Your Gift

There was a young man in a special ed class. He couldn’t write much. He couldn’t speak well. He couldn’t think clearly. And although he was cared for by the school staff, he wasn’t seen as emerging, as a work in progress. He was a static reality in the eyes of many. “Oh yeah, I know Trevor. He’s …” (Choose your label)

Trevor wasn’t seen. Nobody thought to look for what his gift might be.

What would his life be like if this curriculum was gift-based, if we were able to see the gift in each of our children, and taught them around their gifts?

I’m reading a novel to the Grade 6 kids. They sit there in rows of rectangles on my laptop screen. At least I get to see them. The novel is The Last Leopard, the third in a series that follows the adventures of two 11-year-olds in South Africa: Martine and Ben. Over the first three books, Martine has been approached by an elusive white giraffe, and allowed to ride him – a privilege no other human being has been offered. She healed a beached dolphin, who lay on the sand close to death. She was pinned down and cut by a leopard, who then looked at her with curiosity, let her up, and wandered off into the bush. Martine’s obvious gift is her communion with animals, but it’s not that simple. She’s also astonishingly brave in the face of danger.

I asked the kids to look inside and see what gift resided there. Few of them were willing to volunteer a response. Was it a question they had never heard? One fellow said he could move his mouth in a weird way. I asked him for more. I asked him for deeper, but he stopped there. Fair enough. Another boy said he was a really good cook, and I visualized his future creations making lots of people happy.

I’ll keep asking the question as we watch Martine weave her magic. The light will shine on each of these online children. I know that much will be revealed.

I Wish My Teacher Knew

I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids  (Kyle Schwartz)

I wish my teacher knew that I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework

I wish my teacher knew that my mom doesn’t sign my reading log because she can’t read

I wish my teacher knew that after my mom got diagnosed with cancer I’ve been without a home three different times this year

I wish my teacher knew that my dad works two jobs and I don’t see him hardly at all

I wish my teacher knew that my little brother gets scared and I get worried when he wakes me every night

I wish my teacher knew that I love animals and would do anything for my animals.  I would love to work at the SPCA so I could help animals get adopted

I wish my teacher knew that I’m smarter than she thinks

***

Responses to other teachers:

Most of the time when I’m kind of talkative, something has happened and I want to either push it away or find out more

I really don’t like reading in public because I’m still learning English and I always mispronounce words

I really get nervous during tests

I sometimes don’t answer questions because I’m afraid I’ll get the answer wrong and embarrass myself

I’m a Boy Scout

I don’t like writing but I love to learn and solve puzzles

I have Tourette Syndrome

I have Asperger’s

Sometimes I give up

I love to help out

I seem happy but really I put on a fake face and I’m sad.  I cry all the time

Sometimes my homework isn’t turned in the best because I do it with my four siblings yelling in the background

I have a brother who would have been 14 if he were alive.  I miss him

I have trouble paying attention.  I don’t sleep very well and I get scared when I talk in front of everyone

I have Asperger Syndrome.  My brain goes tick while others go tock.  I’m different and I wish my teachers knew.  I want to meet someone like me.  I would love it

I don’t have a friend to play with me

 

Skye and Dad

Sometimes CNN pulls my heart out and leaves it lying on the floor.

Conrad Buchanan was a 39-year-old DJ in Florida.  He died from the coronavirus last week.  On March 14, he woke up unwell.  Soon his wife Nicole tried to get him tested but her request was turned down. Conrad was too young and didn’t have any underlying medical conditions.

Days later Conrad was having trouble breathing.  “The 22nd was when I brought him to the hospital.  I never saw him again.”  Staff intubated him (inserted a breathing tube into his airway so a ventilator could push air into his lungs).  Since the hospital was on lockdown, Nicole wasn’t allowed to enter the building.  “I never got to say ‘I love you.'”

