My mother is the single finest human I have ever encountered. For anyone who has met my mother, “Granny,” they know how I can make such a statement. She was present and beside me for everything awesome and everything awful. She is my human. She is the explanation as to why I risk, push, and enter a new space. “What’s the worst that could happen?” never mattered…if it did, my cheerleader leaned in and said, “What’s next?”. She welcomes and wants to know you as you stand in front of her. She is present. She has unlimited inner strength. She is fearless in her support. She loves to unpack the whole dirty mess. For her, the mess is the reason we move forward. I am not the only one she cheerleads. It is the gift that she gives everyone when they sit beside her.
But, my mother makes me think very deeply about cheerleading and what it means… the purpose for it.
I have closely watched two different cheerleaders; one in a classroom with secondary school students and one in learning opportunities with educators. They have many of the same human qualities; positive to the point of uplifting, they love to learn, and they both believe that risk is real because you learn from it. You want to be in a room with them simply because they are. They set a condition that make you lean in as far as possible. You lean in so far to listen, that when they nudge you, ask you to look at something differently, or want you to take a risk that challenges your beliefs and your learning, you do. I am not speaking about empty, “great job, good try, nice work.” This condition is so rich, that your willingness to brave the hard parts becomes like breathing. You just have to. They resist the role of “facilitator from the French word facile – easy or effortless,” and own the role of “provocateur – to cause dissension or trouble.” Karyn Callaghan
I love watching grade 9 applied course type English students, with one of these cheerleaders, begin to value their own interests, value their own thinking, and ask for feedback. They are willing to think differently and share their learning with their peers across curricular areas and across grades. The conditions for this type of learning experience have to include cheerleading. In fact, without it, I’m not sure they would take the risk. If a student believes you see them, really see them, and are willing to listen to them and to their perspective, they will welcome difficult, deepening feedback because they value the cheerleader right back. Mutual trust. The students know they are not alone. They have someone beside them when they take risks and the cheerleader sets conditions to welcome success and to address shortfalls and next steps.
The other cheerleader is a stubborn soul. I absolutely adore this cheerleader. She knows how to sit beside like very few humans I have ever met. She will need to have wine with my mother, because they speak the same language. It is the unconditional condition. She will out-wait the turn away, the push back and the spiral back around until you are ready to risk. She never waivers in her resolve and belief that we are all better together. It is her gift. I have risked my own learning in a room with her in front of 30 educators and afterwards it wasn’t “Good job!” that came from her but, “Wasn’t that brave?”
We don’t need false praise or empty gratitude. We need someone to see us as we are in the learning.
Perhaps cheerleading is the condition we all need to give and to receive feedback that is honest and for growth. Maybe it needs to come from someone that is not only learning beside us, but from someone who knows we are vulnerable when we learn.
5 am, freezing rain is imminent, the coffee is hot and the conversation…difficult
A: The cheerleader (shallow or not) is on your side. Why wouldn’t they be? Are they really necessary?
K: If I stay in the realm of learning, learning is a relationship…it is about competencies and the world. I need a place to test my learning but I am unsure and I will hold back. I think of a cheerleader not as someone shouting clever rhymes from the sideline but as a personal champion who helps me confront the beast, the risk, take the next hard step – on my side/ right beside….of course a clever rhyme couldn’t hurt…
A: lol My mother would say that confidence comes from within. As an introvert, a thinker, and a reflective-type, I’d rather not be confronted with my risks in front of a crowd… or anyone else please…
K: As a teacher, I see you in my class, I understand some parts of your personality but because you would rather not be confronted doesn’t mean I don’t find a way, that works for you, to give you feedback that will include quiet cheerleading.
K: Feedback is difficult to give – honest, to move the learning feedback. Can you take feedback and believe it is real from someone you believe is just stroking you with packaged rah rah, being false or manipulative? I think feedback follows a strong learning relationship. A cheerleader believes and gives feedback to move the learning but also sets conditions for the learner to take risks and get out of their own way.
A: The cheerleader learns too.
