The Value of Small Gestures

 

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This is how many kids are doing online learning during Covid days.

The end of this most unusual school year is finally upon us. Today was my last day of online tutoring . For the past five weeks I worked with students who bravely engaged with me through computer screens   Navigating through all this involved both huge challenges and delights. Along with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students, I learned two basic facts this spring: 1) we can teach and learn virtually–even with young children it is possible; and 2) it’s not nearly as much fun or satisfying to do school through computer screens (although it is nice to wear pajamas to school every day).

Society en masse experiencing shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders has forced us to reconcile the lifestyle we all took for granted with a new way of living—apart physically, yet finding the most creative and innovative ways to still be together and connect human to human. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable on the fly, and on all levels—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In my case, the emotional level has felt most extreme. Days and nights have been wide emotional pendulums, from feeling steady, happy, and even joyful at moments, to later in the day dipping down into anxiety, fear, and loneliness. We’re undergoing a grand human experiment of learning resilience in the face of adversity, and of experiencing grace under unprecedented pressure.

Through online tutoring, I observed that the kids adapted to the lockdown situation with surprising agility and often much less drama than many adults in the room. The biggest hardship for children, I’d guess, is their highly restricted social time with friends and limited opportunities for physical exercise. Teaching academic subjects is challenging enough through a screen; how PE teachers manage it is nearly incomprehensible.

Saying goodbye to my students, who are all between 7 and 9 years old, was an internal process that took many days. I realized anew how hard it is to say goodbye to people I grew fond of, and all the more so because of their innocence and vulnerability. The biggest learning for me during the past six months is that a caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Small gestures matter greatly—the few minutes that you give to really listen to a child so they can express what’s in their mind and heart will give them self confidence and trust in you.

This spring has shown many of us the value of small gestures. It has shone a spotlight on people that many of us casually take for granted—now deemed essential to the running of society. I believe that teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals, and school staff members are included in the group of essential workers for society. Although some parents and family members may disagree, I would argue that a child’s school community is a critically important part of their life, and what they experience within their school will either enhance their self-worth, intellectual, emotional, and social capacities, or do the opposite. Society as a whole must continue to support their local public education system, and not let corporate money interests dictate how the system is run.

As a last gift, I shared this music video with my students today. It’s an old song, and still sounds so good. I hope it brings a smile and few dance steps to your body, mind, heart, and soul.

 

 

I see your courageous spirit and honor it

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It takes courage to compete in the school spelling bee!

In these days of corruption, constant shocks and upsets, each of us need to call upon our inner warrior of light. Like the heroes of popular culture, we must go within and conjure our brightest, most courageous selves to come forward and lead. We are collectively in the midst of an unprecedented learning/ teaching moment—through the power of compassion, heart bravery, and deep listening to one another, we are growing our human “movement of movements” toward a new epoch for humanity and Earth.
Dear Readers, what a messy, chaotic and exhilarating moment it is!

Every day the national and world headlines are filled with examples of people standing up and speaking truth to power. We applaud their bravery and empathize with the repercussions of those acts of courage. Some are chastened, others repressed, and sadly, some pay the ultimate price of their very lives for taking decisions of extreme moral courage. Yet, if we pay attention to the people in our very own daily sphere, we see that acts of bravery are all around.

I’d like to give you an example of ordinary children displaying courage from my own life. This school year I am tutoring children who struggle with reading in an elementary school outside of Denver. A month ago, I volunteered to coordinate the school’s annual spelling bee. Having never organized one before, I had quite the learning curve of how to pull off this minor feat. Fortunately, through the help of a few knowledgeable teachers and the kind-hearted principal of my school, I managed to check off all the moving parts, finalize the contestant list of 22 students, hold practice sessions, and arrange for our bee to happen.

Finally, the day for our spelling bee arrived. At 1:30 pm, a group of parents and family members were seated in our cafeteria on one side, rows of nervous student contestants on the other. There were 22 students ranging from third through fifth grade, all of whom had cleared the 85% correct score on the written test they needed to compete. I sat at the table with three judges, all teachers from our school. Our principal acted as the MC and Pronouncer (the one who gives the spelling words to each student). She did a fabulous job of setting the tone—this is fun, it’s practice, and if you wish, you can use this spelling bee as one of the amazing extra things you did in elementary school this year!—for the students. Each student wore a name badge, and took their turn introducing themselves to the audience and judges. First we had a practice round as a warm up to help them get used to the protocol of answering—“olive: O L I V E: olive.” Then the rounds began. For the next 45 minutes the students competed, taking their respective turns at spelling increasingly more difficult words. Slowly, students spelled a word incorrectly and were out of the competition. After seven rounds, only the top two spellers remained. Then came the final, nail-biting round of spelling. If one student missed the word, it went to the other to attempt the correct spelling. If they both got it wrong, another word was given. This continued for about 10 minutes as we all watched intently to see who would be the ultimate winner. The finalists were a fourth grade boy and a fifth grade girl. They both did an extraordinary job of staying cool while concentrating on their mental puzzling out of the spelling words. In the breathless finish, the girl spelled incorrectly, leaving the boy to give the correct answer and the prize of first place in the bee. Afterwards, congratulations were showered upon not only the top finalists and winner, but for all the students who competed in our spelling bee.

