My daughter has been in school for 20 years. She turns 24 in July. She will be off the dole this month for the first time in her life. I remember her first day of school; raincoat, rubber boots and a Spice Girls’ lunch box. What I did not know was that her teacher for both of her kindergarten years would remain as part of our learning lives 20 years later. 20 years later this incredible educator is one of The Beasts’ gut checks that we have come to count on when we are in the mess of learning.
Some thoughts… blog format allows for a more dynamic structure and space for exchange. Words are not etched on a page, in a chapter. There are fewer temporal boundaries, there is flexibility for learning where the finish line is always changing.
20 years ago I remember this; Mrs. Beare was a Goddess in our home. There was not dinner nor was there breakfast without her. This is what she told me about my child when I asked her about not wanting to play Timbits soccer nor play hockey like her father despite loving power skating in full equipment. “Abigail will probably love individual sports. She challenges herself and that challenge is what she is looking for. Many many years later, my swimmer and speed skater is a chief recorder for Ontario Speed Skating and continues to challenge and move herself not worrying about what others around her are doing. This woman maintains a relationship with my child and the last time we were all together I was invisible. They chatted while they drank wine and I stayed quiet listening and watching them together. They had now known each other for 19 years, they sounded so lovely to me and I knew they just liked being in that place together – around a kitchen island blabbing. I felt lucky to listen.
Lynn Beare is a learner. She is the deepest listener to children I have ever met. She remembers every child and their name and recounts how they learned and why and how they changed her.
From Head to Heart rekindled how during my years as an educator in Northern Quebec, James Bay, and Nunavut I was constantly struck by the two realities and the divide between the cultures. I knew I was on sacred ground and remember wondering what people were actually thinking about a person like me coming to teach their children.
My daughter changed her. Lynn too was changed and continues to matter to my child and my child matter back. Abigail still calls her Mrs. Beare. When she gets her first “big girl I am no longer a student” job she will make 4 calls; her mother, her father, her grandmother and Mrs. Beare. Who do you call but the person who started your 20 years of education. To my child there is nothing more full circle than that. This is her spiral.
Lynn reads every blog we write, she spirals back a million years and declares not only why it matters but where it has brought her back around to and why – she learns deep in her soul and she does it out loud with us.
Reading each entry of this blog is a privilege for me. My thoughts and thinking get stretched and skewed in so many tangents as I read. I keep going back to the power our words, actions, stances affect those around us and how integral they are to learning.
Lynn retired two years ago. Andrea mourned her leaving with every fibre of her being – I refused to acknowledge it. She never left us. She knew we needed her. I feel like she was waiting for us. She stopped Andrea in the grocery store and described reading our blog, “reading your conversations is almost too personal – like I am eavesdropping.”
She gives us feedback and sends us back around – like she did with Abigail – never stopping her but making her pause and think about her why?
The Beast offers the reader part of the action, to listen, to understand, to observe to draw out learning. This action is a new reality, nothing virtual about it. It feels so hopeful that educators are more present in the space of learning than ever before. It has necessitated braver versions of ourselves to occupy this space to be truly open to the nudges, varying degrees of shifts in thinking and curiosity of others.
She is with us and somehow we know we have come home. Lynn will gut check us and herself.. 20 years ago my child started school with Lynn who will always be one of her humans. I am not sure I can describe what it feels like to learn alongside this person but I know Andrea feels the same way. Lynn Beare brings us home.
5 am – quiet, still painfully cold and for those in the world of adolescent literacy it’s the day – EQAO OSSLT.
We welcome Stephen Hurley to The Beast to join us in our conversation this morning!
A: Lynn is the most quotable person I know. She even had her own hashtag #lynnsays. At one point or another each of us (in the office) revealed that we would write down her words – hold on to them like a hug. She had a way, with her wisdom, of pulling all the threads together and letting you know in one sentence or less exactly what you needed. How?
