Years ago I read Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” The book had such a profound affect on me that I read all her other books too. Creative people know that there is an energy to creativity. Like other forms of energy there are things that will help it to expand and things that will cause it to shrink. We learn over time how to feed the energy, control the flow of energy, and how to maximize the energy while creating.
Cameron recommends going on artist’s dates as a way to boost creative energy. These are scheduled, intentional solo outings designed to spark insight and connection. So this March Break I decided to spend four days in Toronto on the ultimate artist’s date.
On the train from Cobourg to Toronto, rather than listen to my usual coffee house playlists, I listened to jazz. Within two songs I felt my creative soul opening up. It was all I could do not to spring up into the aisles and sing with my whole body. When had I stopped listening to jazz? A year ago? Five years ago? How does a person lose something as big and as wonderful as jazz?
My days and evenings were filled with artist’s dates while I was in the city. A night at the ballet. An afternoon at a musical. A trip to a museum. A gallery. Time with people who inspire me. Each date stirred stories that long to be written and songs that cry out to be sung.
And now I’m at home bursting with ideas and possibilities and projects. I feel awake again.
So I greet my laptop like a beloved old friend, snuggle in my favourite chair ready to begin. And that’s when the doubt creeps in…the worries…the fears. What if I get distracted again? What if I’m too tired to create when I’m back at work? What if I’ve forgotten how to do this?
When we’ve fed our creative force well it has the strength to overcome our dragons. And so my questions start to pass by like moving clouds. The story is stronger than the doubts. The song is louder than the worries.
It is so nice to begin again…Thank-you Julia Cameron.
- Our creativity and writing processes are unique, just like our fingerprints.
- Children are naturally creative. We can connect to our inner child to remember. Play.
- Metaphors can be gateways to creative exploration and expression.
- When we consider the act of writing practice and the development of the craft of writing as separate processes, we can nurture them both. We set learning goals.
- We encourage our writing to develop by engaging in writing practice, reflecting on our work, referring to elements of style and craft, consulting with writing mentors, and by using our learning to write something new.
She was born in 1748 in Montreal, Quebec. She was baptized Roman Catholic at St. Laurent Catholic Church. It is likely that she grew up in Montreal. She is noted in many places as being French-Canadian,
During this time 22,000 people lived in what we call Old Montreal, once the land of St. Lawrence Iroquoians. According to Wikipedia, Indigenous peoples had lived in the area for over 8,000 years. The French set up a trading post and decided to establish a colony there. By the mid-1700s, Montreal had about the same amount of people as Cobourg (my town) does today. Montreal was a well-established fur-trade French colony and was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church; they initially named the colony Ville Marie in honour of the Virgin Mary. Most of the population was Indigenous or French in the beginning but as Montreal grew, the population became more diverse.
Who were Dubois’ parents? When did they arrive in Montreal?
There was one source that suggested Dubois was from Penetanguishene… Was her family involved in the fur trade? Then, would Solomon be known to them? Did she choose to marry Solomon?
1760: Montreal shifts from French to British Rule
In 1760, when Dubois was 12, French colonial rule ended in Montreal and the British took over. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 marked a turning point in Montreal’s history. I wonder if the changes in Montreal and the emergence of Protestants and Anglicans as Dubois was coming of age influenced her ability to marry Ezekiel Solomon.
How likely was an inter-faith marriage at this time? And why did she keep her name after marriage? She is usually noted as Louise Dubois, not Solomon.
Solomon was a man of faith. There is no indication that Solomon was a ladies’ man. The only woman he is ever connected to in anything that I have read is Dubois. After being released from capture by Pontiac at Fort Michilimackinac, Solomon was ransomed in Montreal. Soon after he opened up and ran a general store in Montreal.
Did Dubois meet Solomon at his store?
Did their value of faith and spirituality bring them together, even though their religions differed?
Solomon continued to work between Montreal and Mackinac for the rest of his life. He did not have a wife in the Montreal (the city) and another “country wife” in Mackinac like other traders. Rather, it seems that Dubois was present in and connected to both his communities.
1768: Inter-faith Marriage
In 1768, Solomon was part of 12 families who founded the Shearith Israel, the Sephardic congregation of Montreal.
In 1769, Dubois married Ezekiel Solomon at Christ Anglican Church. During this time, Anglican services were held in the chapels of Catholic Churches in Montreal. Christ Church wouldn’t have its own space until 1789, a church given to them by the Jesuits.
When I looked at a map showing St. Laurent Catholic Church and Shearith Israel it was interesting so see that they were within 5 kms of each other. This general area of Montreal might be where Dubois was born and where she lived with Solomon.
After the marriage, Dubois and Solomon followed their own religions. Later records show that Dubois was the witness at many baptisms by the Jesuits in Mackinac (1794-1807). Solomon gave money to help bring Jesuit priests to Mackinac while also providing funds to Shearith Israel.
Dubois and Solomon had six children–all born in Montreal between 1773 and 1778. The children were baptized Roman Catholic.
I found a record in Solomon’s name for the deed for the sale of a slave: April 16, 1776. I wonder about the nature of this. Was this an Indigenous person as was common in Montreal at the time? Was it connected to domestic service or his business? In 1803, Solomon would be selected by King George to sit on an inquiry to look into the slave trade at Michilimackinac. What did they think about all this?
1780: Moving to Mackinac
Sometime between 1780 and 1794, the family moved to Mackinac and stayed. Fort Mackinac was built in 1780 by the British to protect from attack by the Americans and/or indigenous peoples.
Given that Solomon had survived the attack by Pontiac on Fort Michilimackinac in 1763, I wonder if the building of the new fort on the island influenced the decision to move the family out of Montreal. Did it provide a sense of safety?