K: I think the cheerleader(they know when to be quiet) and get out of the way and is a partner in the learning and the relationship – they simply cannot look away nor be turned away.
A: I was constantly fascinated by my students’ aha’s. Yes, but the magic really happens when when I am fascinated by the opportunity to figure it out.
K: I think you are holding onto the stereotype definition of cheerleader shouting with a pom pom at everyone but perhaps contemplate a silent ally, critical friend, close colleague – a cheerleader who will watch you through the whole damn game and give you a boost, a shout, a quiet nod, a question, or nothing at all if that’s what you need to ultimately learn – they are there…good bad and ugly with personal and timely feedback.
A: That’s generous. And selfless. But people are motivated by what they expect.
K: These people occupy rare air. We, as learners, are often distracted by our own egos we just get in a mess…we self blame, others blame, get distracted by guilt and inability to clear the mess away…ultimately THEY EXPECT but they cheerlead. They know where your learning comes from…they are the ones who throw down the crumbs and help you find it when you need it – they do not hand it to you.
A: What does this mean for learning? I can risk and move forward with feedback from someone that I’m learning beside. Feedback that sees me for who I am. But what if I don’t have a cheerleader? Or if my cheerleader is the stereotype?
K: I am looking for cheerleaders who are real and strong and fierce. Cheerleaders who are humble and listen for perspective and with empathy and above all will not turn away. They believe you can move. They help you believe
A: I’ll word it a different way. What if someone values a standard, uses it to tell me I’m wrong, and evaluates every single expectation in the book to see if “I know it” or not?
K: I had this exact conversation today with a parent. EXACT. He asked, what should I do? I said nothing. It’s the end of the semester. Not everyone you encounter will be a cheerleader – I can wish, but we have to recognize them and get beside them – see their value.
A: I wait? Hope I’m lucky?
K: No, waiting is not learning. I am wondering if we have to seek it out, find learning, find feedback.
A: I like magical, but I’m not ok with “if by chance”. I just don’t see how it’s… like… practical.
K: We are saying look around, find one, be one, get beside one. Sometimes what we have alone is not enough…we need more. Think about about your dear Kindergarten colleague. Can you explain that gift? How you feel when you have a coffee with her?
A; She is even. She is slow and she doesn’t judge.
K: She is techno-colour magic. It’s in how we say her name with reverence. It is not her methods nor her practice – it is from within her. I know when I hear you reference her in anyway possible in a moment of profound feel. She doesn’t need to shout or even jump a little – she just is – she is what you need. The best cheerleaders are the ones who barely whisper and we would move a mountain to hear what they are saying to us – I would hate to miss one word you utter for fear I would not be better for it.
A: I know what you are saying is true. For some reason I don’t believe it. In fact, there is a niggling part of me that kinda doesn’t believe the cheerleader either. What if I believe I’m not worthy of connectedness and belonging?
K: I believe the cheerleader evens your odds. They invite you in, work to connect and help to make humans feel like they belong. I wonder how many students don’t see it or feel it or know it can change them? I don’t think it matters because the cheerleader does not turn away.
A: Without feeling connected there’s that “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it”. I would always rather understand deeply and do things for a purpose.
K: I agree. You wait. You hold back. When it’s not real we cannot invest our whole selves. It’s not worth the risk. Until there is a relationship, there isn’t complete belief.
A: I’m finding people that cheerlead. I need to hold them close. But in order to accept and actually believe their support, I have to be vulnerable to it. Like immersed in it.
K: You are skeptical – we are who we have been and until we feel differently.
A: I think I also have to look carefully at this, not defensively. Do you remember Wa’tkonnonhwara:ton? In greeting, I’m giving all of myself. Being present.
K: That lesson came from the most humble and quiet man I have ever seen speak to 100 people and he did it barely above a whisper. He held us all and knew exactly what we needed when we had no idea. Throughout that morning we all changed for having been with him for 2 hours and most of us had never met him before. He cannot force you to be open nor can he make you come to the table – he just is…come when you are ready, I am not wavering. Not because I insist, but because I am right over here…