Watching our students competing today, I was struck by the degree of bravery they each displayed by their act of showing up, standing up, spelling the words to the best of their ability, and stepping away when they failed to give the correct answer. There was an undeniable feeling of pressure on each of them to perform well, to give the correct spelling, and to concede defeat with grace. Each student performed admirably, showing all of us adults that doing something difficult can be an inspiring, courageous act and one that they can be proud of accomplishing.

Dear Readers, in these extreme and uncertain times, I encourage you to take notice of where and how you act courageously in your daily life. Who in your sphere inspires you to be brave? And just as importantly, who do YOU inspire to be brave? There has never been a more urgent need to notice and celebrate courage and compassionate action than right now. Keep calm, stay steady, and keep on going. The world needs your light, kindness, and your moral courage.

 

How many more will it take?

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(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) via https://abc7news.com/politics/gunsafe-student-signs-and-slogans-from-school-walkouts/3215255/ 

I live in the heart of Denver, Colorado. For a long time, Denver was an average mid-sized city in the western United States. During the past decade, however, it has grown exponentially into a respected larger city, desirable to startups, tech firms, the marijuana industry, restaurateurs and hotel corporations, as well as real estate developers. As with many American cities during the past few decades, money and development have changed this city almost beyond recognition.

The greater Denver area is also famous for a more somber reason, as it was the site of one of the earliest school shooting tragedies in America, the Columbine School massacre in 1999. Columbine High School is located in a suburb south of Denver called Highlands Ranch, a middle-class, mostly white, average American suburb. The anniversary of that tragedy was April 20th. Police shut down the entire Denver metro area schools that day, due to a threat by a young woman from out of state who travelled to our area, bought a gun, and ended up killing herself in the mountains near Denver.

Today (May 7, 2019), two young men entered the STEM school in Highlands Ranch and opened fire on students in the upper grades. When the police were called, they arrived in a couple of minutes, found and arrested the shooters. But it was already too late—eight students were shot and wounded, and one has since died.

During the past twenty years since the first school shooting in Highlands Ranch, there have been so many shootings by insane people inside public schools in America that most of us have lost count. Doing a quick Google search revealed that in the twenty years since Columbine, there have been 230 school shootings in this country, not including shootings at colleges or universities. https://www.necn.com/news/national-international/School-Shootings-Since-Columbine-508503771.html

According to the Washington Post, “at least 143 children, educators and other people have been killed in assaults, and another 302 have been injured.”  They also reported the total number of children exposed to gun violence in schools stands at “more than 228,000 children at 234 schools.” They noted that the United States government does NOT track gun violence in schools, therefore they decided to investigate the statistics for the public. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database

These numbers and every story that the numbers represent, are horrifying. As the statistics show, The United States, due to an obscene corruption of the Second Amendment, has become one of the most violent and dangerous places in the industrialized West for people, including school children, to live. According to Google, “The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Such language has created considerable debate regarding the Amendment’s intended scope.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment. Surely, were the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution here today they would be completely outraged at how misconstrued their amendment has been, toward the rapacious greed of global arms dealers.

It is only Tuesday, and yet within the last 48 hours we have been given dire news of the state of nature on Earth, and now just one more report of school students being shot at during their classes. Last week we read of other students who were tragically shot, with two killed, at the University of North Carolina-Charleston as they sat in a classroom with their professor. Bad news upon more bad news, and it’s all related. Private corporations continue to bully and buy off whomever might stand in their way from reaping profits from the loss of life on our planet—whether human, animal, plant or mineral, it amounts to rape and pillage for the benefit of a very few, at the expense of everyone and everything else.

Tens of thousands have been asking for the past decades: when will this insanity end? When will our government enact gun control laws that are strong, meaningful and will finally end this sacrificing of innocents enabled by the National Rifle Association’s heartless lobbyists, with the help of the most senior officials in Washington DC? The big picture is so insidious and dark that it takes the courage of the strongest warriors we can imagine, just to face it without breaking down. The battle for the Light rages on, more strongly than ever.

Dear Readers, I am well aware that the subjects of my current blog posts are dark, scary and super depressing, and I am truly sorry for it. I am not a person who likes or wants to dwell on all that is wrong with the world, but it feels extraordinarily important to keep bringing light and attention to these events, because they simply will not change unless we do. As an aside, I know a man in the college where I currently work, who is the nicest person you’d ever want to meet—friendly, kind, always smiling and gentle. Yet each time I have brought up anything remotely serious regarding the current news cycle, he laughs dryly, and tells me that he just can’t think about “all that bad news.” As nice as he is, he is cowardly when it comes to facing what is actually happening to us and because of us in the world. There are so many people like him—kind, well-meaning, friendly, harmless—yet they are in denial or simply unwilling to look squarely at the situation we humans have created, or work to find solutions.

There are plenty of bloggers and writers on the internet who are only too willing to report the Upside, put a positive spin on whatever narrative they are selling, and yes, most of it is a sales pitch. But that’s a topic for another blog post. Tonight, I simply send my love and empathy to the students and their families who were hurt today (and condolences to the family of the one who was killed) at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. May they find the comfort and healing they need in the days and months to come.