Another theory is that there was a reversal in his business fortunes that caused the move in 1780.
Some of the information I’m using in this post is from comments that people have left on some of my other blog posts.
“I came across information that stated Ezekiel and his then business partner William Grant each provided £50 for the maintenance of Roman Catholic clergy at St. Anne’s church on Mackinac Island, probably as an act of good will to the voyageurs and local FN and Metis community, but also, no doubt, to keep Loiuse happy. As you mention, Louise’s name frequently appears as a baptismal witness in St. Anne’s records, records which also document the FN/ Metis heritage of those of us descended from William and Agibicocona through their daughter Sophie, born in 1796 and baptized the following year, as the priest was itinerant from 1765 (the year of the British suppression of the Jesuits in North America) until a permanent priest took up duties in 1830” (Brendan O’Gorman).
1783: Life in the Fur Trade
In 1781 his house in Fort Michilimackinac is destroyed by a fire. Does this prompt a fresh start for the family on Mackinac island?
By 1783, Solomon’s business was booming. He was a big competitor for Hudson’s Bay Company. Perhaps it was this success that drew them north.
There is evidence that Dubois helped with the family business.
“Dubois was active in the fur trade when she lived in Mackinac. She is recorded at least once as the “Merchant Company” who engaged voyageur Alexandre Petis on 26 March 1783 to carry merchandise, victuals and skins on the route from Montreal to Michilimackinac and return” (Paul King).
“How much Louise helped him is concealed from us, in part because we don’t have the Montreal shipping records for most of the years. [The Voyageur Data Base] That she shows up once as a bourgeois in charge of shipping goods and outfitting a voyageur makes it very tempting to speculate that this was not a one-time operation. This is reinforced by her aggressive missionary activity in the area of baptisms at Michilimackinac – she was a strong-willed woman” (Paul King).
“Louise probably ran the business a good part of the time whenever Ezekiel was away or ill. She would likely have taken an active role in the business from early on in the marriage, would have been thoroughly familiar with both European and FN traders who did business at Michillimackinac, and, I’m willing to bet, she would have known of their approach long before they got there, perhaps giving her an edge over the competition” (Brendan O’Gorman).
1802: Influence in Mackinac
Solomon and Dubois had influence in Mackinac.
“The Rev. David Bacon, from Connecticut, attempted to start the first Protestant mission to the Indians on Mackinac Island starting in approximately the summer of 1802. His efforts did not succeed. The main reasons his efforts failed was that Rev. Bacon and his wife failed to learn the Indian language despite living several years on Mackinac Island. They had to rely on interpreters, who for some odd reason, insisted on being paid. Decades later his son wrote a short history of the attempt. I believe the memoir clearly mentions Ezekiel Solomon, his wife Louise, and one of their sons in this account of Rev. Bacon canceling a planned trip from Mackinac Island to L’Arbrecroche in NW lower Michigan in 1802: “The want of access to the Indians was still more discouraging. Without a competent interpreter, there would be no hope of gaining anything from a visit to Arbrecroche. The interpreter with whom he had corresponded through a friend, and whom he had so often hoped to obtain, had again disappointed him. Finding another man who could speak both Indian and English, he had attempted to obtain his help in the expedition; but that man’s father and mother—the one a Jew and the other a Papist — were unwilling that he should fulfil his engagement” Bacon, Rev. Leonard D.D. A Sketch of the Life of Rev. David Bacon. 1876. Reprint. Boston, Massachusetts: Congregational Publishing Society, Alfred Mudge & Son, n.d.. Digital images. http://books.google.com/books?id=R5UNAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false : .” (A. Dembinski).
Okimabinesikoue means Chief Bird Woman
I’ve always wondered why Dubois had an Ojibway name.
“Many have tried to discover why (or even if) Elizabeth Dubois has been assigned a First Nations name; it may just be because descendants wanted to associate such with her, it may be because she was highly thought of in the FN community on Mackinac Island and therefore granted a FN name. We’ll probably never know.” (Deborah Crawford).
“My research has brought me to the conclusion that she was half French and half Anishnaabe. The Bird clan are the spiritual leaders of the people. Hate to bring up the cruder aspects of eighteenth century imperialism, but marriage into influential indigenous families by traders was by then a time honoured recipe for good business. You also need to understand that during this time Mackinac was no backwater; it was the commercial hub of the fur trade in central North America. Pre-1760 it was the middle of New France, linking the Mississippi with the Great Lakes, the Prairies, and the St. Lawrence. To marry a woman with family ties in both Quebec and among indigenous peoples in the heart of the continent would have been of incalculable value to Ezekiel, and he most certainly would have known it. His documented success in the fur trade is proof of it; so too, unfortunately, was the destruction of indigenous culture at that time. However, it is extremely important to also note that Ezekiel and Louise are among the fathers and mothers of the Metis nation in North America, and whether or not we choose to take the political action of self-identifying as Metis, one of the three indigenous peoples of Canada, if we are their descendants, we are Metis” (Brendan O’Gorman).
1813: Death in Mackinaw
Ezekiel Solomon dies in 1808. Dubois puts in a claim to the Treasury Department to be given Solomon’s land (see the image below).
In 1813, Marie Elizabeth Louise Dubois Solomon dies. This is during the War of 1812. Was she a casualty of the war?
On July 18, 1812 the Americans attacked Fort Mackinac but the British held strong. In 1813, the Americans cut the British supply lines to the post so food became scarce. Soldiers were given half rations. It would have been a difficult winter. She was 65 years old when she died.
