As you all know, it seems like every year a new and improved programs comes out that will help kids become smarter, safer, calmer, happier, more focused, healthier and the list goes on and on. Almost all of these programs, theories and plans are done with the best of intentions to serve children, to make their lives better and to give them greater opportunity. Of course you want to do whatever needs to be done to help students, support students, give them the best chances of a great life and in general make their life better. I am finding though that as beneficial as all of these programs can be, how you use them and the intention behind them make a major difference. Are you meeting students where they are, with permission to be there, and presenting yourself as someone who holds tools that they can harness for support? Or are you running around trying to fix everyone?
This became highlighted to me in my own personal experience these past months as my daily level of pain and discomfort became somewhat intolerable. It was really interesting to see how other people responded to me and my pain, although all were genuinely concerned, I started to notice two categories. The first category was of people who empathized with my pain and would either acknowledge their awareness despite inability to help or they would share a bit of their experience with a similar pain and maybe some actionable steps. They held space for me to be in my space, but let me know that I was seen and made it clear that I was supported. This felt unbelievably good and I found that the tips that came from these people were most helpful. The second group was of people who cared just as much for me and my pain and provided similar responses however I started to notice my resistance to them and, with reflection, realized one major difference, this second group's well wishes, assessments and offers all came from their own discomfort with my pain and more importantly not being able to fix my pain.
This was an eye-opener for me, because I felt guilty about my resistance to certain people trying to help me, but I started to pick up on when people were trying to help me, whether with words or actions, because of their own need to be a care taker. Over time I had become comfortable with my pain, I mean, physically I never became comfortable, but mentally I did. My pain was apart of my daily existence and as challenging as it was, I was no longer wasting my time fighting it or wishing it away. It was me now, and that was as OK as it was going to get. But other people were not OK with that. When I was clearly in pain I noticed how uncomfortable other people were to see that, not for me, but for themselves because they needed to help me and they couldn't. They couldn't just hold space for me to be in my pain, like the first category did. Again, the difference between the two were hardly noticeable, because in many cases the actions were the same, it was the intention that was different. Are you offering me help for myself or for yourself? For those of you who are trained care-givers, it is literal torture to watch someone be unwell and not be able to do anything for them. But here is the thing: this is life and even if you do something for them you are not changing their experience, if anything you're just adding more for them to do because now they feel like they need to appease you as well.
You spend your days with so many students who are struggling or suffering in some capacity, short-term or long-term, big or small. It's not easy to sit back and watch all of this unfold, but no one is asking you to do nothing, just as no one is expecting you to do everything. Everyone lives with pain, because pain is an equal part of life, just as joy is. You cannot take away someone's pain, nor should you. Being there for others, seeing them and their experience, listening to them and their stories, offering up anything that might be asked for and most importantly encouragement that there is more out there for them, when the time is right.
You don't achieve any of this by doing, you achieve it by being. Doing inevitably comes out as an attempt to fix, which insinuates that where you are is wrong, which fights reality. Doing insinuates that you shouldn't be where you are, that your pain is bad, that things are wrong- none of this instills someone with peace or safety or support. Being, on the other hand, is a bringing forth of your best self so that people can enjoy your peace, wisdom, sense of humor, etc. Being allows people to continue to be themselves, wherever they are, but allows them to enjoy some reprieve. Being insinuates that where you are is good, because it is exactly where you are and there is no where else you can be right now, but that doesn't mean you can't find a reason to smile or relax, even just for this moment. Doing requires action and effort. Being requires presence and awareness of your best self.
You tend to "do" for a few reasons. First is because you are a well-trained care-giver and you have been conditioned to believe that your worth is based on what you do for others, rather than your wit and wisdom. Second is that even the best of you tend to "do" when you feel insecure about what's going on, when you feel like just being yourself isn't enough. This happens when things are really bad or when they get really personal, for example you might be really good at "being" until it is your child who is going through a traumatic situation. That being said, a large step in shifting from "doing" to "being" is confidence. It is an awareness that you are enough, you are all that you can be and anything beyond that is beyond your control in this moment and thus not worth apologizing for.
This level of confidence is a second hand effect of a strong relationship with oneself. It comes after spending a whole lot (months, but really years) of time quietly taking it all in, without judgment to blur the view. It is through this chronic self awareness that you get to know exactly who you are and who you are not, your best self and your after-one-of-those-days self. And as you get to see all of this, you notice all of this in others and you notice that by our powers combined we are able to cover all the holes and needs, so you can stop trying to do all of that yourself. Eventually, you become more comfortable with not being everything and feel better about just being you. No need to apologize for who you're not, because you have come to value your lovely piece of the puzzle. It is when all of this is achieved that you can show up for someone not trying to fix anything for them, but to just be with them and be totally uncomfortably comfortable with not doing anything for them other than being you and sharing your own recipe of support. You show up bearing the gifts of You, trusting that they will find their own value to the beholder. You show up being yourself and allowing the other person to take what they need and nothing more. After all those months I didn't need yet another "best thing to do for back pain", but a good meme or a story about yourself always made me feel better.
Fortunately, our current education system (which includes consultants and outside companies) are focused on doing whatever needs to be done to support children's health, wellness and education. Unfortunately, this has resulted in constantly telling educators what they need to do and who they need to be for their kids to succeed... which is not helping instill confidence in educators. Of course it's going to be hard to just be there for a child if you have been trained in a multitude of ways on how you can help that child. No, I am absolutely not saying that these trainings are bad, nor am I saying that you should do nothing. What I am saying is, don't think that being there with the child, listening to them, creating a safe space for them is nothing.
I began shifting my working-model out of the classroom because of two reasons. First, I don't believe in cut-out programs which focus on molding teachers into who they need to be and what they need to do to support the student how I see fit (basically going against everything I just said). I strongly believe that you cannot serve children by depleting teachers with more tasks to complete, more things to do and more masks to wear. Second, because I believe that students thrive in healthy, safe, compassionate classrooms and those classrooms are created by healthy, self-aware, compassionate, confident educators. So please, don't think that feeling more grounded, becoming a better listener and being less easily disregulated is a small and selfish accomplishment for yourself, because I promise you that it is this which is going to make a world of difference in your classroom and for your students.
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.