Holding #SOL2021

I started this Tuesday and didn’t finish on time. I’m posting it late and hope you will not deduct marks.

This is the last Tuesday of 2021 – the last Slice of Life for 2021. This is the place I’ve chosen to write and think about holding what I’ve learned as 2021 becomes 2022.

But, I am still in the muck of the school year, and I’m not sure how to unearth it.

I was listening to Elizabeth Lesser this morning as she discussed her path to mysticism, the discovery that mystery is essentially the spirit of everything. This comforting thought crumbled as I began this final piece of writing intended to be something worth holding. I’d like to be writing with the creative abandon which comes though living the mystery, but I’m not – not in this moment, or this week. Lesser says that she uses writing to figure out what she thinks. I will try to do the same here. Because it’s time for me to hold and release – both actions necessary as one year gives way to another.

A glancing memory from my post graduation job visited me. At the time, I was working for a government agency and office talk was critical, sarcastic, and condescending about many of the clients we served. As painful as this thought is now, I must claim my part despite being somewhat silently alarmed and privately discouraged. I did not, at that time, believe that I could influence or change that culture. Now, many years later, the complexities of school culture and the ways that these differ from place to place fascinate me. I will no longer hold the belief that school culture is something apart from me; instead, I am a part and have a role.

But, maybe this role, or this way of holding myself accountable is what changes for me in 2022. I bought myself Kristin Neff’s latest book, Fierce Self-Compassion: how women can harness kindness to speak up, claim their power, and thrive. I am digging through it slowly allowing space to sift and sort ideas waiting for transformation. But, I know it often doesn’t work this way, so instead I’ll keep digging for the practices and actions worth holding.

It wasn’t until Thursday morning when this metaphor of “holding” returned. In the morning, my mother and I exchanged a few texts. I shared concerns about the return to school plans, the fact that one of my students tested positive for COVID before the break, and I had to get tested, and then had to wait through a week of anxiety-filled fear of infecting my daughter who is disabled, and fear of infecting my 96-year-old father who just recovered from pneumonia, and evidently there is a public push for in person teaching – in four days. She said, “I feel like the government will change in June”. I said, “ I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for two and a half years.”

I’d already been thinking about some beautiful lines from “Holding Back the Years” and an article about the singer, Mick Hucknall, who was abandoned by his mother as a child. The song pays homage to that memory. “Yes”, I thought and wondered what memories from teaching I can hold. Then, “Oh no. If I’m holding my breath, have I actually abandoned myself. Damn. Maybe that’s it.”

Valarie Kaur

Valerie Kaur says that “Healing is the long journey of returning to one’s body.” In this interview she shares the Sikh wisdom of the sage-warrior; the warrior who fights and the sage who loves – she asks, “How do we hold both?”

Kaur grabs my imagination with her birthing metaphor and the mystery returns. The midwife says, “push and breathe”. There is a surrender in the breath, a giving in to being here now, and being enraptured by it; then in taking a deep breath and rolling up our sleeves to do the work, to ask “what is my role to make the world a more just place for us all”?

That is all I can hold for now; breathe and push into 2022.

Reviewing #SOL2021

Students wrote reviews today. Some wrote on movies or concerts, some wrote on last night’s dinner or their last date. Laughter filled the room and it seemed like few words landed on the page that day, but I wasn’t worried; they enjoyed the readings and the ideas and the conversation. I didn’t need them to “produce” anything. And I wondered if this is one gap that I’m missing in conceptualizing “engagement” and “measures”. How do you plot the value of an experience with a number? What are the success criteria for “engagement” and are these reliable?

They had just read the latest viral food review in small groups (Bros., Leece: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever). I could tell where they were in the reading of this article. I didn’t need to see eyes on the screen scrolling the long essay. I could tell simply and solely based on the amount of laughter or disgust being audibly expressed, and their hollers were infectious. I could see curiosity pique in students who were not actively engaged or reading, could see the quick glance over at the group doubled-over in laughter, pointing at their screens. I watched as some shifted from texting or scrolling on phones to opening tablets and laptops. Some groups shared reading aloud while others sat silently reading alone. Shared reading lead to shared engagement and enjoyment. And this shared joy led to more understanding when we actually analysed the review – which is actually an essay – but I didn’t tell them that, until they were done.

Framing the learning is often complicated. I notice when students feel that something “doesn’t count”, they often opt out, check out, disengage, and check more relevant information on their phones. If I had said “we are reading an essay”, would there be sighs, maybe a few groans, some bodies sliding from upright to the classic backward leaning slouch? Framing the reading as a “recent viral restaurant review” brought contemporary relevance. This is happening in their world and they wanted to know. Even more so when they saw joy in their peers.

Scar Tissue #SOL2021

I saw this really interesting post on Twitter by Mike Johnston. He uses this technique for reflecting on learning from mistakes. He called it the “scar tissue learning scoreboard”.

After a test/project we practice “scar tissue learning” which means that we search for mistakes & compete to see how much learning we can add by fixing & justifying the mistakes made right. I lost. We only found 4 mistakes that I made in correction that I could learn from. Best.

Mike, the teacher, positions himself in competition with the students to see how many mistakes he learned from an activity or test with the hope that they find more of their own. My imagination exploded with the sheer simplicity yet depth and potentiality of this task.

The teacher joins the student in the learning as one capable of mistakes, but this isn’t the only part of this that ignited me.

Like many of the “metaphors we live by“, I wonder if this one holds the potential to reframe student beliefs in a broader sense beyond the classroom. Like wounds as necessary for growth, as meaningful.

In this short Ted Talk, Robert Bohat extrapolates from results of cancer patients and piano players asking “could we use metaphor to help students at school?”

He goes on to explore the “the divine transfer metaphor” and wonders if a math teacher were to shift the language of questions from “who needs help?” to “who needs an inspiration?”

Last week, I wrote these words during our scheduled writing time in class:

Moving through the day, dropping thoughts

losing focus, missing



I took a very hard fall about a month ago. While running after school, I tripped over what I now know is a tree root, brown like the earth it emerged from. Falling forward on the bike path which traversed the river, I had to crunch my body into a ball to avoid hitting the park bench face first. I was winded. And in shock when a woman who witnessed this frantically searched her purse for a band aid. She could see the entire knee gaping out of the fresh tear in my winter running pants and I needed her to leave. Through strained tears, I reassured her that I was fine.

I knew in that moment that the fall was not just physical. And that giving in to the feeling was dangerous; unleashing any quantum of repressed pain might entirely undo me.

So I analysed instead: How does the knee work now? I can run. How’s the hands? Pull out the shards of dirt and gravel. Oh look! That rip means I really do need new running pants, Yay! But that fall woke me up to metaphorical running from rather than running to.

Returning to the place where this intersects with my students reminds me that I can use metaphor and narrative to shape experiences. Robert Bohat points out that these metaphors can empower students in their learning. We need to work with them to figure out individually, “which ones are the most empowering metaphors?”

I find my metaphors through introspection, constantly working through thinking and writing to reframe the narrative of each experience. There is no “plug and play” learning that will guide me or my students through this. There is only scar tissue and the stories I tell myself about the wounds.