This paper contains excerpts summarizing my arts-informed Master’s thesis, autoethnographic reflections in the form of lyric, collage, and personal narrative exploring an inner, emotional journey to regaining strength and rediscovering passion after a period of teacher burn-out.
The Jar as Metaphor: The Heart of My Learning
The role of the Canadian educator has expanded to supporting the whole student. From fear of violence in schools to increased awareness of mental health issues to data-driven school improvement plans, educators in Canada face many stresses. It has become common for educators to experience “burn-out,” to become cynical, or to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be more than an expert in a given field. Today in education we are often supporting students in navigating the human experience.
To build resiliency, educators need to come out of isolation and build communities of trust. We need to be able to acknowledge and express our inner landscapes: the thoughts and feelings beneath the surface of responding to every day routines, events, and duties. For me, metaphor became a way of accessing and expressing what I learned in my early years of teaching.
For this inquiry, jars symbolized the collected stories and emotions of my inner life as a young teacher. By preserving memory and capturing experience in metaphorical jars, I discovered that a teacher can hold a moment up to the light for a closer look through the jar’s transparent walls.
Jars can be used for preserving or collecting or storing or capturing. We purchase things in jars. We give things away in jars. From holding delicacies to treasures to waste to hardware, glass jars have lingered in homes and garages and schools and workplaces since the mid-1800s.
Jars provide form. Jars give shape to their contents. Jars organize. Jars have their limitations too. They can be restrictive and confined, separating and compartmentalizing. Each jar has a limited capacity. Jars are fragile, chipping or shattering when dropped. Glass walls are transparent, leaving the contents vulnerable and visible.
Looking through Glass Walls: The Value of Self-Reflection
Self-understanding is integral to being a resilient educator. To me, education is about social change; it is about tending to community and supporting social justice. We are human first, then educators. Education is broader than the subject, it can connect to the common humanity in learners. We engage in inquiry together, to share diverse perspectives, to become partners in the discovery. A teacher can also be a facilitator, creating opportunities for critical engagement and dialectical thinking. Teachers are more than subject-matter experts. I feel it is the duty as an educator to go beyond the prescribed curriculum, to help build community, to be sure that students learn the names of other students in our class, to provide opportunities for students to celebrate individuality as well as to celebrate that which unifies us as people.
Being an educator can be a monumental vocation when you “begin with the world.” Resiliency is essential.
Teaching in a Bell Jar: My Story
Teacher burn-out does not happen overnight. It is gradual, accumulative. My teacher burn-out was not a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001 but the events hung low like a heavy smoke blanket in my consciousness.
In the days after September 11, I stood at the front of the class unable to answer the students’ questions about the events. I was twenty-six years old. I remember the school had made some announcements about sending prayers to the families of the deceased and the fire fighters who worked diligently to rescue people trapped in the debris. Staff occasionally talked about bits they had heard on the news over lunch. Friends and family exchanged sad comments akin to the mechanical small talk at a funeral. After a week passed, few people talked about the events.
But students in my class had questions. Students talked about relatives in New York. Students wanted to know more about the buildings, the terrorists, the reasons why the events had taken place. Students looked to me, their teacher, for answers. I did not know how to articulate my fear and pain and frustration. I did not know how to support the students. I did not know where to find support for myself.
The first five years of being an educator include many lessons. New teachers prepare unit plans and respond to student behavior while balancing co-curricular activities. New teachers experience, reflect, and change every day. Although learning is integral to the culture of a classroom teacher at all stages of his or her career, the first five years of teaching are paramount. New teachers learn through experience about pedagogy, curriculum, people, workplace politics, and self. Learning occurs in at least two circles: the outer circle of the self as teacher and the inner circle of the self as person. Like a Venn diagram the circles overlap.
While a new teacher learns how to engage students and how to master curriculum in his or her outer circle, what is happening in his or her inner circle? How does he or she change through the process of learning?
As I burned-out, my inner landscape was in trouble. On the outside I looked like a competent teacher. I responded to classroom events following school protocol. I moved through the curriculum while balancing the diverse needs of students. I supported coworkers who were having a bad day or a bad week. I found time to direct the school play and orchestrate the tech set-up for assemblies. I managed student behavior in a Drama room with no desks. Most of the time I was content. Some days I would say to my colleagues at lunch “I love my job.”
Pride and shame prevented me from reaching out as a young teacher. I did not want to appear incompetent or incapable or unsatisfactory. I pretended to know how to respond. When I was asked how things were going in my class I replied “fine.” If witnessing a fight in the cafeteria while on duty bothered me, I kept quiet. I showed up to work and I smiled. I tried to focus on the positive things like the talent of the students in my classes or the small kindnesses I watched staff exchange each day.
The more I repressed my feelings the harder it became to smile. It felt like I was taking in all the pain and sadness my students shared about their relationships, academic pressure, conflicts, and addictions. As more students reached out for help a little more air was pumped out of the bell jar. I did not know how to help the students nor how to protect myself from their pain. My empathetic nature internalized their sadness.
To be resilient I needed to learn how to manage emotion. As the air was being pumped out of my bell jar I did not know that I was the one who was holding the vacuum.
Filling the Jar: Life and Research Intersect
David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle includes experiencing, reflecting, theorizing, and applying. Like many other educators, I experienced burn-out so I used my experience to explore the research. Through the healing process I reflected on what made me feel defeated in an attempt to make meaning out of the experience. Then I consulted doctors, counsellors, friends, and books to extend my understanding of burn-out. Finally, I created and implemented a plan for change. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle provides a framework for demonstrating how I learned to turn defeatism into resilience.
