Push and Pull

Push and pull
Sketchnote by @andCreative

I feel terrible that my husband is making a pile of long weekend plans with friends and at local events. In these last days of summer, I need quiet.  I need to think and organize and stay at home on my deck and in my kitchen because this will boost my energy. I will gain the calm and confidence to be pulled in many directions when it begins.

There will be grand plans, edubooks, and programs to follow. I will have to consider if I’m buying what they are selling.  

Meanwhile, I can hear them – voices whispering (or not – some are ironically yelling and selling) in our education community, coming out against compliance. It’s not just homework anymore. Now we’re questioning and thinking critically about washroom breaks and the meaning behind students’ words and actions.  Are the rules and policies in education for us or for our students?

When I’m asked to comply, I hold back.  These are Kelly’s words. I’m grateful that she reminded me on June 8th.  It had been a very hard week. Answer this question, share your ideas with the group, record your thoughts about … I hold back to make space and time to consider.  I’m sorry not sorry because I need this time and space alone, overnight, after some mulling.  Nothing ever rolls off my tongue. I’m also listening deeply without regret. I will consider.

Over the summer, while on holiday, I was confronted.  My sister wanted me to give her what she wanted or else.  Maybe she had assumed I wouldn’t. Or maybe she was just in a really bad and judgey mood.  Perhaps she was only thinking of herself. What I heard in her request was a grandiose set of assumptions and beliefs about me and my family. I was horrified. I didn’t take her back down her ladder and lay it all out on the table.  I took it in. I held back.

Point of View

I stayed in this space for a long time.  It did not feel right at all. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t figure it out.  Although I considered her point of view, I never actually considered giving her what she wanted.  I regretted holding back and I was sorry. I see things differently and I believe that the wall between us should not mean that we go our separate ways.  But I felt vulnerable. If I told her about the view from my side, then she would ignore my divergent and theoretical thoughts anyway. So, I would continue to ignore her. I didn’t want to take it personally.  I stuck with the stance that “I won’t project my dream on to you, if you don’t project your dream on to me.” I’m not buying what you are selling.

Then one day I watched her judge someone else – it was like gossip in the staff room.  I realized in that moment, she might have actually thought I would take her side. She had thought I would comply!  Now I see the two of us, not on opposite sides of a wall, but on the steps of a hierarchy. And now, my holding back, as it turns out, is actually apathy.

I need to know.  Why did she confront me?  Where did those assumptions come from?  I need to know, not for me and not to rescue myself from the torture of confrontation.  I’ve had my gut-check and it was grand. I need to know because of her. In the crisis of learning, she wasn’t the one only thinking of herself – so, what was behind her words and actions?

In the noise and swamps of to-do lists, and the pushing and pulling shiny eduthings, I must not ignore.  Humility is hard. As we start a new school year, I still try to guess what the humans in front of me will need.  It’s a default and I love planning. I have to stop myself. It’s not about me.

Leaping out of bed for a 5 am to get back to The Beast in the freshest week of the year…

K: I immediately wanted a do over for you…a rewind – perhaps hypothetically – did you give yourself one? A moment that replayed that conversation with your sister where you do it differently? I know you laid awake thinking about it.

A: Over and over, but I could only imagine saying mean things back to her.  So no I did not want to do things differently. During that conversation, when she confronted me, I was quiet – well stunned.  My current replay is Why?  What made you assume that?  I know I was thinking this at the time (along with the mean stuff).  I was working through the hurt that prevented me from actually saying it in the moment.

K: I am thinking about her.  Manipulation, motive, context, her plan to have that one-sided conversation with you and stun you.  It was done with adolescent pride and ego and she knew exactly how you would react and she would somehow of won something or felt good about it.  She knew you would retreat to think about it. I knew when you told me the story. Ironically, it was not whether or not you were considering fight or flight – we know exactly what I would have done.  You do not have either of those – flight for you is not about running from the moment…you simply had to make sense of it. You needed to mull and to ask yourself questions and to replay what simply did not make sense to make sense.  The part that itches the hell out me – is that she did not … she threw down, threw it all up and was smug. I don’t think she wanted a thing from you but to shrivel. Ironically – she actually believes that’s what she got. Imagine – in that moment – when she verbally assaults you in front of her partner – if you had the time and space – to have written her words down and simply said them back to her – I wonder what she would have said further?

A: She probably would have told me why.  Maybe she would have softened a bit. I don’t think it’s just flight for time and space.  I think that I’m used to her winning. I did shrivel.

K: I am thinking about you… sitting and listening.  How many meetings have we been to, or schools we have been in, or learning teams we have facilitated or participated in…in that exact moment when someone throws the grenade – launches it into the air – we often are stunned – stunned into silence.  I will say that in those moments – that almost car accident feeling occurs – the mental swerve. It happened at a high school to me last year in front of 45 people. It was dramatically personal and deeply meant to make me shrivel. If I had been 25 – I may have passed out.  I replayed it over and over – and I of course told the story 20 times as it was such a stunner. I am not sure our classrooms are any different. Children lay down some doozies for all sorts of reasons we cannot imagine. I am wondering how the hell we pull everyone closer – give them space to change their minds or their words or their stance or simply listen to something different?  