Skye is Nicole and Conrad’s daughter.  She loves ballet.  She loves her dad.  “He would do dances with me.”  Conrad even showed up for a “daddy-daughter thing” at the ballet school.  “It was funny because he could perform in front of like millions of people when he DJ’d, but when he danced … it wasn’t the best.”

“We just overall shared everything.  He brought me to school.  He brought me to ballet.  He was my everything.”

Interviewer:  “Skye, give us one last thought on how you want us all to think of your father.”

“I thought he was pretty cool.  I think even if people don’t know him, he brightened up everyone’s day.  Just think of him dearly, you know.  Find your rhythm in life.  Listen to the beat.  Dance and express yourself in order to connect with people from all walks of life.”

Thank you, Skye.

 

 

 

Chilling

At the back of the school there’s a bench. It’s a perfect spot to place an adult bum. This morning before the bell rang, the kids were told “tarmac only” since the grassed part of the yard was oozing with mud from the recent rain. So the asphalt was crammed with kids.

I took off my mitt, wiped off a layer of water, and sat down. Some kids seemed revolted by this act, as it would surely result in wet rear end syndrome. Inside this particular adult, I chuckled about how so many athletic kids flinched at the thought of water invasion. Three children did join me on the bench, no doubt safe in the knowledge that what becomes wet will later become dry.

For five minutes, we seated folks and a few standing ones talked about I don’t remember what. All I know is that it was silly.

A Grade 1 girl came up to me. “Please sing the song.” It took me a few seconds but I finally figured out what she wanted … for me to recite Twas The Night Before Christmas, just as I had done for the classes in December.

I looked her in the eyes and solemnly shared “Oh, I forget how to do that. Every year I have to study the song before saying it to you.”

(A very turned down mouth from the little one)

I leaned towards her … and started blasting out the fast version of Twas. Her eyes went wide and the other kids held on for the ride. I do believe a fine time was had by all. I was a mite rusty but that didn’t matter. It actually made my reciting more fun.

A few minutes later I engaged in a staring contest with the same young lady and two of her friends. I lost every time. I guess old folks blink a lot.

Then the bell. From Grade 1 to Grade 6, the kids tootled off to one of three entrances. I lingered a bit on the smooth wood and thanked my lucky stars for the privilege of hanging around open eyes, easy laughs, and emerging hearts.

Large Family

I like being on FaceBook. I like watching movies on Disney Plus. Last week, I saw a way to unite the two … naturally the Disney Plus Facebook page.

I’m already on the Evolutionary Collective page. There are about one hundred folks doing this work (EC Core and EC Global – and I realize that most of you don’t know what that means. Another time.)

My second group appears to have 109,000 members. That’s a step up, at least in quantity. As I lay in bed last night, I asked myself what it means that I’m a part of something so immense. I noticed that lots of folks have posted, talking about some movie or asking questions of the multitudes. So … why not me? I’m good at asking questions.

I’m looking for movies on Disney Plus that portray kids as smart, kind and brave human beings. What do you suggest?

In the eighteen hours that followed, I’ve received about seventy responses. I wonder where in the world all those people live. I thank them all for making me real in the Disney universe and for extending a helping hand.

The first response I read was this:

That’s rather specific. I’m curious why. Anyways, luckily I can help. Big Hero 6, Meet the Robinsons and The Incredibles come to mind.

I volunteer in a Grade 6 class. I want to tell them “Go watch this”.

I answered a few more:

Iron Will. 17-year-old saves his family’s farm and gets the money for the college he was accepted into by racing and winning a sled dog race. Based on a true story. Highly recommend and don’t forget the tissues.

Thanks. The kids I volunteer with would have their eyes glued on a young person brimming with determination and love.

I adored the new Timothy Failure movie. Don’t judge the movie by its title lol, but it’s such a heart toucher. Had me in tears before the movie was even half over.

These kids need a heart toucher or two. Thank you.

Big Hero 6, Meet the Robinsons. And I don’t think it’s on Disney Plus but Shazam was pretty cool … kids (in their adult bodies but still kids) saving people … I loved it.