Mary Catherine Bateson described learning as a spiral. Placing this idea alongside Kolb’s learning theory I can see how similar cycles and spirals can be. Kolb’s theory spiralled through my relationships, career decisions, and self- awareness. Cole and Knowles explained the experiential learning cycle/spiral: “Experience or practice provides the basis for reflection and analysis, which in turn informs future action.” Throughout my career, learning to be resilient will spiral through large and small events.
The spiral started somewhere in the middle of my every day, going up, down, this way or that way. It seemed a light moved through the spiral itself like a dancing ball in a tube to show me where I have been, where I was in the present, and where I needed to go. The spiral had warm and cool spots, clear and foggy spots. What surprised me most was that everything connected in the spiral; everything was a part of everything else. Even in Kolb’s learning cycle all of the learning is informed by prior learning, everything connected.
Marilyn Taylor’s model of the learning cycle suggests that learners begin with a disorientation phase or destabilizing experience. When I began my career I enjoyed teaching. I became disoriented when teaching became difficult and I lacked the inner strength to cope. Subsequently, I reached my saturation point and burned out. After I started asking for help and beginning the healing process, I had arrived at the Reorientation phase of Taylor’s cycle.
Learning is change. Change is difficult. Learning how to overcome burn-out and develop resiliency was hard and slow. It took three years to move from realizing I needed help to regaining my zest for work and my confidence in responding to conflict.
When I examined old journals I was surprised to discover two entries from 2004 that identified the problem and a solution. My writing revealed my growing apathy for teaching a “subject,” my sensitivity to personal relations at work, my draining energy from perceived monotony and poor self-care. It also listed my needs for teamwork, later mornings, a life outside of work, enthusiastic mentors, creative projects, and a deliberate approach to self-care.
As Taylor’s cycle suggests I recognized that “the learner is where the learning happens and the learner’s own views and judgments are centrally involved.” To move into the next phase I needed to better understand how my perspective of the teaching environment became distorted, gain insight on how the pattern played out in my life, and apply the new perspective.
If we layer Taylor’s more emotional cycle over Kolb’s experiential learning cycle it is clear that learning was happening on many levels. As Taylor’s cycle indicates I had the experience of burning out. For two years I reflected on what upset the balance in my life and began to ask questions about how I could develop inner strength. I began to make meaning and conceptualize what was happening. To shift my perspective I needed a catalyst.
When I learned how to trust my community of friends, family, and colleagues, my engagement in teaching could feel reborn. Both Kolb’s experiential learning cycle and Taylor’s learning cycle fit naturally with learning that occurred before I knew of their cycles. Learning processes were at work in my life even when I was not aware.
The Fairy Tale: Life as a New Teacher
Once upon a time a teacher gets a first job. He has always wanted to be a teacher. She is thrilled. He works hard. She loves her work. He says yes to supervise dances, attend parent nights, coach basketball, moderate the Eco Club, and run the school’s recycling program. Life is good.
One day she gets tired but she does not take time to rest. He adds more supervising and coaching and moderating to his schedule. She thinks about her students when she is at work and when she is at home. His life becomes his work. Then she burns out. He feels defeated. She prays for strength. He starts to resent the time he spends at school. She responds in cranky tones when students ask for help. He carries the weight of his work on his back and does not even stop to use his health benefits for a massage.
She finds a pamphlet in her mailbox at work about the employee assistance program. He talks about how tired he is and how hard it is to say no. She wishes she worked at the bank. Now he also moderates the school’s breakfast program. Her work and life are out of balance. With the help of his friends, his family, and his bulldog named Lucy he makes changes. The changes are small at first.
She goes for walks every morning. He goes to bed earlier so he can read his favourite Canadian authors like Joseph Boyden and Yann Martel and Alice Munro. She takes a break from coaching. He declines hosting the department party. She needs space, just for a year. He needs to get the house ready for when his baby is born. She joins recreational volley-ball in the evenings. He learns how to landscape. She has movie night with the girls. He has Saturday morning coffee with the guys.
Then, like magic, she likes teaching Creative Writing again. He laughs with the students every day. She wakes up before the alarm clock. He looks forward to marking because he is curious to know if the students are learning. She is proud to be a teacher. He applies for a job as department head. And the students and teacher lived happily ever after….
The story does not end here. Our lives do not follow a three act structure. The end of burn-out does not guarantee everlasting happiness and peace and passion. Likewise, every story is as unique as each individual teacher. After a teacher experiences burn-out she may choose to make changes. If the teacher is a reflective practitioner, he may use the experience as a learning opportunity. Healing after burn- out can take weeks or months or years.
But a teacher can choose to burn-in. Burning-in is about finding a mind, body, ground, sky connection. It is about listening to an inner voice, living in the present, being aware of intention, and finding passion in work. It is about dreaming and creating and listening and giving and feeling. Through burning-in I gained a deeper understanding of self, affirmed my calling as an educator, and developed resiliency to cope when the work became challenging again.
Defining “Burn-In:” We Have Choices
Writing allows me to take a moment and put it in a jar. Then I hold the jar up to the light and examine it, see how it can be changed when different elements are added or taken away.
To burn-in is to look inside oneself for wisdom, for direction, for strength. To burn-in is to connect to the fire in one’s belly that motivates and inspires. Engaged in a continuous cycle of praxis, reflection and action, our inner worlds change.
Toward the end of the summer of 2004 I had developed an action plan that included regular self check-ins, attention to self-care, a better work-life balance. But it also listed healthy ways to express and cope with emotion, how to safeguard myself from the negative energy of others, how to resist over-committing to demands on my time, how to transition when a dread of returning to work settled in on a Sunday night, and finally how to remain connected to my preferred, balanced, seemingly in control self.
