I had an amazing day at school today! What started out as “sigh/zut/grrrr…I’m now subbing the entire day,” when I was originally just planning on going in for some simple prep work and my phys.-ed class (not a very good-sounding complaint obviously, but at 6:45 AM it seemed logical), became something really special in the end.
Our senior school had an amazing workshop put on by an exceptionally talented speaker/presenter from California. For four hours this morning, he commanded a room of 225 some-odd students and staff members, and the proceedings that followed were simply unreal.
I started to get to meet some of the kids that I work with at school for the first time. Like, really get to know them. From one-on-one talks aided by simple but brilliant conversational technique (a dying art form in the world of digitally-raised youth), to round-table “hot seat” interview sessions with a small group of students (a moment where almost all titles were dropped and we simply spoke as regular-old human beings), to a very moving exercise that involved students and staff “crossing the line” and stepping out of the crowd in declaration of some very personal issues.
I watched kids admit to acting as bullies, while others stepped out showing they had been bullied themselves.
I saw several dozen students say they currently have relatives with cancer, or have lost a loved one to cancer in the past. I watched one of my esteemed teaching colleagues step out of the crowd alone as the sole survivor of cancer within our group, a fact that very few people in our workplace knew previously.
I learned that some of our students have witnessed domestic violence in their home, that some have been victims of violence, and that they are still effected by the violent episodes of their past.
I learned that a small handful of our community had been arrested at one point in their life, then was shocked by the dozens of people who joined the few in stating that they had committed illegal acts, but had never been caught for doing them.
I observed, then almost applauded in a desire to express my support, one of our most troublesome kids step forward to lead a charge of people who told everyone in the room that they suffer from depression. To see the same individual step forward later on in declaring that he has been disappointed by the actions of his parents was nearly heart-breaking.
I was choked when I stepped forward to express that I know someone very close to me who suffers from depression. I almost wanted to burst into very public tears when I then raised my hand, admitting that this problem affects me deeply in my life.
After this incredibly sobering experiencing, I sat down with my small group of eight students and proceeded to have a very meaningful and mature conversation. Listening to one of my group members, a grade 10 student with a notorious disciplinary record, state with perfect clarity that the biggest problem plaguing our school is that people are so extremely judgemental of one another simply made my day! What an inspiring moment to hear that come out of his mouth! As I listened, and learned, and answered questions about myself and my past, I realized that the job of a coach or teacher not only includes being intelligent and sound in giving help and direction to others, it involves being the best role-model possible, which involves expressing great compassion toward each person you have the chance to work with. I will admit I have been tested recently in both of those facets.
Today reassured me of something that many people have doubts about – are kids these days who grow up doing more socially with their Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts than they do with their personal, facial, conversational, “in-person” accounts, able to learn to accept and tolerate the differences of other people whom they don’t really know? After seeing many brave young men openly express the issues that trouble them deep beneath the surface, I’m convinced even more than ever that the secret to helping others lies in our ability to connect with them in ways and environments that allow the real person under the flesh to enter the discussion about him- or herself. That discussion, once resolved and understood, in turn can become the discussion of virtually all other topics.
As our facilitator, Phil Boyte, said this morning, “you can’t hate a person that you know the story the of.”