This week I started a brand new school year in a new position at a new (to me) school. For the first two days I was working with all of the students who were also newcomers to the school community. Everyone in the room had a bit of a "deer in the headlights" look on our faces. We were experiencing a lot of new-ness all at one time, and it often felt daunting and overwhelming. There was frustration, exhaustion and a few end-of-day tears shed - and that was just from me: the teacher!
A number of colleagues checked in on me to see how I was doing over the course of the week. It was difficult to summarize my feelings, but the best description I could come up with was that it would be similar to the experience that I might have if I moved from my home in Canadia to Australia or Great Britain. On the surface, I would probably think, "It will be an easy transition - I speak English; they speak English. Without any kind of language barrier, I should be able to figure things out quickly, and integration into my new community should be fairly smooth". In reality, I would find out - just as I did in my new school community - that acclimatization into new cultures is never as easy as we think! There are different ways of saying things, alternate ways of doing things, peculiar places to store and locate stuff, acronyms to decipher, slang to decode. Not understanding the meaning of one word in a conversation or staff meeting can lead to cognitive confusion that makes you miss what is being said in the next several sentences, creating further challenges in your ability to put information into context and figure things out quickly. Adapting to all of this requires a lot of brain power, self-regulation, and patience with yourself and others.
Feeling like a "beginner learner" this week gave me a huge amount of empathy for anyone experiencing, learning, or even just being open to trying new things, especially our students. Sometimes, as the experienced instructor in the room, we can forget how this feels. Even as a fairly high functioning, mindful adult, I found it incredibly uncomfortable. I could definitely feel how others, especially young students, might find it difficult to overcome the overwhelm in a positive, productive way. Many adults might not even be up to the challenge!
Luckily I was able to perspective shift and see how this new situation was forcing me to figure things out and grow - ultimately a good experience - even though it didn't feel like it in the moment. This would not have happened had it not been for one important factor: relationships. People cared about the other people in the building, and this made everything else figureoutable. The staff were kind and accommodating. Students helped me with directions to parts of the building I could not find. Nobody rolled their eyes when I asked a lot of questions; people were patient and helpful. The giant hug I was given by a new student as she left on Friday was one of the highlights of my week. Connection with other caring human beings was the glue that got me through.
Thinking about my gratitude for these relationships reminded me of a favourite video, "Every Opportunity", that was created by the Atlanta Speech School. I love how the story in the video depicts "alternate relationship universes" within a school; the contrast is pretty remarkable. It made me think about how each new school year can be thought of as a "sliding door moment". Every new day and week in your classroom and school can be as well - an opportunity to start over and do better by using what you have experienced and learned.
This week was a sliding door moment for me. I resolve to take my struggles and understandings from this first week of school and use them to be more empathetic toward and build better relationships with all the learners I work with this year - both children and adults.
Do you have any "sliding door moments" to share? Have positive relationships in your school communities helped you move through some challenging times? Tell us in the comments below or visit our Facebook group and join the conversation there!