The power of community

Michele - Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 25, 2008

I have returned to my classroom countless times over the course of 30 years, yet no two days are alike.

Presently I teach high school English to seniors and use something akin to a circle of trust. We pull our chairs into a circle, read poetry and prose, share our responses, and learn to hold those responses. Invariably questions and comments emerge. I see myself as a facilitator who ensures the necessary quiet time for reflection, and avoids a teacher-dependent relationship that fosters a “yes, that’s the right answer” to those questions. Initially that is a tall order but invariably by following some very basic tenets, a sense of community emerges and each year I am amazed at the growth that occurs, given the right environment.

I believe that this model of communication heals. It is gentle, yet powerful. The challenge to respect one another and listen deeply to one another transforms us.

My memory is filled with these moments of change. Seth attempts to read a poem he wrote for his deceased grandfather. Initially he is unable. He continues to try and at the fifth attempt he is successful. Two students place a hand on each of his shoulder as he reads the tribute and we each mourn with him. Darla shares a thought she has. The thought is far from complex but the room is utterly silent. Darla has Asberger’s syndrome. She carefully describes the depression she experiences daily. I marvel at the moment she looks up and into the eyes of the other students. Davis makes a video. He asks if he can substitute it for an essay assignment. I am reluctant to say yes but something in my gut tells me to allow for this. It is a video story on homelessness. The data he presents is compelling, the background music nothing short of inspirational. Erika shares what it is like to face a serious surgery. She asks the circle for support and strength she feels she lacks as she faces a second surgery on a recurring tumor.

As a young teacher, I remember trying to answer the questions raised, trying desperately to alleviate the struggle for students. Now it is very different. When I got out of my own way, a space was created and more often than not, connections between students occur that foster real learning, a walking together.

This process has helped to boost my sense of purpose, to articulate my yearnings, and especially to help me form questions that seem to be difficult to form. My hope is that it has done the same for my students. It has never disappointed me.

Each morning when I enter my classroom, I ground myself and focus my intention on listening deeply. Some days I do better than others. Now I know I am not the only one in my classroom. With awareness, I recognize that something much bigger than all of us is at work.

This I believe – I need only let go.