Words for a New Year

As I walked my dog Max through Crescent Park, I was moved by the warmth and smiles I received from strangers as they passed by saying, “Happy New Year!” “Happy New Year!” For every individual who has spoken or heard this, I wonder what message or memory is attached to these three simple words?

For myself, the phrase “Happy New Year” signifies a time for reflection and a time for planning; a time to look back over the past year and look forward to the coming one. It signifies a new year of hope and opportunities; opportunities to heal from tragedies and disappointments, to forget worries and mistakes, and to move forward; opportunities to start new goals, or refocus on old ones, and, most importantly, opportunities to choose to be happy.

IMG_3546-3Happy New Year! How many times have these three words been shared since the clock struck midnight on January 1st? By now we are well into the New Year, and even so, I am certain that these three words continue to be shared by many well-wishers all over the world. And so here I am, wishing all my colleagues, friends, and family, a Happy New Year!

This September I became a blogger and over the holiday break, I have enjoyed reading other blogs. The New Year seems to invite bloggers to reflect on past years and to make plans for the New Year. There also seems to be a blogging tradition of choosing one word that captures or becomes an overarching theme for the New Year. Instead of making New Year resolutions, or a long list of goals, the practice of choosing a single word to focus on every day, all year long, is something new to me. To choose one word to sum up how you want to live and be, one word that guides your actions and decisions through out the year is no easy task. Out of so many possibilities, the choosing of one perfect word is indeed a formidable task. Chosen words such as “compassion”, “joy”, “relationship”, “patience”, “courage”, “kindness”, and “contribution”, have been shared and written about; all wonderful words that I could see myself choosing; however, as I write and think about the many single words that resonate with me, I keep returning to three word phrases instead.

Like the single phrase “Happy New Year”, three other phrases come to mind that have important messages and memories attached to them. Not only do these three phrases remind me of three amazing mentors and educators that I have had the privilege to work with, but these phrases have guided my work with students and continue to do so; they reflect my beliefs and values as an educator: “collect before direct”, “tell me more” and “slow to grow”.

“Collect before direct”

The most important gift I can give a child is an invitation to exist in my presence, to be wanted, to belong, to be significant, to be seen, to matter. Building attachments is the first priority of all development. One of my beliefs as a teacher is that learning is promoted when children are prized and cared about. Gordon Neufeld, a developmentalist psychologist and author of the book Hold on to Your Kids, uses the word “collecting” as a simple yet powerful, way to build attachments with our students.

As a classroom teacher, every morning I went through an “attachment ritual”.   As children arrived they would be invited in. Even if they arrived early, I would be ready to open the door and welcome them in.   As every child entered the room, I would take the time to greet each child by name, bending down to their level so I was able to collect their eyes, a smile, and a nod. I would offer a kind word, a comment, making a connection, sharing an observation, asking a question. This simple, yet incredibly powerful action, helped me earn their trust and affection and their desire to please and to be taught.   I continue to remind myself to always, “collect before I direct”.

“Tell me more”

Classrooms need to be places where children’s voices are heard. If students are to actively be engaged in the process of thinking, we need to invite their ideas. Explaining, telling, and showing how, these traditional didactic modes of teaching need to be limited. Another belief I have about teaching and learning is that a teacher’s interactions are key to encouraging students to think more deeply. Selma Wassermann, friend, mentor, author and Professor Emerita, Simon Fraser University, often spoke of the power of the three little words, “Tell me more”, a simple open invitation for students to express their ideas and move to clarify and analyze their thinking.

I have taught in classrooms where learners, young and old, would have been happier to be directed and told what to do. It’s often easier to be told then to have to think and work things out for yourself, especially if that is what you have been doing throughout your school years. Helping children become confident, self-directed, independent thinkers isn’t always easy; it takes patience and time to develop.

“Slow to grow”

My last three word phrase is a gentle reminder that good things take time to develop. I first heard this phrase used by David Booth, author and Professor Emerita, University of Toronto.

I often stop and find myself saying this phrase over and over again, especially when I find myself frustrated, or struggling – it takes a lot of “slow to grow”. Teachers, for all kinds of reasons (caring too much, controlling too much) jump in too fast to fill in the silent spaces, to tell, or to give the answer instead of waiting. We are often too quick to judge, to make assumptions, or we simply shut down concluding that “it” won’t work or happen. I remember listening carefully as David Booth spoke to a room full of teachers. He asked us, “Do you have enough courage to give the time to have the children grow and change?” He paused long enough for us to appreciate his modeling of “wait time”. And then added, “It takes a lot of slow to grow. Have the faith to wait and not give them the answer.”

Throughout my day, I have to remind myself, whether working with students or colleagues, that it takes a lot of slow to grow. We need to give not only our learners, but also ourselves, time; time to change, to learn, and to make a difference.


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