Thanks. I’ll find Shazam.

There is a short film Float … my daughter found it and habitually watches it every morning. Me being a teacher, I naturally cried, but she adores it and I think it’s very powerful in its message.

Perfect. Maybe the teacher will let me show it in class, especially since it’s short.

:::

I just watched Float. Breakthrough! I’ll ask the teacher if the Grade 6’s can watch it.

Holes. That’s if you want something more realistic. It’s about a group of kids at a prison camp and focuses on the character Stanley Yelnats the Third.

Realistic is good. Thank you.

:::

I just watched the trailer. There’s some huge power in that young boy.

I’m glad it grabbed your attention. I read the book in Grade 3 and in Grade 5 or 6 it came out. I was really impressed.

***

Mulan, Meet the Robinsons, Holes, Moana, Big Hero 6, Coco, Tangled, Queen of Katwe, Pocohontas, Pete’s Dragon (new version), Remember the Titans, Cool Runnings, The Incredibles, The Color of Friendship, Chronicles of Narnia.

Wow … that’s a lot! Thank you.

Ruby Bridges is about the first African-American child to desegregate a school in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. It’s a great fit for African-American history month in the U.S.

Wow! I just watched the clip from Ruby Bridges. Immensely powerful. Thank you so much. I’ll find a way for the kids to see this.

***

So …

There’s a community of support here
Generous souls from who knows where
Just wanting to help

The kids thank you

I Want to Teach

The core of the Evolutionary Collective is the mutual awakening practice, in which two people simply look into each other’s eyes and answer the question “What are you experiencing?” To learn the practice, there’s a four-week course. I want to teach that course. I want to teach it to children and teens.

Are these folks too young to understand the deep connection that’s possible between two human beings? Some people think so. I don’t. Aren’t kids so concerned with fitting in with what their friends want that they naturally exclude some children? There’s no way that they’d embrace a philosophy of “no one left out”. My response is “Maybe … maybe not.”

Today in class the teacher allowed me to talk to the kids about this:

“What should you do if people tell you something is impossible but you feel that it’s what you’re called to do?”

“I want to teach kids to be outrageously happy.”

“Think of the classmate that you’re most distant from in this room. (Don’t look at them!) There’s a real possibility of making an emotional connection with this person. Not that you’d become best friends but that you might become comfortable with them.”

“It will take me some time to develop this course – maybe even a year or two. Who knows if parents would be supportive? Who knows if any of you would be interested?”

At that last question, three or four kids put up their hand. Hmm … Is this potential work with children part of my future?

I’m so pleased. I did it. I said to these young ones what I wanted to say. I put my vision out there, not knowing how I’ll accomplish it. I risked the possibility that they’d all return blank stares to me. A few did. Most did not.

There’s a meeting room in Belmont that would be a perfect space for us to meet. Maybe eight to ten kids. I see it. I see them sitting in pairs, doing the practice. I see them talking to the group about their thoughts and feelings in response.

Why not throw this commitment out into the universe?
Why not take steps to transform a dream into a reality?
Why not do something outrageous?

Loved

I pulled into the school’s parking lot this afternoon just before the bell rang to end lunch recess.  There’s a metal gate that separates cars from children.  Gathering my stuff, I slid out of Ruby and started for the office.

And then I looked to my right.  Six or seven Grade 5 and 6 kids were leaning over the gate towards me.  One girl yelled out something like “I know who you are!”  She meant that I was Bruce Kerr but in a deeper way these young ones do “get” me.  They know I love them. They know I challenge them to be full human beings.  They know I make them laugh.

I walked up to the throng and tried to absorb all the words that were flying my way.  Apparently a professional wrestler had been speaking at this morning’s assembly and the general consensus was that he was totally cool.  As the collective babbling reached a crescendo, I understood: They wanted to hang out with me.  They wanted me to know what they were thinking and feeling.  The lean was real.

