Err on the Side of Compassion

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Teachers were reacting
To an article about a former student
Who had been raped
Before she came to us
Who had not told anybody
Until after she left us

Nobody knew

How can we make sure that we know these things?
The teachers were asking

And they began to brainstorm

Student information system
Digital documentation
Communication applications

And I interrupted.

And what will you document?
You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Then we need to ask, the teachers were saying. We need to inquire and open up that communication, and…

How?
Do you introduce yourself and ask, “Have you been raped?” Or go down the list of many, many, other possible traumas?

You won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

Because you cannot know.

And did you know… it isn’t your right to know.

It isn’t your place to demand this information. You are not entitled to this.

Yes. Mandatory reporting, is a must
But until you have that trust
You might miss the signs, and the actual danger might be in the past.

Because those signs look different ways for different kids.
Often misinterpreted, or totally misread.

Trauma a year ago feels like trauma yesterday, so the past is now even though there’s nothing to report.

Yes, I know you want to help, and that this information would make it so much easier to do so. I understand this. But you won’t know. Most of the time, you won’t know.

So what can we do?

Err on the side of compassion.

If a student is struggling, assume that there is a good reason for it. Even if you are given what seems to be a weak reason, know that this may not be the only reason, or even the real reason… and err on the side of compassion.

No, this doesn’t mean become a doormat. This doesn’t mean putting up with you or others suffering abuse. I don’t speak of enabling bullying.

I speak of not being the bully.

I speak of creating a safe space. So maybe the student can share with you. If they… so choose.

I speak of empowering student voice. So they can have a say in their education, in their life, and move forward the best way they can. With or without telling you everything.

I speak of holding space. Say, I am here for you, if you need me. No judgment.

No judgment.

Err on the side of compassion.

The student who was a rape victim gained her voice over time. With a stronger voice, she was able to break her silence. And now she is serving as the voice of others.

SHE did this, this healing…. During the time she was with us. She blossomed. Without us ever knowing. We erred on the side of compassion.

So that’s what we continue to do.

For so many other students who come to us this way, this is what we do.

And there’s no app for that. This comes from heart.

 

 

 

The Secret Life of Trees, and Me

I find myself sharing variations of the above information, and here’s why:
 
Saying/thinking “all things are connected” and “I am connected with all that is” is part of how I deal with Complex PTSD.
 
This strategy comes from connecting with nature since I was an itty bitty – since the earliest of memories. I would try to explain to confused adults that the trees communicate, of how the ground beneath and between them “breathes”, and of the energy that I sensed connecting all the things, ALL, including me.
 
In nature, I wasn’t alone, and nature held me. I would sink into a thick gathering of foliage and snuggle in there. Held. And often visited by critters who decided I was safe. Safe. In the moment, safety surrounded me. Unlike elsewhere….
 
Sometimes you will still find me like this! There I will be, out in the middle of nature, snuggled in. Loved ones now jokingly call me Snow White or Disney Princess because of the critters. 
 
Science is catching up. How I experience the world, sensing the connections, and seeing through the eyes of an empath with synesthesia, is no longer just “woo woo.” :p I might still be a freak, but I’m a scientifically documented freak, thank you very much.
 
All things are connected. I am connected. It is a state of being that is neither good nor bad. No judgement here. Even Death simply “is”. Here is where I can take deeper breaths. Feel the ebb and flow of all. And then continue the path I find myself on in this world.
 
Thank you for being here with me. 
 

No Such Thing as Incorrect Emotion

EmotionsThere’s no such thing as an incorrect emotion.

Sure, it might be based on incorrect information, or you might make a bad decision based on emotions, but the emotion itself is not in question. If you feel it, it is real.

I recently said this to a CMASAS student I had the pleasure to visit. I more recently said this to a friend who reached out to me in anguish over a personal situation as she questioned the legitimacy of her feelings. The reason it is really on my mind, however, is some work that I have been doing since November.

Because I prefer to be proactive and focus on designing my life for the positive, I don’t like to dwell on the past. However, the past has a way of popping up at the most inconvenient times. Sparing you the details, I am lucky to have survived my childhood, and there were some things I needed to revisit.

