forgive well, I want it to be because some new understanding has been reached, some border crossed to a new level of connection…or moving on.
And the “AH-HA!” moment I had today?
If I continue to let people easily off the hook just because I feel sorry for them without proper conversation + examination of the issue, then who gets cheapened? Whose boundaries get worn down?
I am taking away value from myself by allowing people off the hook the moment they start anything that seems like a compassionate apology. Small everyday moments, no worries. But disagreements or hurts that go against my values? I shouldn’t let those go so easily.
And what will that mean?
I need to be more courageous.
I need to step into the place of discomfort and examine the situation and have the conversation with the person apologising. I need to redefine and realign the relationship and the value.
And I need to treat myself with the grace and value that I deserve. I need to hold people accountable. Which means engaging in conversation with them about the issue.
The apology need not be a blood-bath. It can be real, informative, and calm. It can be the most connective conversation, transforming two people.
But I need to hold myself with higher integrity in how I accept apologies and how they look alongside my value of compassion + kindness.
We all are so unbelievably rich and blessed, but we so rarely see it all the time. How many of you have longed for that extra sweater, or that new book or lipstick, or that pair of shoes, notwithstanding all the beautiful clothes, books, and belongings you already have?
I am so guilty of this. Particularly at the end of a long week of teacher, and especially so when it’s been a challenging one where I have felt less than awesome. That tiny little extra trinket might make me feel a little better, no matter if I’m saving or on a budget!
But something amazing happens when you’re saving, or you’re consciously making decisions about how you spend your money, time, and energies. How many times have we any of us worn a beautiful sweater until it is ragged around the sleeves and smells of safety and home?
How many of us have used every beautiful piece of fruit or vegetable in our kitchens in ingenious ways, and savoured every mouthful? Brewed a fragrant cup of coffee with cream, rather than throwing one down, tasteless, from a takeaway cup? How many of us have re-read books with the same safety as walking down a known lane, but actually seen and felt the different nuances, and fallen in love with the words, the story, and found new understandings?
There is so much richness and beauty around us if we only look. We all have so much. So, so much. In possessions, in time, in love, and in life. Why should we want so much more only to dispose of it? What if we were to look deeply at what we have and create time for discovering new delight?
And achingly and poignantly, how many of us have loved and cared for a relationship or friendship like that raggedy worn sweater that smells like home? Or how many of us are guilty of skimming over the surface with superficial conversation and connection, in search of something shinier to catch our attention, rather than really, truely listening and loving?
When you really treasure something and give it time, care, or attention, extraordinary richness and joy can be found. We are all so extraordinarily rich and blessed, if we only could see it. There is so much value in simplicity, and seeing the value in the things we have, loving them with tenderness and new eyes.