Struggles LEAD to Celebrations!


Flickr Photo by m-c

Yesterday was just ONE of those days where it ALL came together! Definitely NOT to be confused with the days that it DOESN’T … and … sadly … THOSE days exist TOO! For example, the day BEFORE our perfectly serendipitous day,  we experienced  a 100% FAILURE rate with our borax crystals! Don’t get me wrong. Experiencing failure is HEALTHY … it helps to develop character and, in a safe and caring environment, it supports the development of curiosity, resilience and perseverance! As one of LAST year’s young bloggers taught us: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning! What a HEALTHY way to LOOK at setbacks!

The morning after mixing our borax crystals, my Grade Threes and I BOUNCED into the classroom to check out our newly formed creations … only to be met with NOTHING! We’d done everything to specification. They looked at me, bewildered. I looked at THEM … bewildered. They asked WHY … MANY of them with quivering bottom lips. Now … I COULD have said, “Well, the borax may have been old … maybe we didn’t stir the solution well enough … maybe the ROOM wasn’t the right TEMPERATURE!” This list could have been extensive. Instead, I answered their WHYs with, “I don’t KNOW … what do YOU think? Let’s TALK about it!”

We sat, some of us quite downhearted, and what these students had to say was simply AMAZING for eight year old children. Maybe we didn’t put enough borax in. Maybe it was too LOUD in here and the vibrations  in the ROOM caused the failure. Maybe the water was too hot … or too COLD. Maybe the JARS were dirty … although several students piped up quickly and said that MIGHT be the case for a FEW of the jars … but ALL of them? We THINK not! Together, we decided that we would try ANOTHER little experiment. We mixed up ONE more jar of borax solution … adding quite a bit more borax … just in CASE it had become “stale”.  Some of us even went home to research just a LITTLE more!

Our TEST worked and we were greeted, the NEXT morning, by a GORGEOUS snowflake crystal. Maybe, since the borax was a year old, it HAD required more in order to saturate the solution! And THIS led us to our “perfect day”!

With MORE borax crystals to make, classroom blog comments to reply to and twenty MILLION other jobs to do … it didn’t LOOK like it was going to be one of those stellar days. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to “juggle” everything that needed to be accomplished!

globe in hands

Flickr Photo by Noticelj

That’s when it HIT me.

We’ve been working on our classroom blog for OVER a month now. This would be the PERFECT time to hand over the reigns to see what these awesome STUDENTS would do WITHOUT me guiding their responses to our readers. They’d had TONS of role modelling for crafting an awesome reply to our readers, and I decided that I would focus on helping a group of students with crystals. The rest of the class drafted a response to one of the comments left behind. It was a leap of faith … they hadn’t done it independently yet this year!

I had to bite my tongue as my little group of FIVE mixed their crystals … and I “listened in” on what was happening with the NINETEEN students in the blogging group! Yup. NINETEEN kids … working WITHOUT the teacher … compromising, collaborating, sharing, discussing.  I wanted it to be COMPLETELY their comment … none of my interjections or “leading and supporting”. I REALLY wanted to see what THEY would do!

One young man was the recorder, on the laptop and the smartboard;  he gathered student thoughts and recorded them. I could hear issues such as:

  • okay, how do we START a reply?
  • did we talk about her family’s “sentence”?
  • how do we say it to “reel the reader in” and get them to come BACK to the blog?
  • do you remember how Mrs. Renton makes that HAPPY face at the END of our comments … oh ya … it’s like THIS …
  • how should we END the reply?

You will LAUGH at THIS … the comment left by the parent mentioned “LERD”, and these children discussed, as a group, what a LERD was!!! I couldn’t STOP myself from giggling … although quietly enough that it wouldn’t distract them! 😉 This is a group that is PROUD to shout their lerdiness from the ROOFTOPS!!! (Not all … but MANY profess to be LERDS!!!)

My heart SWELLED with pride over how BEAUTIFULLY this little group of students collaborated to craft their FIRST independent reply to a reader!

My tears were WELLING!!! And, if that wasn’t ENOUGH, even MORE magic happened!!!

When I came back to the group and they read their message, (FILLED with pride), the PERSONALIZED mini-lessons … authentic, immediate, and meaningful mini-lessons began:

  • how to right click to check a misspelled word
  • capitals for Mrs.
  • leaving ONE space after a period (as opposed to none)
  • when to use families vs family’s
  • the differences between to, two, and too

Yup. This was TRULY a PROUD teacher moment! They had been internalizing EVERYTHING we had discussed as we crafted meaningful responses to our blog readers as a large group. They had worked through their struggles together. They had collaborated, supported one another, taught one another and risen to the challenge BEYOND my greatest hopes! JUST like the day before when we experienced the disappointing results of our experiment. They rose UP, pushed PAST … and … we ALL grew!

After all, you NEED the rain to appreciate the sun … without the rain there ARE no rainbows! Nope, I wouldn’t trade the struggles for perpetual smooth sailing. It is THROUGH these struggles that we learn and grow!

PS For those of you who are WONDERING … our SECOND attempt at borax crystals met with 98% success! We PERSEVERED and FINALLY achieved 100%. Phew!

Big hurdle? Little hurdle? The difference is perspective.

My amazing Twitter PLN recently suggested a children’s book: Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love reading some of the books intended for children, and  I’ve read some inspiring ones.