Metaphor and Inquiry: How Metaphor Helped Me Make Meaning Out of Experience
Sunshine in a Jar is a symbol to represent the inner life. It is an ideal state of being. It represents creativity and spirit and passion and resiliency and interconnectedness and love. This metaphor served as the entry point to the inquiry. I had many questions. How does Sunshine in a Jar connect to my identity and perspective? How does the metaphor connect to and reveal my inner life? Could metaphor be used as a tool for gaining a greater understanding of self? What is the value of a personal metaphor? What are the stories or events in my life that demonstrate the significance of Sunshine in a Jar?
The use of arts-informed inquiry opened up and represented my inner life in ways that surprised me. It gave me access to memory and emotion. As the work evolved, a definition of Sunshine in a Jar surfaced as a symbol of resilience and passion. I wondered how I could use my story of developing resiliency and rediscovering a love of teaching after a period of burn-out to support other young teachers. I wondered if by sharing my journey, by articulating inner learning, I could share possibilities with other teachers experiencing burn-out. Arts-informed inquiry could accomplish two things: represent the inner life of an educator and appeal to a wide audience.
When I think of Sunshine in a Jar I think about light, creativity, enthusiasm, insight, vocation, and love. The image embodies my understanding of resiliency. The glass jar is the form, the container that permits me to capture things or ideas that seem impossible, and to carry them wherever I choose. The glass jar can also preserve brightness and strength. I can take the lid off whenever I want to let life, people or feeling into the jar or out of the jar. It is a personal metaphor, its meaning can change as I change.
Many teachers experience burn-out. Many teachers have developed resiliency as a result. The importance of the inquiry was not just about telling a story of burn-out and resiliency. Rather, it was an opportunity to learn how to articulate the experience in order to share it with other teachers, to represent story from the inside-out.
Who are Resilient Teachers?
- Have a sense of self-efficacy and ignite a sense of efficacy in others.
- Acknowledge the inner life and draws on inner strength in times of difficulty to perspective can change, life can change.
- Feel comfortable with not knowing all the answers.
- Are prepared and flexible.
- Understand that they cannot always be in control.
- Put their trust in others, including students, colleagues, administrators, and their personal circles of influence.
- Trust their intuition.
- May be afraid, but they do not let fear prevent them from doing what needs to be done.
- Show up, they open the door even though the writing on the wall does not match their expectations.
- Understand the rewards of being still, of careful observation, and of curiosity.
- Try to live in the moment. The past does not define the future. Rather, the past and future inform the present.
- Seek learning opportunities in large and small events.
- Understand that inner strength develops within community. Teaching and learning can be limited in isolation and can be enriched by solitude.
- Take risks.
- Listen to their inner voices.
- Are reflective practitioners.
- Recognize moments of insight.
- Make decisions rooted in purpose, passion, and integrity.
- Respond to the world around them.
- Understand interconnectedness, cause and effect, and the greater good.
- Choose to turn adversity into opportunity.
Like a child who enters the backyard on a beautiful day with an empty jar and a curious mind, this inquiry welcomed surprise. Above all, to be resilient educators need to have open minds. What does your jar look like? What do you keep inside? Open the jar.
- Myles Horton inspires me: “Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But the best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will all say we have done it ourselves” (Horton & Freire, 1990, pp. 247-248).
- Boal and Freire inspire me to facilitate for the purpose of connecting learners to the world, to each other: “For Freire, humans can lift themselves to a higher level of consciousness and become subjects to the extent of their interventions in society, their reflection on this intervention, and their commitment to this engagement in society” (Elias & Meriam, 2005, p. 154).
- To be thoroughly, humanly ‘with the world’ means that people would have developed a critical perception and would have taken collectively their environmental, social, political, and economic destiny into their own hands. To begin that struggle is to begin with the world” (Mojab, Winter 2011).
- “Most of [first year teachers] describe their first year of teaching as positive, reporting the experience as excellent (32 per cent) or good (47 per cent) and their professional satisfaction as excellent (28 per cent) or good (40 per cent). Similar numbers report that their confidence level is excellent (29 per cent) or good (45 per cent). Almost half (48 per cent) give an unsatisfactory rating to their job security. And yet, almost four out of five (78 per cent) say they are optimistic for their professional future” (McIntyre, 2011).
- “Lessons too complex to grasp in a single occurrence spiral past again and again, small examples gradually revealing greater and greater implications” (Bateson, 1994, p. 30).
- (Cole & Knowles, 2008, p. 94)
- “If the change is experienced as disconfirming, that is, one that disconfirms one’s self-system or personal model of reality, then the individual is thrown into a disorientation phase in which confusion, anxiety, and tension increase and the learner experiences a crisis of self-confidence” (MacKeracher, 2004, p. 64).
- (MacKeracher, 2004, p. 67)
- “Most of our life we’re put in a cage, where we sing the same song day in and day out. But life is not about being caged, life is about flying” (Heward & Bacon, 2006, p. 132).
- “Resilience, defined as the capacity to continue to ‘bounce back,’ to recover strengths or spirit quickly and efficiently in the face of adversity, is closely allied to a strong sense of vocation, self-efficacy and motivation to teach which are fundamental to a concern for promoting achievement in all aspects of students’ lives” (Gu & Day, 2007, p. 1302).
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One winter a student posted a status update on social media that went something like, “I hate that fat girl in the yoga pants.”
For two weeks, streams of girls came to me upset to be the target of harassment. Most of the girls didn’t know the ‘bully’ personally but were certain it related to their yoga pants. When I interviewed the one who wrote the comment, she revealed the target. It was a slam against her former best friend to hurt her, nothing to do with the many girls who cried themselves to sleep for weeks after it was posted. It broke my heart. 15 different girls had told me 15 different stories about self image and belonging.
