“I am John.”

One of the things on my summer to-do list was to go through the countless boxes of paper and files that I had accumulated over the years: from university courses, various classrooms, and three separate offices. I ended up with five blue bags full of shredding and many other boxes to give away or recycle.

During this process, I came upon a piece of writing from a student that I mention in my first book. ‘John’ was the self-proclaimed outcast in our classroom. It was a complicated situation rooted in years of interactions with his peers. In the book I explain how one October day freewriting enabled John to find a tentative entry point into our classroom community.

The piece of writing I came across recently echoed the same sentiments – a need for belonging and acceptance – as the freewriting I referred to in my book. This time the prompt was “I am…”

“I am ‘John’, the one who always gets bugged in our class…”

“People bug me and they never stop… if they can, that would make me surprised. But they can never do that. Don’t try to ask.”

I am not sure if I noticed it at the time, but reading it now, I notice that he begins with his name. “I am John.” Perhaps he was trying to reclaim his identity and redefine himself through his writing.

Before freewriting, John did not voice his frustration or sadness in appropriate ways but instead in ways that simply reinforced the stereotypes around him. Yelling. Teasing. Crying. Flailing his arms. Acting out. Insulting others.

As we begin the school year, I am thinking about how important it is to set the tone for the year… to help kids like John find their place… to create a safe space for students to take risks and explore their identities… to create a genuine community of learners.

I am thankful to John for the unexpected reminder.

Summer Writing

I’m writing outside today. My dog lies on the steps a few feet away intently watching the squirrel at the bird feeder. There are at least a dozen sparrows in the same tree as the squirrel. They were at the feeder first when I filled it a few hours ago. Now they sit watching the squirrel devour their lunch. There are butterflies dancing around me, too.

Ah, summer writing. Am I working? Sure am. But how wonderful to be surrounded by nature, taken out of my writing now and then, to watch the antics of the birds, the squirrel, or my pooch.

Not all of my work can take place on my deck. But today, I am thankful that this work – the work on my novel – can. I will savour this feeling and revisit it a few months from now when the cold and snow return…

Words Matter

I’ll admit that I have been biting my tongue so to speak: avoiding voicing my anger and frustration, not wanting to wade into a political arena. But the events of this weekend are too much.

I keep thinking: if he were a school boy, if he were a child in our schools, he would be reprimanded, suspended, expelled even. And if he were a teacher or principal in our schools, he would be fired. His hate speech, intolerant views, and racist rhetoric would not be allowed.

Those of you who know me, know how much I believe in the power of words. Words do matter. As this site claims by its very name: words change worlds. Sadly, we can’t change his words but we can use ours to be the alternate voice. To be a voice of hope and love. To bridge the divides created by others. To be inclusive and supportive. To stand up for what we believe in.

I live in Canada. He is not my leader. And yet I feel the need to be a part of this conversation. Words matter.