When I started the process, I was doing it from my present, 40-something self, with my current knowledge and perspectives. The problem with this is that what I actually experienced was through the eyes of a child. The understanding (or lack of), the feelings, and the things actually perceived, are what impacted that child. My present self talking over my past self wasn’t doing me a darn bit of good. So I finally wrote out memories, one by one, in the raw. No judgment. No editing. Somewhat messy. With each one, a greater sense of peace replaced the previously-felt emotions. I am still amazed by the process.

In this way, I held space for myself in much the same way I advocate doing for students when they have feelings or thoughts to share. What they are experiencing is what they are experiencing. What they feel is what they feel. Let that be heard. Analysis and working with those ideas can come afterward when the time is right. From the minor things in life to greater adversity, honoring oneself and mindfully working through emotions is a life skill often forgotten in the list of subjects we teach.

And by doing this for ourselves, I now realize, we can do a better job in helping others. It still takes practice though. So my New Year’s resolution is to learn more about how to empower one’s voice – my own and others – especially for those recovering from trauma. If you have any ideas or resources to send my way, I will receive them in gratitude.

What about you? Do you do resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise? If so, what is your focus for this next journey around the Sun?

Student Voice “Undermining”?

RespectHe towered over me, easily twice my size, shaking with anger. How dare I undermine him, making him look like a fool! Having a very large, angry man only inches away from me triggered me in to calm state that he probably interpreted as uncaring.

He had a habit of misinterpretations and making assumptions.

It was my first year teaching in public school full-time, at an “alternative school” for kids labeled at-risk. He was a fellow teacher who had just come out of a large group teacher-parent conference with the student and administration also present. The student was intelligent, hard-working, and mature beyond her years, and also one of my best students. The counselor expressed concern over her not doing well in my colleague’s class, and he then took a turn talking about all the things the student was doing wrong and why.

When it came to my turn to speak, I turned to the student – who was gripping her mom’s hand – and asked her what she thought or felt, and then held space for her to speak.

This is what my fellow teacher was enraged about. I “allowed” the student to speak. And she spoke calmly, intelligently, and gave important information that brought everything into clear focus, and this focus resulted in him feeling foolish for having made false assumptions.

When a kid is acting out or not performing, there’s usually a reason. There’s a backstory to learn. Sometimes it’s mundane yet still important. Sometimes it’s something horrible, and nine out of ten times that story won’t make you angry; it will break your heart.

In this case, the information changed the tone and focus of the rest of the meeting to one of respect and proactive solutions.

Student voice is essential. Sometimes they are eager to speak, and sometimes they need a coach to mentor and advocate for them to find and use their voice. While our school’s philosophy is all about empowering the student, and we have a learning model that focuses on that, I wonder what more we could do to give students opportunity to practice using their voice. Do you have any ideas?

 

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Christa McAuliffe School of Arts & Sciences

Revisiting Past Trauma: Let the Voices Speak

quotes_silence_writing_1440x900_17474When I try to talk for the first time about a traumatic event from the past, especially childhood, I find it difficult to get any words to come forth. I will open and close my mouth several times, like a fish gasping for air. When I do manage to speak, the word choices are those that I would have used when that age. I am not talking about “baby talk” because I had a ridiculously expansive vocabulary at a young age. I mean that the words reflect my perspective of the time, such as a lack of understanding or what to call something. I can then switch to my current self’s perspective and analyze what was, but I have to leave the mode of describing the actual event itself.
 
When trying to write about events as part of my focus this month, I shouldn’t have been surprised that this same struggle happened. It wasn’t until I allowed for this dual voice to “take turns” that I started to get any flow to the writing coming forth. There are some events that I still haven’t tried to describe yet, and there’s a fear there that causes me to hesitate. I think it’s because I have to, at least once, “go back” to that time and place for at least the first telling; after that, I can retell from more of a distance. There are some places that are very difficult to revisit and I wonder if there is such thing as being strong enough.
 
Why do this? I have found that the events I have been able to describe no longer hold power over me, plus I gain a source of wisdom or power from facing them. If you think of it as a game, this is a way to level up. I have helped hundreds of others, and this is a way of helping myself (which, in turn, enables me to help others even more).
 
Meanwhile, I have to live current day life, so I have to pull myself back together after writing – sometimes easier said than done – to do other things, even go places and see people. There’s been some tough days, but so far I’m making it. Luckily there is a finite number of these stories to transcribe, and this won’t take me forever to do. And then what will I do with them? Stash them away, throw them in the Beltane fires, or share them? Not something I have to decide today. 

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