I think of those yoga pants sometimes and I wonder about what else is going through the individual minds of young girls while they are alone on social media.
I also wonder how girls are affected by the #MeToo hashtag that’s going around. And then I think about the many girls in schools who have shared their stories with me over the years. I wonder what they are doing now. I wonder if they’ve found a way to heal, to take charge of a new narrative that builds them up rather than lingering in one that makes them feel torn down. I wonder about the subtext of #MeToo, the underlying emotional pulls, the accompanying memories, the what’s next…. As an adult, the subtext of #MeToo can be empowering, a symbol of solidarity and strength, or it could be an invitation to seek help. Does a teenage girl interpret it in these ways too? How does it affect her sense of belonging and self image?
And so over the past month I’ve thought a lot about many of the girls in the schools I’ve worked in over the years. I’ve remembered that the pain and scope can stretch far and wide. This isn’t a story about one girl, but about many girls over many years. It was important to me to write this post to show their courage and resilience, to use writing to reflect on the complexity of the situation for girls today. I want to remember how necessary it is to listen to their individual stories and how something essential could be missed if we don’t.
Warning: The content is sensitive and may be upsetting.
It’s a Tuesday morning. Ms. L shows up at my office door. She has that look, the look that tells me something big has happened, the look that says, Take a deep breath, Jessica.
“Kate came to see me this morning. She shared something. She wants to tell you too,” she says.
Then Ms. L lets it out fast, as if the speed will lessen the impact, make it all seem more manageable.
Kate comes into my office. She casts her eyes to the floor. The energy surrounding her looks contained like she’s struggling to hold it in, like a held breath in a bad-smelling room.
“What happened?” I ask.
Kate sighs—and then her story comes tumbling out with a burst of air. She talks about how she had a fight with her boyfriend. A bad fight. They threw things at each other. The apartment they shared in town was no longer safe. Things had been getting worse. Sean hit her. She yelled. And then “it” happened. She was raped. When she could escape, she ran to a friend’s house, stayed the night, decided to tell the us about it now, weeks later. “I haven’t been sleeping,” she said. “I’m still living at Sean’s. I think I should move. Maybe. It hasn’t happened again, so maybe it’s okay. He was so sorry.”
In this moment, Kate is so open, so trusting, so desperate for peace that her truth is raw. Kate and Ms. L and I cry together.
We call her mother. We ask her to come to the school immediately. Kate hadn’t seen her mother in a week.
Kate asks us to stay in the room with her when her mother arrives. When Kate tells her mother about the event, her mother falls to her knees and sobs. Kate stands and holds her mother’s head against her leg, soothing her. Then Kate’s mother reveals she had been in an abusive relationship too. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she says. Kate had grown up witnessing her mother’s struggles with love and domestic violence.
The women stand holding each other, crying. Then we all hug and cry together before Kate and her mother go to the police station.
Six months pass. Kate is living at home again. Sean misses her and regularly tries to win her back.
The police come to the school. Kate is in the hospital. Kate is 18 now. She asked the police to call the school instead of her mom. Kate had tried to take her own life.
A couple weeks later, Kate returns to school and we develop a plan with the help of a social worker. Kate identifies three caring adults at the school who she feels safe going to when she feels distressed. Kate says she wants to heal, to feel like herself, to reconnect to life. Somehow she remembers hope, she says. A tiny crack in her dark world lets in the light, expanding each time she trusts us with a story, an insight, a goal, a worry. The social worker and the teacher work with Kate to help her find safe housing, to help her rebuild her life again. Kate works so hard.
Kate has now graduated from high school and a college program. She works full time. She is engaged. She is excited to have a daughter of her own one day. She says that she didn’t start to feel safe until the police issued a restraining order preventing Sean from contacting her. Kate is still working things out with her mom, but every year it gets easier.
And I could share “Sean’s” story too. Sean is also one of my students. He has been in foster care since he was three. He has lived in 11 different homes. When he turned 16, his worker decided it would be easier for Sean to live in his own apartment than with a family. Sean struggles in school sometimes and has not made any connections with the staff. He started skipping classes in Grade 9 because he didn’t want his peers to know he couldn’t read. He steals things sometimes even though he has enough money for rent and groceries. It’s tough because there is no one to call when Sean is struggling. His worker’s office is 3 hours away. Who is raising Sean? Who is teaching him how to love?
Sean loves Kate. She is the only person he has ever felt love for in his whole life. He plans to marry Kate. It scares him when they fight. He is afraid of losing her.
Sean has an explosive temper at school sometimes. He bruised his fist punching the door when he was mad. When I talk to Sean about his temper he pulls his hoodie up around so it covers most of his face and says, “I don’t eff-ing care.”
Kate didn’t charge Sean at first. She told the police her story but decided not to press charges. She said she didn’t want all the drama. Sean dropped out of school when he turned 18 a few weeks later. He had 16/30 credits. Kate said, “he won’t be at school so I’ll be fine.”
When Kate was in the hospital, he tried to visit her. She found the strength to advocate for herself. Soon there was a restraining order in place.
As Kate put her own life back together, Sean’s life continued to fall apart. He lost everything. He got in some big trouble with the law and within 6 months was arrested and imprisoned. He still has no family.
Before I started listening closely to students I would have found this story too extreme, but every year I meet students with stories as complex as Sean’s and Kate’s. I hope all the “Kates” out there are reaching out to people they trust. I hope all the “Seans” out there have people who they can call family who will teach them how to love. Everyone has a right to feel safe.
