Have you ever taken a trip to the ocean? It is one of my most favorite places to be. The sights, sounds, and smells of the world are right at your fingertips. Standing at the water’s edge, you see waves and waves of warm, salty water moving like a mother rocking her baby in her arms. Looking straight ahead, you see rocks from the land that dip into the ocean water and beyond that, nothing but blue and the unknown. The smell of salt awakens your brain as you breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale. Decisions lie before you, should you take a step forward or stay put? You go.
You step further and further into the water and begin to swim, taking in all of the beautiful scenery. Soon you are not able to have the comfortable sand squish in between your toes. Your heart races. Coral of a variety of colors grow full of life under the blue water. Schools of fish swim back and forth, reminding you of synchronized swimmers whose water dance makes your heart happy. Swimming onward, the bottom of the ocean seems to get further and further away from the surface. And then all of the sudden, it is just you. You and the water, rocking back and forth. It is somewhat comforting and also terrifying being in the water, alone. Here you are surrounded in the beauty of the ocean, but you are swimming in the deep end of life and you are feeling isolated.
How often do students or staff feel this way? How do we reach those students in the deep end and bring them back to shore?
You float and move with the waves. Do you let the waves carry you away? Do you reach out for help? BUT you are not alone. Out from the depths floats the most beautiful, most chill sea turtle. He looks at you and almost seems to motion, “Hey, man. It’s all good. Come with me.”
Over the course of almost ten years in education, I have seen many teachers and students who put on a good show. Some look like that brave swimmer, but beneath it all, when no one is looking, they are terrified of what is out there, terrified of failure, disappointment, you name it. We are tasked to take notice. By building relationships with our colleagues and nurturing our students, we will find that we can help those who might be stuck. Teachers, we can reach in and pull others out of the depths with teamwork, collaboration, love, and care. But also through those relationships, we may find that when we need to be pulled out of the deep end, we have a strong support team, a family waiting to jump right in. The wise words of one of my fifth graders really brings this home, “Sometimes life can come in like a wave and get you, but together we can make a change.” We can make a difference together.
What will you do to reach out to your students and colleagues in the deep end?
Picture this: you are walking down a long hallway. Dark mahogany wood floors and white walls make the hallway almost seem like a tunnel that lead to an open room. This room is large. High vaulted ceilings are lined with exposed wooden beams. There is a beautiful Persian rug on the floor, in the center of the room where an L-shaped couch is posted. It looks comfortable and inviting. Burnt-orange and teal colored pillows accent the couch. The space is just right for an afternoon of reading that may lead to a nap. It has two large French doors standing opposite of one another. The doors are open allowing beautiful sheer curtains to flow in the gentle breeze. You listen and find a tiny, magical wind chime making music and bringing a calming feeling to the space.
Why is this space so inviting? Why do you want to stay there?
Let’s apply this to the classroom environment. Teachers try to create a space that is full of comfort, functionality, and happiness. We all want our students to feel comfortable as they spend the majority of their day at school – their home away from home. The space should be a place to work as well as a comfortable space to learn and grow heads and hearts. We want students to want to come to school. We want them to get a fire in their bellies that burns with a desire to learn, an excitement about their education.
Of course the classroom is not limited to that room. No, in fact, it is the very beginning. Think back to those beautiful French doors. They are open with the breeze coming into the room. If the radio were on, music would go out beyond the walls. The mindset of the classroom is quite literal. Yes, learning happens within the four walls, but there is so much more beyond those walls. Teachers, we are called to let the breeze in and send the music out. We get the privilege of embarking on a school year that can involve the community, the whole district, the world.
Let me ask you one last question.
What do you hope to happen inside your room? What might happen if we open those doors?
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native