Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I carry the lessons

I like to look for images that speak to something behind my blog posts--I tack them on at the end of each post.  They look nice when my posts appear on Flipboard, but more importantly, flipping through images works as sort of a rehearsal for my words.  Sometimes I sketch images in my Writer's Notebook before I write something--this summer I had the opportunity to play with Play-Doh before writing a passage.

Hands-on rehearsal is so important for me.  It impacts my own teaching, my coaching, and my writing.  It allows me to take a moment to see the silver lining in what I need to say, write, do, or become.

This morning, an image by N.C. Wyeth struck me.  In it a young woman, framed by geese ascending from the silvery marsh, stands at peace. 

Last night, a direct message appeared on my Facebook page from a student I directed in the middle school plays just over twelve years ago.  Sometimes, when I do not have the artistic stamina to continue writing, or the professional stamina to continue to follow an impluse, or to put in the preparation to provide young people with the experience of inquiry, or to do my homework and make time to read and read and read, read everything I can so as to offer books and lessons that challenge the habits of young people and our culturally narrow modes of thinking--sometimes I need things like that simple message last night to rekindle why I love teaching, why I respect the vocation, and why I know it is something I will always have to work at and never master.
Hi Mr. Kelley!
I watched the Oscars recently and thought of you. I just had to send you a quick message. Adam Sandler said "I am eventually trying one day to tell the truth..." and I instantly thought of you and your definition of acting - struggling to tell the truth!
One I finished reading the message, I thought "I wish I could take credit for struggling to tell the truth" (some say acting is pretending, others say acting is struggling to tell the truth) because I did not coin it.  Yet, after sleeping on it, I've come to understand that I said it first to Marley.  For her, at twelve or thirteen, I challenged her not by repeating something someone else said, but by providing the experience of it...and being there, by her side, as she grappled with it.  I became more of a mentor and not the cliche of the commander barking what to do.  Instead, I went to great effort to ask the best questions that I could, and left it to the young people to work through the silver lining together.  And that is what teaching is, isn't it?
After all these years, I carry the lessons you taught us still and am better for it. I just wanted to drop you a message to tell you how important my time in 8th grade was and I still think fondly of Much Ado About Nothing.
I hope you are doing well in teaching and coaching football!!!
I never had Marley in class--we worked side by side together on the stage as director and actor--mentor and mentee--the similarities between coaching actors and athletes are tighter than some may imagine.  I see my role as a coach in exactly the same capacity.

Can you look yourself in the mirror each day and be happy with who you are, and who you can be?  Are you strong enough to say what has to be said--can you be honest with yourself, first...and then be honest with those around you.  I've always thought there are subtle differences between being honest and being critical--being honest, is about being in it together.  Too often, being critical dredges up feelings of separation and value judgments.

On the stage or on the field, the divide between people, culture, talent, age, experience (anything that divides people) can be coaxed to disappear and can be filled instead with bright sincerity--sincere effort, sincere preparation, sincere communication and expressions of joy, frustration, disappointment, etc.

This is the role of the educator.

Once the divide vanishes, we can be generous with our honesty without fear--without fear of failure--we can offer ourselves and grow as people, players, and as a group.  We eliminate fear of failure because we talk mostly of success, doing the right things, good moments, positive action because that is who we choose to become--we become a positive force.

I saw and experienced a kind of comfort during those sessions with the Marleys of my teaching and coaching life.  I have seen young people grow comfortable with themselves--maybe not completely, as life unfurls so many challenges before each of us.  But they begin to--if even for a moment.  The silvery image of the young woman in the N.C. Wyeth painting speaks to the many moments where I have seen young people take that similar moment for themselves.  On the path to finding our own greatness, our own possibilities, it remains critical that we remember to take such moments.

Breathe it in.  Embrace the possibilities.

The more I read, and the more I talk to teachers and coaches around the world, the lessons I discovered with Marly and the hundreds of kids I've directed and coached since 1993 are relevant now more than ever.  Marly must be 25 or so now, but I still think of her as that young person who embraced an experience, and a challenging call to honesty--can you embrace generosity and honesty together?  Together they may bring consequences you didn't anticipate, but they most certainly will bear the fruit that will sweeten your friendships, family relationships, and life's calling.

The world is full of wedges: education, politics, culture, religion, the environment and we find them in any place where someone takes a breath--our world is split by the wedges we drive into it and the fractures are only held together by those people who give a damn--about the profession, the friendship, the practice, the every day honesty that enables people to look in the mirror with pride.

The people I learn from are those who give a damn--about the profession, the people around them, and themselves.  I may find those people in my own building, but I most certainly have found them through social media applications such as Twitter.  Few have ever been in a position to select one's own colleagues--now, to a certain degree, we can augment our work environments with the people who do give a damn through the connections we make.

Connections are out there to be made.

Twelve years ago Marly thought I was just providing experiences in honesty and generosity and a play-- as it turns out we were all making connections without the need of Twitter or an iPhone.  We made connections through practicing honesty, breaking it down, talking about it, talking about where language fails us, where we fail ourselves--and then walked away each day trying to be better people in every aspect of our lives.  Even through my own faults--I struggle with my weight, my temper, my finances, my gruff shell, and my artistic stamina--I like to think that I was teaching Marley to give a damn and to do the right things even though I fail myself on a daily basis.  I'm aware of it--I do work on it--I imagine we all do to a certain degree.

I stand in the silver sky with the silver geese on the silver marsh and take a moment to raise my coffee mug to Marly and I thank her for her kind words--and the connections she made so long ago--I too, Marly, just like you--I am proud to acknowledge that I carry the lessons.

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