And these are just two stories. Each time I see someone post the #MeToo to signal that they have been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence, I know there is an individual, complex story. The first step is sharing. Awareness. Then we need to plan…
In a school, our number one priority is that students feel safe. How can we do this better? How can we make our communities safer? Our world safer? How can we prevent harassment and violence? What do we need to teach our children and teens? How will school, home, and community work together for change?
“It takes a village…”
Thank-you to all the educators out there who provide a safe haven. Each school I’ve worked at over the years has had a team of caring adults who quietly help many “Kates” and “Seans” each week.
I wish I had more answers. For now I continue to work on listening…
* Confidentiality is important to me. Therefore, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Georgian Bay: July, 1988. The clouds feather high in the cobalt sky. When Evergreen floats near the shore, I climb out the nose and jump to the rock holding the rope. My feet splash into the water. I stumble. My cousin Michael laughs.
From the bay, dad slides up the slippery rock. I had never seen my dad water ski before. Usually the water is too cold. He grabs the yellow rope from me and ties it to a boulder. Water from our feet trickles along the hot, dry island to make it shine.
Uncle Bruce drops the anchor out the back of the boat.
In the shade of the cedars, Auntie Ann and mom pin the red checkered table cloth onto the folding card table. I spot a box of Tim Horton’s donuts, the blue thermos of red Koolaid, and bags of chips and cheesies. The steel blue cooler sleeps by my feet. I open the lid: macaroni salad, potato salad, bologna, ham.
“Did he bring the costume?” Auntie Ann asks, neatly stacking the paper plates.
“Can you believe it?” Mom says.
I snatch an orange cheesy out of an open bag on the edge of the table. Mom raises her left eyebrow. I slink away but she notices the Mug root beer. I slid it into my hat when she looked for the plastic forks. My smile drips with charm.
“You’re going to ruin your dinner,” she chimes.
“No I won’t.” I crack open the silver tab on the can and smile again.
She shakes her head and turns away. “Ann, where do you think we should put the cake?” Mom’s gaze drills a hole in my face. “To keep it from everyone until it’s time.” Then mom grins.
I fan my towel five times before it lies just right on the rock next to Andi. The blue jean coloured water and windblown spruces wave as I watch Uncle Bob and Chantell motor away to a secret fishing spot. The sun twinkles. I tilt my head into the brightness.
Madonna belts “Get into the Groove” on my red Sony walkman. My pen pal from Germany, Clemens, sent the cassette with his last letter. Andi lounges on the sun-warmed granite next to me listening to Def Leppard. She oozes coconut tanning oil.
I sip my warm root beer. “What do you think Lorel is doing?”
“Don’t know,” Andi replies.
At eighteen, Lorel looks just like Brooke Shields and sings the lead in a rock band.
“Do you think it’s because of the snake?”
“Nah,” Andi rolls over to tan the back of her legs.
I wonder how anyone could miss a family picnic. I close my eyes and lean into the ground imagining my ancestors picnicking on these rocks a hundred years ago. Sometimes when I am out in the bay I feel so connected to the landscape. Maybe I lived on these rocks in a past life.
Maybe I’ve even peed in the same bush as my grandmother or great-grandmother or great-great grandmother. Gross.
I always find a rock that slopes into the moss near a big tree. I try not to slip. I try not to pull my shorts down if someone else is nearby. I try not to wander too far and get lost.
At our last picnic on the island at Sand Bay, I didn’t see Lorel go into the bush, but we all saw her sprint out. Yanking her bikini bottom, she staggered, screaming “Snake!”
“Was it a rattler?” Uncle Bruce asked.
Lorel told us how she heard the rattling sound under her as she squatted on the rock. “Ticka ticka ticka ticka.” When she glanced between her knees a Massassauga Rattlesnake stuck out its tongue, coiled and ready to sink its fangs into her behind.
Dad, Uncle Bruce, and his cousin Wally marched into the bush. I wanted them to slice off its head.
My brother Colin jiggles a wet life-jacket over me.
“I’ve been swimming eight times today,” he boasts, shaking his soaking hair.
“I thought you didn’t have to wear a life jacket this year?”
“It’s Sarah’s.” He drops the drenched life jacket on my legs and runs to the other side of the island to give mom a big wet hug.
After dinner we sit by the campfire. I put on my red Roots sweatshirt and sit next to Uncle Ernest. His fingers are yellow from rolling tobacco. I like how he talks out the side of his mouth.
Uncle Bruce stirs coffee in a beat-up black pot. A cloud of tanning oil, beer, cake, smoke, and Folgers coffee dances just over our heads.
Chantell giggles at Colin when he makes a funny face. Mom chats with Aunt Bernice about the time dad ironed the living room sheers. Andi and Sarah snuggle up under Aunt Estelle’s beach towel whispering sisterly secrets. Uncle John shoves another log onto the fire. Everyone glows from family picnic magic.
Grandpa and Grandma are here too. Even though I can’t see them I know it. Grandpa died in 1975, the year I was born. Grandma died in 1979. Mom had lost both her parents before she turned twenty-five.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Uncle Bruce, and mom were smart. They decided to meet on a picnic island on Georgian Bay each summer. They wanted to keep close. They wanted to stay connected to the landscape of their childhood.
Our family history seeped into the moss and granite, whispered through the needles of the lonely spruces.
As dusk begins everyone talks at once. The juicy blend of hushed tones, deep belly laughs, and animated chimes weave and flourish in the spaces between us.
Aunt Bernice sits on a green plaid lawn chair. She crosses her long slender legs. “Yes, our only entertainment—”
“How did you get there?” Aunt Pat hoots.
“What?—That dance hall out on Salem’s island?” Uncle Bruce asks.
“Your father hated it. Muriel and Ernest came sometimes. Me, I danced for hours.” Aunt Bernice waltzes. “One two three, one two three…” She freezes.