After signing in at the office, I headed to the classroom.  Silent reading held sway for the first fifteen minutes.  I sat in a chair at the edge of the carpet and pulled up The Last Leopard on my phone, the closest kids only a few inches away.  Jeremy remarked that I had quite a crew around me.  He was right.  Children often come close.

Towards the end of the day, I put on my coat and told the students that I was heading to Toronto for a few days, especially to hear a marvelous choir from Los Angeles on Saturday evening.  One boy asked me whom I was going with.  “Me.”  A girl said “Take me.”  And then a young guy said the same.  Somehow I don’t think parents would be too interested in that prospect.

***

So what do I make of all this?  Humbly, I know that I impact many children.  I wish I had grandkids of my own.  But I don’t.  What’s left for me are the hours at school, in which there are minutes of connection between 11-year-olds and a 71-year-old.

What a blessing to reach young souls
What a blessing to contribute to the lives of others
What a blessing to walk the paths of the planet … with you

Reading to the Kids

Before I left for Senegal six weeks ago, I asked “Jeremy”, the Grade 5/6 teacher, if I could read to the kids when I came back. I love novels and all the characters, and changing my voice to suit each of them.

During silent reading time in class, I had roamed through the world of 11-year-old Martine Allen in Dolphin’s Song. What an adventure! I eventually figured out that this was the second book in a series about Martine and her friends. In Senegal, I downloaded the first book onto my phone and sped through it. The White Giraffe is aimed at kids but this loosey goosey adult was entranced by the action, the decisions the children made, and the ups and downs of relationship.

Yesterday Jeremy said yes to a young girl and an impossibly tall mammal. “Why not this afternoon, Bruce?” I glowed.

And so we began. I told the kids to put their lives between the pages. Are you like Martine, or Ben? Maybe not. What would you have done or said when X happened? Many of the young ones leaned forward, ready for an engrossing tale.

Lauren St. John knows how to grab her readers’ attention. How about this on page one?

The night Martine Allen turned eleven years old was the night her life changed absolutely, totally and completely and was never the same again.

Okay, Lauren. You’ve got me.

Martine was home in bed, dreaming:

It was a wild goose with a broken wing. But instead of helping it, some of the children began tormenting it. Martine, who could never bear to see any creature hurt, tried to stop them, but in the dream they turned on her instead. Next thing she knew she was on the ground crying and the injured bird was in her arms. Then something very peculiar happened. Her hands, holding the wild goose, heated up to the point where they were practically glowing and electricity crackled through her … Suddenly, the bird stirred. Martine opened her palms and it shook out its wings and flew into the violet sky.

Do dreams come true? Does this girl have the gift of healing? How can I possibly resist this story?

Our soon-to-be heroine was home in England. And the house was on fire! Lauren places us Canadians inside that choking bedroom:

Martine stood paralysed with terror. Far below her, the snow glinted mockingly in the darkness. Behind her, the room was filling with smoke and fumes and the fire was roaring like a factory furnace.

The snow was mocking Martine. Oh … what exquisite writing!

An ordinary writer might have said “Martine started crying.” But there’s no ordinary here:

Martine’s eyes streamed.

Even with all the panic, The White Giraffe isn’t emerging as a one-dimensional story about preteens. There’s already plenty to chew on about loving and being loved:

And Martine had smiled at him and thought how lovely her parents were even if they were sometimes a little weird.

Lauren has me. I hope she and I already have the kids. There are worlds to explore together.

Day Twenty-Nine: Rigueur/Douceur

The kids’ vests said it all: rigor and softness. We’ll ask the children to work hard and we’ll love them.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I visited the Toubacouta school for young students yesterday. I was there first so I walked through the gate into a courtyard with swings, hanging backpacks, and shoes lined up in neat rows outside of the main building. I sat on the step and wondered if this place would be a big part of my life someday.

