What I know for sure is that we all have a remarkable human capacity to bounce back – to be resilient. This capacity cannot be taught; it cannot be forced. It needs to develop. We need to slow down and feel if we are to grow and learn.
A while back I was invited to participate in a Discovery Education Ignite evening. If you are not familiar with the “ignite” format, it is a presentation format that’s simple yet challenging. Each presenter gets 5 minutes and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. The speaker must tell his or her story as the slides advance quickly, keeping to his or her script, staying focused, and getting his or her message to the audience. The overarching theme of the evening was to present an Ignite that began with this open-ended phrase:
“I used to . . . but now I . . .”
Preparing for this ignite gave me an opportunity to think about my journey as a teacher and administrator, and how my life experiences have impacted and shaped my values, my beliefs, and my priorities. Here is the Ignite I shared that evening.
I used to run, but now I dance . . .
That used to be me – my feet pounding the hard earth. I used to run; I never stopped. I was in control and focused on the race – to be the best, to be first, to keep on top of all the demands of a busy schedule. Bring it on – no race was too big.
I think I also ran so no one would notice I didn’t have all the answers. I ran fast; if I stopped someone just might find out I really wasn’t who they thought I was. I kept running – to the next task, the next project.
I kept running even when I suspected there might be a better way. I would pick myself up. Convince myself – you can do it! I didn’t know how tired I was. How stressed I was. I had no time. And the truth was, no one even noticed I wasn’t getting to the end of the race.
And then I had to stop. I came up against something I could not change. Ten years ago, I lost three amazing loved ones, my mom, one of my sisters, and a brother-in-law. Through the grief and the incredible sadness, I came through the other side. I survived and I knew I would be okay.
And now I dance. I am not always perfect. I trip. I may not know the steps. I make them up; I get frustrated sometimes. My mad turns to sad. I let go. I rest. I go on. I have learned resilience – to get back up and dance again.
I try not to worry about what others think. I try not to worry about being left behind or not being part of the race. Sometimes I dance slow, sometimes, crazy-like. I dance old familiar dances, and some times I learn new ones. I no longer think the world will fall apart if I don’t dance the right way.
What I know for sure is that we all have a remarkable human capacity to bounce back – to be resilient. This capacity cannot be taught; it cannot be forced. No pill can deliver it. It needs to develop. We need to slow down and feel if we are to grow and learn.
I have lived in classrooms for 35 years. I have learned to slow down and focus on our hearts. Too often teachers push and demand. We drug kids so they can’t show their challenging emotions. We schedule their lives so they won’t be bored, instead of helping them learn to adapt when they come up against something they cannot change.
A resilient child is a child who can grow in the face of adversity. I need to help them find their tears, to soften their hearts. Before you can feel full, you need to feel empty. Tears are symbols of recovery, of resilience.
All students, young and old, need to be helped to find their own dances. Some need to follow my steps in the beginning, to be gently guided. Others come dancing, full on, and all they need is to be loved. Our students need to feel safe so when they fall, they can pick themselves up and fly again.
Unless we can feel sadness for the things that do not work in life, we lose our ability to feel fulfilled with the things that do work. As I dance, I still struggle. I still face challenges. Things get in my way, but I am able to stop and face them. No obstacle it too big.
We need to look for the spaces between the buildings. We don’t always need to focus on the obstacles. We cannot move the buildings. I have learned to look for the spaces, and make them beautiful. These are the places to dance, to rest, and to play.
There is a wonderful message in Maurice Sendak’s picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. Max dances through the jungle. He tames the Wild Things and crowns himself their king and in the end he goes back to where someone loves him best. We all have monsters. In play we can safely face them, and learn how to tame them.
True play is not urgent. It is not demanding. There is no race. No one wins and no one loses. Through true play, we can learn to laugh, and dance, and deal with the hard stuff. Play supports our journey to get to where we need to get. Like the bubbles, life is fragile. I know this too well.
Life is not easy. I know I will face many more challenges. But I am comforted by the promise of spring – knowing that spring always follows winter. I will come through to the other side and I know I will be okay. I am resilient. I will get up and dance again.
But I do not have to dance alone. I am supported and cared for by others who protect my heart, and accept me for who I am. I have learned that it is the people who make a difference, not the shiny ideas, not finishing first and getting to the end of the race.
As a teacher, a principal, a colleague, a friend, I need to build and protect caring relationships. Each day I need to come along side, to send that message, that you matter and you can exist in my presence just the way you are. I am no longer racing; I have the time and the strength to do this important work.
I can not end this story without sharing some scientific research. Did you know scientists at Brighton University in the UK discovered dancing burns more calories per hour than running? Just think, dancing could actually be more beneficial to our waistlines. I need to remember to bring humour and laughter into our journeys.
I know it’s okay to stop running. No one will get hurt. Nothing will be lost. To tell the truth, I get exhausted just thinking about running. I know there will be days when I am tempted to get back in the race and run. That’s okay. I can choose to dance fast, and wild, or simply slow, or all by myself. It’s all good.
I used to run, but now I dance!