“Would you look at that!” Aunt Muriel squishes out her cigarette between her loafer and the rock. Everyone turns.
Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live glides over the hill.
I recognize him instantly as my dad. He wears a black gown with a white collar, large brown sunglasses, and mom’s witch hat without the peak.
“How did a priest get all the way out here?” Aunt Bernice blinks.
“Anda how did you-a come to be all the way outta here? Sucha beee-a-uuutiful lady!”
“Are you here to see me?”
Father Sarducci’s head bobs. He traces his mustache with a finger. “Iva come with a verrrrrrr-y special message from the Pope. La Papa.”
Aunt Estelle rests her hand on Aunt Bernice’s shoulder. “Imagine! A priest!”
“In seventy years, I’ve never seen a priest out in the bay. He must’ve walked on water…” Aunt Bernice gasps.
“Ahhh..yes. Iva gotta some miracles to use onca in a while.”
The colour drains from Aunt Bernice’s face. Tears fill her eyes. She squeezes Aunt Estelle’s arm.
“It’s just me, Aunt Bernice. Dave.” Dad takes off the sunglasses and hat. Everyone laughs.
I’m assigned to the last boatload home. The hum from the motor on Evergreen’s floor mixed with the rocking of the waves make me tired. I sit at Auntie Ann’s feet wrapped in a large royal blue and yellow beach towel.
“There’s the lighthouse.” Auntie Ann pats my head.
I peer over the side of the boat at the red and white building, Gereaux Island Lighthouse. I imagine Grandpa climbing the ladder in the tower to change the oil in the lamp on a foggy night. And then I imagine Uncle Ernest and Aunt Bernice playing with giant turtles and waving at the passing oil tankers. I wish I grew up on a lighthouse too.
With the boats unloaded we settle into the warmth of the cottage. Outside, the black sky swallows the last bit of light.
We cram into the living room. Mom’s cousin Nancy passes out bright orange song booklets. The title page says ‘Lamondin Family Picnic, 1988.’
Uncle Ernest tunes his guitar. Aunt Estelle and Aunt Pat sip white wine by the woodstove. Mom laughs at something Uncle Bob says when he joins her on the couch. I lean on the grey stairs leading up to my bedroom in the loft. On the top step, Andi and Chantell flip through a songbook.
Toes tap. Hands clap. Together we sing “Green, Green Grass of Home,” grandpa’s favourite song.
When Dad was dragging his kayak away from the shore to store it at the end of the summer his foot twisted a bit on this rusty old metal piece hidden below some juniper branches. He said:
At first I thought it might be an old dock spike but was happy to see this was the metal component of what is known as a “peavey” log roller. I last saw one of these about 45 years ago at your mother’s home, your grandfather had one of these. He told me the name of this weird looking tool and explained it’s use. Grandpa’s had a stocky rounded hardwood handle about 5 feet long. So I attached the rusty metal part to a piece of pressure treated wood and have already used it a number of times to effortlessly roll and move logs at the shoreline.
Dad explained how this peavey log roller was from when the logging industry was in Britt/Byng Inlet. What a treasure for a piece of the area history hiding on our property! Byng Inlet had one of the largest sawmill operations in Canada in the late 1800s. During the logging days the population in Britt/Byng Inlet was larger than Sudbury at the time, with over 4000 people. There was even a theatre!
On my mother’s side, my ancestors were drawn to the area around 1860 from Penetanguishene likely for the work. On my father’s side, my ancestors came in the early 1900s and worked on the railway for CNN.
A few summers ago, Dad and I looked along the Magnetewan River and into Georgian Bay for rings and spikes that were used during the logging days. We found so many. It surprised me that I hadn’t noticed them before. Were the rings used to attach log booms? How did they decide which islands to attach these rings?
It’s the late 1970s in our downstairs Family Room. I’m a toddler standing in my playpen holding the rail with both hands. Using my head as a guide, my upper body moves up and down with the beat of a honky-tonk banjo tune. I’m watching my favourite show: Hee Haw.
It’s 1986 at the arena. My brother is at hockey practice. My red Sony Walkman is clipped to my hip so I can perform full dance routines in the downstairs change room area hallway. My moves are as large as my voice is loud. Now it’s all about Madonna. And Bon Jovi. Or Cyndi Lauper.
When I was young it was easy to embody music, to let the notes and lyrics into my body until they burst through dancing and singing. Children say yes to music. Children say yes to movement. Children say yes to looking and sounding ridiculous because it’s fun, because it’s worth it.
As a child it’s easy to dance like no one’s watching because it feels right to let the music in, to become the music. It feels right to say yes.
Now, I want my ideas to dance across the page. I want to write like no one is reading, to write just for the heck of it—not because it will lead somewhere, not to impress somebody. I want to write with my whole body, connecting intellect and emotion.
And I want to live like this too, spend more time giggling with joy, saying yes to play, and saying yes to fully being in the moment. How do you say yes to life? Yes to health? Yes to relationships? Yes to work? Yes to following your heart’s calling? When I look at these pictures of myself as a child, saying yes seems so simple.
Yes, Let’s is an improvisation game we often played when I taught Drama. The rule is simple. You must say yes. So if your partner says, “Let’s run around the room.”
You say, “Yes, let’s.”
The purpose is to take turns giving and receiving ideas—and to always say yes.
How would my writing change if I said “yes” more often to elements of my process?
Let’s write a blog. Yes, let’s.
Let’s show it another way. Yes, let’s.
Let’s listen to jazz. Yes, let’s.
Let’s change to blues. Yes, let’s.
Let’s dance Yes, let’s.
Let’s sing too. “Yes, let’s.”