K: When I came into this position three years ago, I had significant imposter syndrome. I was scrambling and reading and running and spinning. Lynn never said a word. Many times – more than weekly, there would be a book (often signed by the author to her) on my chair, an article with tabs and swirls but most importantly, I would be sitting there with something she saw and she would sit across from me and tell me a story about a school, a student or share a memory about Abigail – every single one had purpose – never random. I cannot tell you how but her why is as deep as I have ever known.
S: I’ve been very moved reading this post. There is a deep sense of intimacy here, and I’m not sure that is something that you can deconstruct. It just is…or is it?
A: Just goal setting perhaps. For me, it’s wanting to have the same wisdom and understanding of humans as Lynn. She tells stories from so far back with every detail and names. She knows absolutely everyone’s name!
Stephen: I find myself reacting to Andrea’s statement about wanting the same wisdom and understanding as Lynn. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I can recall people in my life that I wanted to emulate—to be just like. But, as I look back on those moments of “emulation”, I realized that I was preventing myself from seeing the world from my own eyes. There is a richness to the wisdom and understanding of others, but I think that we all have the opportunity to bring our own perspective to the world…and perhaps a responsibility to do so.
K: We have spoken of The Beast – learning and the moments we are waiting and looking and feeling our through the spirals. We know the learning happens when we circle back around. I have come to understand this deeply with Andrea. I am not sure, that when Lynn was sitting beside me – right beside me telling me a story or listening to one of mine, did I quite realize the simple but immense purpose of the sit beside. She was the spiral and caused one all in one breath. She did it quietly in a raspy voice that made you listen hard. We have found ourselves in places where we now know that listening is the only thing we should be doing. She makes me quieter – LOL – that is unheard of.
S: The word that came to mind when I was reading your thoughts was “companion”. My etymological memory tells me that the word literally means, “sharing bread” with someone, but it goes deeper than that. It’s about, I believe, committing to the journey alongside someone. I love the idea of being the spiral and causing one as well. It’s a deeply theological idea, when you think about it. It’s about being verb AND noun in the world.
A: Causing one without a push or even a nudge because of shared experience. We can see ourselves in each other’s stories. A verb and a noun – tell us more!
S: I think of the first creation story in the Judeo-Christian tradition where God brought the world into being through the power of word/Word. Just speaking. The first act of creation was a word. So, from the very beginning, the way I interpret it (this morning) is that the act of speaking and what is spoken are intimately tied together. We are constantly creating through our words and our actions and we have the ability to also step back and look at what we and others have created. I’m not being very clear but I’m thinking about our lives as “creators” and “consumers” of the world. Verb and noun.
K: Andrea and I have had many conversations about learning and who we are as learners in the world. What I have come to understand better, is that I do not learn alone. I am in this with her and with you but I am here with my stories. They make up who I am as a learner. When we committed to writing The Beast – the stories flooded me. I had so many that I was drowning. The unravelling of the threads of a particular story when it bumps up against learning – where something comes to you in a wisp and you have to feel around for it to make sense of the learning happening right in front of you – that feeling – is why I cannot let Lynn go. She knew.
S: I’m thinking about that imagery that you have just presented, “When a particular story bumps up against learning”. I would love to hear more about that.
A: The bumping is…I don’t know… like a memory. It’s when you are in a space of thinking about who you are. As you said, Stephen, when you bring your own perspective – not only to the world but to that conversation. And while sitting beside each other, we learn.
K: Andrea texted me after she read the blog about Lynn. She said Lynn was the ultimate sit beside…I have been in schools for the past two weeks sitting beside students getting ready for the OSSLT. But – I immediately tell her a story about a student who would defined as very difficult. We were talking about Lynn and her sit beside and I find myself reaching back to this student and what happened when another staff member saw this student be funny and gracious and polite doing literacy prep – I knew it was because I was different and that even though I have been sitting beside students for 26 years – this felt different.
