“We must teach a child to be calm and how to enjoy it” ~Dr. Stuart Shanker
I had to begin with Brene Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” in rewriting the restorative practices training (from an American model- that is tool based and grounded in restorative justice -to a Canadian model with links to Ontario Policy and grounded in research in connection, well-being, and self-regulation). I had to begin here because as Louis Cozolino champions in The Social Neuroscience of Education:
While teachers may focus on what they are teaching, evolutionary history and current neuroscience suggest that it is who they are and the emotional environment in the classroom they are able to create that are the fundamental regulators of neuroplasticity. Secure relationships not only trigger brain growth, but also serve emotional regulation that enhances learning (Cozolino, 2013, 17).
Education demands connection, but connection demands vulnerability. If this is the case-and I am certain it is-then what does this mean for the field of education?
What this means is that we as teachers must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We must move away from the very comfortable and safe world of prediction and control and “lean into the discomfort” of being human. Authentically human. We must allow ourselves to make mistakes. We must allow ourselves to be seen. We must love with our whole heart regardless of the outcome. We must believe that we are enough.
This is quite the contrary to what we experience however. We, as educators, live in a world of prediction and control; at times, a world of high stakes prediction and control. As a result, if a student fails or misbehaves, many of us either blame ourselves or feel blamed by the institution that commands us. Or, conversely, some blame them-the students, parents, the institution, etc.
We also tend to compare ourselves to other teachers. Many times I have heard, with worry or with indignation, “What do you do…Well I do this…What do you do….Well I do this”. I feel so badly for those teachers whose eyes are always darting around the room trying to ascertain what others are doing that they might not be. And, I get so angered by the narcissistic “I” that speaks as though they, alone, are in the know. But, I’ve gleaned some perspective. I see where this comparison might come from and why it comes. I believe it comes from a constant feeling of blame and a need to defend oneself. As a result, accountability is rare. Just a constant circle of staring blame.
What we need is peace. Not a peace that comes from there being no noise, trouble or hard work. But, a peace, a calmness of heart, that comes in the midst of these things. For this to happen, we need to “lean into the discomfort”. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We need to abandon prediction and control. We need to connect: with ourselves, with each other, and with the students who we strive to do right by. We need to “accept things for what they are” and realize “it is what it is” (Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability) that we become less focused on predicting and managing behaviour and more focused on listening, connecting, and working WITH.
For this reason, in rewriting restorative practices training for educators, one of the most important connections that I have kept from The International Institute of Restorative Practices is their connection to a prayer recited to celebrate the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero. It reminds us that:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.