I picked Wonder up at Indigo the other night.  I couldn’t put it down.  I finished it the next morning.  It spoke to me on so many levels.  As a matter of fact, last night I went to bed feeling pretty good about the fact that I had just started my own personal blog for sharing my learning adventures and insights into my life as a teacher and a learner.  I was exhausted.  Imagine my surprise then when visions of my next post started dancing around in my head.  Sleep eluded me.  I actually had to get UP to record the title for this post … I didn’t want to risk losing the words that had “popped” into my head.  I woke up STILL thinking about this  … it is a story I have to tell.

“Wonder is a beautifully told story about heartache, love, and the value of human life.  One comes away from it wanting to be a better person.”

~ Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Medal-winning author

This book made me giggle.  It made me cry.  It took me RIGHT back to being a child again.  That’s some PRETTY powerful written narrative. You see, the main character, Auggie Pullman, was born with a facial deformity.  The author does an amazing job of capturing his experiences, and those of the people around him, as he enters mainstream school for the very first time.  His character is strong, funny, sensitive, persevering, inspiring … he reminds me of my brother.


The world is FULL of wonder.

Whoa … I bet you thought this was going to be a BOOK review.  Nope.  The book touched my heart … re-opened memories … about another beautiful person with SO much spirit, inner beauty and strength.  My brother is the reason I teach.  He is the foundation of MANY of the precepts I hold about children, teaching, learning, life.

When Michael was 12 and I was 14, he was diagnosed with an ependymoma – a rare childhood tumor that forms in the tissues of the brain and the spinal chord.  Life expectancy once diagnosed with an ependymoma is generally quite short.  Because of his “indomitable” will, he managed to beat MANY of the odds for much longer than expected.

Wonder brought back some of the harder memories … like the time a group of Grade Seven boys pulled Michael’s hair piece off in the crowded hallway at school and played “Pig in the Middle” while he tried to get it back.  The way we ALL knew when people were “staring” and trying not to, just like Auggie and his family in Wonder.  People are curious.  Most often, they are NOT trying to be rude or hurtful … knowing that doesn’t always help to take the “sting” away.  The all encompassing fear we ALL felt as he faced another surgery and months of rehabilitation after each of these operations.

We lost Michael last January.  He was a fighter, one of the BEST people I know.  So much inner beauty and strength.  He made the hurdles he faced EVERY single day look SO little.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were MANY tears, frustrations, times of feeling “helpless” and worn down. But, his perspective on life was truly inspirational.  He was ready.  We were not.  Knowing him made me a better person.

Such inner strength, beauty and indomitable will.

Such inner strength, beauty and indomitable will.

I had the privilege of creating a PowerPoint to share during his Celebration of Life.  It had to be PERFECT … a TRIBUTE to an AMAZING man. The quotes I placed on each of the slides spoke to the kind of person he was – a person of incredible strength – a person with so much wisdom and compassion for others.  He had true love for life.  Some of those quotes absolutely defined how Michael lived his life:

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

~ Albert Einstein

“It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

“Beauty is not in the face, beauty is a light in the heart.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Confucius

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

~ Christopher Reeve

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

~ Mary Anne Radmacher

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

~ Ambrose Redmoon

“For every day that there is sunshine, there will be days of rain, it’s how we dance within them both that shows our love and pain.”

~ Joey Tolbert

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

~ Japanese Proverb

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

~ Newt Gingrich

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.”

~ Louise Pasteur

“When the world sayd, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “try it one more time.”

~ Author Unknown

“Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.”

~ Robert Brault

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

~ Booker T. Washington

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Nelson Mandela

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”

~ Author Unknown

“People are like stained glass windows.

They Sparkle and shine when the sun is out,

but when the darkness sets in,

their true beauty is revealed only

if there is light from within.”

~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass … it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

~ Vivian Greene

Many of these quotes speak to me because they are lessons I have learned, lessons my BEAUTIFUL brother taught me as we journeyed through life with him.  It is because of him that I am the person, the teacher I am.  My values and beliefs … my precepts … are a direct reflection of the lessons he has taught us all:

  • teaching is first and FOREMOST about relationships
  • we ALL have strengths
  • our differences are what make us unique and special
  • we ALL have something to teach and to learn
  • together we are stronger
  • I teach people NOT curriculum – the WHOLE child
  • everyone is worthy of respect, compassion and hope
  • try NOT to sweat the small stuff … and most of it IS small stuff
  • strive to be the best person you can be each and every moment of your day
  • raising happy, healthy children who believe in themselves and persevere is an important and honourable achievement
On page 299 of this amazing book, which brought back SO many memories for me, the Principal addresses the school as they graduate to the next grade. “… the best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average – though those things are important, to be sure.  It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you have touched this year.  That, to me, is the greatest measure of success … always … try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” (From Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, page 299) Now that, to me, is a WORTHY precept to live by!
Wonder is absolutely worth the read.  I truly believe that if each child read it by the time they got to Junior High it would  support the development of compassion, understanding and empathy.  Maybe fewer people struggling with battles that many of us will NEVER  have to endure will go through life a little less “tormented” and experience just a little more compassion.  After all … it IS truly ALL about perspective.

I wonder:

  • Do you have any life altering experiences that have helped to formulate who you are as a person, as a teacher?
  • Do you have special “precepts” that you live by?
  • Do you have a book that has really “spoken” to you?