Alfie Kohn

A: That story is so shocking and you tell it with such suspense. A horrible thing to experience.  In the end, you had people run toward you. That is when panic becomes learning. Would flattening help to change our minds?  My husband and I often chat about the power struggle. The students he works with don’t even have to say it – it’s in their eyes – you can’t make me.  On the first day of school!?? he says.

K: Yes!  His students became my students for 23 years.  You just took me right back to the first day of classes… desks, and paper and stuff being shared that must be shared and humans everywhere.  The students who ended up in my office were not the shrivellers – they were the fighters. “You can’t make me” is code for “I don’t have any idea what’s happening, no one is listening and everything is not about me.”  They simply did not have the skills to comply. I read your story 4 times. I thought so hard about slowing down…for real…to not just listen but to hear. I thought about your sister…if it had not been such a damn trauma – if you could watch it again and take yourself out of the line of fire – and listen to her – to hand the words back and maybe ask some questions – what does she do?  In my office – after we have some gum or a mint to slow the mouth and the brain down – we try a do over – it’s long and it’s hard and they don’t want to go back. “Please change my class…I am not going back to that one.” We try to find a way to go back. We try to slow it down. In reading your story – I had 50 do overs flood me – I wished I had had Carlina… I wished I hadn’t been just trying to smooth it over… no one learned – we just moved on.


A: You gave your students moments where they were listened to and cared about.  If you had Carlina and you understood their theories and ideas and motivations, what would they have learned?  Would they have learned enough about themselves to stop launching grenades? Do we want them to? I guess I’m wondering if the power struggle is about them.

K: I just sat here watching you type and thought about Nikki!  I wonder how she would answer this question – I want to ask her LOL… Self-regulation…hmmm…not compliance.  In my office – I had the words and the calm and the solutions for coping for many students. I had the tone and the humour and resilience to be told more than once to fuck right off.  I barely listened. I had the recipe for success for them to saddle up and try again. Not one time – and I am thinking very very hard over here, can I recall, not talking but also listening for them and their theories and handing them back to them to think about some more.  I was not trite or insincere ever ever…but I was not making room for them – it was my skills being honed – not theirs. Your sister launched the grenade – a biggie – it was traumatic and affected a two-week vacation in paradise – she never lost a moment’s sleep – little does she realize that the firestorm that resulted was The Beast and perhaps one day… she should actually realize, to know and to understand and maybe you will find out why…

A: I’m sorting out the assumptions here.  You kinda just blew my mind with the flip.  We expect students to become accustomed to it – to not being heard.  I’m stuck on this… you asked me I am wondering how the hell we pull everyone closer – give them space to change their minds or their words or their stance or simply listen to something different?  But They simply did not have the skills to comply. It’s muddled.  Sorry.

set us back

K:  It’s delicious.  Do we expect children and adults to comply? Line up, show up for duty, park in your spot, answer on the black line… at what point does any one person get the message that they are heard, we are going to build something new, innovate…think, think differently or simply be heard?  I wonder if the grenade is actually the end of the assumption? No one is going to listen anyway so I am going to make sure I am heard regardless – I am going to make it memorable LOL. The grenade could be the actual assumption and the message is in the mode not the words. Something bubbles up and it can be ugly.  I wish kids could ask really hard questions that set us back on our heels. I wish that compliance to safety rules did not bleed into learning and the lines. I wish your sister had thought about what was itching the hell out of her, had a poured a glass of wine and started with herself and had known you would listen with your soul.  It’s more than muddled.

A:  It is a message.  Here is the Beastly part of it: if I position myself to be a victim of her launch then I won’t listen.  It’s like that moment when you give an instruction and watch the eyes of your learners – rolling back in their heads or wanting you to shut up so they can dig in.  When I am the learner, I have the skills to comply with instructions. I’m a grown woman. But if she sees my eyes, is it a threat? It shouldn’t be but what can she learn from it?  Learners have to run toward that itch.

K: I love the word threat!  Threat to what? What I know, what I believe, what I think? Wooohooo!! Run towards the threat.  I am thinking about what you said when you “watch the eyes of your learners.” How many times have you asked if your students had any questions at the end of the “lesson” and there are crickets?  Eye roll please – you are cutting into the time it’s going to take us to give you back what you just gave us… what do you think before the learning even begins begets more questions … but do we really mean it? How do they know we want to know what they are actually thinking and begging them to threaten what we know… #carlina.

A:  Yes! That!  Beg them to threaten what we know.  Are we attempting to put the fighter back in his or her place?  Gently forcing students to shrivel back into the powerless position?  Is there something between fight or flight?  As a student – can I move you beside me?

K: Flight gets you zero.  There has been a time where there was an intentional rub that can pull beside.  It was a chess move.

A: I can think of a similar example.  Strategy.

K: Can you cause the itch, cause the reaction and pull them close because they actually didn’t know they desperately needed the feedback.   THEN they nestle in so damn close because they know it’s safe. #strategy  It requires you to be under the bus with them.

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