When the women arrived, we walked towards the door and were greeted by a teacher in a lovely African dress, splashed with colour. She smiled radiantly and ushered us inside. Kids were spread over the floor in two groups, all sitting on big mats. Eyes widened and bodies started bouncing. Marie-paule and Lydia began talking to a few adults but I didn’t want to do that. I sat on a chair beside lots of young ones – about five years old. Within seconds, legs lifted bodies, hands extended to mine and personal space was just some weird Western concept.

Kids reached for my glasses. They rubbed my white arms. They sought my grey hair. I said no to some of it but mostly I loved the contact.

A shrill teacher voice in a language I didn’t understand jolted eyes wide and sent feet scurrying back to the mat. Tiny blackboards were distributed and students got to work with their chalk. Drawings, rather than letters, were created. Rags and a bucket of water were nearby for erasing and starting again. It reminded me a lot of the Grade 5/6 class back in Canada when the kids were doing Math.

The space was packed with noise … and movement. I smiled to think of teachers’ reactions to this situation back home. Every minute or two, a Senegalese teacher would yell at some kid. At least I think that was what was happening. It was rapid-fire words with definitely an edge to them.

Later in the morning, I got to attend a language class with about fifteen kids. French was the language being learned. It appeared that a new girl was joining the class and the lesson was about how to welcome her. As well as coaching the students about what words to use, the teacher had each child approach the new one, make eye contact and shake her hand. Very cool. When each student completed the task, the teacher smiled at them, drew them close and placed a kiss on the cheek. Yes, I was in another world, but it was still reminiscent of tender moments in Canadian classrooms.

During my time in Senegal, I’ve given away most of the gifts that the kids in Belmont had made or provided – bracelets, books, beach balls. What remained was four skipping ropes, donated by a creative young lady in Grade 6. Lydia advised me to give them to teachers at the school so everyone could enjoy them. Good plan. So I did.

At recess, one of the teachers took an orange rope outside. Soon she and a child were on either end and kids took turns jumping in. I should have suspected that they’d be naturals. Then Lydia grabbed a rope and demoed solitary skipping. Woh! Small eyes followed the bouncing human.

***

Lots of young faces
A few old faces
Faces

Day Seven: Nima

What can give you a true sense of Senegal? I have many moments to choose from yesterday but my time with Nima was the best.

She’s a four-year-old girl, the daughter of my friends Ice Tea (Moustafa) and Fatou. As I arrived around midnight a day ago, she was sleepily there to greet Jo and me. At the gate, Jo picked her up and said “She’s grown so much!” I looked over to see two eyes shining in the darkness. Soon she was asleep, and we adults joined in conversation. But those eyes remained in me.

Yesterday morning, it was Nima again, finding me from across the room. She wore a pink t-shirt and her hair fell in countless braids. What was going on that I had trouble maintaining normal conversation with the tall people? There was a power here, in a tiny package, that reached over to me. How we can affect each other.

Later she sat in the next chair and her smile shone. There was Beatles music in the background and I began drumming on the wooden arm of my seat. Nima did the same, and soon we had a beat going that would have made Ringo proud … a Senegalese kid and a Canadian forty-year-old giving ‘er in the percussion section of the orchestra.

As Nima drummed, she stuck out her tongue. And I realized that I’d never really noticed tongues before. Hers was so pink against the black of her skin.

The beat went on and so did we. I plopped my hand on hers briefly. She returned the favour, and soon we were trying to escape each other’s touches from above. And still we drummed, now to the songs of Neil Young. We laughed.

I don’t believe that Nima knows any English, and my French is slowly moving from marginal to moderate. No matter. We were rejoicing in the melodies of life.

Later in the day, we had visitors. Two young boys crammed a chair with Nima. It was her fourth birthday. Conversations in French bounced across the room. And the song with “anniversaire” in the lyrics burst out. Happy Birthday, dear little one. The song morphed to something else and the kids started dancing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up my phone and started videoing. I wonder if I can send it to you. Let’s try:

Une grande célébration! Parfait pour tous les gens.

Perfect for us all