As I reflect on the meaning of Truth in relation to the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I recognize the privilege I have had in being able to discover, understand, speak and align with my truth. I am left to wonder though:
How many remain silenced? And What can I do to help others uncover and align with their truth?
Where do I belong?
As a young girl of mixed heritage, growing up with my mother, father and one older and one younger sister in a modest home in Northern Ontario, I felt out of place amongst my maternal Indigenous family, with my white skin, blue eyes and blond hair. My sense of belonging was also challenged amongst my French Catholic paternal family, as my English tongue and questioning beliefs screamed that I did not belong. Accordingly, for most of my life I tried to find my place. Where did I belong?
As a white passing person I have often overheard racist, stereotypical remarks made by people, further challenging my sense of identity. I did not feel Indigenous enough to retort. Even I questioned my Indigeneity.
Early September is often spent on Getting to Know You activities. We ask our students about who they are, what their interests are, favourite subjects and much more. We strive to create learning environments centred around students feeling as though they belong. We aim to foster feelings of safety and care. We spend countless hours throughout the school year talking and connecting with our students. We decorate our classrooms in ways to create comfort and foster positive feelings. Our class becomes a family for ten months. And they all know we belong.
Over the years I’ve used a variety of methods attempting to create a sense of community and helping students get to know one another. The following is one of my favourites. It allows students to reflect on their interests and express themselves in a non-threatening way. The activity is ongoing throughout the year and highlights a number of abstract concepts we want our students to grasp. Self-awareness, self-esteem, and interconnectedness are just a few.
In this activity each student writes their name on an envelope then decorates it with favourite colours, interests, family members, or anything that is important to them. Students then take turns telling their classmates about their envelope. We notice things that make us unique and some things that are similar. Afterwards the students each write a note about something they like about themselves or draw a picture. Examples could be I am kind, I am a good friend, I like to help my teacher or a picture of a heart showing they are loving. The notes are placed into their envelope. Next, we hang a rope across a wall and use a clothespin to attach each envelope. A conversation about how we, just like the envelopes, are all different, but there are some things that are the same too follows. We notice that all the envelopes are connected to one another on the string; just like we are all connected. Finally, we talk about the feelings that came up while we were doing the activity. Students generally express positive feelings arising and as class we come to understand that we can generate more positive feelings every day by reminding ourselves of all those great things we wrote about ourselves. As the year goes on, we write more notes to ourselves, fostering a strong sense of self-esteem; and also to one another, building positive relationships and a strong sense of community.
We belong too.
As educators we strive to ensure the optimal environment for student growth. By creating and working in a loving, positive environment, our students aren’t the only ones that grow. In all the nurturing we do, we sometimes forget how much growing we do alongside them; How we gain confidence in our teaching abilities; How we learn different ways to manage challenging emotions amongst our students; How we understand curriculum more clearly; How relating to our students gets easier; How our communication with guardians/families changes. As we teach our students to love and accept themselves and each other, we realize we are worthy of that same love. And it is important that we model self-love and self-acceptance. By fostering the development of a classroom community, where everyone feels like they belong, we realize we belong too.
My hope is that by sharing my truth with you today, you will find the courage to discover and speak your truth. Share yourself authentically with your students, your family and friends because everyone deserves to be heard, be seen and belong. In my next post you will learn other ways to take action towards reconciliation.