S: I find my mind conjuring up so many images, many of them inspired by the words that you are using. One has to do with the irony of “sitting beside” in preparation for major assessment. I’m thinking of the etymology of the word assessment: to sit beside. But how often do we do that? Often, we do the opposite. The other image—another word—is “texture”. Literally, the weaving together of threads. I think what you’re inspiring in me is a better understanding of what happens when we sit beside in an authentic way. Your story (spoken or unspoken) is woven together with my story (spoken or unspoken) and that moment changes us both forever. That moment becomes part of the fabric of our lives. To realize that (and I don’t always, especially with my own children) is to understand something of the “holy ground” that we live on through our relationships and our reflection on the power of story.
A: I’m thinking about the authenticity of that fabric and what it represents. It should be something held onto. Kelly has a stash of Christmas ornaments made by Abbie in Mrs. Beare’s class. I have a stash of drawings and another of Mother’s day cards. Each has a story. The best part of going back and picking one up, holding onto it, is the feeling that you’ve changed since.
S: Some of the pieces of fabric in our lives are placed on walls—I’m thinking of tapestries—and we are able to appreciate them from a distance. Others are used to create garments, blankets and other things that we use to embrace and enfold us—keep us warm and clothe us. The stories that you have shared about Lynn are kind of like that too, I’m thinking. There is a sense of holding those stories of Lynn up so that others can admire and appreciate. But there is also a sense in which those memories and stories are used to embrace you and keep you comfortable (in a good way). There is the intimacy and the…I’m not sure of the word for it. The opposite of intimacy? But maybe not.
K: I went back to your words Stephen – as soon as Andrea wrote “changed since,” “that moment changes us both forever.” When I remember a story, and when I hear a story that I have heard before from someone else – I find myself feeling something different than when I heard it before. It means something different. I will tell you, that our relationship with Lynn, albeit it farther away now, is different. I find her learning with us imparting what feels less like wisdom and more like a gut check – a wait a minute – a slow down – the place where the fabric weaves together a little scratchy or itchy – building knowledge is messy and requires deep listening…we make something new together so we are both changed forever.
S: WOW. It’s a vision of and for creativity that we don’t often think about. I find myself thinking about my favourite T.S. Eliot quote/misquote: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
A: That’s the one. And that’s the verb too. Creating and building knowledge with one another. Something is itching me though. Sometimes people are embarrassed when it comes back around. Like mistakes they are trying to forget.
S: Forgetting takes a whole lot of energy. Doesn’t it? I’m thinking about the fabric image. I’m wondering if the seams in fabrics aren’t created when we try to forget parts of our story. We try to tear them away from who we are. Could seams be the sewing back together after we’ve done that? Forgetting—or trying to forget—I mean.
K: There is an incredible feeling for me, in the moment. I like nothing better, when something I believe – that we have written or talked about in The Beast, is shaken or moved. I feel like I am finally waiting for those moments. I do not want what I have learned to be confirmed (and trust me I used to love that too) but now when it is nudged, gut checked, bumped or torn – that feels like home. We have to force ourselves to revisit and reconsider – but it is the juiciest place alive to learn. The seams can’t feel permanent…
S: Could the seams be the places in the fabric where new growth can take place?
K: Yes – the space between – where we meet – where we bring – where we are changed. Can you imagine any place better?
S: Perhaps the seams are a place of invitation. “Join me here. Enter into my story right here, and right now…and let me enter yours.”
A: Remember Kelly when you told me that you had an experience where you were floating above – like there were two of you in that moment? I think you have to be this mindful and aware to be in the space between. You know the entrance when eyes lock and heart rates sync.
S: Resonance. Wavelength. “cor ad cor loquitur” When “heart speaks to heart”.
K: The place where our hearts meet and our minds make…our stories – take us back around and bring us back but upon our return we are changed, we are different for having been in this place. We have learned. We are not alone in the learning – in fact we are sewn together. When we are left alone and we revisit – when we hold the ornaments and remember we have to listen for it and know we will not be here for long.
S: We are not here for long but, in a sense, through our stories, we are here forever.
K: Thanks Stephen – awesome and generous. The best part has yet to come – for the next couple of days – it will circle – you will feel it and you will hear it as people around you speak and learn – you will make space – it’s the beast – verb Kelly.
S: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I really appreciated this conversation to start my day. It was a completely different way for me to begin.